❅ Chapter 16 ❅

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We waited for hours, stashed in an old broom cabinet like wilted sacks of flour. Vibrations shook the ground, and the undeniable screams of fae and witches melted through the door and into my skin like a leaching, nerve-numbing cold.

"Not much longer," Foster promised, just as gunfire ignited outside in the hall. He sat next to me, his shoulder resting against my own. It was so dark, I could only make out the brief outline of his face.

"What about my mom?" My voice was lacking emotion. I felt raw over what I'd done.

"She can hold her own. Her only instructions were to keep you safe and to stay with you."

I rubbed my hands together, running them down the soft fabric of my nightgown.

I believed Foster. I knew my mother could hold her own, just as I knew he could. But something inside me of wanted to run out into the fray of gunfire, magic blasts, and bombs to retrieve her.

I understood they were here for me, that much was obvious. But why? "Why are they here?"

"For you," he said.

"Obviously. But why? What would they want with me?"

I felt Foster squirm next to me, and he was silent. When I thought he wouldn't answer, he sighed. "They want you because if they can kill you before you take the crown, the Winter Court will fall."

"Well why won't Maeve just put the crown on my head and get it over with already? She could've done it the second I got here. I would've done it with no questions asked, and you know this. She's my mother, and though I don't know her as much as I would like too, she's still family. The only family I have. I'm not sure about faerie morals, but from where I come from, you take care of your own."

Foster began to chuckle, a soft, mesmerizing hum that sent my blood singing. I shook it off and bristled. "What?"

"You're so different from the others," he snickered, but then sighed. He sounded tired, and I could hear the hurt in his voice.

"What others?"

Just then footsteps sounded outside, and Foster put his hand over my mouth. I could taste the saltiness of sweat on his palm, and smell the scent of evergreens and fresh air lingering on his surcoat. I shifted under his hand, gently pulling it from my face.

He didn't even glance in my direction. Instead his eyes were trained on the shadow below the door. The only thing separating us from whoever stood on the opposite side was a thin slab of wood.

The doorknob rattled... and then it stopped. I strained my hearing, but all I picked up was harsh whispers, too distorted for me to decipher. The shadow moved away from the door.

There was a splintering crack that sent my heart racing, followed by human screams. I cowered into Foster's chest, fisting my fingers in his shirt, trying to keep them from shaking. It was no use. While I quivered like a newborn foal trying to keep its footing, Foster was a statue, completely motionless. I almost couldn't tell he was breathing.

A howl of rage came from the other side of the wood, and the humans screamed again. They were closer - I could see their shadows dancing under the door. A woman screamed for a third time, but it was cut short by a crunch, and soon thick liquid started seeping under the door.

I tried to scurry away from the blood, tucking my feet under myself, but it was no use. It wasn't long before the heat from the blood began soaking through my nightgown, causing my stomach to clench and groan.

The doorknob rattled again and the door flew off its hinges, soaring to the air before bursting apart in splinters on the opposite wall of the kitchen. An orc stood in the doorway, his shoulders hunched and his black beady eyes glared down upon us. He snorted, as if sniffing the air, and grunted. He held a large club in his left hand, and a dark stain was starting to seep into the wood.

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