When a wish bargain with the Godmother goes wrong, Cress winds up cursed to an eternal slumber. But a potion that gives her the ability to travel through dreams may be the key to her escape.
This 10,000 word Sleeping Beauty retelling was written for the Once Upon A Wish anthology, which was published in February this year. You can still get it as part of that anthology, or you can now get it on its own for 99¢ directly from my online store (BookFunnel will send the ebook file to whatever ereader/device you like to use, or you can download the mobi or epub file).
Scroll down to read the first chapter!
All Cress wanted for her birthday was to discover she’d been cursed at birth and would die the day she turned sixteen.
Wait. No. She definitely had not included death on her wish list. “I’m … sorry?” she said, frowning across the dinner table at her parents. “Did you just say I’m going to die tomorrow?”
Mom looked at Dad as she took a deep breath, but no words left her tongue. The only sound in the tastefully decorated penthouse dining room was the jazz music playing softly in the background. “Well, uh …” Mom’s hand fluttered near her throat. Her gold bangles clinked against one another as they slid down her arm.
“You may not be aware of this, Cress,” Dad said, unable to meet Cress’s eyes, “but we struggled to, uh …” He scratched the tip of one pointed ear. His phone, sitting beside his plate of untouched dinner, beeped. He made no move to reach for it.
“Fall pregnant,” Mom supplied. “We saw many doctors. We tried all the potions and concoctions Grammy came up with. We scoured the wish catalog, hoping to find something that would help. We even sent in a request to the Mages’ Guild, but apparently not even a third-tier wish can fix infertility.”
“So we summoned the Godmother,” Dad said gravely.
“The Godmother,” Cress repeated, incredulous. She couldn’t imagine her parents—highly regarded members of fae society—in the same sentence as the Godmother, let alone the same room.
The Godmother was fae too, but that wasn’t nearly enough to make up for her illicit activities. According to the stories, she’d been a member of the Mages’ Guild once, more talented at wish magic than anyone before or since. She had escaped the Guild, taking the knowledge of wish magic with her instead of surrendering it, as law dictated for anyone who wished to cut ties with the Guild.
The manufacture and trade of wishes was tightly regulated. No one operating outside the Mages’ Guild and its registered network of sellers was allowed to deal in wishes. But the Godmother did. And unlike other black-market dealers, her wishes were flawless. The only catch? Her prices were steep, and they were not the kind that money—or even Essence, the fae’s magic—could pay.
“Yes,” Mom said. “The Godmother. We told her we wished for a child. She said this was a wish she could grant.”
“But … the price?” Cress asked.
“She would not say. We had to agree to the bargain first. She would then return to us on the day of your birth and inform us of the price she’d decided upon.”
“Well.” Cress tucked a lock of peacock-blue hair behind one ear before folding her arms. Like her parents, she was dark-skinned, dark-eyed, and dark-haired. It was boring, in her opinion. She wanted more color in her life, and the easiest feature to change with a charm was her hair. “I have to say, Mom. That sounds like the worst possible deal you could ever have agreed to.”
“I don’t expect you to understand now, Cressida, but you will one day when you—” Mom cut herself off, sucking in a shuddery breath. It seemed she’d momentarily forgotten that there would be no ‘one day’ for Cress.
“A life for a life,” Dad murmured. “You were barely hours old when the Godmother appeared and told us the price: Your mother and I had to choose which of the two of us would die.”
“What?” Suddenly, Cress was standing. “That’s awful, even for the Godmother! What’s the point in granting a life if you’re only going to take another one away?”
“Great magic requires a great price,” Dad answered. “That’s what the Godmother said. I would never choose your mother’s death, so of course I offered my own life. But your mom refused to let me, saying that she would die instead. I argued, reminding her that you would need a mother more than a father, and she argued right back, saying that you would always need both of us. We couldn’t come to an agreement, and that was the worst mistake we could have made.”
“The Godmother chose for us,” Mom whispered. “And she chose you instead of either of us.”
“Like the lunatic that she is,” Cress growled, trying to smother her fear with anger. “Of course, grant a life and then take it away.” She swept her arm through the air. “That makes total sense.”
She shoved her chair back and stalked toward the impressive glass doors that led to the balcony. With her arms wrapped tightly around her chest—as if that might calm the racing of her heart—she watched the vibrant sunset colors light up the sky above Vale City. Was this the last she would ever see of the sun? Would she truly be dead by the time it rose tomorrow?
“So I’m simply going to … die?” she asked quietly, still facing the city.
“Well, the Godmother didn’t mention any specifics. She only said that you would die the day you turn sixteen.”
Cress inhaled deeply. Her mind raced through all the things she would never do, never see, never be. There was the Winter Dance in three weeks, and all the friends she would never hang out with again, including the new girl Emma she hadn’t told her parents about, because Emma was human, and Cress’s parents wouldn’t approve of that. She would never get to master all the potions and charms she wanted to learn about, or one day take over Grammy’s apothecary, or—
Cress turned to face her parents. “Does Grammy know?”
“Yes,” Dad said.
Cress felt a stab of betrayal. Grammy was her person. The only one who truly understood her endless fascination with potions and her tendency to say exactly what was on her mind and her somewhat unorthodox opinion of the other High Races. Grammy knew about the friendship Cress had already formed with Emma, and she didn’t care that Emma was human. She wouldn’t have cared if Emma was shifter or even vampire. Like Cress, Grammy knew a person’s worth extended beyond his or her race.
Cress thought she and Grammy shared everything. Apparently she’d been wrong.
“For most of your life,” Dad said, “Grammy has been working to find some potion or charm that will release you from this curse. But nothing has worked so far.”
“How do you know? If I’m not yet sixteen, then perhaps something she’s done has—”
“You still have the mark of the curse,” Mom said gently. She rose from her chair and moved to Cress’s side. “It’s here, on your right wrist. A freckle shaped like a diamond. It appeared when the Godmother cursed you and has never gone away.”
Cress swallowed, staring at the freckle with growing dread. “Where is Grammy?” she asked, trying to keep the shudder from her voice. “Why isn’t she here? I can’t die without saying goodbye to her.”
“She’s going to meet us at the Mages’ Guild. We’re going there this evening, after dinner. Or now, I suppose, since I doubt any of us can stomach a single mouthful right now.”
“The Mages’ Guild?” Cress pictured the grand institution located at the end of a winding avenue of oak trees just outside Vale City. Surrounded by solid walls and grounds almost as extensive as Belmont Palace—home to the country’s fae royal family—it wasn’t the most … accessible of places. “I don’t think they allow people to just walk in there, Mom. Not even in the middle of the day, let alone after hours.”
“I don’t care. Someone there has to help us. We’ll pay anything. We may not be the wealthiest family in the city—not like those living in the Arabesque Hills—but we are most certainly high society and they will help us.”
Cress would have rolled her eyes if the situation wasn’t so serious. In her opinion, Mom placed far too much value on the concept of high society.
“Apparently there is no wish, no potion, no Essence—no magic of any sort—that can save you from this curse,” Mom continued. “But that doesn’t mean magic can’t bring you back to life. When you die, the Mages’ Guild is the best place we can possibly be. They are the most skilled, the most powerful—”
“Not as powerful as the Godmother,” Cress pointed out. “Why not summon her again and ask to change the terms of the deal?”
“Do you think we haven’t tried that?” Dad asked. He was standing now too, striding toward Cress. He took her hand, his grip almost painful it was so tight. “I would do anything—anything—to save my little girl. Both your mother and I have tried many times to summon the Godmother again. But either she hasn’t received our summons, or she chooses to ignore us.”
“The last thing she said to us was that she does not deal a second time with those who refuse to pay the price of a wish,” Mom said. “It would seem she was telling the truth.” She exhaled heavily and looked at Cress. “We have to fix this ourselves. Go and get ready. We’re leaving in twenty minutes.”