Chapter Five: The Battle of Elfpark

        The Dusty Wizard’s on the Road again at dawn on April eighth; the rising sun illuminates his somber countenance as he strides rapidly toward Dwarfenberg.  He walks continuously all day long and spends the night entranced beside the Road halfway from Disengar to Boodletown.  The vital energy flows into him, converging through the apex of his hat, while all his energetic refuse flows out through the beard-like growth of filaments extruding from his face and underjaw and neck – long, slender tubes that curve and clump like our own beard-hairs but in some respects are more like jellyfish-appendages.
        Awakening refreshed as daylight spreads, the Wizard walks again throughout the day, and evening finds him just beyond the point at which the lane turns north to Boodletown; here once again he stands throughout the night, entranced, to wake again at dawn refreshed.  Once more he walks all day; when evening comes the Wizard stops to stand entranced again, halfway from Boodletown to Dwarfenberg.  As Fladnag’s spirit opens to receive the vital energy that’s flowing in, the Host of Horror camps two miles west of Elfpark, and the Elves can smell the stench of Gobbin-shit and Troll-sweat wafting in, polluting their delightful habitat.
        At dawn, the Wizard’s eastward walk resumes – his journey’s final day; at evening-time he’ll stand before the gates of Dwarfenberg.  As he strides forth, imagining himself in earnest conversation with the Dwarfs – persuasive, logical, impressing them with his command of all the ins and outs of this extremely serious affair – the Horrid Host is on the move again, the Gobbins spreading out to either side.  They’ll enter Elfpark to the north and south, emerging in long waves out of the woods, while all the rest proceed along the Road directly – first the Trolls, and then the Urgs.  But hours earlier, a lot of Elves were moving through the forest in the dark, distributing themselves along the Road on either side of it, in two long wings that loosely arc around the Gobbin-mob that is the foremost portion of the Host.  Each wing’s made up of twenty-thousand Elves distributed in squads of six or eight.  The western tips of these two arcing wings are more than half a mile from the Road, but even from this distance they can hear the screeches of the Gobbins squabbling as they awaken intermittently from nasty dreams that merely duplicate the nastiness that fills their waking lives.  The Elven northern wing, above the Road, is under the command of Agathar, while Areton commands the southern wing – the two are Elfpark’s Barons, each of them the ruler of a major district there.  The Elves with Agathar wear green berets; while those with Areton wear purple ones.  These wings converge toward Elfpark’s western edge; between the points from which they radiate, ten thousand Elves are waiting in the Trees above the Road, and north and south of it.  (These Trees deserve to have an uppercase initial letter, not just to remind the reader of these Sycamore-shaped plants’ gigantic size – three hundred fifty feet on average; they’re at least Sequoyah-sized – but also so that he may keep in mind their sleepy, herbivore-like consciousness.)  The Prince and Duke are with this central force; two thousand of them are the Prince’s Elves, brought with him from his district in the east; the rest (eight thousand) are Duke Timonar’s.  The Prince’s Elves deploy above the Road, the Duke’s divided north and south of him,
        A note of explanation will perhaps be welcomed by my readers at this point: the city is divided in four parts – the western district ruled by Timonar, the northern district ruled by Agathar, the southern district ruled by Areton, the eastern district governed by the Prince, who also rules the city as a whole.  The Prince’s district is the smallest one; it only has two thousand residents.  Since Timonar’s his second-in-command, his district is the second-smallest one; eight thousand Elves reside here in the west.  Each Baron’s district, more than twice as large, contains the homes of twenty thousand Elves.  I’ve called the Barons, and the Duke and Prince, the “rulers” of their districts, and the Prince the “ruler” of the city as a whole, but note that “rule” here merely designates, in ordinary times, the roles performed by these men in the ceremonial processions in which all participate, and in the ritual performances that frequently occur throughout the year.  In all of these parades and rituals the Elves of Agathar wear green berets while those of Areton wear purple ones; the Elves of Timonar wear blue berets; those of Aletheon wear red berets.  They wear these ceremonial berets right now as they await the Horrid Host.  It seems to them that of all of those parades and ceremonies, in which wooden swords and javelins were gallantly employed in ways that everyone had memorized, were practice-sessions for the coming fight.
        Now, here’s a point that may have bothered you – perhaps you’ve noticed that the count of Elves deployed in readiness to fight the Host is equal to the population-count of Elfpark as a whole, which indicates that females are deployed along with males.  Indeed, this is the case.  The Elves are strange – unlike Americans in many ways.  Since we’re discussing Elvish gender-roles, please note: they’re serial monogamists; they marry for about a hundred years, and then divorce and marry someone else.  There is a special Elfpark-ritual of spousal-reassignment, at which time they all switch partners – it’s an easy thing.  This ritual somehow inspires them with an intensely loving sort of lust, or lustful sort of love, that’s solely aimed at their new spouses and does not abate until the marriage-period’s complete; moreover, there’s a sort of tenderness for former spouses that will linger on forever – all in all, it’s very nice.  The males are all exactly six-foot-six, the females all exactly six feet tall; they look like fashion-models with huge eyes, high cheekbones, little noses, and thin lips.  An Elvish female’s strength and fighting-skill is ninety-nine percent that of a male, which might sound odd, considering that males are taller, broader-shouldered, thicker-armed, and more than one percent more … masculine.  The answer to this puzzle: female Elves have stronger muscle tissue, ounce-for-ounce: it’s better stuff, of higher quality.  Elves have no ordinary gender-roles; the males and females work and play alike, and in the coming battle, as you’ll see will fight alike, in couples, side-by-side.  In all of Elfpark’s martial festivals the sexes have paraded and performed together, men and women side by side, the females wielding swords and javelins with practiced flourishes, just like the males – those wooden weapons they mistakenly believed were merely ceremonial, forgetting they’d been used repeatedly in real-live battles fought against the Dwarfs.  (“Then why,” you’ll ask, “is Prince Aletheon the ruler of the Elves, and Timonar his second-in-command?  This violates the rule of sexual equality!  Why aren’t the Prince and Princess Kalia co-rulers, and the Duchess, Rhythmia, co-second-in-command with Timonar?”  The answer: because Princess Kalia and Duchess Rhythmia enjoy the game of granting higher status to their men.  They find it sexy.  And, in fact, the Elves enjoy a sharp distinction in the roles of males and females when it comes to sex and all romantic matters – here the males are dominant, aggressive, arrogant, the females tender, passive, yielding, shy, and fond of being “captured” by the males and playfully abused from time to time.)
        The Prince and Duke, together with their wives stand on the Ducal Palace’s broad porch which overlooks the Road – here they’ll receive reports from either side, and can respond immediately, sending out commands to either Baron, keeping both of them apprised of everything that’s going on.  The Elvish forces are deployed like this, with two long wings that arc along the Road on either side of it, because the Prince and Duke were finally swayed by Asmuran, who urged them not to stay within the bounds of Elfpark in a tight defensive ring, but rather to receive the Horrid Host in this configuration.  He assumes that it will drive directly down the Road toward Elfpark, where it will be met and blocked by his great Megagirls, and then assailed from either side in constant small attacks launched by the Barons’ men, and in this way it will be bottled up upon the Road and worn away throughout the coming week if not entirely destroyed today.  The central force of Elves, led by the Prince and Duke, is there to back the Megagirls, advancing after them along the Road to mop up any remnants of the Host that manage to survive their stomping feet, enormous hammers and long ripping saws.
        “The Wizard was mistaken,” says the Duke; “The mob of Gobbins isn’t heading here; it’s separating, entering the woods on either side.  I hope the people there with Barons Agathar and Areton are ready.  They’ll be fighting earlier than they expected to, and further back.”
        “I think they’ll be okay,” the Prince replies.  “You hear that crashing sound in back of us?  The Wizard’s Megagirls are on their way.”
        The Road’s soon clear of Gobbins – all of them are swarming through the woods to either side, directed by their Managers, who ride on Spyder-back behind them, hissing out their orders in the Lord of Horror’s voice through their raised bullhorns: “Forward!  Hurry up!”  The Trolls are in the lead now; they advance along the Road toward Elfpark, followed by their supervising Managers, these too on Spyder-back, commanding them by name, “Keep going, Klod!  Let’s move it, Wump!  You, Gub, get back where you belong; stay on the Road!”  Behind these ride the Horror-Lord himself, the Mastermind of Horror, and the three Commanders who remain, together with a crowd of lower-ranking Managers.  Then come the Urgs, who march along in step in rows of ten, ten thousand of these rows, and then the wagons, with the Technicals and non-combatant Molemen in the rear.
        The Megagirls pass underneath the porch on which the Prince and Duke stand with their wives – the smaller ones in pairs; behind these six the larger, rainbow-colored Megagirl with Asmuran and Miyu in her head.  “Wow,” Rhythmia exclaims, “Just look at them!  They’ll beat those fucking Trolls to bloody pulp!”
        “I hope so, Honey,” says Duke Timonar, but there must be a thousand Trolls out there, so it might be a little difficult.  Aletheon, perhaps we should descend and get our guys assembled on the ground in case the Megagirls require help.”
        “Yes, let’s,” he says.  “In fact, I’ll have my folks advance along the Road in back of them; we’ll keep about two hundred yards behind to make sure we’re not trampled in the fight.  You have your people spread out in our rear across the Road, but stay back here, okay?
        The Gobbin-swarms advancing through the woods soon start encountering the squads of Elves spread out in front of them; the fighting starts.  A thousand vicious little skirmishes flare up and fizzle out along the front, the Elves continually falling back because the Gobbins, much more numerous, keep pouring through the gaps between their squads – and yet five Gobbins fall for every Elf; moreover, in a half an hour’s time all but the most severe of Elvish wounds will have completely healed (the most severe requiring two hours at the most), but wounded Gobbins will be torn apart and eaten by their own, if possible.
        The Megagirls have reached the foremost Trolls, and kick them backward, smashing in their heads and sawing them apart, but from the rear come hundreds more; they move to either side and close around behind the Megagirls, surrounding them – of course directed by their expert Spyder-mounted Managers, who stay well back, observing everything.  The Megagirls can’t saw or hammer down all of these Trolls, who grab their legs and waists and try to wrestle them down to the ground.  Imagine several hundred ten year olds attempting to take down six full-sized men and one man larger than Shaquille O’Neil – that’s what the scene is like.  The Megagirls retract their weapons, and employ their hands to grab their enemies and tear them off and beat them down.  This Megagirl or that is tackled by the Trolls, but struggles up and half a minute later falls again, and struggles yet again back to her feet. Each time a Megagirl falls to the ground she’s kicked and pounded.  Megagirls feel pain; they bellow, and the girls inside their heads are screaming – they feel all the pain and rage of their huge vehicles, for they are one with these great bodies they’re inhabiting.  Their sensors have been damaged – lenses cracked, antennas broken off, and cables torn.
        Aletheon, with Princess Kalia upon the Road a hundred yards away, his Elves behind him, says, “They need our help.”
        “Are we supposed to stab their legs with these?” she says, examining her wooden sword a little skeptically.  She looks at him and then her eyes expand excitedly:  “Hey, look how bright your Hilt of Joy’s become!  You’d better put your wooden sword away and use that thing instead; let’s see how bright its beam is now.  Wow, Baby, look at that!”
        As soon as he unclips his Hilt of Joy and holds it overhead, its beam leaps forth – a bright pink ray of concentrated Joy that spurts ten feet straight outward from the Hilt and vaporizes in electric wisps that flicker from its tip.  The Prince cries “Joy!” and all the Elves behind him start to shout this word together – it’s their battle-cry.  His Sword of Joy aloft, Aletheon advances toward the fight with Kalia, the other Elves advancing after them.
        The nearest Trolls on this side of the mob begin to feel uncomfortable; they sense a presence they don’t like in back of them, and look around to see what it might be, and when they do they see the Sword of Joy and shrink away from it like frightened dogs despite the efforts of their Managers, who angrily hiss through their bullhorns, “No,  don’t back away, Trolls; stand your ground and fight!” – although these Managers themselves feel sick as they watch that pink beam approaching them, their Spyders stepping backward warily, unprompted.  Gothrom, feeling only rage, roars, “Stupid fucking Trolls, attack those Elves!”  “They can’t,” says Nausor nervously; he too is scared and nauseated, and he’s right; the Trolls don’t listen; those in front retreat until they’re blocked by those in back of them, and then, with nowhere else to go, begin to sidle off the Road and back away across its grassy margins toward the woods.  The ones who were behind them turn now too, and see the Sword as well, and sidle off.  The mob of Trolls parts like an opened book as they withdraw before Aletheon, who holds the Sword of Joy above his head as he strides forward.  Just behind him strides the Princess, holding high her wooden sword and javelin – a weapon in each hand – and then the red-bereted two thousand Elves whose homes are in their district, shouting “Joy!”
        The battered Megagirls, emerging from the rapidly evaporating crowd of Trolls, retreat toward Elfpark, and the Prince makes hasty gestures at his followers, directing them to move to either side and walk along the margins of the Road so that they won’t be trampled.  Metal hands are raised in thanks as they pass by the Prince and stay raised as they pass his followers.  Great metal heads turn, nodding downward; rumblings of gratitude and warning emanate from damaged voice-projectors.  Asmuran’s enormous rainbow-colored Megagirl bends down her battered head as her huge feet crash past the Prince; her cyclops-lens is webbed with branching cracks.  Her rumbling voice is fuzzed and broken up by momentary gaps and bursts of static: “Thanks, Aletheon; forgive us, but we have to get back home to Disengar; we need to be repaired before we do more fighting.  Play it safe out there; don’t take unnecessary risks.”
        “We’ll do our duty!” shouts Aletheon, “as you did yours.  We’ll see you later; go and get yourselves fixed up.”  He raises high his Sword of Joy, returning to the Road, the Princess and the others following. The Trolls in front of him rock back and forth uncertainly; they eye the Sword of Joy with trepidation, ready to withdraw and join their fellows who have left the Road and stand there at a distance, trembling.
        The Prince stands in the center of the Road, with Kalia behind him, to the right; behind the Princess stand the Red Berets.  The Prince must choose: should they proceed or not?
        “Perhaps we’ve done enough for now,” his wife suggests.  “We’ve saved the Wizard’s Megagirls; that’s all that we intended to achieve.”
        “No, Honey, I’m not finished yet,” he says, and with a forward down-sweep of his Sword of Joy he indicates the enemy before them, and he strides ahead again.  He’s made his mind up; Princess Kalia admiringly follows him, as do the Red Berets behind her, shouting “Joy!”
        Before him lie the corpses of the Trolls who died in battle with the Megagirls.  They’re slumped across each other; here and there still-living Trolls attempt and fail to rise or twist and shudder on their sides and backs among the dead, with dislocated limbs and mashed-in faces, groaning, wallowing in pools of purple blood and gelatin.  The Trolls that stand upon the Road beyond, unable to confront the Sword of Joy, withdraw to either side; they join the ones already standing in two ragged wings whose tips spread outwards as if to embrace the Elves advancing toward the scene of death and incapacitating injury that fills more than a hundred yards of Road.  Withdrawing, they’ve revealed the Horror-Lord, with Nausor, and their staff of Masterminds, all Spyder-mounted – and their Spyders’ legs are twitching nervously.  The Spyders, too, are made uneasy by the Sword of Joy; they shuffle backwards, and must be restrained.
        The Lord of Horror drops down to the ground and, gliding forward, mounts the fallen Trolls; he easily advances over them.  He waves his right arm high, and as he does it lengthens to a twenty-foot-long whip of inky shadow; back and forth it snakes above his head in undulating loops.  He’s past the carnage as the Elves approach its eastern edge, with Trolls on either side, now noncombatants.  Gothrom waves his Whip.
        His roaring hiss is like volcanic steam effusing from a fissure in a peak that’s just about to spray its molten guts all over the surrounding countryside, incinerating many villages: “That thing you’re holding there annoys me, Elf;  Now run away as quickly as you can before my Whip of Horror licks your soul!”
        The Prince directs the Sword of Joy at him and thrusts it forward, crying out, “Come on, you scum of Horror, you unnatural filth!  My Sword of Joy will boil the abyss that is your spirit.  Come enJoy its kiss!”
        “I am the Lord of Horror, little Elf.  Enjoyment is impossible for me, but I will Horrify you with my Whip!”
        “And I’m the Prince of Elves – Aletheon!  You’ll never Horrify me with your Whip, but you’ll enJoy my Sword, I promise you.”
        As they exchange these minor pleasantries, the Mastermind instructs his Managers, and messengers rush off at Spyder-speed.  The Trolls are moved away, and made to sit beneath the trees, some distance from the Road; it’s obvious that they won’t be prepared to fight again for several hours now.  The Urgs behind the staff of Managers divide their column, and its parted halves move forward, past the staff, on either side, just off the Road, between it and the Trolls.
        “They’re moving up the Urgs,” says Kalia.  “They’re going to surround us.  We should leave.”
        “They won’t attack us while I wield this Sword,” says Prince Aletheon, “and now’s my chance to kill this so-called ‘Lord of Horror’ here and then his master, Nausor, who prefers to skulk there in the background while this thug or mascot or whatever he may be does all the dirty work like this for him.”
        “How dare you!” Gothrom hisses; “Don’t you know that I am truly, actually Lord of Horror, Lord in fact, not just in name, while Nausor back there just advises me?  That’s what his title, ‘Mastermind’, implies, not that he’s master!  I will teach you this distinction with my Whip of Horror, Elf!”
        The Whip of Horror meets the Sword of Joy and curls itself around the bright pink beam so many times it hides the beam from view except for the electrifying tip that fractures into bright pink lightning-bolts, but still, within the Horror-Whip’s embrace, the beam’s intensely active, for its Joy illuminates the loops encircling it; the deep, dark purple of the boneless arm that coils like a snake around the beam becomes translucent neon flecked with pink.  A sizzling sound like that which water makes when thrown upon hot oil in a pan erupts from this contentious coupling of such antagonistic instruments – embodying opposing principles and yet appointed by some wise design  to this conjunction, one would like to think.
        The Urgs are now on both sides of the Elves, and on the Road behind them, but stand back and wait; as long as Prince Aletheon still wields the Sword of Joy, they won’t attack the Elves that they associate with him – the Elves in red berets appear to them to be a single foe, and all as one appear to them to wield the Sword of Joy.  Its Joyous Energy afflicts the Urgs with anxious nausea; they can’t advance upon the Red Berets.  In well-formed lines the Urgs await the outcome of the fight between the Lord of Horror and the Prince.  They’re sure the Lord of Horror will prevail, extinguishing the Prince’s bright pink beam, so they stay in position and endure their fear and nausea, exhibiting the self-control of natural warriors.
        The Prince and Horror-Lord are circling around each other, both of them intent upon this coupling of Sword and Whip, their other arms held out dramatically in gestures channeling tremendous force of will directly toward this focal point.  The Prince can feel that it’s his will alone which keeps the beam of Joy from vanishing; the Horror-Lord can feel that his own will is all that keeps the Whip from shriveling.  The Elves and Urgs are watching silently, aware that both of them must concentrate.  The Princess tightly grips her wooden sword and javelin; she must restrain her urge to help Aletheon – she’s pretty sure that rushing in would just endanger him and maybe even get her husband killed.
        The Prince’s Sword-arm’s trembling a bit; the Horror-Whip seems to be darkening around the beam of Joy that it obscures, and at its tip the beam is sputtering and fracturing in little lightning-bolts.  “Despair!” Lord Gothrom hisses, and the Prince sinks down upon one knee; the Elves all gasp, the Gobbins screech and leap excitedly.  The Lord of Horror arcs his Whip-arm back, and yanks the Prince’s Sword of Joy away.  The beam immediately vanishes; the Hilt’s sent whirling upward through the air and off towards Elfpark, hurtling away.  The Prince looks upward at the Horror-Lord in shock and Horror as the Whip descends.  It coils all around him; spasming, he falls face-forward as the Whip withdraws and lies there prone and lifeless on the ground.
        The Princess screams and hurls her javelin at Gothrom, and the missile passes through his abdomen.  He doesn’t notice it; he’s spiraling his Whip triumphantly above his head, his eyes turned toward the sky.  She sheathes her wooden sword and rushes in to seize the Prince’s body.  As she does, the Urgish pikes are lowered; bristling walls move toward the Red Berets from either side.  The Red Berets, grouped loosely on the Road between the Urgish pike-walls that advance upon them like the two sides of a vise, wait poised like athletes, readying their swords and javelins, which they prefer to use primarily as thrusting-weapons, not as missiles.  (This makes sense; historically, these javelins were used against the Dwarfs, whose skin’s too leathery and tough for them to penetrate if hurled; a gripping hand with constant muscle-power driving home the weapon is required.  Urgish hide is certainly as tough as Dwarfish skin, so it makes sense to use these javelins as thrusting-spears against the Urgs as well.  You might object that if they’re mainly used as thrusting-spears I ought to call them this, not “javelins”, a word which makes one think of pointed missiles whizzing through the air, but “javelins” still seems appropriate for lightweight spears like these, which can be hurled if necessary.  Anyway, the word’s derived from “javelot”, which just means “spear”.)  Although a number of the Elves are piked, the great majority of them succeed in dodging under, over, or between the pike-thrusts, and the Urgs must now resort to their short swords.  A frenzied melee starts.  Lord Gothrom, at the western end of it, is lashing at the Elves with his long Whip, not noticing that this has no effect.  Concluding that this fight’s not worth his time, he turns and glides back to the Mastermind; the place he occupied is filled by Urgs, who now attack the Elves from every side.
        “And that,” Lord Gothrom says, “is how it’s done.”
        “Indeed,” says Nausor.  “Very interesting.”  He’s managed to see most of what went on from his high seat upon his Spyder’s back.  “The Prince’s use of that peculiar Sword, which might have harmed you, was what did him in.  Unlike the other Elves you Whipped out there, the Prince was vulnerable, and he fell.”
        “Stop talking nonsense, Mastermind; my Whip killed fifty of those Elves before I left; there’s no way anyone I struck with it could have survived – my rage was that intense.  If only you could feel what I just did out there, demolishing my enemies – but I know it’s impossible for you to have such feelings; glory’s not your thing; you’re just a scheming intellectual.”
        “No doubt you’re right,” the Mastermind replies.
        Back at the city’s western edge, the Duke shouts, “Rhythmia, we have to rescue them!”  He concentrates his Elves upon the Road and close to it, diminishing his strength above it and below it on his flanks, and moves them westward, his priority the extrication of the Red Berets.  But meanwhile Urgs move eastward past the fight on both sides of it, and prevent the Duke from getting more than halfway to his goal.  In fact, they even start to push him back.  They spread out to the north and south, their line extending slowly, broken by the trees – terrain their tactics aren’t adapted to.  (The Trolls, still traumatized, remain in place along the forest’s edges near the Road, upon their haunches, rocking back and forth with lowered faces.  They won’t be involved in any further action here today.)
        In Disengar, the six boy-engineers are supervising busy Mexicans who hurry to repair the Megagirls while Asmuran stands on the tower’s deck beside Humberto; they observe the fight past Elfpark’s western edge, where Urgs surround the Elves in red berets, and push back those in blue berets, who tried to rescue them.  “My God,” the Wizard says; “those guys are trapped.”
        Humberto says, “Let’s get them out of there!  It won’t be hard; I’ll round up volunteers, and we’ll put on those power-suits we use when we’ve got heavy shit to move around.  We’ll loot the weight-room for some weaponry – we’ve got ten forty-five-pound bars down there, and lots of heavy dumbbells we can use as hammers.  We’ll go out and smash a path right through those toad-faced boys, and grab the Elves and bring them back with us the way we came.”
        “That seems so risky, though – those power-suits have lots of openings between the struts where you’d be vulnerable, and your heads would be exposed.  You fellows might get hurt.”
        “Yeah, boss, we might, but that’s the risk you take when you’re a man, and Mexicans are men as much as Elves and Urgs are – am I right?”
        “Of course, but are you sure you want to go?”
        “Yes, definitely; we can’t stand and watch as our amigos get themselves wiped out; it’s time for action, boss.  We’re suiting up and heading out there.  You can hang out here and watch us Mexicans kick Urgish ass.”
        “Okay, then, but be careful.  Watch yourselves.  I’d go out there as well, and share the risk, if I could fit inside one of those suits.  Unfortunately, they’re too small for me, so I guess you’ll be having all the fun.”
        “And all the glory, boss!”  Humberto leaves, and fifteen minutes later Asmuran sees thirty power-suited Mexicans stride heavily out through the western gate and down the Road to where Duke Timonar and Rhythmia and all the blue berets are falling back before the Urgish lines.
        “Hey, Hombre, step aside,” Humberto says to Timonar.  “We’ve come to save the day.  We’ll be back here in half an hour, tops, with all the Prince’s people that survive.  Don’t follow us; just wait here patiently.”  Humberto’s power-suited Mexicans drive through the Urgish pike-wall like a fist; they use their forty-five-pound lifting-bars to sweep aside the pikes confronting them, while any Urgs who charge them with their swords are dumbbell-hammered, dropping instantly – the metal strips and ribbing of the suits protect the Mexicans as armor would.  They trot across the intervening space, the quarter-mile stretch of Road that lies between the eastward-facing Urgish line that they’ve just punctured and the mass of Urgs encompassing the former Prince’s Elves.  This mass, less organized, caught by surprise, is even easier to penetrate.  In several minutes, they have gotten through.
        Humberto makes his way among the Elves, who give him weary nods, until he finds the Princess fighting at their western end.  “Let’s go, Señora; time to lead them out; they won’t be following us Mexicans until you tell them to, so come with me.”
        “I’d love to, Hummy – look around you, though.  Five hundred of my men and women here are lying on the ground, so badly hurt they can’t heal quickly; they can’t walk away.  I don’t think we can carry them all out and still defend ourselves against these Urgs.
        “You’ve got that right.  You’d better tell those guys to kill themselves before they’re prisoners, and who knows what will happen to them then?  They’ll live again a hundred years from now, so what’s the difference?  Let’s get out of here.”
        “It’s true that death’s a temporary thing for us, and we’ll be reborn from our Trees, but it disturbs us and we shrink from it.”
        “Of course you do, since you love life so much.  I understand, but now you’ve got no choice; a lot of you had better kill yourselves before they capture you and who knows what gets done to you that isn’t very nice.”
        “You’re right.  Okay, then, I’ll go spread the word.”  So Princess Kalia walks back and forth among her Red Berets, advising them, “Hey, listen up, you guys; these Mexicans have come in power-suits to extricate us from this situation; those of you who are too badly hurt to stand and walk should kill yourselves, in my opinion, since we’ll need to use our hands to fight the Urgs as we retreat, so we can’t carry you, and, trust me, you don’t want the enemy to capture you; they don’t seem very nice, and probably won’t treat you very well.”  The Red Berets in question recognize the wisdom of her counsel; in her wake they plunge their wooden swords into their breasts, or have this done to them by mates and friends, wives killing husbands, husbands killing wives, and, in some cases, lying side by side, both badly hurt, one kills his or her mate then kills him- or herself, or both attempt to kill each other; if one’s still alive (his mate or friend, or hers, not having done the job completely), then he finishes (or she does) what was started, or the task is finished by another nearby friend.  Throughout this process, eloquent farewells are tearfully pronounced, and goodbye-hugs and kisses are exchanged by man and wife or friend and friend.  Thus several hundred die, the others moving back along the Road toward Elfpark, following the Mexicans, who have to drill another pair of holes back out through all the Urgs who’ve meanwhile filled the gaps that they made moments earlier – first through the mass of Urgs surrounding them, then through those who, in eastward-facing lines assail the Blue Berets commanded by Duke Timonar near Elfpark’s western edge.
        The Red Berets pass through the line of Blues and rest behind them.  Princess Kalia meets Timonar and Duchess Rhythmia upon the Road.  The Duke says, “Kalia, I’m really glad to see that you’re alive, but someone’s missing – where’s Aletheon?”  The soft convulsion of her chest, her gulps of air as she half-sobs, and several tears provide him with his answer.  “Oh,” he says; “I’m sorry.  I’d admired him a lot.  Well, he’ll be back some day, as good as new.”  The Duchess takes her hand and squeezes it.  “Well, Kalia,” the Duke says, “this makes you our leader now – or do you need some time alone, to mourn, before you take command?”
        “No,” Kalia replies, “a lot of us have lost a loved one; why should I alone have time to mourn?  Let’s get my Red Berets back into action.  I’ll distribute them behind your people.  They’ll rush in and fill whatever gaps might open in your line; wherever Blue Berets are giving way, my Red Berets will be on hand to help contain the enemy.  Does that sound good?”
        “It does,” says Timonar; “your Red Berets have gone through hell out there, so let them play a back-up role for now – and, anyway, if we tried making space for them up front by moving my guys sidewise we would risk confusing everyone, and that would be disastrous.”  So the Princess hurries off to spread the word among the Red Berets, and very soon they’re backing up the Blues as she’d suggested, filling in the gaps that open up when wounded Blues withdraw.
        The Mexicans return to Disengar.  Humberto wants to check with Asmuran and get a sense of what’s been happening; perhaps his squad is needed elsewhere now.
        Throughout this time, the Gobbins have advanced like long arms sweeping northeast and southwest and circling toward Elfpark, as the Elves of Agathar and Areton fall back.  In many places, groups of Elves are trapped by Gobbins swarming towards them from all sides, and some of these surrounded, cut-off groups are fairly large, with several hundred Elves caught in a slowly concentrating mass as Gobbins rush at them from every side.  The Elves hack them apart and skewer them with rapid chops and thrusts.  They pile up in bloody heaps and mounds of Gobbin-flesh until the Elves are standing on a hill of Gobbin corpses, rising constantly, with living Gobbins rushing up its slopes from every side to die on top of it – a flood of lashing limbs and snapping jaws.  But now and then an Elf goes down as well, with Gobbins gouging at his face and neck with teeth and claws, and some of these don’t rise; the Gobbins mangle and devour them  in preference to their own, for they prefer the tender flesh of Elves to Gobbin-meat.  Don’t worry, though – the souls of fallen Elves, no matter how destroyed their corpses are, emerge as ectoplasmic dragonflies which make their way back to the family-Tree and burrow down beneath its giant roots, and in a century they will have regrown and will emerge intact, much as they were before this death and mangling occurred.
        The Urgs are lined up in the center now – a deep formation, half a mile wide with twenty lines of pikemen – twenty walls projecting deadly points, or, one might say, a single twenty-layered spiky wall which slowly but continuously moves toward Elfpark’s outermost gigantic Trees.  Don’t be misled, though; this analogy suggests a uniform, unbroken front, but such a front can only be maintained by soldiers who advance upon the Road and on its grassy margins; in the woods on either side, where most of them advance, the tree-trunks and abrupt declivities break up the lines, providing entry-points for Elvish squads, which swoop in and attack and then withdraw before the line re-forms.  These tactics force the Urgs to pay a price for their advance – two Urgs fall in the woods for every Elf who’s injured.  Furthermore, the great majority of wounded Elves are able to withdraw; their wounds will heal so quickly, for the most part, they’ll rejoin their comrades in the fighting very soon.  The Urgish flanks, which must negotiate the obstacles of forested terrain, move much more slowly than the center does; the soldiers in the center, on the Road, must often stop advancing and remain in their positions while the flanks catch up.  They stand there in defensive attitudes as Elves dash in, attempting to evade the Urgish pikes with sudden daring leaps; the Elves stab downwards with their javelins as they descend, and kick themselves away with backward leaps, employing Urgish heads and chests and shoulders as the surfaces from which they launch themselves.  But in the woods the Urgs achieve another sort of goal that isn’t possible for them upon the Road – as I have said, the Elves are targeting the temporary ruptures opening along the Urgish lines as these advance, and so the Urgish casualties mount up, while any wounded Elf who can withdraw will heal so quickly, most will fight again in half an hour, but from time to time the Urgs are seizing badly wounded Elves as they attempt to crawl or stagger off and severing their limbs, and leaving them immobile on the forest floor, alive and helpless, to be picked up later on.  They’ll grow new limbs, but this will take a week or more; for now, there’s nothing they can do but lie there waiting to be carried off – the Urgs have told them, “We’ll be back for you!”  Humberto gave the Princess good advice when he told her that badly wounded Elves should kill themselves – the Mastermind has plans for captured Elves, procedures he’s contrived with his ingenious mutant mini-clones, the Technicals, to which these captured Elves will be subjected, which will alter them in certain rather Horrifying ways.
        The Urgs have pushed the Elves opposing them back into Elfpark.  Now the battle’s fought within the city, underneath its Trees and also from the mansions in their limbs, as Elves in blue and red berets ascend and hurl down railings, tiles, furniture – whatever can be easily detached – upon the Urgs, who don’t climb very well.  Duke Timonar’s determined to hold out in his own home as long as possible; the Duchess stands beside him on a ramp and hurls down objects at the Urgs below.  She’s at his right side; Princess Kalia is at his left side, doing just the same.
        The Barons’ forces constantly fall back until they’re also inside Elfpark now.  The Gobbin-Managers hiss, “Climb the Trees and kill them in their homes!” – thus following the plan for this concluding phase devised  by Nausor in conjunction with his staff and carefully conveyed to all of them as they approached the city yesterday.  The Gobbins start to swarm up every trunk and out along the porches, ramps, and limbs; the battle’s raging on two levels now – down on the ground and in the Trees above.  Although the toll of Gobbin-dead has passed the fifty-thousand mark (their corpses lie in heaps, with many missing chunks of flesh torn from them by their friends before they died), three times that number, plus, remain alive; the Elves will not be able to withstand the onslaught of so many in the Trees.
        It’s clear that soon the Urgs will occupy the ground of Elfpark – all but Disengar, while Gobbins mop up everyone above, a process that may take them several days but will inevitably terminate in total victory for Nausor’s Host unless the Elves can manage to escape to safety through the gates of Disengar or through the eastern district, which as yet has not been inundated by the swarms of Gobbins pouring through the north and south.
        The Barons find their way to Kalia and Timonar to ask for their advice (or orders, if they’re feeling so inclined).  The Princess says, “Yes, Timonar and I have worked it out.  We’ll bring all of the Elves of our own districts into Disengar; we’ll be the ‘Valiant Remnant’ that holds out within this place that’s in a certain sense the heart of Elfpark, and belongs to it, so that it can’t be said by anyone that Elfpark’s citizens abandoned it.  We think that we can probably hold out until relief arrives from Dwarfenberg.  ‘The Valiant Remant’ – don’t you like that name?  But you guys should escape with all your Elves out through the eastern gap that’s closing now, to carry on a fierce guerrilla war from bases in the Highlands, harrying the occupying Host, and making life as difficult for them as possible.”
        The Barons like the plan, and they return to their own districts, and instruct their Elves to start evacuating to the east.  The eastward flow begins.  A lot of Elves pass through the Palace of Aletheon on their way out, and drop a tear or two, reflecting on his death – for they have heard by word of mouth about the fate he met when he contended with the Horror-Lord.
        The Elves of Kalia and Timonar begin converging on the western gate of Disengar.  Humberto’s thirty men in power-suits stand there as they flow in, to beat back (and beat into bloody pulp) those groups of Gobbins who make vain attempts to rush the open gate of Disengar and enter it together with the Elves.   These Gobbins scramble down the nearby trunks at frequent intervals, but they’re too few to overcome these power-suited men, and most of them are taken out by Elves before they even reach the Mexicans.
        The Host spends the remainder of the day disposing itself for a dawn-assault on Disengar’s high wall.  Around the wall the Gobbins mass, and at the gates the Trolls (by now recovering from their alarm).  The Urgs deploy beyond the Gobbin-swarms, beneath the Trees of Elfpark, burying their dead, and barbecuing Gobbin-meat.

        The sun is setting; Fladnag mounts the Road, now slanting sideways up Dwarf Mountain’s flank.  It brings him to the Porch – a flat expanse beyond which stands the entrance, with the Gate still raised; it will be lowered for the night in half an hour.  Fladnag pauses here to gaze across the Realm toward Sinister, a pinprick barely visible to him against the garish sunset’s swirls and streaks, and it appears to say to him, “Give up, there’s nothing you can do; your friends are doomed.”  And then Michelle’s imagined face appears before him; he’s down in her lair with her, beneath the Meeting Hall in Fuzzyville.  She says, “Do what you can to save my kids; that’s all I ask.”  He nods and answers, “Yes, I’ll try,” and quickly strides across the Porch.
        He greets the Gate-Custodians: “Hello! please bring me to your Judges right away; I have some very urgent news for them.”  They lead him through the Entrance Corridor.  The Gate descends behind him in its slot, and thunk – it’s in its nightly resting place.  They show him to a cozy suite of rooms where he will spend the night; if he would like, he can attend an evening seminar on Holy Law that will be held downstairs, and in the morning he will get a tour of their new High School and gymnasium.  He can’t meet with the Judges until noon; yes, yes, they’re sure it’s urgent, but, you see, the Judges have a schedule of their own.  The Dusty Wizard has to wait his turn.

        At dawn on April twelfth at Disengar the hundred fifty thousand Gobbins who survived the fighting yesterday begin to swarm the wall encircling the place.  They’re like a mob of squirrels scurrying up vertically, or like a mass of ants ascending in a purplish gray tide.  They’re perfectly adapted for this task – they used to climb the walls in Sinister to drop down on each other from above.  They’re able to catch hold of chinks and cracks with their long claws, and use their teeth as well; their hands and feet exude a sticky pus that gets them over smooth spots as they climb.  Opposing them are thirteen Japanese and Asmuran in seven Megagirls (which, having been repaired throughout the night, are fully operational again), about three hundred Mexicans (I count the men here only; female Mexicans don’t fight; they’ll bring their husbands sandwiches and beer, and clean their wounds, and rub their backs), including thirty wearing power-suits (and five of these are rookies who now wear the suits worn yesterday by injured men, including one who was so badly hurt that he was not expected to survive past midnight and will die this afternoon) and all the Elves whom Princess Kalia and Timonar have brought inside the walls – “the Valiant Remant,” as they call themselves, eight thousand of them, four-fifths of the force that was arrayed along the eastern edge of Elfpark at this hour yesterday.  Five hundred of the Red Berets are gone, and fifteen hundred of the Blue Berets; a lot of male and female Elves, bereft of their late spouses, eye each other now, considering the possibilities.  The Mexicans are up above the gates; they’re armed with hatchets, hammers, heavy chains, big monkey-wrenches, crowbars, nine-inch-nails and kitchen-knives – whatever they could find. The ones in power-suits still wield the bars and dumbbells they had with them yesterday.  The Elves are ranged along the promenade atop the wall; a safety-barrier will serve them as a sort of battlement.  The shoulders of the smaller Megagirls are even with the twenty-foot-high wall.  The larger, rainbow-colored Megagirl is ten feet taller than the smaller ones; the wall stops at its middle-abdomen.
        The foremost Gobbins reach the battlement.  The killing starts, as Gobbins dribble down like fountain-droplets back the way they came, but much more rapidly and through the air, while others, who get past the battlement and fall upon the parapet are hurled back over, since the walkway must stay clear.
        Occasionally, Elves are piled on by several Gobbins, and go plummeting down to the courtyard, where the Megagirls pull off the Gobbins and destroy the ones that haven’t been done in by their long fall.  The Elves more frequently survive these falls than not (they have resilient, airy bones, an adaptation to arboreal conditions – maybe monkeys have such bones?) but even when they do, they’re badly hurt, and Mexicanas (female Mexicans) convey them carefully down to the rooms that have been readied as infirmaries.  The Megagirls keep clomping back and forth along the walls; they pick the Gobbins up and crush them effortlessly, using them as missiles, hurling Gobbin-bodies down upon the screeching mob beyond the wall.  They serve as mobile elevators, too; a badly wounded Elf or Mexican is laid upon an outstretched metal hand which lowers him (or her, if it’s an Elf) to safety and assistance on the ground.
        As this goes on, the Urgs hang further back and chortle as they watch the Gobbins die.  Outside of Elfpark, Molemen cut down trees and lop off all their limbs, except for stumps that will be used as handles by the Trolls; they’re making massive rams with which the Trolls will bash the gates and walls of Disengar.  The Trolls, who have recovered from the shock of Prince Aletheon’s lost Sword of Joy are helping with the work to some extent; they roll the trees about from side to side so that the Molemen can more easily get to the limbs that they need to detach.  The Trolls are going to convey these rams to Disengar by wagon, but, once there, the rams will be removed and swung by hand.  (You might be thinking that the Mastermind should put at least a few of them to work right now, by having them throw heavy things at the defenders up there on the wall, and in the process smash the battlements in many places – but that wouldn’t work because the Trolls don’t throw things very well; they’d have to get so close they’d be exposed to counter-action by the Megagirls, while trampling Gobbins as they lurched around.)
        As evening nears, the heaps of Gobbin-dead rise halfway up the wall in many spots.  Five hundred Elves and thirty Mexicans have also lost their lives, and seventy are badly hurt among the Mexicans, who don’t heal rapidly, as do the Elves.  No Urgs have even been engaged today – and now the Trolls are coming down the Road with their huge wagons bearing tree-trunk rams, six hundred of them, for five hundred died in action yesterday upon the Road, slain by the Megagirls in that huge brawl from which the latter were forced to retreat.  The Managers withdraw the Gobbin-mob; the last few Gobbins climbing up the wall are killed by the defenders at the top.  Each of the thirty wagons, with its rams, is pushed by its own team of twenty Trolls; they move to widely separated spots around the wall, with one ram at each gate.  The rams are then unloaded, and the Trolls sit down upon the ground in back of them.
        Lord Gothrom wanted to smash through the gates and walls immediately, massacre those who had been defending Disengar, and then continue on to Dwarfenberg tomorrow morning, but the Mastermind advised an ultimatum: those within would have until the morning to submit.  He pointed out how useful it would be to capture those inside of Disengar.  Who knew what could be done with Mexicans and Japanese when handled properly? – and as for Asmuran, the Mastermind reminded Gothrom of what he had said at that last conference in Mount Sinister the day before the Horrid Host emerged: the Rainbow Wizard probably could be transformed into an ally through the use of certain drugs and therapeutical and if, required, surgical techniques perfected in the research labs back home.  Moreover, if the compound could be seized without demolishing its wall and gates, this would save time and effort; otherwise they’d have to be rebuilt, since Disengar was going to become a major hub of operations in the coming year.  But what impressed the Horror-Lord the most was this consideration: wouldn’t it be splendid to have thousands kneeling down before him in the mud, surrendering?  So Gothrom now glides all around the place delivering, in his bombastic hiss, the ultimatum: “Listen, Joyful fools, you have all night to think about your choice: surrender to me when the morning comes or be destroyed, torn into bloody bits and fed raw to my Gobbins and my Trolls and roasted over fires by my Urgs, who’d love to have Elf-sandwiches for lunch.”
        “Go fuck yourself!” screams Duchess Rhythmia.
        “Hush, Rhythmia,” says Princess Kalia.  “We’ll take advantage of this little break.”
        The Wizard, Miyu, Princess Kalia, the Duke and Duchess, and Humberto meet and they agree that Disengar will fall tomorrow morning.  They will make good use of this suspension of the Host’s assault; they’ll take their people out of Disengar an hour prior to the break of day.  They’ll head to Dwarfenberg – if they go there as first-hand witnesses of what’s occurred at Elfpark, and as full participants in its defense against the Horrid Host, perhaps they will be able to convey a sense of urgency to those whom they are counting on for its deliverance – perhaps the Dwarfs will move more quickly then to mobilize against the Horrid Host and drive it back into Mount Sinister.  Another thing – the Wizard’s Megagirls need lots of Bioslime to operate, and Dwarfenberg’s got large reserves of it.
        The time arrives; they quickly open wide the eastern gate; the largest Megagirl goes rushing out, and then Humberto’s men in power-suits, then two more Megagirls.  Humberto’s power-suited Mexicans and these two Megagirls spread out to form a wedge behind the largest Megagirl; within this wedge, the other Mexicans are shielded, pushing wagons bearing those who have been wounded, and bags of supplies.  The four last Megagirls now follow these in pairs, spaced out two hundred feet apart, the crowd of Elves between them, carrying their badly-injured comrades on their backs.  The largest, rainbow-colored Megagirl, with Asmuran and Miyu in her head, kills all the Trolls who were to ram this gate as they are rising groggily to face the unexpected break-out, while the Trolls in nearby ram-crews are destroyed as well by smaller Megagirls as they rush up.  The Gobbins who attack the forward wedge as it drives through their startled multitude are beaten down by power-suited men or killed by non-augmented Mexicans if they are able to evade the bars Humberto’s men deploy like quarter-staffs – they all are carrying long metal bars that have been crafted in the basement shops within the last few hours for this job, each weighing more than seventy-five pounds.  The Gobbins who attack along the sides and aren’t crushed underfoot by Megagirls are sliced apart or gutted by the Elves. 
        The pencil-shaped formation hurtling along the Road as fast as it can go has gotten through the Gobbins; it must now pass through the Urgs, who rush up with their pikes but don’t have time to line up side-by-side in close formation, and can be pushed through without much trouble.  Once they’ve broken through, the biggest Megagirl, the one in front, goes back around to guard the rear.  Her feet crush most pursuers – Urgs and Gobbins mixed and often battling each other now in their frustration, as the Managers who oversee the Gobbins ride around on Spyder-back, attempting to recall their Gobbins to the places where they’d been before the Disengarians and Elves burst through the gate to make their getaway.
        The Duke and Duchess, staying in the rear to make sure all the Elves back there are safe from their pursuers and aren’t straggling, are suddenly assaulted by a group of twenty or so Gobbins rushing up – the last attack upon the fleeing Elves, and an unfortunately deadly one.  Before these Gobbins have all been dispatched, they take the Duchess with them to the ground and one gets its long fangs into her neck; blood surges from her severed artery.  She looks at Timonar with dimming eyes and reaches up her hand; he clutches it and tells her, sobbing, “I’ll be seeing you when you’re reborn a century from now, Love,” and then he adds this parting afterthought – “Of course, I’ll have another wife by then, but I’ll be glad to see you, and I’m sure you’ll find a man you like within a day.”  Consoled by these last words, the Duchess dies.
        An hour later, they can all relax as they stride on; they’re well beyond pursuit.  The Wizard’s lowered by his Megagirl down to the Road, so that he can confer with Princess Kalia, and Timonar, and, last, but certainly in no way least, Humberto, leader of the Mexicans.  “We made it,” Asmuran observes; “I mean, we mostly did; I’m sorry, Timonar.”
        “She fought heroically,” says Timonar.  “When people ten millennia from now speak of the Valiant Remnant and its deeds, the Duchess will receive the highest praise.”
        “No doubt,” Humberto says.  “Ernesto, too.  An Urg got lucky, piked him in the face.  We’ll bury him tonight beside the Road.”
        “They’ll speak of him as well,” says Kalia.  “The Valiant Remnant much appreciates the help you Mexicans have given it.”
        “Oh, we’re not members of the Remnant then, we’re just auxiliaries?” Humberto asks.
        “I thought the label just referred to us,” says Timonar, “the Elves who stayed within the boundaries of the city when the rest fled Elfpark for the Highlands, but I guess we can expand it to include you guys.”
        “That’s right; we’re all the Valiant Remnant now,” says Princess Kalia defiantly.
        “You think the label will impress the Dwarfs?” Humberto chuckles, shaking his round head.
        “I doubt it,” says the Wizard, “but it’s fun.”
        The members of the Valiant Remnant stride on somberly, remembering their dead, toward Dwarfenberg.  The walk will take six days.

        The Lord of Horror and the Mastermind ride into Thoranc, followed by their staff of grimly competent, gaunt Managers, and bustling, plumper, broad-faced Technicals.
        “You see, you foolish intellectual,” says Gothrom; “we should have destroyed them all instead of giving them a chance to run.  I’ll never listen to your talk again; it only holds me back.  Instead, I’ll trust my own momentum and accelerate toward total domination of the world, annihilating every obstacle.  You’d better get behind me, Mastermind; if you impede me with your doubtful thoughts and mumblings after this, you’ll grovel in humiliation – if I let you live.”
        “In this case, yes, you turned out to be right, but I still think that it was worth the risk; our long-range plans require prisoners, as many of them, of all different kinds, as possible, for our experiments.”
        “When we’ve completely crushed our enemies then we can talk about experiments.”
        “We’ll crush them, Horror-Lord, but I’m afraid that it will be a bit more difficult than we’d expected, and I’d recommend that we remain at Elfpark and prepare for several months before continuing to Dwarfenberg to strike our final blow.”
        “What?  I’m the Lord of Horror.  I don’t wait.  I always forge ahead and get it done!”
        “Yes, Horror-Lord, but we’ve lost half our Trolls, and half our Gobbins, now, and, even worse, we’ve lost more than a quarter of our Urgs.  The Dwarfs are tough – much tougher than the Elves – and we won’t just be facing Dwarfs out there; the Elves that fled here will be joining them, along with those enormous metal men and Mexicans in strength-enhancing suits that made things much more difficult for us than we’d expected – but you never know what you’ll encounter.  That’s the way it is.  Expect the unexpected; change your plans accordingly, as challenges arise.  Let’s stay in this location for a year; by then, enough new Trolls and Gobbins will have been produced back home in Sinister to compensate for half our losses here, and that spring’s graduating class of Urgs, ten thousand of them, will be joining us as well.  But even more importantly, we’ll have the time we need to figure out how Asmuran made strength-enhancing suits and giant metal humanoids, and how this interesting equipment operates.  I’ll have my Technicals get right to work examining the man’s machinery, and we’ll deduce the basic principles without much trouble.  Once we’ve figured out how he produced his stuff we’ll do it too, but in a much more Horrifying way.  Forget about big metal humanoids; we’ll make enormous metal mantises, a couple of them, several times the size of Asmuran’s creations, one of them for you, of course, the other one for me.  We’ll make yours bigger, and more Horrible.  We’ll make a hundred strength-enhancing suits for Trolls to wear – a Troll in such a suit might be so strong that it would be a match for one of those enormous metal men.  Moreover, we’ll be operating on our Elven prisoners.  We’ll alter them; we’ll turn them into Horror-Elves.  They’ll fight with all of the agility and speed that Elves possess, but with the frenzied rage of Gobbins, and the discipline of Urgs.
        “Well, Mastermind, get busy; by the time you get your little projects underway the Dwarfs will have been totally destroyed, and while you’re busy building giant bugs and strength-enhancing armor for our Trolls I’ll hunt the Bearmen and the Treemen down and kill them if they don’t submit to me.  You keep your Molemen and your Technicals; in fact, you keep your Managers as well.  I don’t need any of your geeky clones.  My force of will alone will be enough to make the Trolls and Gobbins follow me and launch themselves at any enemy that I point out to them.  The Urgs of course don’t need your Managers in any case.  The Host heads east at sunrise, Mastermind.  Enjoy your tinkering while we’re away.”
        Although the Lord of Horror, as you know, is just a living three-dimensional cartoon of Nausor as the Mastermind has sometimes been at moments when’s he caught up in a very power-hungry mood and has, throughout the century leading up to this campaign, been more or less a tool, a puppet that the Mastermind has used to organize his forces for the task of Horrifying the entire Realm and then the planet and the universe, still, Nausor is, despite himself, in awe of Gothrom, and perhaps in love with him; the Mastermind has always felt an urge to kneel with lowered head and upturned palms before him, as though Gothrom really were the Lord of Horror, not just Horror’s tool.  But now resentment surges suddenly within him, and the possibility of grasping Gothrom, subjugating him, containing him, assimilating him – a possibility that he had glimpsed as they left Sinister on April 1rst, you may recall – lights up before him now.  (It lights up with a lurid purple glare.)  The image of a hypertrophied self, tremendously empowered, shining from the far end of a long, dark corridor, invites yet frightens him.  Would that bright self bear his identity, continuous with him as he is now, or must he be annihilated to initiate this entity that would still bear his name?  Would it be him, or would he be replaced?
        “But Horror-Lord, these Urgs are tired out; they really need to have a little rest, a chance for their morale to be revived.  Don’t think I’m being sentimental here; it’s simple human-resource-management.  Let’s let them celebrate their victory with heavy feasting.  Let them barbecue the Gobbin-corpses that have piled up around the walls of Disengar and eat their fill of Gobbin-flesh for several weeks with bits of spitted Elf-meat for desert, until their strength returns and their morale is once more at a level that ensures their utmost effort and efficiency.”  He’s thinking that if Gothrom gives the Urgs these several weeks, then in that time perhaps he can convince the Horror-Lord to wait at Elfpark for a year, as he has urged.
        “I’m utterly indifferent to their needs,” Lord Gothrom hisses; “I’m what matters here – my Horribly amazing destiny.”
        “Lord Gothrom, I’m afraid our present Host just isn’t strong enough to beat the Dwarfs, considering how much it’s been reduced.  Five hundred Trolls remain, and there are just a hundred thousand Gobbins with us now, and only eighty thousand Urgs are left.  With fifty thousand Dwarfs, the Wizard’s stuff, and several thousand Elves confronting you, I don’t think victory’s at all assured.”
        “You sniveling defeatist!  Don’t you know that even if they wipe out my whole Host I’ll still prevail?  I’ll kill them all myself with this right arm of mine, when it becomes a Whip of Horror, as I killed that Prince and fifty other Elves right after him.”
        “I’m sorry, Horror-Lord; that’s not correct.  You didn’t kill those fifty other Elves, as I told you before; you couldn’t have, because the shadow-stuff of which you’re made can’t interact with ordinary things.  The Prince was an exception – that’s because he bore that Joyful Sword, which rendered him accessible to you, allowing you to kill him with your Whip-arm; otherwise you couldn’t have done anything to him.”
        “Do you imply, then, that I’m powerless?  Look how you cringe!  If what you say is true, you wouldn’t be so terrified of me!”
        “I only said that you can’t interact in any physical capacity with normal objects; psychologically your influence is overwhelming, Lord, at least on those, like me, who follow you.  I’m guessing that you’d have less influence on those opposing you, although I’m sure they'd much prefer it if you weren’t around.”
        “We’ll see about that, little Mastermind,” the Lord of Horror hisses, towering and arching over Nausor; his contempt and anger flow down in an inky wave that forces Nausor, trembling, to his knees.  “I’ll test your claim when I array my Host before Dwarf Mountain; I’ll be out in front to demonstrate that what you’re telling me is just a jealous lie; I’ll kill them all before my minions even have a chance to get involved; I’ll do it all myself.  I feel my power, feel the Energy of Horror concentrated in my Will.  When I return, perhaps you’ll feel it too.”
        The Mastermind, still trembling on his knees, again feels that resentment surge in him, and that bright vision of a future self encompassing Lord Gothrom’s energy within itself – and once again he asks, Would that be me? but this time he replies to his own question by rejecting it: Perhaps it wouldn’t be, but I don’t care.  He thinks, you’ve gone too far now, Gothrom, dear; you won’t humiliate me anymore, and all your power’s going to be mine.
        He says, “You’re right, Lord Gothrom; I am wrong; I see my error now.  Yes, you go on to Dwarfenberg while I stay here and work on my small projects with my little clones.  We’d only be a nuisance if we came; you’re capable of conquering the Realm all by yourself, and if you take the Host you do so just to make your victory more Horrible for everyone concerned.  But since we know that you can do it all without assistance, Lord of Horror, please just leave a hundred Trolls at Disengar, and twenty thousand Urgs, to keep us safe in case someone attacks us while you’re gone.”
        “I’ll grant you this,” the Lord of Horror sneers, and turns and swooshes off across the yard to tell the Urgish officers and Trolls and Gobbins that the Host, or most of it, is heading on to Dwarfenberg at dawn.