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Jareds quest, p.3
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       Jared's Quest, p.3

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  Ever brightened, “Yeah, the gimp would probably slow us down anyway.”

  They slowly walked back to the motel talking about the old days, the Fae plane, both being careful not to talk about their families. He walked up to her motel door and waited for her to open it. “So make sure that you dress the part tomorrow,” he gently reminded her.

  Ever stuck her tongue out at him. “Jared, I will make the best girlfriend you’ve ever had.”

  He nodded and smiled. “I bet you will.”

  She closed the door and he walked to his car. He was about to put the key in the ignition, when a feeling of urgency overcame him. His heartbeat picked up, and he could feel the tension building—signs that told him to check in on Mina. She must be up to something. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the leather headrest. It took a minute to find an available reflective surface in her room. It usually took a few tries, because the objects didn’t always face her, or they weren’t large enough to do any reflection viewing.

  Ah, he found one. It was just dark enough that the light in her room caused a reflection on her window. There she was. She was furious and storming around her messy bedroom, yelling his name. He watched her as she began to throw items into a backpack. She pulled out black clothes again and laid them on her bed. He frowned. She was preparing to go back to Kathleen’s house tonight, but he couldn’t let that happen. Not yet…he needed more time.

  Carefully, Jared used a bit of stray magic and made her window stick shut. He knew she was going to sneak out and go down the fire escape. Mina went to her bedroom window and tried to open it. He watched her scream silently and throw her fists in the air. She turned and tiptoed to her bedroom door, hoping to escape out the front. It didn’t take much to make the old-fashioned porcelain doorknob fall off, leaving her trapped in her room. That should protect her until he had time to work.

  Jared needed to confront Kathleen first and see if he could get her to release the spellbound bullfrogs. He knew that if Mina trapped Kathleen in the Grimoire, the boys wouldn’t return to normal. They would be frogs forever, trapped.

  How did he know? Because when he’d watched Kathleen toss Tom into the water, and she’d cried on the creek bank, he’d heard the Story’s voice loud and clear. The Story told him that they would be lost forever.

  For once, Jared was going to prove the Story wrong.

  Chapter 5

  “Jared! Ohmygosh!” A high-pitched voice rang out loudly through the hallway.

  Jared turned from his locker and saw Ever running down the hall toward him. She jumped on him, flinging her arms around his neck. “I thought I’d die,” she said loud enough for the crowd of students to hear.

  Whoa! What a transformation! Jared set her down but kept his arms around her, as he looked her over. Ever had used a glamour, so now instead of a short and spiky hairstyle, her hair fell in big waves down to her mid-back. She wore white shorts with a light teal off the shoulder top. Colorful bangles decorated her arms. Even her makeup was rosy in color, compared to the paler shades she preferred. Her eyes looked twice as big, and with her new hairstyle, she didn’t look so harsh. She appeared soft and approachable. Jared couldn’t help but look down to see if the Goth pixie had gotten rid of the black army boots. She had. Instead, she wore delicate leather and gold sandals.

  “This is some difference!” he whispered as he leaned down to give her another hug.

  “Oh, gag me with a spoon. I feel like a simpering Disney princess,” she whispered back, batting her eyes at him. She pulled away and did a twirl in the hallway, her invisible wings still fluttering with excitement, making any loose papers go flying out of the neighboring lockers.

  Jared was impressed. She was doing a bang-up job of drawing attention their way. Everyone in the hallway was staring at them.

  Jared scanned the crowd of onlookers and spotted a pair of green eyes filled with envy—Kathleen’s.

  “The show is about to begin.”

  “I thought it already started,” Ever said, chuckling, as she pulled him after her down the hall.

  Jared followed and made sure to pay extra attention to Ever. Despite her total makeover, she was making him uncomfortable. Maybe because he knew it was a ruse, but wasn’t sure if she really thought of it that way. She seemed a little too eager to participate.

  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 he 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. 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, trying 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 loyalty 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 heads out of the water. 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 a waiting 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. Mina’s 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.

 
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