Brave, p.28
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       Brave, p.28

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

  Another Order member reached her first. It was Rob. He lifted his arm, but she was fast—wicked fast. Her hand flew out and went straight through the man’s chest.

  My steps skidded to a halt as my mouth dropped open in horror. Wait. That didn’t make sense. That wasn’t possible.

  Breena yanked her hand back, and it was a bloody mess. His heart—she held Rob’s heart. But Breena wasn’t an Ancient. She was just a normal fae. How was that—

  My heart lurched into my throat as I saw the Prince. He walked through the door as Breena dropped the mangled organ. Fear and rage spiraled inside me as I stared at the Prince.

  His gaze swept the room until those expressive lips curled into a smirk. He had found me.

  Drake smiled. “Hello, Ivy. It’s been too long.”

  My body turned to ice as a roar of red-hot rage erupted behind me. Ren. That was Ren causing the tiny hairs all over my body to raise.

  Fabian whipped around, shock etched into the one word he spoke, in a language I didn’t understand.

  The Prince’s shoulders tensed as his gaze snapped from mine to the Summer Prince. Some kind of emotion flickered over Drake’s face as he stared at the other Prince.

  Dear God, they looked so much alike. Like they could be—

  “No.” Fabian lowered his arm, and a bright glow faded from him as he stumbled—actually stumbled back a step. “No. My eyes are lying to me. It is not you. You’re dead.”

  What in the hell was going on? What was Fabian talking about, and why were they staring at each other like that?

  “Ivy! Ivy!” Tink flew near the ceiling, his wings moving frantically as he shrieked my name in a way that caused panic to explode within me. “She’s here! She’s—”

  It happened so fast.

  That bitch Breena’s head snapped around, her gaze following Tink’s flight. A flicker of surprise showed in her expression and she threw out her arms.

  A shockwave rippled through the room. It caught me by the knees, lifting me up in the air and flipping me backward. There was a glimpse of Tink flying backward as I landed hard on my back. Icy fog poured into the room as I rolled onto my side. I’d lost one of my daggers.

  That kind of power—it was not normal.

  “Ren!” I shouted as I rose to my knees. “Ren—”

  “Here,” he grunted, and from the thick white smoke, I saw his hand. His knuckles were bloodied as they wrapped around mine. Ren squeezed my hand and then let go.

  A soft laugh carried through the fog—a laugh that sent a bolt of dread straight down my spine.

  I stood slowly, breathing heavy as I clutched the one dagger I had left. The icy mist rolled back, revealing those who were still standing.

  There weren’t many, but I saw Daniel and Miles standing near Kalen and Faye. I also saw Liz. I didn’t see Tink. My stomach plummeted.

  But there was the Prince, his chest rising and falling sharply.

  He wasn’t alone. Something rose like a wraith, tall and slender, and as the mist slipped away, I saw a crown of bone, and I knew what Breena was.

  Ren groaned. “Oh, hell.”

  Behind the Winter Prince stood a Queen smiling a blood-soaked smile.

  Chapter 30

  “Shit,” I whispered, rooted to where I stood.

  Tink’s screeching warning made sense. A brownie would’ve seen Breena—seen through whatever facade she was wearing. He’d seen the Queen and tried to warn us.

  But it was too late.

  A damn Queen stood before us, and she looked like Breena, but not. Her hair was now a frosted silver, nearly reaching her waist. She wore Breena’s face, but her chin was sharper, her eyes wider and lips fuller. Her blue eyes were luminous against the color of molten silver.

  And that crown . . .

  It really looked like it was made of bone curved into a half circle and sharpened to rise into three single points, the middle the tallest.

  She brushed her hand over Drake’s shoulder, drawing his gaze from the Summer Prince. “Focus, my love,” she murmured. “Focus.”

  The Prince went still.

  Flanked behind them were three Knights and two more fae. We’d taken down a lot, but not enough—not nearly enough with the Queen here.

  Someone, some brave fool, rushed her, brandishing what appeared to be a thorn stake. An Elite member. She caught the man’s arm, and with a flick of her wrist, snapped the bone. The man screamed as she jerked him to her. She was like a cobra striking, burying her mouth in his throat. The man’s scream ended in a gurgle as blood spurted into the mist. She lifted her head and let the man go. He fell to the floor, throat torn out as she faced us.

  “Holy fuck,” Miles gasped behind me.

  Blood coursed down her chin as she tilted her head. “Surprise?”

  I sucked in a breath. A knot of fear formed in my throat. Breena had been the Queen all along?

  “The brownie?” she spoke. “Where is it?”

  I had no idea where Tink was, but wherever he’d gone, I prayed it was far from here.

  “You bitch,” Fabian growled. “You lying, traitorous bitch.”

  “Careful,” she said, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. “I do believe you’re the last of your court? Well . . .” She laughed as she glanced over to the still and silent Drake. She placed a hand on his chest. “The last who knows that he is.”

  Fabian’s nostrils flared.

  Wait. Was Drake—?

  The Queen’s gaze flicked to me. “Look at you. I must say, the changes are an improvement. But not much.” Those icy eyes found Ren. “And you? You’re still as yummy as I remember.”

  Potent fury swept through me. “You know what I remember? Gouging your eyes out.”

  Her bloody smile spread. “Yes, I remember that too, and I do plan on repaying that favor very, very soon, but we still need you alive for the time being.”

  I stiffened as my hand tightened on the iron dagger. “There was never a halfling here, was there?”

  “No, you silly little bitch. Perhaps there might be one here.” She lifted a shoulder in an oddly dainty shrug. “I have no idea. You went into hiding and we needed to draw you out.” The Queen laughed when Ren cursed under his breath. “After all, do you think we would’ve been so obvious about our moves?”

  I knew it.

  Dammit, I knew it.

  We’d all been played, and we should’ve known better. Now we were trapped here, all of us, with Drake or whoever he was, and a damn Queen.

  “Why San Diego?” Liz demanded. “Why here?”

  “Because it has the largest number of Order members. No other city has more in one location,” Daniel answered. “You take out the San Diego branch, it will have a crippling ripple effect.”

  It happened so fast.

  Several Order members stepped forward, brandishing their iron daggers. Kalen shouted a warning, but it was too late. They gripped the shoulders of other members as they dragged the blade across their throats.

  Horror seized me as I spun around to see Daniel drag a blade along Liz’s throat. “No!” I screamed, and I didn’t even know why. It was too late.

  Liz’s hands flew to her throat, trying to stanch the flow of blood as she stumbled and then dropped to her knees. Only a handful of seconds had passed and then she joined the other Order members on the floor.

  My wide gaze swung to Daniel as my heart broke. I couldn’t believe it. Daniel had betrayed us—all of us. My mouth opened, but I didn’t have words as I stared at the man who was the closest thing to a father to me. This was like Val all over again, but worse, so much worse.

  “Son of a bitch,” croaked Miles, and for the first time in my life, I saw real emotion in his face as he stared at Daniel in horror and disbelief. “How? How could you do this?”

  “Because this is a war we will not win.” Daniel wiped his blade on his pants, cleaning it of blood. His gaze found mine. “Did you never once question why I was so accepting of what you had become? Or what yo
u did to Kyle? I knew he’d gone after you. And I knew that one or both of you would kill him.”

  The next breath I took got stuck. I’d questioned it. We both did, but we wanted hope. Stupid. We’d all been so damn stupid.

  “Right now, all across the city, Order members will be meeting the same fate. And back in New Orleans? The same, according to plan. But what I didn’t plan on was a brownie.” The Queen’s lips curled, baring razor-sharp teeth. “Where is it?”

  Drawing in a shallow breath, I pushed aside everything with Daniel and met her gaze head-on. I’d have to deal with that fresh betrayal later—if there was a later. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

  “Okay. You want to play a game. I love games.” She clasped her hands together. “This is a game I like to call, kill everyone. Except you. I still need you, but the rest are about to die.” Her gaze found Faye. “Starting with you.”

  Faye’s chest rose with a sharp breath, but she held her ground as Kalen stepped to stand next to her.

  “Or maybe not you.” The Queen drifted forward. “Maybe him.”

  My heart lurched. She was staring at Ren. “If you touch one hair on his head, you’ll regret it.”

  “Somehow I doubt that.” She moved faster than I could track. A second later she was standing behind Ren, her long fingers encircling his neck. “Do you like this game, Ivy?”

  Ren’s jaw locked down as he held very still, meeting my gaze. My heart was pounding fast, too fast as I lifted the dagger to my own throat. I didn’t hesitate. Not for a second. “If you hurt him, I will slit my own throat and then you’ll really have to find another halfling. How do you like that game?”

  Her lips thinned as she tilted her head to the side. “You’d kill yourself to save him?”

  “In a heartbeat.”

  “Ivy,” Ren gasped out.

  Disbelief crowded her face. “You wouldn’t—”

  The sound of plastic wheels gliding over wood floors drew all of our attention toward the door. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing at first. I blinked, thinking I had to be seeing things, but my eyes weren’t lying to me.

  Tink’s suitcase rolled across the floor, sliding past the Prince and stopping just short of Fabian. Then Tink zoomed into the room, flying as fast as a little missile, toward the suitcase. Gripping the zipper in his tiny hands, he dragged it along the seam. One side of the suitcase swung open and hundreds of troll dolls spilled out, scattering over the floor in a sea of neon blue and hot pink hair.

  “What the . . . ?” I stumbled back a step.

  The Queen cocked her head to the side as she held Ren.

  Everyone stared, because there were hundreds of troll dolls rolling across the floor, through blood, and yeah, it was really bizarre.

  Flying forward, Tink hovered above his sea of troll dolls and lifted his arms. “Rise up, my little babies.”

  The dolls trembled on the floor and then shook. All of them. Their little plastic bodies rocking, and then their bodies . . . weren’t plastic anymore. Their legs bent. Their arms moved. Their heads turned, and their eyes were the palest blue, like all creatures from the Otherworld.

  I had no words.

  The troll dolls rose onto their stubby legs. Their mouths opened and a high keening screech erupted from them, raising the tiny hairs all along my arms.

  Well, I was going to have a life’s worth of nightmares because of this.

  “Holy crap,” I whispered. “Instead of being the Night King, he’s the Troll King.”

  The dolls’ heads turned toward the Queen.

  Letting out a shriek of rage, the Queen threw Ren aside, sending him sliding several feet across the floor. He went down on one knee as I shot to his side, grabbing his hand and hauling him up.

  “We need to get out of here,” he said, his wide eyes on the dolls. “Now.”

  “Agreed.”

  Holding tight to his hand, I shouted for Tink as the dolls stomped across the floor, racing toward the Queen. Tink flew to my shoulder as I spun toward Faye and Kalen. The male fae met my gaze and nodded.

  The dolls reached the Queen, their little hands clutching at her dress. They climbed up her legs, dozens of them.

  She shrieked, plucking one off her thigh. Blood covered its little mouth. They bit? She crushed it in her hand as she screamed in rage. Dozens more were climbing up her, reaching her stomach, digging in with their hands and . . . mouths. The Knights started toward her, but were also overcome by dolls. They swallowed them whole, like a carpet of flesh-eating troll dolls.

  I was going to need therapy—years of therapy.

  Ren started toward the door and Tink hopped from my shoulder to his, but hands landed on my back, jerking me away from Ren. My hand slipped free as I was spun around. I came face to face with Daniel.

  “I can’t let you go,” he said, his grip digging in. “I’m sorry, Ivy.”

  I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing, but my chest ached and my eyes burned as my grip tightened on the dagger.

  “Daniel,” I said, my voice hoarse.

  His gaze met mine a second before I slammed the dagger deep into the center of his chest. Daniel’s mouth opened, but there were no words. None. I saw his eyes dull over.

  Exhaling roughly, I let go of the dagger as I blinked back hot tears. I jerked as another hand touched my arm. I turned to find Miles beside me. “We need to go,” he said. “Now.”

  Unable to speak, I got my feet moving. We raced across the floor, our feet slipping and sliding in the blood. At the doorway, I realized Fabian wasn’t with us. He was standing in front of Drake, speaking too fast for me to understand.

  The Queen was in the center of the room, spinning as she sent evil troll dolls in every direction.

  Fabian picked up a fallen dagger. I stopped, heart somewhere in my throat. It was iron. It wouldn’t kill Drake at—

  Fabian didn’t stab the Winter Prince.

  He sliced open his own palm, drawing blood, and he lifted that bloodied palm, dragging it down the center of Drake’s face and pressing it against his mouth.

  The Winter Prince’s entire body jolted as what appeared to be a thousand fireflies surrounded him, encasing his entire body in a shimmering golden glow. Only a second or two passed and then the shimmering, dazzling lights receded.

  The Winter Prince stood there, his luminous blue eyes wide and unseeing. It was like a layer of darkness seeped off and slid away. Black hair gave way to golden. Shadows peeled away from the hollows of his cheeks. His features were the same, but he was not of the Winter Court. He was . . .

  What in the holy fu—?

  “Ivy!” Ren was once again at my side.

  “Look,” I whispered. “Look at him.”

  Ren followed my gaze. “What the hell?”

  The Prince fell back a step, his wide gaze darting over Fabian and us. His stare met mine, and his entire face contorted as if he were in pain.

  I bumped into Ren as the Prince whipped around and let out a sound that was as terrifying as it was inhuman and primitive. The smell of burnt ozone filled the air as a blast of potent energy rolled across the floor. It hit the Knights first.

  They burst into nothing, disintegrating on the spot.

  Skin peeled off the Order members that had betrayed us. Their bones were crushed into dust. The impact was so intense that it burnt their shadows into the floor.

  Still flinging off the troll dolls, the Queen spun toward the Prince. Her eyes widened with shock, and then the energy slammed
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