Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday Short Story: Mira Morganstein: Queen of the Nearly Dead Fae, Episode One, PART 2



This week's selection is a serial that will be running through each Curiosity along with the short stories. Mira Morganstein is *not* a serialized novel--that is, a novel chopped into pieces. It is a serial--think of comic books or T.V. shows. Each "episode" comes complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end for the particular story arc in that episode, but there will not be a story resolution at the end like a novel. Because of how long each episode is, I've divided the serial into two parts. Part 2 is posted today, while part 1 was posted last Monday. In the Curiosity itself, Episode One of Mira Morganstein will be complete and comprised of parts 1 and 2. I hope you enjoy!

Mira Morganstein: Queen of the Nearly Dead Fae, Episode One, Part 2

Official Proclamation

The one known as Mira Morganstein of the Mortal Realm has been found. As of yet, she poses no direct threat to our Realm, but that is likely to change before the next moon fall. Every citizen is required by Queen Ravenna’s word to report any sightings, rumors, supposings, or information they may have gathered, found, or overheard dealing with or pertaining to Mira Morganstein. Failure to do so will result in being banished to the Mortal Realm for the duration of seven moon falls. Remember: no matter how horrible death may be, there are far worse fates reserved for those whose loyalties lie with elsewhere.

LONG MAY THE QUEEN WIELD HER SCEPTER AND STAFF!

Chapter Five: The Eleventy Year

The meeting was worse than Mira could have imagined.

Rather than one pair of bright, inquisitive eyes studying her inside and out, she had twelve of them to contend with. Her mother didn’t count, mostly because of the worry line etched between her brows and the way her eyes jumped from one person to the next without ever seeming to find exactly what they were looking for.

If her mother was worried, well, that said something.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Celebration and Giveaway for Wolf's Bane (Demimonde 3) by Ash Krafton

Happy Tuesday!

I'm excited to help spread the word about my good friend Ash Krafton's newest release: Wolf's Bane, the third book in her Demimonde series. If you enjoy urban fantasy, you'll love this series. (Bleeding Hearts is the first book and on sale for $1.99.) And while WOLF'S BANE is the third and concluding book for this particular story, there are plenty of other stories in the Demimonde world just waiting to be told!

Wolf's Bane by Ash Krafton

When life gives you lemons, all you can do is try to avoid paper cuts.

Since becoming oracle to the demivampire two years ago, advice columnist Sophie has battled werewolves and survived a vampire attack (or two). 

However, not only was she powerless to save her lover Marek when he slipped to the brink of evolution, she also witnessed his transformation into a falcon, the symbol of Horus United.

Sophie’s quest to save Marek is further complicated when rock star Dierk Adeluf – who also happens to be the king of the Werekind – invites her backstage after a concert. Just when it seems she will find respite from heartache, Sophie is bitten by a werewolf and Dierk decides she is destined to be his queen.
Sophie is caught between the demivamps she loves and the Were who commands her to love him. Throw in his jealous wanna-be girlfriend and an ambush by witches, and there you have the big mess that Sophie calls her life. And, hello? Her soul mate is still a bird.

She’s supposed to be the girl with all the answers, but Sophie needs more than a little advice--she needs divine intervention.


Excerpt:

The man sitting across from me absolutely hated himself.

I didn’t need to unzip my barriers to make that assessment. The way his shoulders crept up his neck, the curve of his back that left his face parallel to his thighs, the way he avoided looking at me or anyone else—body language said it all. And when he did finally raise his too-heavy head to look at me, his eyes were stony and hollow, too dead to even care what anyone saw in them.

He wore his self-loathing the way I wished I wore Jimmy Choos—right out there for the whole world to see. Difference was, he didn’t care who looked.

I glanced at the demivamp who hovered behind him like a first-year teacher. She toyed with the end of her braid and looked ready to throw herself onto him if need be. Maybe he was a flight risk. Maybe he was a danger to himself. 

Maybe he was a danger to me. In that case, the other DV wasn’t necessary. I didn’t worry so much about myself anymore. I’d learned a thing or two about staying alive. 

Not to mention, I had an entire courtroom full of DV that perched on the semi-circles of benches, elbow to elbow, each waiting their turn with the Sophia. I knew full well every single one of them would fling themselves between me and whatever peril might arise here. 

I was well-guarded. Perks of being a national treasure.

I flicked my gaze up to the DV who stood behind my client, dismissing her. Once she took her place in the audience, I sank into my Sophia sight. Finding my center and called up my barriers, peeling away the outermost layer and expanding it until it encompassed us both in an invisible but completely sound-proof bubble.

A nifty little trick I’d learned since Dorcas removed the last remaining obstacles between me and my power. She hadn’t been much of a dresser and had a weird thing for vampires, not to mention acting like the scariest damned thing I’d ever seen, but I had to hand it to her. She’d done me a solid.

When the barrier went up around us, there was a little ear-pop of sensation. He seemed to notice me then. His eyes took up a pale light, gleaming like the teeth he hid behind the disdainful curl of his lips. His power seethed out like the odor of a hot dumpster—the feel of it decayed and ugly and absolutely desperate.

I smiled, grim and hard. This guy might be the farthest gone DV I’d ever met. He was going to be a challenge.

Good.

I decided to start the same way I always did, knowing this one might not end the same way. “What’s your name?”

He stared me down for several moments. “You want my current name or the one that’s waiting for me?”

Obviously, he was referring to the name change that happened when a DV Fell. Vampires never kept their DV names. All part of the whole born-again (dead-again?) persona of a newly-minted vamp.

“You have one name,” I said, my voice like tungsten. “And you’re going to keep it.”

“Like you can stop me.”

I smiled again, glad I had chosen to wear lip gloss because my mouth was so dry, my lips would have split without it. “I can. And I will.”

“Look, lady.” He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. The pale light in his dark eyes looked like an early hard frost on a green lawn. Untimely end of a sweet season. “I know who you are, and I know what you do. Sometimes, you just gotta let nature take its course.”

“This isn’t nature. This is self-punishment.”

He smiled, open-mouthed to show all his teeth. Sharp, elongated, a mouth full of knives. A vamp’s mouth. “And I earned every single minute of it.”

Okay. Tough guy. Proud of the shitty things he’s done. That was part of the thrill of being so close to Falling. Kind of like passing over the event horizon into a black hole, when one part of you accelerates faster than the rest. His soul was a ragged plastic bag caught on a tree branch, waiting for the last big wind to come along. 

His heart had already flown loose. In his heart, he was a vampire.

Well, his body was still here, and his soul was still here, and I was still here. He was in for a surprise.

I surveyed his power, using Sophia-sight to visualize it. It was dark, like cooling lava, black and cracked and sullen red showing through the seams. The black crust was his resignation. He’d stopped fighting. Well, maybe he just needed the right sparring partner.

How did you get rid of hard, black cooling lava? Why, you heat it up, of course. Nothing got a man hotter than his temper.

Well, that wasn’t exactly true. There were other things, but that wasn’t my brand of therapy.

I pushed through his brittle ugly shell into the lava beneath, then through the lava to his inner core. It was tiny, but it was cool, and green, and still had the essence of who he used to be. His feelings were still packed away inside and I latched onto it, expanded it, examined it. Family. He had kids. A job. He’d been a lawyer, and a good one. He was proud of what he’d done—in the beginning. 

Ah. That’s where it started to turn. I sifted along the line of those memories and found the point when he started fighting for the bad guys.

“A dirty lawyer?” I snorted and rolled my eyes. “There’s a shock. Your parents must be so proud.”

He growled and dug his fingers into his thighs. “Shut up.”

“No wonder you turned into this.” I waved my fingers at him as if I were calling out a Coach bag knock-off at a street vendor. “I thought you were going to say you ate babies or something but a corrupt lawyer? That’s sick.”

Rage filled him like a burning warehouse, the fury consuming his power. If it weren’t for my personal shields, I’d have been incinerated. The fire of his anger melted the hard shell of his former apathy and he’d become a miniature sun of murderous intent.

He wanted to end me, wanted nothing more than to get his hands on me.

I beat him to it.

Like the flick of a mental finger, I opened the door in my mind where all the bad stuff went. It was like a vacuum in there and once it was open, it just sucked at his power, the ugly, the hate and the agony he’d surrounded himself with and I pulled.

It hurt. It hurt me, it was like sandpaper on the eyes and it hurt him. He howled as I ripped away all the fury of his self-loathing and hate.

Normally, I did this in steps, gently, kind of a leeching away. Not this guy. I had to over-power him because at this stage, he could just grow it all back. Vampires were infinite wells of hate and evil and this guy was so damned close.

His howl became a roar and he made a lunge for me. I slid a ramrod of my shields at him and held him at a mental arm’s length. He struggled to reach me, his clawed hands inches from my eyes and if he got to me, if he reached me, he’d tear my throat out.

No, he wouldn’t. I was stronger than that. I bit down on my lips and tasted the tang of blood and continued to strip his agony away.

This little man wasn’t big enough to break me. I continued to pull away the damage of his soul, and sent a simultaneous stream of the Sophia into him, a cool mist against the acrid hate. His soul had been dried and withered and it soaked up the Sophia’s healing rain, swelling and anchoring itself once more.

The fight was going out of him. He dropped his hands, fighting to breathe. Part of my brain screamed to stop, this was too much, too fast. But a part of my heart was intent on pushing the limits, almost wishing to break because maybe then—just maybe—I’d break past whatever unknown obstacle had been holding me back. Desperation drove me just as surely as it had driven him.

So I was relentless. I continued the pull and the push and I found myself standing over his slumped body. He’d slid down in his chair, head dropped against the back of the cushion, his eyes darkening into a deep green, like spring grass. And I didn’t stop.

I didn’t stop until he’d fallen to his knees before me, forehead pressed to my feet, crying and repeating words I couldn’t hear because the Sophia was too much in control. My ears didn’t work right when she was filling my head. I kind of got used to it.

When it was all gone, all the damage and the negativity and the self-hate, the Sophia pulled itself back, sealing the drain. Sound returned, and I could hear his labored breathing, his murmured chanting. My insides still felt raw. That would take a day or two to settle down.

I was aware the outer barrier was still up and I dispelled it. Another ear-pop and we were both submerged in a cacophony of applause and happy shouting. Several people rushed forward to embrace him, hugs for him, awkward hugs for me. I backed away from the jostling and let his family and friends bear him back to the seats. He beamed at me, incredulous joy and gratitude on his face.
And it didn’t touch me at all.

I only had two thoughts. The first was: I had just gotten inside him, battled his demons, saved his soul, but I never learned his name. Maybe it was better that way. There were so many DV. I couldn’t remember all their names and keep my sanity.

The second was: it hadn’t been enough. He was, by far, the worst I’d encountered and it still wasn’t enough. There had been no revelation, clue, no hint how to fix the one problem I needed to fix.

I’d come no closer to solving Marek’s problem.

A terrible panic tried to grip me but I squashed it down. I swallowed hard and pinched myself and turned to the crowd. The entire group fell silent, hanging on my words.

“Another,” I called. “Please. I need another.”

And I continued to heal, and I continued to need, and I continued to fight the growing fear that in the end, I might save a million DV and still stand to lose the one I truly loved.

Another stepped forward, and after him another, and it was pushing dawn before I realized none of it had given me what I needed to save Marek.

I stared bleakly at the sea of hopeful faces. So many saves, so many solutions, all of it dwarfed in the shadow of my heart’s crushing failure. All my exhaustion, all my despair, all of the raw edges inside me, seething with the scalds of so much negative energy, and all I could think was that I had to do this all again for the next envoy in three days’ time.

Einstein’s Definition of Insanity Sophie, that’s me.


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Ash Krafton is a writer of all things spec fic. She believes spectacular endings make the best beginnings... Why not? One billion black holes can't be wrong. 

Her urban fantasy series The Books of the Demimonde is available through Pink Narcissus Press. It includes the titles BLEEDING HEARTS, BLOOD RUSH, and the upcoming WOLF'S BANE, expected June 2014. 

Her urban fantasy novelette STRANGER AT THE HELL GATE is with the Black Rose line of The Wild Rose Press. WORDS THAT BIND is her first full-length paranormal romance and will be available through TWRP Faery Rose line. 

In addition to novel-length fiction, Ash enjoys writing poetry and short fiction, some of which earned awards and distinction in several national competitions. One of her poems was selected as a Pushcart prize nominee. She's a member of Pennwriters, RWA, Pikes Peak Writers, SFPA, and the Maryland Writers Association. She also contributes to Query Tracker's blog at http://querytracker.blogspot.com

Ash resides with her family in a rural town in the heart of the Pennsylvania anthracite coal region. She'll never leave, either, because coal is just another example of a spectacular ending waiting for a brilliant beginning. (It's kinda fitting.) 

And because, like a black hole, once you're in... ...you can never get out. 



Want an autograph for your ebook? Just CLICK HERE to go to Authorgraph!





Monday, July 14, 2014

Short Story Monday: Mira Morganstein: Queen of the Nearly Dead Fae



This week's selection is a serial that will be running through each Curiosity along with the short stories. Mira Morganstein is *not* a serialized novel--that is, a novel chopped into pieces. It is a serial--think of comic books or T.V. shows. Each "episode" comes complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end for the particular story arc in that episode, but there will not be a story resolution at the end like a novel. Because of how long each episode is, I've divided the serial into two parts. Part 1 is posted today, while part 2 will be posted next Monday. In the Curiosity itself, Episode One of Mira Morganstein will be complete and comprised of parts 1 and 2. I hope you enjoy!

Mira Morganstein: Queen of the Nearly Dead Fae, Episode One, PART 1



Preliminary Report by Bodkins A Hatpin to Her Majesty of the Realm
Subject: Mira Morganstein a.k.a Our New Queen In Potentia
Topic: The Subject’s Fascination with the Number Three, Glitter, and Fancy Dresses.

Your Majesty,

As per your request, I have studied the girl in question. While the magic is in her blood, I am still not settled as to whether or not her personality is compatible with her future duties. My findings are below.

Mira Morganstein has always wanted to be a princess.

If it is pink, frilly, or sparkles, she wants one. Two is better, and three, perfect.

Mira always does things by threes if she can help it—which will be both a strength and a hinderance. 

So far as we have been able to ascertain, she believes three is a special number that is, at its heart, the direct opposite of what it says it is. An odd number, yet it is made of two half circles stacked one on top of the other. It has three points aimed at the left, but always looks forward. It is an unfinished letter “B”, and its number of points odd and its curves even.

She is the sort of person who finds comfort in a number that is more like a metaphor than a simple symbol used to denote the space between two and four. Her math teacher, Ms. Simmons, a mortal fraught with reality, despairs of ever getting Mira to write a three without flourishing it somewhere. 

According to Mira: “Three says a thousand things in a single blink.”

When she isn’t flourishing her threes in math, Mira dreams of the dresses she’d wear if she were a princess. Fluffy, airy concoctions that are spring and a sweet shop all rolled up in one. Long skirts that swish against her legs while they “uncurl behind her in a frothy train.” Sometimes she “glitters with thousands of tiny rhinestones sewn into the bodice,” while other times she “glimmers thanks to the efforts of a million sequins.”

Due to her fascination with shiny objects, her flair for daydreaming, and the faerie gold she’s hoarding beneath her bed, it is clear that she is nearly ready to take up her scepter and crown. Whether or not she is able to keep it is another thing entirely.

Hypothesis: If someone told her she would one day be a faerie princess, she would be thrilled. In her mind, what could be more perfect than beautiful gowns, jewel encrusted tiaras, and wings?

Of Note: Unbeknownst to her, but not to the Folk in the Higher Accounting and Naming, Mira does happen to be a faerie princess. And as such, with the regrettable news that her predecessor * has moved on,** it is time to see if the princess *** has what it takes to fill the shoes of a queen.

Recommendation: Send Toadwort to break the news to her. He is the most expendable and least likely to be missed should he suffer from an unfortunate incident.****

Bodkin A. Hatpin

Bodkin A. Hatpin Chair of the Folk in Higher Accounting and Naming  

*Her [late] Majesty, Queen Raelenna Silverhew
**Due to being flattened when she got on the wrong side of a giant’s foot.
***Or, more accurately, the Queen in Potentia. ****I should hope that I do not have to remind anyone of the Lengle fiasco a couple of queens ago.

Click here to read the rest of Part 1(about 5,500 words.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Short: Witch Bait

Witch Bait from CURIOSITIES OF THE MOON

The world had been dark before her coming, or so the Sky said.
Mortals lived in darkness, eased only by hungry fire that devoured everything it touched and was never satisfied no matter how much it consumed.
Then the sun came, and for half the day, mortals could blink up at the light and see things clearly for the first time. But the world wasn’t complete until she came to light the night with her presence and a scattering of stars.
The sun walked in truth, but she spoke in stories and traveled by wisdom’s path.
So why was she stalking a witch—three witches to be exact?
The moon very rarely involved herself in the affairs of mortals, not that the witches were mortal by any means. But still.
Tales of the Babas Yaga had reached even her ears, and the tales she’d heard hadn’t been pretty. Of course, the tales had been little more than a jumbled mess of chicken feet, bottomless hunger, and flying mortars, so that might have accounted for some of the confusion. Although once a story made it to the stars, it was usually more distilled from the usual oddities.
Mortals were, if nothing else, inventive.
To be honest, the moon found  herself more and more curious as each wisp of a tale made its way to her ears.
Curiosity was such an odd feeling. The mortals whose stories were painted across her sky were consumed with curiosity—a personal defect she’d always shaken her head at, but had never experienced.

Until now.

Click here to keep reading.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday Shorts: The Curious Leaf: An Adventure in Wishing

Happy Monday!

Sorry about missing last Monday. Multi-day migraine + adrenal fatigue flare-up = flailing about the river that is Time and the current completely. If only life came with arm floaties. :)

This Monday will be a little different in that I'll only be posting the first half of the short story. The reason is this is basically an opening of sorts for the actual Curiosities that will contain 3-5 short stories along with other assorted goodies. On a regular Monday, I'll be posting a full short story from the Curiosity of the month. The full version of the Curiosities are only available to the people who have signed up for my newsletter, so if you're interested in what will amount to a free novel every month or two, (each Curiosity, save the first, will clock in at about 50,000 words--approx. 200 pages) click here to sign up.

*You must be 13 or older to sign up for my newsletter in accordance with COPPA laws*

Now, on to the story!


Once upon a time there was a flower who wanted to do more than stare out the window and stand reliably in her comfortable pot.

She wanted to fly.

Oh! To have wings she could stretch and unfurl! Wings that could take her wherever she wanted to go.

She would finally be able to see what waited beyond the path that curved round the hill. With wings she could explore the forest that loomed quietly to the west or talk to the fish that swam in lazy circles in the pond to the east.

As a wing├ęd flower, she would have a chance to find her fortune rather than waiting passively for the seasons to change, her stem to grow brittle, and her petals to fall one by one until all that was left of her was a few withered leaves and a crumpled face that had once been bright yellow.

Some flowers, you see, are remarkable creatures that die every few seasons, only to be born anew once more. Bigger. Stronger. Budding life on their previous lives and accumulating a sort of verdure venerability.

But our flower is a young flower who has only lived a total of two seasons. Three, if you are inclined to generosity and count the current season. Still, the drumbeat of the autumn pulsed up through her roots, into her stem, and rattled against each of her petals. Our flower knew, as all greenlife knows, that one’s own life was subject to the capricious whims of mortals, the ravenous appetites of birds, the occasional cat whose curiosity outweighs its good sense, and the rather flighty nature of the wind.

Just because one might live and die and live again, doesn’t mean one will.

More and more the little flower’s heart turned to the sky that hung prettily as the northern frame for the world.

“Wings,” she sighed. “All the world to find, if only I had a pair of wings!”

“Don’t be silly,” the bees buzzed as they flew past her window in yellow-streaked clouds of black. “Flowers aren’t born with wings. If they were, they wouldn’t be flowers—they’d be bees.”

The flower wrinkled her face. She didn’t want to be a bee, although she admired their bright little rapiers they belted round their middles. Bees, for all their glorious golden stripes and inky black spaces in between, were notoriously short-tempered and too busy working to dream.

And wings without dreams was drudgery.

Still . . .

“I should like very much to brush up against the sky, gently, so as not to wrinkle it, of course,” the flower murmured. Though she was an orphan, as many flowers are, she had an eternity of knowing stored—first in her seed, and then in her roots—and impeccable manners.

“Silly,” the squirrels chattered as they gathered up acorns from the oak tree growing just beyond her reach. “What would you want to touch the sky for? Better to stay down here where up is up and down is down, and you don’t sink from one to the other on accident. Besides, there are no nuts in the sky.”

“Still,” the little flower shrugged her leaves closer to the sunlight, “I should like to discuss the merits of water with the fish, say hello to my distant cousins in the forest, and see if the garden path is nearly as rocky as it looks.”

Of course the flower had tried to do all these things, wings or no wings. Birds are excellent gossips if one can keep their attention long enough. They were gracious messengers that carried conversations between the young flower and the school of minnows currently residing in the pond. But long-distance correspondence is an uncertain thing and wearying to a soul who would rather be speaking face to face than through bird.

“Be content in what you are,” the bluebirds advised as they sought out food for their young. “You may be stuck in one spot, but that spot is your own, and you don’t have to worry about another flower coming along and pushing you out of it.”

Our flower nodded and tucked away each piece of advice into a corner of her heart, but the urge to reach out and touch the sky would not be quieted, no matter how hard she tried to ignore it.

“You are of earth,” the oak tree murmured. “Dig your roots deep into the soil and find joy in the sunlight that warms your leaves, in the rain that strengthens your stem, and in the wind that ruffles through your petals.”

Chagrined, the flower bowed her head so the mighty oak would not see her blush. “I try,” she whispered. “And I am grateful. Truly, I am.”

And she was.

Her keeper kept her warm and comfortable, watered her, talked to her, and smiled at her sometimes for no reason the flower could ever discern.

But the luster of safe and the familiar tarnished a little more each day, until the flower’s head and leaves drooped beneath the weight of a single wish that quickly fractured from one into four:
To fly. To explore. To discover. To become.

Being a young flower, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to become yet, only that the need to do it burned like frozen sap in her veins. In this, our flower is not like many of the others. For they are content to rest in their places, so long as they have sunlight, soil, and water enough.

Perhaps the mortality of her keeper was contagious, infecting her as all mortals were with the need for more, no matter how much they already have. Mortals, you might already know, are an unsatisfied lot. It is the virtue and price for their mortality, and one that few other creatures shared.

But whatever the cause, the weight of the flower’s dream bent her back and dulled her petals.

The insects and animals continued to chide her on one hand and encourage her on the other. Her keeper said nothing, but a worry line etched itself on her brow whenever she glanced over at the small flower struggling to bloom on her windowsill.

This might have gone on until the flower’s petals withered to scraps of forgotten color and her leaves dried to wisps of bone, had not a faerie passed by the flower’s window one late autumn night.

The flower lifted her head to wonder at the crystalline wings arching away from the faerie’s shoulder blades. The wings caught the moonlight and fractured it into fragments of rainbow.

With a sigh, the flower dropped her head again.

What was the use? The birds and bees and squirrels and trees were right. She had no wings, and never would. It ought to have been in her nature to cling to the earth and feast on buttered sunshine, not to soar up against the sun and moon and stars.

“What ails you?” the faerie asked, her voice piping against the night. She hovered near the window, tiny hands grasping the sill as she peered inside. “All is well and good within.”

The flower’s cheeks went pink with shame. The faerie was right—all was good and well within. When the wind tugged too harshly, her keeper closed the shutters. When the frost came and a chill shivered through the air, her keeper would move her from the window to a comfortable spot near the hearth. When she grew thirsty, her keeper watered her. When bits and pieces of her grew brown and ragged, her keeper gently snipped them away.

Yet . . .

“Every day I stare out into the world,” the little flower said. Her wish trembled inside her heart, growing bigger and stronger from being spoken aloud. “I watch the clouds scuttle across the sky, watch the rains dance down upon the earth, and wonder what secrets the stars twinkle at each other every night.”

“You have a home, yet you are homesick,” the faerie said, wrinkling her brow.

The flower considered this.

“Yes.”

“My kind are free to wander the earth,” the faerie said, kneeling next to the simple clay pot that cradled the flower’s roots. “Yet, the more we linger, the more we fade. Our essence is not made for this place, and every moment reminds us that our true home is calling.”

“Why do you come here, then?” the little flower asked. She ducked her head, hoping she hadn’t offended the faerie with her question. Curiosity was not a trait much encouraged in plants.

The faerie stared out into the night, her wings glimmering with moonlight. “Because this place calls too.”

The flower stood a little taller, never before realizing how nice it felt to have someone understand. It wasn’t a comfortable place, this Between and Betwixt, but it was the only place she knew.

“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 dewey 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.

“I will.”

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.

“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.”


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Copyright © 2014 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.