“Yesterday, Konstantin Black and Bent Stum attempted to take another one of our changelings,” Dad went on. “He assaulted a tracker, but thankfully, both she and the changeling weren’t seriously injured and made it back to Doldastam.”
“You think he’s going after other changelings?” someone in the audience shouted.
“Yes, that’s exactly what we fear,” Dad said. “There’ve been two incidents with Konstantin Black in the past seven days. We don’t want a third. Which is why we’ve called you all here.”
“Are we going after Konstantin?” Kasper asked, and I straightened up.
“We don’t know where he is, or where he’s going to strike next, so that doesn’t seem prudent,” Dad did his best to explain. “We’re going after the changelings.”
Everyone erupted in protests, saying how it wasn’t possible or how it would ruin our economy. With over five hundred changelings between the ages of four months and twenty years old out in the field, we didn’t have the manpower to bring back every changeling, and it would cripple our finances if we did. Not to mention that a lot of the changelings were still just kids, many under the age of ten. The American and Canadian police would have a field day if we kidnapped hundreds of children.
“Calm down!” Ridley shouted. “We have a plan, and before you guys get your panties in a bunch, you should at least listen to what it is, don’t you think?”
“Konstantin’s attacks haven’t been random,” Dad elaborated, once the room quieted down again. “The first changeling he went after was Linus Berling, who as you all know is next in line for the throne if the King doesn’t produce an heir. The one he targeted yesterday was Charlotte Salin, who is right behind Linus in line for the throne.
“He’s going after royalty,” Dad concluded.
“But how is he getting this information?” Tilda asked, speaking for the first time since the meeting had started. “It’s classified. Almost no one has access to it.”
“We’re not sure, but we’re investigating,” Dad assured her.
“As soon as we find the leak, we’ll be able to find Konstantin and put a stop to this,” Ridley added.
“But until then, we need to keep ourselves protected,” Dad said. “That means more protection here in Doldastam, which is where the Högdragen come in. Linus Berling and Charlotte Salin need extra guards on them. The front gate needs to be locked at all times, and we need to instate a patrol to go around the wall. Doldastam must be impenetrable.
“As for the rest of the trackers, you’ll be going out to get our more elite changelings that are coming of age. We think that’s who Konstantin will target next, and we want you to get to them before he does.” Dad pulled out his papers, looking down at them. “I’ve got all the placements right here. When I call your name, come up and get your file, and then you’re to leave as soon as you’re able.
“Tilda Moller and Simon Bohlin, you’ll be paired together,” Dad began.
“Paired together?” Tilda asked as she stood up.
“Oh, yes, after the incidents, we thought it would be best for the trackers to be paired up,” Dad explained. “Both for your safety and for the changelings’.”
“But what if we don’t need to be paired up?” I protested, and Tilda gave me a look as she made her way to the front of the room.
“Everyone is paired up. No exceptions,” Dad told me without looking up.
“But we’re wasting resources,” I insisted. “We only have so many trackers. If we pair up, then you’re cutting our number in half. If we went on our own, we could get twice as many changelings.”
“Or twice as many of you could end up dead.” Dad pursed his lips and finally looked at me. “The King and Queen made the call, and the decision is final.”
“I’m just saying—” I began.
“Bryn Aven, why don’t you come up here and get your placement?” Dad asked. “That would probably make the rest of this meeting go much faster.”
I groaned inwardly, but I went up to the front of the room, carefully maneuvering around trackers and guards. People had begun whispering and talking among themselves again, but they kept their voices low so they’d be able to hear my dad call their names.
“Where’s my file?” I asked when I reached my dad.
“I already gave it to your partner.” Dad motioned to Ridley, standing beside him, holding a manila file.
“You’re retired,” I protested.
“I came out of retirement for one last job,” Ridley told me. “This is an important mission, and they needed the best.”
“And that’s me and you?” I asked.
Smiling down at me, he said, “I don’t see anybody better here. Do you?”
The train ride to Calgary was long, and that should’ve been a good thing, since it gave me more time to go over the changeling’s file. As soon as we’d been assigned, Ridley and I had gone to our respective homes, packed up our things, and within twenty minutes we were on the road out of town. I’d glanced over the file long enough to see where we were headed, noting that there would be a lot of downtime as we passed through the Canadian landscape.
That also meant there was plenty of time to have awkward conversations with Ridley. I hadn’t spent this much time alone with him in … well, in ever, actually, since we’d be together for at least a few days on this mission.
This was coming right after we’d spent the night together—platonically, sort of. And right after I’d realized my feelings for him, feelings I was trying to will away or at the very least pretend didn’t exist. Which was much harder to do when he was sitting right next to me, his arm brushing up against mine as I leafed through the file.
The cover page had all her basic information on it.
NAME: Emma Lisa Costar (Jones)
PARENTS: Markis Guy Costar and Marksinna Elsa Costar, née Berling
HOST FAMILY: Benjamin and Margaret Jones
BIRTH DATE: February 26, 1999
HAIR COLOR: Brown
EYE COLOR: Brown
LAST KNOWN ADDRESS: 1117 Royal Lane SW, Calgary, AB T2T 0L7
Paper-clipped to the top were two photos—a baby picture taken right after Emma was born, before she was switched at birth, and a composite photo of what Emma might look like now, based on her baby picture and her parents. I always thought the composite photos looked more than a bit creepy, but they had helped me find changelings in the past.