Chapter One: Prelude


Nine hundred years before the War …

        The Wizard Fladnag lives in Fuzzyville.  His full-length robe and cone-shaped hat are gray and so (since coats of dust make objects gray) he’s called “the Dusty Wizard”.  I will use his name and title interchangeably.  He’s chosen to reside at Fuzzyville because he likes the Fuzzyvillagers, or “Fuzzies”, as they’re generally called. 

        He likes them for their own sake, first of all, because they’re smart and fun and affable.  He has a more important reason, though, for liking them.  (At any rate, it seems to him to be of more significance.)  He very much appreciates the way in which the male and female villagers,  despite their fairly major differences in body-type and personality, pair off so easily, cohabiting as equal partners very cheerfully with mutual affection, offering each other friendly help and frequent signs of mutual enjoyment, all of which emerges naturally.  They don’t intend or try to like each other; they just do. 

        An idealistic sociologist, the Dusty Wizard’s half-convinced himself that through his careful study of the ways  in which the Fuzzies manage to achieve such amicable, lasting marriages he may attain some insights that will be applicable to the relationships between antagonist races – Dwarfs and Elves especially, but others too if necessary, “which,” he tells himself, “will help me to come up with strategies for compromise, collaboration, and association,  leading in the end to global institutions of the sort that have to be in place before the Earth can be considered as a candidate for even junior-level membership within the Federation of the Stars.”
        The Molls (or Mollies) are the female sex, the Grums (or Grumbits) male.  They live in pairs – three hundred Mollie-Grumbit couples dwell in Fuzzyville, each in a separate home.
        The Grumbits average four-foot-six in height.  They’re very long-armed; they can touch the ground when they lean slightly forward.  This is how they stand when they’re relaxing.  When a Grum is in a rush, he swings himself along like an Orangutan.  In fact, the Grums resemble smallish, slim Orangutans with somewhat human faces, hands, and feet.  They’re heavy browed, their noses broad and squashed.  Their shaggy coats of orange body-hair make extra clothing pointless; they dispense with any artificial covering.  Their orange beards and head-hair straggle down in wedges to their waists.  Their skin is pale, but only visible where it’s revealed between their beards and head-hair.  All of them have bright blue irises and fat pink lips.  
        The Mollies look like pandas, woman-faced to some extent, but with projecting snouts containing long rough tongues and small sharp teeth.  Their faces and their human breasts and hands and feet are furless, but they’re otherwise completely covered by their coats of fur. They’re somewhat shorter than the Grumbits are when they’re erect.  It’s not unusual for them to stand and walk bipedally, but when they’re in a rush they move about on all four limbs, in quadrupedal mode, as, for example, when they’re chasing down small creatures in the woods near Fuzzyville – as their teeth indicate, they’re carnivores, devouring the raw flesh of their prey with womanly appreciation.  “Mmm, how yummy!  So delicious!  Wonderful!” they comment after swallowing a strip of chipmunk-thigh or rabbit-gluteus.  The Grumbits, though, subsist on fruit and nuts.
        The Wizard’s hanging out with several pairs of Grums and Molls in front of someone’s shack.  “That structure’s getting pretty interesting,” says Fladnag, pointing upward at the roof from which the structure rises – it’s composed of branching tree-limbs dragged in from the woods and hoisted up and bound together there.  It’s typical; these structures grow and change from month to month on top of every roof in Fuzzyville, with new additions made and other parts positioned differently or put aside for someone’s else’s use.  The odd configurations half-suggest peculiar animals and monstrous heads.
        “I’m pretty into where it’s going now,” the Grumbit who resides there says.  His wife says “Yeah, I really like it.  It’s intense.  I think I’ll make a song up to express the way I feel about it.  Not today; I’m tired out from making up new songs all morning long.”  (The structures on the roofs are strictly Grumbit-work; the Mollies sing.)
        This shack’s sequestered, as the others are, by what might be tall bushes or short trees with gnarled limbs, big undulating leaves, and flowers, whose long petals, featherlike, droop downward, fluttering; small flying things, half butterfly, half hummingbird, alight upon these flowers, whistling cheerful tunes, attracted by their motion – hungry Molls have snacks here close at hand, and Grums can eat the nuts that cluster underneath the leaves.  Among these bush-trees or tree-bushes there’s a taller trunk-like stalk, from which project long palm-like fronds in clusters; melons droop from every cluster – they’re about the size of cantaloupes, with heavy, soft pink rinds, green fanlike tufts projecting from their ends.  Long tendrils radiate out from the stalk; they’re drooping now, but Fladnag’s sometimes seen the tendrils on this sort of plant extend and curl and move themselves from side to side like dogs’ tails or antennae.  Trees like this are very common here in Fuzzyville; he’s never seen growing them elsewhere, though.  The Wizard’s sitting near it, on a chair or chair-like jumble that was recently a portion of the structure on the roof.
        “So where’s this mother you keep mentioning,” asks Fladnag.  “Is she hidden underground?  I want to meet her.  Since you’re all so nice, she must be nice as well; that’s how it works – nice children generally have nice Moms.”
        “She very sensitive and private,” says a Mollie, “but if you’re here long enough perhaps she’ll want to introduce herself.”
        The Wizard jumps; he’s startled.  He’s just felt a finger stroke his neck.  He looks around; a tendril’s quivering there, just above his shoulder, and adjacent tendrils move with graceful vigor.  Somewhat higher up, a melon’s angled toward him, and its rind is parted – it appears to be an eye.  Those fanlike tufts were lashes; now they sway around a blue-green iris measuring about three inches in diameter.
        “Well, this is something new,” the Wizard says.
        “Mom wants to talk to you,” a Moll explains.  “Come on, we’ll take you down to her – I mean, down to her central body, underneath the Meeting Hall.  You’ll like our Mom a lot, I think.  She’s very nice, and pretty smart.”
        As they walk toward the Hall, which occupies the midpoint of the village, they explain their mother’s body-structure.  Fuzzyville is circular, surrounded by a dike about a mile in diameter.  It turns out that this dike’s the upper curve of her prodigious, mostly buried rim.  (Well, that explain its surface, Fladnag thinks – a furrowed, mossy stuff a lot like hide.  Not merely like hide, though; that’s what it is!)  Eight spokes of flesh extending from her core branch out beneath the village toward the rim, connecting at one hundred twenty eight locations, underground and out of view.  About three times as many arms extend out from the rim, but these look like odd trees, and that’s what Fladnag always took them for.  They start out horizontal, sunken in the ground, their upper surfaces exposed like those of major roots close to the trunk from which they radiate.  About ten feet out from the rim these tree-like arms bend up, as our arms, resting on a tabletop, might bend up from the elbow, and they rise diagonally like forearms, reaching heights of twenty feet or so above the ground; then giant hands droop vertically back down.  The fingers look a lot like willow-limbs, and groups of tendrils hang from their hide, resembling long untidy willow-leaves.  Throughout the village, many tree-like stalks grow upward from her buried branching spokes; these elevate her many eyes and ears – their leaf-like frond are ears – and finger-like long tendrils, with which she communicates with nearby Molls and Grumbits, making signs the way deaf people do.  But when they want to speak with her more intimately, then they go down to her lair beneath the Hall.
        They take him down – a curving passageway with rounded sides and ceiling.  There she is (or, put more accurately, there her core or central body is, but since it’s hard not to identify her with her core I’ll speak, as do her children, and as will the Wizard soon, as though she is her core, and visiting her core you visit her):  She’s like a hippopotamus-sized mole with three legs splaying out to either side; these six legs end in human-looking hands.  Her face is vaguely humanoid as well – a face of kindly, calm intelligence despite its great proportions, measuring about six feet in height from brow to chin and three across from cheek to cheek.  She glows; this gentle blue-green luminosity makes everything around her visible so that when Molls and Grumbits visit her they have no need of artificial light.  They bring her mushrooms; there’s a heap of them beneath her chin.  She likes to nibble them while chatting with her children. 
        There’s a group of Molls and Grumbits down here with her now.  She waves at Flagnag with her left front hand and tells her prior visitors, “I want to speak with this man privately right now, so let me give you all your goodbye-hugs.  I’ll see you soon; come back and visit me again within the next few days, okay?”  They leave, as do the ones who’ve brought him down, and he’s alone with her.  He nods his head politely as he smiles back at her.  He hopes his smile looks as friendly as her own does; he’s a little nervous, though.
        “Hi, I’m Michelle,” she says.  “Since you seem nice and like my children and are living here I thought that we should meet.  You’re Fladnag, right?”
        And they begin conversing.  She explains that those eight tubes of flesh connecting her with that great rim surrounding Fuzzyville with its protective radiating arms grow downward from her belly through the floor and then curve outward, branching toward the rim.  She gives birth to new Molls and Grumbits here beneath the Meeting Hall; both kinds emerge already all grown up, intelligent, and able to converse with anyone as soon as they awaken from the sleep of their gestation after she has licked away the heavy slime that covers them.  They’re formed from broken-down materials derived from corpses that were fed to her – new Grumbits formed from Grumbits, Molls from Molls.  They bring their dead to her, she swallows them, and reassociates their elements within her abdomen, so that each birth produces a unique new Grum or Moll – each made from six or seven prior ones.
        “And what about yourself, Michelle?  Have you been living here forever?  Do you have a mother of your own?”  Responding to her silent nod, he asks, “Is she around?  Do you communicate with her a lot?”
        “My mother died a long, long time ago.  No, I’m not from here.  I was born down south, down in the Swamps.  I only came up here because my Mom told me, before she died, that I should follow my big sister north and keep a watchful eye on her, in case she started to behave in harmful ways.  My sister isn’t nice; she’s Horrible in fact, and it was her abusiveness that slowly killed my mother, I believe.  My Mom was dying when my sister left, but lingered on for months.  When she passed on I followed her instructions and crawled north.  At that time I was little more than what you see in front of you, my core, although not quite as large as I’ve become down here.  My sister left a trail of purple slime that made it obvious which way she’d gone – she’d disappeared into Mount Sinister.  So I decided that I’d root myself here seventy-five miles to the east of Sinister, not very far away from her location, close enough to watch the mountain, but not close enough to feel oppressed by my awareness that she’s there.  I didn’t want her looming over me; I had a life to live, and wanted kids, which I have in abundance now, thank God.  And what about yourself?  I think I’ve heard you saying that you come from Wizardworld – another planet somewhere, I presume.  What brought you to us?  Curiosity?”
        “Well, I’m a member of a four-man team – the other three were here along with me in Fuzzyville a hundred years ago or so, remember?  We were travelling around the Realm then; I’m the only one who wanted to come back to Fuzzyville and live here.  Asmuran and Dagastar and Nausor are residing elsewhere now.  We’re one of many four-man teams sent out to undeveloped planets everywhere to gently help the people on these worlds attain societal maturity so that they’re qualified for membership within the Federation of the Stars.”
        “Wow, that must be a lot of work.  It sounds like such a lengthy process.  Do you think that you’ll live long enough to see it through?”
        “Well, fortunately we have redesigned our biochemistry so that we live forever if we’re careful.  It will take us twenty thousand years to bring the Earth to where it has to be, if everything progresses in a fairly normal way.”
        “So how do you guys plan on doing this?”
        “We’ll mainly offer guidance and advice.  We’ll try to influence the ways in which you deal with one another.  When you have to make decisions, we’ll be there to help.  We’ll clarify your options, lay them out, and recommend the path that’s right for you.”
        “Okay, so what have I been doing wrong?”
        “Oh, you’ve been doing splendidly, Michelle.  It’s these hostilities between the Elves and Dwarfs that worry me the most – those are the most advanced societies on Earth, and they don’t seem to get along that well.  The Bearmen living in the Northeast Woods, with their incessant warfare, also pose a problem – it can take millennia to pacify barbarians like them.  And then we have the Treemen north of here; they’re so committed to their privacy, it’s going to be very difficult to integrate them.  And beyond the Realm are roaming bands of hunter-gatherers we can’t forget about – they’re people too and as such they must be accounted for.  The Urgs in Sinister are pretty bad, and there are other hominids in there who seem completely hopeless, but my friend, the Midnight Wizard, Nausor, seems to think that he can help them, so he’s living there inside the mountain.  He’s a funny guy – not in a ‘ha ha’ way; I mean he’s strange.”
        “My sister’s living there.  I really hope she doesn’t harm your friend.  She isn’t nice.”
        “Hmm.  Yes.  Well, she won’t harm him.  Nausor’s safe.  We Wizards all have implants in our heads that send out waves of calming Energy toward anyone inclined to injure us; this lets us safely visit everyone and get to know them, even if they’re fierce and warlike people, like the Bearmen or the Urgs and hominids in Sinister.  You know, the people of Mount Sinister assert that they’re the spawn of someone whom they call ‘Horroria’ – we had assumed that this was just a myth.  I’m wondering, though, whether they’re in fact referring to your sister.  Maybe she’s been breeding them the way you breed the Molls and Grumbits here.”
        “Yes, that seems very likely.  Oh, I hope she isn’t planning to employ her kids in some Horrific way.  Well, if she is, your Wizard-friend will know about it first, and he’ll report what’s going on to you, so maybe it’s a good thing that he’s there.  And where do your two other Wizard-friends reside right now?  What were their names again?”
        “Well Asmuran moved into Dwarfenberg; he’s interested in their technology, and he can use their workshops when he wants.  And Dagastar’s in Boodletown; he wants to learn Boodita.  That’s their martial art.  It’s very mystical, apparently; that sort of thing appeals to Dagastar.  The Boodles’ father is instructing him, a guy named Mooga.  He lives in a jar; he doesn’t have a body anymore – at any rate, not one below the neck.  He’s just a head; that’s all that’s left of him.”
        “So do the four of you send back reports to Wizardworld?  I hope you’re giving them a favorable view of Fuzzyville.”
        “Unfortunately, that’s not possible.  We travelled through a spacetime-passageway that was subjected to a random burst of Chaos-Energy as we emerged – a freak event that closed the passageway and cut us off from our superiors.  A passageway like that can’t be restored for six or seven thousand years; for now we’ll have to make decisions on our own.”
        “Oh, no!  I hope this Chaos-Energy had no adverse effect on you.  You seem okay to me.  It didn’t bother you?”
        “We all felt kind of weird as we emerged, and Nausor seemed especially disturbed, but that was just a temporary thing; I’m not aware of any lingering effects on any of us.  Certainly no lingering effects on me.  I’m fine at this point – I’m as healthy as can be.”
        “I’m glad to hear that, Fladnag; you’re so nice.  I hope you stay as healthy as can be so you can visit me here every day and talk to me.  I’m so excited – now I have a friend.  I love my kids, of course, and I like talking to them, but this feels completely different.  You’ll keep visiting?”
        “Of course I will; I like you too, Michelle.”
        And that’s how Fladnag and Michelle became best friends, and even lovers in a way.  Of course, they couldn’t consummate their love, although she’d sometimes reach beneath his robe and stimulate his genitals – a skirt of tendrils ending just below his knees.

Six hundred years before the War …
        “I’ve finally found you, after all these years of searching,” Nausor says.  He’s wonderstruck; the central body of the feminine monstrosity that spawns Mount Sinister’s diversely Horrible inhabitants lies spread before him in this cavity two miles down, a quarter-mile wide: a mass of heaped-up branching tentacles and bulging flesh-sacks full of mouths and eyes.  Her eyes are glowing purple, and her mouths effuse a purple mist; a purple haze pervades the atmosphere above her bulk.
        “I’ve slowly led you to me,” she replies, the words emerging from a thousand mouths at once, a thousand voices that combine themselves into a single thousandfold maternally seductive, droning voice.
        “You knew about me?  Why so slowly, then?”
        “You needed time to get your chemistry attuned to Horror.  Nothing could be done until you had been properly prepared.”
        “I see.  Is something going to be done?”
        “Yes.  Isn’t that why you’ve been seeking me?”
        “I’m not quite sure what you’re referring to.  I wanted to complete my study of the mountain and its lifeforms.  After all, that’s what I do.  A good biologist won’t quit until he fully understands the ecosystem that he’s studying.
        Is my assumption that you’re floating on a pool of undiluted bioslime correct?  A pool replenished constantly by new material that rises up beneath you from the planetary core?”
        She laughs from many mouths; through many more she answers, “well, I’m certainly afloat on something warm and dense and oily that I suck through my pores; it feeds my growth and I can turn it into living things of many different kinds, all Horrible.  You call it ‘bioslime’?  I like that name.  I feel it seeping upward under me, but how would I know where it’s coming from?” 
        “That’s very interesting.  Hey, thanks a lot!  It’s gratifying to be proven right.”
        “I’m glad to gratify you.  Do you have more questions for me now, or is that all?
        “The vital codes of all the living things within this mountain seem to indicate a single parent, which would probably be you.  Are all the birthing-pods up there connected to you?  Maybe you don’t know.”
        “Oh, I can sense the layout of my parts and what they’re doing.  Yes, I spawn them all.  I form my children’s embryos down here within my core, and pump these embryos through long intestines up into those pods where they mature until it’s time for them to tear the membranes open and emerge.”
        “And all the fungal stuff and vegetal material that’s growing everywhere throughout the mountain branches out of you?”
        “Yes, big fat tubes of flesh grow out of me and penetrate the walls surrounding us; they angle upward, and they subdivide throughout the mountain.  I fill all of it.”
        “And you can really feel your body-parts as they divide throughout Mount Sinister?  Remarkable!  Most people aren’t aware of how their inner organs are disposed and what they’re doing; at the most, they feel some bowel-pressure, or the fluttering of over-stimulation here and there.  Of course, we know the placement of our limbs and digits, but that’s different – or perhaps your tubes are more like limbs than guts for you?”
        “Perhaps.  So you call this ‘Mount Sinister’?”
        “That’s what the people of the Realm beyond the mountain call it, so I use the name, because it seems appropriate to me.  It worries them; they sense that something might emerge from it and bother them someday.”
        “They may be right about that.  I have been observing them for several thousand years through many eyes projecting from the stalks that grow out of the mountaintop.  Perhaps you saw them up there, but you didn’t know that these were my eyes watching everything.  Yes, I know all about the outside world.”
        “Oh, those were eyestalks!  Wow – I thought that they were melon-trees.  Of course, though – otherwise how would you know that you reside within a mountain?  I assume that you’ve been here for your entire life – is that correct?”
        “No, that’s not so.  I came here from the Swamps when I was still an adolescent girl.  I was rebellious; I would not accept the limits that my Mom imposed on me.  But I don’t want to talk about that now.  I hope I’ve satisfied a little of your scientific curiosity.  But was this all that drove your quest for me?  You had another motive, didn’t you?”
        “There’s this – that as a Wizard, I’m supposed to help a planet’s residents progress toward peaceful coexistence, so that they can join the Federation of the Stars, and I thought you might give me help with that where your own children are concerned, because as their progenitor you’d want what it’s in their interest.  If you’d let me modify your reproductive physiology to some extent, it might be possible to pacify them.  Well, the Molemen don’t require any calming-down, of course, but Gobbins, Trolls, and Urgs would benefit from intervention.  In the longer term, it might be possible to make them all significantly smarter – smart enough to serve as planetary congressmen, or bureaucrats, or trade-ambassadors.  The Federation loves diversity.”
        “Ha, ha!” she laughs through hundreds of her mouth; she simultaneously snorts and makes contemptuous remarks through other mouths – “Yeah, right,” “What crap”, and so forth – then she says through all her mouths at once, “I’m sorry, Love, but let’s be honest.  Do you really care about this Federation of the Stars?  Your scientific interest – well, okay, I’m sure that played a secondary role, but what was really motivating you?”
        He feels compelled to give her a sincere reply.  “I thought that you’d appreciate my way of seeing things and we’d connect with one another.  I imagined you down here in solitude producing all the kinds of entities inhabiting
        Mount Sinister – not only humanoids but arthropods and other forms of life – just as, in my own solitude, I spawn ideas that would probably appall most normal people.  At the very least, I thought that you’d be kind of interesting to talk to.  I assumed that you would be a whole smarter than your children are.  They’re fascinating and remarkable, but even Urgs, the smartest of them all, have IQs topping out at eighty-five, while Molemen average seventy, with Trolls and Gobbins in the fifties.  That’s okay; there’s nothing wrong with gross stupidity, but I like being understood sometimes.”
        “You want a friend; that’s what you’re telling me.”
        “Well, someone to converse with, anyway.”
        “And here you are down in the Lower Depths of Sinister, conversing with your friend.”
        “It’s nice of you to put it that way.  Should I call you by the name your children use when they refer to you – ‘Horroria’ – or do you have another you prefer?”
        “Call me ‘Horroria’.  That’s what I am.”
        “Okay, Horroria.  I’m Nausor, then.”  He’s momentarily inclined to tell his new acquaintance that he’s sometimes called ‘the Midnight Wizard’, due to his black robe and hat, but he reflects this would be irrelevant, and might perhaps come off as arrogant, so he leaves it unsaid.
        “Well, greetings, Nausor.  I have plans for you.  You’re special to me.   When you first moved in four hundred years ago, I felt the change and knew that my desires would begin to be fulfilled.  You’ve been a lonely man without a reason to exist, but now you’re going to become the Mastermind of Horror, and you’ll make my dreams come true.”
        “‘The Mastermind of Horror’?  That’s intense, but what does it entail?  I’m curious.”
        “You’ll help me to increase the rate at which I spawn my children, and you’ll organize an army out of them, a Horrid Host of Gobbins, Trolls, and Urgs, supported by our busy Molemen, which will overwhelm the Joyous people of the Realm and smash the barrier of Joy they emanate; then I will grow and branch my tentacles beyond Mount Sinister, throughout the Realm, and in the end entirely enclose the Earth within my body – then, perhaps you’ll help me to expand beyond the Earth, across the gulfs of interstellar space, and fill the Universe up with my flesh.”
        “Horroria, I like ambition, and I find it an attractive quality in females, but I’m not inclined to hurt the people out there, and that’s doubly true of my three fellow Wizards, even though they don’t respect me and they think I’m weird.”
        “Don’t worry; we won’t hurt the ones who live; we’ll just envelop them and alter them so that they serve me and conform to my requirements, as organs functioning within my system.  Hopefully, your friends will voluntarily agree to this; if not, you’ll tweak their personalities in clever, scientific little ways that you devise, until their choices change.”
        “Ha, that’s sounds interesting, but I’ll need time to think about it.  Meanwhile, I would like to question you about your life down here.  You guessed that I’ve been lonely; has that been your case as well?  Did you want company?”
        “Oh, I’m not like that.  I don’t have a sense of self requiring another self to be related to; I’m way beyond all that, although I’m not as smart as you.  If I were just another lonely self how could I help you?  Come here, Nausor; stand upon my tentacles.  Don’t be afraid; I won’t devour you.  How could I eat my Mastermind?  I love you, in a way.  That’s right.  Move forward, deeper in among my tentacles.  There, are you comfortable?”  Her tentacles support him on all sides, her glowing purple eyes observing him from every angle and her sphincter-mouths contorted into smiles.  “Ready, now?”
        “For what?”  He wonders how Horroria was able to convince him to advance so readily among her tentacles.  Did he decide to walk upon her mass, deliberately advancing?  He’s not sure, but here he is, and, yes, he’s comfortable.
        “For this,” she says, and she encloses him within her flesh.  He shudders, then, entranced receives the Horror-Energy that floods his body and pervades his consciousness; he’s in a trance of Horror – it persists for decades, centuries, for five hundred years.

Five hundred years before the War …
​        Important people are conferring with Humberto, mayor of the Mexicans, in his adobe dwelling.  Asmuran, the Rainbow Wizard, sits across from him between the Elven Prince, Aletheon, and Dwarfenberg’s Judge Luash, who commands the Dwarfish army presently encamped near Elfpark, twenty miles to the south of this small hilltop town inhabited by several hundred families who survive by growing crops of maize and herding pigs.  The Elven Princess, Kalia, leans back against a wall, half-standing, near the Prince.  Humberto’s friend and trusted counselor, Ernesto, sits beside him, at his right, across from Luash, while Humberto’s wife Carmella’s sitting to the left of him; their one-year-old, Miguel, stands on her thighs and bangs his palms against the tabletop.
        “As you may be aware,” says Asmuran, “a Dwarfish bioslime-extraction team has worked in Elfpark’s central area for ages.  This has always bugged the Elves, and recently they chased away the team.”
        “It isn’t just the team that bothers us,” says Kalia.  “Those noisy tanker-trucks that they drive back and forth along the Road beneath our Palace-porches bother us a lot as well.  We don’t like ugliness.”
        “We’re not indifferent to the Elves’ concerns,” says Luash, “but we have to focus on the needs of Dwarfenberg.  Our industries require concentrated bioslime in quantities that aren’t available at any other place, except for one – Mount Sinister, but getting started there would be extremely difficult for us, and even if we got our bioslime from Sinister, we’d still be trucking it to Dwarfenberg through Elfpark on the Road.”
        “Which might be even more annoying,” says the Prince.  “That’s not a very pleasant thought.”
        “Eventually, though,” Judge Luash says, “Mount Sinister is going to be ours.  The Holy Awesome One has promised this to us in conversations that he had with our forefathers.  But I don’t believe that this will happen soon, so how about we focus on the operation that must now resume in Elfpark.  Asmuran?”
        “Yes,” says the Wizard.  “Well, the Dwarfs came back – an army of them, and it’s obvious that they would win a battle.  I believe this happens every thousand years or so.”
        “Correct,” says Luash.  “This is written in our Holy Histories.  The record’s clear.  They chase away our miners and we send an army; they back down, and we resume our operations.  Then the Elves forget what happened last time, and they chase away our miners once again.  Too bad you Elves have never bothered learning how to write and read; then you’d have records of the past and wouldn’t keep behaving foolishly.”
        “Don’t be offensive,” says Aletheon.  “You say that all of this occurred before; okay, I’ll have to take your word for it.  But we don’t lose much, chasing you away – this recent episode was glorious, and those of us who died will be reborn beneath their Trees a hundred years from now.”
        “Yes, well,” the Wizard says, “in any case, we’re hoping that you Mexicans will help us break this cycle.  I’ll been living out in Dwarfenberg for several hundred years.  The Dwarfs have taught me how to make and use complex machines from metallurgium and power them with bioslime; I’d like to run my own facility, and use these engineering skills in my own way.  So I’ve proposed that I take care of all the bioslime-extraction for the Dwarfs at Elfpark.  I’ll just pump the bioslime out to a transfer-station just beyond the city’s western edge, so they won’t have to drive their trucks through Elfpark anymore, and in return the Dwarfs will send me chunks of metallurgium from Dwarfenberg.  An underground conveyor-belt can run beside the bioslime-conducting pipe along the Road.  But setting all this up and then maintaining it and keeping it in operation will be too much work for one small Wizard who would rather spend a reasonable fraction of his time on other things – so if you Mexicans would like to move down there and help me out with all of this, that would be really great for all of us, including you, I think.”
        “You’d rather live with Mexicans than Dwarfs?” Humberto says to Prince Aletheon.
        “Yes, totally,” says Princess Kalia.
        “Okay,” Humberto says, “but what’s in this for us?  Why would we want to go down there?”
        “Life’s difficult for you here in the hills,” the Rainbow Wizard says.  “You’re never sure your current crop of maize will be enough for second helpings and a small dessert.  Your pig-herds fluctuate from year to year in size and quality – sometimes you’ve got less pork in your burritos than you’d like.  And that’s not all; you always have to be on guard, in case a gang of Bearmen tries to get inside your town and mess things up.  You can’t relax – you have to fight them off from time to time, and sometimes Mexicans get killed or injured in these skirmishes.  Move into Elfpark with me, and you’ll find that you grow ample quantities of maize reliably, and you’ll have all the pigs you need, because the soil there is rich with very concentrated bioslime.  And Bearman-gangs won’t be a problem there; they never enter Elfpark; if they did, the Elves would puncture every one of them with twenty javelins before they reached the central area where you’d reside.  Imagine living with your minds at ease; your food- and safety-worries will be gone.  Sure, there’ll be extra work for you to do, extracting bioslime out of the well and making sure it gets out to the Dwarfs, but that won’t be extremely onerous; it fact, it might be kind of fun for you.  I’ve got some other plans in mind as well.  Here’s one that might appeal to some of you: a thousand-foot-tall tower with a deck that you could stand on, giving you a view of the entire Realm from Sinister to Dwarfenberg.  Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?  It won’t be very difficult for us to build this tower if we use the suits that I’m envisioning, constructing out of plates and rods of metallurgium with narrow bioslime-conducting tubes to activate them, so that they enhance the wearer’s strength and stamina.  You’ll be like supermen when you’re inside those things.”
        “Hey, that sounds really fun,” Ernesto says.
        “I think that it’s important for our kids to have enough to eat,” Carmella says, “and safety should be our priority.  I’m tired of those Bearman-ruffians, and so are the other girls.  We all just want to live in peace, and now we can.  Let’s move down there, Humberto – please say ‘yes’!”
        “It’s an attractive offer, I agree,” Humberto says, “but on the other hand we might start losing track of who we are when we’re down there.  I mean, just think of all our songs – so many of them are about how much we want to have enough to eat throughout the coming year, and how our men fight bravely and drive Bearman-gangs away.  Those songs would lose their meaning for us there.  Our culture would become a memory.”
        “Another culture will emerge for you,” says Asmuran.  “That’s always how it’s been for everyone throughout the galaxy.  Societies develop; everything continually alters.  People change.”
        “We Dwarfs will never change,” Judge Luash says.
        “Nor will we Elves,” says Prince Aletheon.
        “Whatever happens to us outwardly in Elfpark,” says Carmella, “we’ll remain the same inside.  Our souls are Mexican, and that’s what matters, Hummie.  We should go.”
        “Yeah, maybe,” says Humberto.  “Well, we’ll all meet at the Plaza later on tonight and vote on it.  Does that sound good to you?”
        “Okay,” Carmella says, “but recommend that they vote ‘yes’, okay?  You know how much the people of this town respect your views.”
        “I’ll tell them that my wife, Carmella, thinks that we should move to Elfpark, and I think she might be right, but I’m ambivalent.”
        “That’s not the kind of leadership they want.  You have to be more confident than that despite whatever doubts you entertain.”
        “Okay, okay; I’ll tell them we should go.”
        “Good, Hummie; that’s more like it.  Most of them will follow your advice.  Hmm, what should we take with us?  We don’t need this broken bowl, but that one’s barely chipped, and it belonged to my Great-Aunt Juanita, bless her soul.”
        “I’d better go rejoin my bodyguards,” Judge Luash says; “it’s time for evening prayers.”
        “I guess we’ll join our own contingent too, outside of town,” says Prince Aletheon.  “Send us a messenger and let us know what you’ve decided after you all vote.  Tomorrow morning we’ll be heading back.”
        “Sure,” says Humberto.  “Asmuran, my man, it might be best for you to be there at the meeting, though, since questions might come up that only you can answer.  They should know who they’ll be working for when they move south.”
        “If you don’t mind my presence, certainly,” says Asmuran, “but please say ‘working with,’ not ‘working for’ – it’s much more accurate.”

Four hundred years before the war …
        “I’m worried, Mushie,” Fladnag tells Michelle; “we haven’t heard from Nausor in about two hundred years now.  I hope he’s okay.”
        “You think my sister might have injured him?  You said he has that implant in his head …”
        “Yes, I don’t think that she or anyone could have deliberately done harm to him, unless the Wizard brought it on himself.  Those things won’t keep us safe from anyone that we intend to injure or exploit.  This safety-feature’s programmed into them in order to preclude immoral use of these devices; otherwise we might control a planet.  Nausor’s kind of strange; he might have gotten angry at a Troll or at a group of Gobbins and begun to brood about it and imagine ways of punishing whoever bothered him.  That would have made him vulnerable to these enemies.  He could have died that way.  That’s probably not what occurred, but still it might have happened.  There’s a greater chance that he became resentful, feeling that the three of us have not been giving him enough respect, so he’s closed himself off in part in order to retaliate but also to pretend we don’t exist.”
        “But your respect for him is obvious!  You’ve told me how intelligent he is and how his thoughts are so unusual that he makes you feel sluggish, bland, and dull.”
        “Well, that’s the point I guess – it’s obvious to Nausor that we three collectively see him as strange and different, so he feels rejected, and that feeling quickly turns into a sense that he’s an object of contempt, which isn’t true, but one can see how he would come to that irrational conclusion.  Maybe I should go out there to Sinister and see if he’s okay.  If he tells me, “Fuck off,” that’s fine; at least I’ll know that he’s alive and well.  I will have done my job.  No more anxiety about the Midnight Wizard for me then; just give the man some time.  Presumably his sour mindset won’t be permanent.”
        “Are you completely sure that you’ll be safe if you go out there, Fladdie?  I don’t want to lose you; I don’t know how I could live without you.  You’ve become so much a part  of what I am, I wouldn’t recognize myself if you were torn away from me.”
        “Don’t worry, Mushie.”  Fladnag taps his head.  “My implant’s working well.  I ran the tests the other day; there’ s nothing wrong with it.  I’ll be completely safe, and will return within two weeks.  That gives me time to get to Sinister and spend a week out there with Nausor, if he’s in a friendly mood, before returning.  Two weeks tops, okay?”
        The Dusty Wizard walks to Sinister along the Road that cuts east-west across the Realm; the mountain’s at the western end.  He enters halfway up its eastern slope – the gaping fifteen-foot-wide opening is rank with fungal sacs and bulges pocked with pimples oozing grayish-purple slime, the crevices between them burgeoning with furry moss-like stuff and filaments resembling insect-legs, with branching tubes and hairy dangling tendrils wriggling and writhing, as the hairs and filaments continually rustle and produce what sound like semi-conscious murmurings and whispers.  This confusion of weird growths continues past the entrance, covering the rounded surfaces on every side of Fladnag as he moves in toward the heart of Sinister.  As daylight fades away with distance and the twists and turns that block the outside world from view, a purple glow effusing from these Horrid funguses and vegetal extrusions takes its place and lights his way.  He’s been in Sinister before – he came here with his Wizard-friends on their initial survey of the Realm, but that past visit wasn’t quite enough to ready him for this one.  Fladnag feels as shocked and sickened this time as he felt back then, but he controls his urge to turn around and leave; he has a job to do.  The Dusty Wizard reaches Sinister’s inhabited locations, and he asks the humanoids that he encounters there about the Midnight Wizard – have they heard of Nausor?  Do they know where he is now?
        The Molemen live within a complex hive they’ve burrowed out for themselves in the rock, with narrow passageways extending from the natural cavities and corridors, connecting them and looping back and forth in zig-zag paths and spirals.  They employ their spit to soften up the stone before they use their teeth and claws to scrape away its substance, which can then be used like clay to build new walls before it sets again.  They’re always licking, building, burrowing as they continually redesign their hive.  They have no plan; they improvise, or rather they just stupidly persist in their completely pointless labor, in a random way.  They look as you’d expect, considering their label: mole-like men, or maybe humanoid bipedal moles, about four feet in height, weak-eyed and bland.  They don’t have any news about his friend; in fact, they don’t respond to him at all – just peer expressionlessly at him for a moment and then go back to their work.
        The Gobbins, who inhabit several caves, each overpopulated – but they’d rather kill and eat each other than spread themselves out and occupy a larger area – are somewhat shorter than the Molemen are and scrawnier; they’re rat-faced, greasy-furred, and have the language-skills of three-year-olds.  They only screech and hoot when Fladnag asks for news of Nausor, and scream, “Shit on you!”, “Eat shit, you shit-face!” and that sort of thing.
        The Trolls just grunt at him and shake their heads; a couple of the more articulate fifteen-foot-tall bipedal hulks reply, “Duh … I dunno.”  Their skin’s like rhino-hide, completely hairless; they’re gorilla-jawed, with huge mouths full of tusk-like jutting fangs.  They’re naturally inclined to lounge about, sprawled almost motionless against a wall – a torpor often troubled by disputes: huge arms flung sideways at a neighbor’s face, heads turned with gaping grimaces and roars.  The Wizard watches as a giant Bug emerges from the darkness, lumbering in front of them; they heave themselves erect to seize it, bellowing, and push and punch each other, fighting over chunks of flesh while shards of slimy exoskeleton fly in all directions.  When there’s nothing left for them to fight about, they sink back down upon the cavern-floor, sprawled out against the facing walls, just as they were before.  The Dusty Wizard chuckles and moves on.
        The Urgs inhabit villages composed of room-sized caves that pock the walls and floors of certain caverns.  Chieftains govern them.  They’re five feet tall, short-limbed, and broadly built, their heads and faces toad-like, wide and flat, their skin a warty-leather, brownish-green.  At every village, when the Wizard asks about his friend, the answer sounds somewhat like this: “Our Elders say that long ago the Man Who Lives Alone and Knows All Things descended to the Lower Depths to see the Mother of Us All, Horroria.  One day he will return, they say, and bring a Chief of Chieftains with him; this Great Chief will unify the Urgish villages and lead us Outward to the Lands Beyond.”
        “It’s too bad you can’t unify yourselves,” says Fladnag, thinking how regrettable it is that superstition holds men back from living comfortably.  The relevant belief in this case, which he learned about when he came here five hundred years ago with his three friends on their initial tour of the entire Realm is colorful but not conducive to a peaceful life.
        “We must wage war,” is the response he gets, “because the hungry spirits of our chiefs are nourished by the life-force of the slain when we kill Urgs from other villages.”
        “I know,” says Fladnag.  “Well, at least you fight in an elaborately rule-governed way that features single-combat face-offs like the ones we read about on Wizardworld in ancient poems from lost societies.”
        “Your words are strange to me,” the Urg replies.  The Urgs are dignified and disciplined and speak in well-constructed sentences but aren’t especially intelligent.
        “Oh well – it doesn’t matter.  Do you know how I can get down to the Lower Depths?”
        “No, Wizard – that way’s hidden.  Only she who lives there knows the way down to herself: Horroria, the Mother of Us All.”
        “‘Horroria’ – hmm.  That’s a striking name.  You call her this because she frightens you?”
        “Of course not.  Urgs aren’t scared of anything, and why would our own mother frighten us?  No, we call her ‘Horroria’ because she’s always whispering, from every wall, ‘I am your mother; I’m Horroria.’”
        The Wizard looks around half-heartedly for some way downward to the Lower Depths but doesn’t manage to discover one, and after several days leaves Sinister and makes his way back home to Fuzzyville. 
        “I’m back, Michelle!  I promised to return to you within two weeks, and here I am, before the deadline.  See?  And all because I’m virtuous and very fond of you.”
        “You’re such a sweetheart, Fladdie.  Thank you, Love.”

One hundred and one years before the War …
        The Rainbow Wizard’s twenty miles south of Elfpark, on the island of Japan, a solid patch amid the Southern Swamps, addressing members of the Hobby Club and their assembled parents in a hall constructed out of poles and braided bark.  “When I came here nine hundred years ago with my three Wizard-friends,” says Asmuran, “what most impressed me was the figurines that you kids put together out of parts precisely carved from bits of root and bone – the way the joints are hinged and socketed is so ingenious; every digit moves in such a natural way.  They look so real!  I want to build some giant humanoids at Disengar, my walled facility in Elfpark, but the helpers I have now up there aren’t skilled enough for work like this.  If some of you would come and work with me in Disengar on this, I know you’d find this project of mine very interesting, and, parents, it would give your kids a chance to learn and exercise their intellects in a secure and very welcoming environment.  Moreover, you should know that since my present helpers joined me there not one of them has gotten old and died.  The children that they brought with them attained a teenaged-level of development and then stopped again.  All the Mexicans that moved there several hundred years ago are still alive and healthy.  I believe that their un-aging state is the result of vital currents flowing into them from Elfpark’s never-aging residents.  The Dwarfish Bioslime-extracting teams that worked there earlier, before we came, were constantly replaced, since Dwarfs don’t like to be away from their society at Dwarfenberg for very long, and so the place’s anti-aging influence was never evident to them.  My Mexicans were pleasantly surprised by this effect.  I’m sure your kids will benefit from it as well, if they move into Disengar.”
        An elder with a narrow wisp of beard descending from his chin says, “Endless life is not a good thing in and of itself.  One’s way of life is what makes one’s life good.  Here on the island of Japan we have a way of life that we all know is good, and even though an individual cannot live endlessly, the group lives on – our crafts and rituals and songs endure, and they make our existence meaningful.”
        A mother says, “Yes, Yoji, this is true, but you don’t have a child of your own here in this room; you’re only sitting in to represent the Council and observe and offer your opinion, which you’ve done quite eloquently – but we mothers have much more at stake.  We really want our kids to be all they can be, and who’d reject the offer of unending, youthful life for her own son or daughter?  Sure, we’d miss our children, but I strongly feel that this is what is best for them, so I’ll allow my daughter to move up to Disengar with him, if other teens are going too.  She’s certainly not going there alone!”
        A bunch of other mothers in the room emphatically agree, and fathers nod.  One says, however, “Yes, but I insist that they be chaperoned by young adults responsible enough to rein them in if they start partying and making out too much, as adolescents tend to do.”
        All present think that this is sensible.  Among them is a pair of newlyweds who formerly were active members of the Hobby Club – they volunteer to serve in this capacity, and everyone is pleased.  The upshot is that seven girls and seven boys, all seventeen years old, will go to Disengar accompanied by this young couple, Kenji and his cute wife Miyu, who has recently conceived – although she’s as yet unaware of this – a female embryo.  The elder nods somewhat unhappily, and says, “Such is the Way of Things – it’s pointless to complain, since everything flows necessarily forever without getting anywhere.”
        “That’s not how I see things,” says Asmuran, “but I’m not wise; I’m just intelligent.  Please don’t be angry with me or depressed about the situation.  I’m convinced that this will be a great experience for these kids.  They’ll be very happy there at Disengar, I promise you, and they’ll be very grateful that you let them go.”

One hundred years before the War ...
        Horroria withdraws her tentacles and he emerges from his Horrid trance.  “Pure Horror,” Nausor says, the syllables emerging in a toneless croaking way.  His voice has altered.  He looks at his hand – the skin is grayish-purple and it’s webbed with wrinkles.  Underneath the altered hand, his sleeve’s dark-purple; he looks down and sees that his entire robe’s dark purple now, and its material has changed as well – it’s made of filmy bat-wing-skin-like stuff.  His face feels strange to him; he lifts his hand and runs his fingertips across his chin and cheeks.  He’s beardless now; his face is creased with wrinkle-lines like those that web his hands.  His Wizard’s hat is gone; instead, a hood extending upward from his robe conceals the conical extension of his head.
        “Yes, Horror,” she replies through many mouths, and you are Horror’s Mastermind.  You’ll spread this Horror through the Realm and then around the Earth and finally through the Universe.”
        “Without my beard, how will I filter out the waves of Energy that I can’t use?”
        “Your purple pigmentation does that now.  Your beard excreted Horror-Energy, but now you’re getting rid of Joy instead.”
        “Oh, I see.  So I’m now the Mastermind of Horror, am I?”  He can feel how much he’s altered, and how much he’s stayed the same – less empathy for neurotypicals, a greater sense of isolation and resentment than before, a vivid sense of something that’s about to be achieved through his prodigious effort, and the thrill of Horror surging through him, giving him tremendous power – Horror-Energy conveyed into him by Horroria through telepathic channels.  Images of her unlimited expansion flood his consciousness; excitement ripples from these images – he must accomplish this!  “Well yes, I guess I am!  I must devise a Horrifying plan.  Hmm, let me see.  Your children are available for use as soldiers, but there aren’t enough of them to constitute an army capable of conquering the Elves now, let alone the formidable men of Dwarfenberg.  However, if your birthing-organs are adjusted and enlarged, we might increase their generation-rate a hundred-fold ….”
        “Yes,” says Horroria; “I knew that you were just the man I needed to coopt.  You’re smart enough to see how obstacles to my desire can be overcome, and were already slightly Horrible – enough to give me access to your soul and make you mine.  Delicious.  Yes, indeed, my children are the fingers of the hand of Horror that will take hold of the world; your intellect will guide this Horrid hand.”
        “They’re so unruly, though; it’s hard to see how I’d be able to control your kids sufficiently to use them to achieve our goals.  The Urgs are disciplined enough, but how would I be able to unite their warring factions into one great Host?”
        “Yes, you are just a Mastermind; you’re not the type who can compel obedience.  But I foresaw this; while you were entranced I made a conscious, independently existing, spectral image of yourself as you are in those momentary moods when you crave domination more than all your other goals – of you in bossy-mode.  It’s an exaggerated image, though; its bossiness goes way beyond the point that your own will to power reaches when it supersedes your other cravings and the image of dominion elbows all of your competing goals aside without eliminating them entirely – goals such as friendship, knowledge of the world, aesthetic pleasure, and the goal that’s now your main objective: making everything completely Horrible.  (Your hunger for a totally Horrific universe is utterly unselfish, not at all a power-lust, despite what some might think, although perhaps desire for control is one of several urges nourishing your will-to-Horror.)  So, consider this a living cartoon-image of yourself as you are in your will-to-power-mode – your “domineering aspect,” one might say.  Or, if you like to think of yourself as you are in your main Horror-craving mode as ruler of a host of “under-souls,” “sub-Nausors” who crave secondary goals, among whom is an under-soul who wants to dominate – a bossy under-soul – then you might call what I’m producing now “the specter of your bossy under-soul”.  Its egotistical intensity is going to compel obedience from all the humanoids inhabiting this mountain.  They’ll be eager to devote their lives to this incarnate duplicate of your own power-drive; they’ll eagerly wage Horrid war and die on its behalf.  However, you will have to constantly direct and guide this specter with your hints and tactful comments, since its intellect is minimal, consisting only of some blurred, distorted echoes of your own.  It’s going to transmit your rational suggestions as imperious commands which will be automatically obeyed by all of its devoted followers and made effective for you.  Here it is.”
        A shadow rises from the tentacles in front of him; it looms up overhead, an eggplant-purple murky silhouette ten feet in height, with bright magenta eyes that glare down like a pair of searchlight-beams out of the swirling substance of its head, the mouth a luminous magenta slit.
        He recognizes what looms over him:  this spectral form – commanding, splendid, harsh – has loomed above him frequently before, but always in imaginary space, not out there in the real space of the world, and only when he’s in one of his states of unexpected momentary trance.  The first of these abnormal episodes occurred when Nausor was emerging through the spacetime-door into the Realm behind his colleagues; his real leg was still within the chaos-storm-distorted passageway when something turned around inside his head and he beheld this person looming up in front of him, bent slightly down toward him with shadowy long jointless arms held out, imperiously summoning him toward some Horrid destiny that lay beyond the spectral character confronting him.  He’d gotten so familiar with this form, he’d given it a title and a name.
        “Lord Gothrom,” Nausor croaks out gaspingly as he stares into those magenta eyes for several seconds.  Then he bows his head.  “You’re Gothrom, Lord of Horror.  Horror-Lord, I serve you.”   This is stupid, he reflects as he speaks these submissive words; this guy is just a spectral image of myself in an extremely power-hungry mood; he’s only there to serve my purposes; he’s not supposed to dominate me – but the Mastermind feels irresistibly inclined to take on this subordinate position in relation to this thing that represents his bossy under-soul.  He anxiously and somewhat haltingly continues, like a nerd who’s speaking to an alpha-jock or high-class prostitute, “Lord Gothrom, do you recognize me?  Shall I introduce myself, or would that be unnecessary and presumptuous?”
        The specter hisses, “I know what you are – my thinker.  You’ll devise the strategy that will enable me to subjugate the universe forever.  Go ahead and think.  I’m waiting … okay, what’s the plan?”
        “I need more time, Lord Gothrom, but you’re right, I am your thinker.  I’m the Mastermind of Horror.  I was once a Wizard, but I’m not one anymore; Horroria, whose tentacles surround us, altered me.  My name’s still ‘Nausor’ though, just as before.  I’m going to prepare a Horrid Host for you to lead across the Realm beyond this mountain, overwhelming everything that it encounters.  I’ll accompany and counsel you.  With you as Lord, and I as Mastermind, the Horrid enterprise will certainly succeed.  Horroria, who, as it happens, generated you, is going to incorporate the Realm within herself, and after that she’ll spread beyond the Realm, encompassing the Earth.  But that won’t be the end; you’ll lead your Host beyond the Earth; Horroria will fill the solar system, then the galaxy, and finally the entire universe.”
        The Lord of Horror hisses down at him, “Don’t focus on this female.  I’m the one who matters here.  I’ll dominate the world, and she’ll subordinate herself to me.”
        Her laughter rumbles everywhere at once from many mouths, as other mouths address the Mastermind.  “You have a lot of work to do now, Nausor.  You’ll need lots of help.  Here are your helpers.”  Her surrounding mouths begin disgorging humanoids; they’re curled in fetal postures, but they’re fully grown, as is immediately evident, for they uncurl themselves, rise to their feet and stand around him in a silent crowd, about five hundred of them, equally  divided into two varieties, both much like Nausor as he now appears, complete with head-cone, but reduced in scale.  One kind is thinner and about five-six in height; the plumper ones are five feet tall.  They’re wearing hooded robes just like his own.
        “Your form, my matter,” drones Horroria – “I separated portions of myself internally, and activated them with your dynamic code – the quivering of your extracted plasm.  Here they are to serve you: call them children, call them clones, or even call them secondary selves; all three of these descriptions equally apply to them.  The fatter, shorter ones are going to be good at making things; the taller, thinner ones will specialize in governance.  Although your children come in two varieties, they’re similar in their devotion to you; you’re their Dad and boss and mentor, and they’ll always strive to satisfy you.  They’ll do anything that you require.  That’s why they exist.”
        The Lord of Horror hisses, “No, his clones will do whatever I demand of them.  I’m Horror-Lord; he’s just the Mastermind of Horror.  He’s my servant, who provides me with his counsel when I ask for it.”
        She laughs again out of a thousand mouths.  “Yes, Horror-Lord, you’re absolutely right.”
        The Mastermind of Horror says, “I’ll call my taller, thinner children ‘Managers’ and call my other children ‘Technicals’.  They’re perfect; thanks a lot, Horroria.”
        “You’re welcome, Mastermind.  Well, since I’m sure you’re eager to get started, we can say good-bye for now, but come back frequently to visit me.  I’ll see you very soon.”
        Her tentacles withdraw to make a path through which the Horror-Lord and Mastermind proceed until they reach the passageway that spirals upward through the mountain’s depths, Lord Gothrom in the lead, while Nausor walks behind him, followed by his little clones – they form a lengthy, straggling entourage.

 Ten Years before the War ...
        “We’re moving forward very rapidly,” the Mastermind says to the Manager with whom he’s most inclined to share his thoughts.
        “Indeed we are,” says Snigger.  “Are you sure that this is what you really want to do?  You’re free, Dad; you don’t have to go out there and conquer everything if you’d prefer to use your talents in another way.”
        The Mastermind reflects upon the fact that he prefers this person’s company to that of any other Manager or Technical, although the sentiments that Snigger openly expresses when they speak together privately don’t fit the spirit of their Horrid enterprise.  The Manager reminds him of himself when he was just a Wizard, prior to his Horrifying metamorphosis.  Perhaps he wants to hold on to his past – to part with it entirely would be to sacrifice too much.  There must have been some error in the cloning process, when Horroria produced his helpful kids, resulting in the aberration of a Manager who’s willing to engage in such potentially subversive talk.  Horroria must never know about this Manager’s eccentric tendencies!
        “I’m totally committed to this course of action,” Nausor says; “it’s what defines my personhood.  It makes me what I am.  The same commitment’s all that gives our Trolls and Gobbins any reason to exist; it’s given meaning to the toil of our Molemen; it’s infused the lives of Urgs with beautiful fanaticism – now they have a big idea guiding them.”
        “Yes, now they’re motivated by the thought of Gothrom dominating everything forever, which is not as beautiful as your idea of a universe stuffed full of Horrifying tentacles, but I’ll admit that it goes far beyond the fantasy of chieftains feeding on the life-force of slain Urgish enemies.  Too bad your enterprise needs Gothrom’s help.   They all believe that he’s the one in charge, and Gothrom’s just as sure that this is so.”
        “When Gothrom’s in the room, it’s pretty hard for me not to believe that he’s in charge.  You kids are less susceptible to this impression, evidently.  You’re inclined to focus on the whole of me, I guess, and help that whole, which does of course include my will to power as an element, but only as an element, and so this image of myself in one of my predominantly power-focused moods, cartoonishly exaggerated, can’t impress you Managers and Technicals the way it has impressed me ever since Horroria produced it in the Depths.”
        “That’s true; we’re copies of you as a whole, not merely of a single element, although in some of us, the Managers, your managerial intelligence is emphasized, while in the Technicals your technical intelligence is more intensely represented.  But the key to our relationship with you is that we’re not completely separate from you; it’s as though elastic filaments connect our souls with yours, and constantly exert a pull in your direction, which we feel as strong desire to advance your work as quickly as we can, promoting your agenda, helping you to reach your goals.  In this way we align ourselves with you and partially rejoin you – or at least it feels that way to us.  Our separateness from you feels wrong; it isn’t comfortable; we’re trying to recover our lost state of unity with our progenitor.”
        “Then you’re an odd one, aren’t you?  You don’t seem to be entirely in synch with my agenda, although you’ve worked just as hard on your assignments as the others have so I don’t have a reason to complain.  It’s just your attitude – it’s out of whack, although, I have to say, I kind of like your idiosyncratic take on things.”
        “Yes, well, it seems that when Horroria produced me in particular, she made a copy of you as you were before your transformation, or at least of you before your transformation was complete.  She must have been distracted, or perhaps there was some kind of reproductive glitch.  I’m very glad that you don’t seem to mind; I’d be distraught if you rejected me.”
        “Don’t worry, Snigger.  So, if you don’t mind returning to our prior topic, I was saying, with some satisfaction, that we’re moving forward very rapidly.  We’ve got a real metropolis here now.  Its population shot past Dwarfenberg’s five years ago, and it continues to increase at an extremely rapid rate.  We’ve got a splendid military force with three components – Gobbins, Urgs, and Trolls – supported by a large compliant mass of Moleman-laborers.  The Urgs obey Lord Gothrom and interpret his commands intelligently, while the other castes obey what they assume to be his voice transmitted through the special megaphones that you employ to order them around.  It’s going smoothly, and I estimate that we’ll be ready to leave Sinister and subjugate the Realm ten years from now.”
        “Yes,” Snigger says.  “Amazing, isn’t it, how that monstrosity has given you the power to direct and guide the growth of every fungal and botanical extrusion of her body, so that these take on such variously useful forms – detachable equipment and machines for Technicals and Molemen, weaponry and armor for the Urgs, and so forth.  You just hold your fingers out and wiggle them, and you can make her tissues stretch, contract and warp in any way that you prefer.  And once you have initiated it, the process can be kept in motion by the wiggling fingers of our Technicals.  Remarkable!  And how you’ve managed to accelerate the reproduction-rate of every caste – sheer genius.  In ten years the population of Mount Sinister will have increased from just a thousand Urgs and twice as many Gobbins ninety years ago a hundred-fifty-fold; back then there were a hundred Trolls; in ten years’ time they’ll number fifteen hundred.  We will have five hundred thousand Molemen laboring in biofactories and warehouses – a hundred times as many as there were before Horroria released you from your Horrid trance down in the Lower Depths as Mastermind and you began your work.  Has it been worth it, though?  You might have been creating something on a smaller scale that would have been a lot more interesting: an artificial creature of your own, perhaps – e.g., a girlfriend perfectly adapted to your personality who’d always want to hear your latest thought and be reliably affectionate.”
        “Yes, that would have be very nice, I guess, but I’m absorbed in what I’m doing now.”
        “Don’t get me wrong,” says Snigger; “Sinister is really a tremendous work of art and something to be proud of.  Dwarfenberg falls short of what you have accomplished here already, if my copied memories of Dwarfenberg are accurate.  Of course, these cities differ stylistically and in the makeup of their furnishings:  Dwarf Mountain’s maze is rectilinear and everything within it is composed of molded metal, but Mount Sinister’s is curvilinear and sinuous, and all its stuff is biological.  They complement each other, in a way, but Sinister still has the upper hand in my opinion.  You’re a brilliant man.”
        “Thanks, Snigger.  Well, shall we get back to work?”

 Six months before the War …
        The Wizards drink their after-dinner beers, while Miyu and her husband, Kenji, sip more delicately from their saké-cups, and Sumiko, their daughter, tries her best to be contented with the ginger-ale she rotates idly on the tablecloth in front of her.  She’s sixteen years of age apparently, and psychologically at that stage of development at well, but actually she’s a century old; she can’t age further here at Disengar, nor have her parents or the other kids who came here from the island of Japan a hundred years ago aged since that time.  The other kids, already seventeen when they arrived, stayed seventeen years old, but she was just an embryo enclosed in Miyu’s womb.  Once born, she slowly grew until she reached this stage; then her growth stopped, as did her progress toward maturity.  Not quite caught up with all the other kids, she’s still the baby of the little group of Japanese assisting Asmuran, the Rainbow Wizard, as he’s often called because he wears a rainbow-colored hat and robe.  The other Wizard sitting here is Dagastar, whose hat and robe are green, a mossy dark green, so he’s often called ‘the Mossy Wizard’.  Dagastar has come from Boodletown; he visits once a year.
        The Mossy Wizard’s watching Sumiko intently as she turns her glass around.  She doesn’t notice him observing her.  The Rainbow Wizard’s going on about his project in the basement – huge machines the Japanese girls will be piloting.  “The Elves will know about it soon enough,” says Asmuran; “of course, they’ll be annoyed if not infuriated.  I can deal with irritation; fury bothers me.”
        “That’s what you get,” says Miyu, “when you build your research-complex at the center of  their city.  They don’t like technology for some weird reason.  Elves have issues, man.”
        “Yes, I knew there’d be problems down the line,” says Asmuran, “but how else could we stop the endless cycle of those Elf-Dwarf wars?  The Elves prefer our presence here to theirs, although they only had a mining-camp at this place, not a walled facility whose central tower overlooks their Trees.”
        “It more than overlooks them,” Miyu says.  “It’s got to be at least three times their height, and these Trees are enormous; they must be the biggest on the planet.  Do you think they’re jealous of our tower?  I can hear them whispering to one another now, ‘That stupid tower Thoranc over there thinks it’s so wonderful, that arrogant dumb spike of shiny metallurgium!’”
        “The Elves’ Trees may be conscious,” he replies, “but I doubt they’re intelligent enough for feelings of that sort, and they can’t speak.”
        “Yeah, duh, I’m only kidding,” Miyu says.
        Her husband, Kenji, says, “A Tree can feel the pressure of the fluids entering its root-tips, and their pulse as they ascend the channels of its bark.  To feel such things requires deeper sensitivities than those we recognize within ourselves.”
        “Is that another poem, Dad?” Sumiko inquires, with a smile fluttering along her lips but not quite forming there.  She doesn’t raise her eyes – she’s still intent upon the glass she turns in front of her.
        “A sort of prose-poem, maybe,” Kenji says.
        The Mossy Wizard lifts his gaze from her to Kenji.  “She’s remarkable attuned to your peculiar insights, isn’t she.”
        “We’ve always had a close relationship,” her father answers him.  “She notices the little things I pay attention to.”
        “I’m only noticing them to be nice, because I’m fond of you,” says Sumiko.
        “Excuse me, Kenji, Miyu,” Dagastar says somewhat awkwardly, “and Sumiko, please listen; this concerns you – I can sense extremely concentrated Energies within your daughter, flowing in and out of her continually, Energies that she can learn to focus and control if she comes back with me to Boodletown and studies with the Master, as I have for many centuries now.  It certainly won’t take her very long to shoot far past my own Boodita-level; I don’t have much natural talent.  Hers is through the roof.”
        The girl looks up.  “You really think so?  Wow, that sounds so cool!  Can I go back with him?”
        “Of course not,” Miyu says.  “You’re just a girl; you can’t go off to Boodletown alone with Dagastar; that’s not how things are done.”
        “Well, I could go with her,” her father says.
        “And leave me here alone while you’re away with Sumiko in Boodletown?  That’s nice.  In any case, it seems that both of you must be reminded that if you leave here you’ll lose the anti-aging influence that’s emanated by the mass of Elves surrounding us.  Without it, you’ll begin to age, and you’ll get ugly.  Then you’ll die.”
        “Come on,” says Dagastar; “she has four years to go at least before she’s at her peak, and some would even say that she has ten, so aging’s really not a problem here.  And Kenji’s physically and mentally a twenty-six-year-old like you, so he has got a lot of time to play with too – a Japanese man isn’t at his peak until he’s forty.  Isn’t that correct?”
        “That’s true,” says Kenji.  “Even forty-five is fine if you’re a man, but women age less gracefully, so you’ve got much less time to play with.  You should worry – not me, though.  I’m only joking, Cherry Blossom, but I think it’s fine if Sumiko and I leave Disengar for several months or so.  Our daughter needs to see the outside world.”
        “Suppose she wants to stay out there?  What then?  She ends up older than we are right now and keeps on aging and at last she dies.”
        “We Japanese supposedly accept the fact of death, since from our point of view all things, including us, are elements that float along within the Way of Things  like bubbles in a stream, which disappear as other bubbles form.  At Disengar we’ve lost our sense of this, but I believe that we would quickly redevelop it if we resumed our natural way of life.”
        “Well, I don’t want my daughter growing old.”
        “It’s just for several months,” says Sumiko; “then I’ll come back here.  So I won’t grow old.”
        “Let me be honest with the three of you,” says Dagastar.  “I’m not the most advanced disciple that the Master’s ever had; in fact, I’m pretty far back on the list.  But many centuries of Boodita-work have trained my consciousness, developing vestigial senses that we all possess but few of us are able to deploy.  Among these is a certain future-ward perception.  I can sometimes vaguely see the shape of things to come.  What I perceive is that if Sumiko comes with me now to Boodletown and starts to study there with Master Mooga, she will not return – not permanently anyway.  If she develops her Boodita-consciousness with Master Mooga, then she’s destined for a great heroic role in history.  She’ll make her people greater than the Elves and Dwarfs.  Her people will remember her for thousands of millennia; she’ll be a goddess in their minds.  But, yes, she’ll die.  If she stays here in Disengar with you she’ll lead a nice but unimportant life forever.  That’s the choice you have to make – the choice she has to make, if you allow her to decide her future for herself.”
        “She’s just a kid,” says Miyu; “I don’t think she has the right to make a choice like this.  In fact, she lacks the full capacity for reasonable choice that we adults have, which is why it’s always been adults that make decisions for their kids – at least, decisions of this magnitude.”
        “Please Mom!” says Sumiko.  “I want to go!”
        “I think that we should let the girl decide,” says Kenji.   “If she never leaves this place she’ll never be mature enough to have the right to make these choices, in your view, so that means that she’ll never ever have a chance to make decisions for herself.  That just seems wrong to me.  It seems unfair.  And, as I said, I’ll go along with her, so she won’t be alone in Boodletown.”
        “Unh hunh, I see.  You’ll just abandon me.”
        “No, I’ll just be gone temporarily – that is, if you’ll still have me back, of course.  She’ll either come back with me or grow up, and once she’s all grown up I can return without her, if she chooses to stay there.”
        “So that’s okay with you – just heading off for months or years, abandoning your wife?”
        “I’ll sure we’d be returning frequently for visits, so it’s not as bad as that.”
        The Mossy Wizard says, “I’m pretty sure that Master Mooga wouldn’t want the girl to interrupt her training during her first year with him; she’d lose a lot of ground if that occurred.  That’s how Boodita is; you build a strong foundation for it first, and this requires daily exercise.”
        “You hear that?” Miyu says.  “You’d leave your wife and stay away for an entire year because your daughter has a sudden whim to study this bizarre Boodita thing with someone who is just a talking head that’s being kept alive inside a jar?”
        “It isn’t Mooga’s fault,” says Dagastar, “that he’s lost everything below the neck; we’re lucky that his main part’s still alive inside that jar at Boodletown, to guide his kids, the Boodles, and not only them but anyone who wants to make the trip.”
        “Okay,” says Miyu, “sorry; that was rude. But this upsets me.  Kenji, you and I had better talk about this later on tonight when we’re alone, and you can think more clearly, without being influenced by this guy.”  (Her thumb’s aimed at Dagastar.)
        “Yes that seems best,” the Rainbow Wizard says.  “Who else would like to have another drink?”
        “I’m going, Mom,” says Sumiko, “and Dad is coming with me.  Sorry, but it’s true.”
        “It hasn’t been decided yet, and you are being insolent.  You have no right to make decisions that affect my life and his to this extent all by yourself.”
        “She emanates tremendous quantities of uncontrolled, chaotic Energy,” says Dagastar.  “She’ll learn to channel this chaotic Energy at Boodletown.”
        That night, for several hours, feminine expostulations intermittently emerge from their suite’s door – all Miyu’s, since their daughter’s sleeping with the girls downstairs, “to get away from all the noise,” she says.
        Next morning, Dagastar and Sumiko and Kenji, standing at the eastern gate of Disengar, exchange polite goodbyes with Asmuran.  “Have fun out there,” he says.  Then Miyu rushes up, and out of breath from her quick dash across the yard, gets off a last reproach for Kenji’s benefit: “I can’t believe you’re really doing this.  Don’t think that things will ever be the same between us now.  This changes everything.”
        “I’m not sure what you mean, specifically,” says Kenji, “but I know that things must change; they always do.”  He leans in for a kiss; she turns her face aside, so that his lips can only brush her cheek, then pushes him away.  He nods, and walks off through the gate as Sumiko wraps Miyu in a hug that after a half-second of delay is energetically and tearfully returned.  The girl must grasp her mother’s arms to disengage herself.  “I love you Mom,” she says, as she back-steps and trots away to catch up with her father.  Dagastar gives Asmuran a final wave, and mouths “I’m sorry,” at the mother, with a shrug to indicate his helplessness, then turns and strides off after them along the Road.