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       Reign, p.9

           Chanda Hahn
 

  “It’s Nix!” Ever cried out. “He’s hurt.”

  Nix was sprawled across the floor. He groaned and his eyes started to flutter open. He immediately reached for the back of his head and winced. “Where am I?”

  Mina looked around, unsure exactly how to answer him. “Right outside the air lock, below the river.”

  “That’s right,” he said, cringing again. “I was supposed to meet you and take you to Constance.” He groaned and tried to sit up but almost tipped over from the pain. He curled up in a ball and nursed the wound on his head.

  “Nick?” Nan said.

  “Yeah. He’s one of us,” Ever said without a blink. “Nix, what’s the last thing you remember?”

  “I remember coming around the corner and putting the lamp down to unlock the door. I think someone came up from behind and attacked me.”

  “You poor thing!” Ever said softly.

  Nan cast an odd look over to Mina, both of them surprised at Ever’s nurturing side appearing out of nowhere.

  “You mean someone from this side of the door?” Mina asked. “Are you sure? Because that would have to mean it’s one of the Godmothers.”

  Nix stood slowly with Ever’s help. “Yeah, it must have been. But why would they attack me? I’m so confused.” He leaned against the wall.

  “Someone sealed the outer air lock door, and we were caught by the river when the walls started to come down. We could have drowned. I’m guessing whoever did that didn’t want you in the way,” Mina answered.

  “That’s terrible! I’m so sorry. If I had been paying more attention—or if I was still a Nixie—I would have been able to sense someone down here, so close to water. Mina, please forgive me. I’m such a failure!”

  “So you’re a…a Nixie?” Nan breathed out slowly.

  “Uh…hi, Nan,” Nix said sheepishly. “It’s Nix actually. I mean down here with my kind it is. But for school and stuff, Nick is better.”

  “Nix used to be a Nixie.” Ever spoke up.

  “What is that?”

  “Think jolly green giant but likes the water,” Ever explained.

  Nan chuckled. “You said ‘used to be.’ What happened?”

  “Something happened on the Fae plane—and he was dying,” Mina answered. “Charlie and I brought him over and now he’s human. But he’s still learning to adapt.”

  Nix grinned ear to ear. “I’m a fine specimen of human if I do say so myself.”

  Nan leaned over and whispered loudly to Mina. “That explains…a lot.”

  “Nix, I think we better find Constance.” Mina was exhausted, but whoever tried to kill them still had to be around somewhere. This day felt like it would never end.

  “Of course, yes. Right away. That’s what I was supposed to do. It was my only job and I botched it.” Nix turned and led the way, slowing a few times to touch the back of his head.

  Mina was so worried about him that she wasn’t paying attention to the way they headed. She needed to do better.

  “She’s waiting for us.” Nix took a back hallway, and they passed the dining hall. Nan craned her neck, apparently wanting a slower tour of the place.

  When Nix opened the door to the library, Constance was sitting in the same high back chair as last time, drinking tea and talking with someone. Mina wasn’t surprised to see her music teacher, but Nan certainly was.

  Constance glanced over at Nan. Her short white hair was particularly spikey today, reminiscent of a hedgehog. Her teal wing-tipped glasses matched her knitted button-up sweater and pencil skirt.

  “Mrs. Colbert?”

  Constance straightened in her chair. Mina’s guest seemed to take her by surprise.

  Quietly, Nan said, “Our music teacher is a Fae too. This day just keeps getting weirder and weirder.”

  “Yes, dear. I’m a muse.”

  As they approached and could see both women, Mina cleared her throat, feeling awkward. “Nan, you remember Mrs. Wong?”

  Nan’s eyes widened as she recognized the small Chinese woman as well. She nodded.

  “She goes by Meira here.”

  Mrs. Wong smiled at Nan. “I’m a brownie. You can call me Mei.”

  Anders ran across the polished floor toward Constance in obvious distress, squeaking and making odd noises. Her brows narrowed and she frowned. Apparently, Constance could understand them. “What happened, Baldander?”

  The creature answered.

  “I see. That’s horrible!”

  She looked to Nix. “Are you okay? Would you like to go to the healing garden?”

  Nix shook his head. “I’ll be fine. I won’t leave Mina.”

  “As you like. Let’s get them dry.” Constance nodded to the puddles that were forming under their feet.

  Mei waved her hands over the girls’ clothes and, within seconds, they were dry.

  Mina filled Constance in on their earlier events—the accident and Teague’s warning. Both Mei and Constance were stumped.

  “We shall have this incident investigated immediately,” Constance said.

  “Mina,” Mei said softly, “on the tail of our recent discovery, this is worrisome indeed.”

  “The reason I’ve brought you here, Mina, is so you can meet with the leader of the Guild and we can discuss a development. Come with me now; Nan and Ever can stay here.”

  “No, they come with me. I’m not letting Nan out of my sight, until I know that no one is going to mess with her memories.”

  Constance’s eyes squinted, her thoughts impossible to discern.

  “All right. But you mustn’t interfere with the Guild’s decision, Mina.”

  “I won’t. As long as I agree with their decision,” Mina added. She slowly stepped in front of Nan, in a protective manner. Mei caught Mina’s eye and gave a subtle wink.

  A small smile flew across Constance’s lips. “We shall see. Mei, notify Ken and the others to put more wards up and send a team to investigate this interloper. We can’t be left vulnerable,” Constance warned.

  “Yes, we’ll get right on it,” Mei answered before disappearing out into the hall.

  “Follow me please.” Constance gestured toward the girls.

  Nix stepped in line behind Nan.

  “Nix, you don’t have to come,” Constance said.

  “Yes, yes I do,” he said.

  “Very well. This way.” Constance pointed toward a gray metal door at the back of the room, the rings on her fingers glinting in the light.

  They followed Constance out the door and down a hallway. The temperature started to drop and Mina’s heart felt heavy. She could tell just from these two signs which way they were heading.

  “Nan, close your eyes and give me your hand,” Mina whispered.

  “What?” Her small voice sounded so distant and unsure. “What’s happening?” Even now she was affected by the dangerous feelings assailing her. Nan gripped Mina’s hand tightly. Nix slipped in front of Mina and took her hand, taking lead. He used his own body to block the Troll’s unnatural gaze.

  Ever sucked in an audible breath and shivered. “What is that?”

  Constance turned to warn them, but nodded her head for Nix to continue leading Mina and Nan past the troll. Mina’s skin prickled and she could feel the hate radiating from the large gray troll who was slowly turning to stone.

  “He’s been trapped here for the last twenty years, when Teague last attacked the GM’s headquarters,” Mina said. “As long as you don’t look the troll in the eyes, you can pass him. Most everybody is used to ignoring him.”

  “I’m scared.” Nan’s hand shook in Mina’s. “I feel…I feel…I need to get away from here.” She pulled her hand away, and Mina knew the moment Nan opened her eyes and saw the troll. She froze on the spot—her mouth opened in fear, her eyes locked onto the troll. Tears started to pour from her eyes and her body trembled.

  “Nan, don’t look.” Mina yanked on Nan’s hand, but she wouldn’t budge.

  Nix rushed forward and wrapped his arms
around Nan in a strong hug, burying her face in his chest, breaking the visual connection. His arms rubbed up and down her back in a comforting way. He whispered soft, encouraging words to her. When he was able to move her, he guided her down the hall and around the corner.

  Mina kept her eyes on the ground and followed, only pausing when she thought she heard something. It sounded like the troll had spoken—but that was impossible.

  His lips were sealed shut.

  Looking at the troll from the side wasn’t as dangerous as a straight on. So Mina stopped and looked at the monster. He hadn’t changed since she’d seen him a few months ago. More of his face had turned to stone, but his eyes still moved.

  He blinked a few times and tried to turn his head to look at her. The sound came again. It was coming from the troll.

  Mina stepped closer, keeping just out of his line of sight. He was trying to speak to her. She leaned in to listen as the troll tried again.

  “Soooooon!” the troll hissed.

  Chapter 13

  That one word made Mina’s whole body quake in terror. No one else seemed to hear the troll’s veiled threat since they had moved on and down the hall. She picked up her pace and joined the rest of the group.

  Constance stopped in front of a large bolted door surrounded with golden seals. “Before you go, Mina, there is something I need to mention.” The Fae music teacher turned to look toward Ever, Nan, and Nix. “You are taking on the responsibility of deciding how much you want to endanger your friends. Do you understand that?”

  Mina swallowed but nodded. It was a hefty burden, but at least they’d be together. If she left them here, she had no idea what they’d face. And they wouldn’t know what she was up against either.

  Constance raised her hand, and a glow emanated from her palm. The seals mirrored the glow until Mina heard a set of clicks and the sound of metal sliding into its casing. Constance pushed the door open, and a soft white light poured from within.

  “Come,” she beckoned. Nan hesitated only a second before entering.

  Mina, Ever, and Nix followed and spread out to surround a small glass table which held on it an inscribed and gilded wooden box.

  Constance waited until the door behind them had completely closed before she spoke. “Nix please lock the door, I need to put up a ward so nothing escapes.”

  He turned the deadbolt on the door and Constance—Mrs. Colbert—sang a scale of disharmonic notes. The letters on the box lit up, and Mina heard another click as if the box had unlocked.

  Nan looked scared, but her curiosity got the better of her. “Escape? What’s go—”

  Nan froze. Mrs. Colbert finished waving her hand in the air and let it fall to her side.

  “What did you do? Unfreeze her now!” Mina rushed to her friend and checked to see if she’d been harmed.

  “She’s fine and will unfreeze momentarily. We just need a minute without her to discuss our terms before we proceed.”

  Mrs. Colbert gently opened up the lid and then pulled the sides open to reveal a hundred small compartments, each covered with a unique symbol. Her fingers flowed across each of them as she searched for the one she wanted.

  “Aha!” she said softly. As she pulled open the small compartment, a tendril of light began to trickle out of the box. She wound it around her finger, and it solidified into a small golden charm. Quickly, she closed the drawer, as another tendril of light wanted to escape after the first one.

  “What is that?” Mina asked, wondering if these were the charms her mom wore.

  “Pandora’s box,” Mrs. Colbert answered, walking toward Nan with her hand outstretched.

  “Like the Greek myth? Where Pandora opened the box to release all of the evil into the world. Is that the same box?”

  “No, that box was destroyed. Since then, Pandora has tried to make up for her transgression by collecting the strongest and best attributes in the box as a way to make amends. We’ve been the protectors of this box for over a century now. This is Pandora’s jewelry box.”

  Nix moved over to stand closer to the box, highly interested in the other symbols, his lips moving as he read them. Ever kept to the edges of the room as she watched in silence. She had her arms crossed in front of her and leaned against the wall, pretending she wasn’t interested in what was happening.

  But Mina could tell. She was as curious as Nix.

  “It took many years, but we were able to add locks to each compartment.” Constance approached Mina and leaned down to speak quietly with her. “The Guild and I have spoken. We listened to your request for help, and we’ve voted in your favor.”

  “Meaning?”

  “We’ve decided to allow you one.”

  “One?”

  “Yes, you are allowed to tell one human. We will allow only one to know of our existence. Other than your immediate family of course...and your Fae friends.” She looked over at Ever and Nix.

  Mina was quiet for a second, contemplating how wrong all of this was. There were hundreds of Fae that knew about her, but she could only tell one human person. She had already told Brody and now Nan knew. She was already over her allotted human limit. “What happens if I want to tell more?”

  Constance shook her head. “We can’t allow that. We would have to erase their memories ourselves. Any more and they become a liability to us, to you— to all Fae. So I have to ask you now…” She held out the small gold charm in the shape of an anchor. “Is Nan Taylor your one?”

  Mina’s eyes flew to Nix who leaned back in surprise. He pinched his lips tightly, signaling that he wouldn’t say anything about Brody knowing. Now—when they were locked into a magic room with Pandora’s box—was not the time to argue. But this clearly made him even more interested in the box full of charms.

  When Mina hesitated, Constance added, “Because if she’s not, we need to erase her memories before she leaves this room. And unfortunately, we aren’t as skilled as the Fates in doing it.”

  Her veiled threat made Mina rush out her answer. “Yes, yes. She’s my one.”

  “Okay then. The Guild will be happy to hear you’ve chosen.” She waved her hand and Nan picked up right where she left off.

  “—ing to escape?”

  “Nothing that you need to worry about. Here, Nan. Take this charm and wear it, but do not ever take it off.” She pressed the small key-shaped charm into her hand. “It will help unlock your memories and keep them from being altered in the future.”

  Nan looked at the little golden key charm. “Sweet.” She lifted it up in the air and promptly dropped it. The charm slipped across the floor. “Oops.”

  Nix moved away from Pandora’s box and reached down to pick up the runaway charm. He handed it to Nan, shooting Mina a disappointed look.

  Mina understood. If the Guild caught her—she’d just chosen her best friend over Brody. They would once again be back to square one in their relationship. But in that moment, she’d had to make a choice.

  She would just have to make sure the Guild didn’t find out.

  Mina was silent and despondent as Constance led them back to the main hall. Nan seemed as chipper as Mina had expected and took everything in great stride. She had a spring in her step. It also helped that Nan held onto the charm and continued to rub her finger over it like it was a good luck token.

  “I’m to bring you to the hall of mirrors,” Constance said.

  “Ooh! Sounds interesting,” Nan smiled and came over to squeeze Mina’s arm.

  The hall of mirrors was a white circular room filled with mirrors of all shapes and sizes. Mina had been in there once before. With Jared.

  The door they entered disappeared into the white wall, making it almost impossible to detect in the rounded room. The mirrors covered almost every square inch. One was the size of a small moving truck with an illegible plaque next to it. Many had ornate frames of gold or silver; a few had simple wood frames.

  Mina walked past an antique mirror, the glass now cloudy with dust. There was no
shadow of movement behind it and she briefly wondered if that was because the Grimm it watched had passed on. There was no reason to clean a mirror if you weren’t looking into it every day.

  Usually she could see at least the barest glimmer of a silver shadow before it came into focus. But now she noticed more mirrors had no movement behind them. They were just lifeless.

  She was drawn to her own looking glass, a smaller handled mirror that hung on hooks on the wall across from them. It took only a moment after her finger brushed the surface for her image to appear in her mirror. This time she didn’t look around searching for the hidden cameras.

  Nan had moved over to a large mirror to check her reflection. She was studying the spot on her forehead where there’d previously been a cut, but jumped in surprise when someone else’s image reflected back at her.

  Mina turned to see who was in there. A large man in his fifties, wearing a suit, sat eating a bratwurst at his dinner table. The colors of the kitchen and the cabinetry didn’t look American. It must be one of the distant Grimms over in Germany or Europe somewhere.

  Something moved near the edge of the frame, catching Mina’s eye. A little brown mouse perched precariously on a wooden ledge, watching the goings on in the mirror closely.

  Nan waved her hand in front of the man’s face but nothing happened. “Hey. Hey you!” The man continued eating, oblivious to the fact that he was being watched in the mirror. “This is so creepy.”

  Nix had apparently never been in the mirror room and was writing in the dust on all of the old mirrors. When he walked away, they read NIX in capital letters.

  “Why’d you do that?” Nan asked.

  He shrugged his shoulders. “Now they will have to be cleaned.”

  “Dork,” Nan rapped his shoulder playfully.

  “Sprunk.” Nix answered, his face lighting up.

  Nan looked taken aback. “I don’t even know what that is.”

  “And you think I know what a dork is?”

  “Ha, ha. Very funny. That is exactly something a dork would say.”

  “Not only are you a Sprunk, but you’re a Feeter too!”

  Her eyes went wide, and she called out in a whiny voice, “Ever?”

 
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