The fairy cottage lost some of its magic as the glow from the windows dimmed and the echoes of the enchanted music faded in the trees. Sharon took a few careful steps backwards, grabbing Diana by the arm and signaling Heather with her eyes and a quick jerk of her head.
"I need to get Diana back to her real parents," Sharon said. "This place has been her prison long enough."
Sharon's long lost Fae mother reached out a beseeching hand. "Sharon wait. I can explain."
Sharon shoved Diana and Heather back, and faced Caroline, pointing a shaking finger. "Why should I listen to anything you have to say?"
"The music is part of our security system. It keeps the house safe when we're gone. That's all. Did you hear it when you were here before?"
Sharon bit her lip, trying to remember. No, there hadn't been music before. Just the calm before the rain.
Caroline's blonde hair shimmered like strands of gold in the firelight spilling from the front door of the cottage. Her blue eyes sparkled like gemstones, and her slight smile felt like warm friendship. Caroline's voice even sounded like home. "You can trust me, Sharon."
"Not with you throwing the glamour out full force like that," Sharon said, fighting the strange urge to like them.
"What would convince you to trust us?" Caroline asked.
Diana put a hand on Sharon and turned her. The human girl who looked like what Sharon had been for the last sixteen years had a sad look on her face. "Sharon, this is my home. You can't just take me from here without bad stuff happening. I'd like to meet my real parents, I really would. But my life here hasn't been bad. You can trust Caroline and Eddie. They're good people."
Sharon stared at Diana, at a total loss for what to do. Trust her parents? Eddie and Caroline couldn't lie, but Fae could omit so much truth that you could be misled. So the music truly was their security system. Maybe they could be trusted. She caught Heather's smirk out of the corner of her eye.
Sharon narrowed her eyes at the witch. "I can tell you've got an idea."
Heather's smile widened. "Let's have everyone drop their glamour. No magic. Let's see everyone as they truly are."
Sharon narrowed her eyes at Heather. "Oh, I'm sure you'd love that, Stalker. You have nothing to hide."
Heather's eyes darted down and back, her smile only faltering for a fraction of a second.
Sharon's mouth dropped. "You're using magic on yourself? All this time? What magic?"
"I thought you could tell. I must be better than I thought," Heather said. She squared her shoulders with pride.
"You're included then."
Heather swallowed. "Um-"
"It was your idea," Sharon said. "In fact, since your dreams are about to come true, you go first."
"What dreams?" Diana asked.
"Heather's been dying to know everything about the Fae. She's a little obsessed, if you ask me," Sharon said.
"Am not," Heather said, crossing her arms in defiance.
"You took a picture of me while I was sleeping, stalkerazzi."
"The drool was cute," Heather giggled.
"So help me-" Sharon's hands clenched into fists.
"Girls, girls," Caroline said, interrupting them. When she had their attention, she clasped her hands together and held them to her chin in contemplation. "We are not accustomed to revealing ourselves, even to our own kind. Diana has not seen our true forms, and we've been very careful to shield her from too much knowledge of our world. We hoped that someday we would be allowed to return her, without nightmares to haunt her."
Sharon's brows knitted together. "But I've seen my true form, and it's..." She hesitated to say "beautiful", because she still couldn't see using that word to describe herself, even if she'd been amazing. She settled for using someone else's opinion "Diana's little brother Bobby thinks it's amazing."
"You showed your true form to a human?" Caroline asked, her voice shaking slightly.
"Yeah, but he's cool. I made him promise not to tell anyone. I showed Heather too when we were working on Glamour exercises."
Caroline closed her eyes and took a deep breath, letting it out slowly. "You had no way of knowing. I'm sure the Queen-"
"What's the big deal?" Sharon asked.
"Diana, can you excuse us?" Caroline asked. "Papa will need help packing your things for the journey to your parents' home."
Diana looked between the older Fae and Sharon. "You think Morgana will let us leave?"
"We followed her rules, so I think it is time. Go and prepare for the journey, child."
"Yes, Mama," Diana said, giving Heather and Sharon a nod and a smile before scampering into the cottage.
Caroline walked over to the garden and knelt in the lush plants. She picked a strawberry and stood. "Heather, you must swear the oath of binding that you will not share what you have seen or will see. Failing to do so will incur the Queen's wrath. She will send nightmares to you until you are driven insane. Will you swear?"
Heather spoke the words of a spell, and magic raised in the air. Heather took the strawberry from Caroline's outstretched hand, and bit into it. The magic swelled and died.
"We'll need to do that with Bobby too, I guess?" Sharon said, thinking of her little brother. Even if he wasn't her blood brother, she couldn't stop thinking of him as a brother.
Caroline nodded and regarded the girls for a moment before speaking. "So seeing my true form will earn your trust?"
Sharon looked to Heather, whose pleading eyes didn't help. Sharon knew Heather just wanted to see fairies, but there was some kernel of wisdom in dropping their guards and opening themselves to a deeper understanding. She took a deep steadying breath. She's see her mother's true form. It might help. She nodded to Caroline.
"Heather goes first," Sharon said.
Heather grimaced. "Look, you need to promise not to say anything. I have really bad acne."
"That's all?" Sharon looked shocked, but as she watched Heather say the words that broke the spell, she realized that having acne could have been a huge issue for anyone. She watched Heather's face transform into a pimple-and-crater filled surface that the girls at school would have mocked, and watched Heather's happy, confident demeanor disintegrate. Heather looked vulnerable and fragile. Sharon focused on her true form and believed herself into it. She looked at her claws, then looked up to her Fae mother.
Caroline stood before them, her pale ivory skin clad in silver high-heeled platform sandals with silver silk ribbons lacing up to her knees. Silver markings gleamed on her skin. A loose two-part gown sparkled like silver with diamonds woven into the fabric, but left her midriff bare like a belly dancer. Her slender arms were covered with what looked like tattoos of silver vines with silver roses on them, ending with tiny vines on her clawed hands. Her wings changed color with the light, like iridescent pearls. Her silver-blonde hair was streaked with the blue of her cat-shaped eyes and color of her wings.
Heather's saucer-wide eyes never stopped moving as she took in the woman before them, and Sharon, side-by-side. "You must get the brown hair from your dad," she mumbled to Sharon.
Sharon stared at Caroline, seeing all the similarities and differences between them. "You changed clothes too. I hadn't thought to do that."
"Are you satisfied, young ones?" Caroline asked, looking like an avatar from a video game.
"You're amazing," Heather said. "You're both amazing. And I'm..."
Sharon could sense her friend's distress and grabbed Heather in a hug. "You're amazing too."
Heather shook her head and stepped back. She reached in her pocket and pulled out a compact. She popped it open, took the brush from within, and wiped at her face. Her acne disappeared, and her smile returned as she looked herself over in the tiny mirror. "There. No longer the ugly duckling of the group."
"I could make the acne go away," Sharon said, smiling at her friend.
"No thanks," Heather replied. "Grandma has a spell that will fix the damage after my hormones level out. It's our way. Besides, I heard too many horror stories as a kid about fairy magic."
Caroline's eyes shot wide at something over Sharon's shoulder before the silvery Fae shifted to human in a sudden ripple of magic.
Shocked by Caroline's sudden change, Sharon turned to see the cause for alarm.
A familiar-looking gray-haired man stood beside a woman whose slender fashion-model frame dwarfed him. Sharon guessed the woman to be over six feet tall, with reddish-brown wavy hair, and a soft tan. She looked to be in her twenties, but she radiated magic. The woman sneered as her eyes raked the group with cold contempt.
"Your Majesty," Caroline said, dropping to one knee. "Sharon sought us out, and the other-"
"Silence," the woman said. "I see the earth-borne..." her mouth puckered like she had sucked on a lemon as she paused, taking in Sharon's Fae shape, "has taken after you."
Sharon turned back to Caroline in time to see a warm motherly smile grow and take over her expression.
Caroline looked up at Sharon with warm eyes. "She is everything I had hoped she would be, my Queen."
"She seems fond of her true shape. Perhaps a century in the Shadow Realm will cure her of that."
Sharon felt stripped bare and a sudden need to cover herself. She shifted back to her human persona, and had a sudden recollection about the man beside the Queen. "You're the man from the road," she said, pointing at him. "The one that made the trucker pull over."
"You may call me Horace," the man said, crinkling his nose. "After you bow to Morgana, Queen of Elphame."
Sharon mimicked her mother's one-knee courtesy, and watched Heather do the same.
"The human has taken the bonding?" Morgana asked, staring at Caroline.
"She did the magic herself. She's a witch," Caroline replied.
The Queen tsk-tsked. "How interesting that a witch would find a way into our world through your folly, Caroline. You find new ways to disappoint me every year."
"Save your apologies for your unfortunate husband. How he tolerates you is beyond my understanding. The shame you brought on us all by spawning this," she gestured at Sharon without looking, "here in this pathetic world can never be undone."
Sharon felt shock to her core, her stomach churning as she looked at the Queen and then to her mother. Are you going to let her say that?
"She has returned to us, despite your desire to keep her away; and we intend to welcome her back," Caroline said.
The Queen narrowed her eyes. "There will be consequences."
The sound of the cottage door creaking caught their attention. Eddie stepped out and walked toward the Queen. Sharon watched as the Queen's expression grew warm and friendly as Eddie approached.
Eddie stopped in front of the Queen and lifted her hand in his. "Mother. I trust all is well."
"My esteemed son. Leave this wretched plane with me and it will be."
(go to Chapter 18)
(go to Chapter 18)