Brave, p.27
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       Brave, p.27

         Part #3 of A Wicked Trilogy series by Jennifer L. Armentrout
 

  “These people look friendly,” Ren said under his breath.

  “Right?” I whispered back.

  Daniel made a quick round of introductions, and when he got to the woman, I learned that her name was Liz, and she ran the San Diego branch of the Order.

  “We’ve been told that we are all fighting on the same side,” she said, crossing her arms. “As you can imagine, it is hard for us to accept that.”

  “Just as it’s hard for us to accept the same from the Order,” Faye replied, standing beside Kalen. “But we’re all here.”

  “We are.” Liz lifted a hand. The Order members sat as her gaze found me. “So, you’re the Halfling?”

  I lifted my chin. “I am. Most call me Ivy, though.”

  She ignored that. “And you’re the one the Prince held captive but escaped?”

  I nodded.

  She inclined her head, and I guessed that was some kind of ‘good job’ nod. “What is in your backpack?”

  Tink stopped shimmying around, and Fabian turned to me. “My . . . my friend is in this bag.”

  Daniel lifted his brows. “Your friend?”

  “Yes.”

  “You have a friend in a backpack?” he persisted.

  Ren pressed his lips together.

  “Yeah.” Carefully, I let the bag slide off my arm. I knelt and placed it on the floor. I reached for the space between the zippers, and felt a nip of pain. I jerked my hand back.

  Tink bit my finger!

  That little bastard!

  “Behave,” I warned, shaking the sting out of my hand.

  A soft laugh came from inside the bag.

  “What in the hell?” Daniel stepped forward. “What’s in your bag, Ivy?”

  “A pain in my ass,” I muttered as I unzipped it. “Come on out.”

  Several Order members stood while others tried to see over those standing. Sighing, I straightened as one tiny hand came out of the bag, curling around the material and then another.

  Liz’s eyes narrowed. “What is . . . ?”

  Spiky, icy blond hair appeared, and then a forehead, followed by two big round eyes. Then, because Tink knew everyone was watching, he slowly lifted his wings so they became visible.

  Someone cursed.

  Liz’s mouth dropped open, but she didn’t speak.

  “Is that . . .” Daniel trailed off as Tink lifted a hand and wiggled his fingers.

  “Such a showboat.” Ren sighed, folding his arms.

  I fought a grin. “This is Tink. He is a . . . well, he’s a brownie.”

  “A brownie?” Liz shook her head. “They’re in our world?”

  “No. Just Tink.”

  Tink took that moment to fly out of the bag and zip up to my shoulder. He landed there, picking up my hair and . . . hiding behind it.

  I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Anyway, he was in my bag. He’s a . . . shy little guy.”

  Ren made a choking sound.

  “You have a brownie?” Miles blinked rapidly. “I thought they were—”

  “All killed off by the Winter Court?” Fabian answered for him. “Nearly all of them were. Tink is the only one of his kind in this world.”

  Tink peeked around my head as he balled his fists into my hair and whispered, “I look adorable, don’t I?”

  “Something like that.” I cleared my throat. “I’d like to tell you one day about how I met Tink.”

  A glimpse of wonder snuck into Liz’s expression. “I would very much like to hear that story.”

  I smiled at that. “But we need to talk about the Prince and the Halfling.”

  “That we do.” Liz watched Tink move to my other shoulder, the look of incredulity still filling her expression. She gave a little shake of her head. “We have not been able to discover who the Halfling is, but we know where the Prince is. As far as we know, he has not made contact with the Halfling.”

  I was too realistic to let hope take flight. Just because they didn’t think the Prince had gotten with the Halfling yet didn’t mean it hadn’t happened. “And where is the Prince?”

  “He’s been holed up in one of the resorts,” Miles answered. “The Valencia.”

  Never heard of it, but I was betting it was nice. Sounded like it was.

  “And how many fae does he have with him?” Kalen asked.

  “About a dozen that came with him,” Liz answered. “But he has more. The fae here have been gathering at the resort.”

  “The Order has not gone after him?” Fabian frowned.

  “There are humans at the resort. Too many who would get caught in the crossfire. It would draw a lot of attention. And the twelve fae he brought with him are Knights.” Liz’s jaw hardened. “The Order is brave and we are willing to die for our cause, but not foolishly.”

  “And why do you believe he hasn’t met with the Halfling?” Ren asked.

  “We lucked out when he left New Orleans. He was seen and we were able to follow,” Miles explained.

  One of the Order members who was over by the tables answered. He’d been introduced when we first walked in. Pretty sure his name was Rob. “We were able to track him once he entered the city from the license plates of those who traveled with him. He arrived at the resort, and we’ve had eyes on him the entire time. He hasn’t left once.”

  Something . . . something about this wasn’t making sense.

  “Two of his Knights have come and gone, appearing to be running errands.” Liz walked up to the map, pointing to a black pushpin. “This is where the resort is. We’re thinking that the Halfling is somewhere in this area.”

  A weird chill curled its way down my spine as I looked over at Ren and then Fabian while Tink hung on to my hair. The Summer Prince had said his people became aware that Drake had left New Orleans. Marlon had told us where Drake had gone, and meanwhile, the Order had seen the Prince leave.

  That was . . . that was too many coincidences or sloppy work on the Prince’s behalf. The latter was hard to believe since Drake had managed to go unseen this entire time, setting up a base camp just outside of New Orleans without the Order ever discovering his location. But now? Everyone in their mother had seen him.

  I didn’t like this—didn’t like this at all.

  I took a step back.

  “What’s wrong?” Tink asked, speaking directly into my ear. “Your shoulders are suddenly as tense as a turkey around Thanksgiving.”

  My brow puckered. “I . . . I don’t know.”

  “They must be aware that you know they are here,” Faye spoke, her expression pinched. “And they have to be wondering why you haven’t attacked yet.”

  Daniel nodded as he widened his stance. “I think they believe we are too afraid to do so.”

  “Is that not the case?” Fabian asked.

  “Oooh,” Tink murmured.

  The New Orleans sect leader narrowed his eyes. “We are not afraid. We’re smart. We’ve been planning.”

  “What does the plan entail exactly?” Ren asked.

  “We know the Prince has the Crystal.” Liz turned away from the map. “With the Halfling here, we can complete the ritual and send him back.”

  Ren stiffened, and suddenly, the fact the Order members were so willing to accept our presence made sense. They had realized they needed us—needed me to send the Prince back, but there was something else that picked away at me.

  “This ritual,” Miles said. “What is it called?

  “Blood and stone,” Fabian answered.

  “That’s right. I’ve done a bit of reading up on it.” Miles’ gaze found mine. “Do you know what the ritual is?”

  “I know that my blood and the blood of the Prince’s must be on the Crystal,” I said, wincing as Tink stepped on my hair, pulling it. “And I know it needs to be completed in the Otherworld.”

  Miles lifted his brows. “But do you know what happens after you complete the ritual?”

  “I get the hell out the Otherworld?” I surmised.

  Someone snort
ed, but Miles stepped forward, a slight frown marring his features. “I may not be reading the ritual correctly, but from what I can gather, whosever blood is on that Crystal is trapped in the Otherworld.”

  Dread exploded in my gut. “What?”

  “It will trap both of you in the Otherworld. Not just the Prince.” Miles glanced at Fabian. “I’m guessing whomever told you about the ritual forgot to tell you that.”

  Chapter 29

  Stunned, I let my arms fall to my sides. He couldn’t be telling the truth. A huge part of me went into denial, because that would mean that they all . . . they all had lied to me.

  “No,” whispered Tink, and then louder, “that cannot be true.” He walked out onto the end of my shoulder. “No.”

  I couldn’t move as things began to click into place. No one had been forthcoming with information about the ritual with Ren. Those who knew about the ritual were readily accepting of the change I’d gone through and trusting me—trusting us.

  “What the fuck?” Anger filled Ren’s tone as he turned toward Faye and the other Summer fae. “Is that true? Ivy would be trapped in the Otherworld?”

  Faye blanched, and I knew right then it was true, and it was like the floor had opened under my feet. My chest hollowed. “It makes sense now.”

  Ren turned to me. “This isn’t making any damn sense.”

  “But it is.” My throat thickened, and I couldn’t take my eyes off Faye. “That’s why you guys helped me escape and made sure I was safe. It wasn’t out of the kindness of your hearts. You needed me—needed me alive unless you found another halfling. One that had a chance of making it to the Otherworld with the Prince and completing the ritual.”

  Daniel and Miles, along with the San Diego branch looked on in silence. I had no idea what they were thinking.

  “You knew that you were needed alive to complete the ritual.” Fabian turned toward me. “It has to be the blood of a halfling and the Winter Prince. You must be alive for that to happen.”

  “No shit,” snapped Ren. “We know that. We also know that the ritual has to be completed in the Otherworld. At no point did anyone mention that it would trap her there.”

  “That is a pretty big thing to forget to tell someone,” Miles chimed in.

  “We didn’t forget.” Faye faced us, her eyes pleading with us to understand. “We had hoped to find a way to ensure that you would not be trapped there.”

  A choked laugh escaped me. “You hoped?”

  “This is awkward,” Liz murmured under her breath.

  “That’s it.” Ren stalked toward me. “We’re out.”

  “What?” I turned to him, and Tink walked back up my shoulder, placing a hand on the side of my head to steady himself.

  “We’re done with this shit.” His bright green gaze met mine. “So fucking done.”

  Kalen started toward him. “Ren—”

  “Fuck no.” He shot the male fae a dangerous look of warning, one Kalen heeded by stopping. “We didn’t sign up for this. Ivy didn’t sign up for this. She’s not going to sacrifice herself. Fuck that shit.”

  Do I have a choice?

  That question caused a shiver to course down my spine. Just as I feared last night, we were left with only one other option. Find a way to weaken the Prince long enough to kill him.

  Betrayal mixed with anger as I lifted my chin and stared at the Order members. “Do you all know how to kill the Prince?”

  Daniel and Liz exchanged looks. It was her that spoke up. “A thorn stake—”

  “We know that a thorn stake will kill him—kill any prince.” I looked at Fabian, who arched a brow. “But have you fought a prince? A Knight or an Ancient?”

  Liz’s lips thinned. “We haven’t—”

  “Then you don’t realize how incredibly hard it is to even fight an Ancient, and that’s nothing like facing a prince,” I told them. “So, I’m guessing you have no idea how to weaken the Prince.”

  “We have one standing right in front of us that could answer that question,” Daniel pointed out.

  “Ivy,” Ren said, frustration biting at his tone. “Let’s—”

  Someone from outside shouted, and I whipped around so fast that Tink left my shoulder and hovered beside me.

  The door we’d came through exploded off the hinges. A body flew through the air, hitting the floor with a fleshy smack. It was an Order member, one of the men who’d been outside. His throat . . . God, it was ripped out, exposing tissue.

  “Shit.” I reached for my daggers. Order members shot from their chairs, and everything I’d just learned faded to the background.

  The feeling from earlier came back, the one that screamed all of this, from the moment the Prince left New Orleans to now had been too easy. I knew deep in my bones that this was a trap and all of us had walked right into it.

  Another body landed near the other, thrown from deep in the hall.

  “We’re under siege!” Liz shouted, brandishing weapons. “Prepare!”

  “Get back, Tink.” My grip tightened on the daggers, and I prayed to God he listened as icy air rolled into the large meeting room, seeping over the floors.

  Ren appeared at my side, thorn stake in hand. “This is not good.”

  “No. It’s not.”

  A roar that shook the walls filled my stomach with knots. A stuttered heartbeat later, they came through the doorway. Kalen cocked his arm, letting the dagger he held fly. It smacked into the chest of the first fae, taking it down, but then another and another came through the narrow opening, until dozens of fae were in the room with us. Most were not normal fae. Most were Ancients—Knights of the Prince.

  “Crap,” I whispered, stamping down on the bite of fear.

  We met them head-on.

  Instinct took over as stakes whizzed through the air, some falling, clattering off the dusty floor, and others striking true. Screams and shouts mixed with the wet sound of tearing flesh and cracking bones. It was a whirl of mayhem, and I quickly lost sight of Tink in the crowd of fast-moving bodies.

  Ren brought down the nearest fae, moving as fluid and graceful as a dancer. I whipped around, shoving my stake deep into the chest of a fae as Fabian began to glow like the sun. I caught sight of him stalking forward, lifting an arm. A fiery ball of light formed in his hand as Daniel squared off with a Knight.

  I started toward them, cut off by a fae who charged me. I danced to the side, my booted foot slipping in something wet—blood. Straightening, I lifted my gaze and saw the female fae coming my way. She darted toward me, but didn’t engage. Then it clicked into place. She was keeping me from engaging. They weren’t trying to fight me. They knew I was the Halfling and that I . . . I needed to be alive, but if there was another halfling, I was disposable.

  None of that mattered at the moment.

  Rushing toward her, I caught her arm as she tried to sidestep me. She screamed as I twisted, spinning her around. Stabbing the dagger down into her chest, I jerked it back out as I let go of her. She was already folding into herself by the time she hit the floor.

  The temperature dropped again and I spun toward the opening as a tall, slender woman stalked into the room. Breena. That fucking bitch was here. Every part of my brain clicked off as I prowled toward her. If anyone died today, it would be her. I swore to God and baby llamas everywhere, that bitch was going down.

 
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