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       Reign, p.27

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Once they neared Kathleen, Jared whispered, “Now.”

  Ever turned around and jumped up into the air easily with the use of her invisible wings and wrapped her arms around his neck again, running her fingers through his hair.

  “Jared, promise you’ll never leave me.” Her voice was husky with emotion, too much emotion.

  He did everything he could not to look at Kathleen and instead to stare deeply into Ever’s eyes. “I will never leave you. I promise.” The words sounded forced even to him, but he hoped it was enough to catch Kathleen’s attention. He ignored every desire in his body to glance back as he headed to his next class.

  Ever and him made a big show of not wanting to part in the hallway, and she even gave him one last hug.

  “Remember, she’s going to try to touch you. So be careful,” Ever warned as she blew him fake kisses and walked away.

  Jared nodded silently and walked into his third-period class. He took an empty chair and waited for their next journalism assignment. Adam and Mark were giving him excited looks and thumbs up. They must have seen Ever’s show in the hallway. Lucy, on the other hand, refused to look at him. Uh oh, another angry female. He should be used to that. Wait, he saw her shoulder’s shaking. Lucy was laughing at him. He was about to pick up a pencil and throw it at her when a familiar scent caught his nose.

  He could smell Kathleen before he even saw her. She smelled slightly musty, like she’d been swimming in a creek all day. Her curly red blonde head popped into view, and she pulled up a chair next to him.

  “Hi, I’m Kathleen Donovan,” she held out her hand for him to shake it. Jared ignored it completely and turned back toward the front of the room.

  Kathleen was persistent. “So, was that your girlfriend? You must really love her a lot.”

  “Yeah that’s Ever. She’s the air I breathe. I couldn’t imagine life without her,” Jared replied, trying not to laugh at how ridiculous he sounded to himself.

  Kathleen leaned in closer to him, and he physically drew away from her. He saw how his actions affected her, and she wasn’t happy. He needed to go in for the kill to make her really angry.

  “Let’s you and me get a bite to eat after school? We could meet at the café down the road.” She tilted her head and flipped her hair over her shoulder.

  Here it was, her advance, and he needed to prove how loyal he was to Ever.

  “No, I’d rather not. I’d never betray my princess like that.” The words were forced out of his mouth, but he chose them carefully. Based on what he had overheard at the creek behind her house, he’d made certain to use the words, betray, never leave, promise and princess.

  Kathleen’s eyes turned dark with anger, and she stiffened in her chair. She brought one hand up to her eyes, and she pulled it gently away, revealing that tears glistened on her fingers.

  He’d made her cry. Not a good thing to make a Fae creature cry. They tended to become very powerful when distraught. Kathleen held it together and didn’t say anything the rest of class.

  When class was over, Jared was careful to leave before Kathleen. He could see Ever down the hallway waiting for him Her expression said she was bursting with questions.

  He didn’t make it that far before a hand reached out and grabbed his wrist. He looked down and saw a long, sinewy green arm. He tried to shake it off, but the arm was attached to a still human looking Kathleen. She’d let part of her Fae side show on this plane.

  “You will forget you ever loved her. She’s not your true love,” her voice croaked out. Slowly, she released her webbed grip on his arm, and he looked down to see a slimy green film absorb into his skin. He began to feel lightheaded and dizzy. He spun to look at Ever, and she was waving at him trying to get his attention.

  He turned away from Ever and gazed at Kathleen. Beautiful, ethereal Kathleen. His own goddess. His princess.

  Kathleen preened at his sudden change in demeanor, and they walked away down the hall. Ever stood there with a horrified look on her face, but she didn’t go after him. She had to stick with the plan.

  Chapter 6

  Jared felt like he was floating. He looked to his left at the beautiful girl on his arm, and he frowned slightly. This wasn’t right. It’s not who he wanted to be holding his arm. He faintly remembered brown eyes and vanilla. He shook his head, and it felt heavy, foggy. He ignored it and followed the girl down the street. It was night. When had it gotten so dark?

  Kathleen was saying something to him, and he turned, studying her. Her mouth formed words, and he felt like he was watching a movie in slow motion. But he didn’t understand any of the words she was saying. After a few minutes, Jared’s head began to clear, and he could just make out her question.

  “Do you truly love me?” Kathleen asked.

  Jared paused and looked around. They were heading down a familiar street. He had just been here with Mina a few days ago. They were heading toward Kathleen’s house. Her persuasive touch was wearing off. Had Ever been able to take care of her part of the plan?

  “Of course I love you,” he lied and tried to look at her in a loving way. He was sure it came off as pained.

  “If you love me, then kiss me.” She reached up her slender arms and caressed his cheek. Every time her slimy hand touched him, he felt like he was losing control, losing focus. He turned his head at the last moment, and she touched his jacket instead. He breathed a sigh of relief when she let her hand fall to his shoulder.

  “I would, if you loved me back.”

  She dropped her hand from him completely and started quickening her pace, hurrying up the driveway toward the back of her house.

  “What are you saying? Of course I love you,” Kathleen sniffed out, annoyed.

  They were at the screen door, and she pulled out her key and inserted it into the lock. Her hands trembled slightly.

  Jared reached past her and placed his hand on the door, leaning down toward her. From a distance, it probably looked like he was going in for a kiss, but instead he growled out, “I know what you are.”

  The keys slipped out of Kathleen’s hands. She picked them up and looked at him pretending indifference. “I’m Kathleen, and you’re my prince.” She reached up to touch him but Jared grabbed her arm through the sleeve of her jacket.

  “You’re right. I’m your prince. I’m the one you’ve been looking for, the one whose form you desire.” Jared squeezed her arm firmly showing her that he was the stronger Fae.

  He’d thought to alarm her but instead her eyes glistened with tears, and her voice rose in happiness. “You know about me then. You know my secret. Can you really save me? All the others said they could save me as well, but they lied. Their kiss did nothing.” She glanced at the creek bed behind her, and more tears ran down her cheeks and across her lips.

  Jared caught her quick glance and noticed the tears. He would have to be very, very careful. She wasn’t really crying. The Croanoak could secrete tears.

  “It’s because they’re not Fae. They don’t have the power to break the curse. Unlike me. I can be your true love, if only you would do something for me in return.”

  Her lips started to tremble. “Oh yes, yes, I want to be beautiful. I want to take the form of a beautiful Fae. Please help me.”

  “I’ll help you, if you show me that you don’t care for the others.” Jared made a point to look at the creek. He could still hear the croaks of the bullfrogs. “If you loved me you wouldn’t keep them around.”

  He reached out to caress her hair, a safe enough place to touch. She pressed into his hand, like a puppy who wanted to be petted and told they were loved.

  “Yes, oh yes! I can feel the power in your words. You are right, only you can be my prince and turn this frog into a princess. I love you!” She reached up to try and pull him into a kiss, but he pulled away.

  Jared turned and stepped down off the porch and walked toward the creek. “Not until you prove it to me. Change them back and release them. Only after you’ve proven your loy
alty to me will I grant you your wish and give you the form you desire.” He spoke the words loudly and in the direction of the bushes. He didn’t need to look to know that Mina was hiding there with the Grimoire, waiting to pounce.

  He just hoped that she’d caught his hidden instructions.

  “I can’t,” Kathleen whimpered. “I don’t know how.”

  Jared started to lose his temper. He could feel his anger billowing up inside. He knew she was lying. “Yes, you do…my love.” The words were like sandpaper on his lips, but they did the trick.

  Kathleen scurried off of the front porch and ran to the creek. She slipped off her shoes and dashed haphazardly into the water. Her body slowly grew, stretched and shifted into an ugly bullfrog form. The frogs peeked their head out of the water and one by one they steadily swam to her.

  She held her arms open wide and let her tears flow freely into the water. A misty fog started to form around her feet and the creek bed. Her voice became low and coarse, then she started to croak out loud. More tears fell from her cheeks and every time one fell into the water it glistened like gold and moved through the water to find an awaiting bullfrog. The frog would glow and shimmer and slowly, grow larger, taller, and become a human boy.

  Jared recognized Mitch Trujillo from his missing poster, and a few seconds later Kevin Sanders appeared next to him. Another boy, Jared recognized but whose name he didn’t know, materialized. Soon the creek bed was filled with disoriented teenage boys. He waited and counted but it didn’t add up. Kathleen was crying, and the more she cried, the further physically withered she became until she resembled green leather.

  “There,” she huffed. “I did it.” Kathleen waved her hands to Jared, and he moved closer to her. She collapsed on the ground, a pathetic version of her Croanoak form.

  Jared leaned down to her and lifted up her head. She smiled wanly. “Now kiss me,” she cried out.

  “No,” he said firmly. “That’s not all of them.”

  She squirmed uncomfortably under his direct gaze. “It’s most of them. I could die trying to save them all. Kiss me now and then when I’m no longer cursed I can save him.”

  “I know the rules. If you are in your human form, then you will no longer have the power to free them. Do it now!” he shook her shoulders hard, and he could feel her brittle bones creak beneath his hands. She really was wasting away.

  His anger finally pulled her out of her own lovesick enchantment. “You lied to me Jared. You had no intention of ever kissing me!” she screamed. Her green eyes squeezed out one more tear, and she grasped hold of Jared’s arm beneath his sleeve.

  “You disappointed me my prince, like the rest. You will now feel what it’s like to be a frog for the rest of your life.”

  He tried to pull away but the toxic touch of her skin to his made him lightheaded and disoriented again. He watched as her ugly green stretched lips reached toward his, and he could do nothing to stop it. He was under her toxic spell.

  Jared was furious with himself, and he could hear another voice laughing at him, which only made him more desperate to break her hold on him. Move your body! he screamed at himself, but his body wouldn’t obey. His mind was free, but his body a prisoner.

  Kathleen’s lips touched his and he could feel her magic pulling at him, pulling at his Fae form.

  Kathleen was a Croanoak, a Fae creature that travels the planes, hungrily searching for a stronger form for themselves. Their greatest weapon is their ability to forcibly steal another’s form and make it fit them. For some reason, probably because of the Story’s bidding, Kathleen was not only searching for the perfect body, but the perfect love as well, so it would fit the frog prince tale.

  He could feel Kathleen pulling at his Fae side, and it was as if he could feel her hands begin to mold his power into a different shape. She ripped through the planes and began to reveal his other nature.

  Help!

  The bushes moved, and a black form rushed from them screaming in fury, with a glowing gold spear in her hand. Mina landed next to them and smacked the shaft of the spear across Kathleen’s face.

  Instantly, Jared was released, and he fell backwards into the creek. His body ached, and his soul felt like it was putty. His breathing felt ragged and his chest hurt.

  He lifted up his hand and saw that it was no longer a flesh tone, but a bright green hue. Kathleen had started to change him already, in her terrible revenge. He rolled over and splashed through the creek until he was standing among the boys, looking as confused as them.

  Mina, once again wearing all black, faced the still Kathleen. Her hood had fallen down and her brown hair spilled over her shoulders. She’d swung the spear around and had the point directed at Kathleen’s heart. But instead of stabbing her, she stopped and studied him.

  “Are you okay, Jared?”

  He should have been relieved that she was worried about him. In some ways, it made him happy. In other ways it made him angry. What was she thinking? She’d taken her focus off of the enemy.

  “What are you doing?” he yelled at her.

  She frowned at him. “Saving your life.”

  “No, you are being stupid.” He was about to point out her mistake, when Kathleen used Mina’s distraction to knock her legs out from under her. Mina slipped and slammed flat onto her back. Jared rolled his eyes and tried to step out of the creek to help her, but he found he couldn’t.

  He couldn’t leave the water! His heart thudded loudly in his chest. He was terrified.

  Kathleen had rolled on top of Mina and was using the spear shaft to choke her. Her throaty cackle filled the night with evil delight as Mina gasped for breath.

  “Flip her off. Twist your body!”

  Mina gripped the spear and used her body weight to twist and knock Kathleen off. They both rolled, and Mina did what she could to direct their momentum so they rolled down toward the water.

  With a splash, they both landed in the creek. Kathleen crawled away into the water, trying to lie down and soak up as much of the water as she could. But it also put her within reach of all the vengeful boys. They grabbed her and lifted her up out of the water. She couldn’t fight them all at once.

  She tried to touch one, and Jared could see one of the boy’s eyes go heavy-lidded. For a moment, he thought for sure Kathleen would win.

  Then another boy knocked her hand down to protect his friend. She wiggled away from them but found herself surrounded by a circle of her old beaus. Furious beaus.

  “Please…please help me,” Kathleen croaked out to Mina.

  Mina stood up and grabbed the gold spear. She whispered a word, and it changed forms. It shrunk until it was the size of a small golden orb.

  Jared smiled wryly when he realized what Mina was doing.

  “Here catch this,” she called, tossing the golden ball Kathleen’s way.

  Kathleen caught the ball with one hand, mid air. The orb enveloped her hand and then her arm. It slowly grew in circumference as it began to swallow her whole.

  “No, no, no!” she cried out, as the ball-shaped Grimoire pulled her further and further in. The boys ran down the creek bed, away from the strange glistening object. The wind picked up, and a blinding bright light emanated from the ball. It opened up like a vortex, and in an instant the Croanoak was gone.

  Jared stood there, supremely proud of Mina. She’d done it and hadn’t flinched in the face of danger. She turned to him with a huge grin on her face, and he ached to return it. But he couldn’t.

  She’d been sloppy, and sloppy gets you killed. Jared didn’t want Mina dead. Just the thought of what could have happened made him bark at her angrily. “You almost blew it!” He stormed to the edge of the creek bed and was happy to see that he could leave it without any repercussions. His arm had turned back to normal.

  Mina’s smile slid from her face. “Yeah, well I wasn’t the one kissing frogs.”

  “That wasn’t a frog; that was a Croanoak,” he grumbled.

  “Okay fine, but I
wasn’t the one making out with it.” She splashed into the middle of the creek and picked up the golden ball. It slowly transformed from a ball into the regular notebook-shaped Grimoire Mina preferred.

  “I wasn’t making out with it. I was trying to save the boys. If you’d come storming in here the other day and caught her, they would still be frogs under her spell.” He pointed toward the place where the boys had run down the creek. They were playing in the water, kicking and splashing each other happily. Oblivious to what had happened to them.

  Jared knew that their minds would come up with some reasonable explanation for why they’d been missing for so long. The Fates would make sure it was all cleaned up. They didn’t like the Story to leave any loose ends.

  “How do you know that they wouldn’t have turned back to normal? The Story has always reset it before. Like it did with Claire and Nan and…Brody.” Mina spoke her old boyfriend’s name softly, but not soft enough.

  Jared heard the longing in her voice, and he scowled. He just could not make himself like the human boy. Brody wasn’t good enough for his Grimm.

  Listen to me. I’m laying claim to Mina in my own mind.

  “I just know!” he accidentally shouted at her. He hadn’t meant to say it like that.

  Mina blinked, taken aback. “Well, you seem to know everything then! Maybe you could have helped me, told me what you knew about this quest instead of disappearing for days, slacking off. After all, I have quests to finish in order to break the curse on my family. You, on the other hand, seem not to care about the quests or me! You’re a selfish jerk.” She spun and started walking down the driveway.

  He smiled a little when she turned to the left and started heading in the wrong direction. Her home was the other way. He sighed. He would have to go and pick her up and take her home, but not until he was sure everything was cleaned up here.

  He only had to wait for a minute, before Ever showed up out of the darkness. She was back to wearing her Goth-punk look, and Jared admitted to himself that he liked that better on her.

 
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