Chapter Nine: Emperor

        The Lord of Horror rushes down the Road so quickly that it takes him just a day to get to Elfpark.  Now, at evening-time on April twenty-fifth, Lord Gothrom strides beneath the city’s ruined palaces toward Disengar.  He passes burning heaps of Urgish bodies gathered from the spots where they fell when the Barons brought their Elves down from the Highlands yesterday – the raid that drove the Urgs back into Disengar while Gothrom’s Host was being massacred at Dwarfenberg; unfortunately, though (unfortunately for the side of Joy), the Barons’ Elves, as you perhaps recall, were forced out of their city once again because the Horror-stench at Disengar disgusted them so much they couldn’t stay.  Lord Gothrom passes through the eastern gate of Disengar; it’s open to permit the passage of supplies and messengers in both directions.  Urgish sentinels step back and bow as Gothrom sweeps on in with lifted shadow-hand, majestically receiving their display of reverence, of humble and whole-hearted loyalty.
        Within the gate he stops, and spreads his arms to either side of him, like giant wings of dense, dark vapor, and his roaring hiss erupts throughout the compound: “Mastermind, get down here right away and face my wrath!”
        He waits there as if frozen, arms outspread – well, not quite frozen, since he seems to pulse, expanding and contracting, out and in, by several inches, like a beating heart, a slowly beating heart, although the man has got no heart, or brain, or pancreas, or any other organ, being made of ectoplasm drawn from Nausor’s will.  A minute passes, then another one.  The Urgs who pass along the wall slow down and loiter, wondering what’s going on.  Lord Gothrom’s roaring hiss again erupts: “Get down here, Mastermind!  Don’t make me wait!”  Another minute … two more minutes pass; the Horror-Lord still stands there, arms outspread.  Again he hisses: “Come and face my wrath!”
        At last the great door at the Tower’s base swings open, and the Mastermind steps out.  Approaching Gothrom with a shuffling gait and cringing posture, head tipped to one side, his hands held up defensively, he croaks, “Forgive me for the slight delay, Lord G;  I wanted to make sure that everything was ready for you, now that you’ve returned.”
        The end of Gothrom’s shadowy right arm flicks back, extending outwards, and becomes the Whip of Horror, hovering aloft, then rushing down upon the Mastermind; it strikes his shoulder, penetrating it and passing downward through his abdomen.  The Mastermind falls face-down on the ground, full-length, with outspread arms and clutching hands, and moans – although his pain’s not physical, he’s feels an agony that’s even worse than any fleshly torment.  (Oh, what crap; who wouldn’t rather feel intense despair, humiliation, and the sort of rage that eats away one’s psyche from within than suffer from a hangnail or stubbed toe, or migraine or sore throat or stomach pains?)  He feels as though he’s falling through a void that loathes him as you loathe a silverfish (a very loathsome sort of arthropod) that skitters on your hand – you shake it off and loathe it as it slips down to the floor.  And yet the thought that, moments earlier, had lit up Nausor’s mind and made him gloat as he was readying himself to step out through the door to greet the Horror-Lord returns, a whisper that originates from light-years off, but is still somehow his – This ends today.  And, lying in the dust he smiles slightly. Yes, this ends today.
        He hears Lord Gothrom hissing down at him: “You thought you could control me, didn’t you?  That’s why you held the power back from me – the power to destroy these animals of living flesh and gooey gelatin.  You wanted me dependent on your schemes, your mutant creatures and experiments.  I was intending to destroy your mind if not your body, but on second thought I’ll give you one more chance – if you yield up the power that I need, confer it now, deliver it to me without delay, then I might let you keep your sanity.”
        An idle threat, thinks Nausor, since of course there is no will without intelligence.  “You’ll have it, Lord,” he says.  “May I arise?  I’ll take you to the chamber at the top of Thoranc where I’ve set up all the gear that we will need in order to achieve the radical empowerment you want.”
        “Arise, then, Mastermind, and lead me there.”  The Mastermind gets slowly to his feet and leads the Lord of Horror through the door.  They ride the escalator to the top or nearly to the top – the highest floor but one, below the observation deck, from which both Sinister and Dwarfenberg are visible through crystal windowpanes.  A throne stands at the round room’s northern curve, in front of it a rack supporting spheres connected by a maze of hollow tubes – transparent spheres and conduits that hold a seething, swirling urine-yellow gas.  A web of cables weaves among the tubes, with knobs and switches studding all of it; thin hoses join this system to the throne, above which bends a funnel-shaped device, its open end turned down, resembling old-fashioned dryers in a hair-salon.  (These scared me in the nineteen-seventies when I saw women’s heads enclosed in them beyond a plate-glass window, walking by on my way downtown to the library or somewhere with my mother – Horrible!)   A pair of silver gloves rests on a tube; long wires lead out of their fingertips, connecting with the largest of the bulbs.  The throne resembles heaps of severed heads in leaping flames, with serpents weaving through their eyeholes, gaping mouths, and ragged necks.
        “Sit there, Lord, and I’ll give you everything that you desire; you will have the strength to injure bodies and destroy their lives.”
        “Be quick about it,” says the Horror-Lord and sits upon the throne, his shadow-head mere inches from the funnel-like device.
        “Of course, Lord G,” the Mastermind replies, and flips a switch.  The funnel’s open end descends and covers Gothrom’s upper head, his deep magenta eyes still visible.  The Mastermind flips switches here and there, turns several knobs, then flips another switch; he pulls the silver gloves onto his hands and pushes on a pedal with his foot.  The glowing yellow gas begins to churn within the tubes and bulbs containing it; its churning rapidly intensifies.  Long blackish-purple zigzag-lightning-threads of Gothrom’s Life-Force leap out of his face and all the rest of what is visible, below the funnel, of his head and neck and shoulders, bending upward, entering the funnel, which is also sucking in (presumably) the threads that we can’t see, the ones that leap out of his upper head.  Dark purple flecks shoot through the yellow gas from his direction, speeding through the tubes in constantly increasing multitudes.  He vibrates, arching back against the throne; his shadow-hands (the Whip retracted) grip the arm-rests, and he hisses Horribly.  His contours warp; he’s whipping back and forth and thinning as he does so, and his face is rushing upwards; first his eyes are gone, and then his shoulders, and he’s lost his form – Lord Gothrom’s like a long dark purple veil that whips and flaps, convulsing randomly as it’s sucked through a vacuum cleaner’s mouth.
        The Mastermind’s gloved hands convulse and rise before him, and they start to bloat and grow, becoming disproportionately large; his head’s thrown back; he cackles, goggle-eyed (his eyes are reddening); his wrists expand, and then his forearms, then his upper arms.  The Horror-Lord is just a ribbon now, and then a long black thread that whips around as its end leaves the floor and climbs the throne.  The Mastermind’s expansion now includes his shoulders, now his upper abdomen – his grayish-purple skin is darkening, becoming eggplant-purple, and his eyes and lips turn deep magenta, as the eyes of Gothrom had been, much more lustrous than his own had been just minutes earlier.  The Mastermind’s black robe disintegrates around a gooey flesh whose surfaces start hardening into a solid crust that’s webbed with fissures where it oozes out.  The skirt of tendrils hanging from his waist to well below his knees (which Wizards’ robes are meant to cover) pulls back into him; its substance, redistributed, becomes a massive pubic bulge – not penis-shaped, but indeterminately masculine.
        The Horror-Lord is gone.  The Mastermind completes his transformation – now he stands twelve feet in height – a foot of this the cone that indicates his Wizard-origin.  But he’s outgrown that title, “Mastermind”, and he’s apparently outgrown his name as well.  He thunders, “I’m Nausgothromor, the Emperor of Horror!” holding high both clutching hands – the silver gloves he’d worn are gone; at some point they must have dissolved.  The tubes and bulbs are empty; all the gas that churned within them fills Nausgothromor along with Gothrom’s substance, and the stuff that once was Nausor, Horror’s Mastermind.
        He stands there motionless, and contemplates his transformation; Nausor’s memories and Gothrom’s independent memories extend behind him as a dual past that fuses into one beyond the point at which the Lord of Horror’s life began within the Lower Depths of Sinister – the pseudo-life of someone semi-real, a quasi-person who was always just the spectral half-embodied image of the Mastermind’s own power-drive, its strength dependent on its isolation from the intellect that might have guided it to total victory at Dwarfenberg a year or two from now.  Horroria produced it as an instrument for his employment on behalf of her own growth; it will be much more useful to him now that he contains this dangerous instrument within himself – now that it’s overlaid upon the source from which it was derived, his own intelligently guided and restrained, yet nonetheless well-nourished will to power.  Now its charismatic force will be at his disposal instantly while subject to his rational control.
        He feels the presence of Horroria as though he’s there in Sinister with her; she’s pushing at him, and he’s pushing back.  He feels her wish to spread her tentacles throughout the Realm and then throughout the World; this goal is not attractive to him now.  There’s something else that he would like to do.  What is it?  He gropes blindly in the depths of his own being for the feel of it.  A tower reaching twenty miles high?  But that was Gothrom’s private fantasy – a tower in whose apex he would dwell, enthroned, and scan the surface of the Earth and indicate the victims to be brought before him, and spread-eagled on the floor, where they would writhe beneath his Horror-Whip … a foolish fantasy, inferior to hers … and yet it might contain the germ of some strange, beautifully Horrific thought … suppose this tower grew out of his flesh; suppose his neural network were its brain, and it extruded branching tentacles of his own substance!  He laughs Horribly and suddenly emerges from his dream.  The room is full of light.  The night has passed; it’s now the morning of the twenty-sixth.
        “Commanders, Project Leaders, come to me!” he thunders through a funnel that conveys his voice down to the lower offices and laboratories, and the yard outside. Two minutes pass; the escalator creaks.  Three lean-faced, high-coned Managers emerge, and, after them, four wide-faced Technicals with rounded, shorter cones atop their heads but likewise grayish-purple-skinned, as was the Mastermind before he was transformed, and wearing long black robes just like the one he’d worn before his metamorphosis.  They gaze up at him in astonishment.
        “Yes, I’ve grown larger, children, haven’t I?”  The Emperor’s voice rumbles like the sound of distant thunder, very different now from Nausor’s croak or Gothrom’s crackling hiss.
        “I thought that it was you, Dad,” Snarl says.  “What’s happened to you, though?  You’ve changed so much.  I almost thought you were the Horror-Lord.”
        “The Lord of Horror lives within me now.  You knew that he’d returned from Dwarfenberg?  That’s right; the Horror-Lord came back to us last night, and I … well, I ingested him.”
        “You’ve taken on some of his qualities,” says Kurdle.  “Are you sure you’re still our Dad?”
        “I am, more than I ever was before, for while I’ve taken in the Horror-Lord, assimilating him as part of me, enormous quantities of purified and concentrated Horror-Energy are also in the mix that constitutes my being.  I’m a Horrible new thing, the Emperor of Horror, and my name will Horrify the partisans of Joy: I am NAUSGOTHROMOR!”  His arms fly up to either side of him, and both of them elongate as the fingers of each hand merge into one another; they become a matching pair of twenty-foot-long Whips, not shadowy, as was Lord Gothrom’s Whip, but of an eggplant-purple gelatin as dense as rubber – solid, heavy stuff.  He whirls his pair of Whips in spirals through the space between the ceiling and his head as movie-cowboys whirl their loops of rope, and yet these Whips are anaconda-thick.  He grins – a purple crescent in which swirls of Horror-Energy condensed to mist drift randomly – and then retracts the Whips so that they once again become long arms, proportional to his impressive height.  “But you can call me ‘Dad’.  I won’t complain.”
        “You’ve put Lord Gothrom’s name inside of yours,” says Vile, somewhat anxiously.  “Does this imply that you’re more Dad than Horror-Lord?”
        “Yes, Vile.  My subjective consciousness flows out of Nausor’s own without a break; his past, my present are continuous.  As you surmise, I’ve taken this new name, ‘Nausgothromor’, and not ‘Gothnausorrom’, because although the Horror-Lord lives on within my psyche, I remain myself.”
        “In what way does he live within you now?”  Commander Kurdle asks.  “Does he retain a separate consciousness?  He’s trapped within your body looking through your eyes at us?”
        “Oh, no; his consciousness was thoroughly dissolved in mine when I ingested him.  Its power-craving energy has now been added to my own.  But here’s the twist:  Since Horror-Energy suffused him as I sucked him in, my will to dominate and will to Horrify the universe have been combined; this dual will is now directed toward an image of myself as living axis of the Horribly transfigured world that we’ve been striving for.  Since this self-image is the image of a Gothrom whose unlimited command is situated meaningfully within the splendid Horror-system, one can say that Gothrom lives within me as my main idea, as my motivating thought.”
        “You’re not just much more awesome than you were before,” says Kurdle.  “You’re more awesome than the Lord of Horror ever was as well.”
        “Yes, I’ve acquired Gothrom’s confidence without surrendering my intellect, and in the process I acquired lots and lots of extra Horror-Energy that I’ve converted into power-soaked dense flesh.  He’s better off as part of me.  His memories aren’t lost; I have them all.  I can remember everything he’s seen from his perspective – even all his rage at me; he felt inferior to me, and therefore hated me throughout the time that I felt so inferior to him!  The only thoughts that ever came to him were blurred, distorted images of mine.  He knew he was as stupid as a Troll, and that’s why he resented me so much.  He only had his power; when he found that this was merely psychological and he could do no damage with his Whip to beings in whom Joy predominates, his fury made him easy to ingest.  Now I can do the things he couldn’t do, and he, in me, can do them, in a way, so when I told him I’d empower him I told the truth; I have empowered him.”
        “Perhaps not in a way that he’d prefer,” Commander Snarl says, “but that’s okay.  We didn’t really like him very much.  What happened to the army that he brought to Dwarfenberg with him?  Was it destroyed?”
        “Yes, utterly, and now it’s possible that its destroyers will be coming here not long from now, believing it will be an easy matter to obliterate the forces that await them in this place, which are a fraction of the size of those that they demolished in a single day.  Now, even if they started heading here this morning (which I don’t believe they did) they wouldn’t get here for at least nine days, assuming they’re progressing at the speed of Dwarfs, who walk as slowly as our Urgs.  The Elves and Megagirls, as they are called in all the blueprints we’ve been studying, might get here much more quickly, if they choose to speed ahead.  As we found yesterday, the Elves will not be able to abide the Horror-fumes we’ve been emitting here – we saw the way they screwed their noses up and turned their faces; some were vomiting – so they won’t be a problem if they come ahead of schedule.  Now, the Megagirls might challenge us, but if it comes to that, don’t be concerned; I’ll deal with them myself.  It seems unlikely that they’d speed ahead; our enemies, if they arrive at all, are going to arrive as one large force in my opinion.  This will give you time to bring your projects to completion here so that you will be powerful enough to wipe them out yourselves, without my help.  Director Poxin, can our Power-Trolls be operational a week from now?” 
        The Technical’s big head nods up and down.
        “I’m glad,” the Emperor of Horror says.  “I know it’s not an easy thing to do, producing twenty-five of those big suits, and stapling their segments to the Trolls that you’ve got strapped to tables in your labs; moreover, wiring their circuitry into the nervous systems of the Trolls will be a tricky process.  I rely upon your expertise and competence.  The Mantis will be even trickier.  Can you complete the thing within a week, Director Moxin?  Yes, I know the work is complicated, and the scale of it a little overwhelming, but the Bug is basically assembled in your lab; once you affix its exoskeleton it’s done.  A great achievement – think of it, the body-parts of seventy-five Trolls, the rest of those that Gothrom left with us, used as components to construct this thing, this giant predatory arthropod encased within an exoskeleton that is essentially a power-suit fused to its flesh, and, bolted to its head a cockpit where a Manager will sit and pull the levers that control its moods! You think that you can have it done by then?  Fantastic; I believe this Bug alone can beat the Megagirls, and certainly with the assistance of the Power-Trolls we won’t have any difficulty there.  In fact, the Mantis and the Power-Trolls can probably obliterate the enemy entirely, including all the Dwarves and Elves along with Asmuran’s machines.  But since you never know what Dwarfs will do, and only eighteen thousand Urgs remain at our disposal following the bit of nastiness we had to deal with here two days ago, when Elvish visitors came unexpectedly and misbehaved, conducting themselves in a very rude, ungrateful way, it’s fortunate for us that we will have Director Toxin’s drug available in massive quantities within a week as well – am I correct in taking this to be the case?  I am?  That’s wonderful, son.  Thank you; you’re the best.  It’s funny, isn’t it, the way a drug can turn the Molemen into warriors – not just quadrupling their strength and speed but also filling them with battle-rage for thirteen hours; they’ll fight all day long if necessary, and the antidote will change them right back into laborers as soon as it’s administered to them.  They’ll be more formidable than our Urgs, although devoid of Urgish discipline.  The fifty thousand of them still alive are going to be numerous enough to overcome the Dwarfs all by themselves.  Too bad five thousand of them had to die in your experiments, but so it goes.”  Director Toxin chortles, snuffling.
        The Emperor continues, “That leaves you, Director Voxin.  Will the Horror-Elves be operational a week from now, their fangs and claws implanted, furious at how they were supposedly betrayed by their own kind?  Those mind-control-techniques that you’ve developed are remarkable!  You’ll have them ready?  That’s incredible.  I’m really glad.  You boys are just superb.  So, we’ll be ready if the Host of Joy, if I might call them that, decides to come and fight us here.  Of course, they may not come; they may decide to bide their time out there at Dwarfenberg. It’s even possible that they’ll want to negotiate with us.  But they may come, and may come quickly, so I’m glad we’re going to be well-prepared if that’s what happens.  Now, then, how about the Management of operations here?  Commander Kurdle, would you like to be the one inside the cockpit of the Bug, controlling it by governing its moods?  You’ll pilot it?  I thought so.  Good, I’m glad.  Commander Vile, you will supervise the Molemen, Power-Trolls, and Horror-Elves; assign some lower-ranking Managers to each of these, and they’ll report to you.  Commander Snarl, you will oversee our operations on the battlefield; Commander Kurdle, piloting the Bug, and Vile, and the Urgish General, Zuggumpazug, will all report to you.  Although the Urgs are less important now, they’re still an asset, and their loyalty is touching, so please treat Zuggumpazug respectfully.  He’s not an idiot although he’s fairly stupid; he’s an Urg, so he can’t help it.  Be polite to him.”
        “Yes, Dad,” says Snarl.  “I appreciate this honor.  I will do my very best.”
        “I know you will.  And Horror shall prevail.  There isn’t any way for Joy to stand against the super-weapons we’ve devised.”
        “But Dad, there’s one thing that still worries me; you said that if the Megagirls arrive before these projects that we’re working on have been completed, you can take them on yourself.  Are you quite sure this is the case?  This was the Lord of Horror’s own belief about his power, but he was quite wrong as he discovered out at Dwarfenberg.  Not that I doubt you, since you’re different now and more impressive than you were before, but still, I’m not sure that we should rely …”
        “Don’t worry; did you see those Whips of mine?  They’re not mere shadows now.  I’ll demonstrate the power that is stored within my arms and my ability to generate explosive speed – I felt it from the start, as soon as I became what I am now – so that you see there isn’t any need for such anxiety.  Come with me, kids.”
        They ride the escalator down with him and follow him like ducklings as he strides through Thoranc’s door, and then across the yard and through the eastern gate of Disengar.  The Emperor of Horror walks up to a massive Tree and swinging high his arms elongates them; they stretch out into Whips which he sweeps toward the Tree from either side.  They sink about a foot into the trunk where they connect; as he withdraws the Whips and swings them up above his head again the Tree’s brown sap-like blood comes oozing out of these two wounds; they hear soft groans emerge from every portion of the Tree at once, before them and above them.  “There, you see?”  Nausgothromor says, smiling at them, continuing to spiral his long Whips above his head; “So much for strength; now, speed.”  He whirls like a tornado through the Trees, in complex figure-eights, while Whipping them.  The gouges multiply; the blows resound like drumbeats.  Finally, he comes to a stop and both of his extended Whips retract, becoming human-handed arms again.  A lot of Trees are groaning; these swift cuts were not as deep, but they were numerous, and many Trees have more than six of them inscribed upon their trunks.  From every cut the brown blood oozes in long sticky streaks.  “You see what I can do?  How can you doubt that I can single-handedly destroy all seven of the Wizard’s Megagirls?  Okay now, kids, it’s time to get to work.  Just do your best; that’s all I ask of you, and if, despite your efforts, it turns out that you can’t meet your deadline, and the things you’re working on aren’t ready in a week, don’t be alarmed.  I’m still your dear old Dad.  I’m not psychotic; I’m just Horrible.” 
        They gratefully assure the Emperor that they will do their best, and hurry off to their respective labs and offices.
        He sees Zuggumpazug, the General commanding all the Urgs at Disengar and Elfpark.  “Hey, Zuggumpazug!” he calls, “Come over here; I want to speak with you.”  Zuggumpazug approaches cautiously.  “Well, do you recognize me, General?”
        “Are you Lord Gothrom or the Mastermind?  Forgive me – I know you’re the Horror-Lord; I feel your awesomeness, but something’s strange about you.  I don’t mean the way you look – you’ve gotten bigger, and you seem to be more solid, but, beyond these things, you seem to be more … I don’t know … intelligent?”
        “That’s right; I’ve gotten smarter, General.  Last night, you see, I ate the Mastermind and now his clever mind belongs to me.  Since I am so much greater than I was, I have assumed another title now.  Don’t call me ‘Lord of Horror anymore; from this day forward, call me ‘Emperor’.  Instruct your men to call me this as well.  Know that I value you, Zuggumpazug.  I value every Urg who fights for me, but you especially.  When we have won this war against our Joyful enemies I will reward you with a leading role within the Horrible new scheme of things that will envelop the entire world.”
        “I’m honored, Emperor,” Zuggumpazug replies.  “I’ll make sure every single Urg in my command is ready to give up his life for you in battle instantly if that’s what you require.  I myself can think of nothing I would rather do than have my skull crushed by a Dwarfish fist if this contributes to your enterprise.”  The General salutes, and stomps one boot beside the other, straightening his back.
        “I like your attitude, Zuggumpazug.  Good day.”  The Emperor salutes him back, less stiffly, in a casual kind of way, and sweeps off to the tower, where he rides the escalator back up to the floor where last night’s metamorphosis occurred.  He sadly shakes his head, extends his Whips, and, swinging them, destroys Lord Gothrom’s throne.  This afternoon he’ll have the wreckage cleared, along with the equipment from last night.  He’ll have some Molemen build a table here, a long one, suitable for conferences, at which he will discuss important things with various selected Managers and Technicals, including those who’d been up here conversing with him earlier.  They’ll feel important, sitting in this room with Horror’s Emperor, Nausgothromor.  And, later on, when Horror’s victory has been assured, perhaps he will begin his final growth here in the very room where Gothrom, Lord of Horror, was absorbed by Nausor, Mastermind, who thus became what he, the Emperor, is presently.  He smiles, and ascends the spiral stairs that lead to Thoranc’s observation-deck.
        He rests one foot upon the parapet and gazes toward Dwarf Mountain, smiling as he imagines Horror’s enemies approaching Elfpark optimistically and then becoming suddenly alarmed when they discover what’s awaiting them -- the Mantis, Power-Trolls, and Horror-Elves, and fifty thousand Molemen high on drugs that make them fast and strong and furious, together with Zuggumpazug’s fine Urgs, and, more than all of these combined, himself, the Emperor of Horror, with his Whips.
        Then he looks to the west.  At Fuzzyville the Molemen digging underneath the rim of that encircling invertebrate are having trouble, for the creature’s roots branch downward through the soil everywhere beneath the village, reaching unknown depths, and root-tips burst in through the tunnel-walls and strangle Molemen as they do their work.  Urgs guard the Molemen, chopping up the roots as they writhe inward, groping angrily, and Urgs are getting killed down there as well.  So says Commander Creepus, in reports arriving daily; Creepus also notes that it would not be prudent to attempt to storm the place by means of Troll-borne ramps without a simultaneous assault launched through these tunnels, whose completion-date is estimated to be May fourteenth – delayed two weeks.  The ramp-attack must wait because the Thing defending Fuzzyville would easily defeat it, Creepus says, if not distracted by a second thrust launched simultaneously underground.  However, if the Thing is forced to deal with these two simultaneous attacks then it will probably be overwhelmed.  The Emperor thinks, What if Creepus fails?  Suppose it isn’t overwhelmed?  Oh well, in that case I’ll just go to Fuzzyville and deal with matters there all by myself.  I hope it’s possible to neutralize the creature there without destroying it; then we can tinker with its chemistry and alter it in interesting ways.  Of course, I could go now and get it done – I’d save a lot of Urgish lives that way – but how would Creepus feel if I did that?  Embarrassed.  Like a loser.  He would feel that I despised him, even if I kept on treating him as nicely as before.  So I’ll let him keep working on his task at his own pace, all by himself, and then if he succeeds, as I expect he will, despite all difficulties, he’ll feel great, and that’s the way I want my kids to feel.
        Then he extends his gaze to Sinister and, as he does, his vision of last night returns to him.  He sees it once again – that monstrous tower growing out of him.  He wonders – can Horroria, whose eyes on stalks atop the mountain scan the Realm, see him right now – see what he has become, and sense what’s going on inside his mind?  Perhaps.  Is she distressed?  It’s hard to say.  No doubt, if she can see that he has changed, she knows that she has lost control of him.  He’ll figure out a way to deal with her.  Horroria is very powerful, but he is so much more intelligent ….

        Eight days have passed; it’s almost noon, and time to see how well the projects he discussed with Poxin and the others have turned out.  The Treefolk fought the Trolls at Fuzzyville and were repelled by Gobbins earlier on this same morning, and Nausgothromor intuited the tremors of alarm that radiated from the Managers while Trolls were panicking and crushing Urgs as they fled inward from the forest’s edge.  However, since these tremors faded out, the Emperor’s concluded that the cause of this alarm has been successfully attended to; he’ll wait for the report that will arrive within the next few days.  (His transformation’s made him sensitive to the emotions of his progeny regardless of their distances from him; their inner being always grew from his without division, so that they remained continuous with their progenitor, but now he feels this continuity directly, although vaguely nonetheless, as you might imprecisely feel and know your half-numb foot’s position under you.)  The Mantis’s performance starts the show.  The panels covering the basement-space where Asmuran had kept his Megagirls on Thoranc’s southern side are slid apart.  The Mantis rears up through the opening and waves its long front arms high overhead; it snaps its pincers, making clacking-sounds.  Commander Kurdle, seated on its head within the cockpit that’s been bolted there, gives everyone below a thumbs-up sign to indicate that all is going well.  The creature’s head is swiveling about.  It glares down at the Molemen hurrying to join a line extending from the tent where Managers are going to dispense  the purple pills which, Toxin promises, will make infuriated warriors out of these plodding, docile laborers; it also glares down at the Power-Trolls who stand along the tower’s eastern curve and rock themselves autistically and grunt. The passing Managers glance up at it a little anxiously, but they’re quite safe because the circuitry that has been fused together with the endings of its nerves allows Commander Kurdle to assume complete control of all its mental states whenever he thinks he should intervene to redirect its focus and its moods.  Amazing what technology can do, reflects Nausgothromor – the muscles, bones, intestines, livers, kidneys, hearts, and brains of seventy-five vivisected Trolls have been assembled as this animal, a sixty-foot-tall mantis to whose skin long plates of metallurgium are fused – an exoskeleton that also serves as power-armor; cables join the plates and run through pipes converging on the cage atop its head, in which its pilot sits.  Those long front arms my Mantis raises up in front of it and holds above its head have got to be four times as powerful as that big rainbow-colored Megagirl’s, and their momentum, dropping from that height will make the impact of those pincer-hands so forceful, I don’t see how anything could possibly endure a blow like that.  I’m glad I didn’t merely imitate his own creation on a larger scale; instead, I took the Wizard’s clever tricks and used them in a way that demonstrates my own peculiar personality.
        The Mantis climbs up through the opening; it stands there for a moment in the yard, then, with an insect’s jerking, spastic gait moves toward the eastern entrance.  Squeezing through, it walks directly toward the wounded Tree in which the deepest gouges were inscribed – the first one that the Emperor’s Whips struck when he displayed his power to his sons; the saplike blood has clotted in the wounds.  The Mantis raises up its long front arms; its pincers close upon a heavy limb; it twists and scissors at it; CRACK! – the limb snaps off and crashes down upon the ground.  Brown blood spurts from the wound; the Tree’s deep groan is greeted with applause and throaty jeers from all the Managers and Technicals and Urgish officers who watch the show.
        The Emperor, who watches from the wall, his hand upon Commander Snarl’s head, waves at Commander Kurdle, signaling his satisfaction, and the Mantis turns, reenters Disengar, walks jerkily across the yard and lowers itself back down into its concealing basement-lair.  The panels slide back into place; they fit so perfectly, you wouldn’t notice them if you weren’t looking for the tiny slits that interrupt the courtyard’s smooth expanse. 
        And now the Power-Trolls – it’s time to see what they can do.  They lumber one by one out through the gate, controlled by Managers Commander Vile has assigned to them.  These Managers are standing on the wall with Vile, near the Emperor; they aim complex devices at the Power-Trolls.  Commander Vile has one of his own; if necessary, it will override the signals coming from the other ones.  The Power-Trolls divide into five groups, five Power-Trolls in each of these five groups, each group controlled by its own Manager.  Each group’s directed toward a separate Tree, surrounding it.  They raise their armored fists and punch and hammer at the trunks – five Trees assaulted from all sides.  The booming blows elicit groans and moaning of the sort that you’d expect to hear from anyone who’s being stomach-punched repeatedly.  Commander Vile says, “Okay, enough.”  The Managers withdraw their Power-Trolls, who lumber back in through the gate to stand against the tower, as they were before.  The Trees are bruised and dented all around the section of their trunks where blows have struck; brown blood is oozing from these areas and running down the ridges of their trunks.  Nausgothromor’s raised thumb makes Vile grin.
        And now the fifty Molemen who’ve received the drug – the ones who’d lined up in the yard – charge through the gate, and split up into groups.  Each group of ten heads toward a separate Tree.  The Tree torn by the Bug is left alone, as are those battered by the Power-Trolls; new Trees are going to be victimized.  Red ribbons have been tied around the trunks of Trees that they’ve been ordered to attack; the fact that they remain within their groups and head directly toward these very Trees according to instructions they received just after being medicated shows that they retain a vestige of the dim intelligence that they’d possessed before.  They’re wearing gloves whose fingers end in claws a foot in length, and they wear metal masks from which project a number of long spikes.  The Molemen furiously slash the Trees and little bits of them go flying off with every swipe; they lunge their heads at them and sink their spikes a quarter of an inch into their trunks; the poor, abused huge Trees continually moan.  Five Managers in padded suits go and administer the antidote – the Molemen, as I’ve said, obey the Managers although enraged, and so accept the antidote from them; with a minute, they have all relaxed, and walk back through the courtyard, somewhat dazed.
        A trapdoor opens; thirty Horror-Elves emerge, and shuffle in a circle-dance while howling and chanting strings of words that have no meaning, but are interspersed with “Horror, drink us!” every now and then.  Their shuffling accelerates; their heads, which have been slightly nodding, swing about from side to side; they start to thrash their arms and stomp their feet; they screech like angry cats.  Their skin is gray and webbed with purple veins, their irises magenta, set against a paler grayish-purple.  Thin gray fangs, an inch or more in length are visible when they peel back their lips; these grimaces are frequent, as they whip their heads about.  They have an upper and a lower pair; their mouths stretch open far enough to clamp around the throat of an antagonist.  Each fingernail’s a six-inch, curving blade.  A Manager who’s standing close to them shrieks out the word that activates them – “Scum!” – and he instructs them verbally – “Attack the Tree that’s growing closest to the gate!” while pointing that way with his glowing wand.  They hurtle in a crowd out through the gate and throw themselves upon the same poor Tree from which the Mantis has torn off a limb, but don’t assail the trunk; instead they climb like racing squirrels up into its limbs and slash and bite these, moving constantly from place to place.  The Tree is trembling, and drops of blood fly outward from its limbs.  The Manager, who stands beneath the Tree and watches them, at last shouts, “Assholes!  Stop!” – for these word have the same hypnotic force that “Scum!” had earlier – “Come down from there and go back to your basement-cells at once!”  The Horror-Elves comply; they all line up with lowered heads, their shoulders drooping down, and shuffle their way back in through the gate, and when they reach the trapdoor one by one they disappear from view as they descend.
        “Horrific, Snarl,” says the Emperor.
        “I’m glad you’re pleased,” Commander Snarl says.
        “I think we’ll call this army we’ve produced ‘the Hand of Horror’, or ‘the Horror-Hand’; the Mantis is its thumb, the Power-Trolls its index-finger, and the Molemen, drugged, its middle finger, while the Horror-Elves are its ring-finger, and, the Urgs, of course its pinky.  I will be the palm that slams down hard upon the fly-like Host of Joy.”
        “That’s perfect, Dad,” says Snarl, gazing up admiringly at the Emperor.
        There’s something nagging at the Emperor, however – where’s the weapon that was used against Lord Gothrom by Aletheon, that Sword with its retractable long blade of concentrated Joy?  It lies out there among the massive roots of Elfpark’s Trees.  Although he’s had the Molemen search for it, and told patrolling Urgs to scan the ground and, if they saw it, let him know at once, it hasn’t been recovered.  Probably it wouldn’t even be as potent now, if used against him, as it was before, when Gothrom’s Whip prevailed against the thing, but, still, it’s possible that in this form, he’s vulnerable to its Energy.  The fact that weeks have passed and still the Sword lies undiscovered somewhere indicates that Horror’s enemies don’t have much chance of finding it when they arrive, and yet the image of the Sword-hilt nestling beneath a Tree-root, waiting for the hand of some returning Elf-aristocrat disturbs him slightly.  Well, this worrying won’t do him any good.  He turns his thoughts away from that annoying implement, instead imagining the Horrible new Tower that will grow out of him here when he has utterly destroyed the Host that is intent upon destroying him – has taken its survivors prisoner and Horrified them in his basement labs.

        At midday on May twelfth, the Emperor of Horror stands upon the tower’s deck, a thousand feet above the yard, his gaze directed toward the west – toward Fuzzyville and, twice as far away, Mount Sinister. 
        As I’ve already noted, he can sense his children’s feelings.  Spatial distances don’t matter.  Thus, Nausgothromor could feel the agitation of his progeny at Fuzzyville when Trevor’s men attacked the Western Corp there on the third of May.  His intuition of their mental states has sharpened, clarifying steadily from day to day as he tries to discern their moods.  As exercise augments the strength of muscles, so his efforts have increased his sympathetic power.  He’s become quite sensitive to the emotional condition of each individual of both types – Technicals and Managers – including those within Mount Sinister as well as those besieging Fuzzyville and those right here with him in Disengar.
        He feels the irritation and concern of those at Fuzzyville, persisting since the morning after Trevor’s men attacked, and knows its cause, since messengers who tried to reach the village either disappeared or, managing to get away in time, returned, reporting that the Road was blocked by Treemen standing guard along the fringe of forest near the lane to Fuzzyville.  He senses that the mood at Sinister among the Managers is souring; they feel left out, and now, cut off from him entirely by that blockade, begin to feel abandoned there.  The Technicals were getting bored, until the formula for Moleman-battle-potion got to them and gave them something interesting to do.  (The messenger who carried it to them had stopped by Fuzzyville the very night the Treemen readied themselves to attack the Western Corps’ encampment, staying there until the morning; then he couldn’t leave until the Gobbins drove the Treemen back.  He rode away toward Sinister at noon; the Treemen hadn’t yet shut down the Road.  Of course, Nausgothromor has not received explicit information that the script reached Sinister, but since the Technicals are feeling more engaged there, he assumes that they’ve been working on the Moleman-drug.) 
        He hasn’t gone to Fuzzyville himself to open up the Road, because he thinks that Creepus would prefer to have the chance to carry out his long-planned-for attack on Fuzzyville without the Emperor in the vicinity inspecting him.  It’s scheduled to occur on May 14th, two days from now.  If this attack succeeds, then Creepus will be happy to receive the Emperor’s assistance, if need be, in sorting out affairs along the Road; the looming presence of Nausgothromor will not diminish the victorious Commander or humiliate him then.  Once this has been accomplished, he’ll proceed to Sinister and spend a little time with his neglected spawn there – he will see Commander Pestilence and all the rest of his somewhat disgruntled Managers in that location and let them all know how much he values everything they’ve done for him in Sinister while he’s been gone. 
        But what about the army he still thinks will be arriving here from Dwarfenberg?  When will it come?  He’s sent out Managers on Spyder-back, to wait beside the Road halfway to Boodletown; they’ll hurry back and tell him if they see the Host of Joy approaching from the east along the Road.  Should he stay here in Disengar and wait?  No – if the scouts he sent to Boodletown have not returned by May 14th (the date on which Commander Creepus plans to launch his big, conclusive strike at Fuzzyville) with word of its approach, then he’ll head west.  He thinks the forces here at Disengar can triumph on their own, without his help, if they’re assaulted while he is away – the five strong fingers of the Horror-Hand can certainly prevail without the palm.
        “Dad!” calls a voice behind the Emperor, “the scouts are back!  They saw the Host of Joy!”  He takes the spiral-escalator down and speaks with them; a day ago, at noon or thereabouts, they saw a distant mass of men and great machines approaching them from Dwarfenberg’s direction – they would guess some fifteen miles to the east of them.  As night falls, gazing eastward from the deck atop his tower, he can see the Host encamping on the Road.  His eyes are sharp – another power that the Emperor acquired through his metamorphosis.  He figures it will take the Host of Joy two days to make the thirty mile trip from where they are right now to Disengar.
        Next morning, as the Host of Joy resumes its westward march, he summons all the chiefs – not only Kurdle, Vile, Snarl, and Zuggumpazug, but lower-ranking men as well; he gathers them before him here upon the tower’s observation-deck so that they watch the Host of Joy’s approach as he addresses them.  “My friends,” he says, “you see that army coming from the east?  They mean to kill us all.  They’re full of hate for us and everything we care about.  They’re powerful.  You see those Megagirls?  Right now they look like tiny distant glints as they reflect the sunlight, but recall how dreadful those things were when they appeared in front of us about a month ago.  We don’t have lots of Trolls available to throw against them as we did before when they came out to meet us on the Road, and those are not the only big machines that we’ll be dealing with.  Can you make out those three dark oblong spots, each one of which is followed by a lot of marching Dwarfs in close formation?  Well, I know your eyes are not as sharp as mine, so trust me then when I tell you that those are new machines of some extremely lethal type, designed and manufactured by the Dwarfs, no doubt, to help those people slaughter all of us.  I point these things out not to frighten you but to impress upon you that the stakes for us are very high.  We must not lose, for if we lose, we die.  But if we win, a Horrible new Empire begins to spread from this location, Disengar.  Yes, Disengar, not Sinister, will be the center of the System in which you will dominate the rest of humankind while I guide your decisions watchfully.  Let’s win, then.  Yes, we certainly can win.  We must win, and, I emphasize to you, we will win.  Why?  Because our weaponry is Horrifyingly superior to theirs; so, too, our drug-crazed, mutant men will overwhelm the warriors of Joy – not even Dwarfs, as sturdy as they are, can stand against the onslaught they will face from medicated Molemen, Horror-Elves, and, yes, of course, your battle-hardened Urgs, Zuggumpazug, the pinky of our Hand.  You know our battle-plan, so I need not repeat it to you now; remember, too, that flexibility is everything.  I won’t be entering the fight myself unless I have to.  I would rather watch from up here, high above the battlefield as you accomplish all of it yourselves; then you will have the right to tell yourselves that it was your own doing; you will feel appropriately proud.  I love you all, and count on you.  Destroy the enemy!”
        The chiefs assembled there before him cheer, then follow one another through the hatch and ride the spiral escalator down.  They’re eager to attend to all the tasks awaiting them this afternoon, the things that must be put in place, the minor points that must be dealt with, if the Horror-Hand is to be tensed in readiness to grasp the Host of Joy and crush it to a pulp.

        The Grand Alliance (or the Host of Joy, depending on the point of view you take) arrives in early evening.  As arranged, the seven Megagirls, their engineers (or personal physicians, as the boys and Wizard might more fittingly be called, since Megagirls completely qualify as persons), and the thirty Mexicans in power-suits accompanying them proceed along the compound’s southern wall and take up stations to the west of it, about a hundred yards beyond the gate.  The Elves take up positions in the Trees of their old city that afford them views of what’s transpiring in Disengar.  The stench of Disengar oppresses them – the Horrible aroma that had forced the Barons’ Elves to leave a second time instead of laying siege to Disengar.  The odor’s not as overwhelming now, however, since it drew most of its strength from Nausor’s preparations for his change from Mastermind to Horror’s Emperor.  They can endure it for a day or two; within that time-frame, surely, Disengar will have been taken, and the Horror-stench will keep diminishing as it is purged of all the traces of its occupants.
        Judge Imlig and his staff are on a deck high in a Tree above the southern curve of Disengar’s surrounding wall, and Elves run messages and orders back and forth between the Judge and other officers.  The fifteen thousand Dwarfs surround the place along the Tree-line.  Their late-evening prayers are loud, and supplemented with long hymns and private supplications (interspersed where called for by the footnotes to the text they hold before them), supplications aimed at drawing in the Holy Awesome One’s protective power, fortifying them to withstand all assaults and massacre all of His Horrifying enemies.  When they are done, they sleep upon their sides, awakening each other now and then as they arise and stumble to the rear to urinate upon the trunks of Trees, which irritates the Elves above, who call, “Hey, that’s somebody’s home you’re pissing on!” to which the Dwarfs respond, “Go fuck yourself!”  The battle-tractors of all three brigades are parked before the compound’s eastern gate.  The Mexicans who don’t wear power-suits stay in the rear, distributed in groups behind the Dwarfish lines; a larger group is on the road behind the Megagirls.  They’ll tend the baggage-wagons and perform the tasks of medic, water-carrier, and snack-provider in the fight ahead.
        The Urgs patrol the wall.  The Horror-Elves are in a basement, hidden out of view.  The Molemen huddle in the passageways that lead to hidden trapdoors just beyond the compound’s wall; they try to get some sleep.  Their Managers are waiting there as well, at dosing-stations, trying to relax; they eye the many jars of purple pills they’ll be dispensing, and they speculate on when the order to proceed will come – at dawn or hours later, when the Dwarfs believe they’ve won, and, over-confident and very tired, can be overwhelmed?  The Mantis, in its basement-lair beneath the courtyard, belly-down upon the floor with folded long front pincer-handed arms, its four rear legs bent up above its back, is dreaming that it walks across a field of grass and wildflowers tall enough to reach its abdomen; it reaches down among the stalks and plucks up little men and eats them, one by one – an endless meal.  The Power-Trolls are squatting all around the base of Thoranc; they are visible to Imlig, looking down from his high perch and not yet ready to attempt some sleep.  Concerned, he climbs down from his Tree and goes to speak with Asmuran about this threat; he figures, rightly, that Wizard’s not yet settled down enough internally to enter into his nocturnal trance.  The Wizard tells him, “Yes, my Megagirl walked up there to the gate to have a look at what was going on inside the place and I observed those things.  Don’t worry, though, I’m pretty sure our seven Megagirls can take those armored Trolls out easily.”
        “Is this a calm conclusion that you’ve drawn from careful observation of the facts or an expression of exuberance and pride, which would be understandable but not particularly helpful now?”
        “I think I’m being calm and rational.  It’s startling how much agility the Megagirls have started to display; they move so smoothly, it’s incredible.  No doubt this is the natural consequence of such prolonged, repeated couplings of girl with Mega.  There’s a downside, though; the girls won’t separate from their machines.  They keep themselves plugged in; they won’t obey my orders to decouple anymore.  I don’t know if we could decouple them against their wishes without damaging their nervous systems.  Even if we could, would it be morally permissible to do so?  If each girl has fully merged with her machine, so that each pair’s become a single person just as you and I are lasting, single individuals, then wouldn’t our dividing them again against their will be like dividing you into a couple of successor-selves against your will?  That’s obviously wrong, so wouldn’t splitting them be just as wrong?  This isn’t just a mental game for me.  I liked those girls a lot, and Miyu … well, she gave me something that I’d never known I needed.  Yes, the Megagirl that now contains her makes a point of telling me that she loves me as much as Miyu did and tells me, ‘Call me “Rainbow”; that’s my name,’ but you can guess that it’s just not the same; I can’t exactly pin a Megagirl down on a bed and kiss and tickle her!  Forgive me, Judge; I know that your concerns are strictly military at this point.  Well, as I said, those power-suited Trolls won’t stop my girls.  We’ll tear them limb from limb.”
        “I hope so,” Imlig answers.  “We can talk about that other problem later on.  I’m not ignoring it, but, as you say, I have to think about the war right now, and with regard to that there’s one more thing I’d like to mention.  None of us has seen a single Gobbin here.   You’ve noticed their apparent absence, yes?  So, let’s assume that you won’t have to fend those creatures off as they attempt to climb your Megagirls.  Humberto’s power-suited Mexicans should therefore be positioned on the ground where they can move around, supporting you or striking elsewhere if they see a way to use their assets more productively.  That’s my advice.  Do you agree with me?”
        “Yes, and since now my Megagirls will fight more acrobatically, Humberto’s men might fall and hurt themselves in any case if we put them up in those little forts that they’ve been riding in.  They’ll stay below, but close at hand, in case we need their help.  You’ve taught me well; I try to keep in mind the possibility of unforeseen developments that might endanger us.  One really never knows how things will go.”
        “Exactly,” Imlig says.  “Well, Asmuran, goodnight.  Enjoy your trance.  Emerge refreshed and ready to destroy the enemy.”

        Not very many hours earlier, as afternoon morphs into evening-time, the Royal Army’s nearing Fuzzyville.  Three Treemen step out from behind huge oaks and loom above its leaders – Valorix and Busterax, the Wizards, Agathar, the Boodle-Father, little Sumiko, and Kenji.  Trevor says, “It’s Fladnag!  Hi!  I see you’ve brought a lot of friends with you to save your woman and the villagers.”  (As you’ll recall, the Treeman and his mate  had been residing not too far away from Fuzzyville for many, many years, and Fladnag had hiked up along the stream to visit them at least eleven times.)  “We Treemen have been here at least ten days; we hit the enemy extremely hard the first day, but their Gobbins drove us back, so since then we’ve been blocking off the Road and keeping watch and waiting for the Dwarfs to come and finish up what we began.”
        “That’s great!” begins the Wizard.  “Well, you see …” but he’s unable to complete his thought, as Busterax roars out, “Forget the Dwarfs!  This here is Valorix, the Northern King!  He’ll get the job done!  He has come here with his Royal Army to destroy the Host!  If you would like to be a part of it you’d better swear allegiance to him now!”
        “Hey, tone it down a bit there, Busterax,” says Valorix; “you’re coming on too strong.”
        “He’s cute,” says Trevor.  “His name’s ‘Busterax’?  So, Busterax, I must confess to you, I’m unfamiliar with the phrase you’ve used.  The ‘swearing of allegiance’, I assume, establishes some sort of bond between the swearer and the one to whom he swears allegiance, but what does this bond entail?”
        “It means that you do everything he says,” roars Busterax, “or pay the penalty!”
        “Ignore him,” says the King; “I’m Valorix; I lead an army made up of about five hundred Bearmen, fifteen thousand Elves, three hundred Boodles – this Head here’s their Dad – and these two Wizards, and this tricky girl and her poetic father.  We intend to utterly destroy the Horribles at Fuzzyville.  We would appreciate your help.  The three of you look fairly strong.”
        “You’d better help us!” Busterax declares.  “King Valorix is ordering you to!”
        “Shut up,” says Valorix, “and keep it shut.”
        “He calls you ‘King’,” says Trevor.  “Why is that?”
        “Because the man’s your King!” roars Busterax, “so you had better fucking listen up and follow orders!” – emphasizing this by thrusting his extended fingertip up toward the Treeman – not just pointing it, but jabbing it at Trevor as he shouts – “The King’s the guy who bosses you around, and if you don’t do everything he wants, he sends enforcers, and they bust your head!”
        The Treeman bends down over Busterax and stares into his eyes.  “Oh, is that so? And I suppose that you are one of these ‘enforcers’, as you call them?  Would you like to practice your enforcing?  Have your friend give me an order.  I will laugh at him, and then you’ll have an opportunity.”
        “Don’t make me knock you down, you gangly geek; you may be tall, but height’s not everything.”
        “Nice doggy!”  Trevor pats the Bearman’s head, and Busterax recoils, snarling, and rises on his hind legs, standing there with his front paws, or pawlike hands, held up and balled in front of him – a boxer’s stance.  He rocks and bounces, but does not advance; he growls, “Come on, Tree-freak, time for us to get it on; you want a piece of me?  Then come and get it!  Let’s go, Branchy-boy!”
        The two of them appear oblivious to Fladnag’s cries of “Hey, relax!  Chill out!” and Mooga’s admonitions: “Gentlemen, consider who you are and what you want.”  The King shouts, “Busterax, you crazy fuck, back off and let me handle this, okay?” but Valorix is laughing as he speaks, which probably diminishes the force of his attempt to rein the other in.  The other Bearmen have been spreading out around the confrontation.  Trevor’s friends stand poised in back of him, to either side; now one of them leans forward, tapping him, and says, “Come on, Trev, let’s just walk away; the three of us can’t take on all of them.”
        The Treeman lazily extends his hand, and Busterax falls backward, rights himself, and charges, but the Treeman’s other hand descends, and presses him against the ground – but obviously not with so much force that any injury is being done, except to Busterax’s self-esteem.  The Bearman’s limbs and head, extending out in five directions from beneath the hand, flail helplessly, his face turned to the side, distorted by his rage; he roars, “You punk, I’ll murder you!  I’ll tear you limb from limb!”  The Bearmen who are spread around the scene begin advancing with a throaty roar, but in a slow, deliberate sort of way that gives the Treemen time to back away if that’s what they decide they want to do – and space is left to them for exiting; they’re not encircled.  Trevor lifts his hand from Busterax, and, straightening, begins to take slow backward steps, as do his friends.
        The Dusty Wizard rushes forward: “Hey!  Hold on a minute, Trevor!  You and I should talk; I’m sure that if the two of us converse in private, we will easily resolve things in a way that will permit you Treemen and King Valorix’s force to fight as allies, and in fact become a single army that will certainly be able to destroy the enemy, which you found that you couldn’t do alone, and very possibly cannot be done by Valorix’s army on its own, without your help.  Let’s go and work this out.”
        “Come on, then,” Trevor says, “but I’d prefer to have these guys with me; that way they’ll know that I’m not working out some secret deal that they would rather not be party to.”
        “That’s fine,” says Fladnag.  “Hey, King Valorix, please keep your army here, especially the Bearmen, while I go and have a chat with these three fellows.  I won’t be gone long.”
        “Sure thing,” says Valorix. “You do your stuff and sort it out.  I want them on my team.  Don’t worry; Busterax won’t bother you.”
        And so the Dusty Wizard hurries off with Trevor and the other two, whose names are Travis and … “What’s that?  Oh, Atreus.  It’s very nice to meet you, Atreus.  Are Urm and Lula in the area?”
        “Yes, they’re off cuddling behind a bush about a mile to the west of us.  Okay, this little clearing here’s a good location for a chat.  What’s on your mind?”
        So Fladnag tells them why a monarchy would be a good idea, and what sort of monarchy’s intended – certainly not one that would at all impose itself upon the Treefolk in an irksome way.
        “I see why you would recommend this course,” says Trevor.  “Dwarfs are people who prefer to live beneath the surface of the Earth in little rooms connected by a maze of passageways, like bugs – or like the spawn of Sinister – the ‘Sinisterians’?  I wish there were a better name for them, encompassing the several different breeds of Horrid humanoids we’re dealing with.”
        “King Valorix came up with one I like – he calls them ‘Horribles’.  That’s pretty good, in my opinion, but I don’t believe that Dwarfs can really be compared to them.”
        “Of course the Dwarfs can be compared to them; they both inhabit hive-like complexes inside of mountains.  Sure, they’re not as bad as Horribles – good name; thanks, Valorix – since they presumably do not intend to totally obliterate the Way of Life that we’ve enjoyed here for so long, but living underground the way they do – it isn’t natural.  I don’t like the thought of having them inhabit Sinister, so near our Sacred Waters, even though I’d rather they be there than Horribles.”
        “Yes,” Travis says, “it kind of bothers me that there’d be Dwarfs inside of Sinister at work on all the Dwarfish stuff they do.  It wasn’t until very recently that Horribles began to bother us.  Two months ago, nobody would have known that there was anybody living there, but once the Dwarfs are there, you know they’ll make their presence obvious to everyone.”
        “Have either of you ever met a Dwarf?” the Dusty Wizard asks.  He’s wondering how anti-Dwarfish sentiment could have arisen here, so far from Dwarfenberg.
        “No,” Trevor says, “but all of us were told about the Dwarfish Problem back when we were little kids still rooted by the Lake – the Elders made sure we were well-informed about the Dwarfs and how they want to rule the Realm so subtly that no one knows they’re in control although they really are.”
        “It seems to me,” the Dusty Wizard says, “that if there has to be some sort of rule, then rule that no one’s even conscious of is pretty much the best rule possible.”
        “Well, we won’t let it happen,” Atreus declares defiantly.  “We won’t allow the Dwarfs to rule us or in any way restrict our liberty.  Live free or die, that’s what we say – the Treeman’s creed, right, Trev?
        “That’s right,” says Trevor, “which is why I think that recognizing Valorix as king might be a good idea – it will thwart unlimited expansion by the Dwarfs throughout the Realm, and thus help to preserve our liberty here in the Northwest Woods.  Well then, the Treefolk will convene tonight and talk about this kingship that’s proposed for Valorix; the men will vote on it.  If most of us vote ‘yes’, then Valorix becomes our king.  If most of us vote ‘no’, then he does not.  I’ll urge that we vote ‘yes’, and I expect the vote will go that way once they all understand our reasoning.”
        The Wizard says, “I’m glad that you support this sensitive political approach and that it’s going to be voted on by all your people, but perhaps you might delay that vote until tomorrow night.  Tonight, we should be focusing instead on battle-tactics – shouldn’t we attack the Horribles as soon as possible?  By “we”, I mean the combination of the Royal Army and your people, who can surely work together side-by-side to overcome the common enemy.  I can’t think of a better way to show your fellow Treemen that King Valorix is someone they can trust and even like than their own personal experience of working with him on the battlefield.  All this alliance needs is that you treat the man respectfully and call him ‘King’, especially in front of Busterax (the goon that tried to start a fight with you) and all the other Bearmen.  Valorix will understand that he has not yet been accepted by your people as their king, as will the other leaders; we’ll all know that this decision hasn’t yet been made.  Let’s let the ordinary Bearmen think that he’s become your king, though; this will make it easier for them to work with you.  It’s all about achieving victory.  A small concession.  Is that possible?” 
        The Treemen say, “Mm-hm,” “I think so,” “Yes.”
        “Alright, then,” Fladnag says, why don’t I go and get King Valorix and several of the other leaders – but not Busterax since he appears to be annoyed at you.  I’ll bring them here; then we can figure out a battle-plan together.  No?  What’s wrong?”
        “We’re hungry, that’s all,” Trevor says.  “We need some Ladytree-fruit soon and certainly before we meet these people; otherwise we won’t contribute much.  I’ll tell you what; we’ll meet you fellows back here in about a half an hour; if we aren’t there yet when you arrive, just wait around for us and we’ll show up.  It won’t be very long.”
        The Wizard hastens back to Valorix, and gives a full account of what was said.
        “Well, I’ll accept that temporarily,” says Valorix, “but I don’t want to keep my people in the dark for very long; I’ve always been upfront with them, so if the Treefolk don’t accept my monarchy tomorrow evening, after we have won the battle, they had better all disperse immediately.  Then I’ll tell my men that Treefolk are rebellious savages who will eventually – but not yet – have to be dealt with very forcefully.  I’ll say that they roam lawlessly about in portions of my kingdom – best ignored for now, but not forever.  I don’t know what else I can say – I can’t call myself ‘the Northern King’ without the Northwest Woods.  ‘Northeastern King’ perhaps, but that won’t be enough to constitute a counter-force against the growing power of the Dwarfs.”
        “That’s not a bad solution,” Fladnag says, “but let’s be optimistic; it appears quite possible they’ll say that you’re their king.”
        “My attitude is always positive,” says Valorix.  “Let’s round up Agathar and Mooga, and the other major guys that we want with us, and go have a chat with those three Treemen, so we can work out a battle-plan.  Should­ that guy come along?”
        He nods his shaggy head toward Busterax, who’s pounding thunderously at a tree a hundred feet away, to demonstrate his awesomeness to a surrounding crowd of Bearmen – this is what he’ll do to them, he says, if they get in his face again.
        “No, that might not be smart,” the Wizard says.
        The leaders of the Royal Army go to meet the Treemen; Mooga, in his jar, is brought there by the King, whose massive arms embrace the vessel, which must weigh at least a hundred pounds, together with its load.  The Treeman and his friends stride into view a half a minute after they arrive.  He’s brought the pair of Fuzzyvillagers along with him – they ride on either side of Trevor’s neck, upon his shoulders.  Urm shouts, “Hey there, Wizard, nice of you to come!” and Lula shouts down, “Time for all of us to rip these Horribles to bloody shreds!”
        “You see, King Valorix?” the Treeman says.  This name that you’ve devised to designate our enemies collectively is so appropriate that it’s now being used by everyone, including Lula here.  Our first encounter didn’t go so well, but that’s behind us, right?  King Valorix, I’m Trevor, and this savage female here upon my shoulder yelling down at you is Lula; you can’t touch her; she belongs to this guy, Urman; they’re old friends of mine.  This fellow’s Travis; that one’s Atreus.”
        The Bearmen introduces everyone on his side.  “So let’s make a battle-plan,” says Valorix.  “Your people have been here for quite a while, so we’d better start with what you know about the enemy – exactly what will we be dealing with?”
        The Treeman gives the Royal Army’s chiefs a summary – the numbers that they’ll face and how they are arranged.  The Gobbins now are on the outside, then within the mob of Gobbins are the Urgs, and furthest in, near Fuzzyville itself, the fifty Trolls who managed to survive the brief attack launched by the Treemen on the third of May.  “The Gobbins are the obstacle for us,” says Trevor; “they can climb us easily, and once they do they tear our branches off and stab our eyeballs with their fingernails.”
        “We Elves are Gobbin-killing specialists,” says Baron Agathar.  “The Urgs are tough, but we can help you with them later on.”
        “My man and I are Gobbin-killers too,” says Lula; “Urm and I killed lots of them when they were trying to get past the chest and upper back of our big buddy here; we rode around on him throughout the fight and even though we might have slowed him down when he was bashing Trolls initially, it paid off in the end for him, right Trev?”
        “Yes,” Trevor says; “I’m glad I had you both along with me that morning, and I hope that you’ll be fighting at my side again tomorrow morning.  I can count on that?”
        “Of course,” says Urman, “if by ‘at my side’ you mean the side of this big head of yours. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”
        “We’ll go right through the Gobbins and the Urgs and hit the Trolls behind them,” says the King.
        “Those Trolls are pretty big, King,” Trevor says.  “They’re probably at least four times your weight.”
        “So four of us at once will hit each one, and you’ll be right behind us.  Concentrate on taking out the Urgs while we take out the Trolls.  You fellows had your chance with them. It’s our turn now.  The Boodles can assist the Treemen with the Urgs, or they can help the Elves kill Gobbins.  Take no prisoners.”
        “The Gobbin-mob will be all over you,” says Trevor, “if you try to rush straight through.  We’ll have to neutralize those fuckers first.”
        “My Elves will deal with them,” says Agathar, “but it might take us hours.  Can you wait until we’re finished with them, Valorix?  If Trolls attack us while we’re killing them, then, certainly, we would appreciate assistance from your Bearmen; otherwise, you might as well relax and watch the fun.”
        “Yes,” says the Baroness, “tonight our Elves will spread out through the woods, surrounding them, and then tomorrow morning we’ll move in and kill them from all sides; they won’t escape.”
        “My children will embed themselves with you,” says Mooga; “they will have the special job of going in to pick up injured Elves and carrying them back out to the woods to rest and heal.  My Boodles’ strength and size will make this very easy work for them, and their Boodita-honed agility will help them fend off Gobbin-fangs and claws as they’re accomplishing this humble task.”
        “We thank you,” says the Baron, bowing low.
        “Okay,” says Valorix; “I’ll have my men spread out in groups of five – let’s play it safe – in back of you tonight; when you move in to kill the Gobbins, we’ll move up and watch, and when we see that most of them are dead we’ll rush the Urgs and punch a hole through them to get at all the Trolls behind their lines.”
        “Be careful,” Trevor says; “the Urgs are armed with long sharp things that they can stick you with.”
        “We call those ‘pikes’, the Dusty Wizard says.
        “They stand together,” Baron Agathar explains, “in close formation, with those pikes projecting outward.  It’s a spiky wall that’s hard to get through.  That’s what Kalia and Timonar were dealing with back there at Elfpark while we fought the Gobbin-mob.
        “Hmm, that might be a problem,” says the King.  “Hey, I know how to open up a hole through their formation – all we have to do is throw dead Gobbins at them.  That should work.”
        “That’s not a bad idea,” Mooga says, “but even if it works and you succeed in getting through their pike-wall to attack the Trolls, at that point they can turn around and stick you with their pikes.  Keep that in mind.”
        “Hmm,” says the King, reflecting.  “Can your Elves hold their attention, Baron Agathar?”
        “Sure,” Agathar replies.  “We’ll dance around in front of them, and look for openings.  We’ll rush at them, and stop just out of reach, and make them think that we’re about to throw our javelins at them at point-blank range.  Perhaps we’ll even throw some javelins to back the threat up; some of these will strike an Urgish eye or mouth.  Just move around behind their lines with caution, making sure you keep an eye on them while you kill Trolls, and look for any opportunities to kill an Urg, or two, or three, or four.”
        “And we’ll get there as soon as possible,” says Trevor.  “I wish we could get there first; then we could sweep a lot of them aside with kicks, and let you through, but that would mean you’d have to wait for us, and I don’t think  you want to do that.  See, the problem is, we have to eat the fruit our Ladytrees provide to us quite frequently, or else we get extremely hungry.  This rules out our leaving them behind in some safe place far from the action while we spend the night close to the clearing.  They can’t stay with us in close positions either, near the points from which we will emerge, since there’s the threat of Gobbins getting through the Elves to them, nor do we want to carry them around upon our shoulders as we often do to travel somewhere quickly or for fun, since, as we painfully discovered here when we attacked the Trolls ten days ago, the Gobbins climb us, and would reach the girls, who wouldn’t fight the fuckers off as well as Lula and her husband did last time.  Not only that, the ladies might get hurt if Trolls collide with us and knock us down, or they might just fall off; if that occurred, they might get stepped on by our own big feet before we scooped them up.  Our worrying about the safety of our women would diminish our effectiveness out there.  Our starting point will be a mile back; we’ll be divided up in companies of fifty, more or less – well, somewhat less, since several from each group will have to stay to guard the Ladytrees we leave behind – the ones most badly injured in the fight ten days ago, by Gobbins, will be those remaining in the rear to keep them safe.  When we hear Bearman roaring, then we’ll know that you’ve gone into action, and we’ll eat our final fruit as quickly as we can and rush to join you; it won’t take us long.”
        “We’ll massacre those fucking Horribles,” says Lula, as her claws slash through the air, which she then bites to emphasize her point.
        “Right, Sweetie,” Urman says; “We’ll punch their skulls in through their frontal lobes.”  He demonstrates – I’m glad that air’s insensitive to blows as well as bites and slashes; otherwise, it would be suffering a lot of pain.
        “My Bearmen will be out there killing Trolls when you arrive,” the King says; “We’ll make room for you among us if some Trolls remain for you to deal with; we won’t hog them all, but focus on the Urgs, please.  They should be your main concern.  As soon as you get through their pike-wall you can take them from behind, and that will keep them from annoying us.  I’ll warn my people to be courteous to yours out there upon the battlefield, especially my buddy Busterax – I’ll beat the message into his thick head.”
        “And what will I do?” Sumiko pipes up.
        “You’ll hide yourself until the fighting’s done,” booms Trevor.  “You’re a pretty little girl, and your priority is staying safe, just like our women.  You can stay with them and keep them company when we go out to fight.  Our Ladytrees are very nice and they can give you womanly advice about all kinds of things you may not be entirely familiar with as yet, such as the proper way to treat a man, and how to calm yourself when you’re upset.”
        “I’m not just small and pretty,” she replies; “I’m awesome also.  Watch!” and she performs a series of high somersaults and kicks; the last one leaves her hovering mid-air, some ten feet off the ground; a fireball explodes in front of her extended foot and she immediately disappears, then reappears with both feet firmly placed together on the ground, her arms held high, and bows just like a skating-finalist or gymnast who is absolutely sure that her display of talent will receive a perfect score of “ten” from every judge. 
        “You really are an awesome little girl,” says Trevor, “which is why we must make sure that you remain among the Ladytrees where you’ll be safe, while we men fight and die.”
        “That makes no sense at all,” says Sumiko; “if I’m an awesome fighter, I should be there with you fighting.  Ask the Baroness – don’t female Elves fight side by side with males?”
        “That’s right,” says Sophrosunia; “we do.”
        “You Elves are different,” says King Valorix.  “Elf-women don’t have children, so their sex is not an issue.  Plus, they get reborn, so no one minds that much if they get killed.”
        “He’s got a point there,” Dagastar observes.  “You’ve got a womb.  Your breasts are capable of making milk for babies.  Female Elves don’t lactate or have wombs, right, Baroness?”
        “Hmm … that’s right too,” says Sophrosunia.
        “See?” says the Treeman.  “And since you’re so fast and fierce and have such acrobatic skill, it’s reasonable for us to infer that you’d have sons and grandsons who would be tremendous fighters; if you die out there, then these descendants of yours won’t be born!”
        “You’re being such a jerk!” shouts Sumiko.
        “No, Sumi,” Kenji says; “that isn’t how nice girls speak to high-status grown-up men.”
        “Yeah, simmer down,” says Lula.  “You’re a kid.  Nobody takes you seriously here.”
        “Shut up, you furry brat!” shrieks Sumiko.
        “Yup, you deserved that, Lula,” Urman says.
        “Don’t make me bite your dick off,” she replies.
        “Excuse me,” Mooga says; “look, Sumiko, you’re on the edge of Booditana-hood and if you train and meditate tonight with great intensity, you may achieve this goal of yours before the morning comes.  At that point, who can tell you what to do?  You’ll be a Booditana; you will know what acts you must perform, and when, and how.  We’ll find a place for you not far from here, and I’ll stay with you, helping you to reach the necessary Boodit-consciousness.”
        “Yes, Sumiko,” says Kenji, “Mooga’s right; you haven’t yet attained the final rank that you’ve been training for – you’re almost there.  He’s offering you something wonderful, an opportunity you should accept with gratitude.  Just think of it: tonight you may achieve what you’ve been working for with such excitement for so many months –  the beautiful fulfillment of your dream!”
        “Ha!  You can’t fool me, Dad.  I know you think that if I stay up very late tonight I’ll be so tired that I’ll sleep right through the battle and won’t get myself involved.  You only want to keep your daughter safe.”
        “Of course I want to keep my daughter safe.  And you should want to keep your father’s mind untroubled by the fear of losing you.  Aren’t you still in all relevant respects a sixteen-year-old girl, although of course you’re chronologically a century old?  I’m acting just as any normal Dad would act in circumstances of this sort.  If you don’t take my own concern for you that seriously, what about your Mom?  You know she’d want you to stay out of this.”
        “Well, what about the other girls and boys?  They’re riding Megas on the battlefield.  The girls are piloting those things; the boys are in the Megas’ heads right next to them, providing them with on-the-spot support in combat-situations.  Talk about high-risk conditions!  That’s some dangerous stuff they’re getting into it, and I’ll bet you think they’re so courageous, simply wonderful.  But me?  Oh no; ‘stay safe now, Sumiko.’  I’m sick of boring safety!  Come on, Dad, you can’t keep me inactive while those kids are in the thick of things.  It isn’t fair.”
        “They’re not my children, so my attitude toward them is different.  Same goes for your Mom.  The level of concern we have for them just isn’t quite as high.  Unfair?  Perhaps; if so, then we’re unfair to them, not you.”
        “When morning comes,” the Boodle-Father says, “you’ll be a Booditana.  Think of that.”
        “Okay, okay, you win!” says Sumiko; she thrusts her jaw out, folds her arms and stamps … then smiles, reassuring everyone that she’s not furious, just somewhat peeved.
        “I’m glad,” says Mooga.  “We will have to find a proper place for centering oneself and focusing upon the plenitude of emptiness.  Will you two Wizards please convey my litter while we search for it?  You’re more than welcome to remain with us if you would like to do so; you may want to watch our session prior to your trance, and if you’d like to spend the day with us tomorrow, or the morning, anyway, I’d be delighted.  So would Sumiko, I’m sure.  And, Kenji, you should come as well; you don’t appear to be a warrior.”
        “No, I’m a poet, not a warrior,” says Kenji, “but I’m sure I could outbox an Urg; I’m pretty nimble on my feet, and throw a very accurate left hook.”
        The Mossy Wizard sighs.  “I really thought that I’d be using my Boodita-skills in battle, but if we’re attending you as litter-bearers, that’s not happening.”  He smiles.  “Someone has to do it, though, and why not us?  Moreover, I’ll be glad to see this girl, who was my protégé, attain her final goal; in fact, won’t this be an event of equal magnitude to any battle?  Yes, of course it will.  And listening to Master Mooga’s words as he instructs her will assist me too in my own progress … so I’ve changed my mind; I’m very pleased with my assignment now!”
        “You brought her to my temple, Dagastar, because you felt her talent, so it’s right that you be there with her tonight, and, yes, I’m sure that you are eager to behold her elevation and, just as you say, will benefit from what I say to her, but I may have my selfish reasons too for keeping you with me!  Don’t I enjoy our conversations and learn much from them?  You also, Fladnag: you must have a lot of very entertaining things to say; you seem to be a very thoughtful man.  Tomorrow morning, while the other folks are killing Trolls and Gobbins, we will have a chance to speak together at some length about the things that matter to us all.” 
        “I’m looking forward to it,” Fladnag says.  “I wouldn’t be a big contributor in battle, if I were to get involved – how would I fight them?  Hit them with my hat?”
        “Good,” Mooga says.  “As soon I’ve addressed my children and seen that their consciousness is redirected toward the actual employment of Boodita in a fight that really matters, you and Dagastar can carry me away with Sumiko and Kenji.  Are we all returning now?”
        “We’d better go get everyone prepared,” says Trevor, holding up his hand; “goodbye.”  He, Atreus and Travis stride away and quickly disappear into the woods.
        “Okay, you ready, Mooga?” asks the King.  He hoists the jar up in his massive arms, and, walking on his hind legs, carries it, attended by the others, back to where the Royal Army waits in casual disorder.  Busterax is telling jokes to several Boodles, who are chuckling politely.  Elves are walking on their hands and somersaulting through the air, and some are lying under bushes making out.   
        “Come on, let’s mobilize our Green Berets,” says Agathar, and gives the Baroness a shoulder-squeeze.  She smiles back at him.  The two of them start rounding up their Elves, assembling them in groups according to the different family-Trees from which they’re born.  Once they’ve been sorted out, they’ll be sent off to take up their positions all along the forest’s edge surrounding Fuzzyville. 
        “King Valorix,” says Mooga, “If you’d like to listen to me while I speak to them, your presence at my side would honor me.”
        “And I’d feel honored standing next to you while you address them,” Valorix replies.  “I think I’ll come along and listen too,” says Fladnag.  “As will I,” says Dagastar.  “Me too,” says Sumiko, and Kenji nods.
        A quarter-hour later, Mooga speaks.  His Boodles are arranged in front of him; his jar stands on a boulder eight feet high, so that the bobbing head that it contains is angled downward while addressing them: “My children, when you’re out there saving Elves and killing enemies while doing so, remember that within you all remains in balance, self-contained, just as it was last week, last year, a hundred years ago, and as it will be many years from now.  All change is superficial; in the depths, the silence that is Now unfolds itself perpetually, never altering.”
        And so forth.  While the Boodle-Father speaks, the King stands listening and nods his head at intervals, affirming what is said.  The speech is over; Valorix applauds and says to Fladnag, who stands next to him, “When I was just a kid, I was a brute; I had to be the undisputed boss of everyone around me all the time, and all I cared about was alpha-ness, and for its own sake too, and not because of anything I could achieve with it.  But that all changed while I was healing up in Boodletown.  First Sooka set me straight, then Mooga told me things that kept me there on that straight line when I went home again.  He said … I don’t remember what he said, but it made me the man I am today.  Yes, I still have to be the guy in charge, but now I want this power for the sake of what I can achieve with it – good stuff, like making sure the Dwarfs don’t run the show, and keeping Busterax from fucking up.  That’s what it means to me to be the King – you come to me, I get it done for you.  That’s what I am – a leader.  Leaders lead.  They try to lead you to a better place … unless the place you’re in is pretty good already.  Then they say, ‘Okay, stay there.’”
        “I’m glad the Northern Realm has got a King.  I thought I spoke a bit impulsively when I suggested it, but now I see that one can trust an impulse now and then.”
        “That’s right.  I always act before I think, and when I think I generally try to justify my action; I assume that what I do is justifiable.”
        A little while later, Sumiko and Kenji and the Wizards bear away the Boodle-Father’s litter, looking for a quiet place for her to finish up her training; she will meditate and find the mindless zone of Boodit-consciousness in which, to some extent, she will remain throughout her life to come, although of course this won’t prevent her from enjoying things that ordinary people also like.
        The Elves deploy along the forest’s edge around the area of filth and muck that was a meadow several weeks ago.  The Boodles are embedded with the Elves.  The Bearmen are distributed in groups of five behind the Elves.  They try to sleep; it isn’t easy, with the snarling and skittering of Gobbins yards away, and now and then a Trollish grumbling from farther back.  (The Urgs don’t make a sound.)
        The Treefolk are divided into groups of fifty couples; each of these six groups is loosely gathered in a separate place within the woods at evenly spaced points encircling tomorrow’s battlefield, about a mile back behind the front where Elvish men and women quietly massage and suck each other’s body-parts.
        And so, tonight, both here at Fuzzyville and seventy-five miles to the east at Disengar, great armies are prepared for battle in the morning – three of them at any rate; the fourth, the Western Corps at Fuzzyville, is psychologically unready, its Commanders unaware of what is waiting just beyond the trees to spring upon them when the sun comes up.