Chapter Ten: Battles

        As morning nears, and grayish filaments of pre-dawn light begin to filter in among the heavy sheets that drape the night in suffocating darkness, suddenly the battle-tractors roar, and they begin to roll toward Disengar’s enormous gate.  Their drills ram forward, and metallic shrieks and snapping-sounds erupt, and then they’re through. 
        Beyond the compound, at the western gate, the Megagirls rush into action too as Blue and Green crouch down and link their hands and Rainbow puts her foot upon this step that they have made for her; they stand erect, and Rainbow, swinging easily across the gate, drops down upon the other side and opens it so that the other six can file in – a much less noisy way to enter Disengar than that employed by those three tractors on the other side. 
        Humberto’s power-suited Mexicans trot in behind the seven Megagirls; the latter are positioning themselves in convex C-formation, Rainbow at the center, furthest in, the other six behind her, three of them on either side.  The courtyard’s all-but-empty; all the Urgs are massed atop the wall.  The only foes that Asmuran can see confronting him are those enormous Trolls in power-suits.  (He sits in Rainbow’s head, of course, beside the living body that was formerly his girlfriend; is it still appropriate to call this body “Miyu”?  I don’t know.)
        “The Trolls are fleeing! They’re afraid of us!” the Wizard shouts – but no, they’re lumbering off toward the battle-tractors.  They attack the massive drill-projecting vehicles; their armored fists and feet dent heavy plates of metallurgium, but in response the drills turn, telescoping into them, and bore through metal exoskeletons affixed to vulnerable Trollish flesh.  (The battle-tractors and the Power-Trolls alike are armor-plated, fortified by molded sheets of Metallurgium; the plating that protects the Power-Trolls is half an inch in thickness, while the stuff that shields the battle-tractors is about four times as thick – yet struts and cables built into their armor give the Power-Trolls  the strength to dent it with a punch or kick.)  “Let’s go and help those guys!” shouts Asmuran.  “No, wait; the basement-panels over there are sliding open.  What’s that coming out?  Is that a giant bug?  What is that thing?”
        “Oh, shit!” booms Rainbow – sitting in the head of her gigantic humanoid machine, the woman, Miyu, speaks these words as well, for, being coupled, these two speak as one – as Kurdle’s Mantis scrambles from its hole and races forward on its four hind legs, directly toward her, with its long front arms raised menacingly, pincers clattering.  She spreads her feet, preparing to receive the Mantis’s assault; she swings her head from side to side, and roars out to her six companions, “Spread out, girls, surround this thing so we can hammer it from every side!”  She waves them forward, roaring “Go! Go! Go!”  (Her thunderous deep voice, which emanates from speakers shielded by a mouth-shaped grid, is inwardly projected also, through some smaller speakers on the cockpit-walls; when she speaks privately to Asmuran while he’s within her, she deactivates the outer speakers.  As for Rainbow’s thoughts, the mental words that she speaks to herself, no mechanism makes them audible, but when the Wizard leans his ear against his former girlfriend’s softly mumbling lips he hears these words, which don’t make much more sense than anybody’s ordinary thoughts would make to someone else, if written down.)
        The Mantis, closing in on her, rears up, its right arm soaring and then sweeping down diagonally, a blow aimed at her head, but Rainbow, jumping backward, isn’t struck; the pincer-hand slams down upon the ground.  A cloud of dust flies up around the spot.  The Mantis reaches with its other hand to grab its enemy around the waist, but Rainbow’s reflexes are excellent; she jumps aside just as the hand snaps shut, then dashes toward the second row of legs, and, flipping out her hammer, strikes the knee of the enormous Insect, denting it.  The Mantis, shrieking like a firetruck, rears up and scuttles backward, hammering the ground around the nimble Megagirl, while Kurdle, in the cockpit on its head, groans slightly; he can feel its pain as his, albeit less intensely.  Rainbow slips beyond the Insect’s overarching chest, and by this time the other Megagirls have got the Bug surrounded.  Circling, the seven Megagirls avoid the sweeps of those long arms; they duck or jump away, and rush in with their hammers now and then to strike its legs and lower abdomen with blows that dent its armor.  Shock-waves rush from artificial circuits through its nerves and are transmitted through the headset worn by Kurdle; as the Mantis shrieks, he groans.  The Bug is slower than its enemies.  Commander Kurdle’s fusion with the Bug is superficial, while the girls are fused completely with the giant humanoids they’re piloting; you must be Japanese and female, and still sexy, to achieve  this state of synthesis with your machine.
        Beyond the tower, on the other side, the Power-Trolls continue their assault upon the battle-tractors, whose great drills are drenched with gore.  Gigantic corpses lie around the scene, their punctured abdomens excreting reddish-purple slime and guts, and several more assailants stagger off with deeply punctured thighs, or back away while cradling ripped-open blood-drenched arms; they howl, tripping over fallen friends.  The sheered-off ends of struts and cables jut through ruptured armor; armor’s torn away from ruined flesh that’s pocked with oozing holes.  They’re damaging the battle-tractors, though.  Each blow dents plating; several of the drills are hook-shaped now and spin erratically, and two of them were torn off by the weight of Power-Trolls as these dropped to the ground.  The Managers who supervise these Trolls are in the tower, on a lower floor; they watch the scene through windows in the wall.  Remotely, using beams of Energy directed from the instruments they wield, they make the injured Trolls ignore their pain and wade back into action, striking at the tractors with whatever limbs remain available to them, while gushing blood.
        The Dwarfish Spearmen from all three brigades start pouring through the gateless opening to help the battle-tractors.  They surround the Power-Trolls and jab their armor’s joints with powerful, short thrusts, and now and then one topples, crawling on its hands and knees as it continues its assault upon the battle-tractors, for the Managers continue to direct the Power-Trolls’ rage toward the battle-tractors; they ignore the Dwarfish Spearmen poking at their joints, except that now and then they sweep their hands around behind them, knock the spears aside, and lunge toward their assailants, trampling a few of them – immediately, then, returning to the tractors, beating them ferociously, with single-minded rage.
        The Elves up in the Trees around the wall begin to hurl their darts down at the Urgs upon the parapet, and now and then one plummets to the courtyard.  Elvish jeers are audible: “There goes another one; you stupid Urg, you don’t know how to fly!”
        A panel on the courtyard’s northern side slides open, and the Horror-Elves emerge; they dance like savages along the wall, each one about a yard behind the one in front of him or her (for half of them are female, just as half the Elves outside, up in the Trees, are female; as I’ve said, Elf-females are so close to males in strength, despite their slender, feminine physiques, that you can’t tell the difference in a fight).  The thousand Horror-Elves encircling the courtyard, shuffling along the wall (the compound is a quarter-mile wide, which makes this possible – you do the math) don’t rush the Spearmen or the Mexicans; the latter, who surround the Megagirls as these do battle with the giant Bug, face outward, watching as the Horror-Elves dance by along the wall while howling their gibberish, including that refrain of “Horror, drink me!”  They watch nervously, prepared to beat them down and throttle them if they decide to rush the Megagirls and try to climb them, aiming to tear off or damage any gear attached to them externally in vulnerable spots.
        The Mantis lunges forward suddenly and catches Green off guard.  Its pincer-hand chops into her with such velocity that she flies backward through the air and lands upon her back.  It’s hard for her to rise, and as she does the Mantis seizes her, oblivious to all the hammer-blows that rain against its legs.  It’s in a rage; it hurls her into Blue, and both go down.  Blue raises herself on her hands and knees, but that’s all she can manage; Green lies flat upon her back, with outspread, trembling limbs.  The other five are desperate, moving in to beat the Mantis back and help their friends.  It sweeps down Orange now, and tramples her.  As Rainbow hits it with an all-out blow disabling its right arm, its other hand connects with Yellow’s shoulder, and she falls.  She manages to gain her feet again, but she can’t use the shoulder that’s been struck; her arm is hanging limply at her side.  Red’s pulling Green off toward the western gate; the Mantis, seeing this, goes after them, but Purple rushes in diagonally in front of it, a little to the side, distracting it, and Rainbow manages to move in just behind it, hammering another of its rear legs with such force that two of its four walking-legs are now immobilized, although they still support the Mantis’s great weight – the other two although impaired, are fairly usable.  The Mantis, shrieking, spins itself around and sweeps at Rainbow with its good left arm, connecting with her neck, and Rainbow falls.  The pincer-hand descends toward Rainbow’s head, but Rainbow rolls away, and Red and Blue and Purple batter its rear legs again, but these are glancing blows.  It stomps Red’s foot and aims a backward kick at Purple’s chest, which knocks the Megagirl down on its butt.  It turns to face them as she scrambles up and charges her, its left arm sweeping out.  She almost ducks it – not completely though; she topples down again.  But Rainbow runs up past the Mantis, striking at its arm – its injured right one – to distract the Bug and gets around in front of it in time to pull up Purple.  Red limps up again, with Blue behind her, and they face the Bug, which halts and paws the ground and then withdraws; it sweeps its long left arm defensively in front of it, retreating toward its lair.  It stands there, with the hole in back of it, not willing to withdraw entirely, not wanting to risk further injury.
        The Megagirls have also had enough at least for now, with Green upon her back, and Orange lying crumpled on her side, and Yellow one-armed; Blue and Purple move with shaky steps, their balance out of whack.  Red’s foot is hurt, and Rainbow’s head won’t turn.  The four still on their feet stand in a group halfway between the entrance and the Bug and glower at it; it stares back at them.
        Turf-covered lids concealing exit-holes outside the wall burst outward, and a mob of fifty thousand Molemen, drug-enhanced and drug-enraged, erupts from all these holes and hurls itself against the Dwarfish lines.  The Dwarfs close off the Road on either side of Disengar, to keep the Moleman-mob from pouring through this pair of openings and getting at them from behind as well.  The Dwarfish hemispheres have joined to form a single ring surrounding Disengar.  (The Megagirls and armored Mexicans are separated from their medic-tents and baggage-wagons on the western Road.)  The compound’s now encircled by confused ferocities of combat.  Battle-gloves pound spikes deep into shattered Moleman-heads; clawed Moleman-gloves tear strips from Dwarfish flesh, and Molemen head-butt Dwarfs with spiky masks that puncture brows and cheeks and gouge out eyes.
        The Managers whose ugly task it is to supervise the Horror-Elves call out the word that triggers their ferocity.  The single syllable, projected through the bullhorns – “Scum!” – provokes a Horrid screech encircling the yard.  The Managers then bullhorn-scream their order: “Climb the Trees and kill the Elves!”  The screeching Horror-Elves propel themselves in both directions – rush out through the gateless eastern opening and through the open western gate as well, and leap across the Molemen and the Dwarfs; their goal’s the Trees.  They scramble up the trunks and desperate combat spreads among the limbs as Elves and Horror-Elves do battle there. They move in three dimensions – up and down through many layers, not just back and forth and laterally.  Horror-Elves and Elves careen around the platforms, race along the ramps, and hurl themselves from limb to limb like circus-acrobats on crystal meth.  The Horror-Elves are chemically enhanced; their strength, agility, and speed is twice that of the normal Elves opposing them; moreover, their insane hostility keeps them attacking with whatever strength remains to them, when they can barely crawl or raise and wave their claws in front of them,  or lift their heads to snap with their fanged jaws.  They rip at Elvish throats and abdomens – wounds that won’t heal; deep, killing injuries – and make a point of gashing fallen Elves again in passing, making sure they die. 
        The corpses of the Power-Trolls are heaped around the wreckage of the vehicles they’ve been assaulting, and on top of them; all twenty-five of the augmented Trolls are dead, and all three battle-tractors smashed and mangled.  Now the Dwarfs with their long spears, all fifteen hundred of them, massed within the courtyard’s eastern end, who were engaged in poking at the Trolls from every side, are facing outwards, and defend themselves against the Urgs who stream down from the wall in ever-greater numbers to assault the Spearmen, who don’t have the battle-gloves specifically designed for fighting Urgs (as well as Gobbins).  As the Urgs get past the spearheads of the Dwarfs, the spears are dropped and ten-pound “club-spikes” are employed instead, a club-spike in each powerful, thick hand.  (They’re like the “club-spears” that Humberto’s men are wielding on the far side of the yard, but eighteen inches, not five feet, in length.) 
        Judge Imlig may have erred in sending in all fifteen hundred Spearmen, when a tenth of these would have an opportunity, at any given time, of poking at the Power-Trolls, but maybe he was right to do so.  First of all, those actively engaged in spearing Trolls would have their backs protected by the others from the Urgs at watch upon the walls, in case these chose to come down to the yard to rush at them (which is in fact what’s happening right now, although the Power-Trolls were killed off first).  Moreover, since they lacked the battle-gloves the others had, they wouldn’t have performed as well in combat on the other side against dense ranks of Urgs, once these got past their spearheads, while the space within the wall was too constricted for an Urgish front of lowered pikes – the most effective use of their great martial virtue, discipline.  (Of course, Judge Imlig couldn’t have perceived that it would be drugged Molemen who’d attack the Dwarfish line outside of Disengar.)  If, once inside the wall of Disengar, the Dwarfish Spearmen were beset by Urgs who got in past their spearheads, they could use the back-up weapons dangling from their belts, those ten-pound club-spikes, quite effectively, although, as time passed, Urgish quantity would start outweighing Dwarfish quality.  And, third, the Grand Alliance’s morale would greatly benefit from having such a large proportion of its total force within the wall of Disengar so soon; they’d feel that they were close to victory already, and this would inspire them to greater effort.  Psychological advantages should never be dismissed as negligible factors, and the Judge, a sensitive as well as clever man, as we have seen, was well aware of such intangibles – they always played a role in those deliberations that produced his choices both before and in a fight.  (All great commanders keep such things in view; Nausgothromor’s like him in this respect, as Alexander was, more recently, and Genghis Khan, and Edmund Kirby Smith.)
        It’s swirling chaos in the eastern yard.  Long spears lie crisscrossed underfoot, and men are tripping over them as they contend in close, congested combat.  Many pikes were driven into Dwarfish cheeks and necks, and many tore their way an inch or more beyond the woven Metallurgium of Dwarfish shirts, inflicting serious and sometimes fatal wounds, but now the pikes have been discarded, and the Urgs employ their short, broad swords, and slash, and chop, and stab.  The Dwarfs block swords with club-spikes, and they smash the forearms, heads, and necks, and shoulder-blades of many of the Urgs attacking them. 
        A lot of Urgs remain distributed along the western portion of the wall, in order to oppose the Mexicans should these attempt to seize it from within.  They’re ready to take shelter in small rooms within the wall, should any Megagirls decide to charge the wall to sweep them down.  The Megagirls, however, are content to stay right where they are, considering that if they did so, then, no doubt, the Bug would stumble toward them for another fight that they’re not anxious to engage in now.  The Mexicans have not yet taken part in any fighting; they’re annoyed by this.  Humberto’s glancing over at the wall, considering the possibility of going for it, and he sees the Urgs atop it, waiting, should he take his men in that direction and try storming it.
        Upon the tower’s observation-deck the Emperor, with Snarl by his side, has been observing everything below.  Just as the battle-tractors drilled their way in through the eastern gate, and Rainbow dropped down to the courtyard at the western end, the Emperor began receiving waves of consternation from the Managers outside of Fuzzyville, and this alarm has been intensifying since that time.  Nausgothromor assesses what he sees below him and beyond the compound’s wall – must he remain here, or can he rush west to rescue Creepus and the Western Corps? 
        He notes these facts and weighs them carefully.
        First, at the western end of Disengar the Bug has driven off the Megagirls.  It seems quite capable of dealing with those powered-suited Mexicans as well.
        Point two: The Dwarfish spearmen fighting Urgs across the courtyard, at the eastern end, are taking Urgs down at a rate three times the rate at which they fall themselves, which means that thirteen-point-five thousand Urgs will still be capable of fighting when the Dwarfs in question have all been accounted for.
        Third point: Beyond the wall, the Dwarfs again are falling at a rate one-third of that at which their enemies go down, but this ensures that if they fight here to the end, with no one intervening to assist the Molemen or the Dwarfs opposing them, then when the Dwarfs have all been taken out, nine-point-five thousand Molemen will remain.
        Point four: Up in the Trees, the Horror-Elves are fighting Elves eight times as numerous.  Four Elves go down for every Horror-Elf, which means that if the combat in the Trees is brought to its conclusion, with one side eliminated, then four thousand Elves will still be active when the Horror-Elves have all been killed or so severely hurt that they won’t be a threat to anyone for several hours at the earliest.
        Point five: The ordinary Mexicans aren’t worth considering; they’re powerless compared to all the other forces here.
        Okay, then, let’s suppose the Elves wipe out the Horror-Elves before the Molemen can eliminate the Dwarfs outside the wall.  Then they can help the Dwarfs by hurling darts down at the Molemen from the limbs of Trees that reach the Road where it rings Disengar, or even go assist them on the ground.  But this assistance will be balanced by the equal aid the Molemen will receive from all the Urgs who’ve managed to survive the fight against the spearmen in the yard; these Urgs will help the drug-crazed laborers eliminate the Dwarfs beyond the wall.  This done, the several thousand Urgs who still remain can pull back into Disengar, surviving Molemen doing so as well by disappearing through their exit-holes.
        What then?  The Mantis will presumably have taken out the Megagirls by then, along with those annoying Mexicans in power-suits, and closed the western gate.  Then it can guard the eastern opening while Molemen make a new gate to replace the one through which the tractors bulled their way.
        Things seem to be progressing in a way that favors Horror, then.  If he departs, his kids at Disengar will have a chance to prove themselves, to show that they can make things happen on their own, without his help.  They’ll feel that they’ve accomplished something big if they succeed without him; he would like them to experience this rush of pride. 
        He notes, as though through someone else’s eyes, that tens of thousands of his followers will die in battle – men (or humanoids) who would have lived if he himself had used his whirling Whips against the Host of Joy.  This person whose perspective he assumes condemns his willingness to let them die.  Yes, he responds, as he withdraws himself from that perspective and the attitude accompanying it, but they themselves die willingly; they sacrifice themselves enthusiastically for me.  He feels Lord Gothrom’s thrilling sense of mastery – their eagerness to die for him displays his domination.  Gothrom lives in him, but lives contained; the Emperor is more than Gothrom; he’s Nausgothromor, and feels a kind of altruism that contains that domineering thrill within itself as he encompasses the Horror-Lord.  He’s giving them the opportunity to make their little lives significant; they merge themselves with Horror when they die for Horror’s Emperor, and meaning flows back through the years that led them to this point – this consummation retroactively ennobles otherwise contemptible existences.  Its lurid purple glow illuminates gray trivialities.  They die for Horror when they die for me.  I’m not just Horror’s representative, I’m its embodiment.  Then what is she?  Horroria claims this role for herself.  She can’t be altogether wrong.  Okay, I’m Horror’s masculine embodiment, and she’s its feminine embodiment.  In that case, then, I have to master her, as any man must dominate his mate for her own good, as well as his, because this is the order written in the flux that, unbegotten, generates all things.
        The Horrid Emperor refocuses his mental gaze upon the task at hand.  I’ll risk it.  I’ll let Snarl and the rest take care of this themselves while I go save Commander Creepus and the Western Corps
        “Commander Snarl,” says Nausgothromor, “our people need my help at Fuzzyville.  It looks like things are going fairly well for us at this location.  I’ll assume that my assistance won’t be needed here.”
        Commander Snarl says, “I’ll handle it; don’t worry.  Put those Whips of yours to use where they’re most needed, and remember, Dad, we’re fond of you – be careful when you go berserk; don’t take unnecessary risks.”
        As Snarl answers him, he looks ahead.  He has the feeling that he may not be returning here today, or even in  the next few days.  What’s likely to occur?  What should be done?  What might he recommend?  The Horror-stench may force surviving Elves who came here with the Dwarfs to leave again, as it forced those who came three weeks ago (he means the Barons’ Elves) to leave again that afternoon when they might otherwise have stayed in Elfpark, lounging in the Trees around the compound and besieging it.  The Horror-stench has weakened since then, though; today’s Elves might remain, and those who came three weeks ago might even join them here; no doubt those Elves had posted scouts along the Road, who’d seen the Host of Joy’s approach.  Those other Elves, though, if they do arrive, won’t come today, and when they do arrive they won’t be able to accomplish much against the Mantis guarding Disengar.  The Mantis can deploy its pincer-hands against the lowest limbs and palace-floors while tractor-mounted saw-blades long enough to cut right through the bases of the Trees and topple them are made beneath the yard.  The store of Metallurgium below has been depleted; most of it was used to make the Mantis and the Power-Trolls.  The damaged armor of the Power-Trolls can be recycled, though, as can the parts of damaged and disabled Megagirls and those three battle-tractors in the yard.  New tractor-mounted armored vehicles for moving men and war-material can be constructed; these will be immune to missiles hurled down from above by Elves, if any still remain, despite the stench, before the Trees have all been taken down.  He quickly summarizes all of this for Snarl’s benefit.  The Manager replies, “Don’t worry, Dad; we’re pretty smart.  We’ve got it covered.  You go do your thing.”
        Nausgothromor feels Horror-Energy converging through some fourth-dimensional osmotic membrane into him, drawn in by his decision to go forth alone to Fuzzyville and massacre all foes of Horror with his two tremendous Whips.  He doesn’t take the elevator down; instead, he runs directly down the wall of Thoranc, at the angle of a man who’s running on a horizontal track.  He races past the Bug and Megagirls, avoiding them, and through the open gate.  He vaults above the Molemen and the Dwarfs contending on the Road beyond the gate.  Another leap takes him beyond the tents and baggage-wagons.  Startled Mexicans see something streaking by above their heads, but aren’t sure what it is – except that it’s some sort of Horrid gangly humanoid.  (It’s likely that he would have taken down some Megagirls if he’d employed his Whips against them as he passed, and certainly he could have Whipped aside the Mexicans instead of harmlessly avoiding them; the Dwarfs and Molemen were so tightly mixed that if he’d used his Whips against the Dwarfs there would have been fatalities among the Molemen also, but this might have been a price worth paying.  He did none of this, since he’d decided not to intervene at this location even to the slight extent of Whipping Mexicans aside.)  He lands beyond the tents and races on along the Road toward Fuzzyville.  His speed is twenty miles an hour; he won’t stop or slow his pace until he’s reached his goal – he’ll get to Fuzzyville before the sun has reached its apex.  It won’t yet be noon (he thinks) when I arrive at Fuzzyville and I begin to Whip that spawn of Joy until there’s nothing left of them but gobs of bloody flesh and mangled body-parts.
        The Mantis screeches: “Truce!  Let’s get repaired!”  (Commander Kurdle speaks these words, of course, the Insect’s vocal cords expressing them.)  “You Megas can remain there by the gate, and I’ll stay back here near the basement-hatch.” 
        “All right,” says Rainbow, who’s been worrying about the harm done to her followers, especially the two sprawled on the ground behind her – Green and Orange.  “But we’re not just ‘Megas’; call us Megagirls, okay?”
        “You got it, Megagirl!” the Mantis says, and Rainbow gives the Bug a thumbs-up sign. 
        The work begins.  The Technicals emerge out of the basement with spare parts and tools.  The armored Mexicans and engineers (the Wizard and the young male Japanese) are limited to what’s available in closets built into the Megagirls, since they’re cut off from their big wagonloads of spare parts by the fighting on the Road just past the western gate in back of them.  They also have to keep a cautious eye upon the Urgs above them on the wall.  Their club-spears lie upon the ground nearby as they repair the injured Megagirls as far as the available supplies of extra parts and time-constraints permit replacing lots of damaged circuitry, crushed cables, dented plating, and torn tubes, and lubricating gears with Bioslime.  The work continues as two hours pass, and then Commander Kurdle saunters up, his hands positioned in a “Time Out” sign.
        “What is it?” Asmuran asks grumpily.
        “Two things.  First, I would like to say to you that we’re your biggest fans; we love your work and all of us admire you a lot.  When this war’s over, if you’re still alive, you and your Japanese have got a job if you desire one.  The Emperor appreciates your ingenuity, and he’ll make sure you guys are spoken for.”
        “Tell him to fuck himself.  What’s number two?”
        “Oh, don’t be silly.  Intellectuals should stick together.  You’re aware of this, so don’t pretend you haven’t thought of it.  The second thing is that our little Bug is ready now.  You’ve got five minutes, then we’re coming at you, so prepare yourselves.”
        “It’s nice of you to warn us.  What’s your name?”
        “My name is Kurdle. K – U – R –D – L …”
        “Right, ‘Kurdle.’  Kurdle, how about we have a little fistfight, you and I, instead of battling with big machines.
        There’s such a beautiful simplicity to boxing-matches.  Come on, put ’em up.”
        “Oh, don’t be silly,” Kurdle says again.  “You’re eighteen inches taller than I am; you’ll knock me senseless with your longer reach.  I’m heading back now; I repeat, you’ve got five minutes, then I’m coming after you.”  And Kurdle trots off to his giant Bug, which lifts him to the cockpit on its head.
        The engineers in Asmuran’s group race to finish up their present tasks, then join their girlfriends in the cockpits. Asmuran joins Miyu there as well, in Rainbow’s head – but no, this is no longer accurate; since all the girls are fused with their machines, it’s really Rainbow, Orange, and the rest that greet their engineers, and not the girls.  Yes, Orange speaks now, and can stand as well.  The same is true of Green; they’ve been repaired to some extent, but they move haltingly, and all the rest are only half-repaired.  The Mantis, though, is fully functional.
        The Mantis scuttles toward them; now again the Megagirls are circling the Bug and dashing in to hammer at its legs, but they can’t move as quickly as before; they stumble sometimes, or turn awkwardly, and soon they’ve all been knocked down once or twice.  Blue’s badly damaged and must limp away to watch the fight from over by the gate.  A solid punch from Rainbow stiffens up the Mantis’s rear leg, but, all in all, the Mantis will inevitably win if something isn’t done.  Humberto runs behind the Mantis, gesturing, “Come on!” and now the armored Mexicans dash in and smash the club-ends of their implements against the feet of the enormous Bug.  It stomps on several of them, and it kicks the rest away.  Six Mexicans are dead and seven others seriously hurt within about a minute and a half, but their tremendous blows have left deep dents in all four of the Mantis’s big feet, and it begins to move more gingerly.  Moreover, its distraction as it deals with this new threat provides an opening to Orange, whose gigantic hammer slams against one of the Insect’s pincer-hands and mangles it.  The Mantis, howling, sweeps sideways with its other long front arm and Orange ducks the blow, but Red is caught and spun around; she falls upon her hands, then rises, turning toward the fight again, and takes two steps, but reels off to the side and has to stagger backward toward the wall.
        Humberto drops his club-spear on the ground and starts to climb one of the four rear legs. The sixteen other power-suited men still capable of fighting, seeing this, attempt to follow; nine of them succeed.  Commander Kurdle knows that if they reach the cables running from the Insect’s head and rip these off, they’ll paralyze the Bug.  He waits until they’ve reached the Insect’s back, then rolls it over, crushing half of them.  Humberto and four others, thrown away uninjured, soon regain their feet, and watch as Rainbow, Green, and Purple all rush in to pound the Bug’s upended abdomen.  The Mantis, clutching them in all six legs, rolls upright, pressing them beneath its bulk and bouncing on them.  Orange rushes up with Yellow, and the Mantis has to rear away from them or else they’ll bash its head; it scuttles backward, and the Megagirls that it’s been squatting on crawl painfully away to safety, slowly getting up.
        By this time, several hundred Urgs have come down from the wall, and all these Urgs assail Humberto and the four last Mexicans (the others who’ve been injured but still live are staggering and crawling toward the gate).  The Urgs are scattered – Yellow charges in with Orange; they pick up the Mexicans and carry them to safety by the gate, where all the Megagirls and Mexicans (the ones still living) are assembled now. The Mantis, flanked by several lines of Urgs, advances toward them – then it charges them and they back quickly through the western gate.  The Bug stands in the entrance, filling it; the Megagirls and Mexicans are grouped  between the entrance and the brutal fight continuing behind them, where the Dwarfs and Molemen kill each other, corpses heaped up in a dike surrounding Disengar.  Ten thousand of the Dwarfs have fallen now, and thirty thousand Molemen.  In the Trees, the Elves are nearly finished wiping out the Horror-Elves, but half of them are dead.  The Urgs have finished off the Spearmen, too, within the walls; ten thousand Urgs stream out to back the Molemen up; the other Urgs still capable of fighting (numbering three thousand) stay inside of Disengar in order to assist the giant Bug in case the Megagirls get through again, which seems increasingly unlikely now.
        The Duke and Princess join the Judge upon his platform, dropping by to visit him before descending to assist the Dwarfs.  A moment later, seven Horror-Elves (among the last of those who still survive) drop down upon them from an upper limb – one falls upon the Princess, two upon the Duke; the other four upon the Judge – a suicide-attack, since five strong Dwarfs are there with Imlig, as are several Elves who have been running messages for him.  The Horror-Elves are killed, but their attack has done some damage – Princess Kalia has several bloody slashes up and down her back and chest, and bite-wounds on her cheeks, and Timonar is twice as badly hurt, while one of Imlig’s arms is torn to shreds, he’s lost his nose and had an ear ripped off, and his left eye’s been punctured by a claw.  The three are wrapped in bandages.  The Judge regains his feet and leans against the rail.  “Stay seated, Judge; you’re done for now, I think,” says one of his assistants.  “No,” he groans, “that’s not a luxury we can afford, and, anyway, we’ll all be done for soon, at least as far as this world is concerned.  I mean us Dwarfs; the Elves will be reborn.  The math’s not in our favor – look at this: the rate of casualties on either side is such that many of them will survive when we have been eliminated here.  The Holy Awesome One will finish off the Horror-Host in his own way somehow, but we won’t be the tool that he employs.”
        “Who’s that?” says Kalia, who feels her wounds already healing.  (Timonar, whose wounds are twice as bad, still lies upon his back, but he’ll be feeling better pretty soon.)  She standing at the railing next to him and pointing at a large, strange-looking man who’s thrusting himself in among the Dwarfs beyond the compound, on the northern side, apparently intent on helping them – the man is hurling Molemen left and right.  A woman’s on his shoulders – standing there with outstretched arms and balancing herself as he dispatches Molemen under her; when he thrusts forward very violently, she leaps about six feet into the air and lands upon his shoulders once again.
        “I haven’t got a clue,” the Judge replies.  “The fellow’s welcome to assist us, though.  What sort of man is that?  He’s very big, but he’s too far away for me to see him very well; you Elves have keener eyes.  Can you see what he looks like, Kalia?”
        “He’s got a Dwarfish-looking body-shape and Dwarfish facial features, but of course he’s not a Dwarf; he’s eight feet tall, at least, and has extraordinarily big hands and feet, which, put together with the way his beard and hair are, jagging out like that, gives him a Treeman-like appearance too.  I met a Treeman once, so I should know; the Prince and I were on a hiking trip northwest of here when we ran into him, about a hundred years ago.  Nice guy, but kind of odd.  He had to hurry off to see his wife; he said she had some fruit he had to eat, or he’d start feeling sick.  Hey, wouldn’t it be totally intense if we could get the Treefolk organized and on our side?  The Dusty Wizard said that Fuzzyville sent emissaries up to ask for their assistance; possibly the Treefolk are already helping us out there at Fuzzyville.  I hope they are.”
        “Yes, certainly, but can we focus on what’s happening right now in front of us?  Wow, this is great!  The Holy Awesome One sent us that stranger in the nick of time; I only wish that he’d come earlier.”
        The Stranger (we will call him that for now) plows laterally westward through the mass of Molemen frantically assaulting Dwarfs; he hurls them at the Urgs in back of them; he beats them down in swathes as he proceeds.  He has no weapons; he employs his hands, and now and then he gives the Dwarfs high-fives.  His Mate (again, we’ll call her that for now) keeps hopping on his shoulders, crying, “Yes! Keep going!”  Now and then she pats his head.
        She’s lean, about five-eight, with bobbed blond hair, sharp-chinned, high-cheekboned, with big blue-green eyes; if she were living here and now – I mean in our America – we’d estimate her age at twenty-eight or twenty-nine.  She’s wearing leggings and a halter-top and canvas sneakers, and around her wrists and neck are slender, shiny metal chains.  To add some detail to the Princess’s description of the Stranger: like a Dwarf he’s broad and barrel-chested, with short legs (comparatively speaking), and his face, with its diagonal brow and jutting nose, is also Dwarfish, but his hands and feet are disproportionately large, his toes and fingers disproportionately long, his hair and beard composed of branching stems, this sort of outgrowth also covering his hips and pelvis, hanging to his knees.  He wears no other garment, so we see his rutted, bark-like skin, from which protrude small gnarls, ridges, lumps, and little knobs.
        He’s made his way around the northwest curve of Disengar, still plowing Molemen down, and now he’s drawing near the Megagirls.  He shouts – his voice is deep and growling, his words a little slurred, and yet his tone and tempo seem a little childish or even, in an odd way, feminine – “Are you big guys okay?  I’d like to make a circuit of this place; when I return I’ll take that giant Insect down for you.”
        “Yes, go ahead; I think we’re fine for now,” blares Rainbow back at him, above the noise of Molemen howling and Dwarfish grunts, “whoever you may be.  I like your work.”
        “Thanks!” shouts the Stranger; “See you in a bit!”  The Stranger’s Mate waves cheerfully; they pass, proceeding toward the compound’s southern curve.
        They pass beneath Judge Imlig, who remarks, “He really does look Dwarfish in a way.  I wonder who that fellow’s father was.”  Around the eastern curve now … in his wake, the numbers of contending warriors are now not quite so disproportionate; it looks as though some Dwarfs may still survive when all their adversaries have been killed.
        The Stranger and his Mate have now returned to where they first advanced into the fray; the Dwarfs there cheer as he goes by again, and soon he’s drawing near the Megagirls once more, but they’re in action, struggling to ward the Bug off and evade its blows, for Kurdle, seeing that the tide had turned, decided that it would be best to charge the Megagirls and try to take them down before the Stranger came around again.  Now Red and Purple, on their hands and knees, are crawling off; they’ve both been badly hurt.  Green’s lying on her back, while Yellow limps and Blue can’t raise her hammer-bearing arm.  The pincer-hand has Rainbow in its grip; it lifts her overhead and holds her there.  It’s locked around her waist, and strains to close; her metal plates are slowly rupturing.  Blue, underneath the Insect’s abdomen, thrusts upward with her chainsaw; Yellow strikes a rear leg with tremendous hammer-blows.  The Mantis screams, drops Rainbow, scuttles back and eyes her two remaining enemies – for Rainbow’s lying crumpled on her side.
        The Bug again advances, stumbling toward Yellow, sweeping one long arm around to strike her from the side; its other hand thrusts toward her, pincers snapping at her waist.  The Stranger leaps upon the arm and runs along it, as his Mate keeps balancing and hopping on his shoulders, shouting out encouragement; he climbs so rapidly it doesn’t have a chance to shake him off.  He’s past the Insect’s shoulder; now he climbs its neck and head.  The Stranger reaches down and pulls Commander Kurdle from his seat.  The headset falls away; the Mantis stops and screeches, stupefied; its pincer-hands snap wildly and its long arms shoot out in various directions, randomly.
        The Stranger’s hand encircles Kurdle’s chest; he holds the Manager in front of him. “Hello there,” says the Stranger.  “How are you?”
        “Don’t kill me!  Take me prisoner, okay?”
        “That guy’s disgusting,” says the Stranger’s Mate.  “I hate him.  I can’t stand to look at him.” 
        The Stranger slams the flat of his free hand down onto Kurdle’s head and flips the corpse behind him; Kurdle’s body somersaults as it descends, then thuds against the ground.  The Stranger clambers down the Insect’s neck and steeply tilted upper back; he stands upon its gently tilted middle back behind the steeper slope; he bends his knees, and drawing in his fingers, drives his fists repeatedly against the two-inch plates of molded Metallurgium that shield the Insect’s upper back.  “Yes!” shouts his Mate, who lurches wildly with every punch but manages to keep her grip upon the branches of his head.  “Demolish it!”  He reaches through the crater that he’s made and tears out clumps of nerves and arteries as brownish-purple blood-slime bubbles up around the edges of the fatal wound.  The Bug convulses; then its arms fly up and it collapses belly-down and dies.
        “Well done,” groans Rainbow.  Blue and Yellow cheer.  “Thanks,” says the Stranger, jumping to the ground.  “I guess we’d better make another run around this place.  It isn’t over yet.”
        The mopping-up takes hours; Horribles are slaughtered through the early afternoon, until, by three, not one remains alive.  The Managers and Technicals all leap from Thoranc’s deck and windows to their deaths.  The Megagirls help one another walk, or carry those among them who can’t stand down to the basement that they know so well, so recently the giant Insect’s den – here they will be repaired and tended to.  The Wizard finds Judge Imlig, wrapped about with bandages, his blinded eye concealed.  They walk together, searching for the two who saved the day, the Stanger and his Mate.  They find them chatting with some Mexicans while sipping guava juice and eating chunks of mango.  “Yes it’s really cold up north,” the Stranger’s saying, “but it braces you.”
        “Hello there,” says Judge Imlig; “I’m the man who more or less commands the army here; my name is Imlig.  You can call me ‘Judge’ or ‘Imlig’ or ‘Judge Imlig’ if you want; whatever suits you.  This is Asmuran, the fellow who designed those Megagirls that you two rescued from the giant Bug.  That’s his facility; he built the place.”
        “Not by myself, of course,” says Asmuran; “without my Mexicans, including these fine individuals you’re talking to, I couldn’t even have begun the job.”
        “They seem like pleasant guys,” the Stranger says.
        “They’re very helpful people,” says the Judge.  “But you two are the ones that I would like to compliment right now.  You’re very good at what you do, to put it mildly.  I’m sure I speak for everybody here in thanking you; if you had not shown up I’m pretty sure we would have been wiped out.”
        “Well, thanks for having us,” the Stranger says.  “Wow, look at you – rough day, hunh? – bandaged up from head to foot, but you still came out here to talk to us.  You must be pretty tough, and it’s an honor … ‘Judge’, your title was?  I’m Gnarl Barkenfist.  My sidekick’s name is Rifka Lorne.”  She punches Gnarl’s arm; he cringes, yelping “Ow!” dramatically, and pulls her toward him, giving her a squeeze.  “We’re looking for a dear old friend of mine.  His name is Mooga; he’s a big bald head inside a jar.  Perhaps you’ve heard of him.”
        The Wizard says, “Oh, you’re a friend of his?  Yes, Mooga’s an important personage here in the Realm; he’s quite a character.  His jar’s kept in the Temple down the Road in Boodletown, where all his children live.  It was kept there, I mean, but probably it won’t be there now; when we spoke to him about a month ago, he let us know that he’d be taking all his children north to flee the Host of Horror; that was when the Host had seized control of Disengar and we were on our way to Dwarfenberg.”
        “Where we destroyed a large part of this Host,” says Imlig.  “Now the rest of it’s destroyed.”
        “Except,” says Asmuran, “for one more part that may be laying siege to Fuzzyville, according to a Wizard-friend of mine.”
        “That’s right,” says Imlig; “Fladnag was concerned about that village’s inhabitants; you’ve jogged my memory; thanks, Asmuran.”
        “So you’re not sure where Mooga is right now.”
        “I think he said that they’d be camping out up at the Lake with Bearmen that he knew, but who knows what the man is up to now – the Realm’s in chaos; things are out of place.  You’ll definitely find him in the end, when everything has settled down again.”
        “The Wizard’s right,” says Imlig, “and, in fact, the sooner we can terminate this war the sooner you’ll be hooking up with him.  If you’d accompany us when we head to Sinister, the place from which this Host of Horrid creatures that you met today originated, we would wrap this up more quickly.  You can help us clear the slope; then we’ll go down and kill Horroria.”
        “Horroria?  Who’s that?” asks Barkenfist.
        “The monstrous female in the Lower Depths beneath Mount Sinister.  She spawned the filth that you were killing here.  She’s probably producing many more of them right now.  The war ends when we kill Horroria.”
        “And have my former colleague in our hands,” says Asmuran.  “Let’s not leave Nausor out of this equation; he’s important too.  Who knows what he might manage to contrive without Horroria, if he’s not healed?”
        “Who’s Nausor?” Gnarl asks.  “Look, why don’t you explain this business – just an overview.  Begin at the beginning.  We’re involved, but what are we involved in?”  Rifka nods.
        “Okay,” says Imlig; “This is what I heard from Fladnag, when he came to Dwarfenberg to warn us that the Host was on its way …” and Imlig summarizes what he’d heard from Fladnag of Horroria, and how she changed the Midnight Wizard and produced the Horror-Lord and all the mutant clones of Nausor, who began developing a Horrid urban complex in the midst of Sinister – the story Fladnag heard from Snigger, the repentant Manager who fled from Sinister to Fuzzyville to warn the Realm and get some Wizardly assistance for his father, who perhaps might yet be freed from mental slavery to Horror, which had permeated him so thoroughly that in a certain sense he served its purpose voluntarily.”
        “So what’s its purpose?” Gnarl asks the Judge.
        “To Horrify the Universe, of course.  It plans to do this through the burgeoning of its main vessel.  That’s Horroria, the monstrous creature under Sinister.”
        Now Asmuran describes the battle fought at Elfpark and the Valiant Remnant’s flight to Dwarfenberg.  “The Dwarfs agreed to form a Grand Alliance with us.  Then the Host of Horror, or a major part of it, led by this character ‘the Horror-Lord’, not Nausor, came a few days after that and we killed all of them, except for him.”
        “Nice going,” Rifka said.  “That must been extremely gratifying, given what they’d put you people through here earlier.”
        “It wasn’t very nice for me to see acquaintances of mine die painfully,” says Imlig, “but I’d rather win than lose.  “The Horror-Lord unfortunately fled alive, so our success was not complete, but, yes, it was decisive.”  He goes on until he’s brought the story to the point at which the Stranger (Gnarl Barkenfist) and his companion (Rifka Lorne) arrived.  “There’s something else that I should mention, though; about the time things started getting tough, a tall, thin guy ran down the tower’s side, across the courtyard past the Megagirls, and through the western exit; then he leapt across the fighting going on beyond the exit, and continued west, full-speed, along the Road, and disappeared from view.  He looked a little like the Horror-Lord, so maybe it was him, and yet he seemed distinctly bigger, with a pointy head just like a Wizard’s, and he seemed to be completely physical, not shadowy.  Did you see him pass by you, Asmuran?  You did?  So I’m not going crazy, then.  I wonder why he didn’t stay and fight.  He ran away at Dwarfenberg as well, but there he was about to lose it all, while here he had to think that he might win, so why did he shoot off along the Road?  Oh, well, it will remain a mystery at least for now.  … Excuse me, I believe that you may have some Dwarfish blood in you; have I guessed rightly, Mr. Barkenfist?”
        “Yes, that’s correct; my Daddy was a Dwarf.”
        “Well, that’s intriguing; I would like to hear your story later, when we have a chance.  Can I assume, though, that since you’re part-Dwarf you’ll want to help us take Mount Sinister, and will support our mission there, which is to clean the mountain out, and make it nice and orderly and fit for colonists from Dwarfenberg, and Dwarfish industries?  You may not be aware of it, but this is something that the Holy Awesome One commands us to perform, according to the Holy Books which are the basis for our Dwarfish way of life.  The very thought of our fulfilling this imperative exhilarates us and perhaps it thrills the Dwarfish part of you as well, or will when you reflect on what I’m telling you.”
        “Is everybody else okay with this?” asks Rifka.  “I mean, genuinely so?”
        The Rainbow Wizard says, “It makes the Elves uncomfortable to think that there will be a Dwarfish city on each side of them, but they accept it, and they should – just look at what the Dwarfs have suffered here today for their sake.  Elfpark’s back in Elven hands.”
        “They might be somewhat grumpy,” Imlig says, “but that’s their problem.  We’re not hurting them, so we need not concern ourselves too much with feelings that are trivial compared to aspirations deeply rooted in the Dwarfish soul.  Right, Mr. Barkenfist?”
        “It’s awesome that you’ll finally reach a goal that means so much to you” says Barkenfist.  “Sure, I support you guys.  You totally should occupy Mount Sinister.  Why not?”
        “So you’ll go with us, then, once we’re prepared to move in that direction?  We will be here for a while readying ourselves.  We need some time to rest, rebuild, and heal; we’ve suffered very heavy casualties, and our three battle-tractors were destroyed.”
        “Well, I’m not sure I want to wait around while you get ready.  I’m the kind of guy who always has to go and deal with things immediately.  Maybe I can’t deal with all of it myself, but I’ll still try to do as much as possible as soon as possible.  I have to; otherwise I get depressed and anxious.  I feel trapped.  So we might go ahead and check things out.  We’ll kind of roam around the area and see what we can do all by ourselves.  We’ll be on hand to greet you when you come.”
        “Hey!” Rifka says, “What’s that thing over there?”  She’s pointing at a pulsing bright pink glow among some tree-roots twenty yards away.  She dashes over to it and bends down, and when she stands and raises up her hand the Hilt of Joy shoots out its bright pink beam above her head – much brighter than before, when it was wielded by Aletheon.
        “My God, the woman’s found the Sword of Joy!” gasps Asmuran.  “And look how bright it is!”
        The Duke and Princess stroll up, hand-in-hand, their wounds completely healed, as good as new.  “Hi, guys,” says Kalia.  “Oh, look at that – she’s found the Sword of Joy.  I’ll take that, dear.  It was my husband’s; it belongs to me.”
        “Okay,” says Rifka, handing it to her – the beam retracts into the lowered Hilt.  The Princess raises it above her head … the Beam of Joy refuses to emerge.
        “I’m doing something wrong,” says Kalia.  “Perhaps my grip’s too tight.  No, that’s not it.”
        “I think you have to put your thumb right here, up near the opening.  That doesn’t work?”
        “Apparently it doesn’t.  Here, you try and I’ll watch what you’re doing carefully.”  She hands the Hilt to Rifka Lorne again, and Rifka raises it.  The Beam shoots out.  “Oh, maybe it’s the way your pinky bends.  Here, let me have it back.  I’ll try again.”  But still the Beam refuses to emerge.
        The Wizard says, “If you would give that back to Rifka for a second, I would like to see what happens if she holds the thing without her thumb or pinky there at all; just use your middle fingers, please, Ms. Lorne.” The Beam shoots out above her head again.
        “It’s obviously hers,” Judge Imlig says.  “I mean, the thing is somehow meant for her.”
        “Well, let me have a try,” says Timonar.  “Perhaps, since Kalia’s my girlfriend now, I have replaced Aletheon, and so the Sword of Joy is properly my own.”  He tries and fails; the Beam stays in the Hilt.
        “We might as well all try it,” Imlig says.  “That way, if it still works for her alone, we’ll know that it’s supposed to stay with her.  Here comes Humberto; he should try as well.”
        They pass the Hilt around from hand to hand.  The Beam emerges only when the Hilt is gripped by Rifka Lorne.  “That settles it,” says Imlig.  “Let her keep it.  After all, who knows; that weapon might be what we need when we get deep inside of Sinister and face the monstrous female entity that spawned these Horrid things afflicting us.  We’re better off if that’s thing’s functional, and it looks like it’s only functional when it’s in Rifka’s hand.  It works for her, so doesn’t that mean it belongs to her?”
        “Well, she can borrow it,” says Kalia, “but it’s been Elvish property for what, ten thousand years?  We can’t just give it up.”
        “That’s fine,” says Rifka.  “I’ll just borrow it.”
        “Oh, look,” says Gnarl; “There’s a hook on it.  Let’s hang it on the chain around your neck.  It isn’t heavy.  It looks pretty there!”
        “It does look nice on you,” says Kalia.
        “So maybe, now that Rifka’s got a Sword, we’re set to go,” says Gnarl; “We’ll run off to Sinister and finish this for you.”
        “I wish you’d wait for us,” the Judge replies, “but, obviously, it’s not up to me to set your schedule.  You’re the kind of man who does exactly what he wants to do.”
        “Yes,” Gnarl says.  “I am that kind of man.”
        “But, Gnarl,” says the Wizard, “on your way to Sinister, perhaps you’d take the time to stop by Fuzzyville and check it out; the people there might be in need of help, as I was indicating earlier.”
        “No, problem, Wizard; we’d be happy to, right Rifka?  We’ll make sure the villagers are safe and sound.  We’ll tuck them into bed and sing them lullabies.  Well, Rifka will; I’m not so wonderful at keeping tunes.”
        “I think they have a mother of their own to do that sort of thing for them, but still I’m glad to hear that you’ll be stopping by, in case they need your help.  It’s hard to miss the lane to Fuzzyville – a right-hand turn about halfway from here to Sinister.
        “Okay, we’ll definitely check it out.”
        “You guys don’t want to stay here overnight?” asks Kalia.  “You’ll want a bath, at least; we’ve got some little pools among the trees that we can take you to if you would like, and, Rifka, you could use a change of clothes; there’s blood all over that cute halter-top that you’ve got on – your sneaks and leggings too.”
        “We left our knapsacks with a change of clothes beside a little lake a mile north  of Elfpark, so we’ll bathe and change up there, but thank you, Kalia; that’s sweet of you.”
        “Yeah, we’ll just head up there and take a bath and grab our stuff and go,” says Barkenfist.
        “Come on,” says Kalia, “why not hang out with us tonight?  You need a little break from all the action.  You can leave at dawn.”
        “That’s right,” says Asmuran; “it certainly would be more than appropriate for us to have a little party on the deck atop the tower.  I know I intend to hang out there and have a little drink with my amigo Hummy, and I’ll bet the Judge and these two Elves are in the mood to sit back and relax up there with us.  You two should really join us – we’d be hurt if you decided we’re not cool enough for you to do some celebrating with.”
        “Well, I don’t know,” says Barkenfist; “I think …”
        “Oh, come on, Gnarl,” Rifka says; “Let’s stay and spend a little time with them tonight; we’ll leave tomorrow morning, early.  Please?”
        “All right, my little stick of chewing gum,” he says; “We’ll hang out with these guys tonight and leave tomorrow morning right away.”

        While Joyous Ones and Horribles were locked in gruesome battle all around the walls of Disengar, the Royal Army fought the Western Corps outside of Fuzzyville.  I’ll use the present tense as I describe this equally significant affair.
        … At dawn the Elves, who’ve spent the night concealed a few yards from the forest’s edge, dash out with cries of “Elfpark!”, “Joy!” and “Die, you filth!”, a lightweight thrusting-spear in each left hand, a sword in every right hand, weapons made (as I’ve explained) of wood from Elfpark’s Trees.  They plunge their javelins through Gobbin-chests, and hew off Gobbin-heads.  The Gobbin-mob is groggy, half-awake; they stumble back against each other, cringing, holding up their arms to ward off Elven weaponry – an ineffective mode of self-defense. 
        Commander Creepus, sitting in his tent with several higher-ranking Managers, and Shungakung, the Urgish General, hears screeching Gobbins and the hissing roars of Gothrom’s bullhorn-simulated voice emerging simultaneously from diverse locations near the clearing’s edge as Gobbin-Manager attempt to turn the mob’s confused bewilderment to rage directed at the Elves assailing them: “The Joyous Ones are coming from the woods!  Go kill them and I’ll be so proud of you!  Go that way, Gobbins!  Murder all of them!”  They’re meeting in his tent to finalize the details of the long-delayed attack through tunnels running underneath Michelle and over ramps thrown down on top of her.  This two-fold operation will begin in ten or fifteen minutes – Urgs are massed around the tunnel-openings, and Trolls are waiting near Michelle in groups of five, one ramp per group, ten ramps, since fifty Trolls are all that Creepus has available, the other fifty having been destroyed by Trevor’s men twelve days ago, or else so seriously injured in that fight that they were put out of their misery and eaten by their friends soon afterwards.  Ten more ramps, with no Trolls to carry them, lie useless in the mud.  The Managers and Shungakung come scrambling from the tent to see what all the ruckus is about.  “Oh, shit!” says Creepus.  “Cancel the assault on Fuzzyville.  We need the Urgs and Trolls to deal with this emergency instead.”  The General trots off to get his Urgs lined up for battle, turned now toward the woods instead of toward the tunnel-openings.
        The Gobbin-Managers have done their job effectively.  The Gobbins are aroused and furious, a seething, snarling, congested mass of angry predators.  They shriek and hurl themselves against the Elves with lashing claws and lunging, snapping jaws as Gothrom’s simulated voice repeats, “Attack the Joyous Ones!  Attack!  Attack!”  The Elves hack leaping Gobbins with their swords and stab their guts with horizontal thrusts of sword and javelin at shoulder-height and also at steep angles: Gobbins leap from one another’s shoulders, backs, and heads, arc through the air, and strike them from above.  Fat Boodles hustle in to help the Elves whenever they go down beneath the weight of their assailants, pulling Gobbins up and killing them with short Boodita-chops delivered to their necks, and fending off additional attackers with swift kicks that rupture organs and disintegrate their neural networks, terminating them.  A dike of Gobbin-bodies starts to grow; the fallen Elves, however, are removed by Boodles to the rear, where, if they live, they will recover from their lighter wounds in less than thirty minutes and return to kill more Gobbins and perhaps again be wounded and transported to the rear.
        An hour passes as the Gobbin-mob diminishes, until a ragged fringe of living Gobbins, still enraged, surrounds a dike of corpses, while their Managers, who sit on Spyder-back beyond this wall of humanoid remains, prepared to flee at any moment, hiss encouragement in Gothrom’s voice through their raised megaphones.  The moment’s come, King Valorix decides: now heavier combatants like himself can be deployed.  His bellow’s taken up by shaggy Bearman-throats along the line until the raucous Bearman-bellowing surrounds the clearing – “Bearman-power!  Raarrr!” – and Bearmen lumber forward, shouldering their way a little rudely through the Elves and barreling past Gobbins, scrambling up the corpse-dike, from which every Bearman grabs two Gobbin-bodies, one in either hand, then down the other side and toward the Urgs.  Beyond the Urgish pike-wall loom the Trolls, spaced far apart at even intervals like fifteen-foot-high Stonehedge-megaliths.  The Spyder-mounted Gobbin-Managers flee just ahead of them, beyond the lines of Urgs, but there’s no safety for them there; the Bearmen, hurling Gobbin-corpses, smash their way directly through the wall of pikes, intent on getting at the Trolls, who bare their tusks and ball their fists and wait for them, encouraged by what seems to them to be the Lord of Horror’s roaring, hissing voice, projected from the nearby megaphones of their own Spyder-mounted Managers: “Destroy those Bearmen!  I, your Horror-Lord command you to exterminate them all!”
        The Treemen having been waiting in the woods about a mile from the clearing’s edge, as Trevor had proposed, in six large groups.  The soldiers have been standing underneath the limbs on which their Ladytrees are perched, conversing gently with them.  Now and then the Ladytrees have bowed their heads and bent the branches radiating from their skulls down toward their hungry mates, who’ve twisted off the fruit that grows upon the floral tips of these long branches and ingested it with evident delight and gratitude.  But now they hear the Bearmen bellowing and stroke their women’s faces, wishing them goodbye, assuring them that they’ll return, and stride off through the forest toward the fight.  They walk about as quickly as we jog; emerging from the woods soon afterwards, they overstep the Elves, stomp down upon the few remaining Gobbins in their way, and sweep aside the Urgs opposing them with sidelong motions of their branching feet.  Urgs jab their pikes at passing Treemen’s legs but mostly fail to penetrate their bark.
        The Bearmen are already on the Trolls, while simultaneously warding off the jabs of Urgish pikemen who have turned to deal with these opponents in their rear.  The Treemen kick annoying Urgs away and, now and then, when they see openings, they swing their arms above the Bearmen’s heads and smack the Trolls; the stunned Trolls then go down beneath the weight of Bearmen, who have seized their legs and waists and slowly tackle them.  But here and there lie Bearmen, badly hurt or dead; the Trolls have bashed their faces in or cracked their spines with heavy downward blows.  The Managers on Spyderback evade their enemies as much as possible; the Spyders change direction rapidly and run so quickly that they’re hard to catch, but now and then a Treeman’s hand or foot connects, and Managers and Spyders fall.
        Above her giant boulder in the woods, about two miles from the clearing’s edge, the Booditana rotates, hovering mid-air, her arms curved out in front of her, her fingers almost touching, but not quite; between her hands an orb of Energy shines brightly pink, emitting zigzag threads of its own substance that whip back and forth.  A bright pink glow effuses from her face and hands, and from her dangling sandaled feet.  Her eyes are almost closed; a bright pink mist emerges from her slightly parted lips.  The Boodle-Father levitates his jar above the treeline, looking toward the south to see what’s going on at Fuzzyville, and then descends – he rises and descends repeatedly, and glances at the girl, a bit impatient – but he won’t disturb her concentration; she is in the trance of Boodit-mind, and to extract her now, if possible at all, might not be safe.  The Wizards and her father stand nearby, observing her, and softly murmuring their commentary and diverse remarks on other matters not as relevant.
        “I wish that I could see what Mooga sees,” says Fladnag; “I’m extremely curious.  They seem okay together.  Maybe I’ll just take a little walk and have a look.”
        “I know,” says Dagastar; “it’s boring here.  But I don’t think that heading there alone is such a good idea; probably the implants that protected us before no longer work, because we’ve chosen sides.”
        “So why don’t you come with me?  Don’t you have a basic level of Boodita-skill?”
        “Yes, but … well, look, although it’s tedious to stand here while she rotates in the air, I’m in the presence of a marvelous thing – two Booditanoi, one in Boodit-trance, the other one externally aware while levitating himself up and down.”
        Hold on, you’ll say, if Mooga, in his jar, is levitating, then he must have learned this trick not earlier than yesterday, toward evening, when the Wizards carried him here to this boulder – look, his litter’s there beside it.  Well, you’re right; he gained this skill at ten PM, while coaching Sumiko on her technique.  He’d thought one needed feet to do it, but that turned out to be false; he grasped the image with such clarity that he found himself floating in the air, a living demonstration, and she laughed and rose herself, and soon she was entranced.
        “She’s always floated,” Kenji says to them.  “She floated as a baby, in my mind, and made me float inside my mind with her, and now she makes the Boodle-Father float inside of his mind and out here with us in three-dimensional reality.”
        The Gobbins are all dead; the Elves move in, together with the Boodles, to assail the Urgs, whose lines are totally messed up as they turn here and there to ward away, or frantically attempt to ward away, the larger shaggy foes and towering bark-covered branchy ones in back of them and in among them, for not long ago the Bearmen finally finished off the Trolls while Trevor’s men kicked Urgs away from them, and both have been attending to the Urgs for several minutes in a casual and fairly random manner.  Now the Elves and Boodles speed the killing-process up.  The Treemen go back to their mates in shifts to twist off fruit and pop it in their mouths; refreshed, they stride back to the battlefield.
        The frightened Managers on Spyderback are dashing here and there; their only thought at this point is to find small openings through which they can escape into the woods, but they aren’t having any luck, and now the Elves are hurling javelins at them.  (I’ve said that these are used primarily as thrusting-spears, but they can certainly be thrown, and it makes sense to throw them now at these evasive target ... and it’s fun.)  Dismounting, they dash through the openings of tunnels leading inward, where they join the Technicals and Molemen huddled there.  Long slender roots break through the tunnel-walls; the tips grope toward them, sensing body-heat and guided at close range by tiny eyes that ring the tips like shiny peppercorns.  They throw themselves face-down, and high-pitched screams of “I surrender!  Please!  Don’t strangle me!” resound along the narrow passageways.  Her roots bend over them; they’re prisoners.
        Two hours and half have now gone by; the battle has become a massacre, the Royal Army killing all the Urgs who still survive in separated groups with pikes turned outward like a hedgehog’s quills.  Commander Creepus, still on Spyderback, is in the midst of one of these, beside the Urgish General; the two of them have shaken hands, agreeing, “This is it; today we make the final sacrifice” – but Shungakung will sacrifice himself to Gothrom, Creepus to his Dad.  He feels the Emperor’s approach along the Road but doesn’t think that his progenitor  will reach the battlefield in time to save his life.  In any case, he’d rather die than feel his disappointed father’s gaze directed sadly downward at a clone who hadn’t managed to complete the task entrusted to him by the one from whom his life, his personal identity, his value, and his purpose were derived.
        The Royal Army’s tired warriors relax, and they take turns around the Urgs.  King Valorix trots up to every group in turn, and circles its beleaguered men while bellowing, “You stupid fucks are doomed!  Surrender now or we’ll kill all of you!”  But they reply, “Fuck you!  We’re Horrible!  We’re not surrendering to Joyful scum!”
        At last Michelle can roll her massive rim back down into the ditch where it belongs.  She thrusts her anaconda-roots back down into the soil, sucking thirstily, remoistening her parched interior.  Her treelike arms relax upon the ground.  The Molls and Grumbits walk across the rim to watch the final slaughter, chatting with the Elves, and Urm and Lula join their friends.  The two are proud of having ridden high on Trevor’s shoulders while the battle raged around them, even though the role they played was fairly limited.  They were deprived of Gobbin-killing opportunities, since by the time the Treemen charged, the mob of Gobbins had become extremely sparse, the Elves and Boodles finishing their work around the battlefield’s periphery, but by continually telling him what they were seeing to the right and left and what was going on in back of him, they were of some assistance as a source of information that may very well have saved the lives of Bearmen – he’d rushed up and kicked away attacking groups of Urgs in several cases just before they reached their shaggy targets, having turned around when Urm or Lula screamed into his ear, “Behind you!”, “On the right!” or “Left-hand side!”
        But as the final Urgs are being killed and prisoners are starting to emerge from underground, and sit down in the mud beneath the watchful eyes of jeering Elves, a chill is felt; it’s coming from the south, approaching from the Road, along the lane.  A Horrifying voice starts thundering, “I am Nausgothromor, the Emperor of Horror, and I’ve come to kill you all!”  A loud staccato thwacking can be heard by those north of the village, who can’t see the flailing of Nausgothromor’s long Whips as he whirls like a cyclone through the midst of Valorix’s Royal Army.  Elves and Bearmen, Boodles, Treemen – all go down; the Emperor appears unstoppable.  He spirals through them; he’s pursued by groups of outraged Bearmen; he reverses course and slices them to bits, then zig-zags off, continually Whipping down his foes.  “Kill all the prisoners!” shouts Agathar, and this is done before the Elves run off to safety in the forest, followed by the Tree- and Bearmen; there is nothing else that they can do.  The Boodles, though, attempt to stop him with Boodita, circling and dashing in to launch high leaping kicks that zap the Emperor from every side with sparks like splashing orange rain; he whirls and lashes outward at them with his Whips, too quick for them, and twenty of them die before they realize that they won’t succeed in stopping him.  They’re not advanced enough to deal with something of this magnitude; a full-fledged Booditana might perhaps be capable of overcoming him, but none of them has managed to attain that rank, or even gotten close to it.  They run off to the forest with the rest of Valorix’s army, which had seemed victorious not very long ago.
        The Emperor now strides across the mud toward Fuzzyville.  Michelle, exhausted, rolls the portion of her rim that’s facing him back upward from the ditch – its roots as yet are not entirely engaged below.  She flails at him; he laughs, and Whips her roots, and severs several of them; from the stumps a greenish blood like swamp-goo oozes out and puddles in the ditch beneath her bulk.  “Don’t worry, lady,” says the Emperor, “I won’t destroy you; I’ll just alter you, and turn your children into mutant slaves of Horror.” And a Whip snakes out and strikes one of her treelike-arms; the arm sinks down and sprawls out limply on the trampled mud.
        He hears a girlish voice in back of him, some distance off: “I’ve come to end your pain, Nausgothromor.”  He turns.  It’s Sumiko.  Five yards above the ground, in back of her, the Boodle-father hovers in his jar. 
        Nausgothromor’s arrival had been felt by Sumiko at once; emerging from her trance immediately, she declared,
        “I sense a Horrible disruption there,” and pointed to the south, toward Fuzzyville.”  The Boodle-Father, drifting toward the ground just as the Emperor turned from the Road onto the Lane that leads to Fuzzyville, aimed his awareness southward; he as well felt “Horrid wrongness” (as he put it) there.  She said “I must go help them” and sped off toward Fuzzyville; she ran upon the air, about a foot above the forest-floor on an invisible conveyer-belt, and Mooga, like a helium balloon tied to a string held in a child’s hand zipped after her, a little in the rear and well above her … as he hovers now while she confronts the Horror-Emperor.  “Draw on your deepest reservoirs of Joy,” says Mooga to his pupil.  “Concentrate.”
        Nausgothromor’s left Whip snakes through the air toward Mooga, but he zips away so fast that only its last inches strike the jar, and do so glancingly; the jar spins off (with Mooga in it) like a crazy top, then stabilizes fifty feet away.  Nausgothromor says, “Mooga, have you learned to levitate?  That’s very interesting.  We’ll have to give you room inside the lab where we’ll be doing research on your brain to fly around in; sensors in your lobes, attached to lightweight cables, should permit some hovering and zipping here and there while we test your responses to the shocks that we administer to various locations in your hypothalamus.”
        “What happened to you, Wizard?” Mooga says; “you used to have a personality, and now you’re nothing but a personage.”
        “I’m neither Wizard now, nor Mastermind of Horror, even; I’ve become much more – I’m Horror’s Emperor, Nausgothromor, for I contain Lord Gothrom in myself – the Horror-Lord; you may have heard of him.  He was the spectral image of me as I was in those infrequent intervals when I craved power in and of itself more than I wanted knowledge, friendship, sex, or any of the other possible objectives that a human being tends to have in view.  Lord Gothrom’s power-drive made him a natural leader, but the man was uncontrollable and treated me contemptuously; when I’d had enough of his behavior, I designed and built an engine that you’re not intelligent enough to comprehend, and sucked him in.  Incorporating Gothrom, I was filled with awesome power.  I’ve displayed it here already – you can see the corpses of your friends and allies scattered everywhere.”
        “Stop focusing on Mooga, Emperor,” says Sumiko.  “I need attention, please.  Don’t I deserve it?  Feel my empathy!  I’m here to terminate your suffering.”
        “‘I’ve come to end your pain’ had much more force.  Use ordinary words if possible; you’ll find them more effective, on the whole.  Who are you anyway, strange little girl?”
        “I’m no one in particular,” she says, “and on the other hand I’m everything, as you are; isn’t every one of us both nothing and the sum of everything?  Well, maybe not; these words occurred to me, but they’re just words; I’ll let them flow away.”
        “Nice talk – and look at how you levitate, just like old Mooga.  Did he teach you that?  Can you do backwards somersaults as well?”
        “Oh, there are lots of things that I can do, Nausgothromor.  I think it’s safe to say that I’m at least as powerful as you.  My power comes from Joy that circulates throughout the cosmic sea of I-not-I, and yours from Horror that coagulates within a monster under Sinister.  Now, tell me, which of us is unconstrained and independent?  Certainly not you!”
        “I will be dealing with Horroria as soon as I’ve completed my work here.”
        “Are you so sure you’re capable of that?  I think you’re underestimating her.”
        “Oh, do you now, my little know-it-all?”
        “I know an awful lot, Nausgothromor.  I know that if I let you walk or run away to Sinister, you’ll only try to Horrify the Joyous Realm again, no matter whether your attempt to free yourself from her control succeeds or fails, so I’ve decided to destroy you now.”
        “Oh, have you, little woman?  Or perhaps I should continue saying ‘little girl’, since you don’t look exactly womanly – you’re almost there, but haven’t made it yet.  How old are you, my darling woman-girl?”
        “More than a century, actually, but I exercise a lot, so I look young.”
        “And cute as well!  Instead of killing you I’ll take you back to Sinister with me, and over time the two of us will grow to be the best of friends.  You know my name, but haven’t told me yours.  That isn’t nice.”
        “I’m Booditana Sumiko!” she cries, and launches herself at him, spiraling and figure-eighting; bright pink fireballs  explode around him – for the fireballs that Sumiko produces are the pink of concentrated Joyous Energy, no longer orange-red like normal flames.  She teleports herself from place to place in his vicinity so rapidly it’s like a jerky movie skipping frames.  But he swirls through the midst of all of this with no less speed, his Whips both spiraling and figure-eighting just like Sumiko, as though she’s fighting three dark enemies – Nausgothromor himself, and his two Whips, which generate a constant thundering vibration of the local atmosphere, and warp its colors into arcing blurs of blackish purple.  It’s as though the two of them contend within a moving dome of purple blurs and bright pink fireballs.
        A half an hour passes in this way; survivors of the Royal Army come out from the forest’s edge to watch the fight.  The Boodle-Father, who’s been hovering just out of Whip-range, calling out advice to Sumiko, such as “Stay centered in your Zone of Joyous Power, Sumiko!” sees Kenji and the Wizards underneath the line of trees, and, swooping to them, says, “Hello, you three; you finally made it here!  The girl’s completely awesome, isn’t she?”
        “She certainly awes me,” says Dagastar. 
        “It awed me when my baby looked at me and smiled, when she reached and took my thumb, when she rolled over – she did all these things at just about the age that you’d expect, and I was awestruck, just as I am now,” says Kenji.  “Sumiko’s a miracle.”
        “She’s certainly impressive,” Fladnag says.
        “I’ve made a Booditana of the girl,” says Mooga, proudly.  “Wow, just look at her!”
        “You’ve made a Booditana of her, yes, and she’s impressive,” Dagastar replies, “but does she have the power to prevail against that fellow?  I’m a little scared.”
        “It frightened me when Sumiko first walked,” says Kenji.  “I was scared when she first spoke.”
        “The wisdom of a poet is the first and foremost wisdom of the universe,” says Mooga (he’s addressing Dagastar), “for isn’t it poetic craftsmanship that fashions all things in the many shapes the poet’s Joyous suffering decrees?  Have faith in Joy; whatever happens now, her spirit will prevail, although perhaps she will achieve her final victory in some strange way that we did not foresee.”
        “Thanks, Mooga,” Dagastar replies; “I’ll try to cultivate this faith you recommend.”
        “Who is he, though?” the Dusty Wizard asks.  “Is he the Horror-Lord I’ve heard about, some sort of incarnation of the will of our old colleague Nausor?  But I thought the Horror-Lord was sort of shadowy.  This fellow’s solid.  He reminds of the Midnight Wizard.  Is it him, transformed?”
        “Yes,” Mooga says, “it’s Nausor; he engulfed the Lord of Horror and, in doing so, became extremely huge and powerful;  that’s what he told me out there, anyway.  He’s taken on the name ‘Nausgothromor’, since ‘Gothrom’ was the Lord of Horror’s name and he encompasses the Horror-Lord within himself.  He’s changed his title, too; apparently, he’s now the ‘Emperor of Horror.’”  Mooga rolls his eyes and grins.  “Let’s give him credit for inventiveness; he’s Horrid, yes, but he’s no imbecile.”
        “No,” Fladnag says, “the man’s intelligence has always been remarkable.  But look, she’s really having trouble; can you go and round some Boodles up to head out there and help her?  Maybe she and they combined can take him down.  It might be worth a shot.”
        “No, they would not survive that seething dome of clashing Energies; we must remain here on the sidelines watching passively.”
        “She is alone,” says Kenji, “as are you, as I am, as is Mooga in his jar.”
        Nausgothromor is picking up the waves of consternation travelling to him from Disengar; the Stranger has just now killed Kurdle, and the Mantis is destroyed.  Enraged, he sucks in Horror, and expands; he’s fifteen feet in height now, and his Whips converge on Sumiko from either side; they wrap around her, looping many times until her face is all that can be seen.  Her eyes close, and she speaks a silent phrase; a bright pink glow effuses from within the coils and surrounds them like an orb of bright pink light within the hemisphere of eggplant-purple light containing it.  The Whips relax; the Emperor contracts to his twelve feet of ordinary height, and stands there motionless as she descends and stands upon her feet in front of him, as motionless as he.  He gazes down into her eyes; she gazes up at him.  His Whips retract, becoming normal arms.  He reaches out his hand to Sumiko; she takes it, and they run off side-by-side, or rather seem to ski upon the air about a yard above the corpses strewn across the battlefield.  They reach the lane and then the Road, and, turning right, run on toward Sinister, like lovers, with a wake of purple ripples edged with bright pink threads extending for a mile after them.