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The Wishing Map
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Long Night (continued)
Previously: With the help of her brother and B’frona, Gina finally vanquished the Questing Beast.
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All that remained of the creature was a tangle of tentacles floating in a pool of refuse…and then nothing but a mound of mucous melting into the soil, leaving a circle of dead grass that looked like it had had the misfortune of living too long under a barrel.
“The earth makes life even from decay,” said B’frona.
The three stood staring at the battleground for several minutes. Zack spotted the remains of the violet-gold diaphragm and picked it up. “I knew we could trust Rhema.”
Gina noticed the two broken halves of the pike B’frona had used to skewer the Beast and suddenly realized it was a marker from B’frona’s family cemetery. She looked at the writing on the circular headpiece. “Your father’s grave marker.”
“His was the tallest.” B’frona was battered and burnt from his encounter with the Beast, but somehow seemed more alive than Gina had ever seen him look.
Zack and Gina were covered in welts and lacerations from the Beast’s tentacles. There were four claw holes in Zack’s neck. Gina had raw skinless patches on her hands, thighs, and ankles.
Sh’renn was waiting near the water wheel to minister to them.
Gina smiled at the unassuming young woman. “You were ‘struggling before Uol’ with us in the battle, weren’t you? I felt it.”
They spoke excitedly about the night’s events: about the way the Beast had drawn its ever-changing form from Gina’s mind; about how the broadsword had disappeared just in time to save Zack’s life, and how the hauberk had in turn saved Gina’s; about the way B’frona had skewered the dragon’s jaws with his father’s grave marker, and how in its true form the Revealer had been the only thing that could kill the Beast.
But when they gathered at the table and Sh’renn began to salve Gina’s burns, all four grew silent. Later, as Sh’renn stitched together the slits in Zack’s neck, Gina began to shake. B’frona placed a hesitant hand on her shoulder, but she pulled away. Her shaking soon turned to body-racking sobs. Zack took her bandaged hands in his and tried to speak, but instead untapped a wellspring of tears in himself. Wordlessly, he and his sister moved into one another’s arms, releasing a thousand emotions for which there are no words.
Gina finally lifted her head, her back still turned toward the Miller’s son: “Fro?”
“B’frona,” he corrected. “It is a warrior’s name. Like yours.”
“I’ll bring Puff back, somehow, I swear. I don’t know when, but—”
“No. Please do not—”
“And I’ll help rebuild Rennou. I swear!”
B’frona walked over to the girl from Another World, stared at the back of her head, then gently touched her auburn hair and said, “Perhaps we will do it together.”
Sleep came easily. Finally. Gina lay curled up in front of the still-warm hearth, luxuriating in the fact that she could lie in any position she wanted. The harness and sheath had disappeared the moment the broadsword returned to its true form.
And so had the nightmare images.
Thoughts: No battle is won alone. A victor is always surrounded by allies. From the past. From the present. Both visible and invisible.
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