Brave, p.30
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       Brave, p.30

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

  “What if this is a trick?”

  “Do you not see him?” Faye scooted to the edge of her seat. “He is not the same man I loathed and feared. He didn’t strike back when Ren attacked. That alone should be enough evidence.”

  I met her gaze. “I don’t care if he’s Team Good Fae now and forever, he’s still the man I loathe and fear.”

  Faye pressed her lips together. “I can understand why. I really do. But he attacked the Knights and the Queen. You have to trust me when I say—”

  “Trust you?” I laughed as I stopped pacing, standing in front of her. “You all have lied to me since the beginning. You knew that I’d be trapped in the Otherworld and you failed to tell me that.”

  “That is messed up,” Miles chimed in.

  I shot him a look.

  “I’m glad we’ve circled back to that little piece of fuckery.” Ren’s voice hardened to stone. “There is no way in hell Ivy is completing that ritual. No way.”

  Faye tensed.

  “I just want to point out that I didn’t know about that.” Kalen lifted his hand. “Not at all.”

  I looked at him.

  Kalen shrugged. “Just saying.”

  “We hoped to have found a way to ensure that you were not trapped,” Faye begun. “We—”

  “You hoped that you’d find a way to make sure I wasn’t trapped? Are you kidding me? What do you think would’ve happened to me if we completed the ritual and I was trapped with the evil version of the Prince?”

  “We didn’t have a choice!” Faye shot to her feet, her eyes fierce. “You are the only halfling we know, the only one strong enough to complete the ritual. What other option did we have? Opening the doors would destroy this world. I’m not being dramatic by saying that. It would destroy everything.”

  “Sacrifice one to save many?” I laughed harshly.

  “We hoped it wouldn’t come to that.”

  Ren stepped forward. “Do you know how badly I want to end all of your lives right now?”

  “I’m sure you do, Ren, but how is that going to help?” Miles raised his brows. “We’re it. And if you don’t trust them, I get that. But the last damn thing I ever expected to do was find myself standing with fae and agreeing with them.”

  “You agree with them about the Prince?” I whirled on Miles. “Seriously?”

  “We’re going to need him, aren’t we?” Miles met my gaze and then Ren’s. “If he really isn’t Drake and he’s that other big blond dude’s brother, then we’re going to need both of them to defeat her, because what I saw in there—what I saw that she was capable of was nothing like I’d ever seen.”

  I stepped back, surprised.

  “Then what are we going to do?” Faye sat back down. “The Queen is here. Do you have any idea what that means for mortals and fae alike?”

  “Oh, I’m guessing the usual bloodbath is in store for everyone,” I snapped.

  “I know what we need to do.”

  We all turned at the sound of the voice. It was him. The Prince. Formally known as Drake, currently still the guy who holds the number one spot on my to-kill list.

  The blood had been washed off his face and his now blond hair was damp and pushed back from his face. “We need to stop the Queen.”

  Chapter 32

  My heart started thumping heavily as I stared at the Prince. I could feel the anger and tension rolling off of Ren, but it was nothing compared to the riot of emotions currently battling inside of me.

  Behind him was Fabian and Tink, who was no longer in tiny Tink form. He was full-grown and thankfully dressed.

  “You want to know what we need to do,” he said, his voice now more like I remembered. Deep. Oddly accented. I wanted to vomit. “We must stop her.”

  “No shit,” I snapped, and his left brow lifted slightly. “There is no ‘we’ in any of this.”

  Fabian exhaled roughly. “He’s—”

  The Prince raised his hand, silencing his brother. “She has every right to be angry. To hate me. As does he.”

  “Glad we’re on the same page,” Ren bit out, his jaw tense. “It’s literally taking every ounce of my self-control not to take this stake and shove it through your fucking eye.”

  I sucked in a sharp breath as my gaze darted from Ren to the Prince. The latter’s face was impassive, so much so that Miles had to have been impressed by the utter lack of emotion.

  “And I would not stop you.”

  Surprise shot through me. The Prince couldn’t be real. There was no way he’d stand there and let Ren kill him.

  “Really?” Ren stepped forward. “Let’s give that a try.”

  Fabian stiffened, but it was Tink who spoke up. “Guys, I get that you want to get stabby-stabby, kill-kill with him, but you really need to let that go.”

  I glared at him. “Easy for you to say.”

  “It really isn’t that easy.” Tink met my glare. “I know what he did to you, but who he is now is not the Prince you knew.”

  My breath caught. “There is no way I could trust anything he has to say. Enchantment or not, he is the Prince. He held me—”

  “I know what I’ve done to you. From the moment I saw you in that hallway, after the enchantment was broken, I remembered. I close my eyes and I see it. When it is silent, I hear your—”

  “That’s enough.” Ren’s voice was low with warning.

  His gaze slipped from me to Ren. “I recall what I did to you, how I became you—”

  “Seriously. Do you have a death wish?” My hands were shaking, so I clasped them together.

  “Perhaps,” he murmured, and I blinked. “What the Queen wanted is not what I wanted. It never has been. I have no intention of following through with her plan.”

  “So you don’t want to knock me up now?”

  His jaw tightened. “No offense, but no.”

  I lifted my brows. “Relieved.”

  “I know there is next to nothing that will make you believe me—”

  “Actually, there is.” An idea occurred to me just then. “How would we weaken a prince enough to be able to kill them?”

  “You have—”

  “Brother.” Fabian gripped his brother’s shoulder. “If you tell them, they will use it against you—against us.”

  “It’s a risk we must bear then,” the Prince replied, shaking off his brother’s hand. “There are two ways to weaken us. If our magic is turned back on us, it can severely wound us, taking us months to heal. And there is something that is quite poisonous to us if it touches our skin. Worse if it invades our bloodstream. The three of you carry it on your person.”

  “What?” Miles stepped forward.

  “A four-leaf clover,” the Prince answered, and Fabian closed his eyes. “It is poisonous not only to us, but to our Knights and other Ancients.”

  My mouth dropped open as my hand went to the chain around my neck. The encased clover was like a body part, such a part of me that I didn’t even think about it. “Are you serious?”

  He nodded. “Most of you already carry our greatest weakness. Use that and a thorn stake, and we are not so hard to kill.”

  Clasping the back of his neck, Fabian looked away.

  “And a Queen?” Kalen asked, speaking up for the first time since the Prince had walked out. “Would it weaken a Queen?”

  “It would. Normally. Queen Morgana has built up a tolerance to it over the years. It will not affect her.”

  “Of course not,” I muttered, crossing my arms as I glanced over at Ren.

  He was still clutching the thorn stake and he hadn’t taken his gaze off of the Prince. Not once. I couldn’t tell how he felt about any of this beyond the murderous rage clearly etched into his face.

  “What does the Queen plan to do?” Faye asked quietly while I was still hung up on the fact that a four-leaf clover could’ve weakened the damn Ancients and the Prince this entire time.

  “She’d want to still open the doorway, right?” Miles sat on the arm of a nearby co

  “She can’t without a prince willing to carry out her demands.”

  “What if she finds a male halfling and engages in some bow-chicka-bow-wow?” Tink asked.

  “The prophecy has never mentioned what would happen if a Queen or King procreated with a halfling, but I imagine it would work,” the Prince said.

  Fabian faced us. “It would have the same effect. A King or Queen is not of this world, as is a halfling and a child of such a union. It would undo the seals.”

  I exhaled roughly. “Now we have to worry about the Queen finding someone and getting pregnant?”

  “Morgana cannot conceive,” the Prince answered.

  “And how do you know this?” Ren challenged.

  “No. He’s right.” Hope sparked in Faye’s eyes. “Remember? I told you that.”

  She had. The day I met Fabian.

  “The legend we were taught was that Morgana had committed a great misdeed and to escape having her powers stripped, she gave up the ability to create life.”

  “This sounds like a really bad fantasy novel,” Ren muttered, and I blinked slowly.

  Everything about this sounded like that, but that was nothing new.

  “What great misdeed did she commit?” Tink asked with interest.

  The Prince’s jaw hardened and the glint to his eyes mirrored what Ren was giving off. I had a suspicion that whatever thing the Queen had done, it had involved the Prince.

  “What will she do now?” I asked, making sure we stayed on topic. “I doubt she’s just going to tuck tail and hide.”

  “If her original plan was to fail, she had a back-up,” the Prince explained. “She would go back to the Otherworld, and we must stop her.”

  My lips parted as I stared at him. There was no way I had heard any of that right.

  “If she was to go back to the Otherworld, then why would we stop her?” Kalen frowned.

  “You don’t understand,” Fabian spoke up. “She has the Crystal. If she takes that back to the Otherworld with her, she will be able to reopen the doorways at any time from her side.”

  “She will come back with whatever army she can gather and there are . . . creatures in our world that would wreak a kind of havoc no mortals have ever seen before,” the Prince clipped out. “Out of pure spite and vengeance, she would lay waste to cities. Millions would die.”

  “Wait.” Ren frowned. “The doorways are sealed—”

  “They were sealed when we came through, were they not?” The Prince met his stare. “They can be reopened again. Not only are there Ancients willing to end their lives to open the doors once more, she wouldn’t need them. She could open the door with the Crystal.”

  I remembered when he’d come through. That was a night I’d never forget. “If she’s always been able to open the door to the Otherworld, then why hasn’t she before? Why not just bring the army through instead of trying to get a halfling pregnant?”

  “Because she can only go through the gateway she came through,” he said. “And with the Crystal, she won’t need to wait until the Winter Solstice. The Crystal is strong enough to open any gateway.”

  My shoulders tensed. Nearly all of the doorways in the Otherworld had been destroyed by the brownies—all except the one in New Orleans. The baby apocalypse would’ve opened all the doorways, whether they were destroyed or not.

  “She knows that opening all the doorways would have a greater impact than just one. The Order wouldn’t be able to stop whatever comes through all those doors at once.”

  The Prince nodded.

  Understanding crept into Ren’s expression. “She’s going to try to go through the gateway at the house next to the LaLaurie house.”

  “We need to get back there before she does.” The Prince’s gaze flickered over us. “We have to kill her. If we don’t, she will take that Crystal with her and she will be back, stronger than before.”

  “And probably a lot more pissed,” Tink guessed.

  “How do we kill a Queen? You said yourself she can’t be weakened by the clovers,” Miles said.

  “She’ll have what is left of the Knights with her, but if you guys take care of them, my brother and I will take care of the Queen.”

  I opened my mouth to interrupt.

  “Between the two of us, we should be able to take her out.” Fabian lifted his chin. “She is the most powerful of our kind, but she is not unstoppable. Not if we all work together.”

  Glancing over at Ren, I met his gaze. I exhaled slowly. Even though he’d told us what would weaken him, trusting him was still a huge risk.

  “You have no reason to trust me and I don’t blame you for that,” the Prince said, seeming to know my thoughts. “But you have no other option.”

  And he was right.

  We had no other option but to trust him.

  We were going to leave for New Orleans immediately, so Ren and I went back to the room we spent the night in to grab our bags.

  He closed the door behind us. “I don’t like this. At all.”

  I sighed wearily, pushing a strand of hair out of my face. It fell back a second later. “Me neither.”

  “But that bastard is right.” He crossed the room, grabbing one of the bags, practically ripping the zipper open. “We can’t let the Queen take the Crystal back to the Otherworld.”

  Ren was right.

  Right now, Faye was getting in contact with Tanner, filling him in on what had gone down and what we’d learned. They were expecting us—all of us—to return to New Orleans.

  None of us were sure of who we could contact in the New Orleans branch that wasn’t working for the Queen, so at this time we weren’t reaching out to them.

  I don’t think any of us felt comfortable with any of this, but like the Prince had said, we didn’t have an option but to keep traveling down the road we were on.

  I bit down on my lip. “I just . . .”

  Shoving the shirt he’d worn the day before into the bag, Ren looked over his shoulder at me. Whatever he must’ve seen in my face made him stop and face me. A long moment passed and then he asked, “Where are you at, Ivy?”

  I knew what that question meant, and I didn’t know how to answer it. Walking over to the bed, I sat down. “I just don’t know about anything anymore.” I slowly shook my head. “Every time I think I know something—every time I think I have a handle on what is going on, everything changes. Everything.”

  Ren was silent as he watched me.

  I lifted my hands helplessly. “He is right down the hall. Him. The Prince, but . . . he’s not him anymore. At least that’s how it seems. But what do we know anymore? It could be another trap. Look at Daniel. Never in a million years would I have ever believed for a second he was capable of betraying us. But he did. So what do we know? It could—”

  “I don’t think it’s a trap,” he said, surprising me. Ren knelt in front of me, placing his hands on my knees. “I don’t care if that bastard had no idea what he was doing while he was under the enchantment. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe it, but I can’t look at him and not see what he did to you, what he wanted to do to you. It doesn’t matter that it was the Queen controlling him. I’d rather shove a stake through his chest than work with him.”

  “Ditto,” I murmured.

  “But I . . . fuck, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I believe him—believe what he said about the Queen. I don’t know what in the hell their history is, but it’s evident he hates her as much as we hate him.”

  That last part brought a wry grin to my lips.