According to her birthday, Emma was just barely fifteen, but in the composite picture of her, she appeared younger. Her cheeks were still chubby, her eyes wide, her dark hair falling in ringlets around her face.
The packet of pages behind that had all kinds of information about her biological family, in hopes that it would shed some light on what she might be like, as well as information about her host family, to make it easier to find her.
I barely glanced through the packet, though, because I already knew a great deal about her family. Her mother—Elsa Costar—was Dylan Berling’s sister, making her Linus’s aunt and a cousin to the King. If something were to happen to Linus, when Emma returned from Calgary in a few years according to the original schedule, she would be next in line for the throne. Charlotte Salin—the changeling Ember had just rescued—was only next because she had come of age, and Emma Costar hadn’t yet returned to Doldastam.
We kept very rough tabs on changelings while they were gone, since in general the Kanin liked to interact with humans as little as possible. That meant that, rarely, changelings would move or go missing, and we couldn’t find them. On other tragic occasions, the changelings died while in the care of their host families, usually due to accident or illness.
The horrible truth was that we had no real way of knowing what was happening to changelings when they were with their host families. Most of the time it was nothing notable—their host parents generally loved and raised them like their own. But right now, when Konstantin Black was on the loose and going after changelings, it was a little scary not knowing where exactly Emma Costar was or if she was safe.
“Anything good there?” Ridley asked.
He sat low in the chair next to me, one of his legs crossed over the other, making his knee bump into mine every time he shifted. His head rested back against the seat, and his eyes were barely open, hooded in dark lashes so I wasn’t sure if he even saw anything at all. In his hand he had a small lock of Emma’s hair, taken from her when she was a baby and tied with a thin pink ribbon.
“Just the usual stuff,” I said with a sigh and tried not to stare at Emma’s hair as he twirled it between his fingers.
The Costars hadn’t taken Emma’s hair in a gesture of affection. It was a tool, an aid in helping trackers find her later. By touching something personal, most trackers had the ability to imprint on a changeling. Ridley couldn’t read her mind, but he’d be able to feel if she was terrified or in pain—extreme emotions that meant that she was in trouble and needed our help.
This also turned the changeling into kind of a tracking beacon. If Ridley focused on her, we’d be able to find her. I wasn’t sure exactly how it worked, but Ember had explained it as feeling a pull inside of you, like a tug from an invisible electrical current warming you from within and telling you which way to go, and the closer you got to the changeling, the stronger the feeling would get.
Ember had that ability, so did Ridley and Tilda and almost all the other trackers I worked with, as did their parents, and their parents before them. A Kanin’s supernatural abilities were passed down through blood, and naturally the trackers were the ones who carried the tracking gift. Since my parents weren’t trackers—my mother came from a tribe that didn’t even have trackers of any kind—I was born without it.
That was one of the reasons it had been harder for me to become a tracker. I suffered a major handicap compared to everyone else, but I worked twice as hard to compensate for it. Instinct, intuition, and sheer force of will seemed to make up for my lack of blood-borne talent.
“Are you getting a read on her?” I asked Ridley.
He shook his head. “Not yet, but we’re still kinda far away.”
“When we get to Calgary, we should go to her house straight off and scope it out.” I closed the file and settled back in my seat. Ridley moved his arm so it rested against mine, but I let it. “We can check into the hotel after, but we should get a read on her, at least, make sure she’s safe, and then we should come up with the best plan to interact with her.
“Obviously, since I’m younger than you and don’t look like a thirty-year-old creeper, I should be the one to make contact,” I continued, thinking aloud. “It’s going to be a bit trickier, since she’s younger than most changelings, but maybe that will work to our advantage. Younger kids tend to be more trusting.”
“I have done this before.” Ridley looked down at me, a wry smirk on his lips. “Believe it or not, I do know a few things about tracking.”
“I know.” I met his playful gaze with a knowing one. “I’m just coming up with a course of action.” I moved my arm away from his. “I’m not used to working with someone.”
“Neither am I, but I think we make a good team. We’ll be fine.” He reached out, putting his hand on my leg, but only for a second before taking it back.
“I don’t know.” I looked away, remembering the ominous warning Ember had given me this morning. “Konstantin seems out for blood.”
“There’s two of us, and we’re both strong fighters. Hell, I’m an amazing fighter.” Ridley tried to make a joke of it, but I wasn’t having any of it, so his smile fell away. “If you could handle him by yourself, there’s no reason to think that we can’t handle him together.”
“Except this time he’s escalating,” I reminded him. Ember had filled out a report and told Ridley in even greater detail about her fight with Konstantin and Bent, so he knew about Konstantin’s blatant disregard for everything when he stole Charlotte from her bedroom.
“But we’re prepared for it,” Ridley countered.
“I still can’t believe you’re out in the field for this mission,” I said, eager to change the subject from Konstantin and the sense of impending doom he filled me with. “Isn’t it, like, illegal to un-retire?”
“No, we just don’t often un-retire, as you so eloquently put it, because there’s a reason we retired in the first place. For me, it was because my boyish good looks had given way to the ruggedly handsome features of a man, and for some reason teenagers find it creepy when grown men hang around high schools.”
“Teenagers can be so unfair,” I said with faux-disbelief. “Do you ever miss being in the field?”
He raised one shoulder in a half shrug. “Sometimes, yeah, I do. The one thing that does suck about being the Rektor is being stuck in the same place day in and day out. Don’t get me wrong.” He turned his head to face me, still resting it against the seat. “I love Doldastam, and I love my job. But it would be nice to see other places, like Hawaii in January.”