Emerson stared at Jordan — the man she once knew as JoJo — and she couldn’t believe her eyes. She couldn’t believe that the man her mother called her best friend was still alive, healthy, and standing before her eyes. She couldn’t believe that she didn’t recognize him now, or all the times she met him over the years as a child, separate from seeing him with her mother. And most of all, she couldn’t believe she just threatened the man she was close enough to to call her uncle.
It wasn’t that he looked different, per se, but Emerson noticed bits and pieces of his appearance that had definitely changed over the years. For one, he had never worn glasses before, and now he wore thick, black rimmed glasses that took up half his face. He had also gained weight, she noted, not that she would ever admit that out loud, and his hair was almost entirely grey now. But if Emerson stared long enough, he looked almost exactly the same as when she met him 18 years ago.
“You’re...You’re still alive,” she spoke, breaking the silence.
Nicholas gave both of them a puzzled look, not quite following the conversation. His father knew Emerson’s mother and grandmother? And Emerson knows his father? By now, he was completely and irrevocably lost, but he didn’t want to say anything to interrupt their conversation.
“What made you think I wasn’t?” Jordan’s tone of voice was different now. Before he was angry and confused, then he was downright terrified, but now he spoke so softly and with such affection that there was no mistaking he cared for the girl.
“Mom always said you were sick, so...I just assumed...” Emerson’s voice trembled, but she didn’t care. Normally, she was so on top of her emotions to keep them in check, but right now, she wasn’t in a place to do that.
“Ah,” Jordan realized. “I was sick when I was much younger, yes, in my teens and early twenties, but never when I was in your life. I’m surprised your mother didn’t tell you I was fine.”
“You were sick?” Nicholas interrupted.
“Yes, but it was before you were born. It was a disease that’s long been gone, which is why we thought we couldn’t have kids. No one who had it ever had kids of their own without doctor’s help, and we were never in the position to do so.”
“What was it?”
“That’s not important.” Jordan turned back to Emerson. “What have you been doing all of these years? I heard about Gwen...They say it was a bear attack?”
Emerson nodded slowly. “At least, that’s what they think it was. No one actually witnessed it, but the, uh, marks on her body were too large to be anything else, so the doctors assumed it was a bear. I was the one who found her. I’ve been on my own since. Granny Isa’s been letting me live by myself, but I have to visit her monthly, both for her benefit and mine. She only trusts me because of mom.”
“You’ve been on your own for how long? 10 years?”
“Jesus. H. Christ,” Jordan breathed. “Where have you been living?”
Emerson gave him a small smile. “The woods...”
“The woods?! Are you crazy? Do you have any idea what kind of shit is in the woods? What kind of shit could’ve killed you?”
“Yes,” she deadpanned. “Your son was in the woods. He didn’t kill me.”
Jordan shot his son a look. “And thank the gods for that. But the mage has been approaching you, has he not? Surely that makes you fee uncomfortable. I feel you would be more safe living here, in Selal, with me. Or even Avery.”
“Avery?” Emerson and Nicholas objected together.
It wasn’t that Nicholas didn’t like his sister, but they never got along as kids. And from what he heard from Emerson, neither did she. Staying with Avery was definitely not the way to go.
“Isn’t she engaged?” Emerson questioned. “Wouldn’t that be rather inconvenient for her?”
“Ah, yes, to Mekhi. Quite a nice young man. Though I don’t agree with the age gap, I couldn’t have asked for a better husband for my daughter.”
Mekhi...Emerson knew that name. Where has she heard that name?
“Hey, Dad,” Nicholas said. “Any chance I can see Avery? We can get this whole, whether we stay, whether we go, thing later. I want to see my sister.”
Jordan beamed. “Of course.”
“Can I use your phone first?” Emerson interjected. “Gotta call Granny.”
Emerson spent the last hour on the phone with her grandmother, and it was not a pleasant conversation. While Isa wasn’t bothered that her granddaughter didn’t visit this month, she certainly was less than thrilled to discover that she had been traveling with a stranger. A male stranger.
Not to mention, Emerson let it slip that she revealed her fae side to him, and Isa blew a gasket. Then she launched into an hour long monologue about how humans are dangerous, no one must find out, and how Emerson needed to conceal her Unnatural blood as much as possible.
Other than that, Isa was fine with not getting her visit. She said it was better for her, actually, because a friend wanted her to go on some yoga retreat. And that was certainly something Emerson didn’t want to think about. Her grandmother doing yoga.
Emerson shuddered as they walked through the streets of Selal. The streets were kept the old-fashioned way, the cobblestone pavement hadn’t changed since the day it was constructed. Fairy lights glittered from street lamp to street lamp, and small buildings were scattered throughout the street. Emerson sighed. It really doesn’t change at all.
The walk was both quiet and quick, as Jordan assured them it was no more than a five minute walk. He told them that when Avery got engaged, she moved in with her new fiancé by Sun Crest, which was awfully convenient for the current situation.
They came to a stop and Emerson took in the sight before her. Her lips parted, staring at the vast house —mansion?— before her. The entire property was surrounded by a black, steel gate, with the Initials ‘MV’ on it, and behind it, the only thing she saw was intimidation. It looked like something straight out of a Von Gothic magazine, and it could’ve been. The house was monstrous, with browns and grey and blacks, and there were bushes and trees around the house leading to the backyard.
Who the hell is this guy, Emerson thought. She was brought from her thoughts when Jordan brought a key from his coat pocket, which he had thrown on before leaving, and unlocked the gate.
“In case of emergencies,” he explained. “And I think this qualifies for an emergency.”
Emerson nodded, and she and Nicholas followed him through the gate and up the dark stone path. Not a piece of brick was out of place. She laughed to herself. Of course not.
Jordan knocked on the door and they stood there, waiting. A few moments later, a small blonde opened the door. Emerson recognized Avery immediately. Her blonde was a few shades lighter than it had been when they were young, but her face hadn’t changed much.Her face was round, cheeks full, and her jaw pointed. Her nose was small and rounded, and her eyes were a brilliant shade of brown. She was short and petite, wearing a yellow and white sundress that stopped just at the knees. She was holding a bowl of fruit.
“Dad!” she exclaimed, then her eyes shot towards Emerson and her eyes narrowed. “And who are you?”
She jerked a thumb back toward Nicholas. “A friend.”
Avery glanced to Nicholas, noticing him for the first time, and then did a double take. The bowl fell from her hands, apples falling down the front porch steps, glass shattering on the floor. “Nick?”
“Hey, Ave. Can we come in?”
She nodded numbly and gestured for them to come in. She knew this was coming, but she hadn’t expected it to come so soon. As they walked to the living room, she kept glancing over to Nick, not believing that her older brother was really alive.
She told them to wait on the couch while she cleaned the glass up, so they did. Emerson and Nicholas sat by each other quietly, while Jordan roamed the living room, humming to himself, pawing at the many books on the bookshelf.
“Sorry about that,” Avery said as she came back into the living room. “I’m not normally that...clumsy.”
Jordan smiled at her before sitting beside Nicholas. “No worries, hun.”
Nicholas was chewing on his lip nervously and fidgeting with his fingers, both were a habit when he was anxious, Emerson had discovered.
“Nick, how did you...” Avery trailed off, not sure where to start. But apparently, Nick did. He told her the story he told Emerson, the story he told their father, about the deal with the mage and the years he spent as a wolf. Then, he told her about the prophecy, and how he was somehow connected to whatever the mage was doing.
“A mage,” she mumbled. “I know who you’re talking about.”
Everyone’s eyebrows shot up. “You do?”
Avery nodded, pursing her lips. She was sitting on a chair nearest to Nick, and she had now drawn her feet up beneath her. “I don’t know who he is exactly, but he came to me, or had me come to him shortly after you disappeared. I was 10?”
“You willingly went to the mage?” Emerson asked dryly. Who the hell willingly goes to a mage? Unlike fae, mages weren’t mistaken for their nature. They were known to be cruel, manipulative, and destructive creatures.
“And who the hell are you supposed to be? Little Red Riding Hood?” Avery snapped.
“This is Emerson,” Nicholas explained. “She’s the one who found me. She said you two went to school together. Dad knew her mom.”
Avery’s eyebrows shot up. “Emerson Russell?”
Emerson flashed her teeth in a grin. “That’s me. Miss me?”
Avery groaned and was about to shoot back a witty comeback when her father stopped her. “Avery June. The mage?”
She nodded. “I didn’t know he was a mage, honest. I thought I was meeting up with someone from school, because that’s where I got the note. It didn’t have a name or anything, just an address in town and a time. I went to the house, it was really old and abandoned, and that’s where I met Rochester.”
“Rochester?” They all said in unison.
“I don’t know if that’s his real name, it’s just what I started calling him. He didn’t object to it or correct me, so we just kind of went with it. Anyway,” she continued. “Rochester wasn’t the only thing in that house. I don’t remember what it was, but before she showed up I saw a bright light glowing in the corner. Before I could find out what it was, it vanished. Then, Rochester showed up out of nowhere and...made a deal with me.”
“A deal?” her father choked out. “How is it that every single one of us, aside from Emerson, has made a deal with the mage, er, Rochester? It can’t be a coincidence, can it?”
“No way,” Emerson piped in. “It sounds like first he went for you, Jordan, then to Nicholas, then to Avery, and now he’s gunning for me. I’m guessing it’s all this prophecy shit. Avery must tie in somehow. What was the deal you made with him?”
Avery glanced to the side. “It isn’t something I’m proud of.”
“I don’t care. Spill.”
“Listen, I’m serious. I was ten, okay? I didn’t know what I was doing, or about the stupid price people have to pay. He told me I was gifted.”
“Gifted?” Nicholas echoed. “I was cursed, you were gifted, father was...blessed.”
Avery nodded. “But, my gift came with a curse, too. He just didn’t tell me until afterwards, and then refused to reverse it. So I’m stuck like this.”
“What was the deal?” Emerson repeated. She was growing bored and impatient with the conversation, and her annoyance was climbing up an invisible ladder as Avery refused to talk.
“You...You can’t tell Mekhi. I haven’t told him yet, and I don’t want him to flip out,” Avery pleaded. “He knows about the gift because he has to deal with it, but as for the other part...not so much.”
“Avery, honey,” her father cooked. “What is it? You can trust us. Not a word leaves us.”
Avery bit her lip and nodded. It was clearly a genetic trait.
“I was gifted with the sight, he called it. He said it was important for something, I don’t know what it is, but I have...visions. I knew you guys were coming, but I didn’t know you would come so soon. They’re not always clear, though. All I saw last time was crimson.”
“And the curse?” Emerson pushed.
Avery pursed her lips. “I can’t bear children.”
Jordan stumbled from his seat and started shouting. “Are you insane? You were ten. Ten! You traded some voodoo magic for being barren? Are you kidding me? Emerson, tell me there’s a way to fix it. You must have some...powers to fix it, right?”
Emerson grew uneasy. This was now the third human she had been revealed to, although Avery wasn’t entirely human anymore. She had been gifted with the sight, and it was actually an honor to have such a gift. Her mother used to tell her that when she was younger.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Mage magic and faerie magic are on two completely separate spectrums. Mages use dark magic, the fae use light magic. A fae can’t undo a curse, blessing, or a gift a mage has cast.”
Jordan’s face screwed up in pain. “You...You can’t fix her?”
“You’re fae?” Avery said at the same time her father spoke.
Emerson sighed in frustration. “Yes, half fae. And no, I can’t fix her. As I said before, even if I tried, it wouldn’t work. Healing doesn’t work like that and I don’t have the power to reverse a spell. You’d have to find a mage to do it, which would be next to impossible.”
“But...She can’t have kids? Ever?”
“Hey,” Avery said. “I’m right here. Who said I even wanted kids? And if I want kids, what’s so bad about adoption?”
Emerson smirked to herself. Finally, something we can agree on.
“You know that’s not the same thing!”
“Dad, it doesn’t really matter,” Nicholas interjected. “A kid’s a kid.”
“But everyone should at least have one kid of their own —by blood— it’s nature!”
“JoJo,” Emerson spoke lowly. “I want you to think of how you’re talking to your daughter. Weren’t you in the same boat 30 years ago? Is it really such a bad thing? Unlike you, she’s open to the idea of adopting. And gods know that there are hundreds of kids in need of a family.”
Jordan gaped at the fae as his children looked at her with thanks. “Fine,” he exhausted. “Now what?”
“Now,” she stood up. “We find Rochester.”