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       Reign, p.23

           Chanda Hahn
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  “A Reaper!” Mina grabbed the chair Jacob had just vacated and hurled it at the hand and through the gate. The hand disappeared, but the hole still remained open.

  “I’m so sorry. This is my fault. I pulled power from the Fae plane to help you and I think it’s linked the two worlds. The gate is not closing.”

  “What is coming through?” Jacob asked. She would have thought he would be terrified by what he was seeing. Instead he looked eager. Wilhelm crawled from the bed, invigorated, and stood before the portal in his pajamas. He picked up an umbrella and held it in front of him like a sword.

  “Fae,” Mina answered.

  “Fae? Like in the stories?” Wilhelm looked over to his brother and his face mirrored Jacob’s. Excitement.

  “Yes, just like the stories.” The room filled with glowing, moving fireflies and Mina realized that they weren’t little bugs at all. The shoes were sparkling. Her darned slippers chose this moment to send her home. “No, not yet.” She grabbed a pitcher of water and smashed it over the next monstrous hand that tried to crawl through the portal. It looked like a troll’s. The hand quickly jerked back into the gate.

  “Wilhelm. Jacob. Listen. There are good and bad Fae on the other side, and Teague will continue to send Reapers here to the human plane to hunt me down. But not only me—all of the Grimms and our kind for future generations.”

  Jacob looked to his brother and nodded before he turned to Mina and asked, “What will we need to do?”

  “Stop them.” The flickering was coming faster, and they were all retreating into the hospital hallway. “Here, you’ll need this.” Mina pulled the Grimoire from her dress pocket and gave it to Wilhelm. “Use it to capture the Fae within the book.”

  “What happens to you?” Wilhelm asked. He tried to reach for her, but she backed away.

  “I told you. I’m your granddaughter. I must go home now. But you can help me—by living. Survive today and all of the rest just like this one. Don’t give up.”

  Jacob wrapped his hand around his brother’s shoulders and gave him a reassuring hug. “We won’t. We have waited for this adventure for a lifetime. This is after all, a librarian’s dream.”

  She didn’t get a chance to tell them how to use the Grimoire before she saw both brothers rush back into the hospital room to battle the Fae that were coming through.

  There was only a bright flash of light as she felt herself pulled away…into a bright tunnel.

  Chapter 31

  Mina’s body was on fire, her joints and every nerve in her zinging with pain. She was back in the parlor where she had left Brody, but the lights were off. The room was empty.

  She stood but felt the crunching of glass as the slippers crumbled beneath her feet.

  “Ouch,” she cried. She hobbled back over to sit on the sofa to pick the pieces of glass out of her bare feet. The pain only intensified as guilt finally assailed her.

  It was her. It had always been her.

  Something pressed against her hip and she felt through the dress and pulled out the knife. In the light of the moon, she could see the word Erjad engraved into the blade itself. Erjad—Jared.

  The door opened, and she quickly hid the knife in the folds of her dress.

  “Mina, is that you?” Brody called into the darkened room.

  “Yes, it’s me,” she whispered softly.

  “Oh, thank God.” He left the door open and rushed in. He wrapped his arms around her, fell onto the sofa, and pulled her onto his lap. He noticed her bleeding feet. “What happened?”

  She sniffed. “My shoes did that.”

  “Your shoes? I’ll never understand women and what they’ll do for fashion.”

  Mina laughed. “Believe me, this is not a fashion statement. More like an understatement.”

  He looked her over and frowned in confusion. “You changed?”

  She glanced down at the dress she was wearing. It was still lavender in color and still had floral petals, but instead of Fae-made it looked man-made. She wasn’t upset. After all, she arrived in one piece and wasn’t covered in blood. “In more ways than one.”

  She sighed and wrapped her arms around him, seeking a long hug from him, which he obliged. She held on and silently cry her heart out.

  When her soft hiccups stopped, Brody pulled away from her and said, “Come on. The night is almost over, and I don’t want to see you sad.” He lifted her up in his arms and carried her through the door and into the ballroom.

  Her bare feet touched the floor, and she only winced once from the pain in her foot. The rest was quickly forgotten, as she was safe and sound, home, and in Brody’s arms.

  Safe. What a thought. How she’d taken that for granted for so long. Would she ever feel completely safe from Teague again? The familiar song came to an end, and Brody told her to wait right there. He’d be right back.

  She stood in the middle of the dance floor, barefoot and alone. The Dead Prince Society had already been playing for a while. The clock on the wall said it was quarter ’til midnight.

  The band took a quick break as they prepared their next set. Mina was sad she’d missed their introduction. Naga, with his black and white-striped mohawk, set his guitar down and rolled his shoulders. Burly Magnus set down his drumsticks and grabbed a bag of Cheetos from the floor beside him. Long white-blond haired Constantine adjusted the strap of his bass guitar and said something to the lead singer and Brody’s cousin Valdemar. He put down his bottle and approached the mic again. She was glad she’d pushed for the band to play here. And glad that the stupid dance cards ended at eleven and she could have Brody to herself now.

  The stage lights danced across the floor, creating beautiful patterns. The whole thing felt like a dream.

  Valdemar began to sing a soft ballad, and warm hands wrapped around her waist turning her in a full circle. She smiled up at her partner, expecting Brody’s adoring face.

  But she was inches from Teague.

  Her smile dropped and her heart pounded loudly. She tried to pull away, but he held on to her tightly.

  “Na, ah, ah. I believe you owe me a dance.” His words were like ice.

  She pushed against his chest trying to escape, but his hand covered hers, trapping it there.

  He gasped. She was touching the spot—the exact spot where the tip of the Erjad knife had broken off.

  “So, Mina. Are you happy to see me? Or should I say Elle? Mina suits you much better.”

  “I’m never happy to see you,” she muttered, looking over his shoulder at the blank faces of the couples dancing around them.

  “Do you have what I want?” He turned her in a circle, making her head spin.

  “No,” she lied.

  “I told you, don’t lie to me.” His grip tightened around her waist. “The gate never fully closed, you know. It’s faded over time, and I’ve created others. I never could believe that you came from the future. I’ve searched for you for over a hundred years. The Grimm brothers finally gathered the courage to cross over to my world one of your human years later, to try and stop the Reapers. They spoke of you. Even described you down to the dress you were wearing the day you fell from my tower.”

  “Was thrown,” she corrected heatedly.

  “Thrown—fell. The ending was the same. You disappeared into another world. The brothers said you appeared there, but only for a short time before you vanished into a ball of light. We could only assume you went to the future…and here you are.”

  She swallowed nervously. “What happened after I left?”

  His eyes darkened and he refused to speak for a full three measures of music. “I became more powerful than anyone in the Fae world. More powerful than the Fates themselves. They were scared. They betrayed me and split my power, my very essence, in two.” He smiled wryly and raised an eyebrow. “I can’t blame them. They saw their opportunity with the Grimm brothers, and they took it. But I will make them pay for their betrayal.”

  A guitar riff picked up and Teague looke
d up in interest. Naga played on, his head bobbing with each strum of the guitar. Teague turned his focus back to her and stared deep into her eyes. “Well, you know what happened next. They bound part of my soul to my journal on the Fae plane and the other half into the book the brothers carried. And wouldn’t you know it? It’s the same book I gave you. How do you think the brothers got that book, Mina?”

  She didn’t say anything, just waited.

  Eventually Teague continued his story. “The Fates sent them back to the human world, hoping the two books would never find each other again. But we know that’s not what happened. Thanks to you, my weaker side, Jared, is gone.” He pulled away from her and gestured to himself from head to toe. “I’ve never felt more alive and powerful. And now my Cinderella has finished her quest to the past and retrieved my knife. I’d like it back.”

  “I don’t have it. I lost it,” It surprised her how quickly the lies formed on her tongue.

  Teague gave an exaggerated sigh. “Why must you lie so? If you had only told me the truth from the beginning, you could have been part of my reign of destruction. Instead, you will be crushed under my boot.”

  “Everyone has an Achilles heel.”

  “What’s that?” he asked. She had piqued his interest. “Another fairy tale?”

  “Greek Mythology.” She held on as he spun her. Something he saw bothered him, because his face became ugly.

  “Ah, I see that the human is coming back to whisk you away for the fireworks display. But I leave you with one warning. At midnight I have a surprise of my own for you.” He lifted her hand and placed a kiss on her knuckles. “I’ll let you wait until after you’ve seen my present. You may be more agreeable to my wishes in the morning. Until midnight, Mina. May the next few moments leave you in terror.” He bowed and disappeared into the crowd.

  She tried to go after him, but she ran into a gray mist and knew that he was gone.

  Brody appeared by her side and grabbed her hand, pulling her up the stairs to the second floor of the hall. She passed a grandfather clock and saw that it was only two minutes to midnight. Brody opened a door and led her into a secretarial office with a mahogany wood desk and matching bookcases. Behind the desk was a glass-paned double door that opened onto a balcony.

  Mina stepped onto the cold balcony and shivered—from both the chill in the air and the worry creeping up her spine.

  Something bad was going to happen. Even if Teague hadn’t threatened the impending doom, she’d have felt it coming.

  Brody saw her shiver and wrapped his hands around her. He pointed out across the golf course. They could see the town and, to the right, the river. Down below, couples had gathered on the grass to watch the fireworks display. Even from the second floor she could recognize Daphne and Lara huddled together and pointing up at the sky. Mina craned her neck to look at the watch on Brody’s wrist and wished for the second hand to stop moving.

  Thirty seconds left. She couldn’t take it anymore. She turned to pull away from him, just as he reached into his pocket and pulled something out.

  “Mina, I know things have been kind of crazy. And this has moved very fast between us, but I want you to know that I’ll be there for you. Through all the crazy. Through whatever curse tries to hunt you down. I want to be your knight in shining armor. And although this tradition is a bit old fashioned, I find that’s the kind of guy I am.”

  She had no idea what he was talking about. Her heart was pounding, and she felt like any moment she was going to fall down an elevator shaft.

  She couldn’t focus on Brody. She was consumed with Teague. Why hadn’t she just given him the stupid knife?

  At the stroke of midnight, the fireworks lit up the night sky. The first boom made Mina jump back in surprise. She gave a little cry of alarm before laughing it off.

  Another one exploded in the sky, followed by a cascade of more colorful bursts. She watched for a full minute and then felt the tension release from her body. It was midnight. Everything was okay. She sighed and turned to look at Brody and the object he was holding in front of her. It was his gold class ring with a ruby red stone.

  All thoughts fled her mind, and she stood there staring in shock. Around them, the sky was on fire with color, and right in front of her was a boy that seemed to care about her. He was offering her something she’d never thought to get. True, she hardly ever saw anyone wearing rings in school anymore. They just posted their relationship on the Internet. But here in this moment it felt so right. So perfect.

  “Brody, I…I—”

  “Booooom!” The explosion came from over two miles away, but Mina felt the quake beneath her. She stumbled and Brody caught her, dropping the class ring onto the balcony. She watched as it rolled off the ledge into the row of bushes two stories below. A second blast followed the first, and another ball of fire erupted over by the river. Down below, people started screaming and running. Others pulled out their cell phones and started taking pictures as the dark sky filled with orange fire.

  Teague’s warning came back to her and she could barely speak. “Wh-what was that?” She had to ask, but deep down she already knew.

  Brody squinted into the night and she could see that he was looking for landmarks and estimating distances. “It’s fine. Everything’s fine. There’s nothing to worry about. It’s just an abandoned building that’s nowhere near us.”

  “Brody! What building is that?” She grabbed ahold of the lapels on his suit and stared at the burning orange sky.

  “Mina, it’s fine. You’re safe. No one was hurt. It’s the Old Green Mill Recycling Center. It’s been abandoned for years.”

  She cried out as her feet gave way beneath her and she crumpled to the ground in a desperate heap. She stared through the metal slates on the balcony railings and wanted to die.

  “Noo!” She screamed into the night. Her cries mingled with and echoed those of the people below. Teague had finally gotten his revenge. He had tried before to take them out but was unsuccessful. This time, his blow struck home.

  Mina couldn’t pull her eyes away as she watched the Fae Godmother’s Guild go up in flames.

  Chapter 32

  It took some convincing, but Brody finally drove her to the recycling plant. Firefighters were already on site, fighting back the blaze and dousing the building with water. Mina jumped out of the car and ran to the edge of the caution tape. She didn’t see anyone coming out of the building.

  But there was no way the building was empty.

  Maybe the fire hadn’t reached the Fae living below the recycling center. The firemen would have been evacuating the wreckage. Many of the Fae could mask themselves as human, but there were still quite a few that couldn’t. They’d have to be hiding somewhere.

  She heard a wailing sound come from the edge of the woods and ran toward the trees fifty yards away. Brody was right on her heels. She crashed through the underbrush and passed through the illusion that was hiding the real damage. Fae were dragging and carrying the dead and wounded from the underground tunnel in the middle of the river. She saw a familiar girl with short black hair, struggling to help an injured man out of the tunnel.

  “Brody, help them!” Mina cried out. She ran to help Ever carry Ken Wong out of the river bed to the embankment. She could see clear as daylight the fire and the firemen and policemen by the parking lot and building, but they couldn’t see past the glamour. Which was good. The remaining Fae were using all of their last resources to cloak their escape from their headquarters.

  “You missed the party,” Ever grunted as she kneeled to get Ken to lie down. There was a large bruise on his face and a bloody cut across his stomach. Most of his hands were covered with second-degree burns. He was conscious and kept trying to get back up to head into the tunnels. Two other Fae came and picked Ken up to move him into a large truck. It seemed like they were doing a quick evacuation of the survivors.

  “Ever, where’s Nix?” Mina scanned the crowd of scared and injured Fae.

p; “He’s fine. He went back in to search for survivors. We were able to contain the fire using wards and push it back to the above floors. But there are still people trapped down there.” She coughed and used her shirt to wipe the soot away from her face. She looked tired and sweaty but determined. “He came back Mina. He brought trolls, giants, and ogres and attacked the compound. Most of the Fae were sleeping, and he slaughtered them. I got up, because I couldn’t sleep since it was a new place and all. I saw them rip through the wards, no problem.” Tears fell, leaving streaks in the soot on her face. “I was able to sound an alarm, but it was too late to stop it. There were too many already in the facility.”

  Mina wrapped her hands around Ever as the girl cried, her shoulders shaking uncontrollably. Her grief was intense. “Shhh, it’s okay. We’re here to help.”

  Ever pulled back, sniffed, and straightened her shoulders. Her eyes went wide when she saw the dress Mina was wearing. “I knew it was you. There was a part of me that wanted to deny it, but there was so much that didn’t add up about Elle, and then she disappeared. Still, it was so long ago. I just thought you had to be her doppelganger, and all this time, you just disappeared into the human plane.”

  “Ever, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. It wasn’t just the human plane; it was a different time altogether. I wish I could have changed the outcome. I didn’t want it to happen. I never meant for Teague to be poisoned by a cursed dagger.”

  “He’s been looking for you, I mean Elle, for over a century. He wants his revenge. But I don’t understand why he attacked the Guild. They seemed like nice Fae. They even accepted me easily, and I know I’m a tough pill to swallow.”

  “It’s because it was the Godmothers that tried to assassinate Teague during that first test. Ferah was a Godmother. I happened to save her the night before, and she came back and made it to the tower. She was the one who stabbed him with the cursed knife. The tip of the knife broke off and is still inside of him. It’s what poisoned his heart and increased his power. I was trying to save him, but he blames me. He wants to punish not only me, but the Guild for trying to assassinate him.” Mina looked around for Mei.

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