I didn’t trust Luke.
So instead of waiting around being idle, until he decided to tell me something new, I decided to carry on with my plan. So the next night, I told Lily I wanted to go out, see where the royals went to have some fun. She hadn’t asked how my dinner had gone - not that I had expected her to, but every now and then, I’d catch her eyeing me curiously.
I let her off for the night, preferring to dress myself for what I had in mind.
If last night, I had been aiming for classy and, yes, regal, tonight was a whole other issue. Tonight, I needed answers. So I channeled Freyja. She didn’t enjoy her work, but she once told me that she did love the clothes she wore for it. It didn’t really make sense to me, but I knew there was a certain power to be had in the right clothes. So I pulled on my shortest skirt and my tightest top, bought with this kind of night in mind, and prepared to go to battle.
I knew it had worked the second I stepped into the club. Male - and female - heads turned my way, watching me as I made my way to the bar. I had replenished on fire before I came out tonight, so that I could easily burn any debilitating alcohol in my blood, if need be. That way, I could drink as much as needed, and still be sober. It was a very useful perk of my abilities.
As I sat at the bar and asked for a vodka coke, I felt many eyes on me. But the only one that was of interest to me were the ones of a woman standing with a group of friends to my right.
Out of the corner of my eye, I observed them inconspicuously, while she was much less subtle about her attentions. She was with a group with five other women, one of which was wearing a plastic crown and downing shots like there was no tomorrow. Either a birthday or a bachelorette party, I surmised. Either one worked to my advantage. Drinks flowed easily, bought both from the women and from observing people - mostly middle-aged men, I noted, shaking my head in exasperation - so that inebriation would be a plus to me and a disadvantage to her. The special girl was downing drinks as they came, but her friends, including my admirer, weren’t doing too bad themselves. I watched as the woman who had been checking me out put back her fourth shot in as many minutes.
It wasn’t so much that they were in a pack - we women tended to do that when we went out; Freyja claimed it was because we felt vulnerable on our own; I simply found it was easier to deflect unwanted attention on to someone else rather than deal with a rejection on my own. It was more the way they carried themselves. Even way passed tipsy, their eyes were always sweeping the room. I doubted those eyes actually registered much of what they saw, but it was obvious nonetheless. These women were part of the guard.
Which meant there was a chance they’d know about the double kidnapping that had happened a couple of nights ago.
So when she looks at me next, I smiled at herald she smiled back. Bait engaged.
It’s not long until the woman approaches me. She comes over in the guise of getting the bartender’s attention, but I’ve been watching her; I know better.
“Hi,” she yells over the pounding music. “I’m Katherine.”
I nod at her, smiling slightly. “I’m Emma.”
“You been waiting here very long, Emma?”
I motion to my half-full drink. “Service was really good when I needed it.”
She nods, looking chagrined. I wonder if she was drunk enough not to notice my drink. If so, this will be too easy.
“Have you been waiting very long for yours?” I ask her, sidling over so that I’m sitting closer to her. Her pupils dilate, and I mentally high-five myself. This is going very well.
She shrugs. “A while.”
I waved a hand in the air, catching the bartender’s attention, then turned to smile at her. “On me.”
Her eyes widened. “But I was going to get something for…” she gestures at her friends behind her.
“I know,” I told her. “Congratulations to the happy one, by the way. What is she celebrating?”
She smiled at me. How easy it is to gain people’s confidence. Buy them a drink, and they’ll happily spill their life’s secrets to you.
“She's engaged,” she told me, leaning closer so she didn’t have to yell over the music. “Just today.”
I tipped by glass in the direction of the newly engaged woman. “Much happiness to her.”
Her smile grew. “She had been waiting for it for years. We’re all glad he finally had the courage to go ahead with it.”
I grinned. “Men. Always dawdling, eh?”
Her laugh was loud and unrestrained, as she pointed the bartender in the direction of her friends. “Yes. Always, it seems.”
“So what do you do?” I asked her, trying to sound casual, as I gulped down my drink, and immediately evaporated the alcohol out of my blood.
“I’m a guard for the King.”
No surprise there. But I pretended I was surprised, putting on a look that I hoped conveyed surprise and admiration.
“That must be a hard job.”
She shrugged. “It’s not so bad.”
“I’m a guest at the palace; I’ve seen you guys all around. The shifts must be horrendous.”
She eyed me curiously. “You’re a guest?”
It was my turn to shrug. “I’m a minor royalty from a neighbouring kingdom. Apparently I’m important enough to be given shelter at the palace, but not enough for the King to welcome me personally. Though I think the Prince made a pass at me,” I said, wrinkling my nose.
Katherine laughed. “I wouldn’t take it personally,” she told me. “He makes a pass on pretty much everyone who is female.”
I nodded. “Yeah, I gathered as much.” She grinned. “So, you’re a guard, huh? Wish I was that lucky.”
“What do you mean?”
I sighed. “I’m a Lady, but only minor royalty in my kingdom. I’ll never inherit the crown, but my status still keeps me from doing anything fun. You must get to see all sorts of fun stuff as a guard.”
Katherine laughed at that. Her laugh was infectious, and in any other occasion, I’d feel bad about using her. But Finn and Freyja meant too much for me, and if Katherine helped me get to them, I’d do what I had to.
“I’ve seen my fair share of interesting things, I guess,” she conceded.
I nodded eagerly. “My ladies’ maid told me there’s a rumour that the King has caught the pretender to the throne.” I frowned, pretending to be tipsy as I stared into my glass. “But I thought the entire royal family had been killed in the invasion?”
Katherine shot a glance behind her at her friends, before she bent closer to me, nodding. “I’ve heard the same rumour. Everyone thought that the Apricum family was dead and buried after King Vegard took over. But a friend of mine told me they have two new prisoners in the dungeons; he wouldn’t tell me who they were, but I assumed, you know…”
I widened my eyes. “So the King has the old Princess in his dungeon?”
She shrugged. “I guess. But I don’t know who the second prisoner is.”
“Oh. Yeah.” I said, looking disappointed. “Weird.”
“Although,” she told me conspiratorially. “It’s rumoured that Queen Lily had been pregnant before the siege.”
“You don’t think…?”
She nodded soberly. “It would make sense, right? I mean, if he went for the Princess…”
“… he’d go for the Prince too,” I whispered. “Oh, but that’s horrible!” At her sideways glance at me, I was quick to explain myself. “If the Queen had been pregnant, he couldn’t be older than ten. Such a young child imprisoned…”
She looked stricken. “I hadn’t considered how old he would be,” she said slowly. “That would be horrible.” She shuddered.
I wondered worriedly what was so terrible about the King’s dungeons that his own guard disliked it. I had to get to Freyja and Finn - fast. Before whatever horrible aspect of the prison that made Katherine shudder affected them too much.
“But it can’t be them, right? I mean, they died.”
“Yeah,” she said, her eyes unfocused, and her voice sounding far away. “Can’t be.” She looked at me and smiled. “I’m sorry, I have to go back to my friends,” she told me. “But here,” she slid a napkin my way, and I noticed there were some numbers scrawled on it. “Give me a call, okay?”
I nodded, gathering the napkin with her number. I watched as she rejoined her friends, laughing at a joke one of the other women told. But a few minutes later, she detached herself from the group again, and headed towards the door. Quickly placing some cash on the bar, I followed her from a safe distance.
Outside, she skirted the wall of the club, following the alley beside it, and walked at a brisk pace into the bowels of the city. I jumped on the windowsill, propelling myself on to the roof of the club. From there, I followed her through the city until she reached the industrial area.
There, she paused, looked behind her and ducked into the closest warehouse. As she went in, I sat against the chimney of the warehouse directly across the road from the one she had entered, and settled down for a wait.
I didn’t wait long; less than ten minutes later, Katherine came back out. This time, she was accompanied by a man who seemed vaguely familiar. They walked together back up to the palace, and went in.
I stopped a few buildings away from the gate to the palace, watching them as they went in the front door. The man she was with - he had to be the key. But though I knew I had seen him before, I couldn’t place his face. Sighing, I turned and went back to the club.
At least I had a new target; but if I could find another willing guard who would actually be inebriated enough to spill the beans, it would make my life much easier.
I danced and drank with three other guards that night, all of them men. None of them admitted to knowing anything about a kidnap, or any rumours about the old royal family still being alive.
By the time I got to my room, I felt disgusting. The last guard had been very fond of grinding on the dance floor, and I felt like a slab of meat. I opened the door to my room, and went straight to the bathroom, wanting to scrub off the feeling of being a possession off of me.
Turning on the warm water, my thoughts went back to the man I had seen with Katherine. He had walked into the palace through the front door with her, so he had to work here.
I had to find him. If my suspicions were correct - and they always were when it came to tracking my victims - this man was the key to finding out where Freyja and Finn were being kept.
And that was really all I needed: a location. From there, I’d take care of things myself