Jared's Quest, страница 1
An Unfortunate Fairy Tale
Copyright © 2013, 2014, 2015 by Chanda Hahn
Cover design by Chanda Hahn
Editor Bethany Kaczmarek
Smashwords Edition, License Notes
All rights reserved. Except for use in any review, the reproduction or utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form is forbidden without written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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He could see her from his perch in the tree. She was crouched below trying to be inconspicuous in the bushes. Her long brown hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail, and she wore all black clothes to blend into the night.
Very cliché. All she needs now is a utility belt and a cape and she’ll look like Batman. Jared had watched her for days and seen the signs—the lack of sleep, the anxiety, the constant looking over her shoulder. He could sense it too, the buildup of power that usually foretold a quest. Mina Grime was about to step into some very dangerous Fae business. He couldn’t believe she hadn’t even asked for his help. It was a good thing he didn’t need anybody’s permission to meddle in her business.
Jared slipped down to the next lowest tree branch to get closer, being careful to not snag his jacket. He flexed his strained fingers before wiping them on his jeans. Mina was oblivious to the fact that he’d suddenly materialized in the tree; she was focused solely on the house in front of her. Her entire body was tense, like the spring on a mousetrap just waiting to be sprung. A sly smile crept up Jared’s cheek as a sudden idea popped into his head. It was time to spring the trap.
Jared slowly opened his hand. A small yellow glow appeared, and a black stone materialized into his palm. Taking careful aim, he tossed it into the bushes ten feet from Mina. Her head flicked to the left, following the sound. He leaned forward and gripped a smallish branch in the tree, pressing down on it until it snapped
Mina jumped—straight into fight or flight mode. She turned in circles, scanning the area—looking everywhere but up.
Pay attention, Mina. The sound was in the tree. Attackers can come from anywhere. He watched as her breathing became ragged and her hands started to tremble. She pulled the Grimoire out of her jacket and held it close, at the ready. Jared frowned. Didn’t she realize that she could ask for his help, instead of the stupid book? Maybe it was because he burned his bridge of trust with her. No, he didn’t just burn it. He destroyed it with dynamite, and left their trust in pieces with his evasiveness.
He ran his hand through his thick hair, and his eyes narrowed. He thrust out his hand, and an even larger rock magically appeared. This time, he dispensed with the caution and launched it into the trees behind her.
She visibly jumped and said something—barely audible. There!
A small frightened whimper, but enough for him. He didn’t know why, but just hearing her say his name calmed him. Mina was moving underneath his tree, and he didn’t need any prodding.
When she passed in front, he nimbly leapt down. Although his branch was a good twelve feet from the ground, his landing was nothing but silent. Jared grabbed Mina around the waist and lifted her off her feet.
“EEEK—mmph!” Mina yelped loudly but was quickly hushed by Jared’s hand over her mouth.
“Mina, you really should be quieter,” he whispered into her ear, as he gently put her down on the ground. He took a deep breath and tried to hide his smile. She smelled like strawberries and vanilla. A scent that—in the Fae world—wouldn’t be considered all that beautiful or fascinating. But to him…on her it was just right.
Mina spun to face him and pushed him on the chest. Her little eyebrows pinched together in annoyance, and her maple brown eyes filled with anger. Her cheeks were flushed. Her lips pursed as blood rushed to her face—all the way to the top of her ears. Just seeing her riled up thrilled Jared to no end.
“I am being quiet, you big oaf. You’re the one who appeared out of nowhere to try to attack me.” She bit her lip and flung her ponytail backward over her shoulder to stare through the bushes again, focusing on her target.
Jared leaned down next to her in pretense, watching whatever she was watching. Now they were hiding like criminals, huddled in the bushes outside a house in the middle of the night. The night had started out warm and humid. However, over the last few minutes, the temperature had dropped considerably, and they were now surrounded by fog. The little yellow Cape Cod they were surveying backed up to a greenbelt with a creek. Even now, they could hear the creek ten yards away, and the air was filled with the sound of frogs croaking.
Mina had been on edge for days, sensing that another quest was coming.
She was right. There was one. But this time, he didn’t necessarily want to help her figure it out. He just wanted keep her safe. Confronting the evil Fae would absolutely endanger her life. So what if he was a little slow in the help department? It’s not like he’d played the role of Helper often over the years. He was servant to the Grimoire. Bound, entrapped—anyway he looked at it, it sucked. But for once in his long life, he’d actually shown himself, his true self. And to a girl no less! Jared had hidden his form from many of the Grimms that had come before, but something made him answer Mina’s cry for help in the beginning. Something about her called to him…and called out to the Story as well.
The Story. He felt uneasiness in his gut and couldn’t help but reach out and put a protective hand on Mina’s shoulder. She jumped, and her breath caught in her throat. She turned and began to pummel him in the arm.
“What do you think you’re doing? Stop it!” she hissed quietly. She turned back around, but not before she mumbled something about boys and watching too many scary movies.
He smiled. Couldn’t help but smile. She did something to him that no one ever had before. She made him feel human, with all of their peculiar range of emotions.
There was another sudden drop in the temperature, and he knew the quest was coming. He needed to get Mina out of here.
“We’ve been here forever because of your girly hunch. I need food. Let’s come back another night, and we can play spy versus spy then.” He waited to see if he could goad her into moving. She shifted her shoulders and reached into her pocket. He felt a little surge of happiness. She was going to leave with him.
Something white came flying through the air and hit him in the chest, dropping onto the dewy ground with a thud. Jared reached down to pick it up. It was a granola bar. A slightly squished granola bar. So, she’d take a little more convincing.
He lifted his lip in fake disdain. “What, were they out of chocolate chip?” He was running out of time. They needed to leave. Now.
“Jared, if you don’t shush it, I swear I’ll—”
Quick footsteps sounded down the driveway, and he snapped back to attention as he felt Mina tense in front of him. They both stilled and waited in the darkness as the figure slowed and approached. Jared dropped the granola bar on the ground and watched.
A girl with curly reddish blonde hair walked down the driveway toward them, sniffling. She was short—probably shorter than even Mina. Her heart-shaped face looked flushed and tears poured down
She was only feet away, but didn’t see them. With a strangely expectant expression, she turned to look up the driveway. Jared followed the girl’s gaze and noticed another shadow approaching—a much larger silhouette.
The side screen door opened, and the girl ducked into the small yellow house. The figure at the end of the driveway grew more distinctive as it came closer. It was a young man with short-cropped hair wearing a white shirt, denim jeans, and sneakers. His arms were well-muscled, and he had the body of an athlete. He walked softly up to the side door, skipped up the steps, and rapped three times.
“Kathleen?” he chimed quietly. “Please don’t cry. I’m sorry. I’ll promise to never make you cry again.”
A porch light went on. The door opened slightly, and a breathy voice answered. “Tom, do you promise?”
Tom looked down at his feet. “Is it that terrible that I tried to kiss you? I’m sorry it wasn’t what you wanted. I thought it was a fabulous first kiss.” Kathleen didn’t answer, and Tom looked back up at her, pleading. “I’ll never disappoint you again.”
“No—no you won’t,” her husky voice answered in return.
Before Jared and Mina could react, the teen boy was pulled into the house. The inner door closed, and the screen door banged shut against the doorframe.
Jared’s skin crawled. He could feel the Fae inside. This was not a run-of-the-mill Fae, and he had only ever heard of this one in tales.
“Looks like a lover’s quarrel followed by some making up,” he spoke casually.
Mina stood and eyed the house quizzically. “I guess,” she answered and started walking toward the creek. “I just felt so certain that this was the next quest. That the Story wanted me here, and now I don’t know. Maybe this is all a joke. A bad one set up by the Fates.”
Jared mentally sighed and followed behind Mina. “Don’t feel too bad. I mean, you’re not the best Grimm I’ve ever seen, so maybe your Grimmdar is off.”
“You know Grimm Radar.”
Her hands flew to her hips as she turned. She looked him squarely in the eye and arched her eyebrows accusingly. Uh oh. He knew the signs. He was in trouble now.
“Tell me the truth, Jared. Could you sense any Fae nearby? I know you can tell when they are near.”
Ah, she’d cornered him. He couldn’t outright lie, but he could avoid the truth, and it was something he was quite good at doing. “Yes, there was a Fae nearby. A tall, dark and handsome one that is really hungry and quickly wasting away.” His inner Fae self did a little happy dance at how well he’d avoided her question.
Mina pointed her finger at him. “No, I mean someone else—wait, listen!”
Jared stopped and tried to listen, but all he could hear was the beating of his own nervous heart. When he focused, he heard how quiet the woods behind the house had become…too quiet.
“The bullfrogs—they stopped,” he whispered.
The screen door opened again, and Kathleen exited the house holding something in her hands. She turned towards the woods and started down a small gravel path toward the creek.
Jared yanked Mina into his arms and dropped to the ground. She struggled slightly under his upper body weight and the inconvenience of being smothered by his leather jacket, but he couldn’t worry about that. He needed to make sure that he masked her human scent. At least she couldn’t sense that there was another Fae nearby.
Of course Mina wouldn’t know that. Maybe he should tell her the reason for pressing her face into the earth and practically making her eat dirt, but that wasn’t in his nature. He would just let her grumble and fume and complain.
He watched Kathleen walk to the creek bed and crouch down beside the running water. “You’re a disappointment, Tom, just like all the others.” Kathleen spoke sadly.
Jared felt Mina wiggle underneath him and escape enough for her head to pop up. She’d be able to look through the tall grass to watch what was unfolding in front of them.
Kathleen slid off her shoes and stepped into the dark murky water. As soon as her legs touched the flowing liquid, her legs turned green and sinewy, her mouth began to stretch and widen, and her eyes grew even larger until she resembled a skinny but very human-sized frog.
Her green webbed fingers still clutched something in her hands, and it was trying to jump away from her, but she gave it a slight shake in frustration. Jared heard the small croak come from the frog she was holding.
“You were supposed to save me and end my curse. You promised to be my prince. Instead, you failed. And now you are like all the others. Ugly, useless beasts.”
She flung the bullfrog, who was once a very human Tom, into the creek, and he landed in the water with a small splash. A few seconds later Tom’s frog head peeked above the water and croaked at her in protest. Followed by another frog head, and another frog head. The creek was quickly filled with dozens of large bullfrogs. All of them were croaking at Kathleen in anger.
She waved her hand at them, and they silenced their croaking symphony.
“You’re all disappointments. Failures. Making promises you cannot keep. You deserve your fate. Every single one of you,” she yelled into the night before walking to the edge of the marshy creek. Once she’d stepped onto the embankment, her glamour reappeared, and she was fully human again. She collapsed to the ground and began to sob miserably.
The wind picked up, and the trees’ branches blew. A whispering moan filled the air. Kathleen and Mina didn’t hear the ethereal words whispered into the night, but Jared did. And he shivered in understanding as the Fae warning raked through his very core.
This is not her tale to finish, but yours.
“We need to do something!” Mina demanded. “We should have gone back there and captured her in the Grimoire.” She yanked on the ends of her jacket in frustration.
He sighed and shifted gears in the car as he sped toward the international district to take Mina home. Good thing Mina just used the word should and didn’t command him to go back. There was only so much he could do to indirectly disobey her since she had the Grimoire. If she figured out just how linked they actually were, then there would be no end to her demands. He would be stuck saving every lost kitten, dog, and—in this case—frog.
No, it was better that she never learned this particular secret. Mina needed to believe simply that he was a Fae and that he was there to guide her—sort of—some of the time—when he felt like it.
“You just can’t go charging in declaring war on every Fae you don’t like and trapping them in the book. I hate to use this pun in the situation, Mina, but you really need to look before you leap.”
“I have to stop her. That’s my quest. It’s the Frog Prince tale. I’m sure of it.”
“But how are you going to stop her? You could have captured her right there and—boom!—quest over.”
She turned and gave him an ugly glare. “I would have, if you hadn’t shown up on my personal stake out and interfered. Which leads me to my next question. Why in the world did you show up in the middle of the woods?”
He gripped the steering wheel and took the right on to Main Street a little too fast. Mina clutched the door handle until her knuckles turned white. He felt a little bad and released pressure off of the gas pedal, but not much.
“You saw what she became. You saw what she did to…to…that young man!” Mina pleaded at him with her big brown eyes. Gosh, she didn’t know what those pleading eyes did to him. It made him feel weak, and he hated being weak.
“So what! Did you even ask yourself if maybe he did something bad and deserved being turned into a toad?” Jared spat out harshly. A knee-jerk reaction to the way she was m
Mina blinked, taken aback by his harsh tone. “No, that never crossed my mind at all, because she was the one that was the walking-talking toad monster. Not Tom.”
“So now it’s Tom, is it?” He grit his teeth in anger and actually missed the turn for her apartment. After a quick U-turn, he pulled in front of the Golden Palace Chinese Restaurant and checked to see if he could see Mrs. Wong inside. Nope, the restaurant was as dark and abandoned as the rest of the street. He was free from running into the annoying woman.
“Mina, I think you need to keep a low profile for this quest. Let it be.” The words sounded hollow even to him. Weak and without reason.
“Are you dumb, Jared? That Fae is turning boys into frogs! She’s worse than Claire and her thirst for young men. At least, she didn’t turn Brody into a frog!”
“You’re just upset because of how that particular tale ended in response to your love life. Get over it, Mina. Life isn’t a bed of roses. These tales don’t have happy endings. What makes you think that because you are a Grimm, you’re exempt? Because you’re not.” The spiteful words flew out of his mouth before he could stop them, though he didn’t intend to hurt her.
It drove him crazy how hung up she was on Brody. She needed to snap out of it, because Brody was a real weakness. If the Story ever saw how much she cared for him, then he would be a target. It was the same thing with her best friend Nan. It would be better if she got rid of all of her friends until this was over. It would be safer. For all of them.
Mina blinked quickly and looked away from him. Her body stiffened, and he could tell that she was holding back tears. He hated these human emotions of hers at times like this. Too bad she couldn’t be more Fae-like.
Jared unbuckled his seatbelt and turned, facing her. “Get used to the disappointment and failure because sooner or later, you will fail at the Story’s quest. Where will that leave you? Or Charlie?”