Chapter Four: Thoranc

        On that same evening, Fladnag walks beneath the lower limbs of Elfpark’s giant Trees.  These limbs support the Palace of the Duke, the inmost mansion on the western side of Elfpark, near the wall of Disengar.  (The Prince’s home is on the other side.)  The Trees of Elfpark are Sequoyah-sized although deciduous – they’re sycamores, with curving limbs that easily support the many interlocking decks and tiers and pillared promenades of Elven homes.  They’re conscious in a sleepy, thoughtless way.  Despite the vast proportions of these Trees, the tower at the center of the yard beyond the compound’s wall is easily three times their height – a gleaming polished spike of braided metallurgium infused with concrete filling.  Thoranc seems to shoot up skyward with some inner motive force; you wouldn’t think that it’s inertly fixed in its position, merely standing there.  It narrows steadily as it ascends from its already fairly narrow base.  Its apex is an observation-deck about the size of someone’s living room, so that from Fladnag’s point of view it seems as though the tower’s sides all but converge far overhead.  The compound’s circular, a quarter-mile wide, and occupies the center of the city of the Elves, itself two miles in diameter.  The gate of Disengar, ahead of him, consists of inward-swinging double-doors composed of hardened metallurgium; their outward-facing surfaces are ridged with slanting bars and geometric shapes, their flat tops even with the promenade that runs along the twenty-foot-high walls, concealed by crenellated battlements.  Before the gate, the Road splits into two, and runs along beneath the curving wall on both sides, to the north and to the south, then at the eastern gate (resembling its western counterpart in all respects) reunifies, continuing on through the rest of Elfpark and the eastern Realm beyond, until it reaches Dwarfenberg.
        Upon the Ducal mansion’s terraces lounge several Elves who nod down pleasantly, and he returns their greetings with a wave.  He pauses, calling, “Hey there!  Would you mind delivering a message for me, please?  Tomorrow morning, if the Duke and Prince would come to meet with me and Asmuran up in the Tower, I would be obliged.  Please tell them that the matter’s urgent, too!”
        “I’ll go and tell the Duke,” an Elf replies and with a sudden bow sweeps his beret in an expansive gesture past his knees.
        The gate of Disengar is always closed – not for the safety of its residents but for the comfort of the Elves outside, to shield them from the noisy industry of those within, who scurry back and forth intent upon their tasks; the sight of this would irritate the Elves and stain their lives with ugliness as had the Dwarfish camp although not so pervasively, for Dwarfs are ten times more disturbing to an Elf than busy Mexicans can ever be, because the Dwarfs engage in all their works with such an air of focused righteousness.  He pulls the bell-rope, and the gate’s right side swings inward just enough to let him through.  The Mexican who’s sitting there says, “Hi, it’s good to see you, Hombre.  How’ve you been?” 
        He answers, “Fine, Alberto, and yourself?” 
        “Not bad; we’ve all been working very hard, but hey, I’m not complaining; it’s been fun.  Here comes Rogerio to take you up.”
        Ten minutes later, he’s with Asmuran on Thoranc’s observation deck; they gaze across the western Realm toward Sinister, a tiny wedge against the rosy glow.
        “It looks so small from here,” says Asmuran.
        “And yet,” says Fladnag, “it’s the origin of something dreadful that is on its way, a thing that will arrive in several days.”
        They look alike – slim, narrow-shouldered men with cone-shaped heads and long gray hair and beards – but Fladnag’s somewhat taller: seven-two, while Asmuran is only six-foot-ten (which isn’t as impressive as it seems, since if their heads were shaped more like our own instead of tapering up conically they’d be ten inches shorter than they are), and Fladnag’s elegance and self-control contrast with Asmuran’s sharp energy, his jagged features, spikey hair and beard, quick-moving eyes, abruptly jerking hands, off-balance posture, and his nasal voice, which surges, leaps, and twists arythmically.  The color of the Dusty Wizard’s robe and hat and shoes of course contrasts as well with his companion’s brilliant rainbow-swirls.
        The Rainbow Wizard says, “I’m listening.”                      
        As Fladnag summarizes what he heard from Snigger, Asmuran attends to him with furrowed brow and narrowed eyes, and nods at intervals, to show he’s focusing upon his agitated colleague’s words.
        “This Snigger-fellow … did he really say that he’s a copy of our long-lost friend?”
        “Yes, Asmuran, he’s Nausor’s mutant clone, a shrunken, skinny, maybe somewhat less intelligent and insecure (but still extremely smart and cautious) replica.  He seems to see the Midnight Wizard as his troubled Dad, and came to warn us chiefly for his sake, not for our own – he’s hoping we can save his father-figure and original from this Horrendous mess, and fix him up.”
        “But why believe a word this creature says?”
        “Well, I was somewhat skeptical at first, but now I’m not; I brought him to Michelle, the Fuzzies’ mother, who is capable of recognizing honesty and knows when anyone is being insincere, distinguishing deceit from truthfulness with flawless accuracy.  She confirmed that he believes the things he’s telling us, which indicates to me that his report is almost certainly reliable.”
        The Rainbow Wizard sets his jaw and nods decisively.  “Okay, then, I’ll accept his testimony.  There’s a Horrid Host approaching Elfpark.  Well, we’ll beat it back without much trouble if Aletheon and Timonar can round their people up and get them ready.  Fifty thousand Elves together with the toys I’ve got downstairs – our forces should be more than adequate.”
        “We’re really going to be needing them. As for Aletheon and Timonar, I sent a message to the Prince and Duke on my way through the Palace, asking them to meet us in the morning.  All they’ll know is that the matter’s urgent, nothing more.  I wanted to discuss it with you first.  The toys you’ve got downstairs, though – do you mean those Megas you been working on?  Last year you said that they’d be operational the next time I arrived.  They are, then?  Good.  But they were not intended to be used in combat; they were meant to be employed in our construction of Utopia.  Can they be redirected to the sort of work that we require of them now?”
        “Yes, Fladnag.  When the Prince and Duke arrive tomorrow morning, I’ll take you guys down and demonstrate the capabilities of my concoctions.  They’re remarkable.  You won’t be worried once you’ve seen their skills.  This Horrid Host might be five times as large as it is now and they’d still handle it.”
        “That’s good to hear, but let me caution you; as you are well aware, our former friend, the Black-Robed Wizard, is a clever man; he won’t be very easy to defeat with several hundred thousand warriors at his disposal.  Even if you win a battle here, and drive his Host away, we’ll have to get inside of Sinister and kill the thing they call ‘Horroria’ so that we can be sure the Realm won’t face another molestation of this kind when she decides it’s time to try again.  For this last phase of combat underground we’ll need the Dwarfs.  They’ll function well in there.  Moreover, there’s a chance, however slight, that even with your Megas brought to bear against the Horrid Host you won’t succeed in beating them, or not decisively.  If that’s the case, then we’ll require help from Dwarfenberg at this location first.  The Elves and Dwarfs and your contingent here, united, will be powerful enough to force the Host of Horror to retreat back down the Road and into Sinister.  That’s why I’m heading on to Dwarfenberg as soon as I’m done here.  I’ll urge the Dwarfs to arm themselves and make their way to you as quickly as their sturdy little legs can carry them.  They’ll either find you here, or, if you’ve managed to defeat the Host, as I believe you will, and you’ve gone west to bottle Nausor up in Sinister, they’ll follow in your wake and join you there, and then proceed within, to kill the thing beneath the mountain that’s deranged his mind.”
        “You understand that we’d be wiping out four human races if we killed her, right?
        “Yes, that’s regrettable, but I don’t see another option.  She must be destroyed if several other races are to live as their own natures dictate rather than as slaves, deformed, perverted, Horrified, and, to be honest, Fuzzies, Elves, and Dwarfs are better people than the Trolls and Urgs could ever hope to be.  In any case, the races we prefer are likelier to meet the Federation’s membership requirements, so from that point of view we’re duty-bound as Wizards to destroy this obstacle.  She’s an impediment to progress, and as such must be removed.”
        “Perhaps you’re right.  I wish there were a way we could contain her and preserve her kids, or, better yet, somehow contain them both, but I don’t see it.  If she dies, they die, and if she lives she’ll probably attempt this sort of thing again.  She has to go.  Okay, then, so you’re counting on the Dwarfs to get the job done.  But what I don’t see is why the Dwarfs would bother to proceed to Sinister and probably incur substantial losses in the fighting there when all they’ll care about is Disengar, since it’s their major source of Bioslime.”
        “To make sure that their source of Bioslime is not endangered by another Host from Sinister a hundred years from now.”
        “The Dwarfs are far more likely to conclude a truce with Nausor, and then use that time to build new weapons, and prepare themselves for further fighting when a new war comes.  Perhaps they’ll build a fortress west of here, beside or even right across the Road, in order to ensure that Disengar will not be overly accessible to Nausor’s Host of Horror when he comes a second time to try his luck again.  The Elves would really love that, wouldn’t they – a thousand Dwarfs based right next door to them.”
        “Well then, we’ll have to motivate the Dwarfs to get the job done under Sinister.  Don’t they believe their ‘Holy Awesome One’ has told them they’ll possess Mount Sinister when ‘all is ready’ – something of that sort?  I’ll argue that the moment has arrived for them to occupy Mount Sinister – it’s now or never, since for once the Elves will be amenable, because they’ll see that the alternative is so much worse.”
        “No doubt the Elves would rather have the Dwarfs inside of Sinister than have to fear the coming of a second Horrid Host, but they still won’t be happy at the thought of Dwarfish tanker-trucks and caravans continually going back and forth through Elfpark, heading clear across the Realm between Mount Sinister and Dwarfenberg.”
        “That’s true, but we can easily avoid this situation.  Build another road between the mountains, running through the Swamps some miles south of this one, for the Dwarfs to use when traveling across the Realm.  The Elves won’t even know they’re passing by.  The Dwarfs could probably construct this road all by themselves, and with your Megas there to lend a hand, it wouldn’t even be that difficult.  Your Megas are designed for major enterprises of this sort.  It would be fun and interesting for you to work together with the Dwarfs on this. A nice collaboration, don’t you think?”
        The Rainbow Wizard folds his arms and thinks, his face aimed downward, frowning, eyes half-closed.  /Then he looks up.  “I like it, Fladnag.  Yes, let’s go with that.  The island of Japan is twenty five miles to the south of us.  They’ll want this ‘Highway’ – shall we call it that? – to run east-west about halfway between Japan and where the Swampland meets the woods two miles south of Elfpark.  It will cross the point at which we’d been imagining that we would build the city of our dreams.”
        “Utopia!” says Fladnag.  “Yes, indeed!  We’ll build it on the Dwarfish Highway then.  That’s perfect!  How convenient!  We can make a third road, which we’ll call ‘the Avenue’, that joins the Highway at Utopia with Disengar; the final stretch of it can come in through a tunnel underground so that the Elves don’t even notice it.”
        “Unfortunately, I don’t think the Dwarfs will want us to construct Utopia upon or even near their thoroughfare; they’ll want to make sure they maintain complete control of all the traffic back and forth along this Highway we’re imagining.  There’s no doubt in my mind; that’s how they are.  I know those people; I was living there with them for several centuries, you’ll recall.  But I’ve been thinking, Fladnag – why not build Utopia right here in Disengar around the tower, up instead of out, contained within the area defined by our existing wall, so that the Elves don’t feel in any way imposed upon?  Consider the advantages of this approach.  We’ve got two different human types commingling here already: Mexicans and Japanese, and then of course the Elves are visiting us pretty frequently  and live in close proximity to us, so that’s a good beginning, since our goal is to construct a place in which all kinds of people will be living peacefully together.  Why not make Utopia a sort of grand resort, with visitors from Fuzzyvilee, the forests, Boodletown, and maybe even some from Dwarfenberg residing with us for a month or two before returning to their long-term homes?  Just think of the inducement they would have – not just the architecture and the view from Thoranc, but the Elven influence arresting their progression toward old age!  It wasn’t realistic to expect that many people would be interested in moving to a city in the Swamps.  Our social vision wouldn’t be enough to get them to abandon everything they’ve known and loved.  It might inspire us, but ordinary men would rather stay in their familiar places, where they feel at home and can maintain their old routines – except at intervals, when they enjoy a limited vacation in a fun but not too challenging environment, and that’s what Disengar can offer them when it’s transformed into Utopia.”
        “Well, that would solve the problem we’ve discussed of the unlikelihood that people here would want to spend more than a year or two outside of Elfpark using your machines to build Utopia, since that would mean that they would age; you would have had to train new people from the island of Japan and find replacements for the Mexicans – the Dwarfs could serve in both capacities, as laborers and engineers, but then they’d end up with a disproportionate amount of influence in the affairs of our new city, which we wouldn’t want.  But if we go with what you now suggest, that difficulty simple vanishes; you build the city with your present staff.  But don’t you think the Elves will probably object to this proposal?  They won’t want a vast construction-project going on right at their city’s center, and won’t like the prospect of so many visitors of different kinds parading in and out  of Disengar, and therefore Elfpark too, especially if some of them are Dwarfs.”
        The Rainbow Wizard nods.  “I hear you, man.  We won’t insist on having Dwarfs among our visitors, we’ll let that topic lie untouched for now.  It’s not impossible that as the centuries pass we’ll start to see a softening of Elven attitudes toward Dwarfs and their annoying attributes.  Continual exposure to the range of peoples visiting Utopia will tend to have this softening effect upon the Elves.  The Dwarfs will start to seem like one more item in the human mix.  But as for why the Elves would be disposed to let us build Utopia right here within their city – at the present time they do of course dislike and fear the Dwarfs and will no doubt feel threatened by the arc of Dwarfish power to the south of them, extending all the way from Dwarfenberg along the Highway leading through the Swamps to Sinister.  The Elves will want me here with my machines to keep their city free of Dwarfish domination.  Since I’ve made my Megas to construct Utopia, if they remain they’ll have to build it here.  Moreover, I think that we can appeal to Elven vanity.  They’ll like the thought that everybody, all across the Realm is coming to their grand metropolis like country people to the capital of some great kingdom bearing gifts – in fact why not require that our visitors bring gifts, like tribute, to the noble Elves?  They’ll love it; this will outweigh any gripes that they may have as they anticipate the extra noise and stress that they’ll endure as we begin to build Utopia and when it’s up and running afterwards.”
        “Sounds great, but let’s not look too far ahead.  For now, let’s focus on what we must do to end this war that Nausor has begun.  The Dwarfs will be our key to victory, but we can use a little extra help, so on my way back here from Dwarfenberg I’ll stop by Boodletown.  Those big guys there might want to demonstrate what they can do with their ‘Boodita’; they like showing off.  I’m sure that Dagastar, at least, will come, and maybe he’ll bring lots of them along.  Of course they might arrive too late to help, if you’ve already beaten back the Host and are pursuing it along the Road, but if you’re having trouble, then at least they’ll help you and your people and the Elves to hold the Host of Horror there beyond the western edge of Elfpark, stalling them until the Dwarfs arrive and we can start to drive them backward toward Mount Sinister.”
        “Okay, but I’m still very confident that with our Megagirls attacking them along the Road, and all the Elves deployed in quickly-moving squadrons through the woods on either side, we’ll easily defeat this Host of Horror without any help.”
        “Your ‘Megagirls’?  Hold on, what’s this about?  They’re female now?  What’s gotten into you?”
        “Oh, sorry – that was somewhat premature.  Tomorrow, when you see what they can do, you’ll understand why I just called them that.  Come on, let’s go and see how Miyu is; I left her making cookies in our suite when you arrived; they should be done by now.”
        “‘Our suite’, you said?  Do she and Kenji share your living quarters now?  I knew you guys were close, but this sounds pretty intimate!  Is Sumiko in there with you as well?”
        “No, Sumiko and Kenji went away with Dagastar about six months ago to Boodletown, and Miyu stays with me.”  (The Wizards are referring to the pair of young adults who came here, newlywed, to chaperone the kids when these moved in at Disengar to work for Asmuran.  The man is Kenji; Miyu is his wife; their daughter, who was born in Disengar and grew until she was a teenager, then stopped developing, is Sumiko.) 
        They take the spiral escalator down to Asmuran’s small suite of private rooms; the Rainbow Wizard leads the Dusty one in through a beaded curtain to a room with lots of tasseled cushions on the floor.  “Hi, Miyu, Honey, Fladnag’s here!” he calls.  “He’d like to have some tea with us, okay?”
        “Oh, wow!” she calls back from the other side of an embroidered curtain that depicts robotic birds with flowers in their beaks that wheel through clouds made out of lips and eyes; “Sure thing!  I’ll be right out to join you guys!”
        They sit, and Fladnag says, “That curtain there is new, I think.  I don’t remember it.”
        “Yes, Miyu made it just a month ago; she’s quite an artist, we’re discovering.”
        She comes in through the curtain with a tray of tiny cups and cookies and small fruit.  Her gentle smile lasts as she bends down to let the Wizards take their tea and snack and says to Fladnag, “Hello, Fladnag, Dear, it’s nice to have you here with us again!”  She’s in her early twenties, it appears.  She wears a shiny short black miniskirt, a shiny vest that doesn’t cover much, and ankle-boots composed of leather thongs.  She sits cross-legged on a little rug near Asmuran, her knee an inch from his.
        “I’m fine,” says Fladnag, “just a little bit stressed out by something you’ll find out about.  And how have you been, Miyu?  Everything okay?  I hear that Kenji and your girl are off with Dagastar.  What’s going on?”
        She tells him how the conversation went at dinnertime about six months ago, presenting it from her perspective, that of an offended mother, who has lost her daughter to a reckless older man – the Mossy Wizard – and whose husband took his daughter’s side against her, rather than supporting her, and then abandoned her.  “I hope it’s worth it to her, giving up the everlasting youth that she has here.  She’d better end up with those super-skills that Dagastar said she’d acquire there with him at Boodletown, or she’ll get old and die for nothing, unless she comes back.  And Kenji – what does he get out of this?  Not much that I can see.  Oh well – too bad for him if he was tired of his wife; I’m having much more fun with Asmuran that I had all the years I lived with him.  I miss him, yes, but not incredibly.  My daughter, though …” (a tear rolls down her cheek) “… I really feel her absence every day.  I hope she’s happy out there, doing stuff that she enJoys a lot, and doesn’t feel too much remorse when she remembers how she banished her own mother from her life.”
        “You’re so dramatic, little sushi-roll,” says Asmuran.  “She’s growing up, that’s all.  She wants to have a life that she can call her own; I’m sure that there will be a place for you inside that life, once she works out its basic pattern and gets used to it.”
        “It’s more than likely,” Fladnag says, “that both your daughter and your husband will be back in Disengar with you before too long, due to an unforeseen development.”
        “What’s happening?  Don’t be mysterious.”
        He looks at Asmuran, as if to say, “You fill her in; I shouldn’t interfere.”
        The Rainbow Wizard shrugs.  “Oh, nothing much.  There’s just a Host of Gobbins, Urgs, and Trolls advancing towards us from Mount Sinister, apparently assembled by our friend the Midnight Wizard, Nausor, who, it seems intends to conquer the entire Realm, enslaving everyone he doesn’t kill.”
        “How weird,” she says.  “What’s gotten into him?”
        “Well, Fladnag hears he’s been infected by the Horror-Energy that emanates from some invertebrate monstrosity that lives beneath the mountain, miles down, a female that they call “Horroria.”
        “That’s so annoying.  Let’s go kill that bitch.”
        “Sure, Honey, but before we deal with her we’ll have to stop old Nausor and his Host.  Unfortunately, Fladnag’s telling me this Host is several hundred thousand strong,  and these are motivated warriors, devoted to the half-material, half-spectral, outwardly projected form of Nausor’s will, which all of them perceive as their commander, and which calls itself ‘the Lord of Horror’ – go ahead and laugh, but this is genuinely dangerous stuff.”
        “Oh, we don’t have to worry, Asmuran; our Megagirls will be too much for them.”
        “I’m pretty sure they will,” says Asmuran, “but this is going to be dangerous work, not just the fun and games we’ve so far had with our new toys, so let’s not be too glib about the challenge that’s awaiting us.”
        “Oh, it will be the funnest game so far!” says Miyu.  “How could it be otherwise when Megas are the toys we’re playing with?  Hey, let’s take Fladnag to the basement now and demonstrate the way we play with them!”
        “No, that can wait until the morning comes.  The Prince and Duke will be arriving here at Fladnag’s invitation, to discuss the crisis, and we’ll have to show them too.  I wanted to hold off on that, but now I guess I really don’t have any choice.”
        “Yes,” Fladnag says; “You three will have to plan your battle-tactics, which will certainly require that they learn about the toys in question, since these toys of yours will play a central role in holding off the Host and possibly compelling its retreat.  We’ll also have to make sure they accept the long-term strategy I’ve summarized – a Dwarfish army coming from the east to help you and the Elves defeat the Host if necessary, and, in any case,  continuing on to Mount Sinister and going in to kill Horroria, which will require that we offer them Mount Sinister, to keep and occupy.”
        “The Dwarfs?” says Miyu.  “We won’t need those guys.  Our Megagirls alone will be enough to get the job done, Honey, don’t you think?”
        “We shouldn’t be too sure of that, my dear,” says Asmuran.  “We haven’t tested them in any real-life situations yet.  Plus, when we have to enter Sinister to kill Horroria and finish this, the Megas will be useless; they’re too big to fit inside its passageways and halls.  We’ll need the Dwarfs to clean the mountain out.  They’re obviously perfect for the job; they’ll function well in that environment, since Dwarfenberg’s a lot like Sinister.”
        “And anyway,” says Fladnag, “don’t you think that it would be a wonderful event if Elves and Dwarfs united to achieve a common goal like wiping out the Host and killing that thing under Sinister?  I’m also hoping we can get some help from Boodletown – the more the merrier; diversity is strength, don’t you agree? – and that’s why Kenji and your little girl may be back here with you before too long.”
        Her hand floats down on Asmuran’s robed knee and settles there – a little nesting bird.  She says, “I’d like that, Fladnag, but I fear that Sumiko will only leave again, and Kenji won’t be very comfortable when he comes back and finds that I’ve become so intimate with your friend Asmuran.”
        “I’m glad you like each other,” Fladnag says.
        “Yes, I’m glad too,” she says.  “I always thought that Asmuran was very smart and nice but how could I have ever guessed that he would help me to express my inner self with my embroidery – yes, I made that, I hope you like it – and would make me feel so safe and free at once, and make me laugh.  I do love Kenji – please don’t get me wrong – and miss him, but he couldn’t reach inside and touch me in the way this Wizard does.  Still, I miss Sumiko a lot; I think about her frequently.  Without her here for me to hug and criticize, I feel a little lost and empty and I need to lose myself with Rainbow, while this man sits here and tells us jokes.” (She taps her head.)  “He’s not as excellent an engineer as Kenji was, but he’s a lot more fun.”
        “What’s Rainbow?” Fladnag asks her.  “Some new drug that Asmuran’s developed, that allows him to manipulate your consciousness?  Is that he how sits in your head?  My man, that’s taking domination pretty far, but if she’s into it I can’t object.”
        “Oops,” Miyu says; “no, that’s not what I meant.  I’m not supposed to talk about these things until we’re ready, so I can’t explain.  I screwed up, mentioning them.  It’s your fault: you’re so relaxed and conversational that you make everyone around you talk about forbidden topics.  Asmuran, forgive me; I hope you’re not mad at me.”
        “No, that’s okay; tomorrow, when we take the Wizard and our Elven visitors down to the basement for a little show he’ll find out what you meant in any case.  No, Fladnag, nothing of that sort, although perhaps we’ll put it on our list of things to do when we have time, right Miyu?  Ow!”  He rubs his arm and pouts theatrically as she retracts her little fist.  “I know, you’re feeling sad; I should be serious, not frivolous, when you need sympathy.”
        The moisture that had started gathering in Miyu’s eyes a little earlier, when she said she missed Sumiko, has now become two teardrops sliding down her cheeks.  The Rainbow Wizard’s finger lifts them off; he tastes them thoughtfully and takes her hand to pull her closer.  Miyu leans her head against his thighs and sighs.  Her eyelids close. 
        “Well,” Fladnag says, as he puts down his cup, “I really should be going to my room; I’m feeling pretty tired, and I’d like to start my trance a little earlier than usual tonight, so that I’ll be refreshed and mentally prepared to meet the Prince and Duke tomorrow, when they come.”

        Next morning, there’s a little gathering on top of Thoranc’s observation-deck.  The Mexicans a thousand feet below, who scurry back and forth among the sheds and workshops in the open areas encircled by the wall of Disengar, “look just like little bugs!” says Rhythmia, the Duchess, who has come here with the Duke, just as the Princess, Kalia, has come with her own husband, Prince Aletheon.  The two aristocratic couples sit with Miyu and her boyfriend, Asmuran, and Fladnag, who’s uncomfortably aware that he’s the only person sitting here without a mate beside him.  That’s okay, he thinks; Michelle may not be here, but she’s a whole lot bigger than these girls – a thought that generates a gentle pride alleviating Fladnag’s loneliness.  They sit at folding tables, taking sips of bubbly reddish-orange berry-juice.
        “So, Fladnag,” says the Prince, “why are we here?”  When Fladnag finishes his summary of what’s approaching Elfpark from the west, the Elves don’t seem especially perturbed.  It’s hard to worry Elves, since if one dies of accidental injuries or wounds – which isn’t likely, since their injuries and wounds heal very, very rapidly – this Elf will grown again beneath the roots of that same Tree that holds aloft the home in which he or she lived, awakening and coming forth in several hundred years without substantial loss of memory.
        “We’ve never fought before,” says Timonar, the Duke, as he refills his empty glass, “so this will be a new experience.  We’ll actually use the weaponry that we parade with in our festivals and dance with in the culminating rites – our swords and javelins of hardened wood are going to be tools of battle now, not merely ritual accessories.”
        “It’s funny,” says the Prince; “Sometimes I dream of waving weapons in a real, live fight.  I don’t know why I’d have a dream like this.  Perhaps dreams are prophetic, after all.  And yet – when I have dreams like this, I dream of fighting Dwarfs.  We won’t be fighting them, although sometimes I wish that conduit that’s funneling your Bioslime to them were several miles longer than it is so that they wouldn’t have to come so close, right underneath my palace-porch, in fact, to get the stuff and give your Mexicans the metallurgium you’re using here.”
        “I’ve told why the conduit ends there not far beyond your porch, not further off – to keep the tank from being vandalized by gangs of Bearmen raiding from the north.  But, Prince, the fact is that these dreams you have are memories that have the feel of dreams, emerging only when you’re in a state of twilight-consciousness, not quite asleep.  They have this feel of being only dreams because the things that you’re remembering occurred so long ago that normally you don’t recall them, since they don’t link up with anything that matters to you now.  You Elves may be immortal just like us, but, unlike ours, your brains aren’t large enough to keep your memories of ancient things available to you; they slip away as you live on and new events occur, so that the span of life that you recall in normal states of mind does not extend much further than the life lived by a Dwarf.  The fact is that five hundred years ago you fought a minor war against the Dwarfs, and you’re remembering the part you played in that eruption of hostilities.”
        “You’re kidding!” Princess Kalia exclaims.  “We really fought a war against the Dwarfs?”
        “That’s right.  You see, they had a mining camp right here, before there was a Disengar, extracting Bioslime and trucking it out through your city, making lots of noise.  At last you couldn’t stand it any more and told the Dwarfs to leave, and they refused.”
        “And then we fought them and defeated them, and let you and your Mexicans move in to take their places, since we liked you more?”
        “Not quite.  You see, according to the Dwarfs, who write descriptions of all big events in books that they refer to frequently, you fought a little war against the Dwarfs for this same reason every thousand years.  You’d skirmish with their miners, killing some and forcing them to flee to Dwarfenberg.  You’d wreck their mining camp and celebrate, believing you were finally free of them, but then a Dwarfish army would arrive and force you to allow them to rebuild their camp at Elfpark’s center, fully staffed, and everything would be as it had been before.  Eventually, you’d forget about your confrontation with the Dwarfs and try again.  This kept on happening until the last occasion.  I proposed a compromise both parties could accept, and that’s when this place, Disengar, was built and I moved in with all my Mexicans.”
        “Oh, well; at least we fought them,” says the Duke.  “We used those ornamental weapons then, the ones we carry in our rituals?”
        “That’s right,” says Asmuran; “they’re very sharp and will be useful in the coming fight.”
        “They may be sharp,” says Princess Kalia, “and even useful for some purposes, but you say that the Dwarfs defeated us despite the fact that we were wielding them, so why should things be any different now?”
        “There wasn’t any way for you to win a full-scale battle, fighting head to head against the Dwarfs; they would have wiped you out.  So you gave in, and that was wise of you.  But there was something else you could have done – you could have gone and hidden in the woods and let them enter Elfpark unopposed and then you could have started raiding them relentlessly for weeks and worn them down.  They might found easier to leave and find another source of Bioslime than stay there warding off your sneak-attacks indefinitely.  Then you would have won.”
        “You can’t be serious – just let the Dwarfs tromp through our city anywhere they please?  I hope that’s not what you’re proposing now.  These Urgs and Trolls and Gobbins sound much worse than even Dwarfs could ever hope to be, and there are many, many more of them – they’ll make a total sewer of this place and in the end our raids might not succeed in making this enormous Host withdraw.”
        “No, I’m proposing something else.  You see, I’ve got some very big machines downstairs that will enable us to keep the Host outside of Elfpark by confronting them upon the Road and pushing them back west while you attack them from the north and south with constant swooping raids out of the woods.”
        “Machines?  I sure don’t like the sound of that,” says Princess Kalia.  “What do they do?”
        “Why don’t you come downstairs with us and see with your own eyes what our machines can do,” he answers, giving Miyu’s arm a pat.  She turns her head to smile back at him; she likes the way his “our” and his “us” suggest that she and he are partners here.
        “Yes, let’s all go and have a look at them,’ says Fladnag.  “By the way, Aletheon, that princely ornament you always wear around your neck, which I believe you call ‘the Hilt of Joy’, as though there were a blade attached to it at some point in the past – it’s glowing slightly.  Take a look at it.”
        Aletheon looks down.  “You’re right.  That’s strange.  Unclipping it, he holds it in his hand, which moves a little sideways.  “Hey,” he says, it’s pushing at my hand, as if it wants to face the west.”  He turns accordingly, and as he does the glow intensifies, and now a faint, translucent silver beam of light is radiating from the hilt.
        “Well, well,” says Fladnag.  “It’s a Sword of Joy, not just a Hilt.  I hope you wield it well against the Host of Horror coming here from that direction.  Come, though, put it back upon its chain and let’s go down and see what’s Asmuran’s got up his sleeve for us.”
        They take the spiral escalator down to Thoranc’s basement – it’s a long, long trip.  They step off into dusty, torchlit gloom.  “This way, my friends,” the Rainbow Wizard says, and he and Miyu lead their visitors in through a door.  The Wizard flicks a switch, and fifty feet or more above their heads large ceiling-mounted bulbs begin to glow, their glow intensifying to reveal a cavernous enclosed environment that seems to curve around the tower’s base, with columns thick as medium-sized trees distributed along the concrete floor.  Across this room, two hundred feet away, are seven giant metal humanoids; they stand on separate platforms, motionless, with hanging arms, their heads bent slightly down.  The central one is thirty-five feet tall; the other six are ten feet less than that.  Distributed around their massive heads are lenses in projecting cylinders, and small antennae stick up here and there.  In front of every head, a bulging disk glows gently, like a blue-green Cyclops-eye.  Their arms are disproportionately long, their shoulders disproportionately broad.  Their hands are dangling beside their knees; these hands are big enough to palm a car.  Each one of them is colored differently – the central, largest one, in rainbow swirls like Asmuran himself; the smaller ones are purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, red.
        “Behold my Megas!” Asmuran proclaims.  “They’ve been designed for heavy, difficult construction-projects, but I’m sure they’d make effective weapons, if they’re used that way.”
        “Construction-projects?” says Aletheon a little anxiously.  “And what were you intending to construct with those machines?”
        “I’ll tell you everything when we go back up to the deck.  For now, just watch the show; you might enjoy it, and in any case you’ll see just how effective they will be in battle, when we fight the Horrid Host.”
        The Dusty Wizard smiles at his friend.  “When I was here last year, all they could do was stomp their feet, and raise their arms and wave.  I hope they’re somewhat more athletic now.”
        “Indeed, they are,” says Asmuran.  “Hold on; I’ll have José send out some animals for them to chase around.  This should be fun.”  He pulls a rope, which rings a muffled bell.  A door’s pulled open to the right of them, a little farther down along the curve of Thoranc’s wall; a Mexican peers out and calls, “Si, boss, what can I do for you?”
        “Hey there, José.  Please send out seven pigs.”
        “Si, boss,” José replies, and ducks back in.  A moment later, he brings out a bag of vegetables, and scatters them around while screeching “Yee-ha!”; seven pigs trot out and start to nose around the vegetables.
        “Okay,” says Asmuran, “let’s start them up and see how good they are at catching pigs.  We use a special phrase based on the name of Miyu’s daughter to initiate the activation of their circuitry.”  He bellows at them, “SUMI SAYS WAKE UP!”
        The Megas start to hum and click and whirr; they slowly raise their heads.  They rumble, “Yes?”  The noises that the central one emits are deeper than the sounds the others make, its voice a little louder as it speaks.
        He bellows, “SUMI SAYS STEP DOWN FROM THERE AND CATCH THOSE PIGS AND PUT THEM IN THEIR PEN!  They step down from their platforms; this small step makes crashing sounds that fill the vast garage.
        “Don’t worry, people, they won’t hurt the pigs,” says Asmuran.  “The pigs are used to this.  In fact, they like the game.  It’s fun for them.”
        The Megas take huge, crashing forward-steps.  The pigs dash off, the Megas giving chase unsteadily, with slow enormous steps.  They now and then lean forward and attempt to grab a pig.  The pigs careen around, and run between the Megas’ giant legs.  At last a pig is caught and lifted up within a single giant hand and placed inside of an enclosure full of straw, José throws in a carrot, and the pig chews on the vegetable contentedly and watches its companions run around excitedly, with cheerful little grunts.  Two Megas crash into each other’s chests, and for a quarter-minute they remain there facing one another, motionless.  Both shuffle sideways to the right, and then both shuffle to the left … then right again.  They’re having trouble sorting out which one shall move in which direction, but at last they solve the problem, able to move on, and so resume the chase.  Five minutes pass.  Another pig is caught and put away.
        “They’re not impressive,” says Duke Timonar.
        “I wouldn’t pin a lot of hope on them,” Aletheon says.  “See, that’s what you get when you attempt to reach beyond the things that Nature effortlessly generates.  These awkward imitations you’ve produced with such expenditure of careful thought and energy fall pitiably short of her miraculous originals.”
        “I think they’re kind of cute,” says Kalia.
        “If you could make some really tiny ones it might be fun to watch them run around and try to pick up bugs,” the Duchess says.
        “Quite entertaining,” Fladnag says, “but still, “I’m not convinced they’re going to hold off the Lord of Horror’s Host for very long; they’re kind of slow and clumsy, don’t you think?”
        “Indeed, when they’re uncoupled, yes, they are, but now you’ll see what Megas can achieve when coupled with their pilots.  SUMI SAYS STOP CHASING PIGS AND GO BACK TO YOUR STANDS AND WAIT.  YOU ALL DID WELL; WE’RE PROUD OF YOU, BUT NOW YOU’RE GOING TO BE PILOTED!”
        The Megas rumble, “Piloted!  Oh, good!” and crash back to their platforms, where they stand unmoving, almost as they were before, except that now their heads aren’t hanging down.
        The Wizard pulls another rope, and now a distant gong resounds.  “We’ll have to wait a little while for them,” says Asmuran.  “These Japanese girls don’t just come at once.  They always have to get their outfits on and fix their hair.  They’re not like Mexicans.”
        “They ride around inside those metal men?” the Princess says.  “Well, that must be such fun.  Good, they deserve it.  They’re such friendly kids, and so polite, such perfect company at all those dinner parties that you throw.  You must have trained them well; I’m quite impressed at how not one of them let slip the fact that you’ve been making giant metal men.”
        “Yes, Princess Kalia,” the Wizard says, “and it’s not just the girls; the boys as well are dedicated and reliable.  They work so hard; I have to nag at them to do their push-ups, stretch, and walk around outside for fifteen minutes now and then.  I know you Elves are very fond of them; you’ve asked me several times to send the kids out to your Palace for an overnight festivity, and I did not enjoy denying your requests.  It seemed to me that they should not be getting intimate with people who would likely disapprove of what we were attempting to achieve.”
        “We’d disapprove of what?” says Kalia.  “The Mega-building project going on inside our city in and of itself alone, or not just that but also what you folks intend to do with those machines?  Their mere existence would have bothered us a lot; I hope your future plans aren’t worse.”
        “We’re going to discuss our plans for them when we’re back on the observation-deck, so I would rather hold off on that now, but, yes, the use we had in mind for them is one you might not have been partial to, at least until you’d given us a chance to make our case – but I assure you that our motives were and are benevolent.  And, yes, we also pretty much assumed that you would not be pleased if you found out that we were making humanoid machines in our facility, since we’re aware that you Elves are pro-nature and averse to mechanisms, and would probably  regard this as a step toward rendering the works of nature obsolete, replaced by gleaming artificial replicas.”
        “Well, it was wrong of you to work on them in secrecy, without informing us of what was going on here in the midst of our own city, where we live and play.”
        “Try seeing things from our perspective, though: we were producing something wonderful, so it would have been wrong to jeopardize the project by revealing it to you; the girls are central to it in a way that goes beyond the engineering-help the boys have given me, and rude remarks from you might have disturbed them in a way that would have interfered disastrously with their morale.  They’re very sensitive.”
        “Ha,” she replies; “I’ll bet you never cared too much about what you could do with these creations; you were focusing upon producing them and didn’t look beyond their wonderful existence, which to us would not be very wonderful at all.”
        “You may be right,” he says, “but at this point you should be very glad that they exist, since they’ll help us defeat this Horrid Host.”
        “So far, this is an unsupported claim.  I won’t believe that those machines of yours are capable of helping us until I see them catching pigs more gracefully.”
        “You will, as soon as those six girls arrive.”
        The Duke says, “Well, your secret’s been revealed; we know about your Megas, so why not exhibit what your girls can do with them up in the courtyard?  It’s so stuffy here.”
        “Yes,” Rhythmia complains, “it really is.  I’d rather feel the breeze against my skin.”
        “Tomorrow,” says the Wizard.  “We’re here now; let’s get this demonstration over with so we can focus on our battle-plan.  I really wish those girls would hurry up.”
        “I don’t see any ramp,” says Rhythmia, “so how do you guys planning on moving them out of this basement to the outside world?”
        “You see those panels in the ceiling there, above the Megas?   They can open up.  The platforms elevate, and lift them through.”
        “In any case,” the Duchess says, “it’s nice that now your Japanese kids can attend our parties, since your secret is revealed.  We’re hosting an elaborate costume-ball at our place only sixteen days from now, and I would be delighted if they came.  You also, Miyu, and your husband too, if he’s inclined, and bring that Sumiko, now that she’s finally almost all grown up.  I hope this little trouble with the Host won’t force us to reschedule everything; I’ve been anticipating it for weeks.”
        Another door swings open.  Here they come – six slender, black-haired female teenagers with honey-colored skin and almond eyes, in sleek black unitards with lots of slits and netting that reveals their abdomens, and shiny leather boots that reach their knees.  They greet the visitor excitedly:  “Hi Fladnag!  We thought you weren’t coming back until the Fall!  How nice to see you here!”
        He demonstrates his memory for names:  “Hi Kokona!  Hi Haruka! Hello my darling Akari!  Well, Momoka, how are you dear?  It’s Ichika herself!  Hello there, Hamari!  Hey, cute pink bow!  But tell me, ladies, where are all the boys?”
        The Rainbow Wizard answers, “Oh, the boys are studying or working out the kinks on their most recent gadgets, probably.  Please go and couple with your Megas, girls.  You too, dear,” he tells Miyu, giving her a little pat.  “Impress our visitors.  I’ll ask José to send in thirty more of these sophisticated animals, so they can see how Megas operate when they have expert pilots in their heads.”
        The Japanese girls give him a salute and dash away, while Miyu follows them with just a backward wave.  She and the girls stand arms akimbo, hips slung to one side, before the Megas, who bend at the waist and knees, and thus half-crouched placed their left hands in front of them palms-upward on the ground.  The seven female Japanese step up and stand upon the giant metal hands.  The Megas rise and lift their pilots up to hatches that pop open from their chests.  The seven females enter, and the doors snap shut behind them.  Sixty seconds … then a strange harmonic hum is audible.
        “The coupling has occurred,” says Asmuran.  “José!” he calls out to the Mexican, who has been idling over by the pen.  “We need another thirty pigs in here!”
        José runs off, and soon the thirty pigs are ambling into view.  The animals spread out as they excitedly pursue the vegetables José flings past their snouts in all directions.  He cries out, “Yee-haw!  Go get ‘em, swine!”  They charge about, colliding, rolling, disentangling, like toddlers chasing balls across a lawn out in the suburbs when a mother throws a birthday-party for her three-year old.  The Rainbow Wizard gives a thumbs-up sign. 
        “Now watch these Megagirls,” says Asmuran.
        The Megagirls step down quite gracefully, and, moving forward without much more noise than you and I would make, they scoop up pigs without much trouble, two pigs at a time, while stepping through the throng with such finesse  that not a single pig is trampled on.
        “Uncoupled Megas can’t do very much,” says Asmuran.  “They’re clumsy, slow, and dull.  But when their circuitry is interlocked with those young ladies’ nervous systems, then the couple, girl and Mega, constitute a single splendid individual, a Megagirl in whom the cleverness, agility, and plucky attitude of Japanese young ladies is combined with the enormous strength that you’d expect of metal humanoids as big as them.”
        “I see,” says Fladnag.  “Well, I guess those things can scoop up Urgs as easily as pigs and hurl them down, instead of carefully depositing them inside a holding-pen, or, better yet, can simply stomp on them.  But what about those Trolls?  Well, I suppose the Megagirls could hit them in the head and knock them down and stomp them, couldn’t they.”
        “Of course, but they can do much more than that.  They won’t have any trouble killing Trolls.  I’ll show you.”  All the pigs have now been penned; the Megagirls have quick-stepped back again to stand upon their platforms in a row, their huge right hands ascending to their heads to give a smart salute as their right feet crash down upon the platforms under them.
        The Megagirls hold out their huge left hands, and from their knuckles chainsaws ten feet long shoot forward, roaring, and they raise aloft their right hands, and from forearm-cavities enormous hammers lever into place.  They wave their giant hammers overhead and swing their roaring chainsaws up and down, and then retract these fearsome implements and once again salute and proudly crash their feet upon the platforms under them.
        “Those hammers each weigh fifteen hundred pounds,” says Asmuran.  “I’m sure a single blow with one of those will smash right through the skull of any Troll and turn his brains to pulp, and I don’t have to tell you that those saws will easily decapitate a Troll.  GREAT JOB, THERE, MEGAGIRLS!  YOU’RE WONDERFUL!  (You should applaud; they’re very sensitive.  They need approval, people.  There you go.)”
        The biggest, rainbow-colored Megagirl, the one that Miyu’s piloting, says, “Thanks, but I’m still noticing some little things that we can work on.  We should practice more.
        The blue one rumbles, “Rainbow, please relax.  You’re always such a big perfectionist.
        Green rumbles, “No, I think she’s got a point.  Red, what do you think?  Don’t we need more work?
        “WE’LL TALK ABOUT IT LATER, MEGAGIRLS!  WE’RE DONE FOR NOW, THOUGH!  THANK YOU VERY MUCH!  PLEASE DISCONNECT AND CLOSE THE CIRCUITS DOWN!” shouts Asmuran.  “You see?  Their language-skills are excellent; in fact, they speak as well as Miyu and the other six girls do, which is of course about what you’d expect.”
        “Is that because they’re really just the girls themselves, with larger bodies pasted on around the ordinary human ones?”
        “No, but there is some continuity; the Megagirl retains the memories of girl and Mega, as two separate streams that merge and separate and merge again.  They couldn’t just be the augmented girls, since Megas have their own dull consciousness and it’s a primitively verbal one with a vestigial personality.  They merge, just as I said, becoming more than either was before the coupling, although I guess the girl’s the dominant component of the dual entity.”
        The Megas – merely Megas once again – have handed down the girls, and now their heads slump over and they’re still; the clicks and whirrs fade out into inaudibility.  (They’re dormant – not entirely shut down.)  “Thanks, girls,” says Asmuran.  “Go change into some even cuter outfits, grab the boys if you can pry them from their monitors, and come up to the deck; we need to talk about a little issue that’s come up.  We’ll see very soon.  Not you, my dear – no, you’re a grownup girl; you stay with us. I meant the strictly girly girls, of course.  The teenaged girls run, giggling, away back through the door from which they had emerged, while Miyu trots back over to the group of Elves and Wizards, laughing at her joke.
        “Well, Fladnag?  See?  I think you can relax.  We Disengarians, with Elvish help, will certainly be able to defeat the Host of Horror here all by ourselves.  We won’t need any Dwarfish help for this.  We’ll need the Dwarfs’ assistance later on, however, when we’ve pushed the Horrid Host back home to Sinister and need someone to go inside and clean that mountain out from top to bottom, and annihilate the creature that’s controlling Nausor’s mind.”
        “Hold on,” the Prince protests; “you’re telling me a Dwarfish army will be marching through our city on the way to Sinister?”
        “Let’s go upstairs again,” says Asmuran, “and listen to my colleague here explain our long-term plans.  When you have heard him out, I think you’re going to be satisfied that this is our best option.  Okay, guys?”
        They head back up, and as they ride the stairs, the Dusty Wizard chats with Miyu.  “Well,” he says, “you really put on quite a show, although I have to say this synthesis of girls with mechanisms goes beyond what I’d imagined Asmuran would do.  I find it disconcerting, and I think that it should be discussed when we’ve addressed this present crisis; there must be a way to make the Megas much more competent without this fusion.  It feels wrong to me.”
        “Oh, you’re just old and stuffy,” Miyu says.  “It’s so empowering to fuse with them; it gives me such a rush, and when I’m done I’m disappointed that it can’t go on.”
        “I wish he hadn’t kept it from me, though.”
        “He had to – look at your reaction now.  He didn’t want you getting us depressed with all your grumpy negativity.”
        “Oh, knock it off.  So how did Kenji feel about this project?  He was fine with it?”
        “Sometimes he seemed a little weirded out, but you know Kenji; he just played along.  He had to; Kenji was my engineer!”
        “Does every girl have her own engineer?
        “Yes, every pilot’s boyfriend is assigned to her own Mega.  He’s the one who knows the way the pilot’s mind works normally, so he’s the one who’s best at keeping all the flows of information from her brain into the Mega’s circuit-boards and back into her brain as smooth as possible; he monitors the links, adjusting them if necessary, and administers the little tweaks that keep the Megagirl from getting disconcerted and upset.  He sits beside his girlfriend in her head; I mean, he sits beside the human girl inside the Mega’s head, which is of course the Megagirl’s when girl and Mega merge.”
        “I guess you didn’t need the services of engineers today; is that because you put on such a short and simple show?”
        “That’s right.  We also didn’t want to pull the boys away from their activities; they’re irritable when we interrupt their games and hobbies unexpectedly.”
        “Do they do any nuts-and-bolts-type-work inside those Megas or is it all just small-button-pushing, dial-turning stuff?”

        “Oh, they do lots of maintenance and on-the-spot repairs, internally as well as on the outside, even while the Megagirls are moving, which is hard.  We’re practicing that last bit.  It feels weird to have your boyfriend lubricating you internally, while you do deep-knee-bends.  Oh, sorry; I just got confused again – that isn’t really me he’s oiling, it’s Rainbow; it’s the Megagirl.  I keep her memories; that’s why I get messed up.”
        “So Asmuran’s a decent engineer?”
        “He’s good enough at it.  He’s not as quick at fixing little stuff as Kenji was, but he’s more fun to have inside my head when I’m a girl-machine, what with the jokes and quirky bullshit that he always spouts.”
        When they’re back on the observation deck enJoying drinks, the Dusty Wizard shares with Prince Aletheon, Duke Timonar, and their two wives the vision he’d worked out with Asmuran here yesterday: the plan to build a Highway through the Southern Swamps connecting Dwarfenberg and Sinister, which would be given over to the Dwarfs, with Disengar developed to become Utopia – built by the Megagirls right here instead of in the Southern Swamps as had been their original intent … “but Nausor’s Horrifying enterprise necessitates this change in our design, which seems to me to be all for the best – and credit for this great idea goes to Asmuran, since he came up with it.” 
        “All for the best?  In what way?” asks the Prince.
        “We want the diverse peoples of the Realm to gather in one place, which they will do more readily right here in Disengar that down there in the Swamps, especially since you’ll affect them with this influence of yours that halts their progress toward old age.”
        “That’s very nice for them,” says Timonar, “but what’s the benefit in it for us? A lot of fuss and bother, visitors that we don’t even know.  This doesn’t sound like something we’d be able to support.”
        The Rainbow Wizard says, “Let me suggest another way of looking at this.  See, an arc of Dwarfish power will connect the mountains at the two ends of the Realm.  They’ll dominate the south.  Not only that; they’ll be to either side of you as well.  It’s up to you, the Elvish race, to lead the coalition of non-Dwarfish folk who will oppose them, standing in their way if they begin to eye the northern Realm with covetous intent.  It seems to me that you can most effectively achieve this leadership position in the Realm by welcoming the representatives of every race to Disengar; they’ll come from all directions, bringing gifts that show their recognition of your leadership.”
        “Well, when you put it that way,” says the Prince, “it doesn’t sound so bad.  Perhaps you’re right; this really is the best way to proceed.  Far better Dwarfs inside of Sinister than all the creatures that are in there now preparing to attack a second time, and if there must be Dwarfs in Sinister as well as Dwarfenberg, and all along the Highway in between, connecting them, you might as well construct Utopia right here in Disengar, to emphasize our role as leaders of the Realm’s non-Dwarfs.”
        “Of course, eventually,” Fladnag says, the Dwarfs are going to unite with you and you with them; the peoples of the world will form a single great society well-rooted in diverse communities throughout the Earth, a human flourishing –”
        “It’s time for lunch,” says Miyu.  “I’ll go down and have Juanita whip up something fun that we will all enjoy.  I’ll have Celine go fetch the kids so they can eat with us.”
        “As soon as lunch is over, I should go,” says Fladnag; “I must get to Dwarfenberg as soon as possible, so that the Dwarfs can start to arm themselves without delay.”
        “No, Fladnag, you’re not getting out of here until tomorrow morning,” Miyu says, as she moves toward the escalator-hole; “The kids will want to talk to you at length, and it would be unfair to them to go before you’ve satisfied their teenaged minds with all the thoughts I know you’d really love to pass along to them.  Relax, my man; our Megagirls can really do the job.  The Dwarfs don’t have to rush; we’ll be just fine.”
        “Okay,” says Fladnag, “but you shouldn’t think that you’ve convinced me just because you’re cute.”
        “Now why on Earth would I think that?” she says, and smiles as she disappears below.
        The kids arrive for lunch, all twelve of them.  Each girl has her own boyfriend-engineer accompanying her, a little like a walking trophy that she flourishes with cheerful pride, as if to say “This one is mine because I’m wonderful, of course!”  With Kokona is Akio, who waves; with Haruka is Mitsuru, who nods; with Akari is Noboru, who grins; with Momoka is Osamu, who gives a gallant thumbs-up to the waiting guests; with Ichika is Ryota, who makes a “‘V’ for Victory” sign with his hand; with Hamari is Satoshi, who holds his fists above his head triumphantly.
        That afternoon, a battle-plan’s worked out along the lines suggested earlier by Asmuran.  We’ll see with what success it’s put into effect against the Host.