Gwen gaped at him. "Come again?"
Taking a long exaggerated sigh, Seph stepped towards her and put his hands on her shoulders. He looked into her eyes, and Gwen forced herself not to gape. "You. Are. Fae. A faerie. Like us. See?" He positioned her in front of the mirror behind the closet door. "Pointy ears equals faerie. Get it now?"
Ignoring his condescending tone, Gwen looked in the mirror, but the only difference she saw in the reflection was the boy standing behind her. The beautiful, crazy, rude boy standing behind her. "Is this a joke?" she asked. She turned around to face him, and caught her breath when she realized just how close they were.
Seph shifted his gaze towards Ariel. "You blinded her?"
"How was I suppose to raise her as a normal child if she saw fae sneering at her from every corner?" Ariel said, crossing his arms.
"You need to fix this."
Gwen piped up. "Do I get an opinion here?"
"No," Ariel and Seph said simultaneously, and promptly returned to bickering amongst themselves. Gwen tuned them out, her anger washing over her in waves. Her whole life her uncle had hid things from her, and she was done, done, being passive about it.
"Hey," she said. They ignored her. "Hey!" she yelled, slamming her fist against the wall. Ariel and Seph turned to her in surprise. "I know you two think I'm just some ignorant girl who knows nothing." Seph chuckled at this, and she glared at him. "But all my life I've known there was something different about me. Like, come on, what normal person owns a portal that can take them anywhere in the world?" She looked at Ariel, and he cringed at the pointed criticism. "I understood that all those errands you made me run were favors for someone else, even though you never told me. No one earns that much money and lives in a house like this." Gwen gestured around her towards the one-story mobile home that was barely large enough for the two of them.
"I knew that you were different, Ariel. I know you're not just human, and I'm almost certain you're not my biological uncle, but never in a million years did I think that I was different too. Not because it seems impossible - I was raised by you after all - but because you never told me, not once, about who I was or where I came from." Gwen was panting. The words she had held bundled up inside her for so long had finally come flooding out, and even if she wanted to, she couldn't take them back.
"So," she continued, "if this man, be he some escapee lunatic or not, has something to tell me about who I really am, I would like to know it. Now."
Seph was staring at her, his eyebrows raised, as if he couldn't believe she'd taken his side. He shook his head, wiping the expression off his face, and smiled arrogantly at Ariel. "I guess that settles it."
Ariel slumped his shoulders, looking defeated. "Fine. I'll unblind her. But remember, Seph, there is a reason I didn't tell her about her past, and I ask that you not share anything that is not absolutely necessary." Gwen wanted to argue, but she knew she'd just be pushing her luck.
"I'll keep it on a need to know basis." He smirked, eyes daring Ariel to challenge him.
"Good," Ariel said. "Because I think we both know what a pretty face can do to your judgment."
Gwen blushed. "Ok, how about we get onto that unblinding thing?" She closed her eyes and held out her hands, waiting for something to happen. "I'm ready."
Beside her, someone broke out into a fit of laughter. She opened her eyes to find Seph keeling over on the floor. She narrowed her eyes at him, but he didn't seem to notice.
Ariel shook his head. "That's not how an unblinding works, darling."
"Yeah," she pouted, nodding towards Seph. "I figured."
Gwen followed Ariel into his room, making sure to close the door behind her and leave Seph and his taunting outside. She watched as Ariel pulled a rusty leather suitcase out from under his bed. When he opened it, she struggled to contain her shock. It was filled with vials upon vials of different colored liquids, some blue, some clear, and many that looked far too much like blood for her liking. Beside the vials lay a knife, a cup and an overused rag. She wasn't sure what an unblinding involved, but she assumed it wasn't going to be pretty.
Ariel observed each of the vials carefully, opening them and smelling them. Her stomach fell whenever he would cringe at one and then proceed to pour its contents into the cup. She had lost count of how many vials he poured into it when he finally turned to her with the knife.
"I'm going to have to drain some of your blood," he said. As he reached for her hand, she hesitated. His eyebrows wrinkled in concern. "Are you sure you want to do this?"
Gwen nodded, raising her hand towards him. "Yes. Do it."
He slid the knife across her index finger, and Gwen watched, mesmerized, as the blood dripped from her body into the cup. As soon as it made contact, the liquid changed colors from a murky brown to an ominous black. Comforting.
She knew he was going to tell her to drink it, but even with that foresight, she was no less terrified when he held the cup to her lips. The scent of death burned her nose. What have I gotten myself into? she thought, as she grabbed the cup with both hands. Holding her breath and squeezing her eyes shut, Gwen chugged the dark liquid. It tasted even worse than it smelled.
When she couldn't take it anymore, she stopped, only to find out that she had barely managed to kill half of it. Her hopes sank. She didn't feel any different, and there was no way she was going to be able to swallow the whole thing.
"It only works if you drink it all," Ariel said, confirming her worst fear.
"I'm going to vomit," she said.
Not yet? She looked back down into the cup. The liquid was bubbling. Bubbling. She told herself that this was the only way she was going to get the answers she had wanted her whole life. Pushing away her disgust and any rational thought, she drank the rest of it. Once the last drop hit her tongue, the horrid taste vanished, and the world around her shifted.
Everything was brighter. Objects she had always overlooked took on a completely new visual. The nightstand she swore was made of rotting old wood blossomed with flowers and vines. The floor under her feet had developed an earthy feel to it, like she was stepping on soil rather than tile. And through the window, though the winter raged on, she could swear she saw the sun. It was brilliant.
Looking up at Ariel, she gasped. The old uncle she had known her whole life had disappeared. In his place, she saw a young man, probably only a few years older than her, with kind green eyes and honey colored hair. The most surprising thing, however, were the long pointed ears that protruded from the sides of his face.
He smiled softly at her. "I assume the unblinding worked."
Gwen was speechless. "Ariel," she said. "You're... like..."
"Not old?" he offered, laughing. Gwen nodded. "Our kind don't age, my dear. I'm almost relieved you're finding out now. I've been contemplating how I would explain your perfect face when you turned fifty."
Gwen didn't have time to think about how this man, who looked no older than 25, had raised her all by himself. Instead, her mind was clouded with one sole thought: her face. Running out of the room faster than humanly possible - another thing she would allow herself to think about later - she stood in front of the mirror, jaw dropped.
Gwen had always thought she was average looking - not ugly by any means, but nothing stunning either. But there, staring back at her, was one of the prettiest girls Gwen had ever seen. Her blonde hair fell in soft waves down her back, and looked golden as it caressed her tanned skin. Her face, which had always been marred with typical teenage acne, was flawless, full of soft angles, and an incandescent glow. The hazel eyes she'd thought plain had doubled in size and now sparkled with flecks of gold and green, intertwining in the most breathtaking combination.
She was so caught up in her new appearance that she almost failed to notice the pointed ears that cut through her hair, twitching as if they had a life of their own. Mortified, she reached up to hold them down.
"Not so crazy now, am I?" Seph said, appearing behind her with a trademark smirk she was beginning to get used to. He too looked different, but not as drastically as Ariel. His obsidian hair still fell loosely around his face, his eyes were as blue as ever, and the pointed ears made their appearance too, but his body... how could she not have noticed it before? It held a certain grace, sculpted like a warrior, all hard muscle and rough edges. Gwen could almost see the scars beneath his black t-shirt, each one screaming with a story she would never know. She wanted to run her fingers down the front of his chest, just to see what it would feel like. He cocked an eyebrow at her, and she looked away, shaking the thought out of her head.
"Ok, so now what? I get that I'm a faerie." Gwen hesitated. Saying it out loud sounded ridiculous. "What do you want me to do about it?"
Seph looked at Ariel for approval to continue. "Need to know," Ariel said, and Seph nodded.
"Here's a little history lesson," he began. "Seventeen years ago, the day you were born, your mother was murdered."
Gwen's jaw dropped, and she glared at Ariel. "Murdered?!" He cowered at her tone. "You told me I killed her!"
Seph looked annoyed. "Save the family squabble for later, and let me finish." Gwen bit her lip to keep from yelling at Ariel. Seph was right; she needed to hear this. "Your mother was," he paused, "important for our kind. She controlled the changing of the seasons. When she was killed, the Winter Court took over, and the human world was never the same, as I'm sure you know.
"We, the Summer Court," he clarified, "have been fighting to regain power, but for seventeen years we have failed. Your mother was the only one capable enough of fighting the Winter Queen. When she died, she transferred her powers to somebody. A few people thought she transferred them to you, but the general consensus had been that you died that day. Except," he glanced at Ariel, "you didn't. And, now that you've been unblinded, I'm certain you can feel it. The power that emanates from you."
Gwen wanted to deny it, to say that this whole ordeal was absurd, but she couldn't, because coursing through her veins, pumping in every atom of her body, she could feel her power.
"So what? You want me to transfer it to you?" Gwen realized that the thought of relinquishing her newfound self devastated her.
Seph chuckled. "It doesn't work like that. To transfer powers you need to have some sort of bonded relationship, and since you have no living family, and are obviously single, you're out of luck." Gwen, insulted, said nothing, and waited for him to continue. "You have to come with me," he said. "Back to the Otherworld."
"What?" she said, eyes wide. "You're kidnapping me?"
"I can't bring you there without your consent. But keep in mind that if you stay here, not only will the Summer Court die out, freezing the world forever, but you too will die. Your life line is tied to summer."
"So, let me review my options," Gwen said. "I either go with a boy I've just met to a mythical world I've never seen, or I stay here and indirectly murder the entire human race? I don't know, both seem like good options to me. What do you think, Ariel?"
Ariel smiled sadly at her, already knowing what she was going to choose.
Gwen sighed. "Guess you're going to have to book me a ticket to Faerie Land, crazy boy."
"Princess," Ariel said, using his childhood nickname for her. She used to think it was cute, but now that it was coming out of a twenty-year-old's mouth, she couldn't help but cringe. "I know you're going to go, and that I can't convince you otherwise. But before you do, I want you to know what you're getting into. Will you run me one last errand before you go off to save the world?"
Though she was mad at him for lying to her, she couldn't tell him no. He might look different, but in the end, this was still the man who had raised her. "Where do you want me to go?"
"I have a client in Siberia who's been in need of a delivery for a while."
"Siberia?" Gwen exclaimed. "Who lives in Siberia?"
Ariel looked at her calmly before saying the only two words that could change her mind. "Your father."