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       Reign, p.18

           Chanda Hahn
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“Oh, Jared,” Mina cried out. “What would you do?”

  The assault on the table ceased, and the enormous feet moved to her left, continuing in a circle around the area. Pacing her, taunting her, stalking her. Her nerves were getting the better of her, but she could also feel the power.

  She could feel the Story that she’d always been so tuned into. Something stirred deep in her soul and she knew what she had to do. She’d never been good at outright controlling Fae magic. Manipulation, on the other hand, was something that she could do—and had been doing subconsciously ever since she’d learned she was a Grimm. The power had been following her family for generations, and the longer she resided in the Fae plane, the more of the overall plan she understood.

  And the more she recognized her part in it.

  She may not like or agree with it, but it was becoming clear that she was the center.

  Mina flung the heavy leather bound book onto the floor, pressed her hands to the pages, and commanded it to change. She began to push her will and all of the Fae magic that gathered around her into the book. Her hands grew tingly with warmth, and she watched in awe as golden veins of magic rushed through her fingers into the pages. The book glowed with power and gradually lifted off the ground to float inches above the floor.

  She understood now. Granted, it was like trying to see the future by looking through the small crack in a window blind, but she could see her purpose and part. She would worry about the consequences later. When her hands stopped glowing and she felt herself weaken and tire, she pulled the book out of the air and felt it hum in happiness.

  “Hello, my friend,” Mina whispered. “I’ve missed you. Do you think you are ready for a great adventure?” The book almost quivered with excitement, and Mina grinned.

  She braced herself on one knee with the book tucked under her arm and waited for the ogre to come around.

  Suddenly, he lifted the table and tossed it to the side. It crashed against a far wall, breaking the shelves and sending a mass of leather bound books to the ground.

  “Rawrgh!” He advanced.

  Mina smiled wryly and held the book before her where it elongated into a golden sword of fire. The blazing weapon gave him pause, but he shook it off and tried to circle her. And then another ogre appeared from behind the first.

  “Oh, come on.” Mina decided to attack. She rushed the first ogre and swung upward with the fiery blade, slicing him across the chest. He roared in pain but it only infuriated him as he charged at her.

  Mina ran and climbed up the nearest book ladder, and then clambered up on top of the shelves. From there, she could see both ogres as they stalked her below. The shelves were at least twenty feet in the air, and the ogres were at least ten feet tall. She kicked the ladder away from the wall and calmed the Grimoire flame. The second ogre had come close and was staring up at her with a strange, almost human expression. In appearances they were almost identical, but the first one was bit larger.

  The first ogre shook the bookshelf and tried to climb it to get up to her, but the shelves easily broke beneath his weight. The main bookshelf, anchored into the wall, held. Thank goodness.

  Mina kept her back to the wall and quickly sidestepped along the top until she rounded a corner and was briefly out of sight. Mina gauged the distance between herself and the next stand-alone bookshelf. It appeared to be about three feet wide and spanned a quarter of the room, but it was at least a five foot jump.

  She took the chance and leapt.

  Almost! Her left foot slipped, and she found herself dangling from the side. Mina scrambled to pull herself up, because she could hear the approaching footsteps of the second ogre. She rolled onto her back, pulled up her skirt, pressed the Grimoire to her side, and waited.

  Not only could she hear the heavy breathing of the ogre, but the smell of onions wafted up to her from down below. Onions? Why was she only smelling onions now, and not before? The ogre paused briefly right below her, and she waited for him to knock her down from her hiding place. Instead, it moved on, making an odd grumbling noise in its throat. Was that laughter?

  The first ogre wasn’t as amused. He now made inhuman noises and thrashed about in fury as he tried to climb up the wall of shelves.

  The onion smell grew stronger. She carefully turned her head to the left to see the second large ogre sitting on the next row over, watching her. How had he made it to the top without knocking it over? She grabbed the Grimoire, and jumped up in alarm. The book lit up in a fiery blaze and morphed into a sword again, revealing her hiding spot.

  The first ogre cried out in triumph and ran straight toward her. The floor vibrated beneath her.

  The second one still sat precariously on the bookshelf—unmoving.

  One ogre attacking in front, one watching her from behind. She had to choose her course of action.

  She turned to face the one from below as he crashed into the bookshelf, clearly intending to knock it over with her on it. His beefy arms strained as he pushed and roared. Mina jumped onto the ogre’s wide gray speckled shoulders. She started to slide down, but turned and used the sword to gouge his back.

  He fell into the bookshelf, howling, and it took a moment for him to regain his stance and face her. But by this time, Mina was ready for him. He was wounded and struggling. The flaming sword diminished, shifting into the Grimoire. A golden light poured out from within as she opened the pages and turned the book upon the ogre.

  He flung his arms up to block the blinding light coming from the book. A strange but wonderfully familiar wind picked up. Books and loose pages flew around the room as the ogre roared again, desperate to keep from being drawn into the book.

  But no one could fight the Grimoire. Like the other evil Fae before him, he was sucked into the prison-like pages. And once the Grimoire had entrapped him, the book closed and fell to the ground with a thud. The wind ceased, and the room seemed darker once the book had closed.

  Mina picked up the Grimoire and placed it on her lap, her fingers touching it gently. To once again have it within her hands! She felt whole.

  Until the ground rumbled as the second ogre loomed over her, its oniony breath wafting down on her from above.

  “Hello, Teague.” Mina exhaled, not even bothering looking at him. “Did you enjoy the show?”

  The ogre made that odd snorting noise again, and light illuminated him as he shrank and shifted until only Teague was standing in front of her. He was indeed laughing. “That was incredible. I’ve never seen anyone do what you just did. The others didn’t even have the brains to run and hide, much less fight back. One girl sang him to sleep and another went invisible, but I had to intervene each time to save them. To entomb it within a book! Ingenious. Now there will be a delay as the guards must bring in another ogre for the next test. But really, what gave you the idea? I would like to look at this book of yours more closely.” He gestured at the Grimoire with a question in his eyes.

  She didn’t see a reason to deny him, so she shrugged her shoulders and handed him the leather bound book. His face was full of awe until he recognized the journal. The smile quickly fell. “Why this one?”

  “It was a matter of convenience. I didn’t have much time to choose, and it was lying open on the table.”

  “Did you read it?” he accused.

  She rolled her eyes at him. “Really, how much time do you think I had while running for my life?”

  When he continued to look at her, she finally relented. “Only the words on the last page.”

  He turned from her and tucked the book back under his arm. Then, he looked around the room and whistled. “Well, you are the also the one to cause the greatest destruction.” He waved his hand in the air. The books flew back onto their shelves, the table righted itself, and the chairs slid back into their spots.

  When he was finished, the library looked as immaculate as when she first entered. All evidence of her fight was erased.

  Teague turned back to her and tilted his head to the side. “
How did you know?” The Grimoire still remain tucked at his side.

  “Know? Know what?”

  “That I was the other ogre. That one was real and one was fake.”

  “I’ll tell you if you give me the Grimoire back.” She held out her hand.

  “Grimoire? This is my personal journal, and you are not getting it back. Not even if you give it pretty nicknames.”

  She shot him an un-amused look. She should have known he wouldn’t give it back to her, and now she was peeved that she’d been dumb enough to give it to him in the first place.

  “You haven’t answered my question.”

  “What?” She seethed, feeling like she’d lost something precious to her once again. She was ready to cry.

  Teague saw that she was distressed and moved closer, gently placing a hand under her chin. He brought her eyes up so they’d lock onto his. “How did you know it was me? Why did you not try to entrap me within the book?”

  Why hadn’t she? Tears pooled in her eyes, and she wanted to pull away from him. Thankfully, she got them under control before a waterfall appeared on her face.

  “It’s just something about you…I mean that I remember…” And she halted. How could she explain that she recognized his ogre shape? It was the same one she’d seen Jared shift into, and he’d smelled of onions in that form. “I had seen you shift before.”

  “Oh that’s right. In the forest. But you saw me shift into a griffin, not an ogre. So there’s no reason to believe that I’d be the ogre as well. Only Baldanders can willingly shift into multiple forms, but they’re rare. You can go a whole lifetime without seeing one. They’re extremely shy.”

  Mina wanted to laugh. That wasn’t how she’d describe Anders. “You’re a Royal. All Royals can shift to any form at will.”

  “Who told you that?” His voice dropped an octave and glared at her. “No one knows about that gift but Royals.” His eyes darkened and his breathing quickened. “Who are you working for? Why are you here?” The accusations shot out of him, and he stormed toward her, making her retreat until she was backed against a bookshelf.

  She racked her brain to remember how she knew, and once again it was Jared that had told her. There was no easy way out of this.

  “I don’t know. I must have heard it from a tale when I was a child.”

  “I don’t believe you. No one else has been able to tell it was me. They either failed altogether or assumed I was also an ogre.”

  He didn’t seem convinced, but at least he didn’t seem like he was ready to murder her. She watched him warily, and she could see an inner battle as he tried to convince himself of her words.

  “Well, now all of the girls here know you shift. Don’t they?” She spoke up softly.

  “What?” he frowned and placed the Grimoire within his coat. Now both hands were free. She assumed it was so he could kill her easier.

  “Well, you’ve shifted in front of me twice now. So don’t the other girls know that you can shift?”

  His lips pinched together. “No,” he grunted. “They don’t. I didn’t reveal myself to the others. Most were too scared to defend themselves, so I held back the other ogre while they were removed. If they were smart enough to defeat or incapacitate the first ogre, they turned to attack me. Only you paused, only you knew. How?”

  “You didn’t attack me. Scared me, yeah, by climbing up the bookcase next to me. But not once during this test did you actually try to hurt me. I can’t assume, no matter how scared I am, that everyone is my enemy,” she reasoned.

  “You should. You’d live a lot longer that way.”

  “If I did, then more people would end up dead or in a book.” She gestured to his jacket. “I don’t think even you could get out of that one.”

  “Then I would be famous and live on forever in a storybook.” Even though he joked, those words chilled her. They reflected how dangerously close his true power hungry nature was to the surface.

  “You’re already famous. You’re a prince. What more could you want?”

  “Power. Power to protect what is important to me and power to smite my enemies and destroy those that hurt my family.” He said the words with a vengeance which made her wonder who had hurt him in his past.

  What had planted the seed deep within that would change him so easily in the future? That pivotal point was only days away, and now she was curious. “How many besides me have made it through?”

  “Worried about your competition?” he teased.

  “Of course not,” she lied.

  His eyes danced, and he grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the bookcase, leading her down another aisle and to a side door that she’d completely missed. Even if she had seen it, she doubted it would have opened during the trial.

  Teague paused before the door and gently rubbed off a spot of dirt on her cheek. Her skin burned from the touch of his hand and she had to settle her heart, beating out of control. The Grimoire was right in front of her, inches away, beneath his coat. All she had to do was grab it and open it, and all of her troubles would be over.

  But she couldn’t. She was frozen under the spell of his touch. She felt her eyes close and her breath catch.

  His warm scent rolled over her as he leaned closer. She didn’t want to move and yet she couldn’t look. Was he going to kiss her?

  She felt a breeze and heard the door open behind her. He pressed forward, but only to make her pass backward through the door into the hall. Then he followed.

  That was awkward. Her heart sunk at how she’d let her feelings run so amok. Feelings were weakness. She turned with the intent to walk quickly down the hallway with her head held high and cheeks on fire. Walk? Who was she kidding? She wanted to run away in embarrassment.

  He grabbed her wrist and pulled her into a side corridor before she got too far ahead.

  “What?” she snapped, which only made him smile. A smile that was so much like Jared’s. Every inch of her wanted to reach out and slap that smile from his face.

  He wasn’t Jared. He wasn’t the person she had fallen for. The person in front of her would eventually curse her family. She was finding it hard to breathe. Mina tried to pull away from him, but he wouldn’t release her.

  “Don’t be distressed, Elle, about the other girls and who made it. With you here, I’m not sure there is much competition.”

  Chapter 25

  Those words, those few little words, sent Mina soaring for a whole three-point-two seconds before crashing down into reality with a flop.

  Stop it! She told herself. Don’t let him fool you.

  Who was she kidding? If she didn’t do what she’d come here to do, everyone was doomed. Her ancestors, her brother, her family.

  Teague had left her alone after escorting her to the door of the gathering room. She assumed he had to get back to finish the testing with the last two girls, although he had said there would be a delay since they had to find another ogre.

  Somehow, that thought infuriated her. They were taking advantage of ogres and making them pawns in a princess test. So what if the ogres were naturally evil and most of the girls were no real danger to them? Mina had imprisoned one forever. She’d had no choice. Evil or not, Royals shouldn’t just use them as bait.

  She would really have to have a talk with Teague again later.

  Mina entered the waiting room to find Dinah and Ever alone. Dinah seemed surprised at Mina’s appearance, but she masked it quickly. Ever didn’t even look at her. She was too busy reading a book on a settee.

  “Is this it?” Mina asked. “Did the others not pass?”

  “Looks that way,” Ever answered shortly. “Do you see anyone else? I guess it’s just us…and probably Annalora.”

  “What makes you so sure?” Dinah asked.

  “Oh, she’ll pass the test all right. One look at her face and the ogre is sure to drop dead.” Ever delivered the dry line with a deadpan face and perfect timing. Dinah snorted, and Mina had to cover her mouth to keep back the gi

  “No, she’ll pass because the ogre will hear her complaining a mile off and run before he ever sees her,” Dinah added.

  Now Ever started laughing. The jokes definitely helped to relieve the mounting stress that made the room so suffocating. “Or she’ll try to sing, but it will be so bad, the ogre turns himself to stone.”

  The tittering laughter continued on, until a small cough at the door made them look up in surprise.

  Annalora stood there in her slim blue dress, which didn’t look wrinkled at all. “Or Annalora will pass the test, because she is worthy of being queen, and she will kill anyone who gets in her way.”

  Mina was stunned. “You passed the test already? How many were there?”

  “What does it matter? They’re dumb and illiterate like you,” she taunted. “What would really help everyone would be to banish all of the horrible, evil, and dangerous creatures to a faraway land. Elle, what land did you say you were from? I’m sure there’s plenty of room for more stinky ogres.” Annalora smiled cruelly, waiting for Mina to respond.

  Hateful, spiteful, inappropriate names were on the tip of Mina’s tongue. She was seriously ready to lash out against the ignorant girl. But she curbed them. Something about Annalora’s smile seemed a little too eager. She was ready to start a fight, and Mina knew how to read between the lines. Responding to her jabs would just be adding fuel to the fire. The girl thrived on the emotional turmoil she caused others. Mina had seen plenty of girls like her in her school and on the Internet. They called them trolls. Man, that thought entertained Mina.

  Mina’s silence in response to the subtle bullying did not by any means signify that she conceded. Only time would prove who was better. Mina would have to beat the girl in life, and not with words. After all, Annalora could say as many mean and hateful things as she wanted, but they would only hurt if Mina believed them, and she didn’t.

  But she couldn’t let the conversation lead to more questions about where she was from. She had to let her pride take the hit to protect her home.

  “What’s that? You don’t disagree? Well, when I’m queen that will be one of the first things I do.”

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