Will the truth set you free?
Strange things happen around eighteen year-old Gwen Cooper when she’s not paying close attention to her emotions—levitations, explosions, and other bizarre occurrences. She hides her peculiarities from everyone, even her best friend Ellie. But when Ellie is kidnapped by a mysterious stranger on a trip to England, Gwen gathers her courage and follows her friend into an extraordinary Otherworld, a realm of legend and magic accessible only through ancient hidden ways. As Gwen navigates the wilds of the primeval forest and the enchanting fires of faerie people, she finds clues to her past and the mother who abandoned her—discoveries which challenge her to embrace and wield her own powers to save her friend.
They were on the lip of a shallow bowl, clear of trees. A bonfire was in the center, roaring high and hot, and as many as fifty people gathered around it. Some fed the fire with logs and branches, laughing as the flames leapt up and consumed their offerings. Others passed around platters of food and earthen pitchers. Gwen’s mouth watered. Some platters were piled high with slices and joints of meat, some dripped with grapes and other fruits, still others balanced pyramids of bread. Next to her, Aidan groaned in hunger.
Loniel laughed merrily, and gestured to a few of the platter bearers. They peeled away from the milling group and joined Gwen and the other two at the edge of the bowl.
“Sit, and eat to your heart’s content. I will return when you are satisfied.” He snapped his fingers at the platter-bearers, who placed their burdens on the ground in front of Gwen and Aidan and melted away.
Gwen sputtered, “Thank—thank you. This looks amazing.” Aidan echoed her words. Loniel bowed, keeping his laughing eyes on them.
“For my little birds, of course.” He turned and moved to the fire, losing himself in the crowd. Gwen and Aidan looked at each other.
“Ready?” Gwen asked him.
“You have no idea.” Aidan flopped on the ground. “Dig in, Gwen.”
They fell on the food with gusto, tearing into the bread like animals. An earthen pitcher was filled with clear, cold water, fresh and satiating. As they ate and drank, they watched three figures drag drums from the surrounding woods. The drummers began to play, filling the clearing with pounding beats in intricate combinations. The crowd of people before them split into two. Half moved away and gathered around the edges of the clearing, while the others began to leap and twirl around the fire. Faster and faster they danced, weaving in and out, bending and twisting and jumping. It looked chaotic, but as Gwen watched she noticed a pattern to the madness.
More people joined the dance, and as the drums grew more insistent Gwen’s heartbeat pounded faster. She glanced at Aidan. He watched the dancers, eyes half-closed. His fiery red hair gleamed in the flickering light, and his high cheekbones cast strange shadows on his face. Gwen’s stomach stirred and she glanced away quickly, cheeks warm. She felt him look at her then and kept her eyes resolutely on the dancers.
The beat changed. The dancers paired off and swirled around in couples. Loniel materialized from a nearby cluster of onlookers, bearing a goblet and walking toward them. Gwen and Aidan glanced at each other, Aidan looking wary. Loniel approached with a wide smile.
“Have my little birds eaten enough worms to satisfy them?” Loniel waved away their thanks, interrupting them mid-splutter. “Now that you are fed, you must drink some of my signature libation.” He offered the goblet to Gwen, who looked at Aidan. He shrugged slightly. She turned to Loniel.
“Please, I insist,” he said, his strange tawny eyes intense. She looked into the goblet as he moved it toward her lips. The liquid glimmered darkly in the golden goblet. What harm could it do? The food had been fine. Just a sip, she thought, and opened her lips. Loniel carefully tipped the goblet so the liquid met her open mouth. She swallowed, the drink sliding down her throat in a cool cascade of pungent fruit and deep notes of honey.
“That’s really good,” she said, and Loniel smiled smugly.
“Of course it is, birdling,” he said, bringing the goblet to Aidan’s lips. Once Aidan had swallowed, closing his eyes briefly as if to make the flavor linger, Loniel stepped back.
“Now you can truly enjoy my little bonfire, without the peskiness of inhibitions. There isn’t much in this land more potent than my famous libation. Enjoy, my sweets.” He raised the goblet in a toast as he backed away, smiling wickedly.
The blood drained away from Gwen’s face. What had Loniel given them?
“Did he give us some kind of drug?” she gasped, clutching the grass on either side of her. Aidan leaned back unconcerned, watching the dancers again.
“Don’t worry about it. It doesn’t sound deadly.” He bent his head closer to study her face. “Hey, what’s up?”
“You don’t understand,” she choked out, squeezing her eyes shut. Her father’s blood-drained face swam in front of her, white against the splatters of black on his cheeks. The silence, broken only by dripping ink from a lamp shade. “When I lose control, things happen. I can’t stop them.”
She opened her eyes to see Aidan looking at her with a wariness that surprised her. He asked carefully, “What kind of things?”
Her head was woozy and light. She blinked hard to clear her swimming mind. A strange wave of complacency quickly enveloped the shores of her panic, leaving only a lingering sense of unease around the edges. She stared at Aidan, trying hard to focus. His hair glowed in the flicker of the bonfire, the light dancing and making his whole head seem aflame. His eyes, normally a bright and merry green, were growing dark and shadowed in the dim. Only glints in the firelight let Gwen know that he still looked at her, waiting for an answer. She swallowed, trying to fight the calm. It seemed a ridiculous thing to do, now. She wondered why she bothered.
“Once, when I was seven,” she said dreamily, “I cut a worm in half.” She was half appalled that she was talking, and half entranced by Aidan’s left eyebrow. “I showed a girl at school. She thought it was gross, so I put it together and brought it back to life. She screamed and ran for the teacher. Not that anyone believed her. Idiot,” she added with disdain. She focused on Aidan as he stared at her, his body completely still. He wore an odd expression of disbelief—and hope.
“What else?” He breathed out the words so softly that she had to lean closer to hear. She put a hand on his shoulder to steady herself. She could feel the heat of his body, and the tenseness in his shoulder. She whispered in his ear, horrified at her blabbing mouth, powerless to stop it. It was oddly satisfying, though. She hadn’t expected that. To share her strangeness, her secret, with another person was almost exhilarating.
“I’ve exploded pillows and watermelons. I’ve made plates fly around the room. Once I made our houseplant sprout until it burst through the ceiling. I don’t know what the matter with me is. When my emotions are strong, when I lose control, weird things happen.”
Gwen leaned back to gauge the effect of her words on Aidan, hand still firmly on his shoulder. He seemed dazed, eyes searching hers. He swayed and blinked, the drink clearly taking hold.
“For real? You’re not messing with me?”
The fire drew her in. Silhouettes leaped around it, dancing to the drum throbbing like a heartbeat. She had a wild need to jump and run and twirl, join hands with the others and soar over the flames like a phoenix.
“It’s all true. Why do you think I never drink?” She ran her hand down the length of his arm, feeling gratified as he shuddered. “I’m tired of talking. Come dance with me.”
“Do you know how?” He let himself be drawn up by her as she stood.
“Let’s figure it out.” Gwen suddenly pulled him close and grazed her lips against his, softly, like a feather floating on water. Astonished by her daring, heart pumping faster than the drum, she twirled away.