Prodigal Daughter, Part 6
By Mike Christopher
Read Part 5 "A New Resolve"

Iyori waded along the shallow shore of the river that ran the northern course of Paradwyn. Her journey back toward the Weave had taken longer than she had thought. With the war raging in the emerald depths behind her, the jungle had been in a state of agitation. Her journey had been filled with encounters with unsettled dream creatures—many of which she had never encountered before. More than once she had wished for a companion such as Marella, who had accompanied her to this tropical realm in the first place—or even Ninx, whom Gia had sent to spy on Iyori’s alleged nefarious machinations. The thought of Gia accusing her of treachery against the Weave made her clench her jaw in anger—but she clamped down on the emotion. She would not let her anger cloud her judgement this time. Something was wrong—horribly wrong, and she might need all her wits about her to discover the truth.
The opposite shore rose in steep cliffs, atop which sat the forested highlands of Naroom. Based upon the height of the cliffs, Iyori judged she should be nearing the junction of the Green River with the Great River which ran the length of the continent from Kybar’s Teeth to the far northern shores of Naroom and the Weave. She slogged on through the shallows, having long since given up trying to negotiate the tangled depths of the jungle proper. If only I had brought my other rings! Iyori thought. All I have is this stupid jungertrug ring—and the big oaf can’t make it through the tangled mess of the jungle!
A submerged stone turned beneath her feet, and she stumbled, falling face first into the tepid green water. She came up sputtering and flailing. I’m NEVER going to make it home at this rate! She heard a squishing sound to her right and looked to discover the source of the sound. The river had its dangerous dream creatures as well—although they were fewer than those in the war-disrupted jungle. A glance showed her only that the river was flowing on as unperturbed as ever. No sign of an unwelcome encounter. Shrugging, Iyori trudged on—trying to wring some of the water from her tangled hair as she went.
The squishing sound came again, only this time it was accompanied by a violent itching sensation in her right ear. Iyori halted in her tracks and began digging furiously at her ear. After a few frantic moments of horrified digging, she extracted a squiggling little water woggul from where it had been attempting to build a cozy nest in her right ear canal. "Ugh! Ooooh…oooh…ick…ick!" she cried, flinging the slimy thing back into the water. Chills ran up her spine as she contemplated what other unwelcome passengers she may have picked up in her little swim back there. "I hate slimy things!" she screamed aloud to the aloof river, which ignored her and continued carelessly on its way.
Why didn’t I just stick to the main path? Iyori berated herself. So what if there is a war going on? At least I could have ridden the jungertrug!
Her grouchy musings continued rattling through her brain as the sun lowered in the sky. Just as the clouds were starting to become lined in rosy pink and gold by the approaching sunset, the river widened and the jungle and cliffs fell away to either side to reveal the huge sprawl of the Great River Valley. Iyori sighed in relief as she saw the vast expanse of the Weave spreading westward into the horizon beyond the river. Home was just a short distance now, she only had to cross the river.
Iyori scanned the eastern bank of the Great River, looking for indications of a safe place to cross. Unlike the gentle flow of the Green River behind her, this river ran very deep and its waters remained icy from their birth high in the Teeth. On her way out of the Weave, she and Marella had ridden their jungertrugs leisurely across the Spirals—a series of ancient rock spires which were joined by spiraling ramps and gracefully arching bridges, leading travelers gently upward to the highland plateau that merged into the forests of Naroom. Having heard the rumors of troubles in Naroom, Iyori had decided to avoid that route on her return journey, wanting nothing to delay her homecoming. But now the Spirals lay a good ways to the north, and on this side of the river, their starting point would be out of reach far above at the brink of the cliffs. She would have to find another way.
The sun settled down into the horizon, drawing a veil of frosted rose-colored gauze across the sky in its wake. Iyori had almost given up hope of discovering a place to cross before she had to make camp for the night when she happened upon a large ornately carved wooden post which had been placed upright along the river’s edge. Squinting in the waning light, she could just make out a carved message in the wood which read, "The Barlbridge is now available to all travelers. Please unsummon the Barls when your crossing is complete—Oralfo, Rivermaster."
Barlbridge? Iyori questioned. She stepped to the opposite side of the post and discovered a long leather cord dangling from the top of the post. The cord was set with gold medallions all along its length, and in the center of each medallion nestled a shimmering animite stone. "Hmmm…I wonder? Iyori held the strap in her hand as she closed her eyes and let her energy flow into the animite stones of the cord. She felt the stones responding, but something was not right. I should have known, she told herself. Multiple summonings spread your energy way too thin. Especially this many! Iyori gazed down at the animite studded-cord in her hand, there must have been at least fifty stones there! She started to release the cord when she noticed a much larger stone bound into the end. This stone was far larger than any piece of animite she had ever seen.
Once again, her curiosity got the better of her. She gripped the larger stone tightly in her hand and focused her energy directly into it. There came a loud rush of noise, and Iyori opened her eyes to behold a series of dream creature energy clouds steaming and sizzling their way across the river before her—all the way to the opposite shore! The cord in her hand now glowed brightly with the light of the fifty small animite stones. Iyori glanced up once more in time to see the nearest cloud solidify into the ungainly form of an aquatic barl, which settled down into the water right next to the shore. It looked up at Iyori expectantly. She gasped in astonishment.
The cloud next to the barl solidified and down splashed a second barl, which cozied right up beside the first. Then the same thing happened with the next cloud and the next and so on—until there was a veritable bridge, of sorts, formed by the broad backs of fifty or so aquatic barls, which extended right up to the far shore!
The nearest barl barked up at her impatiently, and she thought to herself, I might as well! Hopping onto the back of the first barl, she discovered that the pebbly surface of its broad back gave her plenty of traction and was not at all slippery. Shaking her head in wonder, she made her way along the bridge of barls. Barlbridge, she corrected herself. This must be one of those animite innovations we’ve been hearing about from the Naroomi traders. Some bit of ancient knowledge recovered from the Great Library there, no doubt. Iyori almost lost her balance as the barl she was currently stepping upon decided it needed to scratch itself roughly against its neighbor. She hurried on to the next, deep in thought. That big stone on the cord must amplify the energy of a single magi to accommodate the energy needed for a mass summoning! What a wonder! Well—you can’t stop progress!
Finally reaching the other shore, Iyori gratefully hopped onto solid ground once more. As she released the barls back to the dream plane, she reflected on how lucky she and the other Weavers were to live in a region where such new-fangled contrivances as the Barlbridge were unnecessary—as the Weave itself accommodated almost all of their needs in a manner most luxurious.
The last light had left the sky by the time Iyori stepped into the knee-high grass of the shallows of her homeland. El rose behind her, lighting her steps with its pale purple glow as she forged onward into the deeper grass. When at last the grass rose an armspan or so above her head, Iyori decided to settle down for the night. She wove the nearest blades into a basic shelter sigil, and the surrounding grasses responded by weaving themselves into a domed enclosure, complete with a gently swaying woven hammock inside. Aahhh, she sighed, as she sank wearily into the springy warmth of the hammock, it IS good to be home!
The grass wove itself across her sleeping form, keeping out the chill night air, and rocked her gently through the night.

What happens next? Read Part 7 "In Sickness and in Stealth"

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