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The Wishing Map
Chapter Eighteen: Spiffwits and Storysmiths
Previously: Zack was spirited away by naims (gnomes). Meanwhile his sister Gina, who’d gotten drunk accidentally, is about to learn she is alone.
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Gina wished two things when she awoke that morning. First, to know where she was. Wish granted. It only took a moment to recall the events of the previous night: the fall into Ismara, the watery rescue, her six trips to the meeth bowl. Second, she wished she were dead, because she had the worst headache in human history. She also had the dry heaves, the thing that happens when there’s nothing left in your stomach so your body throws itself up. It was late afternoon by the time she dragged herself out of her straw-filled bed, quasi-barfed, and shuffled toward the cheery little white-washed door.
She met the innkeeper’s daughter at the bottom of the stairs. The girl couldn’t have been more than ten years old, but she had the long-suffering air of one who regularly ministers to people less wise than herself. She had a jug of water in one hand and a bucket in the other.
“Wa…” Gina wheezed.
The girl handed her the jug and said, “Slow now, an’ not too much.”
Gina chug-a-lugged the entire thing.
The girl handed her the bucket.
“Thanks, but why the buhhhhh…” Gina hurled the newly-acquired contents of her stomach into the bucket. She looked up and said, “Oh.”
After she chewed some sort of seaweed administered by the innkeeper’s daughter, her headache and nausea began to subside. She was shocked to learn that Zack had apparently left with Maerith and Shelcor in the middle of the night. Had she misjudged the kindly fisher folk? Had they kidnapped her brother? Why didn’t they kidnap me? She felt an irrational twinge of jealousy. Wait, that doesn’t make sense. If they tried to drag Zack away, he’d put up a fight and the innkeeper or his daughter would hear it. So he must have gone willingly, but why?
The innkeeper told her that Maerith and Shelcor would be back that evening. She had no choice but to wait. Remembering her mission and what was at stake, she asked every merchant and farmer she saw about the “beautiful little dagger” lost by her aunt. None had seen it. If they had, they said, they would recall. “Kellansend is plain as pebbles, an’ folks notes fancy bits like that.”
Gina ate some stale bread and chewed some more seaweed. She almost threw up when she smelled a batch of meeth brewing in the kitchen. Why would anybody ever get drunk on purpose? she wondered.
Shortly after sundown, she spotted Maerith and Shelcor dragging their seal-tailed sloop ashore. And then a peculiar spectacle began: until now the spiffwits had been living statuary about the edges of town, but as the fisher folk emptied the contents of their nets (thousands of rock-like mollusks) onto the beach, the strange little birds rushed forward, danced on the shells, and screamed. Gina began to laugh, because they sounded identical to the shrieking pre-teen girls she’d seen at pop concerts when she was, well, one of them. “How could we ever have been such—“
“Fliffers?” said the innkeeper’s daughter. “It’s the balance. None can harvest ‘em but the fisher folk, an’ none can open ‘em but the spiffwits. It’s the balance.”
“’The balance,’” Gina repeated.
Thoughts: Sometimes we catch glimpses of a thing larger than our own plans at work, a thing that, although we have no recollection of signing up, we are a part of.
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