“You don’t have to change,” Hearthorne said lightly. “You can remain the same, so long as you are content to have traded the taste of freedom you had before with the safety this seed provides. The binding has been cast, the seal has been made, the promise given. What is done is done, and there can be no going back.”
“I didn’t ask to return to seed,” Kya didn’t quite wail. Her leaves had curled up and begun to wither away. She wouldn’t need them in here where there was no sun, but the loss of each leaf made it harder to hear what was left of the world about her.
“No,” Hearthorne agreed. “But you did ask for your dream. Tell me, are you only willing to reach for your dream if it falls upon you gently? You said you were willing to pay the price for the possibility of the dream, but did you really mean it where it counts?”
Kya pressed against the unrelenting sides of the seed again, fanning out her petals that withered and fell away each time she pushed, digging down with her roots until it felt as though they’d been dipped in fire.
Her first seed had known when it was time to release her. She’d grown strong with its nutrients, strong enough to press through the first tiny crack that had appeared. Her new stem had been strong, but flexible. This seed expected her to be of Walnut, and while her stem was stronger than it had been before, she would break herself against the sides of the seed before it yielded. Her strength had become brittle and would not allow for her to pass.
“I can’t,” Kya said, sorrow and resignation roughening her voice. “I am not strong enough.”
Hearthorne was silent for a long time before she spoke again. “Strength is not a single color. It does not have to be black nor white. Strength can be one of those, but it can also be any of a thousand shades in between. You want to be flower-strong in a place where no flowers grow.”
“I am not of Walnut!” Kya closed her eyes against the sound of her breaking heart.
“Then you will die here,” the faerie said simply. “And I will die with you as I have already woven our fates together, back when you believed you could one day find a pair of wings and fly.”
“That’s what I dreamed of. I did not ask for this.” Misery steeped itself in Kya’s center. Why had she longed for something that could never be? Why couldn’t she have been content with what she’d been given?
“Dreams do not come cheap.” Hearthorne curled herself into a tiny ball. “Sometimes to get your heart’s desire you must lose your heart in the process. And sometimes dreams take everything and leave nothing in return.”
“I didn’t know,” Kya said, her roots tangling with agitation. “I never asked for your help.”
“But you accepted it.”
Though it browned her edges to admit it, Hearthorne spoke the truth. And with the truth came the resolve to do what needed doing no matter what it cost. While a dream might, in the end, steal everything away, sometimes the cost of NOT dreaming was far more than anything dreaming the dream might require.
In this matter, dreams and fears are not so different.
“All right. Tell me what to do then.”
But Hearthorne had gone silent. If the seed’s song had not adapted to wrap a faerie in with the flower, she would have thought Hearthorne had gone completely. Kya opened her mouth, but realized she didn’t know the magic words that would make everything all better.
“Please,” she tried again. “I will do it, but I need you to show me what to do.”
When Hearthorne still didn’t reply, Kya tipped her head to listen to the harmonies the seed had woven throughout its insides. She could barely hear the faerie at all. Anxiety nibbling at her roots, the little flower strained to hear the delicate notes as fragile as spider silk cocooning the faerie.
Sleeping. Forgetting. Withering. Lost.
“Hearthorne,” Kya called, her voice snapping some of the more delicate threads of melody. But she might as well not have spoken for all the response the faerie gave.
Deepening. Slowing. Stillness.
The song about Hearthorne had changed the faerie herself. Kya wasn’t sure what the song had turned the faerie into, only that Hearthorne would be lost if she did nothing.
Our fates are bound, the song seemed to whisper. If you are lost, then so am I. If you choose slumber, then so must I. If you choose freedom . . .
Kya bowed her head. If only she’d known how much growing wings would hurt. Fear bore down on her, crushing what was left of her petals and bruising her stem, distorting the song, and changing the flower along with it.
All would have been lost had not a flicker of greenlife in Kya’s heart slivered through the fear, reminding her of the sun.
If she didn’t reach now, she would sleep forever, losing any chance she might have had at awakening.
If she chose an unending slumber, she would be sentencing Hearthorne to the same fate.
This last thought strengthened the tendril of greenlife creeping out of the darkness and fear, thickening it, giving it reason to grow.
It was such a tiny thing against the starless night, yet Kya couldn’t stop looking at it.
Grow, she thought at it. Strengthen. Push.
With each thought, the tendril grew until it became a vine, bright and alive.
The vine took up so much space, Kya lost the faerie’s part of the melody and found herself smashed against the sides of the seed, unable to move. All she could do was dream and want.
Imagine, if you will, what it must have been like for our flower who, though she did not yet know it, was not quite a flower.
On one side, the inside of the seed dug sharply against her head and her stem and her roots. On the other, the darkness smothered her until the glow of her greenlife dimmed along the edges.
The pain and the pressure built until Kya cried her first tear. It glimmered in the darkness for a moment, a lost star, then splashed against the greenlife quivering within the part of the seed song that knows only need.
Kya cried out as light exploded, staining the world with white hot pain. The light tore through the seed’s song, leaving melodies and harmonies in tatters as it forged ahead.
With one last despairing thought, Kya gathered her strength and pressed her roots into the light. For a single beat, the light and pain intensified before draining completely away.
Kya blinked at the hearth, larger and somehow foreign to what it had been before. She grunted and struggled against something biting into her stem like a plague of locusts. Grit bit with teeth of its own as she rolled to the side, moaning.
Unfortunately, she had quite run out of window ledge and was left only with empty air. She caught a brief glance of the sun sinking into the horizon before her brief flight ended with her in a heap of bent stems, bruised petals, and—
She held up a hand and stared at it in disbelief.
It couldn’t be!
She had hands. Fingers.
Then something fluttered at her back.
“I’m a faerie,” Kya said, struggling to understand what this all meant.
Fear, I have found, is often curiosity turned in on itself. By walking the path from night into day, even if the day is nearly over once more, curiosity righted itself by swallowing up all that was dark, shadowy fear.
No, Hearthorne’s voice whispered into her mind. Not quite.
To her own astonishment, Kya found she was no longer afraid of the uncertain future.
“What do you mean ‘not quite’?” She put her hands on her hips and felt decidedly odd to be talking to someone she couldn’t even see. “And where are you?”
You dropped me when you fell out the window. I’m down here by your foot.
A thrill ran through Kya as she looked down at her feet. At the same time, she felt cut away and adrift from the earth.
Take care! Hearthorne shouted. I don’t want to be stepped on!