A woman gestured to her to come over. Janet went to her, hoping for guidance in the next step of her journey.
“Welcome, child,” the woman said. “I’m Gina. Did you happen to come here in any unusual way?”
“Oh yes,” Janet said. “Did the fairies tell you?”
“No, but you’re not the only odd wanderer I’ve come across. Please, come in. I have something important to show you.”
Janet followed, wondering what else she could do. She didn’t feel any sense of danger, just Mom’s voice nagging at the back of her mind not to talk to strangers. But perhaps real-world rules didn’t apply in a fairyland where she knew no one. Asking for help was her only way to get back home, and this might all just be a dream anyway.
“Back here,” Gina said, “This was Sierra’s room.”
Janet’s mouth dropped open. “You knew Sierra?”
“Not just Sierra, but she was the last person to stay here.”
Janet wandered into the bedroom. It didn’t have many personal touches, but there were a few framed pictures. One of them was Gina standing hand in hand with a familiar man. “That’s Gabe!” Janet exclaimed, pointing. “He really did come here! You’re the woman of his dreams?”
Gina froze, and her mouth dropped open. “You—you know Gabe? You’re from the same world?”
“Yeah, he’s my friend!”
Gina swept up the picture, brushing it free of a layer of dust. “Oh, my, I’d never thought I’d hear… Is he alright? Does he… He said I’m the woman of his dreams? He still cares about me?”
“Of course he does! He wished to find true love on Christmas Day! You’re his true love!”
“Then why did he disappear?”
“He accidentally limited the star’s wish. ‘Christmas Day.’ He only got one day here.”
Gina rolled her eyes, but still had a smile on her face. Janet didn’t know if she was happy or sad. “What an idiot,” Gina laughed. Was she mad? She didn’t look mad. “I always hoped that someday our paths would lead us back to each other. Unfortunately, he couldn’t wish on the same star twice.”
“But the portal stone could get you home! Why don’t you—?”
“Because of the witch! No one can cross the boundary while she lives—unless you have one of those, of course,” she indicated Janet’s Wishing Star.
“Then you should have it,” Janet said.
“It’s not finished with you yet. You’ll know when it is, and you can dedicate it to whoever you desire.”
“Yes, Gabe must have sent it to you when it was done with him. Now…” She returned the picture to the bedside table, and picked up another one. “We need to figure out how to get you home. If you’ve encountered the fairies, I’m sure they’ve told you about Sierra. She was a sweet little girl who only wanted to get back home to her family. We tried to help her find the right magic for her portal stone, but the witch got to her before we came close. Ever since then… Well, I’ve only wished I could have saved her somehow, but there’s no going back in time. I suppose the next best thing would be to help the next lost little girl get back home. Did the fairies give you their portal stone?”
“Yes,” Janet said, presenting it. “They said it needs water from the human village. Can I just go get some from the lake?”
Gina stared at her for a long moment, and back at the picture in her hands. “Sierra stayed with us for some time before the witch stole her away. Probably used her for some terrible magic until she had nothing more to give. You can have water for your portal stone, girl, but you have to promise something in return.”
“I’ll dedicate the star to you!” Janet said.
Gina shook her head. “I can’t dictate where you decide to send the star next, and I certainly can’t bargain with you for it. Impure magic is dangerous. It has to be your own choice. Or, if you don’t dedicate it, it’ll pick someone of it’s own accord, which might be the smartest idea. Sierra couldn’t dedicate it before she died, and it found Gabe next, I believe. No, I have something else in mind for you.” Gina ducked under Sierra’s old bed, and rummaged around for a moment. When she emerged again, she presented a small, but very real, sword. “Slay the evil witch. Avenge Sierra, for all of us.”
Janet stared at the blade. It was her size, yet the thought of simply holding it was paralyzing. There was no way she could slay anyone. “But… But I’m just a little girl! I don’t know how to use a sword!”
“The fairies gave you their blessing. You can do this.” She placed the handle into Janet’s small hand. Janet gasped, staring wide-eyed at the blade. It was light, and felt easy enough to use, like it was made for her.
“My names Ja—”
“Don’t tell me. Please. I can’t know another child like I knew and loved Sierra only to lose her. I want to believe you’ll succeed, but I also know how dangerous it is. So I’m not letting you any further without some way to defend yourself. I’ll get your water and provisions for the rest of your journey. I owe you that much for bringing me news of Gabe. If you don’t want to kill the evil witch, and you can get what you need without killing her, that’s your choice in the end. But take this, too.” She carefully removed the photo she’d been carrying from it’s frame, and handed it to Janet.
A girl of about her same age stared back at her. She had dark curls, bright brown eyes, and she was smiling big for the camera. “Is this her?”
“Yes. Remember her face.”