A loud, haughty voice laughed to her left, and Mina cringed. Annalora’s laugh would haunt her for days. She was glad the fog hid the horrible girl from view. Only briefly did she wonder where Dinah would end up.

“Each of you will be entering from a different side of the maze. But be careful. It is enchanted. You will come face to face with your true self inside, and that can sometimes change people.” He clipped his boots together and turned abruptly, presenting her very own entrance to the maze—a large silver door decorated with vines and roses. She couldn’t help but think of Alice and Wonderland. Would she the words “Off with her head” today?

The beautiful door loomed in front of her. Mina’s future depended on the choices she’d make once she entered. It was too much for a seventeen-year-old girl to take.

Queen Maeve and King Lucian stood on the nearest palace balcony overlooking the maze. He addressed the contenders. “Remember, only the most worthy among you shall make it to the tower. Once the princess has made it into the star observatory,” he pointed to the tower, “a light will shine across the land for all to see.” Lucian seemed pleased with his announcement and placed his hand around Maeve’s waist.

Two trumpeters on either side of the Fates lifted their instruments to their lips and began a melodious fanfare.

Mina was neither nervous nor excited. She was sick to her stomach and really just wanted to find a place to throw up. This wasn’t happening. She shouldn’t be here. The trumpeters ended the fanfare, and the final contest began.

As Mina approached the silver door and her hand brushed the iron latch, she almost lost her nerve. What was she going to do? She had to enter, or at least start the contest. She turned the latch and the door swung inward with barely a creak.

Swallowing back her misgivings, she entered the maze. The grass was soft and a pleasant aroma of poppies surrounded her. The door swung closed behind her, and Mina gasped. She grabbed at the handle and twisted, but it was too late. She was locked inside the maze.

Forward was the only option. As she moved farther into the maze, she kept her right hand on the hedge and tried to follow the twists and turns by never letting go. She wandered that way for most of an hour. After a few more bends, she came across a beautiful stone bench.

Trying to use the bench as a marker she continued on for another hour and wound up right back at the same bench.

“What?” she turned in a circle and looked at the entrances to her little seating area. “Okay, I’ll go this way.” She took off again on a mission to get as far away from the bench as she could. Forget the tower. After another hour, the bench greeted her once again.


“So this is how it’s going to be, is it?” She spoke to no one in particular.

Mina decided to sit down and think things through before she went on. She knew—or at least thought she knew—what was going to happen. All of her steps up to this point had seemed oddly destined. There was no doubt in her mind that she had already come to the past and had a part in the division of the books and even in giving the seam ripper to the Royals.

But the possibility of what could happen next terrified her. She wasn’t sure how to proceed without messing up her own timeline. She was here to change things, after all, but what was right? And what would ruin everything? Should she sit and wait for Annalora to make it to the center of the maze and to Teague? Maybe by doing nothing—she was doing something. If only that was the answer.

No, waiting didn’t feel right. She caught her breath and continued searching the maze.

Mina tried to gauge the time by watching the suns cross the sky. She had to have been going in circles for quite some time. The contest had started a few hours ago, and it looked to be almost afternoon. Her stomach was growling, and she’d begun to lose feelings in her legs from walking for so long. She shaded her eyes and looked up at the tower for any sign of life. Had she seen a shadow move past the glass? Had someone made it to the tower? Or was that Teague pacing and watching them from above? She turned toward the tower and was again confronted with the stone bench.

She heard soft footsteps and angry muttering. The noise drew closer.

Annalora hurried around the corner of the hedge.

“You!” her angry voice rang out. The gnome princess looked out of breath, her cheeks red and perspiring. A sheen of sweat dotted her forehead. Her deep red dress was cut low to show off her assets, which honestly made her look desperate for attention.

Annalora glanced around hesitantly to see if anyone was near before approaching Mina. Her right hand was hidden behind the folds of her dress. The way she walked warned Mina that something was afoot. “I finally have you alone.” Annalora laughed softly, but it sounded stilted. Her eyes looked a little wild, and there was something desperate about her mannerisms.

“Leave me alone, Annalora. Solve the maze and go live your life with the prince,” she rushed out. “I’m no threat to you.” Mina took a seat on the bench, hoping to convey she wasn’t going to compete.

Annalora continued her approach, her head shaking, “Oh no you don’t. I’ve searched every inch of this maze, and I’ve gotten to the center—to the tower. There is no entrance. There’s no way up.” She started to laugh and scratched at right her arm. “Then it dawned on me,” she continued. “The Fates said that only the worthy one would make it to the tower.”

Mina looked at her, confused. “Yes, we all heard the rules. So what?”

“Don’t you see? The answer was there all along. There can only be one. Only one of us can win. The others didn’t believe me, but they couldn’t find the entrance either. I’m right. I know I’m right.” The whole time she spoke, she crept closer.

Mina noticed that some parts of her red dress looked darker than others—wet.

“So that means the tower won’t open until there’s only one of us left…alive.” She pulled a large stick from between the folds of her dress and swung at Mina’s head.

Mina wasn’t prepared for the assault and fell backwards off of the stone bench. Her dress hampered her attempt to get to her feet, and Annalora was on her in two seconds flat. Mina struggled under the weight of the gnome girl and used all of her strength to keep the makeshift club at bay.

Annalora’s animalistic scream echoed into the sky, sending birds flying. When she couldn’t get the branch past Mina, she tossed it aside and went for Mina’s throat. She squeezed.

“Anna…cough…Ann…cough…stop!” Mina gasped out. She clawed at the hands strangling the life from her. She didn’t dare release her grip to reach for the Grimoire, but she was starting to black out from the lack of oxygen.

Something moved in the corner of her peripheral vision. Mina heard a thud and a small groan as Annalora went limp and fell forward, crushing her. She continued to gasp and cough but was able to move her unconscious attacker to the side.

Ferah stood over her with Annalora’s discarded branch in her hands. The elf girl, wearing green leather pants and a vest, looked fully recovered. She gave Mina a slow nod, and a mutual understanding passed between them.

A life for a life.

“Thanks,” Mina wheezed, rubbing at her sore neck. But the girl was gone, running back into the maze.

That’s when Mina noticed the blood on her hands. She searched her body for the source, but she had no open wounds. She rolled Annalora over and searched her, but again came up empty—except for the blood splatter on her dress.

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