Brave, p.33
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       Brave, p.33

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

  air around us exploded with ragged shards of ice.

  “What the hell?” I gasped as what appeared to be icicles shot overhead. They hit the walls, shattering wood. Some hit the flesh of fae and mortal, those who hadn’t been fast enough.

  I cried out as Kalen went down, a thick icicle embedded in his thigh. Ren cursed as his fingers curled into the back of my shirt.

  The soft, almost childish giggle echoed off the walls as I stared up at the entrance and then there were words, ancient words in a language I had never heard before. They flowed over us like a rush of cold water, sending a chill down my spine.

  I twisted, pressing into Ren as a tall, thin shadow appeared in the doorway, and then there she was. The Queen.

  She drifted into the room, her sharp eyes darting around and stopping on the Prince. She did not hold the Crystal. The Ancient behind her did.

  It was about the size of a basketball, white and frosty looking, but as he stepped into the room, it began to glow an iridescent blue.

  Fabian reached the Queen first, his body starting to glow the color of a summer sunrise. The Queen flicked her wrist, and then he was flying backward, pinned to the wall—pinned with jagged icicles, one in each of his shoulders, snagged there like a pinned fly.

  “Good God,” Ren muttered.

  The Prince charged her, but all she did was flick her wrist once more and he was skidding backward across the floor.

  “Give up and live,” she said, her voice full of smoke and shadows. “Get in my way and die.”

  Ren and I pushed to our feet as the Prince shoved off the wall.

  A low rumble shook the floor, gaining sound and speed. I glanced behind me as Ren did the same thing. A faint blue light appeared at the bottom of the door.

  “The door!” I gasped. “She’s opening the gateway.”

  The Queen turned to where we stood and lifted her hand, but Ren and I had already seen what she was capable of. We parted ways, him going in one direction and me in another.

  Jumping over fallen bodies, I made it about five paces before I was swept off my feet and sent tumbling backward, ass over head. I slammed into the wall. The impact knocked the air and a stake out of my hands. I was stunned for a moment, unable to move.

  The Queen had cleared a path.

  That easily.

  Even with two princes, an army of Summer fae, and the remaining Order members, she had cleared a pathway.

  Fabian and the Prince had seriously overestimated their abilities.

  The Queen strode forward, Crystal in her arms. It was glowing intensely now, so bright it was painful to look upon. I bit back a curse, pushing to my feet.

  “Help me.”

  I turned, seeing Fabian. Shooting toward him, I reached for the icicles. They were in deep. “Sorry.”

  Wincing, I pulled the first one out. His entire body jolted as I dropped the first icicle, but he didn’t make a sound until I pulled the second one out. Then he screamed, dropping to his knees. Faye was suddenly at his side, pressing her hand into his wound, stanching the blood flow.

  The Prince spun in our direction, and that was when the Ancient who’d entered with the Queen charged the Prince, thrusting his shoulder into the Prince’s stomach. They collapsed backward, into the wall. Drywall cracked and gave way as dust filled the air. The wall shook and then half of it shattered apart as they fell through into the other room.

  “Use them,” Fabian gasped, letting his head fall back. “Use them against her.”

  My gaze dropped to the thick icicle. It was so cold that it burned my hand. I looked up. The Queen was almost to the door. With my heart in my throat, I pivoted, not giving myself time to think about what I was doing.

  Racing across the room, I reached the Queen just as she turned to me. Surprise flickered over her face as I lifted my arm, swinging the icicle down. She swept to the side, and I missed her chest.

  But I didn’t miss her.

  The icicle cut into her shoulder, sinking deep to the bone. The impact traveled all the way up my arm, jarring my entire body.

  Screaming in pain and fury, the Queen lashed out. I didn’t even know if she hit me with any part of her or if it was just the might of her fury. Either way, I flew backward, crashing to the floor and rolling several feet. Ears ringing, I came to a stop, slow to realize I was now weaponless.

  I pushed up onto my elbows, breathing heavy as I looked across the room. The Queen was also down, on her knees, and tearing at the shoulder of her silvery dress. Dark blood stained the front of it.

  The closet door suddenly swung open and intense blue light poured out. She’d opened the gateway. Dammit.

  Wind picked up, powerful and fierce. A tremble rattled the floors as my loose curls blew across my face. I pushed myself up to my knees, ignoring the ache in my bones. My stare met the Queen’s, and her gaze drifted away from me and to my left. I looked over. The Crystal.

  The Queen had dropped it.

  Rolling over, I scrambled to my feet as my stomach dropped. The Queen was already on her feet and she was closer. My feet slipped over the blood-soaked floorboards.

  Ren whipped around and started forward, but it was too late. The Queen reached the Crystal first. I shouted as she wrapped her slender fingers around it. Rising, she clutched it to her chest. She didn’t look at me. She didn’t look at Ren.

  The Queen looked to the Prince, to where he was stumbling back through the wall. “I’ll see you again, my love.”

  His chin jerked up and he roared with fury as he tossed the body of the Knight aside and rushed toward the Queen, but she was as fast as a shadow. She spun on bare feet and ran. I didn’t even have a chance to take another breath of air before she went through the doorway, the Crystal in hand. The blue light stretched, forming thick tendrils of light. They touched the Queen and flared intensely.

  The blue light expanded and whipped out, circling around my leg. It contracted hard and fast, ripping my leg out from underneath me. I hit the floor and then was slipping across it, toward the door.

  Realization slammed into me at the speed of a train. Blood—I was covered in it. Some of it had to be mine, and that meant . . .

  My blood must’ve been on the Crystal.

  I was about to be sucked into the Otherworld, along with the Queen.

  “Ren!” I screamed, digging into the floor. My nails cracked and broke. Another scream tore through me as I was pulled beyond the opening of the door. Arms flailing, my hands smacked off the door frame. My wide gaze swung around, and there was nothing but darkness beyond the blue light. The force of the Otherworld pulled, stretching my arms until I felt my muscles start to tear. My fingers slipped and I lost my grip.

  Hands clamped down on mine, and my gaze flew to Ren’s. Oh God, he was there, his feet planted on either side of the door. My body lifted clear off the floor.

  “Hold on!” he shouted, his face strained as he tugged.

  “Ren, oh God, Ren!” I cried out, panic and terror digging into my bones.

  The force grew, lifting Ren up, and I knew it was too powerful. It was going to suck both of us through. Both of us.

  No.

  I couldn’t let that happen to him. I couldn’t.

  My body twisted so I could see his face. Our gazes collided. “Ren. Let go. Please! Please let go. You’ve got to let go of me.”

  Horror filled his expression. “Never—God, never!”

  “You need to.” Stretched to their limits, my arms and shoulders burned as if they were on fire. “I love you, Ren. I love you so much, but you need to let—”

  “Stop!” he shouted, his beautiful face contorting with anguish. “I’m not letting go.”

  Tears clouded my eyes. “You have to. You—”

  Arms circled Ren’s waist and then I was being pulled forward, out of the light and beyond the doorway and into Ren’s lap as we fell backward. I looked up, over Ren’s shoulders as he folded his arms tight around me.

  The Prince.

  Oh
God.

  The Prince had pulled me—pulled us—free.

  Wind whipped through the room and was ripped out of it, sucking back through the door. Twisting in Ren’s arms, my eyes were wide as the bright blue light pulsed once and then twice and then pulled into itself until there was just a dot of light in the never-ending darkness, and then there was nothing but bone-chilling blackness.

  The door to the Otherworld swung closed, sealing itself up with the Queen and the Crystal inside.

  Chapter 35

  Slowly, we picked ourselves up, one at a time. The Prince was helping his brother stand, and Faye was with Kalen, one arm around his shoulders, holding him up.

  Miles was next to Dylan and Jackie. All of us were still alive, but we . . .

  “We failed,” I whispered, staring at the sealed doorway. “We actually failed.”

  Silence greeted me as Ren slipped an arm around my waist, drawing me to his side. I felt his lips brush my temple, but bitter disappointment washed over me, nearly stripping me of whatever strength was left.

  We failed.

  The Queen was gone, but she was going to come back with a vicious, monstrous army. Probably in days. Hours if we weren’t lucky.

  I stumbled back.

  “But did we really fail?” Dylan asked. “The Queen is gone. So are all the Ancients—”

  “We have no idea if all the Ancients are gone, but we had to have taken out nearly all of them.” Miles limped forward, picking up a fallen stake. “But the Queen has the Crystal in the Otherworld. She can come back at any time—”

  “It won’t be for a long time.” Fabian’s voice was hoarse. “You stabbed her with one of the icicles, right?”

  Turning, we looked at him and my mouth dropped open. He was a ghostly color. My gaze shot to Kalen. So was he. Both were barely standing, all of their limbs trembling. “I did. I got her in the shoulder. Pretty deep, too.”

  The Prince looked at me sharply. “You did? You’re sure?”

  “Yes. Hit the bone. What?” I pulled away from Ren. “What’s going on?”

  “If she was wounded with her own magic, her own weapons, she will . . .” The Prince trailed off, and then he did something I hadn’t heard from him since the enchantment was broken.

  The Prince laughed—a deep, loud laugh.

  Ren walked forward, his movements stiff. “Can you fill us in on what’s going on? Because I’m not sure what is funny right now.”

  “Me either,” Miles muttered, sheathing the stake at his hip.

  “Being wounded by one of those icicles would take any fae time to recover from. It would’ve killed a mortal.” The Prince turned back to his brother, wrapping an arm around his waist. “But for the Queen to be wounded with her own magic is catastrophic. The same for any of us.”

  “So what does that mean?” Jackie demanded, wiping at the blood along her cheek. “Will it kill her?”

  “No.” The Prince led Fabian to the door. “But it will greatly weaken her for a very long time.”

  I didn’t dare let any hope grow in me as I limped after them, but I remembered him mentioning this when he’d told us what would weaken them. “How long is a very long time?”

  “Months,” he answered.

  “Months? Are you kidding me? That’s not a long time.” It was better than weeks or hours, but still not long enough.

  He stopped and looked over his shoulder. “Months in the Otherworld are years in the mortal world.”

  “Years?” Ren repeated. “Like in plural?”

  “In plural,” the Prince responded. “And while she’s weak, she’s not going to be able to gather an army. With her powers down and wounded, she won’t gain many supporters. Not in the Otherworld, where only the strong and fully powered gain support.”

  My heart was thundering in my chest. “So, what does this mean exactly?”

  “It means we didn’t fail,” he replied, smiling slightly. It was warm, but didn’t reach his eyes. I didn’t think any of his smiles did. “We will have years to prepare for her return.”

  I limped down the steps, my head a mix of conflicting thoughts and emotions. Had we failed? Yes? No? I wasn’t sure, and I was too damn tired to really think about it and too freaking ecstatic that we were all alive to beat myself up about not getting the Crystal or killing her.

  I’d leave that for tomorrow.

  Because we were going to have a tomorrow.

  “Ivy!” Tink screeched the moment I reached the bottom of the stairs.

  I drew up short as he raced away from Fabian and all but tackled me, wrapping his long arms around me. “You’re alive!”

  “Yes,” I squeaked. “And I thought you were supposed to stay at the hotel.”

  “I did, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I showed up just as everyone was coming down the stairs.” He rocked me back and forth. “I went out all by myself and found the place!”

  “He wasn’t by himself,” I heard Tanner say. “He was getting worried, and well, we couldn’t stop him.”

  Squeezing my eyes shut, I hugged him back, too happy to be hugging him again to be mad about him not listening to us.

  “What happened?” Tink asked, and I pulled away as Faye began to explain everything.

  Ren moved over to the Princes while Tink was given the breakdown, and I saw that Tanner hadn’t come alone. Brighton was with him, lingering in the back. She was staring at the two Princes, her pretty face pale.

  “We need to get my brother back to the hotel,” The Prince said. “He needs to rest, as does Kalen.”

  Tink moved away from me, hurrying to Fabian’s side. “Is he going to be okay?”

  “He will be.”

  “What can we do to help them?” I asked.

  “Nothing,” he answered. “All we could do is wait for the affects to wear off.”

  Looking at the pale and drawn faces of Fabian and Kalen, I felt really bad for them. “How long?”

  “Too long,” grunted Fabian. “We should be fine . . . in a few weeks.”

  Weeks? My eyes widened.

  “I . . . I brought an SUV.” Brighton cleared her throat and then spoke up. “I can take them back.”

  I drew in a shuddering breath and walked over to where the Princes stood. Ren was already there. “Hey,” I said, glancing between the two of them. “I just want to thank you for, um, saving us—saving me back there. If you hadn’t . . .”

  He stared at me. “You do not need to thank me. Ever.”

  I shifted, uneasy. “But I do. We do.”

  “She’s right.” Ren’s shoulders tensed as he extended a hand to the Prince. “Thank you, Prince.”

  The Prince’s gaze flickered from Ren’s hand to his face, and then after a long moment, he took Ren’s hand and shook it. “You’re welcome.” Releasing Ren’s hand, he glanced over at me. And my name is not Prince. It is Caden.”

  Faint sunlight seeped under the heavy curtains, slipping its way across the bedroom floor, toward the bed. I had no idea what time it was since Ren apparently didn’t believe in bedroom clocks, but I knew it had to be late in the afternoon.

  Just like we talked about the day before, we hadn’t gone back to Hotel Good Fae last night when everyone left the house on Royal Street. We’d gone back to Ren’s, because we . . . because we could, and now it felt like I’d slept forever, but as I stared at the tiny particles of dust dancing in the stream of light, I wasn’t sure I
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