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       Reign, p.7

           Chanda Hahn

  “Ever! Don’t let go!” Mina yelled, wrapping her left arm around the rung. It was useless, she knew. She couldn’t squeeze out of the opening, and she was trapped underground. Her mind had a sudden moment of clarity. This was so much like her underwater dream. Had she seen the future?

  “Mina!” Ever cried, when Mina’s hand started to slip through her grasp. Teague had crawled up to the rung behind her and was yanking on her other arm. She knew how this would end.

  In her dream she didn’t make it to the surface, so she doubted she would now.

  “It’s okay, just take care of Nan. Take care of Nan,” Mina called.

  Teague reached up and yanked her arm from around the rung, pulling her backwards. They both lost their footing.

  She was falling and Teague was falling with her. The last thing Mina saw was Ever trying to look through the wreckage into the hole. She knew the moment Ever must’ve seen Teague, because she screamed. “Nooo!”

  Chapter 11

  She was lying on something soft that smelled faintly of cat urine. “Gross,” Mina grumbled. She rolled over to see that she was resting on a yellowed mattress in an old abandoned runoff tunnel. It took a moment for her eyes to focus on the blob of movement by her foot. She’d thought at first it was an old towel—until it moved toward her. She screamed and kicked at the rat sniffing at her shoes, making it scurry away.

  Mina sat up and ran her hands across her body for injuries. Had she blacked out? Had she hit her head? Something disturbed a can, and it rolled over by her foot. She jumped to her feet and prepared to run, but Teague stepped out of another tunnel. A light that came from behind her faintly illuminated him. This time he kept his distance from her.

  He seemed to be in an odd mood, simply studying her face silently. His eyes softened as he cleared his throat and looked away from her. “That runaway garbage truck wasn’t me.”

  “What? You didn’t try to run me over? That wasn’t part of your quest?”

  He shook his head no.

  “So why warn me? Why save me?” she said irritably.

  “Because you haven’t finished the next quest that I’ve set up for you. And this one is the most important of all stories. I am especially partial to the ending.”

  “Yeah, me too. Because one day her prince will come and they’ll live happily ever after.” She tested the waters to see what he had up his sleeve.

  He laughed. “Come on, Mina, you know there’s no such thing. The day your prince comes will be your worst nightmare. For I will make you bow down and beg for your life.”

  “You’re wrong. One day I will have a happy ending. It will be the day that you’re dead.”

  “I know, Mina. I know. You’ve tried your best. But I’m not done with you yet.”

  “I’m done playing along.”

  “No, you’re not. Soon you’ll bow to me and beg for your life.”

  “You are not ruler of the human plane, Teague.”

  “And I don’t plan on ruling the human plane. I plan on destroying this one.”

  “Why?” Mina asked, shivering at the chill that crept into her veins at his merciless tone. “What do you have against humans?”

  “You ask why?” Clearly, he believed his reason to be obvious. “Humans are shallow liars and thieves. They are emotionally fickle, which is fun for the Fae to feed on, but they leave a sour feeling in my stomach.”

  “Teague, don’t do this. You don’t have to be evil.” Mina moved toward his dark figure and paused within a few feet of him. She could see that she made him nervous. His eyes kept flickering to her neck, probably remembering the pain he’d inflicted on her with his hand. As if he couldn’t trust himself with her. If he felt guilt, then maybe there was a way to reason with him. “You can be good.”

  “I was…once. But being good didn’t really work out for me. Being nice and gentlemanly didn’t give me what I wanted.” He met her eyes and she thought his expression saddened for a split second. “So now I just take what I want. And right now I want the dagger.”

  “Teague,” Mina cried out in frustration. “I don’t have it. I have no clue what you’re talking about.”

  “Don’t lie to me!” Teague roared at her and rushed toward her again.

  Mina raised her hands, trying to mimic what she’d done earlier and push him away with power. But she was too scared.

  He closed the distance between them but didn’t raise a hand to touch her. “I know you have it. I’ve waited for so long. Jared didn’t think it was you. He tried to convince me I had the wrong girl—that I was mistaken, but I’m not. I know it’s you. You haven’t changed. After your next tale is over you will give to me. Or I will hurt your friends and start sending the quests after your brother and your mother.”

  “I thought only one Grimm at a time could complete the quests,” Mina said.

  Teague just smirked. “Silly Mina, why do you think the Fae Guild exists all over the world? Why do you think the Godmothers watch all the Grimms from their little mirror room? I’ve toyed with all of them at one time or another. But there was only one Grimm I ever cared about.”

  She knew which Grimm he meant. Whichever one the Grimoire presented itself too. Because he needed his other half—he needed Jared.

  He turned his back on her and walked away. “But you’ve always been a deceiver, and I’ve never been one to play by the rules,” Teague continued before disappearing down another tunnel, leaving her alone in the dark. His voice echoed back to her. “Neither have you, Mina.”

  What in the Fae plane was he talking about? Mina’s hand brushed her aching throat, and every part of her wanted to break down and cry. But she couldn’t at this moment. She needed to get out of while she could. Teague had left a small flashlight on the stain-covered mattress. She had no desire to think on the sources of those stains. Instead, she needed to focus on escape.

  Thankfully, the flashlight clicked on. Its bright beam of light sent even more rats scurrying for safety. Alarmed, she made a little noise in her throat and pain shot through it. It was probably best if she didn’t do that again.

  Mina decided that stomping loudly as she walked would help disperse the rats faster. She aimed the flashlight at the tunnel that Teague disappeared down and was surprised that it immediately turned and opened up into another large culvert. Light poured in from an opened manhole in the ceiling above, and she realized Teague must have carried her until he found another exit.

  She stood in the circle of light and looked to the left. No sign of him. After she clicked the flashlight off, she pocketed it before ascending the rungs to the street level. Orange construction cones surrounded the open manhole and a Silver City Sewer & Water truck was parked nearby. The city workers had abandoned their sewer work to investigate a crash—the one that had almost killed her—farther down the block. Mina pulled herself out of the hole and moved to the other side of the caution tape.

  At first she walked, but then she started to run back to the scene of the accident. The garbage truck had struck a fire hydrant and run into the brick building. The whole area was cordoned off with tape, and carefully placed police vehicles kept the looky-loos at bay.

  Mina walked closer. The vehicle that actually covered the manhole and blocked her escape was a small pickup that had been caught in the aftermath of a pile up.

  Even now, she could see Ever and Nan pointing beneath a totaled Toyota. A fireman was carrying over a large hydraulic spreader to try and lift part of the car off of the hole.

  “Nan! Ever! I’m over here!” Mina called out, waving from behind the police line.

  Nan looked up and started shrieking. She ran to Mina and threw her arms around her. “Don’t you ever do that again!”

  Ever rushed over behind Nan. “Are you okay?”

  “Yeah, I’m fine. I think.” She rearranged her scarf so the soft material was up against her neck. The pain seemed to lessen a little that way.

  “Mina, did you see?”

  “See what?” she

  Nan leaned forward and cupped her hand over her mouth. “Ever can fly. She picked me up flew out of the way of the crash. I saw it.”

  “Did not!” Ever denied it and rolled her eyes.

  “Did too.” Nan placed her hands on her hips. “I know what I saw.”

  “You have no idea what you saw. I think you got a bump on your head.”

  Mina didn’t feel like hiding anything else from anyone ever again. Despite Teague’s warning. “Give it up, Ever. She saw you. And I know for a fact that she won’t give up till she proves you wrong. I actually think it’s about time we start sharing what we know and stop keeping my friends in the dark.”

  Ever didn’t look pleased. Nan beamed and turned to give Ever a poke in the arm. “So how’d you do it? Happy thoughts and pixie dust?” She continued to walk around Ever, trying to find the secret of her flying.

  Ever started laughing. “You have no idea how close to the truth you really are.”

  Nan just crossed her arms and demanded an explanation. “Show me.”

  “Wha—? No!” Ever waved her hands at her.

  “Show me…or I’ll do something really embarrassing.”

  Ever rolled her eyes. “That’s not hard to do when you hang out with a gimp.” Mina hated when Ever referred to her family that way, but she didn’t say anything.

  Nan frowned and turned to Mina, worry etched across her face. “How’d you find your way out?” Nan lowered her voice.

  “Yeah,” Ever said. “How did you escape?”

  Nan shot her a doubtful look.

  “What? She was kidnapped by an evil Fae prince.”

  “No, he saved me, and then he let me go,” Mina said loosening her scarf again. “But not before giving me a warning.”

  Ever sucked in her breath when she saw the purplish bruise. “He did that to you?”

  “Yeah,” Mina dropped her hand to her side, feeling conflicted and confused about what had transpired with Teague.

  “It seems there’s no hope for him,” Ever sighed sadly. “It would be best not to anger him. Just keep your nose clean.”

  Mina swallowed and agreed. “That’s my plan. Except he seems to want something from me, and he’s threatened to hurt you. All of you—including Brody and Nix and my family.”

  Ever didn’t even flinch. She seemed to accept the news.

  Nan, on the other hand, flew off the deep end. “What? How could he threaten me? He doesn’t even know what he’s getting himself into. Just you wait. No one crosses Nan Taylor.”

  “You’ll stop him before it comes to that, right, Mina?” Ever’s voice hinted at the fear that she hid behind her stony mask.

  “I won’t let him hurt any of you.”

  The rest of the afternoon was crazy hectic. Since the girls were just “witnesses” to the accident and not visibly involved, the police let them leave to go on with their business.

  Mina wasn’t really in the mood to eat anything, and she honestly didn’t want to search for a dress anymore, but Nan dragged her along against her will.

  “Fine,” Nan said. “If we can’t go to the café, then we shop. Shopping is the cure for everything. Plus, I’m not letting you out of my sight until you tell me everything…and I mean everything.”

  Ever frowned. “Well, I don’t think—”

  “Nope,” Nan interrupted. “We’re going to Lacey’s Boutique. I’ve made up my mind. It’s across town. Let’s go.”

  Reluctantly, Ever and Mina got back on the next bus while Nan grilled them.

  Once Nan learned that Ever was a pixie, she couldn’t stop talking to her about it. Mina didn’t mind shopping for dresses with Ever. In fact, recently, she had enjoyed the Fae girl’s company. Maybe they’d bonded over their grief at losing Jared or something. Still, she’d obviously done something to anger Ever again…which had never really taken a whole lot of effort.

  “Do it again,” Nan whispered encouragingly to Ever. Nan had quickly bonded with Ever and had even gotten the pixie to show off a few of her gifts. Something that Mina had never even thought to ask about.

  “Sure, pick someone.” Ever leaned back in the seat and put on a pair of white skull sunglasses—feigning sleep. She looked relaxed in her dark denim jacket over her striped pink tank and black skinny jeans. Her army boots were laced with skull shoelaces, and her nails were painted an awesome crackle black color.

  Nan sat next to her wearing red skinny jeans and a chevron striped shirt with bangles up her left arm. Her blonde hair flowed down her back, and she looked angelic, with the sunrays coming through the bus windows making her hair glimmer.

  Night and day. Dark and light. Fae and Human. Her two friends, worlds apart yet so similar. Mina sighed and ran her hands up and down her sensible denim shorts and Dead Prince Society shirt. This one was a faded gray with black letters, which were perfect with her gray All-Star shoes. Mina didn’t curl her hair, but let it hang loose in ponytail over her left shoulder.

  “Um…that one.” Nan gestured with her head toward the front of the bus where a gentleman in a suit sat reading a paper.

  “You sure?” Ever pulled the glasses down to zero in on her target.

  “Yep,” Nan answered.

  “Child’s play.” Ever flicked her finger toward the man and then quickly turned away.

  Not Nan. Nan leaned forward and watched as the newspaper flew out of the man’s hands and scattered across the bus floor. He quickly jumped up and tried to pick up the pieces before they were stepped on by the oncoming passengers.

  “Well, then you pick one,” Nan whispered trying to not laugh or look in the man’s direction.

  “Fine, but see if you can catch me doing it.” Ever smiled and waited for the new passengers to enter the bus and find seating. When the bus had closed its doors and pulled off again, she picked her victim.

  At first Mina couldn’t see what Ever was doing. But then she saw that a plump red-haired woman reading a very large hardcover book was having issues turning the page. The exasperated woman gripped the back of the book and tried to separate the page she’d just finished from the ones in the back. It held.

  She picked at it with her nail. Still nothing.

  The woman put the book on her lap, and all of a sudden, all of the pages started flipping. They stopped at the last page.

  She stuttered out in surprise but looked relieved that the pages turned. Until she realized she couldn’t get the book to open from the beginning.

  “She doesn’t need to be reading those kind of books anyway,” Ever said. The woman exited the bus at the next stop, and the girls watched her throw the book in the nearest dumpster. “That’s right. The end.” Ever smiled.

  “That was so cool!” Nan fawned a bit, and Ever shrugged her shoulders.

  “It seemed kind of mean,” Mina said.

  “Eh, it’s not that great a book. I’ve read it. She’ll thank me for saving her five hours of her life. The main character dies in the end.”

  The bus dropped them off three blocks from Lacey’s Boutique. And Mina had just explained about the Grimoire and the curse.

  Nan frowned, “So does it strictly deal with the Grimm tales?”

  Ever nodded her head. “Most of the time, yes. They’ve gotten harder over time, though, because they morph as they unfold. Truthfully, I’m not sure even if Mina finished the tales that the quests or demands would stop.”

  “Why would you say that?” Mina asked, feeling sucker punched. She hadn’t expected someone to come right out and say there was no way to beat the curse.

  “Well, because I remember where I come from. I know what it’s like on the Fae plane. I knew him before he was—” she made a splitting motion with her hands. “When that happened, I chose to follow his good side here.”

  “Ever, can you tell me about it?” Mina asked.

  Her teary eyes flashed in anger, and she shook her head at Mina.

  “Pretty please with pixie dust,” Nan begged. Mina was irritated when Eve
r gave in to Nan’s request.

  “Back then he was just Teague. He was betrayed by someone he cared about. The betrayal tore him apart on the inside. It brought out the worst in him. He was extremely powerful, and the Fae feared for their lives. He was obsessed with opening gates to the human world and sending the Reapers. Then he turned them on his own people.”

  Nan shook her head. Mina wondered if this was hard to believe.

  Ever’s eyes looked sad. “Even the Fates didn’t know how to make the pain stop. Truthfully, I think his heart was already in two before the sprite split him.”

  “Well,” she continued, “all this happened right before the Grimm Brothers made their appearance on the Fae plane. The King and Queen had their hands full with keeping Teague from destroying the kingdom and then to add a portal between the two worlds? It spelled bad news for both sides. They just came up with the quests to distract the brothers from their larger problem: what to do with Teague and Jared.”

  “So they never intended to keep their promise,” Mina deduced.

  “I don’t know what they intended. I’m not a Royal, okay? I only know this…because I was living at the palace at the time.” Ever was clearly irritated, rolling her eyes. “I just know that the sprite split him into two parts and bound them to two books or something. They sent the Grimoire and Jared to the human plane with the Grimm brothers, without them ever knowing what they had. And they kept Teague in the Fae plane. Teague and Jared could travel back and forth between the worlds, but only a Grimm could return the book to the Fae plane.”

  “I didn’t know that’s how it happened,” Mina said.

  “Of course you wouldn’t know. You’re not a Fae, and even most Fae don’t know all of the deets, okay? But Teague figured out that the more quests the Grimms did, the stronger he became. He’d make the Grimms fail on the quests, so the curse would move on to the next one. As much as he loved power, he loved revenge even more.”

  “How does Mina stop him?” Nan asked.

  “Now that he’s whole again, his anger burns with a vengeance. I’m not sure there’s anything Mina can do to stop the curse. He is deadly on both planes.”

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