Silence fell across the little hut, and spread out through the crowd surrounding it, punctuated by a few whispers asking who Ella was. Anxiety the humans had been feeling only moments before, from one of their own harming one of the Wished, was now transferred to the Wished. And it wasn’t just jeopardizing the budding truce they were worried about. Few of the Wished knew what it was like to have a sister, but every one of them understood family.
Cooper rocked back and forth mumbling “my kits…my darlings.” Tiny Tee was wide-eyed, her pink ears quivering. Twin fawns sitting at the foot of Ezerelle’s bed hugged each other. Even Stella, one of the cats, rumbled uneasily, deep in her chest.
Lacey stood and faced them all, “You know, don’t you? You know you don’t need him. This is about doing the right thing, not about survival. You will always survive, as long as you are still here. But surviving is easy—living with yourself and what you have been a part of is the hard part.”
Mama sobbed, “She is my baby.”
Cooper’s head snapped up. “We have to do something!”
The raccoon-woman’s words transformed the crowd. As one, the Wished shifted from cowering backward to leaning forward, with feet planted and a determined look in their eyes. They looked to Lacey.
Nobody said anything else. Lacey was suddenly a little less sure of herself than a moment before. Even Mama was staring at her, waiting.
All the times Lacey had wanted the Wished to “do something” she had never really had a clear idea of what that something should be. She knelt down beside Ezerelle’s bed again. “Please, Founder Ezerelle. Where is Ella? What do we do?”
Ezerelle roused, “When Goeden realized you were not Adeline’s…he thought perhaps your sister was.”
It wasn’t any kind of guidance; it wasn’t even an answer to her question. But the words transfixed Lacey; she knew the name Adeline from somewhere. “Not Adeline’s?”
“The woman. My co-worker. In the well—forever cursed. She was our bio-engineer. She made the life on Eridan. But it was not enough. She always wanted her own child, so very much. When Goeden discovered you were a mix of bat, the baker woman, and Founder gene’s he just assumed…”
Lacey swallowed. She had spent her whole life feeling like she wasn’t really connected to anyone. But she couldn’t think of herself now. “Ezerelle, what about Ella?”
“But you were not Adeline’s. You were Daniel’s,” the Founder continued--she wasn’t answering questions; she was giving her confession.
“Daniel?” It was Mama’s turn to be shocked. “My husband?”
Lacey’s eyes widened.
“He and Adeline were once…”
Lacey’s determination to stay focused on her sister faltered as she realized what Ezerelle was saying. “You mean my Mama and Papa were never just my foster parents? They were really my parents? We were a real family?”
“Of course we were, Lacey. Always and forever,” Mama said, but the words were automatic; she was just as caught up in Ezerelle’s story.
“Goeden decided Ella must Adeline’s. She was the only product of the well that was never cursed. The girl has a power over the well and Adeline that none of us have. A power to wish without a curse. If he has her, he has taken her to the well for one last wish.”
“But he doesn’t know for sure Ella can wish safely!” What would the well do to Ella if she wasn’t protected?
“It takes time to run the tests. He knows he is out of time.”
There was a unsettled murmur in the crowd. The humans only knew that someone dangerous had kidnapped one of their children. The Wished knew the full extent of the danger Ella was in.
Mama wailed, and Meemu squirmed through the crowd, suddenly forgetting his reluctance to be near Mama. He rubbed against her legs in an attempt to comfort her, looking up at her with wide eyes, like twin full moons. But Mama didn’t notice. Cooper put her arms around the weeping human and hushed her, whispering promises that everything would be ok.
Meemu turned his eyes to Lacey, as Mama sank into the furry comfort of Cooper’s short arms.
“We have to go after them,” Lacey said.
People around her nodded. Humans raised their weapons again and Wished scrambled, making quick preparations for a trek to the heart of the Wood.
Ever since Lacey returned with the water from the spring, Blayd has stood within three feet of Lacey and not left her side. He was silent as always, but every inch of him—taut muscles, determined shoulders—shouted that he was ready and he would fight with Lacey. Devan was also there. He was harder to read. Lacey wasn’t sure the eagerness in his eyes was just about rescuing Ella.
Arley pushed her way through the crowd to Lacey. She was holding hands with Golden-Eyes. Golden-Eyes was a different cat. He was not leering or arrogant. For the first time, Lacey saw how young he was—just a boy the same age as Lacey. Regret had replaced cruelty in his eyes. A soul-deep regret that would not easily be erased. Lacey thought of Niva and wanted to reject his help. But she just nodded to him and Arley, and turned back to Ezerelle. There was one last part of this story. It was nagging at Lacey’s mind.
“What was the Wish?” she asked. “What does Goeden want?”
Tears sprang to Ezerelle’s eyes and she whispered for only Lacey to hear. “To undo every wish the well ever dispensed, ours, yours, your mother’s, all of the creatures in this camp. He wants to be himself again, a respected Founder. He wants to erase all the deviations the well has caused.”
The words sank home as Lacey took a knife someone offered her and shoved it in her belt. More was at stake now than just her sister. The Wished—the people preparing to fight for her sister—existed because of their wishes. They were the deviations Goeden wanted to erase.
This wasn’t just about saving her little sister from getting ears and a tail. The fate of the Wished now rested on their ability to stand up to a bully they had never been able to stand up to. Lacey wasn’t sure if she should tell them. There wasn’t time. And she worried whether they would be spurred to fight harder or cower in fear. It was up to Lacey to make sure Ella never made that Wish.
YOU ARE READING
Lacey is a bat girl. Seven years ago, her mother wished at the well in the heart of the Wish Wood, transforming a young bat-ling into a human girl--mostly human. But Lacey is growing up, Mama has a real daughter now, the kids in town tug on her poin...