- Crystal Kingdom
I peered down into the hole, excited to see Ember after all this time, but she was conspicuously absent. Only Finn’s parents waited in the tunnel.
“Where’s Ember?” I whispered.
“She didn’t come,” he said in a low grunt.
“What do you mean, she didn’t come?” I pressed.
Finn gave me a hard look. “I’m not going over this again. I barely managed to convince my parents to leave without her by telling them that their grandkids needed them. Ember refused to leave, and that’s all there is to it.”
That was apparently all he would say on the matter, because then he crouched, grabbing on to the edges of the hole, and dropped down into the sewer.
I motioned for my dad to go next, and Finn and his father helped him. He landed with a bit of a clunk, but he wasn’t any worse for the wear. Once he was standing, I helped lower my mom down.
I waited until she was safely on the tunnel floor. Above me, the sky was starting to lighten even more, and though I couldn’t see it from where I sat crouched in the cemetery, I knew the sun had started its ascent above the horizon.
My parents had taken longer to get ready and get their things than I would’ve liked, but they were running away from the life they’d spent the past twenty years building. I couldn’t blame them.
“Bryn, come on,” my mom said, staring up at me. “Your dad and I will help you down.”
“I have to go back and get Ember,” I told her. “You go on with Finn and his parents. He’ll take you back to camp.”
“Bryn!” Mom nearly shouted, her voice cracking in desperation. “I’m not leaving without you.”
“Mom, go,” I told her. “I’ll be fine. I have to do this. You and Dad need to get to safety.”
“Bryn,” Dad said, pleading with me to go with them. But I couldn’t be persuaded.
“I gotta go. I love you guys. Stay safe.” I placed the grate back over the hole, and my mom said my name again, but I didn’t stay to hear more.
Since Ember had moved to Doldastam over four years ago, she’d instantly become one of my closest friends. She’d always had my back, even sometimes when no one else did. Because she was a couple years younger than me, I’d always kind of thought of her as a little sister. I was an only child, and her brother lived so far away, so we’d made each other family.
I wouldn’t leave her here to die. I didn’t know what Finn had done to try to convince her, but I would drag Ember out of here kicking and screaming if I had to.
The good thing was that Ember lived on the far east side of town where the poorer people lived, and that meant that guards weren’t patrolling it so hard. The east also faced the bay, and the guards probably weren’t counting on an attack from the water.
On the last half of my dash across town to Ember’s farm, I didn’t see a single guard. That made getting there much easier. I hopped the fence into the goat yard and ran over to her house.
The exterior had dark wood beams that ran along the outside, both for decoration and for support. Using the beams, I managed to climb up until I could reach the balcony that extended from her second story. That was far harder than it sounded, since everything had that nice layer of ice on it.
I grabbed the metal railing and hoisted myself up. For a moment I just lay on the balcony on my back, catching my breath and staring up at the fading stars. But then I was up, jamming open the French doors, and pushing my way inside Ember’s house.
I’d just stepped through the doors and was about to say her name when I felt a hard punch slamming into my jaw, knocking me to the floor.
Oh, Bryn, oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry!” Ember pounced on me, hugging me while I was lying stunned on the floor. “I thought you were a guard that caught my parents leaving.”
“No, it’s just me.”
She sat back on her knees so I could sit up, and I rubbed my jaw where she’d hit me. Then I just stared at her. It seemed so unreal to be seeing her again.
Her wide eyes were so dark they were nearly black, and her bangs landed just above them. Her long chestnut hair hung over her shoulder in a thick braid. She wore shabby leggings and a patterned long-sleeve thermal shirt, and I felt a tad envious knowing that she’d slept in a nice bed in a warm house while I was out sleeping in the storm.
Her mouth spread into a toothy grin. “I can’t believe it’s really you.”
“I know. It’s crazy.”
We’d been apart for long periods of time before. I’d gone on missions tracking changelings, and so had she. But this time it felt different. So much had happened, and neither of us was sure that we’d ever see each other again.
And then, since she couldn’t contain herself, Ember hugged me again, and this time I was able to hug her back.
“I’m not going with you,” she said softly, still hugging me.
I let go and pulled back. “What? Why the hell not?”
“I can’t.” She shook her head. “I don’t have time to explain it all, but I can’t. I have to stay here and help the people that are left behind.”
“Ember, you’re being ridiculous. Did Finn tell you about all the soldiers we have stationed out beyond the hill?” I asked. “It’s going to be brutal here. You could die.”
“I know, I do, but that’s exactly why I have to stay,” she said with a sad smile. “I can’t leave everyone defenseless. Tilda and Kasper’s families are still here, not to mention Juni Sköld, Simon Bohlin, and Linus Berling, and so many other of our friends.” She paused. “I won’t leave Delilah.”