"Fine, I will divulge one thing... " Nix said. "Danii's going to make Jadian her king. If she hasn't already."
Ah, Christ, no.
With that prediction, Nix traipsed back past the wraiths - handing them a lock of hair? - leaving him with a knot of dread in his chest. What if Daniela had married Jadian?
Murdoch's fangs sharpened. Then she'll become a widow.
He traced back to Siberia to gear up at the lodge, dragging a backpack from a closet. When he turned around, Nikolai and Myst appeared in the room.
"So this is where you've been hiding out," Nikolai said. Then he frowned. "The last place I would've looked for you. Literally, the last of your properties we've tried over the months. Siberia, Murdoch? There's only one way it could make sense to live here."
Murdoch punched clothes and cold-weather gear into the pack. "I don't have time for this."
"Make time," Myst said. "We know you're with Danii."
"I'm not with her. That's the goddamned problem."
Whatever Myst saw in his expression made hers soften. "What are you planning?" she asked more gently. "To go to Icergard?"
"To bring her back?"
He said nothing, just continued to pack.
Her eyes went wide. "To live there? You won't survive it. The Icere lands make Siberia feel balmy."
Nikolai added, "It's dark now, but what will you do in the summer? At that latitude, it will be light twenty-four hours a day."
"I'll stay inside. In a coffin, if I have to."
"And Kristoff?" Nikolai asked. "You swore your fealty. And now that we're finally working on an alliance with the Valkyrie, you plan to desert the army? He'll be forced to kill you for that, especially on the heels of our last transgression."
"I know this! God, I know."
"You won't be able to see your family any longer." Nikolai moved in front of him. "Speaking of which, I know you're too preoccupied to ask, but Conrad is fine. I just left him. He was telling the truth about his Bride, Neomi. She's a comely little dancer who - if you can imagine this - adores him and calms him."
Murdoch slowed. "I am glad for that."
"How are you even going to get to this Icergard?" Nikolai said. "It's late fall in the Arctic. The temps could already be forty below. Damn it, Murdoch, think about that. If you spit, it will freeze before it hits the ground."
"No planes can fly there," Myst said. "Not even Lore planes."
He fastened up his pack. "I'll get as far north as I can, then trace the rest of the way."
"You can only trace as far as you can see," Nikolai said. "You better hope the visibility is good."
"We'll call Kaderin," Myst offered. "She'll be able to help with the logistics. She knows how to get to places better than anyone."
Murdoch shook his head. "I don't have time. And I think I know a way."
Daniela had been missing one cryomancy symbol, the one Murdoch had shattered. He would use her memories to recreate it.
Because he'd dreamed her meeting with Jadian and had heard their conversation, Murdoch was aware that her last symbol wasn't correct. He knew if he copied Daniela's work, the portal would open two hundred miles south of Icergard.
He also knew that Jadian doubted even Daniela could survive that cold wasteland - the White Death.
Murdoch shook his head hard, resolve like steel inside him. So he would have to trace a couple hundred miles north - quickly.
How bad can it be?
Murdoch had never comprehended what cold was.
An arctic blizzard raged around him, howling so loudly it pained his ears.
The visibility was maybe two feet, which meant he could trace no farther than that at a time. His muscles were weakening, flagging more with each brutal minute. He'd been forced to ditch his gear miles back.
Hour after hour dragged by... I've gotten turned around somehow. His compass didn't work. There was no way to see the stars in this never-ending storm. So confused.
If he stopped, he would freeze here. But it wouldn't kill him. He'd live on, frozen and trapped, until someone dragged him to a warm place to thaw.
Yet even that horrific fate wasn't enough to keep him moving.
No, it wasn't until he thought about never seeing Daniela again that he gritted his teeth and pushed on. Envisioning her elven face kept him going -
Were there lights ahead in the distance? Imagining it? Struggling to make out the hazy sight, he pulled aside his face guard, taking off a frozen layer of skin with it. He staggered, feeling like acid had just doused his face.
Ignore the pain. How far was it to those lights? He teleported forward, but got no closer, forced back by some kind of invisible barrier. He tried once more. Nothing. He fought to get there, grappling to reach the lights, to reach her.
Toiling... over and over.
Ultimately, his strength ebbed to nothing, and he collapsed to his knees in the snow. A vicious gust roared over him, laying him out.
With his last ounce of will, he stretched a hand forward.
Danii sat on her throne, thinking about witches - and abdication.
I could meet with Mariketa the Awaited, bring her a bucketful of softball-size diamonds, and ask her to put me on her list.
Even if Murdoch wasn't keen on waiting fifty years, reserving a spot couldn't hurt.
And Danii could return to Val Hall, now that she could live in New Orleans safe from assassins. She'd add some serious tonnage to her A/C and really get some cold cranking.
Maybe she could be happy there. It would be even harder staying in Louisiana so fresh from the cold. But fall had arrived there, at least.
Was she an idiot even to contemplate relinquishing her throne - and her new life, tucked away amid the freezing security of Icergard? Could she truly leave behind an ice world where she lived among her own kind, to seek a vampire she could never touch?
Over and over, Danii recalled the look in his eyes when he'd yelled for her to come back that night.
Yes. She would try once more to convince him that they could -
"My queen," one of her ladies-in-waiting said as she hastened into the throne room. "Come quickly. There's a stranger in Icergard. He crossed the White Death... "
When Murdoch woke, he lay in a bed in a bizarre room of ice. Though it was lighter and quieter here out of the wind, the temperature wasn't warmer.
He was wearing new pants and a coat of sorts that kept him from freezing. Someone had cleaned him and bandaged his frostbitten hands. He must be within Icergard. Which meant she was near. Have to get to her. He labored to rise -