"Run!" yelled Ashio, and for once, the Shadow Magi acted in unison, not a one of them quibbling about who was in charge. Such cooperation is not uncommon when one sees a cluster of crackling fireballs descending like a swarm of gigantic angry ember vards.
Qwade, his five legs moving like a blur, sped past the other Shadow Magi, muttering, "Please get them and not me, please get them and not me!" Unfortunately, he did not anticipate that Grega's first move would be to launch a fireball directly at the midspan of the bridge to keep the Shadow Magi from getting away. Qwade reached the apex of the arc just as the fireball struck, and the explosion sent him over the edge, smoke trailing behind him like a comet. His plaintive cry of "Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!" dopplered away, as his former companions watched, shrugged their shoulders, and then continued the fight.
Harror set up a crosswind in an attempt to divert some of the blazing balls of magical energy while the group crossed over to the Weave side. As she passed the center point, Chur punched the bridge with her impressive fists, cracking the stonework in hopes of causing the Cald Magi to hesitate to cross. Between the incoming fire, the new high wind, the lack of allies, and the bridge shaking beneath his feet, Lanyx eventually gave up on Grega and fled, as well.
As the Shadow Magi reached the far end of the bridge, Korremar spun a spell of invisibility to cover them, combined with the illusion of a set of Shadow Magi that ran down the spiraling ramp to the floor of the Weave below them.
"We have a few moments before the Calders evaporate that spell with their fire," he said to Ashio. "You'd better work your magic quickly."
Ashio reached out to the Weave, becoming one with it as he had been taught so long ago. He felt the consciousness of the Weave draw back from his cold soul, but he forced it to obey. Trembling, the great blades of grass weaved together to form a ramping matted roadway.
Ashio chuckled. "Follow me," he said. He led the relieved group of refugees down the path. The grass road unraveled behind him as soon as the group had passed, although Ashio's very footsteps left oval spots of dying brown on the grass wherever he trod.
He reached into the Weave to find the Hole, that darkest part of the Weave that lurked like a bad dream in the very bottom of the great grass ocean's collective mind. And once he found it, he led the others ever downward, deeper and deeper into the Weave.
Zaya stood on a platform of woven grass in the heart of the Weave, reaching out with her mind. Even as she stood there, the mat she'd woven trembled beneath her feet. Something is wrong, she thought. Something is not right within the Weave.
The feeling that something was not right made her irritable. Heck, it made everyone irritable. It was like a thunderhead hanging in the sky, waiting to burst, a tension waiting to find expression. But as hard as she searched, she couldn't find a source anywhere in the Weave.
Something was just wrong. I hope it's not me, she thought. She'd heard rumors, some of them at least. She knew other rumors circulated around her, avoiding the Elder's ears. Thank goodness she had advisors she could trust.
The Weave elder looked around for the source of the voice. There, above her, she saw Quirle running toward her, the Weave grasses meshing as he approached, giving his feet a place to run, then unmeshing as soon as he'd passed.
"Zaya," he said, panting, "there's a fire team from Cald trying to enter the Weave. They say they're on a lanyx hunt, but they've already burned some of the grass, and they seem pretty angry. What should we do?"
"Not to worry," said Zaya. "Calm heads always prevail, even in Cald. Let's talk to them, find out what in the world a lanyx is, and maybe we can help them find one." Zaya rubbed her forehead and reached out with her soul. The Calders weren't the problem, no, but she could feel them pressing against the Weave, and the added pressure bothered her.
"Go find Gia," Zaya said, "she's had more experience with outsiders than almost anyone else. She'll know how to handle these Magi. Off with you!" She shooed Quirle away, but he was already running toward Gia's hut, the Weave grasses helping to propel him at amazing speeds.
A fist hammered hard on the door of Gia's modest dwelling, eliciting a shriek from inside.
"Uh... who is it?"
"It's me, Quirle," said the panting Weave Magi. "I-- I have important news!"
"Hang on just a moment," came the hoarse reply. "I just popped another dang button off my skirt!"
Quirle tapped his foot impatiently, then began pacing back and forth across Gia's doorstep. At last the door opened. Quirle reflexively drew back.
"Yes?" asked Gia, peering around the side of the door. She pulled a strand of lank gray hair from her face.
"Uh, Gia, Zaya sent me to get your advice. There's a Cald fire team moving in the Weave. They've already blasted and burnt a bunch of stuff near the Spiral Bridge."
"Oooh," said Gia. Excitement and concern played across her face. "What are they after?"
"Well, Grega was shouting something about a lanyx, whatever that is."
"Laynx?" asked Gia, her baggy eyes widening. "That's a who, not a what, um..." She gestured helplessly.
"Right," she said with a smile. "All you young'uns, I just can't keep you all straight. You gather together... uh, what's her name... Bo'Ahsa and some other Magi and stop these hotheads. I don’t want them burning any more of my region. You do whatever it takes."
"But Gia," protested Quirle, "shouldn't I get Zaya's approval?"
"Don’t be a troublemaker," Gia snapped. "She is an old weakling. Why else does she send you to get advice for her? She wants to take credit for my wisdom, yet her incompetence has left us no time to waste. We must act now, if we are to save the Weave. No mercy, no more of Zaya's passive resistance. Understand?"
Quirle was taken aback by this outburst. "Um... are you going to help us then?"
"I have a hunch I might know where Lanyx is going, and that means he has Ashio with him. Probably some others, too. I'm going to find out if I'm right. I'll take Yerthe and a few others, and drop them off at the Rippling Ridge to lay an ambush."
Quirle hesitated. "GO!" yelled Gia, and the Weave Magi turned and ran off to do her bidding.
"There are Magi in the shadows," said Valkan, "and shadows in the Magi!"
His companions rolled their eyes. Ever since they had entered the Weave, the going had been abysmal. They'd been walking at the very bottom of the Weave, which was not much more than a morass of very soft, very fertile ground interspersed with half-buried bulbs that supported the massive stalks of grass that made up the living ocean. Every step they took, they sank into the soft earth past their ankles, and the sploshing and sucking sounds their footsteps made meant stealth was impossible.
"We'd be better served by a boat," grumbled Grega, as she looked upward. The grass stalks rose high over their heads, all glowing with soft reflected light. While she could still see a good amount of the blue sky, she knew that deeper in the Weave, they'd be swallowed up by blades of grass and soft green light. "How far in are we, anyway?"
Vorga, at the tail end of the group, glanced backwards. "Not nearly so far as I'd hoped," she said. "I can still see the base of the bridge."
Suddenly the grass around them erupted into motion. Yajo opened their eyes on every side. Osatches and speags erupted from the growth all about. A flock of tweaves burst forth, shrieking shrilly. The grass fronds themselves weaved into a wall of green in front of them.
"Hey!" yelled Valkan. "Cut it out! We're hunting Shadow Magi here!"
"Leave this place!" yelled a voice from the tall grass. "Gia said you would not be tolerated here!"
"We demand to see Zaya!" Grega called out, as she summoned a magma hyren. "We're on a mission for the betterment of the whole Moonlands! We're trying to help!"
"Trying to help? By burning our grass?" mocked the hidden voice. "You only want to see Zaya because you think you can intimidate her! She's doesn't have the spine to stand up to you, but Gia does!"
And with that, the battle began in earnest.