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The Wishing Map
Chapter Ten: Lost… (Continued)
Previously: After being celebrated as a hero, Gina was confronted by blackmailers who threatened to expose her unless she shared her wealth with them.
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Gina made one final effort at intimidation: “This is your last chance. Either leave my house or I’ll—“
“Or you’ll what? Make us leave?” Skelljaip asked. “Oh, please do! We hunger to see your legendary battle skills in action!”
“But then,” Artifíga added, taking another step up the stairway, “if by some miracle we should survive, you will share the Dragon Manse with us. Or…” His sallow lip curled. “…we shall lay bare to all the truth, that the Dragonmeer of Rennou is a—”
“OK!” Gina blurted. “I get it. I get it. So…I’ll fight you…only not inside because…because it might damage something.” She pointed toward the entrance. Once we’re outside, Puff and I can get away, she thought. That was her plan—torn strip of a plan, really, but all she had.
“And then, if we best you?“ asked Artifíga.
“If you beat me, you can stay,” she replied with unveiled disgust.
Artifíga grinned and swept his hand toward the door. His father mirrored his actions on the opposite side of the landing.
Gina bent over, picking up an iron broadsword and varnished leather shield, and began walking toward the doors with nerves of tinfoil. Puff shambled after her. He ducked as Skelljaip made a gesture at him with the iron needle, then crashed into Gina at the entrance and knocked her through the open doorway.
Now! Run! Would Puff be able to keep up? He’d been out of his shell for only two days and still had tiny wings and humongous feet, which meant no flying and lots of stumbling. Still, they had to try; in another second, Skelljaip and Artifíga would be upon them and the opportunity would be gone.
“Run, baby!” She jumped from the Dragon Manse threshold to the Great Porch and fell onto her knees, having misjudged the distance in the near-darkness. A moment later, Puff crashed onto the edge and started sliding backward. Gina turned and grasped both his foreclaws. “Come on, buddy!” She pulled him onto the platform. She could just make out the shapes of Skelljaip and spawn coming down the steps from the front of the Manse. She jumped to her feet, turned and ran toward the outer edge of the Porch, Puff stumbling along beside her. We can do it! There are places to hide in the Marketplace, or maybe a shrennel field. And then in the morning—
She stopped abruptly.
The twenty-three young Zack-seekers she’d enlisted earlier that day stood staring up at her in the moonlight. There she is, their faces said, the Dragonmeer J’nah, so magnificent with her matching sword and shield, and the Dragon of Rennou himself beside her! “Rauéill! Rauéill!” (“See how I’m smiling!”). Accompanying these adventurers was a bevy of well-wishers: parents, siblings, friends, easily over a hundred.
“So…um, hey, you guys!” Gina vamped. “Guess what. It turns out this isn’t the best time after all for—“
“For weapon training?” Artifíga asked as he sauntered toward her, serrated pike in hand. He punctuated his words with jabs: “CAN’T see well eNOUGH to proTECT yourself, PRINcess J’NAH?”
Gina screamed. She lifted the heavy iron sword, but Artifíga batted it out of her hand as if it were a soda straw. “No, no, no, no, no, no,” she moaned, “this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening, this isn’t happening!” She pulled the shield up in front of her.
“Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is!” Artifíga burlesqued. He snagged the edge of the shield with one of the pike’s jagged teeth and jerked it out of her hands. Gina put a foot behind her and, like a performer in a vaudeville act, tumbled backward over the little dragon.
Artifíga began stabbing the floor just inches from her and Puff. She curled up into a ball, her arms around the hatchling. “Please don’t hurt us!”
Then Artifíga stopped stabbing and started laughing.
Skelljaip was oddly silent. The audience wasn’t laughing either. By the light of the double moon, Gina could see their expressions of… Horror? Disgust? No. Something worse: disappointment. They’d had such hopes for the great girl knight, the Dragonmeer of Rennou. Such expectations! It was the Mid-Mid Promotion Ceremony all over again!
Gina slowly rose to her feet. “I was just…was just showing Artifíga how, I mean, you know, how not to…” There was no point in going on. Nothing she could say would restore their shattered expectations. “So, um, I guess this isn’t the best time for…so I’m just going to…” She turned and shuffled toward the Dragon Manse, tears streaming from her eyes. The tears of a charlatan, she thought, the tears of a coward.
“You stupid strutter,” she heard Skelljaip chastise his son as she walked away, “we could have lived in the Dragon Manse! Now we have lost everything!”
Me too, Gina thought, me too.
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Thoughts: Have you ever risen to a place of honor, only to have it stripped away from you?
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