Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Five: Rhema (Continued)
Previously: Gina plunged into Ismara in search of her brother. Where was he? And where was she?
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Dozens of tiny headlights beamed out of the leaves at her. No, not headlights. Eyes. Eyes that watched as she floated downward. Animals? No. There was a comprehension behind them. “Oh, sure, Gina!” she ridiculed herself aloud, because all children know (and Gina was still part child) that scary things vanish if you mock yourself hard enough for believing in them.
But the moment she said it, she knew it was not a ridiculous thought at all. Not in Ismara.
She was below the boughs, just a few feet above the forest floor, when her feet bumped against something smooth. Rock? Her slippers scrambled for purchase, but found none. She fell the remaining distance to the ground and collapsed onto her knees. “Urph!” she grunted, then teetered against the smooth thing and passed out.
Gina had no idea how long she slept, or where she was sleeping, for that matter. At one point, she dreamed there were grasshoppers bustling about all over her head and arms, but when she opened her eyes she didn’t see grasshoppers, she saw tiny people. “Oh, pixies,” she said matter-of-factly, and began to drift off again.
Just before she did, a dashing youth of about seventeen, and approximately four inches tall, wearing a spider silk doublet and intricately embroidered leaf cape, pried open her right eyelid and shouted, “Pÿthziés, you great gauche girl!”
This was followed by an urgent “Jenblevó, no!” from a tiny dark haired beauty who appeared to be a year or two older than Gina.
“Prince Blevy, hush! Feyrdú is right!” cried an older, portly female.
But the ballyhoo was baseless, for Gina immediately curled up against the smooth object and fell back asleep. Her dreams continued along the same line for what seemed like hours: unconsciousness, followed by excitable bustlings, followed by more unconsciousness. After a while the commotion seemed to change. The pixies were still scrambling about, speaking excitedly, but their attention had shifted to the object, and for good reason: it was moving. All by itself.
Gina nestled her cheek against her cold, hard, jiggling pillow. Her eyes slitted open. “Mmmmm…morning…coffee.” Three things suddenly struck her: 1) it wasn’t morning, 2) it wasn’t coffee that she smelled (it was a pungent pixie-brew made from roasted lespin nuts), and 3) pillows aren’t supposed to be cold, or hard…or jiggling.
Her eyes opened the rest of the way. Several dozen pixies dashed out of view. She propped herself up against the agitating object. Am I still dreaming? It didn’t seem like a dream.
She rose, using the object to steady herself, and sat down on it. The forest was aglow. Night was supposed to be devoid of color, but the Frengan Light Forest was so richly suffused with color that even darkness couldn’t suppress it. The trees appeared to be made of red and gold embers shot through with platinum moonlight. This is the most beautiful place in existence! she thought.
“If it’s like this at night, imagine what it’s like in the daylight!” Her feet began to think-dance. “This can be my secret place, my escape! I can come here whenever I want to, and no one will ever find me! I can read for days if I want to, and no one will know where I am. I mean, how could they—it’s in a world made just for me!
“No! Focus, you idiot! You came here to find your brother! You’ve got to— Ow!” What the… Something had just bit her butt. She slid off the large smooth object and crashed bum-down on a low stone ridge. “Ow!” Turning her head, she noticed for the first time that she was in the middle of a circle made of carefully placed stones about the size of chimney bricks. Her tumble onto the miniature Stonehenge had knocked over several arches.
“Heathen human!” screamed Prince Jenblevó. This was followed by another warning: “My Prince, no!”
Gina heard the sounds, but they were so small and high pitched that she didn’t initially recognize them as voices. She did notice the sharp prick on her left hand, however—Prince Jenblevó, fiercely assaulting her with a goose quill lance—but before she could comprehend whence the discomfort was emanating, she heard a sharp cracking noise and looked over to see something poking out of the top of the object.
It was, she guessed, the thing that had bit her bottom, and the object, she now realized, was an egg. Like everything else in the forest, it was singularly beautiful, with its surface of mottled golds, coppers, and blacks, but the egg’s beauty was irrelevant, for the thing inside, whatever it was, was quickly dismantling it.
Gina rose to her knees and peered into the opening made by the determined little snout. She was stunned to see two bright green eyes as alert and intelligent as any dog’s. There was a gentleness to them that melted her fear. She suddenly wanted to help this…whatever it was. It wasn’t a bird. What it looked like was…
“OK, this is totally insane, but are you a dragon?”
The little beast hiccoughed and a miniscule cloud of blue smoke popped out of its nostrils. Gina fell back, wiping out another section of the temple. She still hadn’t grasped what the structure was, much less that an entire band of Frengan pixies was ready to wage war over her desecration of it.
“Uol will be revenged!” Prince Jenblevó shrieked from the fernery.
Oblivious to the drama below, Gina righted herself and peered into the egg. She watched in fascination as the miniature monster tore at the shell with its muzzle. It watched her too, and the more it did, the more it began to take on an expression of—could she be imagining this?—adoration. It was no longer simply trying to get out of the egg…
It was trying to get to her.
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Thoughts: There’s almost nothing more wonderful than being chosen to be loved by an animal.
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