I leaned against the wall and slowly lowered myself to the floor. And I couldn’t think. I tried to figure out my next course of action, but I couldn’t. My mind felt numb and blank, and I couldn’t process anything that had happened today. It felt like I’d slipped into a big white void that had swallowed me whole, and nothing was real anymore.
“Bryn?” Ridley’s panicked voice was in the house, and I hadn’t even heard him open the doors. Time no longer seemed to move in any coherent way, and I had no idea if he’d been gone for ten minutes or two hours.
“Bryn?” Ridley repeated, sounding more panicked this time, and he came into the bedroom. “What are you doing? Why didn’t you answer me?”
“I don’t know,” I admitted.
He crouched next to me. “Are you okay?”
“I don’t know,” I said again. “But I will be.”
His eyes searched me in the dark. I didn’t know if he believed me or not, but we didn’t have time to figure things out right now. “We have to get out of here,” he said.
I got up and hurried after him, and that seemed to help. Moving reminded me that I was alive, and there were urgent things I needed to take care of if I wanted to stay that way.
Ridley had gotten an SUV from the King’s fleet and parked it in the constricted alley behind his house. I pulled up my hood over my head, and he snuck me out the back door and loaded me into the back of the Land Rover. He covered me in a thick black blanket kept in the back for emergencies, and then he hopped in the driver’s seat.
As he drove through town, he said nothing. Underneath the blanket, I couldn’t see anything. I just listened to the sound of the car.
It didn’t take long before I heard the SUV come to a stop and the window roll down.
“Where are you going?” a man barked, and by the tone of his question, I surmised it was one of the Högdragen guarding the gate.
“I have orders from the King,” Ridley replied, sounding just as stern.
“That doesn’t tell me where you’re going,” the Högdragen shot back.
“I am the Överste, Ridley Dresden.”
By the sound of the rustling, I guessed that Ridley was pulling out his credentials to show the guard. It was a cross between a passport and an FBI badge, with all the specific information to prove exactly who he was.
“This still doesn’t tell me what you’re doing, sir,” the Högdragen said, but with a bit more respect in his voice now. “Doldastam is on lockdown now.”
“I know that,” Ridley snapped. “But the King has sent me on a mission to follow up on a lead on Viktor Dålig. Do you want to stop the commander of the army from going after the man who tried to kill the King?”
“No, sir,” the Högdragen replied. I heard the muffled sounds of him conversing with another guard but I couldn’t understand what they were saying. Then, rather reluctantly, he said, “All right. Go on through.”
The gates creaked open loudly, and the SUV started to move. At first, Ridley drove at a reasonable speed, but as soon as we were a safe enough distance away, he sped up, causing the vehicle to bounce around on the worn road.
I pushed the blanket off my head and sat up, looking around at the familiar trees that surrounded us. I wondered dimly if I’d ever see them again, but I had far more important things to worry about.
I climbed up over the seat into the front and sat down next to Ridley.
“How are you doing?” he asked.
“I’ve been better.”
“I got passports and money from the safe.” He motioned to a black duffel bag in the backseat.
“Thank you.” I looked over at him, and I hoped he understood how much I truly appreciated what he’d done and risked to help me. Ridley reached over, taking my hand in his, and held it on the drive to the train station.
When we pulled into the parking lot, he turned off the car and got out. He grabbed the bag from the back, and I walked around the Land Rover. He took my hand again so we could walk together to the ticket booth, but I stopped.
“What?” Ridley looked back at me.
“You can’t go with me. This is where we have to say goodbye.”
He shook his head. “What are you talking about?”
“Kennet and Konstantin are just pawns. Somebody else is making the moves, and I need to find out who that it is and make sure they get some semblance of justice. I may never be able to prove my innocence, but I won’t stand by and let everything I care about be destroyed.”
“That’s exactly why I should go with you,” Ridley insisted.
“No. I shouldn’t have let Kasper go with me, and I won’t let you meet his fate,” I said.
“And more than that,” I cut him off, “my parents are still in Doldastam. I don’t know who is behind everything, and they could go after them in retaliation. I need you to go back and make sure they’re safe.
“And Tilda,” I went on. “She needs someone to help her now. And I need you to tell her that I didn’t kill Kasper.”
“Bryn, she knows that,” he said.
“Tell her anyway, okay?” I persisted. “And tell her I’m sorry. I never meant for him to get hurt.” I swallowed back the tears that threatened to form.
Ridley squeezed my hand. “Okay. I’ll tell her, and I’ll watch out for you parents and Tilda. I won’t let anything happen to them while you’re gone.”
I kissed him then, knowing I might never see him again, that this might be the very last kiss we ever shared, and he set down the duffel bag so he could wrap his arms around me. For a moment, the world fell away around us, and it was only me and him and the way his lips tasted and his arms felt and how desperately I loved him.
He held my face in his hands and looked deep into my eyes. “When this is over, and your parents and Tilda are safe, I will come find you.”
The train began to whistle as it pulled into the station, so we didn’t have much time. I kissed him again, then grabbed the duffel bag and ran into the station.
five days later
The cell phone sat on the counter, the black screen staring up at me, almost taunting me to use it. It’d been five days, and every day had been a battle of will not to call Ridley to find out what was going on.
I didn’t know if he’d gotten caught for helping me escape, and I wanted to know how Tilda was doing and if my parents were safe. But the Högdragen were probably monitoring his phone, and even though I’d gotten an untraceable prepaid phone, that could still mean trouble for him.