The Prodigal Daughter, Part 1
by Edward Bolme
from an idea by Steve McLaughlin?
~one so bad, we couldn't resist!

"This doesn't look like Naroom," said Marella, looking around with her wide, sky-blue eyes. "It's all like yucky and stuff. I always thought that Naroom was like all green and?stuff."

Iyori rolled her eyes. "That's because of the Shadow Geyser," she said. "It contaminated most of the forest."

"Oh," said Marella, although Iyori could tell she didn't really understand.

The two friends rode along in silence for a long time. Each was perched comfortably on top of a sizable junjertrug. They sat in large woven wicker boxes, called howdahs, strapped to the junjertrugs' backs. The howdahs were equipped with comfortable seats and had plenty of room to stretch out. They were the best way to ride. The roll of the great dream creatures' shoulders and the creaking of the woven riding gear relaxed the two Magi. They had grown up with such sensations among the giant blades of grass of the Weave, which swayed slightly all day long.

Marella's hair floated in the faint breeze, while Iyori's long, braided ponytail bounced and swung strongly behind her as she rode beside her friend. In many ways the Magi's hairstyles reflected their personality: Marella's hair was loose and wispy and tended to drift whichever way the wind blew, while Iyori's was bound, controlled, and solid as a rock in its tight braids.

"Wasn't the Shadow Geyser like?up in Arderial?" Marella asked at last. "I mean, that's where I saw it?

"There were five geysers," said Iyori with a grimace. "The first one was in Naroom. Then there was one in the Underneath, and Cald, and Orothe. The last one was in Arderial. I'm not surprised you saw that one, since it was up in the sky and all, but I am a little surprised that you didn't hear about the others."

Marella just shrugged.

The two rode along through the forest. Twigs and leaves on the ground crackled beneath the junjertrugs' broad feet. Overhead, the trees struggled to regrow, sending fresh green shoots out of cracks in their black and ashen bark. Plants sloughed off their curling and blighted leaves and unveiled new, green buds. Overhead, a fird warbled out its song, then paused to hack a nasty little cough, clear its throat, and spit before it continued. All around, the woods were reclaiming their grandeur, so rudely tarnished by the geyser's effects.

Iyori let the gentle progress of her junjertrug lull her mind into blankness. It was a relief after?/p>

"So are you leaving the Weave before Gia kicks you out?" asked Marella abruptly.

Iyori looked over at her friend in amazement. Sometimes Marella was so vapid, and other times she showed an amazingly sharp insight.

"So?" repeated Marella. "Are you gonna answer me? Because it sure seemed like she was way mad at you."

"Why do you say that?" asked Iyori.

"It was clear as a bell, written all over her face and stuff. I didn't even know Gia could get that mad."

Iyori hung her head. "Yeah," she said, half-lost in remembrance.

"So?you gonna answer me?" nudged Marella.

"Yeah," said Iyori, "I'll answer you, and yeah, I'm getting out before I get thrown out. We just suddenly stopped seeing eye to eye."

The two rode in silence for a long time, Iyori brooding, and Marella looking compassionately at her friend.

"Good thing you didn't tease her about getting a bit chubby," said Marella at last.

Iyori laughed in spite of herself, then sighed heavily, letting the tension flow out. "Give her a break, Marella," she said. "She's getting old and cranky. She doesn't have the time or energy to work out like we do."

"Like you do, you mean," replied Marella. "I've never seen someone work out like you."

"I'll need it someday," said Iyori. "At least I might. I just want to be ready if I have to. I mean, what if a Shadow Geyser had erupted in the Weave? Then we'd have had to fight."

"Gia says that peace is always an alternative," parroted Marella.

"Please don't mention Gia any more, all right?"

"Okay, Iyori," said Marella meekly. "I won't. Sorry."


* * *

Several days later, they passed out of Naroom and crossed the river into the frontier of Paradwyn, the lush jungle region along the east coast of the Moonlands.

"I thought we were going to Vash Naroom," said Marella, as she looked about at the explosive riot of colors in the thick tropical jungle.

"That's what I wanted people to think," said Iyori. "Gia and Eidon are, you know, close. So I wanted Gia to think she'd be able to keep tabs on me. That way, when no one hears from me for a while, everything will be just fine."

"Oh," said Marella, "I see." But, in fact, all she saw were the long fronds and blossoms of the plants of Paradwyn as they brushed past her face. "You know," added Marella from behind a mask of greenery, "maybe we might want to get down and walk. I think these things are getting tangled in my hair. Pbblt! And in my mouth! Ptooey!"

"Good idea," said Iyori. The two of them clambered down from their high perches and looked around, getting their bearings

They were somewhat surprised to find a green-skinned Magi looking back at them.

"Wh--where'd you come from?" blurted Marella.

"I was born here," said the Magi simply.

"How'd you know we were coming?" asked Iyori defensively, a scowl creasing her brow.

"A fine Keeper I'd be if I didn't," he said. He held out his hands, palm upward. "My name is Bazha," he said. "Please, allow me to welcome you to Paradwyn. Make yourself at home here as our guest."

"You're the Keeper?" said Iyori, surprised. "Okay. Uh, hi, I'm Iyori, from the Weave, and this is my friend Marella." Not knowing exactly what to do for a formal greeting, she reached out and tentatively shook both of Bazha's hands. "And, uh, thanks for the welcome."

"Well," said Marella brightly, "I got you here just like you wanted, Iyori. I'll let you two chat. You know what they say, 'tree's company, and-'"

Iyori's fist shot out and whacked Marella on the upper arm.

"OW! Don't hit me!" whined Marella.

"Look, I'm sorry," said Iyori sincerely. Marella was about to return to the Weave, and in spite of the incessant puns, Iyori knew she'd start missing her friend as soon as she left.

"I forgive you," said Marella brightly, as if she'd already forgotten the offense. "Have fun!" She turned her junjertrug around, and began leading it through the jungle back toward Naroom. "You know," she said, her voice fading with distance and the intervening undergrowth, "I really like the way this place smells?wow, look at those colors?ow! Hey, there's thorns!"

"Should I send someone to escort her back?" asked Bazha.

"No," said Iyori, "there's no need. She's smarter and more powerful than she seems."

"I certainly hope so," said Bazha. The two of them watched Marella depart, until neither sight nor sound of her reached them.

At last, the Keeper turned to face his guest. "Why are you here?" he asked.

"Well, I'm an emissary. From the Weave."

Bazha pursed his lips and nodded. "I see. And you're not concerned that your friend will tell the others where you are?"

Iyori chuckled. "No, she won't." Then she paused and furrowed her brow. How quickly she had fallen into Bazha's verbal trap! "Not that I don't want them to know--I mean, it's no secret or anything--"

Bazha smiled. "Of course not," he said reassuringly. "Come with me, m'lady, and let me introduce you to Paradwyn."


What happens to Iyori? Read Part 2 "Clash of Wills"
What happens to Marella? Read The Battle of Naroom, Part 3

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