The impostor’s eyes glittered darkly in the dim light, as he glared down at his captive. Gia’s huddled form was propped in the shadows of one corner. Her hair hung in a limp ropy mass over her down-turned face. “Your time is almost finished my little pet,?the imposter sneered. “Soon, no one will remember you at all! There will only be me!?He laughed evilly, and delivered a swift kick to the silent form bound and gagged at his feet. “And now it’s showtime!?His laughter faded as he hoisted his great bulk back up the ladder leading to the hatch in the floor of Gia’s hut.
Zaya’s eyebrows were raised higher on her head than Iyori had thought possible. Her wide old eyes were filled with horror as she silently listened to Iyori, Kolte and Yerthe recount their tale. When it was finished, she glanced over at Gia, sleeping peacefully upon the pallet.
“And you say you destroyed this…this abomination??i> The Weave Elder looked queasy at the thought of anyone poisoning the Weave itself.
Iyori nodded. “There’s nothing left. We made sure.?/div>
“Such powerful Void magic,?Zaya shook her head. “And Yayek??/div>
“For now, we’ve got him gagged and tied up and stuck where we found Gia.?Kolte chuckled a bit. “Iyori found an old mop and we stuck it on his head. In the dark, he doesn’t look much different than Gia did when we found her.?/div>
Iyori chimed in, “We thought perhaps the impostor might go check on her, and we hoped he would mistake Yayek for Gia if he doesn’t look too close!?/div>
Zaya nodded and sighed. “Well, I’m afraid we don’t have the luxury of waiting around for him to discover the deception. Our best chance at exposing him lies in surprise.?/div>
“And how are we supposed to do that? He has all of Qui Yeteh thinking he’s Gia. No one will listen to us!?Kolte was skeptical.
“Not so fast young man,?admonished the Elder. “I still have a trick or two up my sleeve!? Zaya pushed both sleeves up past her elbows as she stood and moved to a set of shelves across the room. Over her shoulder she continued, ?I need you to get me as much more of that Black Sap as you can, and fast!?Zaya turned to look back at the young Weavers. “Can you be back in a half an hour??/div>
Kolte nodded once, then turned and dashed out the door, Iyori and Yerthe close on his heels. Zaya turned and began rummaging through shelves and drawers.
The crowd is just where I want them, thought the impostor to himself. Time for a little demonstration!
The crowd stepped back as their new leader suddenly raised her arms over her head, calling for their attention.
“Now, brave warriors of the Weave! Behold the glory that will soon be ours!?Gia gestured with one chubby hand to the black seeds scattered at her swollen feet. Closing her eyes, she sent tiny flickers of energy shooting downward, each small spark settling into one of the tiny black seeds.
“Stand back!? Gia yelled, as she herself waddled as fast as she could, descending the woven steps of her platform to stand at the front of the crowd.
The tiny seeds began to jump. They hopped and leaped and jiggled, beginning to glow with a cool violet light as they danced upon the abandoned platform. They grew thick and fat, glistening darkly in their violet glow. Abruptly, one seed after another sprouted a thick black stalk. The stalks shot skyward, parting the vibrant green blades with ribbons of inky blackness. Soon, the new grass stood tall and strong, rising from glistening purple root bulbs squatting on what was left of the platform.
The crowd gasped in wonder. “Wow! I’ve never seen grass grow so fast!?Quirle pushed to the front of the crowd and stared at the Black Weave shoots in awe. He turned to Gia. “But, what good’ll it do us? How do we use it to defend ourselves against someone like the Calders??/div>
Gia smiled condescendingly back at the Weaver. “Watch,?she said. Raising her hands once more, she intoned a simple spell. Suddenly a ball of flame began to form above the heads of the watching crowd. The flames grew until their heat began to scorch the hair on Quirle’s head. “Ow! Hey!?yelped Quirle, patting his smoldering locks with his hands.
Gia chuckled and motioned toward the gleaming black stalks. The fireball smashed into the Black Weave, spreading rapidly up the length of the stalks. And then, the flames simply flickered and died. Quirle looked up, gasping in amazement along with the rest of the assembled Weavers. The black grass still stood, apparently unscathed by the magical flames. Sounds of awe rose from the crowd. Gia smiled in steepled her fingers, basking in their admiration.
“But wait, it does tricks too!?With that, Gia flicked a finger toward Quirle. The Black Weave shot several stalks down to swiftly bind the unsuspecting Weaver and lift him into the air. Checking the crowd’s reaction, she noted a slight pout on Bo’Ahsa’s pretty face. Gia’s puffy fingers flicked once more, and this time the grass reached down and grabbed up Bo’Ahsa as well. Her indignant cries rang out above the watching crowd.
Now Gia spun one finger in a counter-clockwise direction. The grass began to juggle its two captives, flipping their bodies up into the open air. Up and down, around and over, the two Weavers spun wildly in mid-air. This went on for several long moments before Gia finally motioned for the grass to return its playthings to the surface.
Quirle came down laughing. “Whooohoo-ooo!?he shouted. “What a ride!?/div>
Bo’Ahsa landed with her pout still firmly in place, until Quirle nudged her in the side. Her face cracked with a reluctant smile and she quietly admitted, :Okay, okay—that was…sort of fun!?The crowd joined them in laughing.
“Just think if we’d had this stuff back when the Calders and the Shadfow magi was invadin?? Quirle’s voice was full of enthusiasm. “We’d have tossed ‘em out on their rears!?The crowd laughed and hollered in joyful agreement. Gia smiled quietly, watching their shining eyes. All mine now. All mine.
“Not so fast, old woman!?Zaya’s voice rang out loud and clear above the celebratory noises of the villagers.
Gia turned to confront her adversary. “What do you want??she sneered. “Your lack of vision has cost you the leadership of the Weave. Go crawl back into your hole and retire!?The crowd had quieted now, but there were several murmurs of surprise at this outburst between the village’s two most revered leaders.
Zaya received several guilt-ridden glances from the crowd, those eyes quickly darted back to look at the ground. Behind her, Iyori, Kolte and Yerthe stood in protective stances, ready to leap if there were trouble.
Zaya raised her voice, “People of Qui-Yeteh?i>my people—hear me now! This is not Gia before you. It is a vile imposter!?The crowd began to murmur in surprise. “You have all been duped by Core magic!?More cries of disbelief and denial rang out from the crowd.
Gia chuckled loudly, quieting the crowd. “You see, my loyal Weavers? The old woman’s mind has finally cracked as surely as her bravery did long ago!?She turned to face Zaya directly. “There is no place for foolish weaklings in the new Weave that shall come!?/div>
Zaya ignored her adversary. She stared directly into the faces of her people, willing them to meet her gaze. “The real Gia is recovering in my house, right this very minute!?Zaya watched the imposter for reactions.
For the first time, the false Gia, showed a glimmer of fear. She raised her bloated hands and cried out to the crowd, “Pay her no heed! What a preposterous accusation! Why think of it! How could the mighty Weave itself be deceived by such a dastardly plot!?The crowd mumbled agreement. Gia smiled again as she saw the logic of her words sink in.
“The Weave itself has been deceived?i>poisoned by Void energy! These brave youngsters behind me discovered the source of the poison!?Iyori, Kolte and Yerthe stepped forward, meeting the glances of their fellow villagers with grim nods. The crowd began to murmur in great confusion now. The word of these three villagers carried great weight. Many eyes turned questioningly toward Gia, waiting to see what her next response would be.
“Lies!?Gia roared, her complexion turning a decided blue in color. “You can offer no proof! Prepare to defend yourself!?She flicked her fingers back toward the Black Weave, then pointed directly at Zaya. The black stalks shot down toward the frail Elder.
With a blinding flash of energy, Zaya quickly summoned a creature. The crowd gasped in surprise as an enormous xyx formed above their heads. “Now!?cried Zaya just as the Black Weave snatched her up and away. At that moment, Iyori, Kolte and Yerthe pulled out large flasks, uncorked them and sent them hurling upward into the smoky form of the xyx. The flasks vanished within the cloud creature, and lightning suddenly began to flicker across its surface. From far above came the sounds of Zaya waging a magical battle with the Black Weave.
“A xyx! Is that the best you could do? Ahhahahahaha!?Gia laughed maniacally, watching with glee as her Black Weave toss old Zaya around and around like a limp rag doll far overhead. The crowd began to recover and started to run for cover as the Xyx rumbled thunderously overhead. Before anyone could get far, however, the storm creature unleashed a torrential downpour over the heads of the fleeing villagers. The strangely black rain ran into everyone’s eyes, causing them to cry out.
And then, amid the flicker of lightning, Quirle raised his eyes to look toward Gia. His face registered confusion and then horror. Next to him, Bo’Ahsa straightened from her crouching position, still rubbing her eyes, and looked to Gia as well.
“By the Almighty Weave! Zaya was right!?Quirle shouted, pointing to the imposter and drawing the attentions of more of the villagers. Shouts of anger and disbelief rang out across the village center. Where Gia had once stood, there was now a hideous bloated blue monster, all teeth and blubbery jowls.
“IT'S A CORE MAGI!?Bo’Ahsa screamed in fury. With no further ado, she leapt upon the impostor and began bashing him with her fists. From elsewhere in the gathered throng came the flash of dream creatures as they were invoked from dozens of sources at once. The impostor struggled to summon creatures of his own, but Bo’Ahsa’s enraged fingers tore his rings from his grasp before he could send his energy into them. The mass of summoned Weave creatures began to descend upon him.
In a flash, his fat blue fingers flicked out and called the Black Weave down. One blade lifted him above the crowd as others lashed in fury at the attacking creatures. Lighting zapped the stalks with electrical fury as the Xyx moved to attack the black grass directly. He laughed in glee as he lifted his pouch, still brimming with hundreds of Black Weave seeds. Quirle saw the pouch and cried out, “The seeds! The impostor is going to use more of the seeds!?The crowd cried out in fury as this new threat became clear.
Suddenly, Kolte appeared from the midst of the crowd, wielding a great axe. With a mighty roar, he chopped into the base of the Black Weave stalk holding the imposter in mid-air. The axe bounced off the stalk, barely scratching it, but the grass wavered momentarily, seeming stunned. In that instant, a Weave Arboll sailed through the air, pummeling the imposter and the blade of black grass holding him aloft. The grass yielded and the imposter dropped instantly to the ground.
As he hit, the pouch of seeds fell from his grasp. “Grab the seeds!?cried Quirle, pointing to the pouch lying inches away from Bo’Ahsa’a feet. Quickly, she reached out to grab them, but the imposter was quicker. He snatched the pouch back and clutched it protectively to his blubbery chest. “Never!?he roared, yellow teeth flashing between his rubbery black lips. The crowd wasted no time advancing on him.
With an evil laugh, the impostor threw back his head and emptied the contents of the seed pouch into his huge gullet. With an audible swallow, he turned to snarl back at the crowd, “Now let’s see you take them from me!?/div>
He leaped straight into the air just as a mighty Junjertrug smashed its heavy foot down where he had been standing. A blade of the Black Weave caught him in mid-leap and hoisted him safely above the crowd once more. He glared down at the crowd, “Fools! You all could have been a part of the glory of the Black Weave! Now you shall be doomed by it as surely as the rest of the Moonlands! Soon there shall be nothing upon the surface but an ocean of Black Weeee??The impostor haltered in mid-speech, a strange expression crossing his ugly blue face. “What…what’s happening??he stammered, suddenly no longer sounding so confident. The Black Weave began to tremble as he lost his control over it.
A loud scream from above showed Zaya falling from the great height the evil grass had lifted her to, now having finally lost its grip on her. In a flash, several Weave Arboll zipped up to the catch the Elder and lower her safely to the ground. Iyori rushed to her side, full of concern—but Zaya waved her off. Shaken, but still able to walk on her own two feet, the Elder approached the imposter just as his own blade of black grass dropped him once more to the ground. He hit with a loud thump.
Rolling over onto his back, the impostor looked positively frightened now. He struggled to speak, but all that came out was a huge belch. “Stand back,?yelled Kolte. “I think he’s gonna hurl!?The crowd hurried to comply, giving the now harmless impostor plenty of room. All except Zaya.
The Elder of Qui Yeteh slowly advanced on her adversary, to stand looking down on him with a frown. The Core magi was holding his great belly with both hands and groaning in agony. Zaya watched him calmly. Suddenly, she began to laugh. The villagers looked to one another in surprise. Zaya’s laughter rose and rose. She struggled to speak through her mirth, “Oh—I don’t believe it! This is just too rich!?She leaned closer to peer directly into the impostor’s fear-filled eyes. “You sure are a stupid one—even for a Core Magi!?Her laughter rose again, and she wiped tears from her eyes.
“Zaya…” began Iyori. “What…” She fell silent as Zaya turned back to the gathered villagers. “He’s not going to hurl,?she said to Kolte. Turning to Iyori, she added, “He’s going to sprout!?/div>
Understanding suddenly lit the eyes of the villagers and soon they were all laughing. With a sudden POP!, The impostor began to stretch and wiggle. Soon, black shoots began springing forth from his nostrils, his ears. His clawed fingers sprouted glossy black leaves. The impostor’s body grew roots which fattened into a thick shiny root bulb as his body elongated and shot up into the sky. Within minutes, the impostor had completely transformed into merely another huge stalk of the Black Weave, no different from the others.
Dream creatures were sent back to the Dream Plane as the crowd recovered from its shock slowly. The laughter, which had been as much from a relief of sudden stress as from anything else, faded away to be replaced by a flurry of questions. Suddenly, everyone was very confused. Theories began to circulate as to how the impostor had managed it, and more than a few villagers offered shame-faced apologies to Zaya. For her part, the Elder waved away their apologies. “I, too, was deceived by the impostor! The Core is dangerous, insidious and it never tires—this is just one example of why we must always be on our guard.?/div>
Finally, the crowd parted at one end and a small figure hobbled into the midst of the throng. Gia—the real Gia—stood to face her life-long friends and neighbors. The assembled throng fell to a hush and waited expectantly for their wise-woman to speak—to utter accusations, admonishments and reprimands for the friends who failed her. Gia slowly turned in a circle, meeting the eye of each and every one of the assemblage.
“Well? Isn’t anyone gonna feed me, or what? I haven’t had a decent meal in months! I could eat a Junjertrug!?Gia’s voice was ragged but strong. She smiled a crooked smile and the crowd cheered, lifting her onto their shoulders, all the while spewing apologies and tokens of affection.
Soon, the entire village was happily engaged in the preparation of a grand feast. The events of the day had left many of them confused and more than a little ashamed of themselves. Now, all anyone really wanted to think about was putting the whole bad situation as far behind them as possible. From a short distance, Gia and Zaya sat side by side, watching the preparations in contentment. For the first time in a very long while, both were finally at ease. There was just one final thing to be taken care of?
What happens next? Read Part 11 "Revenge"
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