READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Broken (Stolen, #2), by Marlena Frank
Bestselling author Marlena Frank is back with book TWO in the Stolen Series, in which Shaleigh Mallet finds herself back in the terrifyingly whimsical kingdom of the Garden. Today, you can read the FIRST TWO chapters of BROKEN here, exclusively on our blog!
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EVERYTHING IS WRONG Shaleigh This wasn't how it was supposed to be. She was supposed to be at home, making sure her father was safe and getting to see Kaeja again. She was supposed to be worrying about what her life would be like after she got out of high school. She was supposed to be doing what most teens her age were doing: taking classes, going on dates, or binging on video games. Instead she was here, in a land where she didn't belong, surrounded by people who saw her as a trespasser. Teagan had tried to pull her back from the road, had known instantly where they were and the danger she was in, but she didn't listen. She thought they were back at her home, back in the Human World, but they weren't. The Madness had twisted Talek's mind, twisted his intention, and his magic had sent them to his home instead. By the time she fully understood what had happened, it was too late to escape. Shaleigh walked slowly, the metal chains heavy on her wrists. They looked similar to the ones that Talek wore when he was in the prison cell at High Castle, but they were far heavier than she had expected them to be. Already her shoulders were aching, and she could feel the pain moving down her back. Teagan was beside her but didn't meet her gaze. His eyes were downcast, and he hadn't spoken since they had been captured. They were being escorted, surrounded by five Faeries, all dressed in leather armor with white skirts and long spears. Shaleigh had been so shaken by the gleaming human skulls, used as lawn decor in the giant stone archway, that she hadn't realized the Faeries had dropped down from the trees and surrounded them. All she could do was stare at the gleaming white bones. Shaleigh had seen animal bones before. She spent enough time outside and amid forgotten buildings that she and Kaeja had discovered plenty of them. It just hadn't prepared her for seeing human ones. Nothing could have prepared her for that. All she could focus on was that they had different sizes, meaning some of them had to have been from children. And even though they had walked at least a mile by now, the images still lingered. She glanced at the guard holding her chains; these guards were nothing like the ones she had seen at High Castle. They had dropped down with barely a sound, moved in formation, and their speed with their spears was intimidating. They never spoke to her, only to Teagan. And other than clamping the heavy shackles on her arms, they treated her as if she didn't exist. "Are these truly necessary?" Teagan asked suddenly with a huff, holding up his arms. "I assure you I have no intention of fleeing. It would be fruitless to even try."
The dark-haired guard opposite Teagan arched an eyebrow and gave him an amused smile. "I don't blame you for being frightened. Queen Mab's wrath is something to behold." "Her wrath?" Teagan asked, a trace of worry on his face. "Why should she be angry with me?" "Everyone knows what happened at the Garden," the guard replied, keeping his gaze on the path ahead of him. "A magician has been traveling on the wind telling everyone the news. I'm sure our queen will have a few words for you," his gaze shot to Shaleigh, "and most certainly for the Human brat." Shaleigh narrowed her eyes. "What do you mean?" The guard exchanged a smirk with the Faerie on the other side of Shaleigh, a tall woman with blonde hair, who gave a deep chuckle. Neither said a word to her though. It felt like high school all over again. Teagan sighed. "Don't pretend to be deaf, you heard her question. Why should she be of any concern to Queen Mab?" "Living up in that enormous tower has made your mind soft," the blonde woman retorted and gave Teagan a wide smile, looking past Shaleigh as if she wasn’t there. “You know how she is about Humans trespassing on her land. Knowing she's brought down Madam Cloom proves she's dangerous. If it was up to Sionn and me, we would’ve taken her head already." “Easy, Nora, no need to frighten the lamb,” Sionn said without a drop of concern on his face. The two exchanged another laugh without saying more. Shaleigh felt a pit form in her gut. As bad as the Garden was, at least there she had a chance to prove her usefulness - here she didn't even have that luxury. "It's not my fault!" she blurted out. She lifted her arms in protest, but only rattled the heavy chains instead, earning several glares from the guards. "I didn't know we were even here. How could we have trespassed when we had no control over how we got here?" Teagan glanced toward her, concern on his face. "Calm down. It will do no good with this group of fools." One of the guards scowled at them, his grip tightening on his spear. She wanted to tell Teagan that it was dangerous to threaten them, especially since they were surrounded, but she didn't want to risk them overhearing her. She didn't want to make things worse. Shaleigh felt her eyes burn as tears threatened. Here was another ruler with her own realm and her own unique set of demands. Here was another land where she had no idea what rules existed or how she was supposed to follow them. Her face flushed as a strange mixture of anger and fear battled within. She wanted to scream in frustration but was afraid they would see that as an attack. Instead a tear streaked down her cheek. Her shoulders and arms were so sore from the weight of the shackles that she didn't have the strength to lift her hand to wipe it away. Teagan reached over and took her hand in his, giving it a reassuring squeeze. His hand felt cool and dry compared to her own sweaty, trembling fingers. It made her feel a little bit better; at least she wasn’t alone. Shaleigh took a deep breath and tried to calm herself down, even as another tear fell. She tried to speak, but her throat clenched with the effort it took not to scream or bawl like a baby. Teagan was right though. It wouldn’t do any good to try to convince the guards of anything. They clearly didn't want to listen to what she had to say… At least in the Garden she had a voice; here she was worth even less. "I'm sorry," she whispered. Teagan looked to the ground, taking a moment to find the right words. "You didn't know what you were doing. Madam Cloom kept…” he squeezed her hand, “no, we kept you isolated. That was the plan. I asked far too much from you. It wasn't your fault." She gave a short laugh as another tear fell. "I knew what I was doing to some extent. Just enough to get us killed. I didn't expect," her throat constricted, "all of this to happen." "You didn't understand the consequences. We were careful not to give you too much information, though in retrospect that was a poor decision. We underestimated our enemies." He was trying to calm her down, trying to reassure her. Did he really think that was going to help? She was the reason they were trapped here. She was the reason that Mawr and Colin got left behind. She was the reason the High Castle of the Garden fell. If she hadn't been so naive, so blind to the danger, and so willing to help, they wouldn't be here. "Like Queen Mab?" Teagan smirked. "Well I wouldn't consider her an enemy exactly..." Sionn beside him snickered and Teagan glanced anxiously his way before letting go of Shaleigh’s hand. "Perhaps it's best if we hold off on our council for now," this time his voice was lower when he spoke.
She nodded before drawing a deep breath of the humid air, trying to clear her thoughts and the guilt in her heart. She pushed away the thoughts of Colin and Mawr, and of Madam Cloom's mouth disappearing. Shaleigh shuddered and took another breath in and out. She didn't need to think on that now. She needed to be in the present. She had to collect herself if she wanted to look like more than just a teenager who was way out of her league. If she had learned anything from Madam Cloom, it was that she needed to keep in mind how she was perceived. She needed to make a good impression - her life might depend on it… again. The guards that surrounded her probably thought she was a meek little pushover and she had to prove them wrong.
Another deep breath and her fingers stopped trembling. She focused on her surroundings to prevent herself from sinking into despair. The path through the old woods was carefully, oddly maintained. No weeds or underbrush grew on either side, despite the fact that the canopy of trees left big blotches of sunlight. Yet they passed large, red toadstools with white spots on them on either side of the road. They were bigger than any she had seen before, almost coming up to her knees. They were so evenly spaced that she assumed they were like mile markers on the interstate. ‘The exit numbers mark the miles’, her Dad's voice came back to her, as clear as if he had spoken in her ear. She hadn't allowed herself to think about him yet. Her fingers trembled once again as she remembered him crying in the passenger's seat of the SUV in the garage by himself. That was the last she had seen him. Why had she left him like that? Why hadn't she hugged him and told him it would be okay like she used to? Why was she so full of anger that day? The tears threatened again and her eyes burned with warning, but she shook her head impatiently. A cool breeze came by, rustling up a pile of dead leaves as they passed beneath a white, stone structure with square alcoves chiseled into the sides. In each one, a human skull stared out with empty eye sockets. The bone gleamed almost as white as the stone in the late afternoon sunlight. A shiver went down her spine; her arms broke out into goosebumps. Were these other trespassers? Curious urban explorers like she and Kaeja had been once upon a time? People sent to a mushroom ring like she and Teagan had been? There was no telling who they had been ages ago. All they were now were warnings and trophies, mile markers of their own. Stumbling, she felt something hard and cold pressed between her shoulder blades and realized she had lagged behind. The guard hadn't spoken a word to her, only pushed the base of his pike into her shoulder blade and gave it a nudge. She glanced behind to meet his annoyed gaze. "Sorry," she whispered, and hurried back to Teagan's side, her heavy chains weighing her down. She wasn't sure why she apologized. She was in no hurry to reach Queen Mab and her creepy beheading Faeries. Teagan reached out to take her hand again as she reached him. Perhaps it was as much to console her as it was to keep her moving.
“Sorry,” she muttered. She hated that he felt like he had to hold onto her to keep her from getting hurt. Though maybe he understood the dangers of the guards better than she did. He only gave her a small smile and a nod in reply keeping ahold of her hand. As they left the archway behind, Shaleigh wondered if the owners of those skulls had gotten the chance to even walk into the city. Knowing how quick and silent their guards had been, she doubted they even knew they were being hunted. If she hadn't had Teagan with her, she probably would have met the same fate. She could tell they were reaching some civilization, other than disturbing stone pillars and decapitated skulls. The dirt path grew wider with trees that had larger trunks than the ones she had seen before. She noticed the sun must have been close to dipping beyond the horizon, because the beams of light were diagonal across the path. How long had they been walking? For that matter, how long had they been asleep in the fairy ring? From the corner of her eye, she saw Teagan look up. He had such a sweet smile that it made him look far younger. Were those tears in his dark eyes? "It's been so long since I've been home." Shaleigh followed his gaze. Up above them, built into the very branches and trunks of the enormous trees, were houses. They were small by the standards of the ones she had explored back home, with maybe two or three rooms in each, and she could see candles flickering from within. Doors opened and Faeries looked down at them with their arms crossed; others leaned out their windows. If they looked at Shaleigh in disgust and annoyance, they looked at Teagan with absolutely lute hatred. One of them even spat onto the ground as they passed. It made an audible splat that had Shaleigh moving a little closer to the guards. "It may be home," Sionn muttered with a huff, "but don't expect to get a warm welcome. We all know what you did, and now this business with the Garden?" He shook his head in disgust. The glow that Teagan had in his eyes diminished and he stared down at his feet, once more cowed. The sadness she saw in his eyes hurt. It reminded her of the throne room with Madam Cloom, when the buildings of the Garden were burning bright below those giant windows, casting shadows throughout the dark room, and Teagan’s trembling hands. Shaleigh wasn’t always certain if she trusted Teagan or not; he had a bad tendency of doing whatever it took to survive, regardless of who it hurt, but she did pity him now just as she did then. She understood his pain. It couldn’t be easy to be hated by your own people. Shaleigh pursed her lips, realizing that if Teagan was so despised here, she would have to handle the negotiations herself. She wasn’t sure how well that would go if the Faeries didn’t even want to acknowledge she could speak. They might not care what she had to say, but they all looked as though they wanted to add Teagan's head to some grotesque shrine, and she couldn’t let that happen. __
Shaleigh could tell they were moving into the city; soon the treetop houses were joined with quaint homes on the ground. They were all made out of wood but rounded like large Chinese lanterns. She wasn't sure how they made the wood bend like that, but each little home housed at least one or two Faeries based on the faces she glimpsed through the windows. A good crowd had amassed both on the ground and up above them. The more Faeries that joined, the more the crowd stirred like an angry mob - Shaleigh was nervous. They weren't throwing anything yet, but the ones behind her were whispering amongst themselves. “How dare he come back after what he did.” “Did he really bring a Human with him?” “I guess his Garden won’t protect him now.” Shaleigh’s hands trembled and she clasped them together to keep the chains from betraying her fear. She glanced to Teagan, to find his gaze still on his feet.
Sionn slammed the base of his pike onto the ground making a ringing sound; Shaleigh jumped. Their escort had come to a complete stop and she turned around, half expecting the mob to run at them. Instead, they had grown quiet, and somehow that made her more nervous. "This is Mab, the wise Queen of the Land of the Fae." Sionn bowed as the crowd murmured. "My queen, we found these intruders in the forest. We suspect they are from the Garden based on the news we received." The dirt path they were on came to a junction with four other dirt paths, making a sort of five-pointed star in the road. At the center stood an elaborate throne that looked like it was either sculpted or planted there: the chair grew out of a small mound of dirt and wound upwards; the back of it reached up toward the sky, ending in several sharp wooden spikes. A green vine wound its way up from the base to the vicious spikes above, bouncing in the breeze. It was covered in tiny white flowers, and occasionally Shaleigh caught their subtle, sweet scent. They smelled light and airy, not like the heavy perfume from the flowers that Madam Cloom kept. It was strange, as they were the first flowers she had seen since waking up amid the ring of mushrooms. They seemed out of place here amid the towering trees, dirt paths, and skull shrines. They seemed too delicate to survive. Her gaze fell to the throne. A short, middle-aged woman sat in the chair with long ears and a pale complexion. She had a pink glow on her cheeks and a wide smile on her lips. Shaleigh had expected the Queen of the Fae to be gorgeous, and she was lovely, but… she was nothing like Shaleigh had expected. She wore a simple white gown with flowers that had been stitched into the fabric. Most of the Faeries Shaleigh had seen wore tan colored robes or even leather hide, but the bright white of her dress stood out from all of them. The queen had the look of a woman who had seen a lot of heartache in her life, yet also had laugh lines along her mouth. She had warm, brown eyes, and looked genuinely happy to see them, which was surprising considering the mob that was merely feet away, still muttering under their breath about their unwanted guests. Queen Mab waved a hand to the side and the guards stepped away; their heads bowed. Teagan knelt to the ground, which brought on a new barrage of anger from the crowd. Shaleigh at first wasn’t sure if she should follow his lead or not, afraid she would rile up the crowd more, but slowly she knelt as well. The crowd moved in closer, even more enraged, but none of them stepped past the circle of guards that surrounded them. Kneeling, she realized that the center of the five-pointed star, where the dirt paths met, was stone not dirt. It had an intricate design carved into it that Shaleigh didn’t recognize. "It is good to see you again, Teagan," the queen said with a smile, her voice wavering as though she was close to tears, though she looked grateful. "It has been too long." "Yes, my queen," he said, looking up to her. "Far too long." She stood from her chair and came forward with her arms outstretched. "Kneel not before me, friend. Surely, I deserve a hug, don't I?” Teagan got to his feet and allowed himself to be embraced. Shaleigh stood as well, not sure what to say or do – just knowing she wanted to keep her head on her shoulders. Although the crowd went silent as soon as Queen Mab spoke, it was clear just by looking at them that they weren’t pleased. Each time Shaleigh stole a glimpse at them, most of them were glaring at Teagan, whispering to each other or trying to get a better look around the still growing crowd, but a few of them had their eyes on Shaleigh. Those were the ones that made her hands shake and forced her to turn back to Queen Mab and Teagan. She kept thinking back to the human skulls she had seen in the alcoves. She wondered how many of them had killed humans. The queen pulled away and looked at him almost admiringly. "You have done great and terrible things in your time in the Garden. I'm sure even I could learn a few tricks from you." It was a strange statement for a queen to make, especially when the guards had spoken of how angry she would be. It almost sounded as if she was genuinely praising him. Teagan gave the barest of smiles but wasn’t exactly gracious. This negotiation was going to be more difficult than she thought. At his silence, the queen’s gaze narrowed. "You look terrible," she said at last. "What did that horrible magician do to you?" Teagan looked away from her piercing gaze. His hands balled into fists and a flush came to his cheeks. “Please, don’t,” he whispered, his voice barely audible. "You have nothing to hide from me, you know that.” She put a hand on his cheek and gently urged him to look her in the eyes again. Teagan bit his lip as he turned to look at her, forcing his fists open. She pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes, quickly looking from his left eye to his right. A hush came over the crowd. Teagan’s mouth dropped open and tears went down his cheeks. It only lasted a few seconds, but it felt far longer. Shaleigh took a step forward, starting to get worried, but finally Queen Mab broke eye contact with him. Teagan let out a shaky breath and wiped at his face, blinking as though to clear the cobwebs. Queen Mab nodded. “Mmm, you have been through a lot." Teagan let out another shaky breath. Was she reading his mind? Could she do that? From the crowd one of the Faerie men could no longer keep silent and said, "Are you truly planning to let him return after all he did?" Queen Mab patted Teagan's cheek affectionately as though he was a child she hadn't seen in ages, then turned to face her people. Shaleigh was amazed at how quickly her kind eyes turned hard. "I have already declared that Teagan and Talek would be welcomed back to their homelands. This was a decision I made decades ago. Or have you all forgotten?" There were some murmurings before a woman spoke up, "What about the Garden? All those people are dead!" Shaleigh felt as though she had cold water thrown in her face. Mawr. Colin. “No!” Shaleigh called out, "No, that's not true, is it?" She stepped forward, not sure what the weight on her arms was until she looked down and remembered the shackles. She dragged the chains across the stone ground toward Teagan. “Not everyone,” she pleaded. Teagan stepped closer to her, dragging his own chains, and took her hand in his. His cheeks were stained with tears. The guards didn’t stop either one of them. Why should they if she was just going to be beheaded here soon? Any one of the Faeries could chase her down if she ran. Teagan squeezed her hand. He was trying to calm her, to get her to focus. She knew that, but she could only think of her friends. “Teagan, they can’t be—” He shook his head in warning. Shaleigh could feel the anger aimed at her and she glanced to the crowd to see the fury in their eyes. She took a shaky breath and looked to her feet, trying to keep from saying more. Even if her friends were gone, she was still alive. She had to remember that, even if it hurt. If the voices she heard were any indication, she had already said too much. "How dare that Human speak!" one yelled out. "They're all so arrogant." "Ought to be slain..." Shaleigh’s mouth went dry as their voices continued. She drew closer to Teagan's side, gripping his hand tight. The tears she had worked so hard to stop back on the road were threatening again. The anger from the crowd was relentless, but one statement made her stomach drop - "Those Pello Pines won't leave any of them alive now that the Slumbering Forest has awoken." Shaleigh felt her bottom lip tremble. She thought of Mawr being so scared behind the library. Had he been killed because he decided to help some stupid