"The Bond Sigil"
Prodigal Daughter, Part 8
By Mike Christopher
Read Part 7 "In Sickness and in Stealth"

Iyori tore into the village of Qui-Yeteh at breakneck speed, upsetting a trio of vuryip bearing wicker baskets laden with numma roots and chock-chock berries. "Ooops! Sorry!" she yelled breathlessly as she dodged a rolling load of spilled berries. The village was quietly buzzing with lazy motion as the Weavers strolled about after their evening meal, greeting their friends and neighbors and unhurriedly finishing off their daily chores before the nightly gathering. Iyori forced herself to slow down and entered the village proper at a more leisurely pace. No sense in upsetting folks just yet—and she didn’t feel like spending time on complicated explanations. She needed answers first.
"Iyori!" Quirle waved hello from his perch atop the woven porch roof of the village pub—the Hiccuping Heppeswip. "Where’ve you been for so long?"
Iyori waved back, but she didn’t pause to answer. She hurried on. Quirle’s greeting had alerted the other villagers to her unexpected return. Friendly faces turned to greet her with smiles and waves.
"Iyori, girl! Good to see ya!"
"My goodness, sweetheart—wherever have you been all this time?"
"Welcome home! Will you be at the gathering?"
"Say, come and join us for?
She nodded and waved and made her apologies as swiftly as she could, working her way through the heartfelt greetings of the friends and family she had known all her life. The familiar faces, the cozy press of the elaborately woven buildings, the smells of Weaver cooking—all these had their effect on Iyori as she pressed onward toward the far end of the village, where lie Gia’s dwelling. She felt a small burden ease from her heavy heart as she allowed the sights and sounds of home to welcome her back. Maybe this wouldn’t be so difficult after all.
The greetings turned to hushed whispers as Iyori broke through the last of the villagers and headed onward to her destination.
"Where has she been?"
"Did you know she was coming back?"
"Say, I heard she ran off to stop the Dark Twins!"
"No, no, no—she ran off to join the Dark Twins!"
"What are you all going on about—she’s been courtin?that blabbermouth fella from Naroom—Blabby or Yacky or something!"
"That’s Yaki—you old goat! He’s quite the catch, I hear!"
"I heard she was sweet on that old Orwin fella!"
"Orwin! Eewwww! You don’t say!"
"Nonsense—it’s that little Poad she’s sweet on. He’s a lucky fella, that one!"
"What do you know, you old gossip!"
"Who are you to be calling me a gossip!"
And so on? Iyori allowed herself a small smile. The Qui-Yeten Weavers were notorious gossips, but she loved them all dearly. She looked forward to joining them in their gossip someday soon—if she ever managed to clear up this mess with Gia.
The woven platforms of the village meandered gracefully around the shimmering stands of darkblossoms and firestems that had been planted in suspended wicker planters in the center of the village. The deep violet flowers were just beginning to fade as she crossed the wide gathering platform, stray petals fluttering down lightly to carpet the path before her. In the approaching twilight, the firestems began to glow an ember orange as their broad leafy crowns emitted a slow motion shower of glowing pollen, like a gentle mist of sparks. Iyori gazed fondly at the floral display, remembering how she had helped as Gia, Zaya and the other villagers had worked together to create the beautiful display during her childhood. She edged nearer the platform’s railing, and caught sight of the little glowpuff bush she had planted herself. She smiled wistfully. Her mind filled with visions of Gia smiling down at her as she dug into the soft dirt they had gathered for the plantings; remembrances of Gia’s hands guiding her own as she carefully tucked the seedling’s roots into their new bed; the smell of the soil mingling with the scent of the blossoms Gia had woven into her golden hair, and the feel of the tender young roots and the gentle rasp of Gia’s calloused hands against her own young fingers. Ahh, it’s good to be home, she admitted to herself at last—surprised at her own wistfulness.
She glanced back at the villagers clustered near the pub. No one had followed her. This in itself was a warning sign. Gia must be worse than when I left, she thought. Her earlier mad haste was now forgotten as she approached Gia’s home warily. The house was very large, consisting of four levels of elaborately woven cylindrical rooms. Like the rest of the village, the dwelling was formed from the living strands of grass. This particular structure was woven with the combined blades of no less than five entire root bulbs—all hidden below the sprawling village platforms, of course. The platforms rose in round circles toward the house, each spilling over with the exotic plantings of rare herbs and flowers that Gia so favored. The beds looked seedy and untended now, their neglected state solicited a frown on Iyori’s face as she approached the front entrance.
The circular frames of the windows were dark, revealing nothing of the interior. The doorway stood in deep shadow. Is she home? Iyori wondered as she reached hesitantly toward the door latch. A very loud belch from beyond the door startled her badly, and she reacted by jumping back. The door handle rattled from within and suddenly Iyori lost her nerve. Without really knowing why she did so, she leapt aside and took cover behind a fragrant and very rare bush that had always been one of Gia’s most prized plants. Its leaves were withered and yellowing now, but it still provided enough cover to hide her from view of the door.
The door opened and the most horrible odor spilled forth. Pee-eeew! Iyori held her breath. It smells like—like—stinky feet! Ugh! The smell was followed in short order by a ghastly bloated form that Iyori recognized not at all, although it still stood in the deep shadows of the doorway. From what she could see, the bluish skin was stretched tight—as if inflated with air. The face was a blubbery snarl of thin greenish lips and glowing yellow-green eyes. It wore a ridiculously tight dress and atop its head sat a highly unlikely patch of gray hair that looked a lot like a fright wig. Who—WHAT—is this thing doing in Gia’s house? Where’s Gia?
The monstrous apparition waddled forward. As it did so, Iyori felt a sudden return of the vertigo that had bothered her earlier, while examining the root bulbs with Kolte. The air before her eyes seemed to waver. Then the creature moved on into the brighter light, away from the shadows of the doorway. The air cleared before Iyori’s eyes and the dizziness passed. She blinked in dismay. Crossing the walkway toward the village proper was Gia. The terrible monster was gone—vanished from sight. Iyori started to stand and call out—but she stopped and looked more closely at the back of her adopted mother. Yes—yes—it was Gia! But she looked much heavier, and her skin was sort of bluish and her hair was sort of tipped sideways? Gia shuffled away toward the village proper.
Iyori closed her eyes and tried to think. Her head was suddenly all fuzzy. She didn’t want to think about anything. A voice from behind her startled her.
"Quick, Iyori. Say what you saw! Say it out loud before the spell makes your mind too fuzzy again!" Kolte was clinging to the edge of the platform behind her, his legs dangling over the darkness below.
"Iyori!" His voice was insistent, cutting through the comfortable fog in her head. She just wanted him to be quiet. Just for a minute longer. "Iyori! What did you see!"
She shook her head, producing a mild euphoria. Maybe if she answered him he would go away and leave her alone. "Say it now!" Kolte’s voice grew louder as Gia’s retreating figure grew farther away.
"I…I saw a fat blue…monster…I think." Some of the fog began to lift.
"Yes! Go on!"
"I saw…umm…it had a really ugly face, and it’s wearing one of Gia’s dresses." Her head was clearing now. The magical haze was evaporating from her mind.
"That a girl!" Kolte’s voice was becoming excited.
"It was wearing a gray wig, I think. And…and it smelled like stinky feet."
"Haha! So you did see it! I just knew it!" Kolte lifted himself over the platform’s edge and squatted down beside her. His calloused hand took her chin and directed her gaze to meet his own. Her eyes met his and filled with terrible fear as the full realization of what she had seen finally came through to her.
"Kolte, that wasn’t Gia at all! That’s some terrible, terrible imposter!"
Kolte nodded and released her chin.
"But…where’s Gia? My Gia?" Iyori’s usual reserve had abandoned her. She felt like a small child again. Her mother—the only mother she had ever known—was missing. She could be hurt, or worse!
"Kolte—we have to find Gia. She could be in serious danger. You know how tough she is! Anything that could take her down and pose as her is certainly powerful enough to do her some serious harm! Where could she be?"
"I don’t know. I discovered the imposter myself only a few days ago, quite by accident—but I had trouble believing it myself. The spell that clouds the mind is very strong. I was hoping you could see it too. I have managed to convince Yerthe of the truth as well. He has been helping me to look for clues as to Gia’s whereabouts. The Weave is no help. When you ask it to take you to Gia it will bring you to the imposter! You came along at the perfect time!"
"Me? Why…oh!" Iyori looked down at her fingers which were unconsciously playing with the tiny sigil braided into her hair. "The bond sigil!" she cried. "Yes—of course!" Bond sigils were tiny patterns woven into one’s hair by a bond partner. Each partner wore a matching sigil—and in this way, the Weave could always deliver one or the other to the location of their bond partner. Bond partners were usually child and parent—an assurance that a child could always find their way home. But bond partners could also be mates or fellow members of a warrior grouping or hunting band. Typically, though, the bond sigil was more of a symbolic token than anything else. Rarely did anyone ever have to actually use one.
"Have you ever used it?" Kolte asked.
Iyori shook her head. "Never had to. You know how Gia was—she rarely let me out of her sight when I was a kid!"
Kolte chuckled softly. "Yeah—I remember. But, you didn’t seem to mind too much."
Iyori shrugged. "I loved her?i>do love her. She taught me everything I know." She fingered the delicate knots of her bond sigil. "I suppose this is the answer, then. I’m sure Gia has never removed hers. This should find her—the real her—if anything will. Are you coming with me?"
Kolte nodded curtly once. "I brought this." He pulled a rolled wicker mat from its sling on his back. Unrolling the mat and laying it flat, he stepped atop it and sat down cross-legged. "I thought it possible that she could be hidden far away and that speed might be necessary." Iyori’s eyes widened as she took in the impossibly detailed patterns woven into the Weave Mat’s surface. She stepped atop the mat as well and folded her legs to sit next to him. There was just room for the both of them.
"I’ve never used one of these before. Is it dangerous?" Iyori asked.
"Nah. Besides, I wouldn’t let you fall."
"How does it work?"
"Well, you just key it to the destination you want—in this case the key will be your bond sigil—and then the Weave will pick us up, lift us to the surface of the grass, and then whip us along from blade to blade until we reach our destination. You won’t believe how fast this thing can go!"
"Okay. Let’s go." Iyori closed her eyes briefly and sent a trickle of energy curling down into the patterns of her bond sigil, then let the patterned energy seep away toward the surrounding Weave. The Weave responded immediately by dipping two wide blades of grass down from above. The blades slid beneath the mat effortlessly and lifted the two magi high into the air. Iyori’s heart began to race as they rose.
Suddenly, the blades slowed their ascent and then halted altogether. Then they began to lower once more.
"Hey—we didn’t go anywhere!" Iyori cried indignantly.
"What the?" said Kolte at the same time, looking over the edge of the mat.
The grass dropped them gently down right before Gia’s front door.
Kolte and Iyori looked at one another in surprise. Iyori rolled her eyes. "Of course! She’s probably right here—locked up in her own home where that thing can keep an eye on her!"
Kolte grinned sheepishly, somewhat embarrassed that he had overlooked the obvious, but he stayed silent. Iyori tried the latch, and quickly disappeared within once the door was open. Kolte wasted no time in following. The interior was very dim and the smell of stinky feet was almost overpowering. Iyori made a quick glance around the cluttered room before racing up the steps which spiraled up the far wall. Kolte looked around the first room more thoroughly as he heard Iyori banging and thumping around in the upper rooms. Gia’s home was quite filled with books and bottles and a bewildering variety of arcane apparatus. Kolte took it all in with mild nostalgia. It all looked just as he remembered it, although he had not been inside Gia’s home since he was a young boy. The smell, though, that was definitely new!
Iyori came clattering back down the steps, quite out of breath. "She’s not here!"
"But…are you sure you looked everywhere?" Kolte asked.
Iyori nodded. Her eyes were wild with worry.
"Maybe there’s something wrong with the Weave Mat. Perhaps one of its patterns has come unraveled or something," Kolte offered.
Iyori looked desperate. "Maybe? was her thin reply.
Kolte turned toward the door, intent on checking the intricate patterns of the mat, when his foot caught on something on the floor. He looked down and saw the outlines of a trapdoor he had not noticed before. "What’s this?" he pointed down at his feet.
Iyori turned to look. "Oh, that’s just…Oh!" Her eyes widened in surprise. "That’s the cellar! Gia never let me go down there!" She leaped upon the trap door, all but flinging Kolte out of her way. The door lifted easily on its recently oiled hinges. Iyori clattered down the ladder into the darkness, Kolte just behind her.
The cellar was dark and smelled of dampness, but at least the air was fresher than that of the rooms above. A muffled sound came from one of the darkest corners. Iyori rushed into the darkness and Kolte heard her swift inhalation of surprise.
"Gia!" Iyori’s voice was broken. "Gia, is that you?"
Kolte rushed to see Iyori bending over a small form lying on the floor. It was bound head to foot in thick cords of some slimy black material. Gia’s small face peered wearily up from her bindings. Iyori pulled the sticky ropes away from the old woman’s mouth.
"Iyori…Kolte. Oh thank goodness? Gia’s voice was thin and crackled with disuse. She sounded terribly old.
Iyori hugged her, sobbing with relief. "I’m so glad I found you! Are you alright? Here let’s get these cords off of you? her words came out in a rush. Kolte joined Iyori in ripping away the remaining bonds. The black ropes withered and fell away to ash as they were removed from the old woman’s body.
"That…that bloated purple pig has been pretending to be me!" Gia croaked hoarsely, some of her familiar old character creeping back into her voice.
"Yes—we just discovered it." Kolte answered. "But we must hurry and get you to safety before it returns."
Iyori helped Gia to stand. The wise-woman tried to speak, but the effort of movement after so long had left her gasping for breath.
Iyori looked imploringly at Kolte. "She’s terribly weak. She needs food and water." Kolte moved in to assist Gia, but she waved him away feebly but firmly.
"I can still walk, young man," she managed to say at last. Then, raising her chin, she took three dignified steps toward the ladder and promptly collapsed in a heap. Iyori stood aside as Kolte gathered Gia gently in his arms and carried her up the ladder.
"Let’s take her to Zaya—she’s a decent healer and should also be able to provide some safety. Can the Weave Mat take all three of us?" Iyori held the door as Kolte carried her mother out into the fresh air.
"No—but you take the mat. I will go find Yerthe and find out what the impostor is up to. Get Gia to safety and then meet us at the Canyon. We have a battle to plan." He turned and leaped off the platform into the darkness. Iyori cradled her mother in her lap as she settled upon the mat and watched him go. She wove the pattern for Zaya’s home from a slender piece of dried weed she pulled from a neglected planter nearby. She lay it upon the mat and sent a trickle of energy through it. The mat was lifted into the air and they were born swiftly away.
"How could I have ever been so blind?" she asked her unconscious mother through her tears. She smoothed the unconscious woman’s gray hair away from her face. "You could never have treated me the way that…beast…did! I’m so sorry I ever doubted you!" And then she kept a silent vigil as the Weave bore them to safety, vowing to never turn her back on a loved one ever again, and swearing all manner of revenge upon the foolish beast that had dared to come between a daughter of the Weave and her mother.

What happens next? Read Part 9 "Black Sap"

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