"Down Time"
The Unwanted, Part 7
By Edward Bolme
What happened before? Read Part 6 "We've Got a Secret" plus The Prodigal Daughter, Part 1 and beyond.

Gia staggered back into her hut, the roar of the crowd still ringing in her ears.

Although defeating Ashio had sorely taxed her energy, her adrenaline had kept her going while the adoring crowd brought her home, carrying her high upon their shoulders -- and though they grunted and sweated under her weight, they did not complain. Now, though, deposited safely inside her hut with the curtains drawn, she could relax.

It was hard, so hard to stay on top of things, she mused. Especially with Zaya waiting in the wings.

She closed the front door behind her, threw the bolt to lock it, and sagged against the wall. Her feet were throbbing, her voice was raw, and it felt like her girdle had rubbed raw spots all over. She blew a lank strand of sweaty hair out of her eyes and kicked off her tiny shoes, groaning in pleasure as she freed her feet from their painful little prisons.

"Dang, you stink," she said to her toes.

She lurched over to her cupboard, pulled out the cookie jar, and tipped the entire contents into her mouth. Then, trailing cookie crumbs as she munched on the wad of sweets, she lumbered over to the trapdoor that led to the cellar.

She descended the ladder, feeling the rungs creak and bend beneath her. She passed below the cellar to the freshly dug pit that traveled deeper into the earth. Here the ladder was stronger, thicker, and much more secure. The passage led down, angling toward the deepest portion of the Weave adjacent to her hut.

Gia finally exited the tunnel, stepping out into the dim, deep-green light that filtered through to the bottom of the ocean of grass. Here, great root bulbs hundreds of feet tall sat in the moist, muddy earth, drawing nourishment from the soil to keep the Weave alive. The roots of the bulbs all interconnected beneath the soil, creating a network of floral communication and giving the Weave a singular unity of purpose and action. That was the region's strength? and its weakness.

"How's everything?" asked Gia.

Yayek looked up from his work, a system of magically enhanced needles and wires that he'd inserted into a cluster of root bulbs. "Very well," he said, his sinister eyes glowing. "I have numbed many of the defense systems of the Weave, and enhanced its obedience. It resonates well with the people. Soon, I think we will be able to enact phase two of our plan."

"Excellent," said Gia as she picked at her toes. "The sooner I can get rid of Zaya once and for all, the better. Keep up the good work," she said, turning to leave.

"Of course," said Yayek. "I quite enjoy it."

Gia went back up the long, slanting tunnel into her cellar. She had no need to light a lamp, for her glowing eyes made everything visible to her in the darkness. She walked over to the farthest corner and sat heavily on the dirt floor beside her most prized possession.

There she took off her wig, removed the constricting dress, and roughly scratched her horned, green scalp.

"I'm really getting tired of pretending I'm you," said Nagsis hoarsely. "You're too small, too nice, and your taste in clothes is pathetic."

Gia struggled against the ropes. "You'll never get away with this," she growled around her gag.

"Yeah," said Nagsis, "that's just what they said to Agram." He paused. "No, wait -- that didnít come out the way I intended?quot;

What happens next? Read Part 8 "In Over Your Head".

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