"Black Sap"
Prodigal Daughter, Part 9
By Mike Christopher
Read Part 8 "The Bond Sigil"

Zaya was silent as Iyori related her strange tale. Gia was nestled snugly in the Elder’s bed and was snoring loudly. They had managed to bring the wisewoman around long enough to get some thin soup and a flagon of water down her throat before she lapsed into a weary sleep.
When the story was told, Zaya stared thoughtfully into the firepit. "So—it has all been a ruse," she said. She let out a great sigh, sounding relieved. "I have been beside myself trying to understand what had gotten into Gia. The trouble she has caused. The anger." Zaya stood and made her way to the bubbling cauldron set above the fire, stirring it and sniffing its contents. Nodding to herself, Zaya ladled a large portion of the concoction into a ceramic jug and passed it to Iyori. "Let’s see if we can get some of this restorative into her."
Together, Iyori and Zaya managed to wake Gia long enough to take a few sips of the steaming liquid. She opened her eyes and peered weakly at Iyori. Her thin lips wrinkled up into a smile.
"We’re going to stop the impostor, Gia. This will all be over soon." Iyori reassured her.
Gia nodded weakly and closed her eyes. "The cellar?
"What was that?" Zaya leaned closer. Gia’s words had been little more than a whisper.
"Under the…cellar…something? Gia’s words trailed into a reedy snore.
"What?" Iyori started to shake Gia back awake, but Zaya held her back.
"Leave her be. She may be delirious."
"But—what was she saying?" Iyori asked the Weave Elder.
"Well—take it at face value. I’d suggest you go check out what’s below Gia’s cellar," Zaya’s tones were matter of fact.
Iyori nodded, blushing just a bit. Zaya’s sharp wit had always made her feel slightly dim-witted. The Elder had a remarkable way of pointing out the obvious, but Iyori had also learned that the old woman meant no insult. Zaya shooed her away from the bed.
"Chances are the imposter is working over the crowd at the gathering right this minute. She’s…er, it…has taken to giving grandiose speeches each night. All about mobilizing our "forces" and preparing to forge the Weave into a fighting machine. I never understood what all the fuss was about…the Shadow Magi are gone, the Calders have gone back home, the grass has healed itself?" Zaya looked thoughtful. "But now it all makes a bizarre kind of sense." She looked up at Iyori, her keen old eyes boring into the younger woman, as if sizing her up. "We have to put a stop to this?i>now," she said.
"Go," Zaya motioned to the door. "Get young Kolte and Yerthe to help you check out whatever is below Gia’s cellar. I am going to the gathering!"
"What…what are you going to do?" Iyori asked the Elder.
"Nothing yet. I gave up listening to Gia’s—I mean, the Impostor’s—blatherings some time ago. But I think it’s time to start listening again in the hopes that we may find out what we’re up against. Now go on! We have no time to waste!"


"Below the cellar, you said?" Yerthe looked skeptical. "But there’s nothing there!"
"That’s what I heard her say," Iyori proclaimed. "We have to check it out!"
Iyori stood by Kolte and Yerthe at the lakeshore. They had gathered atop a particularly low root bulb that they had used as a diving platform when they were kids.
Kolte clapped Yerthe on the back, "You heard the lady, pal. Let’s go!"
The three headed off into the darkness below the habitation zone. Kolte knew his way in the darkness beneath the village. The others allowed him to lead as he leapt surely from bulb to bulb, heading for the cluster which formed the foundation of Gia’s home. Iyori winced as she crossed the root bulbs?surfaces, knowing that she was likely stepping on the unseen blisters and rot she had momentarily glimpsed through the illusion. She only hoped their passage was not doing further damage to the already suffering Weave. As they neared the bulbs that supported Qui-Yeteh, Kolte urged them to silence. They proceeded on with caution, leaping from bulb to bulb into the darkness.
Shortly, Kolte ordered them to a halt and pointed overhead. The shoots from a nearby cluster of bulbs all twined together overhead to form a complicated spiraling foundation for the dwelling above. Kolte’s silent nod informed them that this was Gia’s home. A dark bulge beneath the foundation was the cellar—sort of like a hanging wicker basket stuck to the bottom of the building itself. Iyori squinted up at it. From this vantage point, she could see nothing out of the ordinary. The bottom of the cellar was interwoven grass, just like the rest of the dwelling—nothing unusual was visible.
Kolte ushered Iyori and Yerthe around the other side of the nearest huge shoot, out of view of the hanging cellar. "Do you guys see anything?" When they shook their heads, he replied with a sigh, "Me either. I was hoping this would be easy.
"I’m not sure if this will work—but I think we need to try to see through the illusion again. Whatever Gia was talking about may be hidden by the same spell that hides the sickness and shields the imposter."
"How do we do that?" ventured Yerthe. "It will just keep messing with our heads!"
Kolte held up a small leather flask. "I tapped some sap from one of the sickened bulbs—even though I couldn’t see the sickness, I knew it was there. Once the sap was in the flask, it turned black…the spell didn’t hold up once it had been removed from its intended location."
"So what are we supposed to do with the sap?" asked Yerthe warily. "You don’t expect us to drink that stuff do you?"
"No! Yuck!" Kolte smiled briefly at his friend. "You see, the magic works on our eyes first, then our minds second. The mind magic is weaker, ‘cause you can overcome it if you speak what you’ve seen out loud. The clouding of the mind relies on believing what the eyes are seeing—so the key lies in the eyes!"
"What are you telling us?" Iyori asked, impatiently.
Kolte looked very serious for a moment, then tipped his head back, looking up into the dark underbelly of Qui-Yeteh. "I think we have to do—this!" With those words, Kolte tipped the flask up and splashed some of its contents into his open eyes.
"Aaagh! You’ve got to be joking!" declared Yerthe. "I’m not doin?that!"
Kolte was rubbing his eyes furiously, as if they itched or burned. Iyori was doubtful of the wisdom of this plan, but she kept her opinion to herself. Kolte finally looked up at both of them. His eyes were completely black—no white, no iris, nothing. The effect was chilling.
"Are you alright?" Iyori asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Kolted smiled. "Hey! You guys look really weird!" He rubbed his eyes again. "It only hurts for a little bit, but? his words trailed off as he looked beyond his friends to their surroundings. "Whoa?" he breathed in awe. "It really works! I can see all the disease. With the magic in my eyes, the spell holds no power! Come on you two! Try it!"
Iyori could see that Yerthe was appalled, so she took the flask from Kolte and dashed some of the vile black contents into her own eyes before she could have second thoughts. Burning…burning…pain…ouchouchOUCH! Iyori rubbed her eyes madly. The pain gradually began to ease into an itching and then was gone altogether. She opened her eyes to take in her surroundings. Just as Kolte had said, she could now see the sickness plaguing the grass everywhere she turned. She looked up and gasped. The entire underside of the village was a seething mass of rot! Black goo was dripping down from above, joining the goo trickling from the blisters massed upon the root bulb surfaces.
"Oh…oh…it’s horrible!" Iyori exclaimed.
"What? What is it?" asked Yerthe. In reply, Iyori handed him the flask. She joined Kolte as he edged around the shoot once more and looked up at the underside of Gia’s home. Now, clearly visible, they could see a rope ladder—apparently made of the same sticky black stuff that had been used to bind Gia—descending from an opening in the cellar wall and disappearing into the darkness between the bulbs. From behind them came muffled curses as Yerthe finally gained the courage to dose his own eyes.
"There it is," breathed Kolte as he eyed the sinister ladder leading down into darkness. "This really is some powerful illusion!"
Iyori gulped as she contemplated what they might find at the bottom of the ladder. "Yes," she agreed. "Well, we’d better take a look." She took a running leap and landed on the bulb nearest the ladder. Kolte joined her. She started to reach for the ladder, but paused and turned to Kolte just as Yerthe joined them, his eyes now as jet-black as their own.
"How did you figure the sap would see through the illusion?" Iyori asked Kolte.
"Say—there’s a good question!" grumbled Yerthe. "Since when did you start havin?brilliant ideas?"
Kolte shrugged, "It was just a guess really. Remember when we were kids and Quirle got the green-fever real bad?" The other two nodded. "Well, he had some pretty bad hallucinations. And I remembered watching Zaya cook up a batch of medicines for him. One of them was a potion made from bulb sap, which she dropped into his eyes. She told me it would make the hallucinations go away—‘cause the sap was the blood of the Weave, and the Weave saw through to the truth of matters." Iyori nodded in sudden understanding. Yerthe continued to look confused.
Kolte continued, "I thought that if we used the poisoned sap, it would show us the truth of the Weave’s real condition? He stopped as he saw that both of his friends now understood. Iyori was impressed. Kolte went up another notch in her estimation.
"Well…thank you. It was a great idea," she told him. Turning, she leaped off the bulb and caught the black ladder in mid-air. Glancing up at the men, she asked, "Coming or not?" and then disappeared into the darkness below.


"Our time is now!" cried Gia over the murmuring voices of the crowd. Her bloated form stood high upon a woven pedestal. The voices of the villagers betrayed their thoughts—she could sense that at long last her words were finally having an effect on them. "The Calder invasion was but the first—how long before the other regions decide to violate our borders—desecrate our land with their foreign blasphemies?
"We cannot passively sit by and wait for them to challenge us! We must act now, and act swiftly!" Gia’s bluish lips curled into a smug smile as she watched her audience. Their murmurs had stilled, all eyes were on her. She longed to scratch beneath her wig, but settled for digging her nails into the skin of her palm to distract herself from the itching. The crowd was hers now. It was time to put Phase Two of her grand plan into action.
She drew forth the pouch of special seeds her devoted Yayek had created. She held the bag high and then upended it, spilling the glittering black seeds at her feet. The crowd gasped in surprise as they huddled closer to examine the seeds.
"With these special seeds, we shall spread the boundaries of the Weave—spread the borders of our might. The grass will cover the Moonlands and it will all be ours for the taking! We are the masters of the Weave. We alone can control the grasses. None shall stand before us!"
The seeds glittered darkly at her swollen feet as the crowd began to roar in unison, "Gia! Gia! Gia!" Gia’s eyes narrowed in smug satisfaction. The Weavers belonged to her now. She perused their faces, bright with the conviction of their cause. All but one. Gia’s smiled slipped a little as she noticed Zaya standing at the rear of the crowd. Their eyes met and held for a second. Gia silently challenged the old hag to defy her. But Zaya’s face remained expressionless, betraying nothing. Silently, the Elder turned and hobbled back the way she had come. Gia decided that now was not the time to challenge her. The villagers had been swayed, after all. What harm could one old woman do? Soon the black seeds would be sprouting across the Moonlands, bringing life to the new Black Weave she and Yayek had designed. Soon, she would be the ruler of everything!


The ladder led between the great bulges of the root bulbs, down between the huge columns of thick roots holding the bulbs high above the pervasive mud below. It ended on a thick root sticking out horizontally from the great mass of roots. Iyori wasted no time leaping off the ladder and following the root into the center of the tangle, her blackened eyes showed her the way clearly even in the almost non-existent light.
Within the tangled roots was a hollow. At first, she could see nothing—but then she looked up. A woven hammok hung above her head, and it was not empty. Soft snores could be heard from above. She squinted to see better. The figure was slender, but beyond that she couldn’t discern any identifying features. It’s definitely not that fat Impostor, she decided. So who is it? Who would be helping?
Quickly, she cautioned silence to Kolte and Yerthe as they joined her within the tangle. A finger pointing up revealed her discovery. Kolte and Yerthe looked at one another and some silent message passed between the two. With identical nods, they came to a decision. Kolte turned to Iyori and gently but firmly put her out of the way. Then he joined Yerthe in climbing the inside roots of the tangle, positioning themselves on opposite sides of the hammok.
Normally, Iyori would have resented Kolte’s assumption that she should stay out of harm’s way and let the "boys" handle it—but after the time she had spent with her father, she saw Kolte’s actions in a different light. He was being considerate and courtly. It was a way in which he was trying to let her know how he felt about her. Of course it was totally idiotic, but that’s just the way men were. Her newfound perspective even allowed her a small private smile as she watched the men get ready to pounce, even as she pulled a ring out of her belt pouch.
The two Weavers sprang simultaneously on the sleeping figure. There were several loud "oofs!" and various grunting noises before the whole struggling mass came tumbling down to land at Iyori’s feet. In a flash, Kolte and Yerthe disentangled themselves, while using the hammok to further entangle their prey. As they stepped away, Iyori got her first good look at the captive. His features were dark, but his eyes glowed with an inner light. He seemed vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place him.
"Yayek? Is that you?" asked Yerthe, leaning down to peer into their prisoner’s eyes. Yayak? questioned Iyori to herself, wasn’t he that weird guy who left the village when we were still kids? She had vague memories of a village malcontent who had finally ran off to "find his fortune" elsewhere. This man’s face did indeed somewhat resemble that of the man she could but vaguely recall. But—what had happened to him?
"So…I haven’t been forgotten after all, eh?" Yayek’s voice was a sibilant hiss.
"What…what happened to you?" stammered Yerthe.
"What happened? What happened?!" Yayek struggled against the tangled hammok. "Oh, nothing much. A little of this, a little of that, a whole lot of something else! Heeheeeheeeheee!" His laughter was deranged and more than a little frightening.
Kolte pulled Yerthe back. "He’s crazy. It’s obvious the Shadows have taken him."
"Shadows? Shadows? Where? Where oh where oh where oh where did my sweet sweet shadows go?" Yayek looked around hopefully, then lapsed back into a quiet giggle.
"So what are you doing down here?" Yerthe persisted in his questioning.
Iyori glanced up. With the hammok out of the way, she could see all of the way up to the underside of the huge bulb above. There were strange shapes and shadows up there that she was sure did not belong. She tugged on Kolte’s arm and pointed up.
"There’s something else up there!"
Kolte and Yerthe looked up, but Iyori was already scaling the roots. As she neared the underside of the bulb, she encountered the first of the strange needle-like rods impaling the roots. The rod was connected to a wire which connected to another rod and so on. Glancing around, she saw an elaborate system of rods and wires, all impaled into the roots and even the belly of the bulb itself. From the punctures radiated unhealthy bluish-black veins which pulsed sluggishly. The whole mess was intersected by a central structure which clung to the underside of the bulb. This structure looked part metallic and part organic and entirely unwholesome. Horrified, Iyori could barely breathe. So this must be what has been causing the sickness! She ripped at the nearest rod and pulled it free of the root.
"Nooooo! Stop! You don’t know what you’re doing!" screamed Yayek from below. "Mustn’t interfere! He will kill me! I promised him, promised him. Oh stop stop stop!"
Iyori ignored the protests and continued yanking the vile rods from their resting places. The open holes left behind oozed thick black sap.
"Stopstopstopstop!" Yayek sounded as if he were in pain now. Iyori spared a glance down at him. He was writhing in agony and tearing at his face and hair with his bare hands. Nearby, she noticed that Kolte and Yerthe had joined her in pulling the rods out of the roots and bulb. Their faces were masks of the same rage and horror she herself felt. She pulled out another rod.
"Shadows come to me! Sweet sweet shadows!" Yayek’s voice was a howl. Suddenly the air was filled with writhing black forms. Shryque! Was Iyori’s panicked thought as the nearest attacked her back. She fought them off as best she could with one hand, but there were too many. She could barely see her companions beneath their own attackers. The flying shadow creatures tugged and tore at her back, her hair, her arms and legs. Finally, she lost her grip and tumbled to the root below, landing next to Yayek whose face beamed with joy as he watched the shryque swarming above.
The shryque would be upon her again any moment. There was no time to lose. Quickly, Iyori slipped on the ring she had readied earlier. With the most urgent of need, she sent her energy into the ring with violent force. The junjertrug sprang forth into existence and abruptly filled the small space within the tangle with its massive bulk. Iyori found herself smashed against the roots with a face full of junjertrug fur. She couldn’t move. Above she could hear the huge beast snapping its jaws on shryque after shryque. Their energy explosions as they violently returned to the Dream Plane lit the small space in a series of bright flashes.
Within minutes it was all over. The junjertrug finally noticed Iyori’s plight and moved aside to make a little more room for her. Kolte and Yerthe dropped down wearily next to her, looking much the worse for the wear. She looked up again and noticed the remnants of the evil device which had been poisoning the Weave still clinging to the belly of the bulb. With a direct thought she placed an image in the junjertrug’s mind. It reached up and chomped down on the device with a loud crunch.
"Well," she sighed, "that takes care of that!" She looked over to her companions. Yerthe was sporting several nasty scratches, and poor Kolte looked as if he had been bitten on the neck!
"I think we found what we were looking for," said Kolte quietly, the horror of their discovery still with them all. "We must get back to Zaya. Soon, the impostor will discover what we have done here. Our time to act is running out." The others nodded wearily in agreement.
"Say, where’s that crazy Yayek?" asked Yerthe.
A muffled hysterical giggling from beneath the junjertrug was their answer.

What happens next? Read Part 10 "Black Weave"

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