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       Fairest, p.16

           Chanda Hahn
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  Mina backed up and away from the sparkling doorway to take refuge behind a tree. She clamped a hand over her mouth to slow her breathing, too scared to look at what could be coming through. She had a fifty-fifty chance of it being either a good Fae or a bad Fae. Either way, without the Grimoire, she was just a normal sixteen year old girl.

  The glow became brighter and brighter. She wondered if the police officers down the hill would notice the ethereal light, or if they were too preoccupied with their rescue. She didn’t even know if Brody had made it out of the car.

  The forest darkened for a second as whatever was coming over passed through the gate and blocked the light from the Fae world. The woods filled with the scent of freshly cut gardenias. A second later, the forest went completely dark again. Now Mina was in the woods alone with a Fae. She closed her eyes and listened for sounds of movement. If she screamed, someone would come running, she hoped. That is, if they heard her over the sound of the machine.

  There it was, the sound of leaves crunching. Someone was walking toward her behind the tree. She was going to die, she knew it. But at least she wasn’t going to die without a fight. Quietly, Mina slid down the tree and reached for a stick that was by her foot. If she got the jump on the creature from the Fae plane, she may be able to immobilize it.

  She gripped the stick, took a deep breath, mentally counted to three, and sprang from behind the tree stick held high. She froze at the sight of what was in front of her.

  An ethereal woman, pale, hair like starlight, wrapped in the bluest silk, stood before her, a crown of silver stood upon her brow. She looked upon the stick that Mina held up in the air as a weapon. Her beautiful brow arched high in disbelief. She flicked a finger, and the stick flew from Mina’s hands to land somewhere in the forest behind her.

  “Who are you?” Mina asked, somewhat in awe and somewhat fearful.

  “I am Maeve, and I have come to make a bargain with you,” she said simply, without emotion.

  Mina looked over the woman carefully. She knew better than to make bargains with the Fae. She shook her head no, but the Fae woman raised one finger carefully. Mina felt her head immediately stop shaking. She no longer controlled her own body.

  “I would be careful before answering without hearing my terms. Once a bargain has been made it cannot be undone.” She stretched her pale white hand and pointed with a polished finger toward the wrecked car and the emergency team, working hard on rescuing her friends. Mina could see car lights coming down road from the lodge and had to assume it was Dr. Martin and Veronica.

  “Okay,” Mina whispered nervously. “Let me hear your terms. But I’m warning you, if you are trying to delay me from saving my friends, then I will hear none of it.”

  Maeve lowered her arm, closed her eyes and a slight glow appeared around the beautiful Fae woman, she opened her eyes and spoke without emotion, “The girl is already dead, the boy has a slight concussion but will live.”

  “You lie!” Mina argued, sliding to her knees in the dirt of the forest. “Nan can’t be dead. It can’t be true.”

  “But it is, my child. You’ve failed your quest, and failed in your duties as the keeper of the Grimoire,” Maeve answered. “But I can give you hope, if you agree to my bargain.”

  Mina stiffened at Maeve’s words. “My mother told me never to trust the Fae.”

  “Then your friend is lost for all eternity.” The Fae queen spoke firmly; her eyes glowing in anger. She turned, and reaching her hand into her dress; she pulled out a silver tube to create the doorway to leave.

  “Wait, what is it that you want?” Mina was desperate, willing to do anything if it could bring Nan back.

  Maeve turned around and stared at Mina. It was easy to see that she was starting to lose her hold on her emotions. “I will make you a bargain that has never been offered to a Grimm before, but never before has a Grimm made such a grave error and done the unthinkable.”

  “You mean lose the Grimoire,” Mina answered angrily. “I would think that would make you happy, seeing that it makes it almost impossible for me to complete my quests.”

  Maeve’s eyes flared and a cold wind blew whipping Mina’s hair around her face. “Silence, you insignificant human. Your ignorance is costing innocent Fae their lives. The Grimoire is a prison. It is being used to trap Fae within its pages.”

  Mina felt slighted, and her anger rose to match Maeve’s. “Yes, I know all of that. Jared explained it to me. He also told me that you and the Story manipulate the quests so that the Grimms trap your enemies for you. You use me and my family, to do your dirty work. And we have died doing it.”

  The wind quit attacking Mina as Maeve calmed down. “Yes, when a Queen is cornered she must sacrifice pawns to protect her King.”

  The chessboard analogy made Mina pause in thought. Someone else had spoken similar words, but at the moment she couldn’t remember who.

  “The Grimoire has fallen into the hands of an enemy. I know not who, but they are using the Grimoire to trap innocent Fae. Even you cannot plead ignorance to these circumstances because it was you who lost it. And it is you who must pay for those lives that are lost. It is only a matter of time before more disappear. You know of whom I speak, don’t you?”

  Mina pondered, unsure of what Maeve was talking about, and then it came to her. “You mean the missing people, the UPS delivery guy, the DMV worker and the coffee girl?”

  “Even your teacher,” she answered solemnly.

  “Mrs. Porter, my homeroom teacher? I thought she just retired?”

  Maeve shook her head. “All innocents, all imprisoned unjustly.”

  “I wouldn’t say all are innocent,” Mina said out loud, thinking of how cruel Mrs. Porter was to her. But if she were Fae, then it made sense why she hated Mina, she was a Grimm.

  Maeve became angry again. “ALL were INNOCENT. All imprisoned because of your mistake and they are paying the price. Especially my son.”

  “Your son?” Mina asked, but Maeve ignored her.

  “I cannot undo what has been done, but I can change the outcome. The rest is up to you, as long as you promise to find the Grimoire and not lose it again. For it holds that, which is most precious to me.”

  “Do you mean, you can save Nan?”

  “No, I cannot save her fully, but I can give you a fighting chance to save her. If you are willing?”

  “YES!” Mina cried out, tears flowing down her face. “I am willing. I will try anything to save her.”

  “So you agree?” Maeve asked.

  “Yes, I agree.” Mina answered before she realized she had agreed without understanding the full terms.

  Maeve opened her arms and spread them wide, her eyes glowed with ethereal power. The stars themselves seemed brighter and closer to the earth than what was naturally possible. The leaves rustled and began to swirl in the air around Maeve, starting at her feet and then rising slowly into the air.

  “Then you must go!” she whispered to Mina.

  “What? Go where?”

  “GO!” she ordered.

  Mina bolted, ignoring the Fae woman in the woods. She continued running down the hill, toward the wreck. She could see that Nan’s body had been pulled from the car and was on a stretcher. The paramedics that were gathered around her pulled away. It was obvious that their attempt to revive her was unsuccessful.

  Dr. Martin was holding onto a hysterical Veronica as they slowly lifted the stretcher into the ambulance. There was no longer any hurry because they couldn’t save her. They weren’t rushing to the hospital; they were driving her to the morgue.

  “NO, WAIT!” Mina cried as she stumbled onto the road, knowing that she probably looked wild eyed and terrifying. “She’s not dead!” A firefighter stopped her from running toward the stretcher, trying to hold her back.

  Veronica sobbed even louder at Mina’s announcement. Dr. Martin looked at Mina crossly.

  “Dr. Martin, you’re a doctor. You must believe me, she’s not dead,” Mina screamed a
gain and struggled against the man holding her.

  Dr. Martin looked disgusted and came over to speak to Mina. “It’s because I’m a doctor that I know she is dead. I checked myself. Don’t go causing more problems, Mina. I’m warning you,” he threatened.

  “Dr. Martin, please trust me! She’s not dead. Don’t give up on her.” She kicked the fireman in the shin and ran toward the ambulance. She was so distracted she didn’t see the person sitting on the second ambulance bumper until he stood up and blocked her path.

  Brody grasped Mina’s upper arms and pulled her into a hug. “Don’t. Don’t upset them more. She was dead over a half hour ago. She was dead before I called the ambulance.” He looked down at her, his blue eyes filled with grief and sorrow. His red rimmed eyes proof that he had been crying for a while.

  “No, you’re wrong. You don’t know her like I do. She’s a fighter. She’s going to go to Julliard in a couple of years. She is NOT dead!” Mina yelled at Brody.

  “Mina,” he spoke her name, and his eyes welled up with tears again. “Mina, you have to let her go; she’s gone.”

  “Brody Carmichael, let go of me, NOW!” she ordered and shrugged him off angrily. “I can’t believe that you won’t even try to save her.”

  Brody looked pained at her words. “I did; I tried everything I could to save her.”

  Mina raised her chin angrily. “Obviously, it wasn’t enough because you got her killed.” She pushed him away and stormed over to Veronica who was still crying.

  “Listen to me. Mrs. Taylor, listen; she’s not dead. Don’t let them take her to the hospital morgue. Tell them to take her to the emergency room, now!”

  Veronica was as pale as a ghost; her lips trembled. Her eyes wouldn’t focus on Mina, but deep down, Mina knew that the woman could hear her. Mina repeated her command over and over until Veronica nodded in agreement.

  She stood up and glared at her boyfriend. “She’s right. Don’t let them take my baby to the morgue; she’s not dead.” She pushed Dr. Martin away and opened the back of the ambulance. She crawled in next to the stretcher and her daughter’s still form zipped in a black bag. She motioned for Mina to join her in the ambulance.

  Ignoring a bewildered Brody and an angry Dr. Martin, she jumped in the ambulance and slid across from Veronica, who was having a very interesting argument with the ambulance driver.

  “NO! You take us right to the emergency room right now. You put those fancy lights and horns on now. We have a girl to save.”

  The EMTs looked over their shoulder at Dr. Martin, who closed the back door and slid next to his fiancée, for confirmation. He looked warily over at Mina and the stubborn mother fighting a lost cause, and he sighed wearily. “Well, you heard her, go!”

  The two paramedics shrugged their shoulders, hit the lights, and pulled out onto the road toward the hospital.

  Mina zipped open the bag and had to stop herself from crying out. There was so much blood across Nan’s face, but it was mostly from a head wound. She couldn’t see anything that was life threatening or that was an obvious reason behind her death. It gave Mina hope. She looked around the ambulance, recognized a stethoscope, and handed it to Dr. Martin. “Don’t give up,” she whispered to him encouragingly.

  “We have an electronic heart monitor, Mina,” he said dejectedly, already giving up. “They tried to resuscitate her and it didn’t work.”

  Mina shook her head. “Machines can make mistakes. People can make mistakes. Don’t listen to this.” She pointed to the heart monitor. “Listen to this.” Mina reached forward and touched his chest. “What is your heart telling you? Mine is telling me to believe, to have faith.”

  He took the silver stethoscope while tears poured out of his eyes. He put the plugs in his ears and leaned forward to listen to Nan’s lifeless heart. Mina waited with baited breath and prayed. They pulled onto the main highway, and the ambulance picked up speed. Veronica encouraged them to use the siren, and they caught her urgency.

  Minutes ticked by with nothing. What is going on? Mina thought to herself. Maeve promised that she was going to save Nan’s life. Dr. Martin took down the hand pump and put it over Nan’s mouth and nose. He adjusted the knob on the air tank and started her on the artificial breathing; he listened to her heart and then began the chest compressions. There were no obvious signs of life coming from her, so he continued the basics of lifesaving CPR. They ambulance turned off the highway and onto the main road to the hospital. Still there were no signs from Nan.

  “Come on, baby,” Veronica whispered, holding her daughter’s hand between hers. “Come on, baby, breathe.”

  “You can do it, Nan,” Dr. Martin coaxed. “Do it for your mom and me.” He continued the chest compressions, but after another thirty seconds Mina could see the defeat in his eyes.

  Mina began to cry again as the ambulance turned into the hospital and headed for the emergency entrance. This wasn’t part of the deal. This wasn’t how it was supposed to end.

  Dr. Martin reached for the stethoscope to take it off, but Veronica grabbed his hands, desperation ringing in her voice. “Please, Robert, listen one more time.”

  He hung his head afraid to look at her, but he did it. He leaned down, placed the metal circle over Nan’s heart, and listened.

  Mina and Veronica held their breath in anticipation, hoping to make it quiet enough for him to hear. The ambulance pulled up to the doors, and nurses ran out to greet them. Dr. Martin dropped onto Nan’s chest and began to cry loudly. Veronica covered her mouth to keep the sobs from spilling forth. She touched his shoulder in comfort.

  “It’s okay, Robert. You tried your best,” she soothed.

  The back doors opened up, and the emergency team grabbed the stretcher and pulled it to the street and took Nan’s body indoors to the emergency room.

  He shook his head. “I’m sorry, I didn’t...I couldn’t…” He raised his head to look at Veronica. His eyes were not filled with grief but with guilt.

  Veronica’s hand flew to her heart in despair as Dr. Martin’s shoulders began to silently shake. “What is it?”

  They began to shake even harder. “I heard it,” he laughed, tears streaming out of the corner of his eyes. “I didn’t believe it at first, but I heard her heartbeat! Veronica, Nan’s alive!”

  They both looked in wonder at the hospital stretcher being rolled into the first emergency room, as doctor after doctor ran in to take care of a living, breathing Nan. The paramedics from the front seat turned to look at the motley crew in the back seat and started cheering.

  Chapter 19

  While it wasn’t the full recovery that Mina had hoped for, it was better than being dead. Nan’s heart started beating and she was breathing on her own, but she was in a deep coma. It didn’t matter to Veronica; all that mattered was that her baby was alive.

  What confused Mina was the fact that she was still in a coma. That wasn’t part of the bargain, but she did try and recall her words with Maeve. Well, she fought for Nan, but obviously it wasn’t enough. She changed, she was more angry than confused. It wasn’t until she cornered Ever at school that she got some answers.

  “What is going on, Pixie!” Mina hissed into the Fae’s ear before first period. The slamming of locker doors helped disguise Mina’s words. “I had a talk with Maeve. Apparently she isn’t keeping her end of the deal.”

  Ever turned on Mina with eyes blazing angrily. “How dare you talk about the Fates that way?”

  “Fates? What’s with the plural anyway? Are you telling me Maeve is one of the ruling Fae?” Mina asked bewildered.

  “How dumb are you? Of course, she is. She’s our Queen. Haven’t you ever heard of the royal ‘we’ when speaking? When we speak of our royals, it’s always Fates.” Ever pulled out her books and shut her locker door. She walked quickly, trying to outpace Mina.

  Mina wasn’t letting her get away. “Yeah, whatever. I’m talking about this bargain I made with Maeve, and she didn’t keep her end.” She picked up her speed t
o keep Ever from outdistancing her.

  “You don’t get to call her by her first name. To you, Grimm, it’s either Fates or Queen. But did you ever stop to ask yourself if you kept your end of the bargain? The Fates aren’t dumb.” Ever turned into her classroom and blocked the door so Mina couldn’t enter.

  “Don’t think you’re getting away from me that easily, Pixie,” Mina hissed out loudly. “I know that your kind is disappearing. Do you want it getting out that you are here in this school? Do you want to disappear like Mrs. Porter.” She was done with playing the helpless heroine; she had best friends to save and a family to protect.

  Ever paled at Mina’s empty threat. “Meet me after school at the football field.”

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