Illustration by trungtinart
In the hope of saving her brother Zack, Gina Dore had “fallen into” the mysterious Map their Aunt Aloysia had given them. But where was he? And where was she?
Dozens of tiny headlights beamed out of the leaves at her. No, not headlights, she suddenly realized. Eyes. Eyes that watched as she floated downward. Animals? No. There was a comprehension behind them. “Oh, sure, Gina!” she ridiculed herself aloud, because all children know (and Gina was still part child) that scary things vanish if you mock yourself hard enough for believing in them. But the moment she said it, she knew it was not a ridiculous thought at all. Not in Ismara.
She was below the boughs now, only slightly above the forest floor, when her feet bumped against something smooth. Rock? Her slippers scrambled for purchase, but found none. She fell the remaining distance to the ground and collapsed onto her knees, “Urph!” then teetered against the smooth thing and passed out.
Gina had no idea how long she slept, or where she was sleeping, for that matter. At one point, she dreamed there were grasshoppers bustling about all over her head and arms, but when she opened her eyes she didn’t see grasshoppers, she saw tiny people. “Oh, pixies,” she said matter-of-factly, and began to drift off again.
But just before she did, a dashing youth of about seventeen, and approximately four inches tall, wearing a spider-silk doublet and intricately embroidered leaf cape, pried open her right eyelid and shouted, “Pÿthziés, you great gauche girl!”
This was followed by an urgent “Jenblevó, no!” from a tiny dark-haired beauty who appeared to be a year or two older than Gina.
“Prince Blevy, hush! Feyrdú is right!” cried an older, portly female.
But the ballyhoo was baseless, for Gina immediately curled up against the smooth object and fell back asleep. Her dreams continued along the same line for what seemed like hours: unconsciousness, followed by excitable bustlings, followed by more unconsciousness. After a while the commotion seemed to change. The pixies were still scrambling about, speaking excitedly, but their attention had shifted to the object, and for good reason: it was moving.
All by itself.
Gina nestled her cheek against her cold, hard, jiggling pillow. Her eyes slitted open. “Mmmmm…morning…coffee.” Three things suddenly struck her: 1) it wasn’t morning, 2) it wasn’t coffee she smelled (it was a pungent pixie-brew made from roasted lespin nuts), and 3) pillows aren’t supposed to be cold, or hard. Or jiggling.
Her eyes opened the rest of the way. Several dozen pixies dashed out of view. She propped herself up against the agitating object. Am I still dreaming? It didn’t seem like a dream.
She rose, using the object to steady herself, and sat down on it. The forest was aglow. Night was supposed to be devoid of color, but the Frengan Light Forest was so richly suffused with color that even darkness couldn’t suppress it. The trees appeared to be made of red and gold embers shot through with platinum moonlight. This is the most beautiful place in existence! she thought. Wait—focus, Gina! Eyes? Pixies? What was she sitting on?
And why was it moving?
Thoughts: Have you ever been in a place that was beautiful but strange, with a definite whiff of danger about it?
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