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The Wishing Map
Chapter Nineteen: The Naim Games (Continued)
Previously: Zack astounded the childlike naims by insisting that more than one of them could be storysmiths.
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“Slipstreak,” Zack asked, “what do you see in the wood?”
“I…I’m not sure,” the teenage Leaf Naim replied.
“Yes, you are. Go on.”
“Well…there’s a house…on a hill top…”
Zack looked at the gray-brown shape with a patch of gold above it that might easily have been a thatched roof. “Traith! I see it!”
“An’ there’s a human lady…”
“…with a thousand cheldings (children)!”
A wave of laughter rolled through the clearing. The crowd was entranced with this more-than-one-story-at-a-time idea: it was like discovering a meal could have more than one course!
“Yes,” said Zack. “I see every one of them!” And he did.
Naims flooded the field, anxious to play-act the comic fable. Soon there were naim versions of human children everywhere, and at least a dozen put-upon mothers attempting to keep them in order.
“Wait!” Zack shouted. “There’s more!”
A heroic odyssey and a naim sit-com were told next. Then tiny Reetie revealed a tragic tale of war between armies of naims who’d never fought before. All twenty thousand spectators began to weep. Did this happen once? Zack wondered. Will it happen again? Stern-visaged actors pantomimed hurling rocks and firing arrows. Naims went down in agony, cradled in their comrade’s arms, and Zack saw vividly that not all play was fun.
“So which is best,” he asked, “the story of The Sorcerer and the Shooting Star?”
Or “The Thousand Cheldings?”
Screams of delight.
“And what about the fifteen stories yet to come?” Zack asked. The crowd was thunderstruck. No one had ever conceived of such a banquet of stories! But Master Zaggyzim must know—he was the greaty-est storysmith of all time!
One by one, each of the remaining Semi-Finalists unfolded their stories, and each time a new story was told, a crowd of pretenders rushed onto the field. Then Zack began to notice two distinct changes: First, as the stories piled up, more and more naims began to exclusively pretend the stories told by their side. Second, and more disturbing, some stopped pretending their own stories and began disrupting the others.
“Wait!” Zack shouted. “We gotta eliminate somebody or we can’t have a winner!” Blank stares (the closest equivalent to “eliminate” was the Kellish word for poop). “For somebody to win,” Zack explained, “somebody’s gotta lose.” To a culture whose very existence was cooperation, where everyone—naims, grooks, muldies, rainbowwood trees, and a thousand other life forms—either won or lost together, Zack was saying that things were not the way they seemed, that you only won if someone else lost! It couldn’t be true, yet it was coming from the Master Storysmith himself, so it had to be.
The sky darkened overhead.
But Zack didn’t notice.
Thoughts: How many disasters have occurred for which I unwittingly laid the groundwork?
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