Ember opened her mouth like she wanted to say something, but she couldn’t seem to find the words. And that’s when it hit me. It was so obvious, I couldn’t believe I didn’t figure it out instantly. I blamed my sleep-deprived brain for it.
“Konstantin Black,” I said.
“They don’t know for sure.” Ember rushed to ease my anxiety.
“This is ridiculous.” I threw the covers off me and leapt out of bed, barely noticing how cold the wood floor felt on my bare feet as I stomped over to my wardrobe.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m getting dressed.” I threw open my wardrobe doors, hard enough that the wardrobe nearly tipped forward, but I caught it just in time. I grabbed a sweatshirt and pulled it on over the tank top I’d slept in. “I’m gonna go find Ridley and give him a piece of my mind.”
“He’s probably back in bed,” Ember said.
“I don’t care.” I turned to face her. “I just can’t believe he would do this. This should be my mission, not yours. If Konstantin is back, then I should be the one going after him.”
Ember had been sitting on the bed, but she stood up now. Her hands were balled into fists at her sides, and she took a fortifying breath before speaking.
“Bryn. Stop.” She spoke harshly enough to break through my frantic agitation, but by the tightness in her voice I could tell she was doing her best to keep calm and not yell at me. “First of all, what you’re doing is incredibly patronizing. I am strong and smart and capable enough to handle this mission.”
“No, I know that, Ember,” I hurried to apologize. “You’re an excellent tracker. I don’t mean it like that.”
“I know what your deal with Konstantin is, better than almost anyone,” she went on. “So I get it. But I also know what a massive jerk he is and how much of a threat he is. I understand the danger, and I also understand how important it is to bring him back to stand trial for his crimes.”
“I know,” I said.
“But—and I mean no offense by this—I’m not clouded by my own personal feelings about him.”
I wanted to argue with Ember on the last point, but I couldn’t. Only a few days ago I’d confessed to Ridley that I wanted to kill Konstantin and that I wouldn’t let him get away again. Since I’d seen him last week, I’d been replaying my fight with Konstantin again and again, thinking about how much worse I would hurt him if I saw him again.
My own need for revenge would make it impossible for me to think as rationally and impartially as Ember, so I fell silent and lowered my eyes.
“I understand the severity of the situation, and I’ve got it under control,” Ember said at length. “That’s why Ridley chose me and not you.”
“I know that you’re right and that he made the right choice. I just…” I trailed off.
“You still want to be the one going,” she finished for me.
I looked up at her and nodded. “Yeah.”
“I get it. But it’s actually a pretty big if that it is even Konstantin. The reports were sketchy. They’d just heard rumors that he might be in the area of another prominent changeling.”
“How do they know?”
“After the incident with Linus, they sent out Konstantin and Bent’s pictures to all the tribes so their guards could keep a lookout. They’re, like, Trolls’ Most Wanted now,” Ember explained. “A Trylle tracker was getting one of their changelings, and they thought they saw someone that looked like Konstantin, and that happened to be nearby where this changeling I’m going after lives.”
“I know you can’t tell me who or where, but can you tell me if you’ll be close, at least?” I asked. “In case you need backup.”
“I’ll be less than a day’s drive from Doldastam, if I need you.”
“And you will call me if you need me? Or Ridley or Tilda or somebody, right?” I asked, and I was thinking more of Ember’s safety than my own vendetta. Ember was a good fighter, but so was Konstantin, and he wasn’t working alone.
“Of course I will,” she promised me with a smile. “But I shouldn’t. I’m sure everything will be fine. The Trylle tracker was probably mistaken, and I’ll find a perfectly safe changeling and bring her home.”
“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” I asked.
“On the off chance that things get dodgy, Ridley wants me to try to make this a quick mission. I’m hoping a week will be good enough, but I also don’t want to risk scaring the changeling off.”
“Well, I was only in Chicago for five days, and Linus came back okay,” I reminded her. “So I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
“I’m sure I will too.”
“I should let you get going, anyway. If you need to get out of here right away.”
Before she left, I hugged her tightly. Ember had gone out on missions before, but this was the first time I felt nervous for her. I was reluctant to let go of her, but eventually Ember pulled away. She smiled at me, promising that everything would be okay, before she turned and headed out my door. It took all my willpower to keep from chasing after her and following her.
“I’m not thrilled about this either,” my mom said in a hushed voice, as if someone might overhear. Her gray jacket went down to her ankles, and she pulled it tighter around herself as we walked toward the palace. The large diamond studs in her ears glimmered when the sun poked through the clouds in the overcast sky.
“Then why are we doing it?” I asked, trudging along beside her.
“Because they’re family, even if they aren’t close,” she explained with a hint of exasperation. “And because it’s a nice gesture.”
“But you don’t even like them that much,” I said, as if she needed me to remind her of that fact. “I don’t even know them. You don’t even really know them.”
“I know. But they asked me.” We’d reached the palace door, so she stopped and turned to me. The wind had left a rose on her cheeks, but that only made her look more beautiful. “And now I’m asking you.”
“Your mother doesn’t ask much of us, Bryn.” Dad put his arm around her waist, showing his solidarity. “We can do this for her.”
“Of course we can,” I agreed, and smiled as genially as I could.