Authors: Adrianne Brooks
|Fairest 02 - The Frog Prince|
(Fairest of Them All)
A D R I A N
N E B R O O K S
THE FROG PRINCE
A Fairest of Them All Novel
Copyright © 2014
All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.
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Cover Art: Book Cover by Design
Published by: Rascal Hearts
Greyson wasn’t a big fan of fairytales.
Not to say that he didn’t believe in them, or even appreciate the importance of them.
He simply wasn’t a fan.
Ever since he’d been transformed into a frog, he’d always held a special disregard for the idea of “happily ever after.” A concept like that should exist for everyone. Not just a lucky few. How did one go about achieving a happily ever after anyway? What did they have to do to earn one? Were there sexual
favors involved? Money exchanged? The formula seemed impossible to figure out, and Chris was forced to dismiss the idea of having one of his own happy endings as being out of the question.
He wanted to be happy.
But it was a little hard to do when he’d been locked in an aquarium for most of his life.
Not that he was
dissing the aquarium.
It was a nice place after all.
He had a rock in one corner that he liked to sit on and think about things, and there was even a stick next to it that he hung off of sometimes. He had a nice little pond, and there was a plastic scuba man at the bottom that he’d named Earl when he was thirteen. He talked to Earl when he wasn’t sleeping or eating bugs, and when that grew tiresome he clung to the side of the glass so that everyone who happened to glance in his direction would get an eyeful of his froggy nads.
It wasn’t much, but it was the closest he’d ever gotten to saying
“fuck you” to the world in general, and his stepmother in particular. He remembered once seeing a little girl come up to his case and press her nose against the glass.
“Hello,” she said, young voice pitched high. He croaked and hopped back and forth, excited to have someone other than Earl to talk to.
“My name’s Alex.” She was missing one of her front teeth and lisping slightly because of it. The smile she sent him was shy. “What’s your name?”
He croaked and she giggled, pudgy hands smearing what looked like icing on the glass. She was wearing a crooked paper crown on her head that read “Birthday Girl,” and her white party dress was a cloud of white tulle.
“I’m going to call you Marshmallow,” she told him solemnly, and while it wasn’t an ideal name, he didn’t outright dismiss it. There was a certain swagger to the title that he liked.
She’d smiled and cooed at him for a while longer, and he’d liked that. But then Danielle had come along, pushing and shoving the little girl from the room and warning her sternly to never set foot inside again.
That had been the one, and only, time he’d ever seen her after Danielle had cursed him. His sister. His Alex. But he remembered the strange warmth that had filled his chest. For that split moment in time, he’d felt happiness. He’d cherished it. Before that all too brief meeting, he’d thought that he would despise his baby sister. They shared a father, but half of her DNA belonged to Danielle. He’d come up with all these reasons as to why he should hate Alex as much as he hated her mother, but whenever he tried, his mind would drag him back to the first time he’d seen her. He’d leaned over her crib, staring down into her face, and then she’d kicked him in the nose and farted.
It had been a magical moment of sibling bonding and he’d loved her ever since.
He hadn’t expected to actually escape Danielle when he had. It was something that simply happened all on its own. She’d been in the middle of a dinner party; he could hear the music and laughter through the door. At one point a woman had wandered into the room, drunk as a skunk. At the sight of him, she’d squealed and stumbled over to his aquarium.
And had promptly knocked it over.
So he’d run away.
Or rather, hopped away. Moving as quickly as he could through the house and slipping outside when another guest opened the door to slip out for a smoke break. A few nights later, he’d transformed into a man and had thought it a miracle. He’d believed himself cured. Had run through the streets and praised every god he could think of. Convinced that she was dead and gone.
Then morning had come and he’d shifted in the booth of an
IHop in the middle of flirting with a waitress. He’d barely escaped with his life, the resulting scene one that still haunted him. Even now, he was still deathly nervous around broomsticks and low cut blouses.
He’d found Madam Clara by accident.
She had a lovely garden, full of roses and all sorts of other flowers. A lot of flowers usually meant a lot of bugs, so Chris found himself there more often than not. When he wasn’t a man, that is. Madam Clara liked to prune her roses at night, and he’d gotten in the habit of sitting next to her. He liked hearing her voice as she sang or spoke softly to herself or the flowers she tended. Chris didn’t think that she noticed him, until one night she’d set aside her pruning shears and sat back on her heels with a sigh.
“How long are you going to keep this up?”
He croaked his confusion and peeked out from beneath the leaf he’d taken shelter under.
“I don’t usually do free consultations,” she told him sternly. “But I can see you.
The real you. It’s sort of, superimposed over this body. A watermark in the air. The more accustomed you grow to this life, young Greyson, the more you fade away. Do you want to disappear?”
He’d shaken his head and she smiled. She leaned forward, lying face down in the dirt and placing her chin in the back of her folded hands.
“Good. Now, listen closely. Your situation is a special one. You were cursed by one of the Widows, and to be honest, I’m not equipped to fix something like that.”
He’d sagged, disappointed, but she’d chuckled and continued.
“But I know someone who can cure you. Or at least point you in the right direction. Her name is Maleficent, and she may look like a grouch, but she’s my sister and I know her better than anyone. She’ll take good care of you.” She winced slightly. “Hopefully.”
She’d given him an address, keeping the little fact that her sister worked as a stripper to herself. Chris hadn’t really expected her to be much help, but she was. Maleficent had not only gotten him some supplies for the road, but a map leading to where he needed to go. She’d told him to find a woman trapped in a magical sleep and wake her. True love’s kiss would heal them both and they could then live happily ever after…
Chris had called bullshit.
Maleficent snarled at him before pulling herself under control.
“Ok, so things might be a bit more complicated than that.”
“True love’s kiss?” he asked, disgusted with her for even uttering the phrase. She waved a hand in dismissal and spun her nipple tassels in idle boredom.
“What can I say?” she began with a shrug. “I’m required by law to use certain phrasing. It’s part of my probation. The next time I have to use ‘bibbity boppity boo’ in a sentence I may just choke on my own tongue.”
“Look,” she said, leaning forward to meet his eyes. “I don’t make the rules, alright? I just get screwed over by them.”
“That doesn’t really inspire much confidence.”
“It’s not supposed to,” she said
said as she bit her bottom lip. “I need you to understand what you’re getting into. What you’re going to have to do if you want to have a full life. I’m trying to be a good person, goddamnit.”
He held up his hands in surrender.
“Alright then. Be good.”
She shook the remains of her ire away and tucked a stray strand of hair behind one ear.
“It wasn’t all bullshit,” she told him with sincerity. “The idea is the same. This woman? She can help you. She can save you. But you gotta save her first.”
“Is that where the dragon comes in?”
He had to admit that was the part of his quest that worried him the most.
She chuckled and patted his hand. “Don’t worry about him, handsome. You’re not nearly as helpless as you seem to think you are.”
“But it’s a dragon,” he said deadpan, only to snatch his hand away when she pinched him. “What the hell was that for?”
She shook her head and laughed, vivacious and completely unapologetic. “Sometimes I can’t help myself. Stupidity brings out the worst in me.”
He wanted to hit her, but clenched his teeth instead.
He’d set off that same night, wanting to cover as much distance as possible.
The map lead him to an abandoned park in the seedier side of town. He’d spent a day searching for the “portal” she’d spoken of. A tear between the veils. Chris admitted later that it probably would have been a lot easier to find if he hadn’t spent the majority of his time outrunning crack-heads. He didn’t understand how someone on drugs could move that fast. Weren’t they supposed to be like alcoholics and smokers? All poor circulation and failing stamina?
As it turned out, he didn’t so much as “find” the portal as fall into it.
He was talking to Larry the bum and warming his hands over the man’s garbage can fire, when someone ran past him. It was a group of kids, and the force of the collision was enough to send him straight into the garbage can. In Chris’s mind it would have been a fitting end to an overall crappy existence, but to his shock he didn’t burn. He didn’t even feel the hot the bottom of the trashcan. He just kept falling and falling, and when he finally stopped he’d found himself sitting at the foot of a large oak tree. Above his head, sitting amongst the tree limbs, was a baby’s cradle. He’d stared at it until a strange creature, half bird and half infant, had peeked its head over the side to glare at him with empty eye sockets.
There was a tower at the edge of the world that stretched so high it touched the stars. She’d been living there for as long as she could remember. When she closed her eyes, sometimes she could picture a city.
A life beyond the stone walls. Beyond the forest of vines that burned both day and night, fed by a constant flow of dragon fire. Sometimes she could stand there beside her four-poster bed, and watch herself sleep, her face slack and peaceful. So different from what was going on within her head. The first day that she’d stepped outside of her own body, Rachel had thought that she’d finally died. She hadn’t really been surprised. Considering everything that had happened to her, it only seemed right.
But when the sun rose, she was pulled back into that eternally sleeping shell.
If she concentrated hard enough, she could picture her life before the tower. She could picture herself with family and friends, a job, a life. She’d be smiling and happy, oblivious of what was to come. But from the corner of her eye she’d start to see the vines.
The creeping thorns that seemed to pulse with life. She’d ignore them until the very last moment, and then they’d surround her, wrap her up, and drain her dry. Those were the kinds of things she dreamed of. The thorns burrowing into her flesh and the way they lifted her body, controlling her in a dance she couldn’t break from.
Blood and dancing is what she dreamed of.
So she tried to stop dreaming.
In a way, life was better when she allowed her spirit to leave her body behind. Nothing could touch her, nothing could hurt her, and nothing could see her. She could go anywhere she pleased as long as she never tried to step past the dragon fire.
Which is why she spent most days wandering the empty, decaying halls of the castle. There was nothing living within those walls but her. Not even rodents or bugs drew breath there. The silence was absolute, and if she could have made a sound when she screamed, something anyone other than herself could hear, she would have filled the world with the hollow echoes of it.
The rest of the time, she sat in the window seat and stared out at the forest beyond the flickering flames. If she stared long enough, she could see birds flying in the distance. It was the closest she ever came to another life form. Besides the dragon of course, and he wasn’t much for conversation. Rachel sighed, pressing her hand against the window. She had to concentrate
to make sure that she didn’t simply pass straight through it. Her head ached from even that small show of defiance against her situation, but she gritted her teeth and kept it up. The glass was cold against her palm, smooth, and she stroked it, enjoying the sensation. Rachel’s concentration slipped when she heard a crash from the inner recesses of the castle. Her hand slid through the glass and into the world outside and she sighed. She couldn’t feel anything anymore, and she jerked her hand away as she rose from her perch.
Rachel gave her body a final glance before leaving her tower. She didn’t so much as walk down the winding stone steps, but rather she floated down. Her spirit hovered just above them. She could feel her hair moving around her face as if she were swimming underwater. She’d grown accustomed to the darkness, a blessing considering the fact that the windows on the main floor had been carved near the ceiling,
preventing people from coming or going easily. She made her way through the great hall slowly. Unconcerned, but curious to see what could have caused the racket. Maybe the wind had knocked something over. Rachel turned the corner, expecting to see a body of armor on the floor. But something knocked her back. A bolt of purple light that shot past her to hover in the middle of the room.
For a moment she stood frozen, shocked, horrified that something, anything, had managed to touch her at all while she was in this state.
“Rachel Constance Dupree.”
Rachel whipped around to look behind her, but nothing was there. The air around her began to take on a purple tinge and suddenly she felt as if she were being put on display.
As if she were under a spotlight that blinded her to the spectator hidden in the shadows.
“Who’s there?” Rachel whispered, turning in place in an attempt to see all of her surroundings at once. It wasn’t often that she felt exposed.
Vulnerable. She didn’t miss the sensation. “How do you know my name?”
“I put you here,” Seraphim said archly, stepping from the purple fog with arms crossed beneath her breasts and her eyes dark with reproach. “Why wouldn’t I know your name?”
“What the hell are you doing here?” Rachel asked acidly, letting herself rise up even further from the ground as her temper got the better of her. “I thought I told you not to come back unless you were willing to release me from this damn sleeping spell.”
“Pish posh,” Seraphim said, dismissing her anger with a dramatic wave of her manicured hand. “I visit you all the time,” she continued. “Mostly during the day though, when you’re trapped in that bag of flesh you call a body. It keeps me from having to listen to your incessant nagging.” Seraphim twirled in place, her fingers smoothing out the wrinkles of her leather cat suit. The fake ears and tail she wore simply added to the air of mischief and Rachel shook her head in disgust.
“You need a new job,” Rachel told her. “How long you plan on swinging on a pole and dropping it like it’s hot? What did I tell you?”
Seraphim groaned and rolled her eyes. “Yes, yes, yes. Dogs and diamonds may be fine and dandy, but stocks and bonds can make a girl randy.” Seraphim spit in disgust, a small flare of power that shot a sizzling purple hole in the ground at her feet. “You’re my captive, love. Not my accountant. Can’t we skip the lecture?”
Rachel hovered in place, her ghostly legs folded Indian style as she examined the fairy godmother. Rachel had learned early on, when Seraphim had first trapped her, that she couldn’t harm her while she was in her altered state. Seraphim’s magic simply passed right through. The fairy could always attack Rachel’s body of course, but Rachel could never figure out if Seraphim was just too lazy to climb the stairs to the tower or if she had actually grown fond of her during her erratic, and often unwelcome, visits.
“Well,” Rachel began. “If you’re not here to wake me up, and you didn’t come for tax advice, what do you want?”
“I came to bring you a little present.”
Suspicious, Rachel angled her head to one side. “A present, huh?”
“Indeed,” Seraphim grinned, a shark showing its teeth, and rubbed her hands together in glee. “Not just any present either.
A prince. A real stand-up guy.” The last was said with enough mockery that Rachel stifled a chuckle. Nothing seemed to offend Seraphim more than morals and righteous behavior. This “prince” must be a real tool.
“Can he break the curse?” Rachel asked, bored and spinning lazily through the air.
“Then you can keep him.”
“I would,” Seraphim hedged, “but it turns out I already invited him.”
uninvite him,” Rachel growled.
tsked. “Can’t. He’ll be here soon.” Turning away from the fury on Rachel’s face, she said airily, “I just wanted to warn you. Give you some time to, I don’t know, freshen up a little.” She gave Rachel wide eyes. “Oh, that’s right. You can’t.”
“You’re a real bitch, you know that?”
Seraphim smirked. “I try.”
Before Rachel could respond, Seraphim made a sweeping gesture and disappeared just as smoothly as she’d appeared. Rachel cursed, flying up towards the
ceiling, she checked one window after another. Eyes straining, trying to see anything at all past the flames stretching towards the sky. No matter where she looked, or for how long, she wasn’t able to see a thing. Let alone a useless prince. Rachel was about to give up on searching entirely, convinced that Seraphim had been full of shit, when she saw it.
There was a frog on the castle steps.
A tree frog to be exact.
Rachel could see him hopping up and down in agitation through the darkness and she shook her head in disgust. She had no idea how the frog had managed to make it through the flaming thorns, or the dragon that lived within the maze of vines.
Probably by pure, dumb, luck. But if the frog stayed out there for much longer, the flames would come for him. It was how it always worked. Rachel could stand outside the walls of the castle for only a few moments, but eventually the dragon fire seemed to sense her. To hunger. At which point it would come for her with a vengeance.
It was just a dumb little frog but…it was the only thing alive around there. Maybe she could keep it as a pet or something. It could keep her company until the “prince” showed up. With that in mind, Rachel swooped from the window and down to stand on the front steps beside the frog. She couldn’t touch it, but with enough concentration she was able to push open the front door. She watched him in silent amusement
as he hopped inside of the castle and she followed after him, sending a gust of wind to close the door behind them both as they crossed the threshold.
She’d learned how to control the air only a few days ago and it was a little hard still to control the force of the gusts. As a result, the door slammed with more force than she’d intended and the frog cringed. After a brief hesitation, he continued to hop along the dusty castle floor, his little feet leaving trails in his wake. Rachel hovered above him, spinning through the air and eyeing him curiously. He glanced about the great hall, hopped over to the entrance leading to the ballroom, and dismissed both areas with an ill-mannered croak. Rachel’s brows shot up in surprise. You’d think the damn thing would be all for investigating the dark nooks and crannies for bugs to feast on. But maybe he knew, somehow, that there weren’t any to be found. It was something she hadn’t considered until that moment. He’d only be able to
find food if he ventured back out through the maze. Rachel sighed and mentally resigned herself to having to watch the little bugger starve to death now that he’d made the mistake of wandering into her domain.
“Hello, little man,” she said sadly, already preparing herself for his eventual demise.
The frog paused, perking up as if he could hear her. Rachel hoped that he could. It would be nice to talk to something, even if it couldn’t talk back. “What brings you here?”
The frog croaked, looking first one way and then the other. Rachel flipped upside down in the air before him, hovering there as she examined his bright red eyes, light green skin, and long orange feet. He was so
colorful. A rainbow in an otherwise bleak world.
“You should go upstairs,” she told him. “It’s nicer up there.
The frog croaked again and hopped off towards the stairs. Smiling, she folded her arms behind her head and lounged in the air as if it were a recliner.
“As long as you don’t mind the body.”
The frog stopped mid-hop, running smack into one of the steps, and Rachel laughed at the consternation in his bugged out little eyes. If frogs could grumble, the odd little noise he was making in the back of his throat would have certainly qualified. As it was, he seemed to gather his courage so that he could continue making his way up the stairs. Rachel floated alongside him, chattering as they
traveled up the staircase. The frog did an admirable job of ignoring her, but she didn’t mind.
“You can stay as long as you like,” she continued. “It may be hard since we don’t have any food, but once the hunger starts to make you hallucinate, I’ll see what
I can do about slipping you out the window.” Her brows furrowed. “How did you get here anyway?”
Rachel didn’t expect an answer and none was forthcoming, so she simply shoved her curiosity away for the moment. When he was ready to leave, she’d simply watch him. If he could accomplish the feat again it would certainly be worth her while. Rather than dwell on it, she sifted through the door leading to her room before she remembered that not everyone could pass through solid objects. Normally she didn’t like doing it because it made her feel like a ghost. As if she were actually dead instead of taking a temporary leave of her body. But there was no helping it. For some reason, she was unable to use her minimal skills with wind control on it.
Gritting her teeth, she pulled herself in tight. Like clenching a fist, except her whole body was the fist. Then, reaching forward, she shoved as hard as she could against the surface of the door. It only inched forward a centimeter or two. But that was more than enough. Rachel fell apart with a groan of exhaustion. She could feel her body pulling on her spirit like a tether being yanked. She was too weak to fight it now that she’d worked so hard on the door. But she was pleased with her progress. Usually she wasn’t even able to do this much, and at least this way the frog could squeeze through if he liked.
Rachel flew back into her body, feeling uncertain but content. Finally, something was here.
Another consciousness. Another soul. Even if it was just a frog, she wouldn’t be alone while she was dead to the world. That, more than anything, was the most comforted she’d felt in a long, long time.