- Crystal Kingdom
“As reassuring as that is, the sun is starting to set”—I gestured out the window at the amber skies showing through the branches of the willow trees that lined the road—“and I’d like to get where we’re going by nightfall.”
“That’s a great idea, but if you packed a buncha maps to the troll capitals, you should’ve let me in on that sooner,” he said with sarcasm dripping from his voice.
“I didn’t.” I dug through my bag, pushing through the clothes I’d picked up from thrift stores and garage sales over the last few days. “I didn’t even pack this bag. Ridley got everything together.”
As I moved a pair of jeans, the cell phone fell out of the pocket. I stared at it for moment, once again finding myself trapped under the tantalizing possibility of calling Ridley. It was a prepaid phone, so it was virtually untraceable, and I would do almost anything to be able to call Ridley and hear his voice and find out he was okay.
But I knew I couldn’t risk it. It was still too soon, and if anyone in Doldastam found out I’d contacted him, he would be in serious trouble. Assuming that he wasn’t already locked up for helping me escape in the first place.
“Who’s Ridley?” Konstantin asked. “Wait. Wasn’t he like the Rektor or something?”
“It doesn’t matter.” I brushed him off, since talking about Ridley still felt far too painful, and I buried the phone back in the bag. “But this looks like a standard bag for new trackers, which means that they pack it with a few emergency essentials, including a handbook . . .”
Finally, I unzipped a pocket hidden at the bottom of the bag and found the handbook. Since this bag was going out into the human world, we tried to keep the handbook as hidden as possible, in case the bag fell into the wrong hands. But it was a nice asset for trackers out on their first few jobs because it had tips and tricks, along with important information for them to remember.
It also had rundowns on all the other tribes in case you ran into them (which wasn’t completely unheard-of, especially when tracking changelings in popular destinations like New York City or Chicago).
“Aha!” I held up the book to show Konstantin, but he seemed less than impressed.
“Does that have an address in it?” he asked with an arched eyebrow.
“Let me find out.” I tossed my bag into the backseat, and then I got comfortable, sinking lower so I could prop my bare feet up on the dashboard with the handbook spread open on my legs.
The first few sections were all things to help trackers do their jobs better, and I flipped through them quickly until I got to the parts about the tribes. When I saw that there were only a couple pages on each tribe, my heart sank.
It didn’t help that the top quarter of one of the pages on the Omte was a detailed sketch of their emblem—a brown-bearded vulture, staring at me with small black eyes. There were a few basic facts about the Omte, and finally, at the bottom, I found a sentence that seemed remotely helpful.
“The Omte capital of Fulaträsk is located in the wetlands in the human state of Louisiana,” I read aloud. “Fulaträsk has an estimated population of six thousand, making it the second most populated capital of the five tribes. They live under the rule of their King and Queen, Thor and Bodil Elak, who reside in the palace there.”
“That must be an older printing,” Konstantin commented when I’d finished reading.
I turned back to the cover, and it looked new enough to me. “What makes you say that?”
“Because Thor died, like, three years ago,” he said. “Bodil is still allowed to rule, though, because she and Thor have a little kid.”
“How do you know this stuff?” I asked. “I don’t even know this.”
“I traveled with Bent for a while, remember? And he loved talking about all the stupid crap the Omte would get themselves into.”
“What happened to the King?”
“There’s a tavern in Fulaträsk called the Ugly Vulture.” He shook his head, like he thought it was a dumb name. “According to Bent, it’s a real roughneck place, although, also according to him, all the bars in Fulaträsk are really rowdy places. But the Ugly Vulture is apparently the worst.”
The road had become narrow, so the swamp came right up to the edges of it, and Konstantin slowed down. As the sun continued to set, everything around us seemed to glow an eerie red.
“Thor really loved the Ugly Vulture,” Konstantin went on. “That is one nice thing that Bent said about the Omte—their royals have no problem getting down and dirty with the commoners.”
“How progressive of them,” I said dryly.
“So anyway, I guess Thor got really drunk on eldvatten—”
“Eldvatten?” I interrupted him.
“It’s this really, really strong alcohol that the Omte make. It’s like a cross between wine and moonshine, but I have no idea what’s in it,” Konstantin explained.
“So the King is totally wasted at this point, and Bent didn’t know the full details of it, but another patron starts getting mouthy with Thor,” he continued. “So the King starts hitting this guy, and the guy gets pissed, so he rips out Thor’s throat with his bare hands.”
I gaped at him. “This is who we’re going to for help? Their King died in a bar fight!”
“We don’t have a lot of other options,” he countered. “And besides, the King was drunk. He was probably less of a dick when he was sober.”