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The Wishing Map
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Long Night (continued)
Previously: The Questing Beast had taken the form of Gina herself, but with Zack’s help she’d been able to see past the delusion.
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The Beast began to search her mind again. It had already tapped her dearest hopes, her deepest desires. Now it was looking for something she feared. Despite her efforts to close her mind, her thoughts vaulted back to the image of the Hadessian Dragon in B’frona’s book. “No!” she grunted, and in an act of extreme willpower, tore her eyes away.
She gripped the sword with both hands and prepared to swing, but was unsure where to strike…because the creature was changing again. Its spindly raptor legs were growing thicker, its tentacles disappearing, its face growing longer. It was returning to the form of Puff.
“Hah! Not this time!” I can kill you this time, she thought, even if you do look like Puff, because you aren’t—you’re just an ugly, stinking lie!
But the creature wasn’t done changing. Its baby scales were growing stiffer and larger, thickening and separating. Its teeth were beginning to jut out from its ever-expanding jaws. At first Gina thought it was simply an adult version of Puff, but it wasn’t just growing (it was as tall as an elephant now), its very nature was changing: its scales were growing heavy, as if made of some dark primordial ore; its wings were turning thick and leathery, spattered with cysts and pulsing veins; the tip of its tail had deviated into a spade with jagged tearing edges and a brutal barbed point; its once-soft ears pointed outward, not gentle and beguiling but rigid and threatening; smoke trailed from its nostrils, a warning that fire was building within; its jagged horns, once tender nubs, now inclined aggressively forward, ready to impale anything that came within ten feet. Most frightening of all were its eyes. It had lost the gentle gaze of trust and adopted the cauterizing glare of undiluted hatred. I will cause you unimaginable pain, said those pitiless orbs. I will tear you apart, and then slowly roast the remains.
Is this what Puff will become? As Gina watched, the Beast grew even larger. More dagger-like teeth sprouted, forcing its coriaceous lips back into a cruel caricature of a smile. Inside were row upon row of fangs, extending endlessly downward into its gullet. “Thousand-toothed” is no exaggeration, Gina thought. Behind its jawline was a collar of bony thorns, each as tall as a man, assuring that whatever escaped the creature’s maw would be cut to pieces upon them. Saliva streamed like molten lava from its jaws; its eyes burned a malevolent red, as if filled with the same liquid fire.
Gina and Zack were underneath the Beast’s belly now, surrounded by its massive tree-like legs. Zack staggered to his feet, his swollen neck streaming with blood. Gina stared at him, suspended between guilt and fear.
The broadsword jerked in her hand, as if to say, “Now!” “OK! OK!” Gina shouted, breaking from her trance. If I have to die, at least I’ll do it defending my brother.
He almost died defending me!
Thoughts: Love may give us wings (as the expression goes). But it also gives us fists.
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