Brave, p.5
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       Brave, p.5

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

  pain seemed shockingly too real. Each time I got knocked down, it was harder to get back up.

  But I did.

  I kept getting back up.

  Dragging myself to my feet, I wiped the blood out of my eyes. Well, one eye. The other was swelling and blurring. Only a handful of minutes had passed since I literally got stabbed in the back, but my muscles felt like lead and my bones felt brittle.

  And I was still bleeding.

  Whatever noise we were making was lost in whatever damn enchantment the fae had on the courtyard. My feet were heavy as I shuffled off the pathway, closer to the entrance.

  Ren and Tink were just mere yards away, but they could be in another city for all it mattered.

  Breathing heavy, I whirled around, searching for some weapon. The knife was lost in the darkness, beside the still prone female fae.

  “You grow tired.” Blood and spittle dripped from the fae’s mouth. “You grow weaker with every passing second. How you’ve fought our kind and survived all these years is beyond me.”

  “Screw you,” I bit out, swaying. Or maybe it was the courtyard that was moving. I had no idea. That statement just pissed me off, but he was right. Focus, Ivy. I had to be smart. I was weak and tired, and backup was currently chilling, having a lovely evening. I wasn’t going to win this. No way.

  I was going to have to tuck tail and run.

  “You have to die.” The fae’s words were mushy. “It’s nothing personal. You just need to die and then the Prince won’t come for you.”

  “Dying sounds pretty personal to me.” The back of my neck tickled. I thought I heard movement in the courtyard.

  The fae attacked.

  Dipping to avoid a mean uppercut, I shifted my weight and kicked out with my foot. I landed the maneuver, swiping the bastard’s legs right out from underneath him. He went down in a fleshy smack, and I didn’t waste time.

  I snatched up a heavy river rock and brought it down on the side of his head with everything I had in me. The sickening crunch rattled my entire body. Falling onto my side, I dropped the bloodied rock.

  Breathing heavy, I squeezed my eyes against the topsy-turvey the courtyard was currently doing as I sat back—fell back—onto my butt. In my chest, it felt like my heart was . . . stuttering.

  Okay.

  I needed to get up.

  I needed to get inside and find . . . I needed to find Ren. I had to tell him . . . What did I have to tell him? Everything. I had to tell him everything.

  My head was swimming, and I was lying flat on my back. How did that happen? I wasn’t sure, but I knew if I kept lying here, I wasn’t getting back up.

  I would die.

  You are dying. The voice that whispered in my thoughts was a shock to my system. I was . . . I was dying. All the sticky blood covered my entire body. There couldn’t be much left.

  Blinking slowly, I drew in a shuddering breath. This was my own doing. I hadn’t been in any shape to fight. Not eating right. Not sleeping. I should’ve been paying attention. I should’ve known. That was an amateurish mistake, just like all those years ago when I killed the fae before I’d been authorized to. I’d gotten everyone killed and now . . . now I’d gotten myself killed.

  No.

  I wasn’t dying. I was just . . . sleepy.

  I could sleep. Ren would find me. I would wake up and he’d be here. So, I did sleep. I think I did. At least for a little while.

  But then air caught in my throat and my eyes fluttered open. The stars shone brightly. I was still here. I was alone. No Ren, no Tink. My head lolled to the right. The fae was still here, though, and by the looks of it, he was super dead.

  I was alive.

  Relief gave way to a keen sense of disappointment I didn’t understand, but couldn’t focus on at the moment, because I needed to get up. If I didn’t, who would watch out for Tink? Ren would, but he’d blame himself.

  I couldn’t let that happen.

  Lurching to my feet, I teetered unsteadily until I got myself turned around. I walked back toward the doors, except it felt like I was wading through quicksand and I wasn’t making much progress at all. No, it was slow and uneven, and the entire world kept blinking in and out. I tripped over stones, gritting my teeth as I forced one leg in front of the other. If I could just get to the doors, get inside, and get to Ren . . .

  Rounding the corner, I stumbled onto the pathway and reached out, gripping the vine-covered trellis. The soft glow of the lobby lights seeped over the pathway. The doors were right there. I swallowed down the taste of blood and kept going, my steps turning sluggish.

  Ren. Ren. Ren. I chanted his name. I was almost there. Just a little bit more to go. My hands were numb. I’d lost feeling in them, but that was okay, because my feet were still working. Just a little bit further. . . .

  A shadow appeared in the double doors and it grew closer. The shadow became a more distinctive shape and then the shape became a person.

  “Ren,” I called out, but it was only a wet whisper. I tried again, but now there was no sound.

  He appeared as if he’d been summoned by my chants, and maybe he had, because the doors were opening and he was walking outside, his gaze sweeping over the courtyard.

  I knew the moment he saw me.

  He drew up short. “Ivy?”

  And I knew the moment the light from inside reached me.

  I opened my mouth, but my tongue didn’t work.

  “Ivy!” Panic filled his voice as Ren broke into a run, his feet pounding off the pavement.

  Something landed on my back, between my shoulder blades. Something sharp and hot and it took whatever air was left in my lungs. Stole what strength I had left.

  I went down, but I didn’t feel the impact. The fury rolled off Ren in waves, filling the courtyard and overshadowing everything else. He was a blur, shooting past me.

  My cheek was suddenly resting against the cool stone. I couldn’t feel my feet any longer. That was probably bad, but I wasn’t thinking about that anymore anyway. There was a sharp cry, and a body landed next to mine, the head twisted at an unnatural angle. It was her—the female fae.

  I hadn’t killed her.

  Stupid, stupid me.

  Another ridiculous, amateurish error.

  “Ivy. Come on, Ivy.” Gentle hands turned me over, onto my back. “Jesus Christ.”

  The tone of his voice told me I should be worried, but I couldn’t find it in me to dredge up those emotions.

  A hand cradled the back of my head. “Sweetness, look at me. Please.” He lifted me, and I was weightless. Floating. “Dammit, open your eyes and look at me.”

  I wasn’t looking at him?

  Forcing my eyes open, I found myself staring into Ren’s striking face. Those vibrant eyes were dark in the moonlight, wide and endless. He was so very pale and there was so much darkness crowding his features. “I’m . . .”

  “Don’t try to talk,” he said, and he was moving fast, practically flying. “Just hang in there, Ivy. Keep your eyes open and on me, okay? Stay with me.”

  But I had to. I had to say it. “I’m . . . sorry.”

  Chapter 6

  The world flickered in and out, like a fading light bulb. I tried to keep track of what was happening. I knew Ren was carrying me inside. I could feel his hard shoulder against my cheek. I felt every step he took. Darkness gave way to warmth and brightness.

  “I need a doctor!” Ren was shouting, his voice edged with wild panic. “Jesus Christ, someone! I need a damn doctor!”

  It was getting hard to keep my eyes open, and I thought that maybe . . . maybe it was too late for a doctor. The world faded out again.

  The next thing I knew I was lying on a soft surface that didn’t have much give to it and the room was extraordinarily bright—too bright. It took me a couple of seconds to realize I was in the infirmary, a place in the basement of Hotel Good Fae that I was sure saw little action.

  “Ren.” His name bubbled up from my lips.

 
; “I’m here.” He carefully touched my cheek with his fingertips, drawing my attention. “Fuck, Ivy.”

  There were other voices. A woman’s I didn’t recognize. “You’re going to feel a big pinch,” she said, holding my right arm.

  I didn’t feel anything as I stared into Ren’s eyes, wondering why his face seemed fuzzy.

  But then Tink was suddenly there, standing beside Ren. “What happened to you? Ivy?” His eyes were wide with horror as he scanned me. “Who did this? The Prince?”

  Someone gasped in the room. The cool hand on my arm stilled.

  “No,” Ren growled, and the one word echoed in the room like a gunshot. “It was fae that lived here.”

  “Two,” I managed to whisper.

  “That cannot be.” That was Tanner, but I couldn’t see him. “Those who live here would not harm you—harm any of you.”

  The fact that I was bleeding out from multiple stab wounds proved differently.

  The air in the room filled with static, and Ren’s fingers left my cheek. I couldn’t see his face or his eyes anymore. He pulled back, and I didn’t see him move, but I heard a body hit a wall.

  “No!” someone shouted, and Tink whirled. There was a scream.

  What the hell was happening? It was a struggle to lift my head and clear my vision, but I managed just in time to see that Ren had Tanner pinned to the wall with a hand around the older fae’s throat.

  “You said we were safe here.” Ren’s voice was too flat, too cold. “We trusted you.”

  “You are safe here,” Tanner denied, his tone remaining calm even though Ren was seconds from choking the life out of him. “We would never—”

  “That’s obvious bullshit.” Ren cut him off. The muscles under his dark shirt strained as he lifted Tanner up. “Look at her.” A moment passed and Ren shouted, “Look at her!”

  Tanner must’ve looked at me, but I couldn’t see past Ren’s shoulder.

  “Does she look like she’s safe?” Ren demanded.

  Tink stepped away from where I lay.

  “She doesn’t,” Tanner replied. “I understand you’re upset. I am, too. I’m also shocked—” His words were cut off when Ren slammed him back against the wall.

  “Tink,” Faye cried out from the doorway. When did she get here? “You’ve got to get Ren away from Tanner. He had nothing to do with what happened to her!”

  Tink shook his head. “I ain’t stopping shit, lady. He’s just lucky it’s Ren who had his hand around his neck.”

  That was true. I’d seen what Tink was capable of.

  I sucked in a sharp breath when Tink turned to me. He had never looked more Otherworldly than he did in this moment. His features were sharp and brutal—animalistic. But when he picked up my ruined hand by the wrist, he was gentle. “There’s a hole in your hand.”

  Tink. Even in the direst of moments, he was still Captain Obvious.

  “Ren,” Tanner began, clearing his throat. “You need to understand—”

  “What I need is for you to shut the fuck up and listen,” Ren snarled. “I’m going to make two things painfully clear. First off, you will find out who did this, who was involved and knew about this, and why. Then you will tell me exactly who those dead motherfuckers are. And the second thing you better understand all the way down to your bones is, if Ivy doesn’t come out of this, laughing her laugh, smiling up at me as she’s walking out of this damn room, I will burn this motherfucker down with all of you in it.”

  Damn.

  “Ren,” gasped Faye.

  “You understand?” Ren asked. “Tell me you understand.”

  “I understand,” was Tanner’s quiet response.

  My head was now too heavy to keep up. I was flat on my back, staring up at a drop ceiling and ultra-bright lights.

  “I feel funny,” I whispered, or at least I thought I said it out loud. My lips moved, but I didn’t hear my words. My heart tripped up in my chest. Yeah, I didn’t feel right.

  Ignoring the wave of nausea following the burst of pain, I called out. “Ren.”

  He was there in an instant, by my head. The tips of his fingers were on my chin, slowly turning my face to his.

  A kernel of panic blossomed in my gut. “I . . . I don’t feel right.”

  “What do you mean, Sweetness?” His gaze flicked over to the other side of the bed. “What does she mean?”

  My tongue felt heavy. “I can’t . . . feel my legs.”

  Ren cursed and started to pull away.

  “Don’t!” The panic spread as I tried to lift my hand. If he left, I didn’t think I’d see him again. “Don’t leave . . . me.”

  His hand brushed over my forehead. “I’m right here with you. I’m not leaving. Ever. You know that, right?” His voice thickened. “Never leaving you.”

  “There’s a damn hole in her hand,” Tink pointed out again.

  “The hand is the least of my worries,” the female’s voice clipped back. There was pressure on my side. “I need you to help roll her. I have to look at this back.”

  My mouth dried. Rolling me sounded bad. “No,” I groaned. “I don’t—”

  “I’m sorry, Sweetness, but we have to.” Ren leaned in. Those beautiful green eyes of his made up my entire world. “We’ll make it quick. I promise. But we have to do this.”

  I wasn’t given much of an option. Ren gingerly gripped my right shoulder as he cupped my cheek with his other hand. “Hold on, Sweetness. Just hold on.”

  I didn’t want to hold on. I knew this was going to hurt—hurt bad, and I didn’t think I could deal with any more pain. I was at my limit, between the burning in my upper body and the numbness in my legs.

  Hands landed on my hip. Tink. It was Tink. My wild gaze met his. “I have to,” he said as if he were pleading. “You can punch me in the throat for it later. Okay?”

  They rolled me onto my side.

  Someone screamed, and it sounded like a wounded animal getting run over by a tank. It took me a moment to realize it was me—I was making the horrible, ragged sound, and that was about when the world wanted to fade away again, but Ren wouldn’t let it.

  “Keep those beautiful eyes open for me, Ivy. I know. I’m sorry, Sweetness. I’m so sorry. I know it hurts,” he said, and he kept talking as hands and fingers moved along my back, from my shoulders all the way down to the base of my spine. “It’s not too much longer. Okay? The doc is going to look at you and make you better.”

  My back and stomach were on fire, burning through my chest. “We . . . have . . . a doctor?”

  “We do.” His gaze flicked over my shoulder for the briefest second and then returned to mine. “She’s almost done. Just a few more seconds.” His lips pressed against my forehead. “You hanging in there, Sweetness?”

  I thought I said yes. I know my lips moved, but I didn’t hear it. I didn’t think Ren did either, but then I was being laid back down and some of the hellfire was easing off—everything was easing off.

  I faded out again, maybe for seconds, and when I came to, I thought I heard Ren saying, “Out there, she said she was sorry. Why would she say that?”

  “I don’t know.” I thought that was Tink.

  I felt Ren brushing the hair back from my cheek and then his face was directly in mine. He looked like he was screaming, but he sounded so very far away, like he was standing at the end of a tunnel.

  “I’m here,” I rasped. “I’m still here.”

 
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