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The Wishing Map
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Long Night (continued)
Previously: After many desperate days of anticipation, Gina was finally called to face her Questing Beast.
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She managed to get to her feet, despite the broadsword’s thrashing. She reached over her shoulder and in one continuous motion, as Buigor had instructed, slid the heavy blade out and brought it down in front of her. The moment she did, it began tugging her down the stairs as firmly as if there were a fish at the other end (or was she the fish?). Her first impulse was to call to Zack for help, then she remembered that he wasn’t allowed to help; she had to face the Beast alone. She desperately wanted to call out, but fought the urge and continued down the stairs.
Gina reached the grinding shed a minute later. The sword guided her to the back of the millhouse where a canal led under the waterwheel, and then urged her along the riverside to the night-gray turf where B’frona’s family members were buried. Their graves were marked with tall irontree spikes, the tallest being the one for B’frona’s father. On top of each was the traditional Ismaran triangle-in-a-circle symbol, giving it—against the night sky—the overall appearance of an armless apparition.
The sword stopped moving. The double moon was casting its characteristic glow, and Gina could easily see across the river to the edge of the Light Forest. There was nothing there, no Questing Beast, no—
Yes, there was.
Something had come out of the woods and was moving toward her. Her heart froze, her throat tightened; she had to will herself to breathe. Her feet were glued to the sod, her hands, including the one holding the broadsword, were stitched to her sides. The sword—why isn’t it moving? It’s abandoned me! It bullies and pushes me all the way across Frenga, and now when we finally find the Beast, it freezes up! The sword is a coward! No! Get a grip, it’s only a sword. It can’t fight by itself! You have to use it, to make it fight.
Without even realizing it, she assumed the stance Buigor had shown her, then brought the blade to chin-height and peered past it: the creature was nearing the opposite side of the river. Would it cross? Could it? She exhaled. Her breath turned to fog. But wait, it wasn’t that big, no larger than a dog. Wolves are no larger than dogs! Still, it was nothing compared to the building-sized monster she’d imagined. She got up the courage to move forward. The River Rennou at this point was no more than fifteen feet across. She could clearly make out the Beast’s form.
She wished she hadn’t. It might only be the size of a dog, but it was nothing like a dog. Or any other creature she’d ever seen. Its spongy flesh was divided into thick purple platelets from between which dripped puce-striped pus; it looked like the bloody green snot you produce when you’re sick. Its malformed head made up most of its body. It had black ball-bearing eyes with a chillingly inhuman intelligence, and a tubular snout lined with thousands of razorblade teeth from which emanated a torturous wheeze. Its head was covered with dozens of barbed tentacles which constantly extended and retracted…
Searching for something to pull into its mouth.
Thoughts: Evil does not create. Its aim is to distort, to make a mockery of what has already been created.
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