Chapter Two: Sinister

        The Mastermind of Horror, entering the throne-room at the heart of Sinister, croaks, “Well, Lord Gothrom, our departure-time approaches rapidly.  I recommend that you address the zealous warriors who will be following you through the Gate tomorrow morning when your Horrid Host begins its eastward march across the Realm.”
        The Lord of Horror hisses, “I suppose it will be very good for their morale if I display myself to them today and blast out some exciting rhetoric.  Is there a cavern that will hold them all?”
        “No,” Nausor says; “they’re far too numerous for any of our caverns to contain them all at once.  Besides, it’s easier for you to visit each type separately where it resides, than to assemble them in one location, if you wouldn’t mind.”
        “So I’ll be making several speeches then?  That’s fine with me.  My oratorical ability will put them in the mood to do whatever asked of them out there when they face enemies and have to kill and die for me.  Or maybe I should say that I’ll intensify the mood they’re in already.  They would kill and die for me right now, but once they’ve heard my rhetoric they’ll kill and die for me with three times more enthusiasm.  They’ll be supercharged.”
        The Mastermind cannot sustain the gaze of those magenta eyes; he focuses upon the lower portion of that form of eggplant-purple shadow – heavy, dense, yet not quite solid – seated on its throne.  This throne looks something like a tulip-bulb that’s been slit open down one side, its halves pried backward to admit its occupant.  The throne’s positioned on a fungal stage that raises it a yard above the ground. 
        “Yes,” Nausor croaks, “and when in future days they face great hardships and are suffering for your sake, as will sometimes be the case (although your final victory’s assured), then they’ll be able to look back on this inspiring occasion and will draw enough new vigor from the memory to get themselves beyond their troublesome predicament, or, if they’re doomed, accept their situation and die with the sense that their extinction is a meaningful event within the larger scheme of things.”
        “All meaning emanates from me,” the Lord of Horror hisses, rising from his throne.  Not only is Lord Gothrom ten feet tall, he’s further elevated by the stage on which he’s standing (strictly speaking, though, he’s floating vertically above the stage; about an inch of empty space divides the undersurfaces of Gothrom’s feet – or foot-like flarings – from its fungal hide.)  The Mastermind looks up at him.  It’s hard for Nausor not to look away again immediately; Gothrom gazes down at Nausor like a serpent at a mouse.  The Horror-Lord is vaguely humanoid  and yet inhumanly ethereal.  He’s jointless, made of curving shadow-tubes, the leg-tubes flaring at their lower ends like foot-concealing long bellbottom jeans, the arm-tubes broadening and flattening where hands would be on ordinary men; their ends resemble ladles one might use to stir a cauldron’s worth of shadow-stew.
        “The larger scheme of things is nothing more than this,” Lord Gothrom says, as his right arm ascends above his head.  His chest expands, his head tips back, and his raised arm extends – it stretches out into a shadow-whip, a Whip of Horror twenty feet in length that spirals over him in lazy arcs and undulating loops and figure-eights as he spews forth a howling long hiss, proclaiming his unique Horrendousness.  This done, the whips retracts into an arm which Gothrom lowers to his side again as he steps down onto the throne-room floor.  Let’s go then, Mastermind,” says Gothrom as he sweeps past Nausor with smooth, gliding strides; his jointless legs curve under him like bows.  The Mastermind turns quickly, following with rapid steps that, by comparison, suggest an anxious, servile scurrying – yet Nausor’s almost seven feet in height, if you include the upward tapering of his high Wizard’s head-cone, shrouded by the baggy hood of his dark purple cloak.
        “Our Spyders wait outside the door, Lord G,” croaks Nausor, following in Gothrom’s wake – apparently the follower, and yet more guide than follower.  The Horror-Lord can’t find his way alone; the Mountain’s paths are tortuous and tangled.  Furthermore, the Horror-Lord will not know what to say; he’ll need the oratorical advice that Nausor will provide just prior to his brief addresses.  This advice must come immediately prior to a speech or he’ll forget what he’s supposed to say.  However, even if the Horror-Lord could function adequately on his own he’d still prefer to have the Mastermind accompanying him: it’s very nice to have a genius follow you about, appreciating everything you do and feeding you suggestions in a way that doesn’t threaten your authority.
        They mount their Spyders, creatures with eight legs that angle downward almost vertically like horse’s legs; their backs are circular.  Lord Gothrom’s Spyder’s seven feet in height; the Mastermind’s is only five feet high.  The Lord of Horror floats above his mount as though he’s riding it, with half a foot of space between his bottom and its back.  “Lord G, I have to tell you,” Nausor says, “you look exceptionally Horrible on Spyderback.  Let’s take that tunnel there.”
        Lord Gothrom nods.  “I know I do.  I feel exceptionally Horrible today.”  He pulls the right antenna of his mount – not literally, since his shadow-arm can’t really push or pull on anything, but since the Spyder’s very sensitive to Gothrom’s motions, it responds to him as though he were directing it that way; it gallops off along the corridor.
        The Mastermind of Horror follows him upon his smaller Spyder, which must rush at double-speed lest it be left behind by its long-legged partner.  Now and then the Horror-Lord half-turns his ill-defined head-region with its bright magenta eyes, requesting guidance, and the Mastermind makes understated gestures with his hand to indicate which branching passageway they should be going down.  Lord Gothrom nods acknowledgement and steers accordingly.
        “What’s this?” Lord Gothrom hisses.  They’ve emerged within a factory-sized area in which huge biological machines are tended to by Molemen who perform a multitude of labors: turning cranks, inserting ends of hoses into holes, withdrawing others, pulling lever-arms, and filling sacks with eggplant-purple goo at faucet-nozzles that project from tubes, while pouring paler goo from other sacks down flaring funnels.  Other Molemen move among the stations, carrying odd tools and organ-shaped equipment.  Horse-sized Bugs convey the larger stuff upon their backs; the Molemen prod them forward with long rods.  Along the edges, giant Centipedes with hollow backs, as long as subway-cars, are being loaded up with sacks of stuff required by the Host – its baggage-train.  The Molemen waddle rapidly about with thrusting heads and anxious little grunts.
        “Lord Gothrom, I know that you’d rather see your warriors.  You will be seeing them, but let’s remember that a laborer contributes just as much to your success by tediously toiling away his dismal life in some facility as any Urg or Troll or Gobbin will contribute to your cause by slaughtering your enemies upon the battlefield.  And tens of thousands will accompany your Host, not only keeping it equipped and nourished as you sweep on toward the east but building all the bases that you’ll need in order to ensure that you retain your grip upon the Realm once you have won the pleasant battles you anticipate.  They won’t be fighting up in front, of course, but still their safety isn’t guaranteed.  They’ll be exposed to raids and flank-attacks.  They’re not devoid of courage.  Would you please convey to them that you appreciate their loyal service, that you recognize their deep devotion and are fond of them?  A word from you would mean so much to them.”
        “Ah,” says Lord Gothrom, “look how hard they work, and all for me.  They love me, and they should; I’ve given them a reason to exist.  I do in fact feel somewhat fond of them, now that you mention it.  What shall I say?”
        “Just tell them, ‘Thanks for everything you’ve done; when we’ve completely Horrified the Earth your work will play a very central role within the Horrible new scheme of things.’  The brief acknowledgement you’re giving them will have a disproportionate effect upon your audience; you’ll gratify them very much – appropriately so, considering how much they’ve done for you.  Your words will motivate them to perform their tasks at an accelerated rate, beyond the speed at which they’re working now, which is already quite remarkable.”
        Lord Gothrom’s hissing roar or roaring hiss of “Listen to me, Molemen!” fills the vast industrial arena like the sound made by a thunderstorm when rain shoots down at forty-five degrees in blasting wind.  The Molemen pause abruptly, some mid-stride, some with a lever-arm pulled halfway down, some with a sack receiving purple goo, and turn their faces toward the Horror-Lord; they quiver with the unfamiliar strain of keeping themselves momentarily in stasis as they wait to hear his words.  He goes on, “Molemen, thank you for your years of service to me.  Keep on toiling, and when the Earth is finally Horrible you’ll be important in the scheme of things!”
        The Molemen bow together, rhythmically, repeatedly, down-up, down-up, down-up, until Lord Gothrom hisses, “Back to work!”  The Molemen then resume their former tasks immediately; you would almost think there’d been no interruption, but in fact they seem to work more energetically, as though inspired by the rhythmic tune of Gothrom’s words replaying in their heads.
        The Horror-Lord turns to his Mastermind.  “You’ve said that when the Earth is Horrible the tentacles of that old bitch down there will branch around the planet, heaping up in mountains, and we’ll live inside of her.  I’m not sure I’m quite comfortable with that.  You say that all of Earth’s inhabitants will do my bidding, and I’ll be in charge of everything, commanding everyone, but how can what you’re telling me be true when I’ll be living in the bitch’s guts along with you and all my underlings?”
        “Don’t worry, Horror-Lord; you’ll be the boss.  Horroria can’t act; she only grows.  Shall we go watch the Urgs as they complete their final training exercises, practicing the difficult maneuvers they will use in battle in the coming days and weeks?  Your praise (if you approve of what you see) will feed their zeal and make them that much more intent on killing for their Chief of Chiefs.”
        They ride their Spyders through more passageways and after several minutes they arrive at an enormous cavern almost filled with wheeling ranks of Urgs who march in step with long pikes held at angles in both hands.  They wear spiked helmets, breastplates, forearm-guards, shin-greaves and hiking boots, with short broad swords in scabbards dangling from their heavy belts, their arms and armor all organic stuff – dense rinds and fibrous mats and tapered stalks whose growth was managed very carefully until they were mature; then it was time to pull them from the Horror-Mother’s flesh and bathe them in the seething chemicals that fill her vacuoles, for hardening.
        They watch the Urgs maneuver.  “Do you see how disciplined those people have become – a single military animal?  We’ve taught them that the lone Urg’s will to kill must be subordinated to the will of the entire Urg-community – its will to kill together, as a team, with maximum effectiveness.  You see?  That fellow stumbled and fell out of step, then raised his breastplate to expose his gut so that his corporal could stab him there.  This was the contribution that he made to his community’s effectiveness: removing an impediment – himself.  The other soldiers sweep on past his corpse, no doubt admiring the discipline that he displayed in offering himself for execution – he redeemed himself from his unbearably embarrassing condition of inferiority by means of this self-sacrificing act.  They’d follow his example instantly if they were to fall short in any way of martial standards; they would cheerfully look forward to the breakdown of their flesh within the Horror-Mother’s viscera, and its recombination with the flesh of others to produce a brand-new Urg who’d likely function more effectively within the Urgish collectivity, whose only purpose is to glorify its Chief of Chiefs by slaughtering his foes.”
        “And I’m that Chief of Chiefs,” Lord Gothrom says.
        The Mastermind looks up, considering the looming figure that impassively stares down upon the Urgs as they perform the intricate maneuvers they may use on his behalf within the coming days.  He’s sure the Horror-Lord’s a separate self, aware, self-conscious, with propensities and motives of his own, that make of him a personality, in some loose sense of that ambiguous, perplexing word.  What’s Gothrom really getting out of this?  Is he just on some sort of power-trip, or does he feel the Horror-Energy that he expresses – is it moving him in some way that he’s fairly conscious of?  It’s both at once (thinks Nausor to himself) – he’s getting off on power, but he feels the Horror-Energy propelling him as though it’s an exhilarating drug; it moves him from behind; it’s like a wave; he’s looking out from its advancing crest upon the world he’s going to enslave.  With me it’s different – Horror’s all around, a living, growing thing; Horroria is its appropriate embodiment, its incarnation here and now, and I … I serve it.  So does he.  He doesn’t know.  He can’t imagine … well, that says it all.  He doesn’t have the sensitivity to understand what’s really going on.  But isn’t his insensitivity in fact the secret of his Horrible attractiveness – his beauty, one might say, without exaggeration?  What is this insensitivity but innocence?  His limitless self-confidence – it’s just a kind of childlike simplicity … the graceful motion of an infant’s hands toward any shiny object that’s in reach, a conscious predatory vegetable’s dark blossoms moving automatically toward any object that looks edible or malleable or destructible.
        The Mastermind does not articulate a secondary, unformed sentiment that’s floating like a bloated manatee beneath the verbiage and images that spin and tumble filthily upon the surface of his always-churning mind – he’d like the Horror-Lord to be his friend.  But, knowing this to be impossible, he feels a poisonous resentment seep in through a fissure in the stony bed of his persona, fathoms further down – a magma never quite solidified and pocked with caves from which the cuttlefish of his humiliating memories extend their wriggling digits, waggling insistent boneless fingers up at him.
        “I know they’d love to hear a speech from you – some praise, encouragement, and gratitude for their commitment and self-sacrifice.  Say things that reinforce their sense of pride, of being better than the others are – the Molemen and the Gobbins and the Trolls.”
        The Lord of Horror grandly elevates his jointless arms, and stands there like a “Y” whose upper bars curve smoothly to each side and terminate above the facial zone of indeterminate dark purple murk from which two bright magenta lanterns glare.  He holds this pose in silence.  Not for long:  the Urgish officers, who recognize his evident desire to address the troops that they command on his behalf, bark orders, and the columns stop and turn to face him, standing stiffly, with their pikes held upright.  They all stomp their booted feet, one-two, in time, and shout “Hail, Horror-Lord,” and then wait silently for him to speak.  He’s spoken to them now and then before; the Mastermind’s advice was helpful, though, since usually he neglects the praise and gratitude, and concentrates upon encouragement – which, for Lord Gothrom, means encouraging them to devote themselves more vigorously and wholeheartedly to serving him than they already do.
        He roars, “I love you people!  You’re the best!  It’s obvious that you’ve got what it takes to crush my enemies beneath your feet and keep them crushed while I rebuild the world in my own image, making it a place in which my loyal followers can feel at home – and when I say this, I mean you, my number one supporters, my elite!”
        The Urgish captains bark; the Urgs all shout and slam their pike-ends down upon the ground repeatedly.  Again his arms go up, and they fall silent.  “Thank you, Urgs!” he roars.  “Each one of you has earned my gratitude.  Tomorrow I will lead you out of here, and our career of conquest will begin.  Now, back to your maneuvers!”  His arms drop, the captains bark, another shout – again, “Hail, Horror-Lord!” and all the Urgs return at once to their maneuvers; it appears that they now do so with more energy, if possible, than they’d exhibited before the Lord of Horror’s little speech.
        “Well done, Lord G” says Nausor.  “Shall we go and pay a visit to the Gobbins now?”
        “Ah, yes, I do enjoy the sight of them – the way their undiluted viciousness subordinates itself to my authority just demonstrates how greatness such as mine can master and make use of anything, no matter how despicable it is.”
        They ride for several minutes; then they stand upon a balcony that overlooks a cavern boiling with Gobbin-swarms.  They’re fighting; waves of Gobbins crash, collapse, and intermix and separate again.  A constant din of howling and shrieks arises from the frenzied multitude.
        “It always strikes me how ideal they are,” says Nausor as they watch the scene below, “for throwing in large multitudes at Dwarfs and any other stubborn foes we’ll face; they’re worthless creatures, so who really cares how many of them die as they attack?  Since they’re so small and crude, Horroria can breed replacements fairly rapidly: we bring the dead to her; she swallows them and turns them into raw material from which new individuals are formed within the pods that cluster on the walls of Gobbin-breeding-caves not far from here.”
        Around the edges of the multitude, at entrances cut through the cavern wall, stand Managers – they’re smaller replicas of Nausor, wearing hooded cloaks like his.  These Managers shout orders to the mob through bullhorn-like devices that convert their voices into hisses copying the Horror-Lord’s own hurricane-like hiss.  These orders, at the moment, are confined to “No, you may not bite each other now!”, “No gouging eyes!”, “No strangling!”, “Don’t rip each other’s bellies open with your claws!”, and so on, and these orders are obeyed, the Gobbins rioting non-lethally, because the hissed instructions seem to them to be the Horror-Lord’s direct commands; they even visualize him standing there above them, ordering them to restrain their fury.  Otherwise, the mob would soon reduce itself by ninety-five percent as Gobbins slaughter Gobbins in the rage that overcrowding naturally provokes.
        Lord Gothrom’s own hiss, decibels above the levels that the bullhorns can produce, expands throughout the cavern: “Listen up, you Horrifying little idiots!”  The Gobbins, turning toward the balcony, drop down upon their haunches, trembling, hunched over, with their arms about their shins; they jerk their rat-like snouts from side to side, emitting high-pitched yips and nasal moans.
        “I like their attitude,” Lord Gothrom says.
        “Yes, and behind their servile reverence is pent-up rage that soon will be released upon the Joyous enemies they’ll face within the coming days.  You must begin to focus their ferocity, and move its current toward the aperture from which it will shoot outward at the proper time.  So, tell them that tomorrow you will lead them out of Sinister, and they will soon have opportunities to massacre and eat as many people as they want.  That’s all they’ll comprehend; as you’ve observed, they’re idiots.  Use simple sentences.”
        “All right then.”  Gothrom raises up his arms and hisses in his roaring, storm-like way, “Get ready, Gobbins!  I will lead you out of here tomorrow!  You will kill and eat a million people!  Kill, kill, eat, eat, eat!”  The Gobbins howl and they leap about upon their haunches, lifting up their arms and clutching at the air with their long claws.
        “Ah, that was perfect, Horror-Lord.  Well done.  Shall we go have a look at our big Trolls, our heavy hitters, as they might be called?”
        “Yes, certainly.  I’m very fond of them.  It’s gratifying that such brutal strength is at one’s fingertips, for one’s own use.”
        “Indeed,” says Nausor, as they start to ride along the passageways to their new goal.  “Through here,” he says, a little later on, and then they’re passing through a space where pods the size of dumpsters dangle from the walls, attached by python-sized umbilicals – the birthing-pods from which the Trolls emerge.
        They turn a corner, then another one, and then pass through an archway, entering the habitat in which the Trolls are kept, resembling Penn Station – very long and fairly narrow, almost tunnel-like, its ceiling disproportionately low; you feel as though you’re in a monstrous throat that might begin to tighten, crushing you.  Here fifteen hundred Trolls are slumped about like walruses along a rocky beach, their heads upon the ground or on their arms.  They’re muttering and grumbling to themselves.  They don’t move very much, but now and then one reaches out and punches at the chest or shoulder of his neighbor, who strikes back; they glare at one another, snarling, and then subside into the listlessness from which they’d momentarily emerged.  Off in the background, standing here and there, observing them, are several Managers equipped, as were the Gobbin-Managers, with bullhorns simulating Gothrom’s voice.
        “I hope it’s feeding-time,” Lord Gothrom says; “They’re so much more enjoyable to watch when they tear at a Beetle, don’t you think?”
        “Indeed, they are,” the Mastermind replies, “and, fortunately for the two of us, it never isn’t feeding-time for Trolls.”  He signals to a Manager, who goes and opens up a grill set in the wall not far away – it’s one of many grills that line both walls at well-spaced intervals.  A moment later, Beetles, golf-cart-sized, started trundling out through the aperture; they follow one another in a line until a score of them are in the hall, where they wheel in a cluster like scared cows.
        “Amusing how they run right toward their doom,” says Gothrom, “all because they hate the smell of that green gas you fill their kennel with whenever you’re inclined to feed the Trolls.”  (The Mastermind’s explained this to his boss on previous occasions, and it sticks in Gothrom’s mind because it tickles him to think of how the Beetles flee the smell by heading straight to their devourers.)
        “Yes, it’s amusing,” says the Mastermind.
        The nearby Trolls have heaved themselves erect; they start to lumber toward the frightened Bugs, huge, meaty, stubby-fingered hands stretched out and clutching at the air, long trails of drool descending from their curving yellow tusks as their great mouths gape open and slam shut repeatedly; they seize the Beetles up and tear at them; the Beetles’ churning legs are scratching at their faces as they chomp.  They battle over portions of the flesh, with one hand tugging at a neighbor’s piece and with the other struggling to retain the piece they’ve got, and use their heads to butt, while others who have got free hands use these to punch and smack and shove.  The Managers who supervise them simulate the voice of Gothrom, hissing through their bullhorns, “Boys, you’d better take it easy!  Calm yourselves!  There’s lots of Beetle-meat to go around.  No lasting injuries; if anyone gets badly hurt out there, I’ll be annoyed!”
        The meat’s soon gone.  They sink back to the ground, rejoining those – the great majority – who hadn’t bothered rising to their feet because they’d recognized they had no chance of getting at the Beetles who’d emerged from that one opening along the wall not far from where the Lord of Horror sat with Nausor, perched aloft on Spyder-back, the violent drama having been produced for his amusement.  All the other Trolls will have to wait – at intervals, the grills are going to be opened here and there along the walls, and Bugs will trundle out to be devoured by the Trolls who lie in that vicinity.  As Nausor told the Horror-Lord, it’s always feeding-time, but not for everyone at once; this way they can be governed more effectively.
        The Lord of Horror hiss-roars, “Turn around and face me, Trolls; I want to talk to you!”  They pivot ponderously on their butts like hippopotamuses swiveling in mud, and lean their chests upon their knees; they rock and sway their heads and stare at him with sagging jaws, spit drooling from their lips.
        “With Trolls, one must be simple and direct,” says Nausor; “Tell them they’ll get lots of meat if they kill lots of enemies for you, and lots of painful wounds if they do not.”
        “Now hear this, Trolls,” the Lord of Horror says; “you may be big and strong, but next to me you’re weaklings, every single one of you.  You’d better do exactly what I say.  Tomorrow we’ll be heading out of here, and you had better eat my enemies or I’ll have my men torture you to death.  You understand me?”  (Many nod their heads.)  “Okay then; you can go ahead and turn yourselves around the way you were before and take it easy.  See, I’m nice to you – I like you, but I’ll have you torn apart if you aren’t totally obedient.”
        “That’s not exactly what I had in mind,” says Nausor, as the Trolls turn back around and sag, relaxing, once again sprawled out in semi-horizontal attitudes like heaps of garbage, just as they had been when he’d arrived here with the Horror-Lord, “but it will do.  Well, now our tour’s complete.  Shall we return?  I took the liberty of summoning our five top Managers to meet us in your throne room presently, where they’ll be giving you a quick review of our strategic operations-plan, with maps to make the presentation clear –a map’s a sort of picture that displays an area of land, such as the Realm.  You’re going to enjoy this – looking down at these depictions spread out under you, a foretaste of the way the Realm itself will be spread out supine beneath your gaze as you decide what shall be done with it.”
        A little later, he and Nausor stand with several Managers, examining a map spread out upon a tabletop – it shows the Realm, three hundred miles long from west to east, and only half as wide from north to south.  There at the western end is Sinister, and at the eastern end is Dwarfenberg, a mountain also called ‘Dwarf Mountain’ or ‘Mount Dwarf’; both mountains rise two miles high.  The oval Realm is rimmed by steep escarpments half a mile high that gradually curve toward either end, where they meet Sinister and Dwarfenberg.  As you can easily infer, it’s hard for any of the Realm’s inhabitants to leave it, or for anyone outside to enter it; you’d have to climb the cliffs to exit, or descend them to get in, a feat that would be very difficult for normal people, or you’d have to cross the mountains at the two ends of the Realms or else pass through their inner corridors.  A road (which happens to be called “the Road”) runs horizontally from Sinister to Dwarfenberg.  Halfway between these points it passes right through Elfpark, which thus sits exactly at the center of the Realm.  Below the Road is swampland; north of it, a range of thousand-foot-high rugged hills divides the Realm in half.  To either side is rolling forestland, with gentler hills that channel narrow streams to little lakes. On each side there’s a larger lake as well, about two miles in diameter.
        The Mastermind says, “Here, Lord G; you see this line?  It represents the Road, which leads directly from our Gate to Dwarfenberg’s.  You have three major stops along the way.  Here at the middle point along the road  is Elfpark, home to fifty thousand Elves who live above the ground, in palaces supported by the limbs of conscious Trees.  At Elfpark’s center there’s an area surrounded by a wall, called ‘Disengar’, where Asmuran, my former Wizard-friend, conducts his research.  He’s assisted by a staff of several hundred Mexicans as well as ten to fifteen Japanese; the latter probably help Asmuran with higher-level aspects of his work requiring some extra intellect.”
        (You may be wondering how Nausor knows that there’s a walled-in zone called “Disengar” at Elfpark’s center now, and that this is the Rainbow Wizard’s home – how could he know these things if he was in the Lower Depths entranced by Horror, in a timeless state, when Disengar was built by Asmuran with Mexican assistance and became its builders’ home?  How he could also know that people from the island of Japan have much more recently moved in with them?  He hasn’t been dispatching Managers or anybody else from Sinister to snoop around outside, nor has he left the mountain either since he came back up from his long sojourn in the Lower Depths with Gothrom and his own cloned progeny to start the work of building up a Host, so secret spying-missions can’t explain the Mastermind’s awareness of these facts.  Well, first remember that Horroria has eyes on stalks atop Mount Sinister.  She gazes constantly across the Realm; while she held Nausor in her tentacles, transforming him into the Mastermind of Horror through a half-millennium of Horror-trance, she saw the Mexicans and Asmuran build Disengar; she saw the gleaming tower rise a thousand feet above the Trees of Elfpark, in their midst.  Throughout that trance, the boundaries of his mind were half-dissolved, and everything she saw became a memory that he retained, accessible to him once he’d emerged.  Moreover, afterwards, the Mastermind descended to her every week or so for updates; he would telepathically connect his mind with hers, and in this way he’d watch the Realm by gazing through her eyes.  He recognizes Asmuran, of course, and recognizes his associates as Mexicans and youthful Japanese: he met both kinds of people long ago when and his three colleagues toured the Realm right after they arrived from Wizardworld.  He knows that Disengar’s called “Disengar” because the name is written on its gates in big bright letters.  (He can only see the writing on the western gate, of course.)
        Forgive the interruption.  Anyway, the Mastermind of Horror doesn’t pause; he cruises steadily along.  He says, “At this point here, halfway from Sinister to Elfpark is a village, Fuzzyville, and here, halfway from Elfpark to Mount Dwarf, is Boodletown.  The Fuzzyvillagers won’t give us trouble, or at least not much; they’re few in number, and not very large in stature, so we have no worries there.  The Boodle-population’s also small in numbers, but they’re seven feet in height and massive; even though their body-weight is mostly fat, it makes them powerful, and we should not discount their fighting-dance, which their progenitor, who’s still alive although he’s just a head kept in a jar, created and requires all of them to practice.  It might be to some extent effective, since they use the fighting-skills that they develop and maintain by means of this peculiar dance to drive away the gangs of wild Bearmen who come down out of the Northeast Forest here to raid their town and vandalize their cottages.”
        “Those Bearmen might give us some trouble then.”
        “A little, but they’re too disorganized to be more than a minor irritant.”
        “Is anybody living over here?”
        “The Northwest Forest?  Yes, the Treefolk are; they’re isolated individuals, so you will overcome them easily, eventually, when the second phase of conquest starts, about this time next year.  That’s when your forces based at Fuzzyville and Boodletown strike northward to the Lakes – the western Lake, where Treefolk-children grow, and eastern Lake, where Bearmen congregate.”
        “And what about the south?  That’s half the Realm!  Here, look; you’ve got another mark down here, a little under Elfpark – what is this?”
        “The southern area beneath the Road, beyond a fairly narrow wooded fringe, is swampland; all of its inhabitants are unintelligent invertebrates except for those who dwell in that one place you’ve pointed out – the island of Japan.
        Our occupation of the southern swamps will be Phase Three; at that point you’ll transfer the Japanese to an internment camp, as will, of course, already have been down with all the other peoples of the Realm, where they will experimented on and modified, becoming willing slaves of your Horrifically transmuted Realm.”
        “That seems appropriate,” Lord Gothrom says.
        “So here’s our plan,” says Nausor, “subject to your veto, naturally, but we expect that you’ll appreciate its bold design.  The Host that you’ll lead out of Sinister includes a hundred twenty thousand Urgs and twice as many Gobbins, and you’ll have twelve hundred Trolls accompanying you.  You’re bringing sixty thousand Molemen too, to manage your supplies and start the work of building fortified facilities at Fuzzyville and Elfpark, Boodletown, and finally Dwarfenberg, the ultimate objective of Phase One.  You’ll also have  four hundred eighty of my clones with you, half of them Managers, half Technicals.  That’s four-fifths of the Gobbins, Trolls, and Urgs that we have here with us at Sinister; the rest should stay behind to guard our home in case the enemy tries flanking us and hitting Sinister while we’re away.  We need most of our Molemen to stay here to keep producing war-materials; you’re only taking ten percent of them, and half our Managers and Technicals.  I’m sure you’re well aware that you will need the help of Troll- and Gobbin-Managers; you’re going to be just as much in need of building-project-Managers, to whom the Moleman labor-bosses will report.  The Technicals are indispensable as architects, designers, engineers; they must be on location to make sure their general ideas are applied correctly, since the challenges we’ll face as we begin to reconstruct the Realm are not entirely predictable.  The reconstruction of the Realm begins at each of these locations right away, so, since the first three places on the list will probably be yours within a day of your arrival, you’ll need Technicals accompanying you right from the start.  Your Urgish officers will have command of their own kind, although they’ll often need direction and advice, especially when unforeseen contingencies arise.  Of course, I will be coming with you too; I offer good advice from time to time.  Mount Sinister and those remaining here must be entrusted to a competent subordinate while you and I are gone; I recommend this fellow to my left, Commander Pestilence.  He’s excellent – the highest-ranking Manager we have; that’s why he has his tri-syllabic name.”
        He reaches out and gives the Manager a shoulder-squeeze; Commander Pestilence says, “Thanks, Dad,” smiling as he looks down, embarrassed, at the map spread under them.
        The Mastermind continues.  “We have done some careful calculating.  We conclude that you’ll be moving at an average rate of fifteen miles daily on the Road.  That may sound slow, but we must factor in the likelihood of frequent traffic-jams, and Urgs aren’t rapid; they will plod along continuously at the same slow speed.  You’ll therefore reach your first goal, Fuzzyville, in five days’ time, or rather, you will reach the lane that leads to it; the village lies a mile north of that point on the Road.  A twelfth part of your Host will then depart along this lane; they’ll capture Fuzzyville and occupy it, while the Molemen start to build the fortified facility from which our operations to the north are going to be launched when Phase Two starts.  I recommend that you entrust this force, which you might want to call ‘the Western Corps’, to the efficient supervisory control of this man standing to my right,  Commander Creepus; his intelligence and competence make him the perfect choice.”  He smiles in a way as fatherly and warm as his long withered face allows at Creepus, who nods, smiling, back at him.  “The Wizard Fladnag lives at Fuzzyville; I want that gentleman in custody; I’d like to have an opportunity to speak with him at length; it’s possible that he will come to see our point of view, especially if he is introduced to certain fluid pharmaceuticals that we’ve begun producing in our lab.”
        “I’ll do my best to make sure he’s not harmed.  I’ll turn him over to the specialists that will accompany my Western Corps; I promise, Dad,” Commander Creepus says.
        “I know you will, Son.  I have faith in you.  But as for you, Lord Gothrom, you’ll move on past Fuzzyville with the eleven-twelfths remaining to you, and your Horrid Host will reach its second goal in five more days – a major one, the center of the Realm, the Elvish city, Elfpark, which is built, as I have said, in giant conscious Trees that overlook the Road, which might present a minor problem that we’ll overcome by sending up our Gobbins – they can climb extremely well, and are so numerous they’ll simply overwhelm the enemy.  But my old Wizard-colleague, Asmuran, might make things somewhat difficult for us in that location; he’s intelligent, and we don’t know what he might have on hand to use against us – gadgets he’s designed for other purposes might be employed in deadly ways.  We’ll find out soon enough.  Don’t get me wrong; we’ll deal with Asmuran.  He’s clever, but he’s not as smart as me, and he’s got Mexicans assisting him instead of Managers and Technicals.  Still, let’s not underestimate the man; he’s got a thousand-foot-tall tower there, a feat of engineering that displays his competence.  It’s undeniable.  When we arrive at Elfpark, then, our main concern is going to be Asmuran.”
        “So we just go directly to his base,” the Lord of Horror hisses, “smash our way in through the walls and beat him to a pulp, and then we turn around and kill the Elves.  It’s simple; nothing could be easier.”
        “Perhaps,” the Mastermind croaks carefully, “but then again it might be bothersome to have the Elves above us and behind our lines while we’re attacking Disengar; it might be preferable to proceed more cautiously, encircling them all and gradually tightening our grip so that we’ve neutralized them by the time we’re ready to assault the compound’s wall.  I don’t think it will take the Gobbins long to force them the Elves out of their Palaces.”
        “Sounds good,” Lord Gothrom says.  “We force them out and then kill every single one of them.”
        “We could, of course, but wouldn’t you prefer their transformation into willing slaves?”
        “Oh, right, you recommended earlier that we take this approach.  Yes, I approve.  I’ll hold off on exterminating them.  So we’ll be putting all these Elves inside a prison-camp, and messing with their minds?”
        “That’s right; we’ll have our Molemen hollow out a concentration-camp beneath the ground outside of Elfpark, and we’ll keep them there while we experiment with various techniques that we have been developing that promise to induce submissiveness in subjects who are naturally inclined to live in ways that aren’t compatible with Systematic Horror.  Anyway, we’ll need a week to get things stabilized at Elfpark, and when our advance resumes along the Road, we’ll have to leave behind a more substantial portion of our Host to keep an eye on things – one twice the size of that we left behind in Fuzzyville.  This Central Corps will be left in the hands of Kurdle here – that is, if you approve.”  With Kurdle, as with Creepus earlier, there is a brief but definite exchange of fatherly and filial regard.  “Just as with Fladnag, I must emphasize that it’s to our advantage if we take the Wizard captive without harming him.  Make sure he’s handled very carefully, Commander Kurdle.  We must do our best to help him to accept our point of view without diminishing his intellect; I’d like to work with him if possible.” 
        Commander Kurdle nods.  “I understand.” 
        The Mastermind continues, “After this, you’ll lead the rest – three-quarters of the Host that you originally had with you – along the Road again; in five more days we’ll reach the lane that leads to Boodletown –  another little place like Fuzzyville, and it is possible, as I observed just now, that they might use their fighting-dance against us, but I doubt it.  Probably they’ll hide out in the northeast woods somewhere and maybe raid the base that we will build on top of their old town from time to time until we’ve caught them all and packed them off to an appropriate internment camp.  Another portion of your force will stay at Boodletown, the same size as the one that you deposited at Fuzzyville, to man and operate out of the base that will be built there, as at Fuzzyville, and Vile, here, is going to command this Eastern Corps – that is, if you approve of this suggestion, Horror-Lord.”  Again, the father’s look rests on his son (or clone), who smiles back at him engagingly.  “Now, Vile,” says the Mastermind, “I think that my third former colleague, Dagastar, is there at Boodletown; he’s studying this fighting-dance, ‘Boodita’, with the head that they keep at their temple in a jar – the talking head of their progenitor.”
        “A talking head?  That’s strange,” Lord Gothrom says.
        “Yes.  I believe that I referred to him a little earlier.  He used to have a body, but he lost it in a fight as I recall.  Supposedly he’s wise, but I don’t think he has much common sense; his sort of wisdom doesn’t worry me.  Boodita does somewhat concern me though, since they supposedly employ its moves against the Bearmen, but I really doubt that anyone could stop a Troll with it.  Now, Dagastar’s so spacey I’m not sure that we’d be able to make use of him, but he’s a Wizard, so I’d like to try.  He should be taken into custody just like the other two and treated well.  Perhaps our expert hypno-therapists will find that Dagastar’s amenable to treatment.  Medication will assist the process; if you use the proper drugs, you’ll find that you can take a Joyous man and make him reasonably Horrible.”
        “You’ve got it, Dad,” says Vile; “I’ll make sure we take him in unharmed, if possible, and treat him very therapeutically.”
        The Mastermind nods briefly, and resumes his exposition: “But, Lord Gothrom, you won’t stop there; you’ll continue down the Road with your remaining two-thirds of the Host, and five days later, you’ll be at the gate of Dwarfenberg, where we expect you’ll face a tough opponent – very numerous and strong and smart, an admirable race in many ways, although they are obsessed with superstitious notions that constrain their great abilities – they think they serve a ‘Holy Awesome One’ who made the world and loves them like a father, punishing them for transgressions, and rewarding them for following the rules he has imposed upon their nation.  Once we’ve conquered them we’ll easily reorient their minds so that you occupy the vacancy left by their banished Holy Awesome One.”
        “A big improvement,” says the Horror-Lord.  “Why focus on a bland nonentity when you can worship me instead, and serve this Horrid visible reality?”
        “I totally agree with you, Lord G,” says Nausor, nodding vigorously, “but before they can receive this benefit  they’ll have to be defeated.  This will be a drawn-out process, long and arduous, beginning with the battle for the Gate but in all likelihood not ending there.  We’ll have to force our way inside as well, and then throughout the mountain.  Every hall will be contested, every passageway a minor battleground.  We estimate that it may take us sixteen weeks or more to totally suppress the enemy and occupy the mountain top to base.  But that’s too tedious a job for you; Commander Snarl will take care of it.”  Here Nausor pats the Manager’s thin hand.  “As soon you have gotten through the Gate, you’ll head straight back to Elfpark.  I’ll go too; we’ll only need to be accompanied by several hundred Urgs and several Trolls for our security along the way.  When we get back to Elfpark we’ll confer about the next phase of the Horror-war – our operation in the northern woods launched out of Fuzzyville and Boodletown.  The Treefolk and the Bearmen of the north must be interned in camps where we will see if it is possible to alter them in ways that make them fit for slavery; if not, we’ll go ahead and kill them all.”
        Lord Gothrom says, “I want a tower built for me at Elfpark, several miles tall; it shall be black, and shaped like me as well, so that I seem to loom above the Realm and glower down at its inhabitants.”
        “Well, that’s an interesting suggestion, Lord; I’m going to appoint some Managers to roughly estimate the quantities of raw materials of different sorts that we would have to transport to that place to build a tower of that magnitude, the labor force we’d have to gather there, and other such preliminary facts, and then draw up some plans for building it.  This Tower-Planning Panel will present its findings in six months; no need to rush, since it will probably be taking us about that long to finish up the war that we will start tomorrow when you lead your Host of Horror out of Sinister.”
        As he replies, the Mastermind reflects upon the great discontinuity between Lord Gothrom’s consciously held goals and Horror’s own goals, which he blindly serves.  A tower miles high?  Nonsensical.  No, Horror’s grim intent is to expand within the slime-excreting tentacles of she who is its living vessel here, a vessel formed of its ethereal trans-metaversal plasm, dripping through the ceiling of this basement-universe.  Horroria shall spread across the Realm and cover it in heaps of branching flesh, a labyrinth of intestines.  Everyone shall live within her pulsing gooey guts, among the twitching tendrils from which hang her bloated eyeballs, which will always watch each individual inhabitant from every angle.  All along the walls her oral sphincters will be opening and closing, making sticky gurgling sounds, protruding suddenly and sucking in a miserable slave from time to time.  The only towers rising in the Realm shall be her lifted members, and the mounds of her entangled organs, which no doubt shall here and there be truly mountainous.
        But first, the War of Horror must be waged.  The Joyous Energy that emanates from all the Realm’s diverse inhabitants, repelling that monstrosity which dwells beneath the mountain, in its Lower Depths, compelling her prolonged confinement there, must be extinguished, so that she may grow. 

        At dawn, the Mountain’s Gate … does not ascend, but rather dilates; it’s a sphincter made of living muscle-tissue reinforced by branching tendons, wrist-thick living cords, and interwoven fibers, overlaid by interlocking horseshoe-crab-sized chunks of exoskeleton.  The folds of flesh retract, until a fifteen-foot-wide hole gapes halfway up the side of Sinister.  The Horrid Host pours through this opening.  The hours pass as humanoids emerge continually from the Gate (or hole) – a long excretion down the mountainside upon the Road; before the middle part has left Mount Sinister’s interior, the foremost Gobbins are already past the mountain’s base.  The Gobbins lead the Host – a milling swarm composed of lesser swarms that stir in all directions, while the sum of all of them moves east along the Road, encouraged by their Managers, who hiss instructions to them in Lord Gothrom’s voice.  Then come the widely-spaced enormous Trolls, and then Lord Gothrom and the Mastermind, and their commanding Managers and staff, and then the regiments of Urgs, who march in rows and columns, never out of step.  Behind the Urgs are giant Centipedes employed as tractor-trailers, bearing loads of extra armor, weaponry, and food for the entire Host; these Centipedes are tended to by Molemen, who’ll dispense the stuff as needed.  Then come Centipedes that carry digging- and construction-gear required for the work that will be done by Molemen laborers at Fuzzyville and Elfpark and beyond, with multitudes of Molemen trudging drearily along on either side of them and in the rear.
        “Behold the Realm!” the Lord of Horror says; “It lies before me sprawled submissively already, waiting to be mastered; my control will be complete; I’ll dominate this bitch for seven hundred fifty thousand years … no, I will master her eternally!”
        “Well, yes, Lord G, but please don’t be annoyed if I remind you that your mastery expresses something deep and serious – the Horror permeating Sinister.”
        “The fear that I inspire in your hearts is Horror.  Isn’t that enough for you?”
        “Perhaps it is, Lord Gothrom,” Nausor says, but thinks, Not really.  Yes, you’re awesome, but you’re just an agent; you don’t understand the Horror that you serve; a time may come when you no longer serve its purposes, and then you’ll be eliminated by Horroria, if she is capable of nullifying something she produced, or, if she can’t accomplish this, by me if I get tired of your attitude … or maybe I won’t have to go that far – perhaps, without eliminating you, I can imprison you within myself, incorporating you so that you serve my greater will much more effectively than you do now, without despising me the way you evidently do in your self-moving, independent present state?  Hmm, this is something worth considering ….
        Yet Nausor feels the Lord of Horror’s thrill, the mental rush of power spilling forth from its containing vessel, seizing hold of satisfyingly resistant stuff and forcing it into compliant shapes.  If only (Nausor thinks) the tools of war employed throughout most of the galaxy could be employed down here on Earth as well,  the Realm might be subdued in half a day … unfortunately, though, this cannot be.    Despite the quite advanced technology employed at Sinister and Disengar and even by the Dwarfs at Dwarfenberg, the Earth’s imbedded in some kind of field that rules out many possibilities – explosions can’t occur, which means no guns; in fact no bodies can exceed the speed of objects hurled by unassisted hands, and vehicles propelled by Bioslime, such as the ones developed by the Dwarfs, can’t travel faster than a striding man.  No poison gas or bioweaponry.  The weaponry that you will read about exhausts the limits of what’s possible on Earth at this point of its history.  I have no explanation you’ll accept for this peculiar state of things; indeed, it’s pretty much a mystery to me.

        Remember Snigger, who unlike the rest of Nausor’s little clones, is more akin to Nausor’s past, pre-transformation self than to his present self as Mastermind?  His difference, you’ll recall, made Snigger more a friend to Nausor than the others were – while their devotion was uncritical, he was a bit amused and skeptical at Nausor’s Horrifying enterprise.  That is, he was amused and skeptical at first, but he became increasingly alarmed as H-Day neared – the day on which the Host would issue through the Gate of Sinister.  It seemed to Snigger that the Mastermind was being eaten by Horroria, that Nausor’s soul was being sucked away, and that this process would accelerate with Horror’s progress eastward through the Realm until, with Horror’s total victory, the person from whom Snigger was derived, his friend and twin and father, would be gone. 
        The Manager saw one way to prevent the Mastermind’s obliteration: go and tell the nearest Wizard he could find about their former colleague’s enterprise; the Wizards would be able to alert the peoples of the Realm who, thus forewarned, might possibly be able to withstand the Horrid Host and even drive it back, and ultimately seize the Mastermind and put him through a course of therapy that would draw forth the hidden inner self, now coiled like a baby octopus within its burrow under inky seas, and reinvigorate it; it would stretch its tentacles of curiosity and be the Nausor that had once been thought so promising by all of the adults on Wizardworld millennia ago.
        He knew that Fladnag lived or once had lived in Fuzzyville, for Nausor’s memories were passed along to all the Managers and Technicals that were drawn out of him beneath the Mountain by Horroria, although these memories were somewhat blurred and jumbled.  Anyway, the Mastermind had often spoken of his former friends, referring to the places where they lived, because he planned to capture and transform all three of them, applying the techniques perfected in the psychiatric labs of Sinister, to make all three of them serve Horror willingly, as he did now, as leaders Nausor could rely upon and would of course outrank; perhaps they’d be “Sub-Masterminds” or something of the sort.
        But how could Snigger leave Mount Sinister in secret?  Snigger asked a Technical about the vents conveying noxious fumes out through small fissures in the mountainside: How narrow were they?  Were they always used or only intermittently employed?  “We must assess the possibility of infiltration by our enemies who might employ these vents as access-routes,” he told the Technical.  And so he learned of one vent that the Technicals employed for only fifteen minutes once a day; this vent would easily accommodate the narrow body of a Manager and issued from a little-frequented location in the guts of Sinister where his departure wouldn’t be observed.
        Emerging from this vent at 2 AM on April 1st – at dawn the Horrid Host would start to pour out through the mountain’s Gate – he made his way down Sinister’s rough slope and toward the Road; he’d come out north of it.  He came upon the Road where it begins to climb the mountainside and started starts east.  The Host was just beginning to emerge – he turned his head mid-stride, looked back and up, and saw the Gobbins in the lead begin extruding from the mountainside above.