"Weave Got a Secret"
Deep in the Weave, a group of desperate refugees gathered around a gaping mouthlike pit at the base of the ocean of grass. Harror knelt and sifted some sand between her fingers. Chur flexed her fingers and searched the blades of grass that towered over their heads for any threat. Lanyx shifted back and forth on his feet impatiently. Korremar stood quietly in the background with his arms folded.
"This is the Hole," Ashio said, as he gestured to the black opening. "That's... kind of a pun name I came up with. I discovered this the day I decided I didn't want to be just a part of the Weave, I wanted the whole thing. That when I discovered this... hole thing here... get it? Whole? Hole? Uh, never mind. I guess you had to be here."
"But we are here," said Chur.
"Yeah, so we are," said Ashio. "So for starters, I think this is a safe place to hide. And I think this place might connect somehow to the Core. It certainly has Core power in it; it was here that I first began to taste true power. So I think we'll be safe here," he added, as he led the way into the Hole. "Safe, alone, with no one who knows where we are."
"Helllooooo," said a singsong voice from the darkness.
"Nagsis!" said five voices together.
"Indeed," said the bloated Magi, twiddling his pudgy fingers together over his obese stomach. Even sitting, he seemed to tower over the other Magi. "It's good to see you folks again."
"Who is that with you?" asked Lanyx.
Harror elbowed the Calder aside. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"I believe a more apropos question would be, what are you doing here?" replied Nagsis. "After all, we were here first."
There was an uncomfortable silence as each side awaited an answer. "To be honest," said Ashio at last, "we've been trying to evade pursuit for some time, and find a safe place to lair up for a while until the danger blows over."
"And I'm hungry," said Lanyx. "Serve us."
Harror leaned closer in. "You still havenít answered my question," she said. "What are you doing here?"
"I am working for the greater glory of the Core," he said, mincing his pronunciation very delicately. He gestured to the Weave Magi who stood behind him in the shadows, an older Magi with haunted eyes and a wry smile. "With the help of my good, dear friend Yayek, I have managed to ingratiate myself with several people here. And if it were not for that one tawdry little tart who insists on being in charge, I might be able to work my way into control of this pathetic little region."
"You? Control?" asked Lanyx incredulously. "But I am here now!"
"Yes," answered Nagsis dryly, "I could tell by the trail of flame that seems to hound your steps. Manipulating the Weave requires a subtle touch, Lanyx."
"Pshaw! The Weave offers no problems that can't be solved by a good dose of fire!"
Nagsis tapped his soft lips with one clawed finger. "Perhaps there is use for fire yet," he said. "The Weavers will track you down sooner or later; we need to throw them off the track. Ashio, why don't you slip away with Lanyx and cause a series of burns heading north, circling back toward Naroom, then sneak back here. Be careful not to be seen."
"You think you can just order me around?" snarled Lanyx.
"You're sending me out there alone with this psychopath?" protested Ashio.
"Do it, or Yayek will wrap the Weave grass around your arms and legs and I'll sit on you until your face turns blue," said Nagsis.
Shadows filled the entrance to the Hole as the nearby grass drew close.
"Okay," they said, as they both trotted quickly out of the Hole.
* * * * *
Firelight flickered on Grega's face as she stood and watched, turning her skin to a golden hue. High winds rushed past the Magi to feed the flames.
"This is terrible," said Grega.
"Whaddaya mean?" squealed Valkan as he danced gleefully about. This is the most beautiful sight I have ever seen! Look at those flames!"
In one sense, it was beautiful, as beautiful as a full volcanic eruption. The colors were gorgeous, the heat intense, the vivacity of the flames overwhelming.
What had started as a duel had rapidly escalated, and now the Magi watched a full-on firestorm. The grasses of the Weave moved in, weaving together in an attempt to wall out the painful burn, yet the very act of self-preservation made it worse. The extra layers of grass insulated the fire, keeping the heat at the center high. The concentrated heat preheated the grass itself, drying it out, so that the moist wall that tried to block the flames became as dry as tinder and caught fire, instead. This caused even more grass to move in to try to stop the fire. And, to top it off, the grassy walls blocked air flow from everywhere within the Weave. This meant that the fire drew it air from outside, causing the high winds. The speed and persistence of these winds whipped the flames to the intensity of a furnace, and pushed their heat deeper into the Weave.
It was like watching an explosion in slow motion.
"The grass isnít tall enough to smother the flames," murmured Grega, "If only it would lie down, away from the burn, the fire would die out for lack of fuel."
"Yeah!" said the little pyromancer. "Soon the Shadow Magi will have no place left to hide! Oh yeah! Watch me shake it! Dance with the flames!"
But Grega could only think of the Weave, and the people within it, and how much they would both suffer if this burn couldnít be stopped.
"Lie down!" she urged prayerfully. "Lie down before it's too late!"
* * * * *
A large throng had gathered outside Gia's farmhouse. They were restless, angry. Dark, tall plumes of smoke rose into the sky, several smaller markers pointing to areas within the Weave where local grass fires raged, one large one near the border where a firestorm devoured the grass. The plumes were like gravestones marking the position of a Cald fire team and the trail of a group of Shadow Magi.
Gia finally made an appearance, to the applause of those gathered.
"It is as you predicted, Gia," said Quirle. "Zaya insists on talking to the Calders, while they insist on burning as much as possible. We fight them at every turn, but they refuse to leave. I think they intend to find the Shadow Magi by burning the entire Weave to the ground. But I, for one, will no longer follow Zaya! Lead us, Gia!"
The crowd erupted in cheers and whistles.
"As you wish," croaked Gia, "though I am only a seer. Tell me," she said, "where are the Shadow Magi now?"
"We do not know," admitted Bo'Ahsa. "Our scouts have lost the trail, but it seems that Lanyx tries to burn whatever dream creatures they stumble across. Judging by the trail, I'd say they're hooking back for Naroom."
"Ah, but I have had another vision," said Gia. "I believe I know where they are. Those from Cald are indeed only causing destruction. They must be harried and attacked until they leave. But we must also smite the Shadow Magi and drive them from our realm, so that they do not give the Calders reason to return." She raised her clenched fists and shouted, "Let everyone fear the might of the Weave!"
The sounds of the cheering rolled like thunder throughout the ocean of grass.
Far away across the Weave, Zaya sat on her front porch, alone, ignored. She heard the rumbling thunder and hung her head, vowing to do whatever it took to wrest control from Gia.
Whatever it took. The question remained, what would it take?
* * * * *
All went well for the Shadow Magi for a few days. Then, one morning, they awoke to find Nagsis missing. In his corpulent place was a note, written on a withered piece of grass. It said simply, "Our informant tells Yayek and me that Gia is coming for you with a large number of Magi. Good luck. And don't give away the location of this hiding place, or they'll fill the hole up, and that would make me very angry indeed."
The Shadow Magi were undecided about what to do. Lanyx argued that they should stand and fight. Ashio was of the move-and-hide opinion. In the end, Korremar's suggestion that they make for the Sands of d'Resh carried the day.
Korremar led the group. Ashio brought up the rear, trying to use his Weave magic to conceal their passing from anyone who tried to follow. His job would have been a lot easier if his very touch did not cause the grass to wither.
In the end, Ashio's attempts to hide their trail did no good.
"There he is!"
Ashio turned his head toward the sound of the voice, and saw a group of Weave Magi approaching. He glanced back toward his Shadow compatriots; they had heard the voice too, and he saw them break into a fast run.
He was too far behind them to catch up, so he tried a desperate gambit. "There they go, fellow Weavers," he shouted, pointing one arm in the direction in which the other Shadow Magi had fled. "For years I have infiltrated their camp until I could at last turn them over to you for justice! Seize them! Seize them all!"
His words went unheeded, though, as a large group of Magi encircled him, weaving the grass into a great cage to bar his escape. The Magi chattered among themselves as to Ashio's fate. In the wake of the war against Agram and the destruction of the shadow geysers, they were eager to rid the Moonlands of the Shadow Magi from the Weave. Zaya would have said they were too eager, but Zaya was far away, and the corrupt one was right here, in their power.
"Leave him to me," came an authoritative voice.
The crowd suddenly hushed as a nearby Magi weaved Gia a hole. The seer stepped through into the encircling grass cage.
"Gia?!?" sputtered Ashio. "You?!? How did you--! I donít believe it, you knew! You--"
"Yes, I knew, Ashio," Gia said, pulling some lank gray hair from her face, "and now your time has come!" She raised both hands, inciting the crowd, basking in their adoration.
"You get him, Gia!" shouted someone. "Purge the Taint!" came another voice. The crowd grew louder and louder, drowning out Ashio's words as he tried to make himself heard, gesticulating wildly at Gia, himself, and the hostile crowd.
Then the largest Weave creature Ashio had ever seen stalked into the ring. It walked on two massive legs, and had two strong arms with nasty talons. Two fierce, yellow eyes glowed hungrily from its massive bony head.
They began to chant. "Gia pet! Gia pet! Gia pet! Gia pet! Gia pet!"
Ashio threw everything he had into the duel, for he knew he had no other hope. Magic flashed, creatures dreamed and faded, and the yells of the combatants were drowned in the roar of the crowd. In the end, only Gia crawled off the field, looking much the worse for wear.
* * * * *
Far across the Weave, Zaya rubbed her temples. Her headache was getting worse. She knew had to do something, something drastic, because it felt like her head was going to explode.?
What happens next? Read Part 7 "Down Time"
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