"Where are we going?" I asked. It might have been a better question to ask before I'd gotten in the black Mustang with Konstantin, but I hadn't wanted him to leave without me. And did it really matter where we going? I had no place to be. No place to call home.
"I don't know." He glanced in the rearview mirror, watching the diner disappear behind us as he sped down the highway. "Do you have somewhere in mind?"
I shook my head. "No." Then I looked over at him. "But we should find some place where we can really talk."
"How about a motel?" he suggested, and when I scowled at him, he laughed. "If I was going to murder you, I would've done it already, and if was just looking to get laid, believe me when I say there are easier ways to do it than this."
"Why don't you come out with it right now? I think a talk is long overdue."
He smirked. "You sound so menacing."
I looked out the window, watching the lush greenery as we sped by it. Even with me moving all over as a tracker, it was always jarring to go from the harsh cold of Doldastam the bright warmth of anywhere else. Home was so far away, and this felt like a whole other world.
"How did you find me?" I asked, still watching the full ash trees that lined the side of the road.
"It was actually quite simple," he said, and I looked back at him. He reached into the pocket of his leather jacket and pulled out a blond lock of hair held together with a thread.
Hesitantly, I took it from him. It was a pale golden color, with a subtle wave to it – exactly how my hair looked before I destroyed it with a bad dye job. This was my hair.
And all the pieces suddenly fell together. How Konstantin had been able to find me, no matter where I was, like the hotel room in Calgary, or outside of Storvatten when I'd captured him. Even when he'd visited my in the lysa before.
Konstantin had been a Kanin tracker, from a long line of trackers, and thanks to his strong bloodline, he'd had a powerful affinity for it. Like many trackers, he had the ability to imprint onto a changeling if he had something from them – a lock of hair usually worked best.
It also turned the changeling into a kind of homing beacon. Konstantin couldn't read minds, but he could sense extreme emotions in the trackee that meant they were in trouble. The recent events in Doldastam, along with my general fear and anxiety the last few days, would've turned me into a megawatt searchlight.
And Konstantin had been tracking me.
"Where did you get this?" I asked, twisting the hair between my fingers.
Like all trolls, changelings are born with a very thick head of hair, and a lock of hair is taken from them before they're placed with a host family. That way a tracker could find them later.
But I'd never been a changeling, and this hair felt much coarser than my hair had as a child. This had been taken recently.
"Why do you even have it?" I turned to look at him. "Why were you tracking me?"
He opened his mouth, then closed it and exhaled deeply through his nose. "That is a question that's best answered when we get to the motel."
"What? Why?" I sat up more in the seat, putting my knee underneath me so I could face him better and defend myself if I needed to. "What's happening at this at this motel you keep bringing up?"
"Calm down." He held up a hand out toward me, palm out. "You're already getting worked up, and I think when I start telling you things, you'll get even more worked up, and I've had enough fights in a car to know that it's better if we wait until we're some place that isn't flying 70 mph down the road to have a heated conversation."
His explanation sounded reasonable enough, so I relaxed a bit and settled back in the seat.
"For being on the run, this seems like a rather conscious and expensive choice of car," I commented, since that seemed like a safe topic.
"Conspicuous, maybe. Expensive, no," he said. "I kind of stole it."
"You really know how to keep a low profile," I muttered.
"Hey, I kept a low profile for a four years. I know a thing or two," he insisted. "And I used persuasion, so it's not exactly like that owner is gonna report it to the police."
Persuasion was a psychokinetic ability trolls had where they could make people do what they wanted using a form of mind control. From what I knew about Konstantin, his ability wasn't strong enough to work on other trolls, but humans were much more susceptible to that kind of thing. So Konstantin probably hadn't had to try to that hard to convince the human to part with his muscle car.
"So who exactly are you on the run from?" I asked. "Other than the Kanin, of course."
He hesitated, and his grip tightened on the steering wheel. "Viktor Dålig and his men."
"But I thought you were like Viktor's right hand man or something. How'd you end up on the outs?"
"I told you back in Storvatten, when I was in the dungeon. I didn't want to get any more blood on my hands. That's why I warned Linnea. I wanted to make things right." He shifted in the seat. "And as you can imagine, that didn't exactly sit well with Viktor. I'd been on his shit list ever since I convinced him not to kill you."
"Thank you for that, by the way," I told him softly.
"You weren't supposed to get hurt." He glanced over at me, his eyes pained for a moment. "You weren't supposed to be down there."
While Linnea had still been missing in Storvatten, I had snuck down to the dungeon where Konstantin was being held to find out what he knew. I was desperate to find Linnea. But instead I'd interrupted Viktor helping Konstantin make his escape.
To prevent me from stopping them or telling anyone, Viktor had bashed my head against a wall repeatedly. Viktor had wanted me dead, but I'd suspected that Konstantin had intervened to save my life.
Still I had a gash under my hairline to show for it. It had required six stiches, though it was nearly healed. The worst part of the injury was the vision in my right would get wonky sometimes, especially if I hit my head, or somebody punched me.
"So why did Viktor finally kick you out?" I asked, changing the subject.
He shook his head. "Viktor didn't. Besides, he doesn't kick anyone out. Once you've served your purpose, you're dead." He shot me a sidelong glance. "You remember what happened to Bent Stum."
"You left, then?" I asked.
"Yeah. I'd finally had enough of it." He breathed deeply. "Viktor doesn't care about anything but revenge. A lot of innocents are gonna die. And I couldn't be a part of it anymore, and I didn't know how to stop it."
I swallowed hard and sunk lower in the seat. Konstantin hadn't really said anything that I didn't already know, but hearing it aloud didn't make it any easier to take.
Even if I was back in Doldastam, I wasn't sure how much I could do to help, but at least I would be able to fight alongside my friends – Ridley, Tilda, Ember – to protect the town filled with people I cared about.
Now I was trapped so far away from them. They were up against the worst thing ever to hit Doldastam, and I was powerless to help them.