"Keeper, Weaver, Stalker, Spy"
The Prodigal Daughter, Part 4
by Edward Bolme
Read Part 3 "Roots"

Iyori lurched along the path toward the hot spring. After a full day of training in the magic of Paradwyn, she was exhausted. Some of the lessons came fairly easily to her, presumably because she had some Paradan blood in her. Other lessons? well, she had good reason to go and soak her aching body in the springs. Not only would it help the knots in her muscles to loosen, it would ease the frustration within her heart. She hated not being able to succeed. She felt like sheíd never learn some of the tricks they tried to teach her.

As she approached, she saw Bazhaóher father, she reminded herselfósitting in the springs, the steaming water all the way up to his eyeballs. He stared vacantly into space, his eyes expressionless.

"I thought you were planning the fight against Bograth," said Iyori as she slipped into the waters."

For a moment, Bazha did not react, then his eyes flicked over to look at her directly. Iyori felt an unnatural heaviness in his gaze.

She settled into a comfortable position. "That bad, huh?" she asked quietly.

Bazha nodded slowly.

Iyori didnít know what to say or do, so she sat there for a while, fidgeting with her fingers under the water.

"Bograth has never been much of a threat before," said Bazha finally, sitting up in the spring and stretching, "but this time, something is different."

"I know the feeling," muttered Iyori blackly. "Kind of like what happened with me and Gia; suddenly you find a threat that you didnít know was there."

"Thankfully, youíve been doing well in your training, mílaóer, my daughter," said Bazha. "However, you havenít yet shown the abilities yet with jungle stalking that youíll need to defend this land, let alone prosper."


"Itís very useful in battle."

"But I thought Paradwyn was non-violent," protested Iyori.

"Funny," said Bazha, "they say the same thing about the Weave."

Iyori grinned sheepishly.

"We try to remain non-violent," said Bazha, switching into lecture mode, "But stalking is not violence, itís a valuable skill, a way of moving about unseen among the foliage. Itís a way of becoming one with the jungle. For as long as history remembers, weíve preserved stalking as a game, making it a sport and competition among our people, but the eldest have always known that we needed to practice stalking in case war ever came to Paradwyn. Itís very useful when times are bad. Good stalkers are never seen and never heard. The best stalkers can sense without seeing or hearing. And even a poor stalker knows when heís being followed."

"Are you hinting at something?" asked Iyori.

"Listen to The Scarlet Song:

In the jungle there are eyes

Always looking to surprise

Outsiders who donít realize?

Bazhaís song was interrupted by a terrific crash just behind Iyori, with a shrill scream of surprise and fear amidst the thrashing of the underbrush. Iyori jumped across the spring with a gasp, leapt behind a tree trunk, and peered back out to see what made the noise. Bazha merely stood up and walked quietly out of the spring toward the noise.

The ferns and bushes behind them shivered momentarily with a hidden struggle, then Yrichoís head popped up with a grin from ear to ear. "Itís much more fun to pounce," he sang loudly and slowly, finishing Bazhaís verse.

"And what do you have for us today?" asked Bazha placidly.

Yricho lifted up another Magi, already bound and gagged. Fierce eyes blazed beneath a head of dreadlocked hair.

Iyori gasped. "Ninx? What are you doing here?"

"MMmmrrphmpmmfrfft!" she said angrily.

"More to the point," said Yricho, "why has she been following you these last five miles?"

"Mrrhhfttrrfpp!" said Ninx.

"This line of interrogation is getting us nowhere," said Bazha, shaking his head. "Letís take her back to my place." He turned to go as Yricho shouldered the kicking, squirming, growling burden. "Itís okay, Iyori," he said, "you can come out from behind that tree."

"Butóbut whereíd he come from?" asked Iyori, pointing to Yricho.

"Heís been following you around, stalking you up in the treetops all day long."

Iyori gulped, and right then and there, she resolved to steel herself to do whatever it took to learn jungle stalking.

* * * * *

Back in Bazhaís home, Ninx sat on the floor. She worked her jaw, now free of the gag, and rubbed her wrists to restore circulation where the bonds has pinched. She looked around, and saw the stern face of Bazha, with his penetrating, steely eyes; Iyori, who wore an expression mixed of curiosity, confusion, anger, and distrust; and Yricho, who seemed not to be paying attention as he stretched his supple limbs. Although she has been untied, and although she saw no one else to guard her, she had already learned not to try to flee in the jungle. She knew there were others out there, watching, waiting?/p>

"Why are you here?" asked Bazha bluntly.

"Gia sent me," came the reply.

Iyori flushed bright red, but from anger or embarrassment, Ninx couldnít tell.

"Why?" barked Bazha.

"Who do you think you are, Mister Browbeater or something?" spat Ninx. "You treat me like Iím your enemy! The least you could do is find out what Iím doing before you start being rude!"

Bazha pursed his lips and considered this for a moment. "You have a point," he said. He stepped over to his kitchen area and took a basket of fruit. "Here," he said, offering the bowl. "Help yourself. Iíll have Yricho fetch us some tea." Then he sat down next to Ninx and said, "I apologize for my rudeness. I hope youíll forgive me."

"Síokay," mumbled Ninx.

"So tell me, mílady," said Bazha, "what brings you to our neck of the jungle?"

"Like I said, Gia sent me." She glanced over to Iyori. "Sheís pretty concerned about you and where you were off to. She was convinced that you were trying to rally support to get your revenge or something. She told me all about your fight, and how you swore youíd get her back for it?

"I said no such thing!" yelled Iyori.

Bazha looked over at her gently. "At least, my dear, you donít remember saying such a thing. You said yourself that the whole episode is a blur of emotions."

"Well, yeah," said Iyori weakly. "But even if I did say such a thing, I didnít mean it."

There was a pause, broken only by the sound of Ninx chewing on some fruit.

"You know I didnít, donít you Ninx?" asked Iyori.

She nodded. "So anyway, Gia wanted to know where youíd gone," she continued. "When Marella came back, she couldnít remember a whole lot about anything. You know how she is. So Gia got upset, and cast a bunch of spells on Marella, and made her remember. I think it kind of hurt, but she told us about how you came here, and then about the Dark Twins in Naroom, and then Gia got really upset, and from what I could tell, she got afraid, too. She said she thought you might try to work some deal with the Dark Twins to get back at her. So she sent me to track you down and watch you. And if it looked like you were planning to do anything to hurt the Weave, I was supposed to do whatever it took to stop you."

"Whatever it took?" repeated Iyori with concern.

"Yeah," confirmed Ninx. "Harsh language, huh? And she chose a good person, too. But I donít see that youíre up to any harm, and it sure looks like Bograth is becoming a problem for you folks, so I have an idea: How about I quit skulking around? That way you folks get some help fighting against Bograthís swarms, and I can get better meals."

"And," added Bazha, "have an easier time keeping an eye on Iyori, here?"

Ninx grinned shrewdly. "Yeah, I guess it all works out that way, now doesnít it?"

"Well, youíll be wasting your time watching me," said Iyori, "because I have no plans ever to go back to the Weave."

Ninx thought about this for a moment. "Good," she said, nodding. "I donít blame you. So whereís the tea?"

Read Part 5 "A New Resolve"

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