I stared into the mirror on the wall. It was being unreasonable and illogical. I reached for it, concerned it was enchanted, or worse. But it was firm, cold, and held no glimmer of magic. I couldn’t be cursed. Not again. I hadn’t made an agreement. He gifted them to me. Until I return them to him. I didn’t make this deal. He did. My reflection was flawed, showing me a version that I was struggling to accept.
My dark hair was streaked with white strands. I passed my hand through my changed hair and tried to make it make sense. I was relieved to see my eyes weren’t frosted over; they were still the deep ice blue they always were. The sparkle off the back of my new wings caught my eye. Nonsense. I don’t have wings. I turned in the full-length mirror and touched them. They were soft, but more importantly, I could feel myself touching them. They were an extension of me, but not something I had ever experienced. This is wrong. I concentrated and wiggled them, focusing on keeping the movement slow and controlled. The frost on my forehead thickened as I tried hard to control it, sending a gust of wind across the room. As I got control of my wings, I saw my hair change. A small section shifted from dark to light. I flapped again and watched my hair.
Even using a tiny bit of his magic makes my hair change. I am cursed. Focusing my energy, I tried to make my wings disappear, fold inside of me, become invisible, or go away. I didn’t want them. The more I tried, the more my hair shifted. Exasperated, I marched into the kitchen and yanked open the cupboard. The wind knocked the door off the hinges, sending it clattering to the floor.
“Oh, for God’s sake,” I muttered.
I whipped around at the man’s voice in the kitchen, an icicle appearing in my hand and a whirlwind forming, picking everything up and setting it down six inches to the left.
“Whoa, whoa! You’d think you’d be used to getting snuck up on by now, being that your best friends growing up were tricksters and thieves.” Seth held his hands up even as his laptop moved with the wind.
“Even though my best friends fought with each other and left me alone? All because the trickster stole from the thief, and the thief tricked the trickster.”
“Hey, wait, that’s not—”
I shot him an icy stare and watched his Adam’s apple lurch in his throat. He knew what I was referencing, and he wasn’t going back there.
“So, what’s next? Back to work for you? I brought your laptop and your mended cloak,” Seth said, tipping his head to the bundle on the table.
“I suppose I should go out and check my weather station while I’m here. I still need to place some more around the world. There’s not too many in America yet.”
“You should put one in Springfield,” he commented, looking at his displaced laptop.
I raised my eyebrow at him. “Which one?” I questioned.
“All of them. If you have a station in all forty-one Springfields, you should have a pretty good view of the entire country.”
“Sure, sure. One in each Springfield.” I set the kettle on the stove and plopped down into the chair beside my friend, my chin in my hands.
“So, uh, did you do something with your hair?” Seth asked, reaching for the white strands. I swatted his hands away.
“I didn’t think you’d age so… ungracefully. But the wings are new.” He reached back for his laptop, and I snatched it from him. On his screen was a news article about someone being arrested. I closed the lid and slid it back as Sybil trudged in, wiping the sleep from her eyes.
“Coffee,” she mumbled, eyes half shut. Seth tapped the to-go cup from Dark Sparks and handed it to her.
“Best coffee around,” he said. Sybil didn’t even blink as she downed the cup before opening her eyes and gazing at the man in the kitchen.
“Who are you?” she asked, surprise in her opened eyes.
“Ah, Sybil. This is Seth, an old friend of mine. Actually, he grew up here too.”
Seth lifted his fingers to his brows in a sort of salute but then looked back at me.
“So tell me about the wings, Firestorm. When did that come about?”
“Oh. My mom set her on fire. She rose from literal smoke and ashes and then crawled to Skiron, who then gifted the charcoal lady his powers, and when they came out of the swirling snow tornado, she was all healed and had wings. I’m calling it phoenixing.” Sybil was searching the cupboards for more coffee. “Why is everything pumpkin spice flavored?!” she asked, tossing several boxes of tea onto the counter.
Seth’s eyes went wide, and his mouth dropped a bit as Sybil carried on, throwing boxes of tea like it was her kitchen and she hadn’t dropped the being set on fire bombshell.
“You were set on fire?” he asked with genuine concern.
I shrugged. I mean, it was the most intense pain I had felt in a long time. It would forever be burned into my memory, but I’d been in pain before. It was part of the other curse I’d been under.
Aspen, Chinook, and Föhn all entered the kitchen, and Sybil took the whistling kettle off the stove.
“Morning,” Föhn muttered, wiping her eyes. Chinook and Aspen were babbling about trees and leaves. They were quite animated for the early morning.
It was a strange sensation to have so many people in a kitchen at once. I remembered my mom in the kitchen with my brothers and me. We made a lot of messes, learning how to cook and bake. They were warm memories, and the thin frost on my skin disappeared. But that time of my life has long passed. I hadn’t seen my family in ages and they’d be so ashamed of me now. I doubt I’d want to see me, either.
Seth picked up his laptop and gave me a smirk.
“Little Firestorm was actually on fire? And survived to tell about it? How on earth did you withstand that pain?”
Five pairs of eyes were on me now, and suddenly I had a new family. This was my family. An immortal who showed his face, who never cared about the hazard I invariably was, no matter what I’d done. Two aurae who nearly gave all their vitality to save me from being entombed in a lake of ice. And two Lost Ones, beautiful mortals who had lost their original families and created their own.
“I’ve been through worse pain,” I said simply, watching eyebrows raise around the room.
“Excuse me?” Aspen said. “Your screams were of bloody murder! I thought she had killed you!”
“Well, it was very painful. Like…” I stalled, and Chinook finished, “like being set on fire? I burned your arm already once, and I worried about that!”
“What could have been more painful, Kia?” Sybil asked, concern in her voice.
I looked into the distressed eyes staring at me, and I was faced with having to choose.
Lie and keep it my dark secret forever, or tell them the truth about what I’d done.
If I didn’t tell them the truth, I’d never know if they would accept me for who I was. Accept that I’d changed and grown. If I couldn’t prove to these five that I was still worthy of being in their lives, then how would I ever face myself in the mirror?
“Well, I… I guess I should tell you about my first curse,” I said. “Get your tea and coffee and maybe something to wipe your tears… and mine.” I passed through the door to the living room. “I will tell you about the first time I was cursed, became queen, and faced a monster.”
I sat on the couch and took a sip of tea, smiling as my pieced-together family got comfortable around me. We had been through a lot, and they deserved the whole story. I set down my teacup and started from the beginning.
“Once, a very long time ago, I was considered a princess by the Hyperboreans.”
“Oh, this is going to be a good story,” Aspen whispered to Sybil, and Chinook giggled.
“Shh.” Föhn snuggled in with her tea.
“Hyperborea is a land where people live many lifetimes longer than normal. It’s high in the impassable Riphean Mountains and is surrounded by constant winter and a cold so deep nothing can survive. Hyperborea is a magical place, immune to the cold and blessed by the sun. Crops can grow, and the water doesn’t freeze. It is a sacred place, and you must pass through Boreas’s Mountain pass to be accepted into it. The only people allowed into Hyperborea are exceptional people who prove that they are worthy of extending their lives. He chooses who to bring through the terrifying winter into the sanctuary and who can stay.”
I closed my eyes, remembering my father’s red face and the sharp icy spikes bursting out of his skin, showing how angry he was with me.
“How dare you waste your time with those heathens? How dare you disrespect the people of Hyperborea in this manner! You were named their princess, their future leader! Instead of controlling your damn emotions, you waste your days playing practical jokes and games!” he huffed.
“You can never return to Hyperborea,” he hissed. “Not unless you can prove that you are worthy of the people. You aren’t worthy of having the powers of a goddess. You aren’t even worthy of being their princess anymore.” He spread his wings and rose into the sky. With a flap, the icy wind tore through the mountains, and he was gone.
“I am one of the very few people who have ever left Hyperborea and the only one who is barred from returning.”