“Ember?” Annali asked, her words tight with panic, and she rushed over to us. “What happened? Has the medic seen you yet?” She touched her daughter’s injured cheek, causing Ember to flinch a little.
The few medics in Doldastam weren’t the same as you’d find in human society. They had medical training, so they could set bones, stitch up wounds, and even perform surgeries. But they’d been recruited from the Trylle tribe for a very specific reason—they were healers. Thanks to the Trylle’s psychokinetic abilities, with a simple touch of their hands they could heal many minor biological ailments.
“I just got back. I haven’t called yet,” Ember said.
“Come in the house.” Annali motioned frantically toward the house. “I’ll call the medic.”
She tried to help Ember into the house, but in her fear and frustration, she didn’t seem to realize how rough she was being, so I told her to call the medic while I helped get Ember inside. As I got Ember settled on the worn sofa, her mother talked on the phone in the other room, speaking in irritated, clipped tones.
“You can head out if you want,” Ember told me in a hushed voice after I draped a blanket over her.
“Nah, I can stay.” I glanced over toward the kitchen, where Annali was continuing to swear at the poor person on the other end of the line. “I’d feel kinda bad leaving you alone with her.”
“She means well, and she’ll calm down.” Ember moved the pillow behind her head. “I should probably get some rest anyway.”
“I understand.” I touched her leg. “Take care of yourself, and let me know if you need anything.”
I went through the kitchen quietly, not wanting Annali to direct any of her anger at me, and I’d almost made it to the door when Ember stopped me. “Wait. Bryn.”
“Yeah?” I turned to her, and she motioned for me to come closer. I went back to the couch, and sat down at the end, next to her feet.
“I was debating on telling you this, but…” Ember said so softly I could hardly hear her above her mother, “I think I should.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“When I was trying to get Charlotte, I knocked Konstantin to the ground. He got up slowly, and then we heard the sirens.” Ember licked her lips. “He didn’t leave right away, though. He said something to me, and then he took off.”
“What did he say?”
She took a fortifying breath. “He said, ‘Run along home, and tell that white rabbit to watch out.’”
“White rabbit?” I echoed. My blood was already pounding so hard in my ears I could barely hear my own voice, but I already knew exactly who Konstantin was talking about.
Ember’s eyes were so dark and so solemn, they seemed to pull in all the light around them, like tiny black holes. “He means you, Bryn.”
The number of people crammed into such a small space left it feeling stifling and humid, and everyone’s voices blended together in one low, uncomfortable grumble. It was the same meeting room I had been in a couple days before, when I’d been having brunch with my distant Skojare relatives, but now all the tables had been pushed out and replaced with rows and rows of chairs.
I’d arrived ten minutes before the meeting was set to start, and it was already at standing room only. Somehow Tilda had managed to get a seat in the second row, and she offered me an apologetic smile when I came in, since she’d been unable to save me a seat.
Kasper Abbott stood at the side of the room, along with several members of the Högdragen. I wasn’t sure if he’d gotten here too late to sit with his girlfriend, or if he’d just chosen to stand with the guards instead. But every tracker in Doldastam, including some of the senior class that hadn’t graduated yet, was here, along with about a quarter of the Högdragen. Aside from Ember, who was still at home recuperating.
Ridley was already here, standing in the front of the room talking to a few trackers. He glanced up at me as I found a place in the back of the room, and I gave him a small smile, which he returned briefly before going back to his conversation. I hadn’t talked to him since I’d kicked him out this morning, but we were both professionals, so I was determined to act normally around him. At least in situations like this.
I leaned against the wall while I waited for the meeting to get under way. It wasn’t that much longer before my dad came in the side door. His head was down as he flipped through a huge stack of papers, so he bumped into a few people as he made his way to the front of the room.
“Ahem.” Dad cleared his throat, still not looking up from his papers, and everybody kept on whispering and muttering, ignoring him. His normally clean-shaven chin was covered in salt-and-pepper stubble that he rubbed absently when he looked up at the room. “Excuse me.”
With my arms folded over my chest, I glanced around the room, but not a single person had stopped talking. I tried to give my dad a look, encouraging him to speak louder, but he wasn’t looking at me.
“If I could, uh, have your attention,” Dad said, and I could barely even hear him at the back of the room.
“Hey!” Ridley shouted and clapped his hands together. He grabbed a chair, stealing it from a tracker in the front row, and then he climbed up on it. “Everyone. Shut up. The Chancellor needs to speak to you.”
The room finally fell silent, and my dad gave him a smile. “Thank you.”
Ridley hopped down off the chair, then offered the chair to my dad. “The floor is yours, sir.”
“Thank you,” Dad repeated, and with some trepidation, he climbed up onto the chair. “I want to thank you all for coming out for this. I know it was short notice.” He smiled grimly. “We’ve got a lot of great trackers here, and even some of the Högdragen. So thank you.
“Let’s get right into it, then.” Dad held his papers at his waist and surveyed the room. “We have reason to believe that our changelings are under attack. Last week, Konstantin Black and an Omte associate of his, Bent Stum, went after Linus Berling.”
Murmurs filled the room, and I could hear Konstantin’s name in the air. Dad held up his hand to silence them, and reluctantly they complied.
“As most of you know, Konstantin Black is considered a traitor for crimes against the King and Queen, and, um, the Chancellor, specifically.” He lowered his eyes for a moment, but quickly composed himself. “He’s been on the run for the past four years, and we’re not exactly sure what he wants with the changelings, but this no longer appears to be an isolated incident.