Note: To read The Wishing Map from the beginning, click here.
The Wishing Map
Chapter Ten: Lost…
Previously: Zack, who’d almost completely lost his humanness, had returned to the eyrie of the immense bird Aviar in hopes that the creature might help him.
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“No…plea…don’ kill be! I nee you to…helb be!” Zack spluttered as the bird ground his face into the frozen sod. “I habbu fide by sibser!” With Aviar’s colossal claw holding him down, he’d been unable to explain why he’d come back. Was this some sort of pre-amputation torture ritual? “Big bir, plea! Pluffa-pleh-pleh-pluff…” He spat out snow, dirt, and alpine grass. “Big birrr…” He got even more mud in his mouth when he tried the second time.
He was about to give up when he suddenly noticed his own flailing arm. Was it just his imagination or was his jacketed limb turning redder? Did this mean he would start sticking to the ground again?
“Speak, manlet!” Aviar removed the claw-cage from around Zack’s body.
Zack pushed himself up onto his knees, but began to float. “Oh, no!”
“Not done yet? Uol’s beak!—sorry, Lord.” Aviar snatched Zack out of the air and slammed him back onto the ground.
“Thamgks, big birrrr…plethhha-pleh-pleh…” Zack’s mouth was full of soggy soil once again, but this time he noticed, after swallowing some of the mud, that his arm looked a little less cloudy and a little more human, so he did something desperate: he bit into the tundra, chewed, and then purposely swallowed a glob of the stuff.
“Crazy manlet! Didn’t get any smarter while you were away, did you?” The Raptor Cadets snickered appreciatively. They moved in closer to see how the master hunter would handle this human interloper. Would he cut him in half and then spread his entrails out to dry in the sun? That would be exciting!
“Yettthhh!” Zack exulted, “Thattthhh ittt!” He began to swallow more mud.
The half-circle of Cadets snickered even more loudly.
“Cadets, remember where you are!” Aviar scolded. “This is the Sacred Eyrie of Uol, bless his name in the highest perches!”
“Bless his name in the highest perches!” the Cadets echoed.
It took forty-three mouthfuls of frozen dirt, but in the end Zack was completely earth-bound. And completely nauseous. He was pretty sure he’d never eat anything again. He also had a strange sense of loss; he was no longer a sylph, and he no longer felt that nothing mattered. He also no longer felt that all was as it should be. For one thing, he didn’t know if he would ever see Liulah again, which made him inexplicably lonely.
For another, he knew he had to find Gina, but how could he? Where should he even begin? Ismara was immense. His only hope was this gargantuan being—Aviar, the “little” ones called him—but Zack was pretty sure the only thing Aviar wanted was to de-limb him and push him off the sacred cliff!
Aviar and company had watched Zack throughout his entire dirt eating exhibition. Now, as he rose to his feet, burping uncontrollably, he attempted to address the half circle of giants: “I…I just…oh, guh!” He stumbled over to the edge of the avian temple and began to heave. This is so surreal. I’m barfing over a 9,000 foot high cliff, being watched by birds that are taller than my house! His nose ran like a waterfall and his eyes grew blearier and blearier, and yet the dirtbarf just kept coming.
Before long he lost his footing. Yet for some reason he didn’t fall. He suddenly realized that Aviar had the back of his jacket in his beak.
“Get it all out, manlet, and don’t ever try to become a cloud shepherd again!” the creature murmured through his great clenched bill.
Half an hour later Zack staggered to his feet, the worst of the ordeal finally over. “So…you knew I turned into a cloud shepherd?” he asked the winged giant.
“A bird learns a few things in a thousand years.” Aviar dismissed his Cadets, then turned to Zack and said, “Ermmm, hrmmm…now, Shak,” (Sheyar cannot make the z sound)…
“Tell me about the Map!”
“You’re not going to bite off one of my talons?”
“I’ll bite off both your talons and feed them to you if you don’t answer me!”
Aviar told him what he’d gleaned so far: 1) Zack had come “from another world,” 2) and this was by way of a magical Map. Surprisingly, he did not reject this as nonsense; in fact he took it quite seriously, and it seemed to agitate him in the extreme. “You will not harm the Prime Regent!” he roared.
“Uh…OK, I promise.”
“If you try, you will wish I had killed you!” Aviar searched Zack’s eyes for signs of deceit, but found none, so he decided to trust him—a little. He gave Zack the abridged version of the prophecies (being a millennial member of the Great Council, he knew the prophecies by heart):
“In the Time of an End and a New Beginning, the true ruler will be revealed, and that will forever be the Prime Regent Melcarhassen! Errrrrm-hrrrm-errrrm…so if you’ve brought the Objects, manlet, then your purpose is fulfilled and you must leave!”
“I haven’t brought any ‘objects.’ I just came to find my sister.”
Aviar’s basketball-sized eyes grew even larger. “’Before that, two strangers must come.’” he recited. Then he bent down, twisted his head sideways, and said, “Put your arm in my beak.”
“Do it now!”
Zack slid his arm inside the massive proboscis. Had Aviar decided to amputate a “wing” after all?
“’’wear on ‘our ‘oul ‘at ‘ou ill ‘ever ‘e’ray ‘e ‘rime ‘e’ent!”
The bird released his arm and repeated, “Swear on your soul that you will never betray the Prime Regent!” He took Zack’s arm back into his beak.
“I swear on my soul.” It seemed sort of sacrilegious, but Zack felt he could trust this creature with his soul. With his life—well, that was a different story.
Aviar released his arm. “Good.” Then he reached behind Zack with his thirty foot long wing and scooped him up into the air.
Zack slid down Aviar’s wing onto his back and landed just behind his head. “Hold onto the brown feathers. If you touch the silver ones, I’ll drop you like a festering wuckle!”
“To find your sister, you empty headed manlet!” The monstrous bird plunged over the edge of the cliff, and with one tremendous sweep of his wings thrust himself and Zack a mile from the edge of the ancient Sheyaran temple.
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Thoughts: Have you ever lost a part of your self, and gone through a painful struggle to get it back? Who was there to help you?
To read The Wishing Map 38, click here!