“I want to fly,” the flower said, hardly daring to feel the hope pulsing in a quiet shadow of her heart. “I want to explore. Discover. Become.”
“Ah,” the faerie said, turning her dark eyes bright with moonshine to the flower. “Wishes are dangerous things. They nibble at you, gently at first, until all you can feel is their hunger.”
The flower turned her gaze to the stars in silent rebellion. It didn’t matter if wishes had sharp edges and prickly corners. Didn’t matter if they started with warm smiles until they became all teeth. They were what they were, and once they’d lodged themselves in her heart, she had become part of the wish too.
To lose her wish would be to lose herself.
“I’ve a mind to grant your wish,” the faerie said, and her dark eyes flashed with a wish of her own. She placed a hand against the pot. “It must be nice being tucked in the earth and feasting on wind and rain and sunlight. Having someone care if you grow rough and ragged around the edges, and gathering you in against the chill of the frost and the burning of the sun.”
That had all been true before the flower had turned her eyes skyward and the wish had fallen into her heart.
“What will it cost?” the flower whispered.
The faerie frowned before answering. “Everything.”
“Will it—will it stop the ache?” Each day the wish cut a little deeper into her heart, deepening the pang until it followed her even into her dreams.
“No, but it will ease it.”
“Oh.” The flower’s petals drooped.
The faerie laughed, a tiny sound that cut to the flower’s center. “One form or another, it doesn’t matter to a wish. Each comes with its own set of joys and heartaches, but it is the only path to becoming. You cannot have one without the other.”
“Become what?” the flower asked, glad to have found an answer to this question at last.
The faerie slitted her eyes and glanced away. “That is entirely up to you.”
Well did the faerie know that becoming was a personal thing. For becoming is shaped by our wishes, the wants and dreams we tuck deep within our hearts and wrap in scraps of longing. Some we cradle and rock, while others we forget and neglect. But a wish, once wished, cannot be unwished. It finds purchase in our hearts and waits, remembering even when we forget.
The flower remained silent, but a thousand possibilities danced through her mind, each a bittersweet note to the famed piper’s song.
“Would you make the trade?” The faerie waved am arm, managing to include the cherrie-bright glow in the hearth, the windowsill, the world.
“How does it work?”
The faerie stood, fiery energy snapping through her, waiting to spring forth. “You have to want it more than everything else. More than comfort. More than fear. More than what is, for what could be.”
“All—all right.” Now that the moment had come, a feather of fear brushed against the little flower’s heart. But hope, burning glorious and bright, swept the fear back into the shadows.
“You will need a name,” the faerie said, folding her hands in her lap. “A name seals the bargain.”
The flower narrowed her eyes. Plants rarely indulged in the mortal practice of choosing a name. A name was a dangerous thing to a person who lived and died and lived again. A name was power. Power enough to destroy whole worlds when it wasn’t saving them.
She glanced at the sky again, a vast ocean she longed to fall into. “Kya.”
The faerie gave a brisk nod. “And mine is . . . Hearthorne.”
“Hearthorne,” the flower—now Kya—murmured. The name twisted oddly on her lips as though it was used to being more than a single thing, and wasn’t quite comfortable conforming. Yet, at the same time, the name rang true. Whatever else the faerie might have been called before, she was Hearthorne now, and it was now that mattered.
“And you must promise, a promise that binds you to both life and this realm.”
“What promise?” the Kya-flower asked. She could almost taste the dewy contours of the sky that dangled closer to her than they ever had before.
“Take me with you,” Hearthorne said. “When all is said and done, it is a selfish thing, but it is mine to ask and a condition of your wish.”
Kya closed her eyes, letting the possibility sink down to her longest, oldest roots.
Hearthorne took a deep breath, and a smile trembled on her lips. “Good. Then reach down to the deepest part of the soil and see what you find there.” Her voice echoed with the force of a magic that turned the Impossible into the Real.
The Dream into the Now.
As if to punctuate her meaning, a gust of wind rushed over them, tugging at the faerie’s hair until it had tangled in the flower’s petals. The leafy boughs of the trees shook against the wind’s breath, and a single leaf tumbled off a branch and into the faerie’s waiting hand as though it had been waiting all this time to do just that.
Meanwhile, Kya strained against the normally soft earth of her pot, seeking for whatever Hearthorne had left for her to find. Her roots stretched out until they brushed against something wrinkled and hard that held a thousand possibilities and more than a few more stories. Kya’s roots closed over it like fingers, tugging it up through the soil and into the night air.
“A walnut seed,” she said, surprised.
“Now crack it open,” Hearthorne directed.
“Crack it open?” Life beat within the shell, life that would be extinguished if she succeeded in opening the walnut. Hearthorne had said that she must be willing to give up everything, but surely—
Hearthorne gave her an enigmatic grin. “It’s not an ordinary seed. To grow, the plant must be willing to risk losing its protective covering. It’s safe place. The one place it knows.”
Kya thought back to the days when her seed had cradled her, looked after her, and eventually got to be too small for her. It had been, on the outside, a rather dull thing, but it had been magnificent—if cramped—on the inside.
“Cracking open the shell will hurt the greenlife inside. If it isn’t strong enough, it will die. It is the breaking through that gives the seed the strength to grow. To break the seed open before it is ready is not a kindness, and I am not cruel.”
Hearthorne’s eyes darkened until they matched the night sky. The faerie rested her hand lightly on one of the Kya-flower’s leaves.
“Then get ready.”
Hearthorne took a deep breath and blew something that shivered through Kya the way she imagined lightning must feel.
Then Hearthorne, the window, the stars, the world—it all vanished.
Panic beat through Kya’s heart, drops of rain pounding out the shape of her fears. She was bent in half in utter darkness, and something she couldn’t see pressed against her from all sides. She poked tentatively at her prison with her roots, feeling the hard shape of the darkness. As a picture began to emerge, fear folded into amazement.
It couldn’t be!
And yet our flower found herself moving gently along with the sudden quietness of a song that was all at once foreign, and yet heartbreakingly familiar.
“Breathe,” Hearthorne murmured beside her. “Explore. Discover. Become.”
Though Hearthorne had simply repeated the words Kya herself had spoken earlier, something within the words had changed from hungry longing to a direct order.
“Where are we?” Kya asked as she considered whether or not to follow Hearthorne’s order. Her dream was a far bigger place than she’d ever imagined, and she wanted to be sure.
“You know where we are.”
That she did, though it had been a long time since she’d pushed aside her own seed in favor of sunlight and room to grow.
Fear, however, did not want to give in so easily. It twisted itself around her, stroked her leaves, and reminded her of all that was.
“I am not of Walnut,” Kya tried again, pressing against the sides of the seed tentatively with her head. “The seed will not open for me.”
Hearthorne shifted beside her. “Here, in this place, you can be whatever you need to be. You just have to want to be badly enough.”
“I-I can’t be a tree,” Kya whispered as her fears tightened their hold. “I’ve always been a flower. That is what I am at my center. I can’t change that.”
Though they were both cocooned in darkness, Kya felt Hearthorne smile beside her, an unsettling smile that was all sharp teeth.