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       Fairest, p.8

           Chanda Hahn
 
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  “There’s nothing we can do now. She’s probably already contacted the police and they’re looking for you.”

  “Oh no! They’re going to think that you kidnapped me!” Mina brought her hands up to her mouth in horror.

  Jared just shrugged. “In a way, I kind of did.”

  “They won’t know where to look!”

  “I’m sorry, Mina. This is my fault,” he said solemnly.

  “Yes, Jared. It is.” A few seconds later her stomach growled noisily, and Jared started laughing.

  “Holy cow! Did you hear that?” He blurted out.

  Mina punched Jared in the arm. “I’m hungry, which happens to be your fault too.” Ignoring him, she crawled into the small cave and tried to curl in a ball to sleep.

  “Hey, is there room for me?” Jared looked into the cave expectantly.

  “NO!” Mina growled at him. “Don’t even think about it. And just because you got us into this, you can keep watch and tell me if you see anything. ”

  “Fine,” Jared stated and leaned against the outer wall of the cave.

  A few moments of silence passed, and Mina was almost asleep when she heard Jared speaking out loud in a droning voice. “I’m keeping watch, and I see the river. I see the moon rise over the trees. I see that the forest looks really, really creepy right now. I bet you there is some sort of killer vampire turtle slowly crawling toward us out of the woods. Yep, I can almost hear its little turtley steps inching closer to us.”

  “Jared?”

  Mina had no idea where Jared’s sense of humor suddenly came from, but it seemed to pour out of him in the most annoying boy fashion. Something about being outdoors and away from people brought out a different side of him. He didn’t seem so surly and angry. Maybe it was because something had changed between them, or he didn’t feel like he was hiding from her anymore. He was finally free to be himself. Mina would bet anything that there still were loads of things he wasn’t telling her…but it was a start.

  “Yeah?” he answered a little too brightly.

  “Are you going to shut up?”

  “Nope,” he answered back. She could hear the grin in his voice.

  “Will you shut up if I said please?”

  “Probably not!” he chuckled. He was enjoying teasing her.

  “Fine, then you can sleep in the cave if you promise me that nothing is going to eat us during the night.”

  “I promise that if something comes to harm us during the night, I will eat it, instead.” Jared crawled into the small cave, being careful to not touch her. He turned on his side and faced away from her. Mina mirrored the action. She watched the dying fire cast shadows on the cave wall.

  All of a sudden, Mina couldn’t sleep with Jared so close to her. For some reason, questions kept plaguing her and they were ones she was pretty sure he wouldn’t answer. She shivered again from the cold as her pants were still wet. But you could bet to high heaven they were staying on.

  “So how come you never told me you’re an Ogre?” she asked quietly, her finger tracing circles on the ground.

  “You weren’t ready,” he stated simply.

  “And what made you decide to tell me now?”

  “I was tired of you always being angry with me because there are some things that I can’t tell you. And, in a way, I wanted you to know. You also have to remember that I’m not gonna win homecoming king in my Fae form.” There was something in his voice that sounded vulnerable. Gone was the tough biker Jared, replaced by a young teenage boy who just wanted to be liked, to fit in. But she could tell he was still withholding something.

  “So how come the Grimoire didn’t work on you? Isn’t it supposed to protect me when I’m in trouble?”

  “It won’t work on me,” Jared sighed loudly, trying to sound annoyed, like he was the one that was almost asleep.

  “Why not?” Mina asked.

  “Cause, I’m cool like that.” He laughed.

  Mina snorted. “Really? You’re going to evade the question? I actually thought that you were going to be truthful with me.”

  “Mina, I don’t know what to tell you other than the Grimoire can’t harm me. Call it Ogre power if you must.”

  She pondered what he said for a moment before asking, “It can’t or won’t?”

  “Both… neither. I don’t know what you are trying to get at.”

  Mina worried at her bottom lip before speaking again, this time it came out at a whisper. “I just need to know that the Grimoire is still going to protect me. I want to know that, next time, it is going to work. I don’t know what my father did wrong, but the Grimoire wasn’t able to help him and he died during one of these stupid God forsaken quests.

  “Today, when I opened the book and tried to use it on you, it didn’t work. I panicked and really believed I was going to die, like my father.”

  “Oh…” Jared became quiet. “You wished I would’ve gotten sucked into the book then. Boy, you really must not like me!”

  Mina was annoyed. “I didn’t know it was you, remember! And yes, truthfully, like right now, I almost wish the book would suck you in it.”

  Jared made a noise that sounded like laughter. When she became quiet, he apologized. “I’m sorry, I can tell this is really bothering you.”

  “Yes, it is. The Grimoire came to my Uncle Jack, and he died. My father had it and became obsessed with ending the curse on our family. Even with the help of the Grimoire, he wasn’t strong enough. I just…” Mina became choked up. “I thought today was it. The end...and I’m not ready to die.”

  ***

  Jared could hear her crying softly, and guilt like he had never felt before overcame him. “Mina,” Jared spoke softly, turning toward her in the cave; he leaned up on one elbow to look at her.

  “Mina, look at me.” She turned to look at him; her brown eyes looked even larger with tears in them. “It will work next time. I promise.”

  Her voice sounded small, like a child’s, “How can you be sure?”

  For once in his life he really wished he could believe his own words as he tried to comfort her. “I’m just sure.”

  She nodded halfheartedly and turned back to looking at the wall. A few minutes later, she had cried herself to sleep. He watched her sleep, and when she continued to shiver, he slid closer to her and wrapped his arms around her, spooning her while she slept. He knew that she would never allow this while she was awake, but it was the only comfort he could give her. He breathed in her hair. Even after the dunk in the river, she still smelled faintly of strawberries.

  He had to be better at shielding himself from her. She was breaking down his walls and leaving him vulnerable. He knew that he couldn’t always protect her, that one day he would be commanded to leave her side. He just hoped, beyond hope, that those commands would never come. But more than that, he was scared that she was being tracked.

  It was one of the reasons he brought her out here, to hide her scent trail from that which hunts the Grimms. But he didn’t think he could ever tell her how her ancestors really died. It was easier to let her believe it was the Grimoire’s fault. Sometimes, people were better off, not knowing about the things that went bump in the night.

  Chapter 9

  Mina dreamed of Ogres. Being chased by Ogres, eaten by Ogres, and finally caught and smothered by an Ogre. She dreamed that she was wrapped in its arms and it was hugging her to death. When she awoke, she was in the cave alone.

  Sounds of a crackling fire drew her attention to the cave opening. Jared was cleaning a fish, and there was one already cooking over the fire.

  “How did you catch those?”

  “I was a Boy Scout.” Jared held up two fingers in imitation of a Boy Scout salute.

  “I highly doubt that,” Mina laughed. “For some reason, I don’t think you would have the patience to sit through all of those club meetings. Besides, if you were a Boy Scout, we would already be out of here.”

  “You’re right. I’m not. I was too much of a troubl
e maker to be a Boy Scout. Let’s just say I’m a bit of an Ogre achiever and my good looks helped get you breakfast.”

  “Hey, I’m not going to question food as long as it ends up in my belly,” Mina remarked.

  Jared turned the fish over one more time before serving it up to Mina on a large piece of bark. The fish was juicy, hot, and lacked seasoning, but she was too hungry to care. She burned her tongue in her impatience to eat.

  When they had both eaten their fill and drank enough of the cold river water, it was time to go. Jared kicked dirt over their ashes and put out the rest of their fire. It wasn’t a warm day; in fact, it was still very chilly and overcast. The gloominess was depressing and made their trek more miserable.

  “So tell me more about the quests? You said that you knew one was coming, how is that?” Mina asked quietly.

  “Well, because I’m Fae and I can feel the buildup of power and you should be able to as well. It’s like a tidal wave that pulls back and builds; all you get is a glimpse of small waves starting to form, followed by stillness and then the storm.”

  Mina nodded her head. “I’ve felt it, and I think I’ve always been able to feel it. For me it starts as a tingling sensation throughout my body, or like being covered in static cling. It’s been happening ever since my dad died. There was always this feeling of someone watching me.”

  Jared glowered angrily at the news and kicked at a rock as they walked. “Well, yes, that probably would’ve been the Story you were feeling. The Fae aren’t without some pity. It probably was waiting, checking up on you, and biding its time until all of the perfect elements were in place. It has learned to wait until the Grimms have gotten older before unleashing a quest on them. The young ones aren’t very fun.”

  Mina gasped out loud and turned to stare at him in shock. “Do you mean that you’ve made children try and solve the quests? That is horrible! I almost didn’t survive it!”

  “Wait, not me! I didn’t make children do anything. Like I said, this was long ago and is one of the reasons the Story decided to wait before assigning another quest. Many of the Grimm children did overcome the quests, most didn’t. A lot of the Fae didn’t like that the Story started on the Grimm’s at such a young age. Remember there are quite a few factions in our world that are Pro-Human. So the Story started waiting until the next Grimm came of age.”

  “And what is the right age?” Mina asked angrily.

  “Sixteen.”

  “But I was still fifteen when all of this started. It was my birthday, my sixteenth birthday, that I beat the Hansel and Gretel and Red Riding Hood tale!”

  “What can I say; you’re kind of a remarkable girl. You happened to catch the Story’s attention a little early.” He shrugged his shoulders and stuffed his hands into his jeans.

  Heat rushed to her cheeks at the compliment. Mina stopped to rest by crawling on top of a large river boulder. Slowly, she removed her shoes and shook them upside down, dislodging a rock that had maneuvered its way in and was stabbing her foot. It hadn’t gotten any warmer, but Mina was tired and needed to rest.

  Jared was leaning against a nearby tree with his eyes closed, waiting patiently for her. The sound of the river was soothing and if Mina wasn’t here under these conditions and with her present company, she probably would’ve enjoyed the trip a whole lot more. But as it was right now, this was agony.

  With his eyes still closed, Jared spoke up. “Did you know that the first Hansel and Gretel were actually Fae, and it was the old woman who was a Grimm?”

  “What are you talking about? That doesn’t sound right.”

  “This is where it can get a little confusing and quite funny. In the very first quest, Hansel and Gretel were thieves and murders, like um, Bonnie and Clyde. But because Hansel and Gretel were Kitskin, child-like Fae that never grow old in appearance, no one ever suspected them. Your namesakes figured it out.”

  “The Kitskin never robbed the same house twice, and it was usually only the elderly they robbed. It was Wilhelm who thought of a plan to catch them. He had Jacob dress like an old woman, and lure the Fae to his front door with the offer of sweets.”

  Mina started to laugh as she pictured her family member trying to cross-dress.

  Jared opened one eye, and his dark eyebrow arched high in indignation. He refused to continue until she had decided to stop interrupting him.

  “Sorry,” Mina mumbled and folded her elbows over her knees and leaned her chin on her forearms. It was as good as a position as any to hear the whole story.

  “Hansel and Gretel looked inside and were tempted by all of the jewelry and money, the Grimms happened to have laid out on the table. Later that night, Hansel and Gretel snuck back into the house to kill them and make off with the loot, but instead they were trapped by the Brothers in a magical cage and oven, thanks to the Grimoire.” He sounded smug.

  “It sounds so easy, when you tell it that way? Way easier than my own Hansel and Gretel encounter.” Mina lifted her head, and when she saw Jared’s perturbed look, she covered her mouth with her hand and shrugged her shoulders.

  “Yes, they do sound pretty easy, but remember, not every quest can be completed and they aren’t all deadly quests and you do get a chance to retry them.”

  Her hand shot straight up into the air like an eager student in class. Jared waited a full three seconds before calling on her.

  “Okay, now you can ask a question.” He pointed at her with a stray branch he had picked up from the ground.

  “So what about Claire?”

  “Claire was becoming a loose end and dangerous. Unfortunately, because this is the human world, the Fae don’t have to answer to anyone. So the Story will try and push these particular Fae into your path, hoping you will eliminate them for the Fates.”

  “So I’m like the Ghostbuster for the bad Fae that your King and Queen can’t control anymore. They purposely send them my way and hope that I will trap them in the Grimoire.”

  Jared glared at her for not raising her hand. Mina smiled apologetically.

  “Yeah, it’s kind of a win-win. The Grimms need adversaries, and the Fae need a few less…um, bad guys. There has to be an equal balance. That’s why so many of them want the Grimoire, because with it they too can trap their enemies within its pages. There are also a few other perks or rumors about the Grimoire that make them want it….but none of them are true,” he finished quickly, a little too quickly.

  Her hand shot into the air again. Jared nodded again impatiently at her.

  “So what’s to keep me from ignoring the quests and running away and living to a ripe old age? I mean, if I don’t complete them, then the gate will never be shut and the Fae will be free to roam both worlds. It’s a win-win for me, right? Life and Life.”

  Jared stared at the stick in his hands before snapping the thin wood into pieces. He broke them again and again before turning and chucking them angrily into the bushes. Startled birds took off into the sky. Turning, breathing hard, he looked at her, his eyes sad.

  “That is where the Story comes in. A promise is a promise, and if a Grimm doesn’t complete the quests in a timely matter, then the Story begins to set up the quests and forces the Grimm into it. This time without giving them a choice in which quest, or a how it plays out. Remember when I told you that the Story is alive with power Well, it is more than that. It thinks, breathes, and manipulates you like a pawn on a chessboard. But even a pawn is strong enough to take out a Queen. So think about that, will you, before you try to run from your destiny.”

  He was right; there was a lot to think about. Tired, sore, and a little defeated, Mina stepped down off the boulder, and they continued their long trek. A few hours later, Jared wanted to stop and try to catch them some lunch, but Mina wanted to press on.

  Finally, the cliff tapered off and the steep shale was replaced by dirt and trees. Mina and Jared were finally able to climb the steep embankment and get away from the river. In her head, Mina pictured that if she could just get out of
the valley with the river that civilization had to be minutes away. She was wrong. They had been walking in the wrong direction and there were moss covered trees for miles around. Every direction she turned looked the same.

  “Now what?” Mina groaned. Her feet were killing her; it had started to rain slightly, and she was starving. She truly believed that they were heading in the right direction, but once they got out of the riverbed, she realized her mistake.

  “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” She was so crushed by her discovery she actually turned to Jared for answers. But her simple turn, became a fall when her shoe slipped on the wet leaves, and she started to pitch backward down the steep embankment they had just climbed.

  Jared lunged toward Mina and caught her shoulder, but her awkwardness and flailing arms caused them both to tumble backward down the embankment toward the hard riverbed once again. Thinking quick, Jared twisted in midair so he took the brunt of their fall.

 
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