Chapter Twelve: Lovers

        As Gnarl and his woman told their tale, Nausgothromor and Sumiko arrived at Sinister, and went directly down to its sub-sub-sub-basement – to the Depths, where they … let me employ the present tense:
        Nausgothromor and Sumiko confront Horroria – they stand upon the mass of tentacles that floats upon the pool of Bioslime beneath Mount Sinister, surrounded by her many eyes and mouths.  Their hands are clasped – she has to raise her arm to keep her hand in his, as children do when they walk with an adult twice their height.  A softly luminous transparent sphere of purple swirls and bright pink threads surrounds the two of them; beneath this glowing sphere the tentacles are calm; around, it, though, they seethe, the red eyes flashing scarlet bolts.
        “Hello, Horroria; this is my friend; her name is Sumiko; be nice to her.”
        “I didn’t say that you could have a friend.  You’re not permitted to have any friends except for me.  I am your only friend, the only friend that you will ever have.  Nor did I tell you that you could absorb the Lord of Horror and become so tall and powerful.  You’ve acted recklessly.”
        “Oh, don’t be difficult, Horroria,” says Sumiko; “You never were his friend.  At most, you were his mother, in a way, and I think your relationship with him was kind of sick.  You knew this, didn’t you?  You used this man for your own purposes.  Well, now I’ve come to keep him company and be the friend he needed all along.”
        “You little bitch!  I’ll tear apart the sphere of Energies that keeps the two of you – so you believe – safe from my tentacles!  I’ll show you just how insignificant you are within the total scheme of things!”  Long tentacles reach in from further off and lash against the sphere that’s shielding them; they wind around it, straining; it distends and warps, but doesn’t burst.  Five hundred mouths are shrieking all around the glowing field.  At last, exhausted, she stops struggling to rupture it, and merely seethes and fumes – black fumes drift from her seething tentacles.
        She snarls, “What of your ambitious plan to subjugate the Realm and ready it for my expansion?  Did the Joyful folk prove too intelligent and tough for you, my little Mastermind?  Was it too much for you to handle?  Were you just too weak and stupid to accomplish anything?”
        “I may have been, Horroria,” he says, “but I’ve become much more than I was then.  I’m not your lowly little Mastermind; I’m Emperor of Joyous Horror now, and I shall be enthroned at Disengar.  My Empress, Sumiko, shall be installed here in your place beneath Mouth Sinister.  She won’t be separated from me, though.  We’ll be connected by a glowing cord of Joyous and Horrific Energies ascending from her aura through the peak of Sinister, then bending toward the west and slanting upward toward me – upward, yes, since I’ll be gazing down complacently upon the lands of my imperium from altitudes beyond the stratosphere.  There, at the other end, these Energies will clothe me in an aura of my own, replenished constantly, and she and I will telepathically communicate as though our bodies overlap, although I’ll be at Disengar, while she’s down here.”
        “She’ll live here in my place?  Exactly how will you accomplish this?  Perhaps you think that you can make me vanish, Mastermind?”
        He turns to Sumiko; she turns to him.  Their free hands meet; now both their hands are joined.  They gaze into each other’s eyes.  She nods, and does a sort of arching backward dive away from him that takes her out beyond the sphere’s protective Energetic field – but as she passes through its outer curve, her body’s surfaces begin to glow with those same purple swirls and bright pink threads that still curve all around Nausgothromor, and there’s a sort of tube of that same light connecting her to his protective field.  She’s falling backward toward the tentacles; they seize her as her clothing melts away, encircling her limbs and coiling around her head.  Horrendous cackling-sounds emerge from several hundred nearby mouths as she’s spread-eagled in a backward arch, and tentacles begin to force their tips between her labia and up her ass.
        The Emperor of Joyous Horror spreads his hands wide and he gestures rapidly; the sphere of Energies surrounding him erupts in purple zig-zag lighting-bolts with bright pink outlines, branching everywhere throughout the cavern, lancing eyes and mouths.  The mass of seething dull-black tentacles begins acquiring a bright pink hue; their seething evens to the rise and fall of respiration, like a sleeper’s chest.  A glowing bright pink Energetic gas emerges from them, blanketing them all; it drifts and swirls along their surfaces; amid the bright pink, purple bubbles float.  The many thousand gaping eyes and mouths begin to soften and reshape themselves until they all resemble Sumiko’s; the spiteful shrieking cackle is transformed to that deep humming sound you may have heard emerging from your woman’s abdomen when she’s approaching climax on your bed.  The voice is Sumiko’s – yet there she is, just as before, arched backward in the grip of looping, penetrating tentacles.
        The humming turns to speech; the words emerge from all the many thousand mouths at once; the voice is Sumiko’s – more resonant, and deeper than it was before, but hers: “You’ve made me Sumiko-Horroria, your Empress – Empress of Horrific Joy, forever mated to you, Emperor of Joyous Horror.  Take my Energies continually.  Go forth and possess the Realm.  Go forth; possess the Universe.  It’s ours now.  All of it belongs to us.”
        He throws his arms up, holding them outstretched diagonally, and spreads his feet apart, positioned like an X, his head reared back, the purple, bright pink-threaded Energy surrounding him no longer spherical –  an aura now, conforming like a suit of circulating luminescent gas extending several feet beyond his skin, or hide, or outer membrane – I don’t know what his peculiar surface should be called.
        This suit-like aura’s substance forms itself into a tube like an umbilical extending from the region of his gut, and, bridging intervening tentacles, descends toward Sumiko-Horroria,  whose field of glowing bright pink pushes out into a tube above the abdomen  that once was Sumiko’s, amid the mass of tentacles that grasp her limbs and heads.  His tube of purple Energy is joined with her own tube of bright pink Energy, so that a single Energetic cord connects the Empress with the Emperor, at his end mainly purple, while at hers it’s mainly bright pink, but the colors swirl through one another, so that bright pink threads extend into his aura, purple ones extending out into the bright pink glow that blankets Sumiko-Horroria.  Small dots of purple Horror-Energy, like bubbles in a stream, flow constantly from Sumiko-Horroria to him, conducted through the center of the tube of bright pink, Joyous Energy that shoots out of the bright pink field that covers her –  that’s why she told him “Take my Energies” and not just “Take my Energy,” for both the Horror and the Joy flow out of her and into him; he’s the recipient, and she the donor, and he will express these Energies in action.  (So the Male eternally expresses, actively, what he receives out of the Female depths of that which Dwarfs call “Holy Awesome One”.)
        He roars, “Yes, Sumiko-Horroria, I am your Emperor, the Emperor of Joyous Horror, and I shall go forth to take possession of our Universe!”

        These things occur two miles underneath the mountain’s base; three miles higher up, halfway between its base and highest point, Commander Pestilence has been informed by several Managers and Technicals that they beheld a person rushing by who must have been their Dad, in his new form, enhanced by his absorption of the Lord of Horror – for, of course, he’d let them know about his transformation; his report concerning this had gotten through to them before the flow of messages between Mount Sinister and Disengar was blocked by Treemen keeping watch upon the Road.  This person, evidently rushing toward the passage leading downward to the Depths, had someone with him, rushing by his side, a person less than half his height, who seemed to be a teenaged girl; she held his hand as they swept down the hallway – could she be Dad’s latest clone, or was Nausgothromor (for this, they’d been informed, was his new name) returning with a girlfriend?  Good for him, but why the rush, and why not introduce his clone or girlfriend (maybe she was both!) to all his children in Mount Sinister before proceeding onward to the Depths to be alone with her, perhaps, down there, in some secluded nook or to present his new companion to Horroria.  Moreover, several other Managers have said that creatures under their control insisted they saw Gothrom rushing past – a larger Gothrom, altered Horribly – with someone smaller running at his side.  The Urgish General has come to him as well, transmitting various reports from Urgish witnesses which indicate that Gothrom, in the new, expanded form that he’s attained by sucking Nausor in  and thoroughly incorporating him (according to the version of events provided to the Urgs) swept past them with a person smaller than a Manager accompanying him.  When sorted out by time and place, these sightings indicate the couple’s passage to the mountain’s Depths.
        Commander Pestilence, you may recall, was left to supervise the vital work continuing within Mount Sinister while Nausor and the Horror-Lord went off to subjugate the Realm with their vast Host.  His tri-syllabic name reflects the fact that he’s the highest-ranking Manager of all, outranking Creepus and the rest.  Since April first he has been governing the lives and labor of the humanoids who stayed behind with him in Sinister.  They’re very numerous.  The place remains the largest urban center in the Realm.  The population that he oversees encompasses some thirty thousand Urgs and sixty thousand Gobbins, and the great majority of Molemen, numbering four hundred forty thousand – Pestilence rules more than half a million people here. The Realm’s surviving Trolls are here as well – three hundred of them.  Next year, in the spring, a brand new batch of each variety of Horror-folk is going to emerge out of the pods and soft spots in the walls; the losses of the war will be replaced within a decade – maybe in five years.
        The formula that came from Disengar two weeks ago is being put to use down in the labs, where Technicals produce the medicine that temporarily transforms a Moleman into an enraged and very strong and speedy warrior.  Their weapons will be spiky, long-horned bugs the size of cats, which swarm in crevices where they suck milky blood, or bloody milk, out of the flesh that grows upon the rock.  A substance added to the Moleman-drug affects them like an opiate.  They cling to drugged-up Molemen’s forearms with their legs; their long-horned heads rest on the Molemen’s hands.  The pairs of horns projecting from their heads are two feet long, while from their plated backs project a number of six-inch-long spikes.  Their heads and backs are fused and fortified by heavy chitin, so that forward strikes employing their twin horns as stabbing blades and backhand-blows that make use of their spikes don’t injure them.  These ‘arm-bugs,’ as they’re called, permit the Molemen full use of their hands.  Another bug clings to each Moleman’s head, positioned like a spiky hat; its horns project diagonally.  Thus they are armed with biological equivalents of what the Molemen wore at Disengar; these living weapons are perhaps a bit superior to those metallic ones used by their brethren, who were all wiped out but clawed and spiked a lot of Dwarfs to death.
        Commander Pestilence begins to feel a strange new emanation from below, an Energy both Horrible and … well, it’s hard for him to say; it’s something new and much more powerful than anything he’s ever felt before.  His Dad’s new form, incorporating Gothrom, can’t explain the eerie presence of an alien ingredient – it’s almost thrillingly obscene; in fact, it feels a bit like … Joy.  The little person scampering along beside Nausgothromor – is this the source of that ingredient?  Should he go down and see if Dad needs help?  No, Dad of course knows what he’s doing.  Trust him.  Focus on your duties.  He will come and clarify the situation when his work below has been completed.  Then you’ll understand.
        Take note of one effect this Energy is having on the Mountain: time is slowed.  It’s most slowed in the Depths, where seconds pass while days are passing by at Disengar; above, throughout the rest of Sinister, and on its outer surface, hours pass while days pass elsewhere.  There’s a sort of belt around the mountain, a transition zone in which time’s passage gradually slows as you approach the foot of Sinister.
        Nausgothromor remembers Pestilence; he’ll climb the winding upward passageway out of the Depths, reentering the guts of Sinister (right now he’s in the groin), as soon as this transfiguring event’s post-climax after-rush subsides enough to let him focus on the practical considerations waiting just beyond the shining zone of his felt unity with Sumiko-Horroria; he’ll meet with Pestilence and his subordinates to plan a new campaign across the Realm.  He’s absolutely certain that this new campaign will end in total victory, for he feels fire seething in his arms – he senses that he’s able to project Boodita-flames across long distances from his extended Whip-arms, using them as fire-hoses to incinerate his enemies, a power he receives from Sumiko-Horroria, of course.  The Emperor’s connection with his friend, the purple-bright pink cord of Energy that joins them, will remain, for it will pass through any wall of stone, however thick, extending through the distance that divides the Emperor and Empress, linking them so that their spirits always overlap.
        He doesn’t know about the slowing-down of time here in the Depths of Sinister.  If he were to depart the slowed-down zone by heading east again along the Road, their thinking would proceed at different rates; they wouldn’t have the power to converse.  Still, they would feel each other; she would pump her Joy and Horror through the conduit into the Emperor, empowering him to achieve his goals, and so the Realm would be subordinated to his will and thoroughly transformed accordingly.  But what’s the new design he has in mind?  Perhaps a universal shopping-mall?  He isn’t sure yet; that’s why I’m not sure.
        The eyes of Sumiko-Horroria projecting from atop Mountain Sinister see motions that occur beyond the zone of slowed-down time as sudden blurry streaks – she isn’t paying much attention, though.

        A hundred pyres are distributed throughout the muddy open area surrounding Fuzzyville.  Here corpses burn – the final vestige of the Western Corps.  Around the area’s periphery a trench contains the fallen warriors of Valorix’s army – of each kind, a fifth of those who came out of the woods to fight three days ago have fallen here.  Another fifth are seriously hurt, with many of these being tended to around the Meeting Hall by busy Molls.  The Royal Army’s camping in the woods.  The Treemen have accepted Valorix as their official king – they met the night of May fifteenth and started to discuss the pros and cons of granting him this role, with Trevor strongly laying out the pros, and others somewhat less emphatically presenting cons, although prepared to grant the force of Trevor’s arguments – he stressed the threat of Dwarfish power, and the need to counterbalance it.  They didn’t come to an agreement then, although it seemed that they were tending toward his point of view, so Valorix allowed them to defer responding until they had had a chance to meet again next morning, which they did for several hours; finally they arrived at their consensus – yes, he’d be their king.  As for the Elves, the Baron and his wife spent most of May sixteenth conversing with their followers, and in this way confirmed what they already thought to be the case – the Green Berets were happy to accept the Bearman’s leadership at least until the war was won, and furthermore appeared to be inclined to grant him kingship too, if Kalia and Timonar agreed that this would be the most effective way of counterbalancing the growing strength of Dwarfenberg.  King Valorix begins to feels authentically monarchical, but not tyrannical, of course – he’s just the first of several chiefs, he tells himself, and must continue to respect them all if he is to retain their loyalty.  This evening on the seventeenth of May, the leaders are assembled underground – except for Trevor, who won’t fit down there – conversing with Michelle, informing her that they’ll be leaving for Mount Sinister tomorrow morning.  Trevor crouches down against the outside of the Meeting Hall, explaining to some Grumbits that he’ll grow another eye within a hundred years and that the gouges in his arms and thighs will heal much sooner; no, he says, these wounds don’t weaken him, but, yes, they hurt a bit.  (The Emperor’s long Whip-arms left these marks on Trevor, but he was more fortunate than sixty other Treeman, who were killed in fifteen minutes; many Ladytrees, the widows of the slain, will make the Lake their final home now, and in years to come will root themselves, becoming Elders there.)  Nearby is Treena, gazing at the sky: the first few stars insinuate themselves through fading daylight; she’s imagining a murmured greeting: “Hello, here we are.”
        “Your wounded will remain in Fuzzyville of course,” Michelle says underneath the Hall.  “I’ll make sure my kids take good of them.”
        “Not all your kids, Mom,” Urman says; “My girl and I have rounded fifty couples up to join the Royal Army.   Fuzzyville will show the Realm that its inhabitants aren’t altogether insignificant.  Mount Sinister sent us some visitors; now we will graciously reciprocate.”
        “I wish you wouldn’t go, love,” says Michelle.  “I’d much prefer that you stay here with me where you’ll be safe, and keep me company.”
        “We can’t, Mom.  It’s a point-of-honor thing.  Those fuckers out of Sinister came here and messed with us and hurt you pretty bad.  You think we’ll leave it up to other folks to make them pay in blood for what they’ve done?”
        “That’s right,” says Lula; “I’ll be chewing them a brand new asshole.  So will all the girls.”
        “If that’s the way you feel, what can I do?”  Michelle replies.  “But, if you wouldn’t mind, make sure your corpses are brought back to me so that I can incorporate your genes within a future batch of children here.”
        Aboveground, Barkenfist and Lorne approach the Meeting Hall, led by a Moll, who says, “The Head’s with all the other major guys beneath that building there.  I have to run – these wounded people constantly need help – so go on in and find the passageway that leads below; you’ll see it right away.”
        “Can that be …?” Trevor says.  “My God, it is!  It’s Gnarl!  Man, it’s been a thousand years!”
        “Hey, Cousin Trevor!  What a nice surprise!  I see you’ve got a bunch of battle-wounds.  Our furry little guide was telling us about the fighting here, and it appears that you were really in the thick of it.  My Cousin Trev, heroic warrior!  You’re looking pretty good, considering.”
        “I’ve aged okay, I guess – but look at you!  You’re looking barely older than you did last time I saw you.  How’s that possible?”
        “My woman, Rifka Lorne here, keeps me young.  Hey, Rifka, this is Trevor.  He’s the guy you’ve heard about – my best friend at the Lake when I was growing up.  We used to have amazing conversations in between our wrestling matches, which I always won.”
        “Hi, Trevor!  Gnarl’s often mentioned you.”
        “It’s nice to meet you, Rifka.  Glad to see that Gnarl’s found himself a little mate.”
        “Hey, Trevor,” Gnarl says, “the big bald guy that I went off with, Mooga, or his head, is in there, right?  I want to talk to him.”
        “Yup, he’s below.  You’ll find a passageway that spirals down there.  It will be a squeeze, but Valorix got through, and he’s your size or even bigger, so you’ll make it down.”
        Michelle’s the first to see them.  “Who is this?”
        “My boy!” shouts Mooga.  “Have you got your name?”
        “Yes, Mooga,” Gnarl says; “It’s Barkenfist.  This pretty lady’s Rifka Lorne.”  She waves.  The two are introduced to everyone.
        “It’s nice to meet you, buddy,” Urman says.  “Hey, dollface!  Wow, I really like your pants.”
        “I’m very glad you’re here,” says Dagastar.  “According to the Master, you’re the most impressive student that he’s ever had, except, perhaps, for little Sumiko …”
        “Oh?  Where’s this Sumiko?  Is he around?”
        “She’s not,” says Mooga.  “Sumiko’s a she.  We’ll get to her and where she might be now, but, first, I’m guessing that the two of you  have been at Elfpark very recently,  since when I summoned you inside your dreams I specified the tower as your goal – the simplest way to get you there, I thought, since it’s so visible from far away.”
        “Sure, we were there.  That tower’s really tall.  Amazing.  Asmuran’s an awesome guy.”
        “You met him there?  He’d brought the Dwarfs with him?  Was there a battle?  Tell us everything!”
        “There was a major battle underway when we arrived, with Dwarfs down on the ground, along with giant metal humanoids called ‘Megagirls’, plus armored Mexicans, and Elves up in the Tree-limbs overhead on one side; on the other side were Urgs and Molemen and a giant metal Bug, and mutant crazy Elves who fought against the nice Elves in the Trees.  A wild scene.  We watched the action for a while; then, when it looked like our side was going down, we intervened and helped the good guys win.”
        “You say ‘we’ intervened, which indicates that Rifka here was fighting by your side.  Is she some kind of super-hero too?”
        “Uh, well, the thing is, Mooga, I’m okay all by myself, as I’m sure you recall, but with this little woman giving me encouragement my strength goes way, way up ...” and he describes how they cooperate in battle, and goes on to answer all their questions – Rifka sometimes chiming in to clarify his answers – about how the battle went, and who was fighting there.
        “Well,” says the King, “While you were battling the enemy at Elfpark, we were here destroying him at Fuzzyville as well.”
        “Hence all the burning corpses,” Gnarl says.  “So how did that go?  Tell me everything, beginning with how all of you met up.” 
        So Valorix, with help from others there, relates the story we already know of how his army came to Fuzzyville, and fought there; “… and so we had just about destroyed them when this ‘Horror-Emperor’, as Mooga calls him, came out of the blue; the guy was twelve feet tall, with two long Whips, and moved so quickly he was blowing through our people like a fucking hurricane, and, shit, it was a mess; we really thought that we were fucked, but Sumiko ran out and fought him; it was kind of hard to tell what happened at the end, but she ran off with him along the Road toward Sinister, so we were totally victorious.”
        (In case you’re wondering how Valorix knows that the Emperor and Sumiko ran west along the Road toward Sinister, not east toward Elfpark, or directly south straight through the Swamps – why not? they certainly were powerful enough to have survived in that environment! – when they ran off, the Boodle-Father floated after them and saw which way they went, and he of course informed King Valorix, who just repeats what Mooga told him when he floated back.)
        “So now we’ve got a Horror-Emperor opposing us,” says Gnarl.  “What about the Midnight Wizard that I heard about, and where’s that other guy who calls himself ‘the Lord of Horror’ who was in command of all the Horribles at Dwarfenberg?”
        The Boodle-Father says, “This Emperor is Nausor with the Horror-Lord contained within him; he engulfed the Horror-Lord and underwent the metamorphosis that made him so destructive when he came to save the remnant of his army here.  He’s got a new name now: ‘Nausgothromor’, since ‘Gothrom’ was the Lord of Horror’s name and Gothrom’s now contained inside of him.”
        “Does he still have a Wizard’s cone-shaped head?  He does?  Okay, then he must be the one the Judge saw running down the tower’s side and out the western exit.  Imlig said he jumped the fighting that was going on beyond the exit and continued west along the Road.  The Wizard, Asmuran, confirms this; he saw part of it at least from where he sat inside his Megagirl within the wall, where they were facing off against that giant metal Arthropod.  We hadn’t yet arrived to save the day, so I can’t independently confirm what Imlig and the Wizard said.  Perhaps the two of them hallucinated it.  It seems more likely that it happened, though.”
        “That’s interesting,” says Mooga.  “This occurred before the two of you arrived, which means that Horror was prevailing at that time.  He must have thought he wasn’t needed there.  No doubt he sensed his minions’ greater need at this location, and went rushing off to help them.  He arrived at Fuzzyville mere hours after leaving Disengar – amazing speed.  An admirable man, aside from his Horrific character and Horrible ambition, isn’t he?”
        “I guess.  How did you learn about him, though?  I mean, how he originally was the Wizard Nausor, but, as a result of swallowing the Horror-Lord, became this over-powered Horror-Emperor and gave himself the glorious new name of ‘Nausgomoroth’ – what’s his name again?  ‘Nausgothromor’.  You interviewed the guy?  Or did you sense the basics and fill in the gaps with guesses and close reasoning?
        “He told me.  He seemed eager to explain his transformation.  He’s quite proud of it – not just of the result, but of the fact that he discovered how to pull it off.”
        “I’m glad you had an opportunity to chat with him, but how did it arise?”
        “When Sumiko emerged from her deep trance and rushed out of the forest to confront the Horrid Presence she’d intuited, I followed her.  That’s when we had our chat and he explained his metamorphosis.”
        “You followed her?  Some Boodles carried you?”
        “No, I can levitate now – see, like this.  I floated through the air right after her.”
        “Wow, that’s impressive, Mooga – lucky guy!  My lady here can jump extremely high, but levitation’s even awesomer.  So, do I have this straight?  You’ve got this guy, this asshole-Wizard, Nausor, living there in Sinister, and he gets hypnotized by this gigantic Horrifying bitch, ‘Horroria’, who’s living underneath the mountain wallowing in Bioslime?”
        “Yes,” says Michelle, “it’s all my sister’s fault.  She’s always been like this.  Mom wanted me to keep an eye on her: that’s why I came to this location, close to Sinister – in case she started acting Horribly.  I guess I was supposed to put a stop to any Horrible activities that threated to diminish people’s Joy, but I’m not powerful enough; what could I do?”
        “Don’t worry, Sweetie, no one’s blaming you,” says Fladnag; “it’s enough that you fought hard to keep your children safe.  You certainly have suffered more than I have recently.”
        “That’s right,” says Rifka, “you’re extremely nice and motherly, Michelle, and that’s what counts.”
        “Thanks, darling,” says Michelle; “that’s sweet of you.”
        “Okay,” says Gnarl, “so she changes him into ‘the Mastermind,’ and … help me out … while Nausor’s undergoing this big change, the ‘Horror-Lord’ emerges from his butt  and kind of takes control of everything?”
        “Let Snigger tell the story,” Fladnag says.  “The man’s the source of everything we know; I heard it from his mouth, and told the Judge, and he in turn told you, I guess, but now you’ve got the fellow there in front of you.”
        “Oh, great,” says Barkenfist.  “Let’s hear it, kid.”  So Snigger does his best to clarify the picture.  “Right,” says Barkenfist.  “I see.  And Sumiko, your super-heroine just scampered off to Sinister with him?     
        “My daughter fell in love and ran away,” says Kenji, “but she made a big mistake; this fellow’s not the sort of man she needs, and he will only bring her misery.”
        “Yeah, well, I guess she’s choosing misery.”
        “Sometimes a woman’s will is not her own.”
        “That’s very true,” says Gnarl Barkenfist, his eyes on Rifka Lorne, who smiles back as if to say, “I think you might be right.”  “And yet,” he says, “her will, although possessed, has got a way of wriggling around and making its possessor compromise with her in lots of ways, so that it gets quite difficult to say who’s dominant.”  His woman smiles somewhat pointedly.
        “That’s right,” says Mooga, “and, in fact I feel that even though she did submit her will to his, she sort of let him take control.  I mean, she had to let him take control; she couldn’t help it.  On the other hand, she made herself unable to resist; she chose this for herself.  And yet, you see, she had to choose.  Of course, it doesn’t stop at that point, since again … you get the point – an infinite regression.  Things like this are very difficult to understand.”
        “Unless there’s nothing there to understand,” says Barkenfist.  “The series has to start at some point at which Sumiko’s compelled or chooses to submit.  Which is it, then?”
        “Perhaps,” says Dagastar, “she’s inwardly compelled by her own elemental drives to make that first decision to submit, but then, in turn, the outer stimulus of someone else’s will, the Emperor’s, must activate these drives – yet this again requires that she actively perceive this will as having such-and-such a form, an act of recognition that proceeds from her own will.  She voluntarily receives the pressure of this other will.  This mutual dependence of our wills suggests to me that there’s a single will behind them all, a universal will expressed diversely in a multitude of separated sub-wills that compete ferociously and yet despite themselves align in one coordinated thrust, a single cosmic self-creative act.”
        “Yes,” Mooga says, “you see a higher truth – but look beyond it!  See the highest one – the self beyond itself, which doesn’t will since there is nothing that it wants to be.”
        The Dusty Wizard sighs impatiently.  “But from a lower-level point of view what implications does this have for us?”
        “Ah, Fladnag – ever practical, I see, and rightly so.  Well, then, it seems to me that Sumiko intended to achieve some Joyous end by running hand-in-hand to Sinister with Horror’s Emperor.  I think she’s somehow neutralizing him, so that the Royal Army can proceed to Sinister and demonstrate its strength before the Gate and, if it has to, fight the Horribles and need not be concerned about the Emperor; he’ll stay within the mountain, focusing on Sumiko.”
        “Ug,” Gnarl says; “he’s much too old for her.  Well, we’ll go in and kill the Emperor and take her out of there.  I really hope she doesn’t take his side, but if she does I’ll try to incapacitate the girl as painlessly as possible, although slight injuries are unavoidable.”
        “Don’t kill my dad!” cries Snigger.  “Daddy’s just the helpless victim of Horroria!  Destroy Horroria and you won’t need to kill my dad, since he’ll be free of her Horrific influence; once she’s been killed, he won’t be Horrible; my dad will be like any other person in the Realm.  Don’t kill him – let him live!  That’s why I’m here – to help him, not to murder him, okay?”
        “He might be better off now if he’s dead,” says Mooga; “then his spirit will be free to join the Cosmic Self and be at peace.”
        “Well, try, at least,” says Snigger; “Go down first and kill Horroria.  That’s all I ask.  I’ll take you down there; I’m acquainted with the lower passageways of Sinister.”
        “Good,” Gnarl says.  “We’ll leave tomorrow, then.”
        “We’re leaving with you,” says King Valorix.  “My Royal Army will depart at dawn.”
        “That doesn’t make much sense,” says Barkenfist.  “Okay, so let’s say Master Mooga’s right, and Sumiko has got the Emperor wrapped up in there so that he won’t come out to tear you up the way he did before; still, he must have enormous quantities of Horribles inside of Sinister – a lot more than you faced in battle here.  At least wait for the Dwarfs at Disengar to come and help you – send somebody there to find out what Judge Imlig’s schedule is.  The two of us, with this sick-looking guy, can meanwhile sneak inside of Sinister and kill Horroria, and if we need to kill this Emperor, kill him as well – if not, don’t worry, Snigger, he can live – so that the Horribles are leaderless when you guys and the Dwarfs arrive to start the dirty work of slaughtering them all.
        “No, Mister Barkenfist,” says Valorix.  “Please understand; we have to show the Dwarfs that there’s a viable, legitimate alternative to their authority, a counterweight, and that means showing up in force before the Gate of Sinister before the Dwarfs arrive, so we can say, ‘Yes, we might let you have Mount Sinister, but don’t forget that you’ve received the place from us, because we’re in a friendly mood.’  You see, the other peoples of the Realm don’t want those stubby little brainiacs with their machines and weird religious crap to end up dominating everything.  The Royal Army we’ve assembled here, which represents non-Dwarfish unity, is basically the only obstacle to Dwarfish domination of the Realm; it’s therefore our responsibility to do whatever demonstrates our strength most credibly and undeniably to them.  This being so, our course is clear: we must move on to Sinister at once and seize the slope below the Gate at least, all by ourselves, before the Dwarfs arrive.”
        “The Dwarfs don’t want to dominate the Realm,” says Fladnag; “I keep emphasizing this and no one seems to get it through his head.  They only want to govern their own zone, which we assume is going to include Mount Sinister – at least, we hope it will, since we will all be better off that way – and, yes, they’ll build a highway through the Swamps which they’ll be using when they want to go to either mountain from the other one, which everyone who wants them out of sight should absolutely be in favor of.  The problem that we’re trying to address arises not from any actual intent of theirs to dominate the Realm, but rather from their fairly obvious ability to dominate the Realm.  It’s this that very understandably makes people nervous, people who might not be well-informed, who might get paranoid about concealed agendas, secret schemes and scary esoteric protocols.  The purpose of your kingship, in my view, is to alleviate this nervousness by demonstrating an alternative, non-Dwarfish power.  You don’t need to have a hostile attitude.  Please, let’s avoid a confrontation.  There’s no need for that.”
        “Hey, I’m not hostile; I’m just vigilant.  You say that they don’t want to dominate the Realm, and maybe that’s what they believe, but power’s something that I understand; it always tends to grow; they’ll look ahead, anticipate some obstacle or threat far down the road, and move preemptively.  Their diplomats will start to look a lot like governors; they’ll give us wise advice that we will unable to reject.  Sure, they might not intend to do us harm, but why should we be satisfied with that?  Look, I won’t start a conflict with the Dwarfs, but if they push me, I’ll be pushing back.”
        “They influence and argue; they don’t push.”
        “Come on, you’re smart; you have to recognize that influence is just a subtle kind of force, and overwhelming influence is gentle dominance.  Their influence alone, if unopposed, will be enough to make us play along with any scheme they might cook up for their own benefit.”
        The Wizard says, “The Dwarfs don’t ‘cook up schemes;’ their goals are very openly proclaimed, and any plans – not ‘schemes’ – that they devise for getting to these goals are kept within the boundaries set for them by their own Law, which seems to be a fairly decent one prescribing common-sense morality, albeit in a roundabout, weird way.”
        “You’re getting hung up on my choice of words.  The Dwarfs want what they want; they’ll always try to move aside whatever obstacles they see in front of them, with influence if not machinery.  They’ll justify their way of doing it with arguments that work for them.  We’ll be an obstacle too heavy for the Dwarfs to move aside if we don’t feel like rolling.  Like I said, if they try pushing us out of their path we’ll push them back.  If they don’t push, okay, there won’t be pushing.  Pushing happens, though; it’s part of life.  If you don’t push, you’re dead.”
        “A shoving-match too frequently becomes a painful punching-contest,” Fladnag says.
        “Yes, well, a forceful shove is pretty much a punch already, and they’re shoving us with influence, or will be,” says the King.
        “Two hand are needed for a clapping sound,” says Kenji; “no one flaps a single hand except a fool.  One hand is Dwarfenberg and we’re the second hand.  The Realm’s no fool.”
        “I like that metaphor,” says Dagastar.”
        “I’m worried, though,” says Fladnag, “that these hands will slap instead of clap, and blood will flow from people’s noses – people that I like.”
        “Please understand me; I don’t want to fight a war against the Dwarfs,” says Valorix, “and I’m not stupid or irrational; I realize they’d defeat us if we chose to go in that direction; all I want is for the Dwarfs to see that it would be a very costly enterprise for them to take us on – not worth the price they’d pay.  The opposition that we’re offering to Dwarfish power, Dwarfish influence, need not be hostile or belligerent; we must be wary, but we can respect and even help them and receive their help from time to time when our needs coincide.”
        “I wish that we could all just get along,” says Fladnag.  “Then we’d all be happier.”
        “No doubt,” says Valorix, “but this is life, and living things must demonstrate their will to fight, if necessary, to preserve their territory and their way of life.  We demonstrate our will by showing up at Sinister before the Dwarfs show up.  Right, Mooga?  See, he’s nodding.  He agrees.  Right, Agathar?  Right, Urman?  Dagastar?  Look, all of them are nodding.  They agree.  And if you want to, Barkenfist, go up and ask the Treeman, Trevor, what he thinks.  I promise you, he shares my attitude.”
        “Okay,” says Gnarl, “but are you prepared to lose a lot of people on the slope if they come out to fight you?  Like I said, there must be lots and lots of Horribles inside Mount Sinister; suppose you face an army four times larger than the one that you faced here, or seven times as large?”
        The Boodle-Father answers Barkenfist: “Indeed, they will be very numerous, but even if you multiplied the force we faced in battle here by seven, we would still defeat it, even though we’d lose a lot of men, and do expect this loss.  We must act nobly, as the Way of Things requires of us; we have to accept the likelihood of bitter losses there.  It’s necessary that we undergo this suffering, if we are to prevent the total domination of the Realm by Dwarfenberg.  However courteous and subtle total Dwarfish mastery  would be, we can’t allow it; it would dull our Joy.  The Dwarfs themselves will lose their edge if no one ever pushes back at them.”
        “I can’t believe I’m hearing words like this from Mooga,” Fladnag says; “you’re even worse than Valorix – a man as wise as you!  ‘The total domination of the Realm?’  Must I explain again that this is not what interests them?  My God, sometimes I feel as though I’m talking to invertebrates!”
        “I’m an invertebrate,” observes Michelle.
        “You’re far too spiny sometimes,” Mooga says.  “Truth flows; it’s soft; that’s how it slithers in through cracks in people’s minds from time to time.  The truth in this case was well-stated by King Valorix: a living thing expands and spreads itself as much as possible by influence or argument or force, and influence and argument in fact are only softer forms of force, so, yes, ‘the total domination of the Realm’ – that’s actually what we’re facing here unless we do what Valorix suggests.”
        “An interesting example,” Dagastar reflects, “of spiritual authority supporting secular authority – a thing that very frequently occurred throughout the history of Wizardworld.”
        “Well, Fladnag,” Barkenfist says, “it appears that you’re the only one who disagrees with Valorix and thinks, as I do, that it would be best for everyone to wait at Fuzzyville until the Dwarfs show up.”
        The Dusty Wizard says, “No, I accept the King’s proposal from a practical perspective – I agree that it makes sense for him to lead the Royal Army west.  It’s just the underlying attitude of people toward the Dwarfs that I oppose – as though they have to be antagonists from this point on.  No way; this cannot be the final state of our political affairs – opposing powers in the Realm, Dwarfs on the one hand, on the other hand the other peoples, led by Valorix.  For now it might be necessary, since the average person’s unintelligent, suspicious, and resentful.  Later, though, we’ll have to move on toward a politics transcending this division; only then will you been ready for the membership the Federation has in mind for you.”
        “I doubt that goal will ever be achieved,” says Agathar.  “The Dwarfs will always be a grasping, domineering, selfish race; they’ll never get along with anyone, and who would want to get along them?”
        “My Daddy was a Dwarf, you vile twerp,” says Gnarl Barkenfist.  “Go fuck yourself.”
        “Oh, sorry to offend,” says Agathar; “I didn’t know.  Well, some Dwarfs are okay.  No doubt there are exceptions, like your Dad.”
        “Come on, kids,” says Michelle.  “This doesn’t help.  Remember, there’s a common enemy; aim your hostility at Sinister, not at each other.  No one in this room is Horrible, so try to get along.”
        “You’re right,” says Gnarl.  Rifka pats his arm.
        “It’s natural that non-Dwarfish folk would be a little tentative about the Dwarfs,” says Mooga, “but there isn’t any need for spiteful feelings toward them, Agathar.  They’re certainly not Horrible.  In fact, they swim with Being’s current, in the midst of its trajectory from Never-Was to Never-Will-Be, always Going There in beauty, as if rushing motionless.  Of course, they see themselves quite differently.”
        “Hey, I don’t dislike Dwarfs,” says Valorix, “but I’m not going to subordinate myself to them; not even if we’d all be better off if they ran everything.  Well, this has gone on long enough.  It’s time for me to head up to the surface now; I’ve got a royal duty to perform, a duty that unfortunately has some personal significance for me.  My Bearmen are already gathering to listen to the special eulogy that I’ll proclaim above the mangled corpse of my friend Busterax before the trench in which he lies among the other slain is filled with dirt and covered by the leaves the Elves have gathered from the forest-floor.”
        “We’ll all go,” Fladnag says.  “How could we not?  He was your loyal comrade, and his name will be remembered, and his deeds recalled, whenever men speak of these great events.”
        “Let’s not exaggerate,” says Valorix.
        They file up along the passageway, with Mooga coasting next to Barkenfist inside his jar.  “Your levitation-trick is awesome, Master Mooga,” Gnarl says, “and what especially impresses me is how you keep on learning brand-new things as you get older.  I hope I’m that way when I’m your age, but it’s not probable.  I’ve never been a learning-sort-of-guy; I just look at the world and take it in, and beat it up when it’s annoying me.”
        “Don’t say such things about yourself, my son; I’ll bet you’ve learned a million little things that no one’s ever noticed.  Anyway, you’re your own person, doing things your way – an awesome way that’s gotten you this name of ‘Barkenfist’; a fitting name for you.
        “That might be true, and thanks, but … are you sure that you’re okay with what I said about the way I’ve done so many awesome things?  I hope I haven’t disappointed you; I guess I didn’t quite turn out to be as awesome as you’d hoped, considering that I in part owe my accomplishments to Rifka.  I should say ‘at least in part’, and you can’t really separate the parts that come from me and her.  It’s her support that gets me past the threshold that divides mere awesomeness from super-awesomeness.”
        “My boy,” says Mooga, “did you really think that I’d be disappointed?  Not at all.  I’m very happy for you.  Rifka Lorne, congratulations.  You deserve a name to go with his – I hope they gave you one.”
        “They did,” says Rifka, blushing, “but I hope that you won’t make me say it; it’s so long, and in an ancient dialect of theirs.”
        “Oh, really?  Well, in that case, I’ll confer another hero-name on you, a name that’s not so difficult for you to say and is entirely appropriate: ‘The Sexy Sidekick’!  Good, I made you laugh; laugh all you want, but that’s your hero-name here in the Realm.  When you walk in the room they’ll look at one another and they’ll say ‘That’s Rifka Lorne, the Sexy Sidekick!  Wow!’”
        “Okay,” says Rifka, “that’s my hero-name.  Thanks, Mooga.  I can see why everyone thinks you’re the wisest person in the Realm.  Your Sexy Sidekick’s tired, Barkenfist; let’s go and find a place to snuggle in.”
        They’ve left the Hall.  The Boodle-Father says goodnight, and floats away to find his kids.  The Treeman and his mate stand side by side nearby; apparently, they’ve waited there for Barkenfist and Rifka to emerge.  The Treeman bends a finger, greeting them, and Treena smiles, fluttering her hand.
        “So, Trevor,” Gnarl says, “they’re telling me that you’ll be going to Mount Sinister with Valorix.  You’re really heading there?”
        “That’s right,” says Trevor.  “We must finish this.”
        “You’ll have to bring your Ladytrees with you; do you think there’s a safe location there where they can hide while you fight Horribles?”
        “No, it’s apparently an open slope; they’ll have to ride our shoulders while we fight.”
        “But that’s a little risky for them, no?  Suppose you get knocked down by lunging Trolls, or they fall off when you twist suddenly to get at someone who’s in back of you?
        “Yes, it’s a little risky,” Trevor says, “but we’ve decided that it’s worth the risk.  We told our women that we wouldn’t go if they weren’t up to it, but all of them insisted that we go to Sinister despite the danger.  Right, my love?”  (She nods.)  “It’s not just risky for our mates, of course; a Treeman dies without his woman’s fruit, so none of us is coming back alone.”
        “That’s right,” says Barkenfist.  “You’d starve to death within a day or two without your wives.”
        “No,” Trevor says, “we’d never starve to death.  Instead, we’d gather them up in our arms and will mortality upon ourselves, and crumple to the ground embracing them.”
        “Well, fine,” says Barkenfist, “but why not wait until the Dwarfs arrive to go with you and make your army twice as powerful – for what?  To make some kind of fucked-up point about your independence from the Dwarfs, who have no interest in controlling you?  Come on, man, this is totally messed up.  This Bearman who’s decided he’s your king is going to be much more troublesome for Treefolk than the Dwarfs would ever be.  The guy’s a natural bully.  Look at him – he swaggers even when he’s sitting down.  You can’t be serious.  Try focusing on this essential fact: more Ladytrees are going to get hurt if you allow their men to carry them to Sinister tomorrow morning with King Valorix than if you tell him they’re not going there until the Dwarfs arrive from Disengar.  If you insist on waiting, he’ll be forced to keep the Royal Army here as well; it wouldn’t have the power to defeat what it might have to deal with at the Gate of Sinister.  He’d have to wait with you, so don’t think that you’d be abandoning your friends, you’d just be making them delay their expedition.  If they want to go without you, let them, and it’s not your fault if things don’t turn out very well for them.”
        “Look, Gnarl,” Trevor says, “I understand your point of view.  Your father was a Dwarf, so on a basic level you’re okay with Dwarfs.  You’re comfortable with them; in fact, you even like them, and why shouldn’t you? Imagine it from our perspective, though.  They’re living in a mountain, underground, in Dwarfenberg, just like the Horribles at Sinister.  This just feels wrong to us – it seems to us that fully Joyous men can’t live this way.  No, they’re not Horrible; not one of us would say they are, but still, they’re living close to Horror, on the edge of Horror, and its fumes seep into them.”
        “You feel this way about the Dwarfs yourself?”
        “Sure; I can’t help it.  I can consciously resist this way of thinking, as in fact I’m doing at this moment, but I tend to slip back into it, and I accept this fact about myself; I’m what I am – a Treeman who sees things Treefolkishly.”
        “But I exist.  Presumably my mom, who sees the world Treefolkishly as well, was somewhat partial to a certain Dwarf.”  
        “Sure, Gnarl, but your father saved her life, which makes a difference, and no doubt the man was not your average Dwarf.  They kicked him out of Dwarfenberg for being weird, correct?  He must been enJoying life too much – I’ll bet the man was spending too much time enJoying clouds and sunsets and the view while they were praying, mining, studying, and scrupulously following the rules of Dwarfish life.  Your father couldn’t fit inside that system.  They released the man when they expelled him – let him be himself.”
        “Yeah, maybe.  But my father was a Dwarf regardless, and I had a chance to speak to several Dwarfs at Elfpark, and I see myself in them, especially the Judge.  These guys aren’t merely subterranean obsessives.  They’re real people; they make jokes, have thoughts, tell stories, miss their wives and kids.”
        “We know that, Gnarl, but they’re also Dwarfs who can’t help living Dwarfishly, and so we have to make it evident to them that there are other people in the Realm who live in other ways, and will protect their natural habitats, and will push back if they start feeling jostled and confined.”
        “Is that what you think, Treena?” Rifka asks.  “You’d really rather go with Valorix tomorrow, even though the two of you might end up getting yourselves killed that way, than hang around until the Dwarfs arrive?”
        “Yes, Rifka,” Treena says, “that’s what I think.  I don’t think we should get mixed up with Dwarfs.  Those people live together underground.  That isn’t nice.  And now they want to live inside the mountain where the Horribles are living?  No, that isn’t nice at all.  We have to show them that we won’t allow that sort of thing to spread.  Our men are tough and they will have to be extremely firm with those unpleasant people and say, ‘Look, we know what you’re about; it isn’t nice, so make sure that you never cross the line!”
        “But, Treena,” Rifka says, “you might get hurt.”
        “I know I might.  I’m trying to be brave.”
        “You might get more than hurt.  You might get killed.”
        “I know I might get killed.  That’s kind of sad to think about, but sad things happen, right?”
        The Treeman says, “I know our choice to go to Sinister with Valorix must seem irrational, and maybe that’s the case, but reasoning must in the end give way to deeply-rooted feelings that express our inner nature.  We can think of Dwarfs abstractly and agree that they’re okay, but people who live clustered underground make us uncomfortable; we can’t abide the thought of them expanding unopposed across the Realm.  Yes, they’ll have Sinister, but we have got to shout, ‘The woods are ours and you can’t ever have them; stay below the Road and near your Mountains; if you do, we’ll get along; if not, we’ll have a war that you won’t win, since we will just withdraw to secret bases in the northern woods and raid you, and you’ll never conquer us.”
        “You’ve got it all worked out,” says Barkenfist.  “I think you’re more strategically inclined than Valorix.  Why don’t you challenge him?  I don’t see why a Bearman has to be the king.  Why not a Treeman?  Why not you?”
        “Oh, obviously, any one of us could knock off Valorix’s hairy head, and most of us are more intelligent than he is, and we think a whole lot more, but that’s because we’re all primarily such solitary individuals – our wives are all the company we need, so we have lots of time to think things through.  But that’s the point – this fellow Valorix has got the sort of personality you need for leadership.  Besides, the man wants it so badly.  Let him have it, then.”
        “Judge Imlig is a natural leader too, and he’s a pretty strict old-fashioned Dwarf, unlike my father.  You should meet the man.  I think you’d like him; then the way you feel about the Dwarfs would alter.  You would say, ‘This guy’s a better man than Valorix, so maybe Dwarfs in general are fine.’”
        “That isn’t how it works.  One likes a man and knows that he’s a member of a race that must include a lot of other men whom you would also like, but you still feel a vague antagonism toward the race when you imagine them collectively.  I’m sorry, Gnarl; that’s just how it is.”

        “Yeah, maybe.  Well, we’re going with you guys tomorrow morning then, when you depart, and we’ll accompany you to your goal, since we’ve got business in Mount Sinister – we’re going down into the Lower Depths to kill the source of all the Horror there while you’re below the Gate and hopefully surviving any onslaught you may face.  I’m tired.  Rifka, should we find a place to curl up in together for the night?”
        “Yes,” Rifka says.  “I guess we’d better go out to the woods; it seems as though the groves inside of Fuzzyville have been assigned to Valorix’s Bearmen, and the zone surrounding Fuzzyville is pretty gross – not that we’d want to sleep there anyway.”
        “The woods surrounding us are full of Elves,” says Trevor, “and the Boodles are encamped along the lane down where it meets the Road.  I’ve got my people gathered in the woods across the Road.  Why don’t you come with us?  We’ll find a fairly private spot for you to spend the night in.  When the sun comes up we’ll be assembling along the Road, the Treefolk in the lead.  It would be nice to have you with us when the march begins.”
        “Sounds good,” says Gnarl; “we can talk some more along the way, and Rifka here can use some female company, right, Chickadee?”
        “Yes, Porcupine, if Treena’s in the mood for girlish chatter.  Maybe she’d prefer to walk along in stately solitude, however; let’s not be presumptuous.”
        “Oh, no, I’ve gotten very sociable,” says Treena.  “Now I’ve got a second friend!  I think you met the first beneath the Hall – the Moll named Lula.  I expect that she and Urm will ride upon my husband’s back from time to time, so you will have a chance to get to know her, if you walk with us.”
        “Let’s go,” says Trevor, and the four of them head out of Fuzzyville to spend the night among the Treefolk-couples in the woods across the Road, like shorter, slimmer trees distributed in pairs among the rest.

        The Royal Army’s entering the zone of slowed-down time – the shift is gradual, so that it isn’t noticed – it just seems to those who are advancing in the rear that traffic’s slowing down ahead of them.
        The lower portion of the eastern flank of Sinister is steep but climbable, its angle maybe twenty-nine degrees.  The Road proceeds directly up this skirt toward Sinister’s huge Gate, a mile up.  The upper slope, beginning at the Gate, ascends at more than forty-five degrees up to the top – another mile up.  The mountain’s other flanks are all this steep from top to bottom; only to the east does that more gentle lower slope extend.
        While Valorix’s Royal Army moves along the Road directly toward the Gate, the former Manager leads Barkenfist and Lorne off to the right, along a route that leads them up the steep northeastern slope to that small door from which he exited on April first before the Host emerged. Here they will enter, and he’ll lead them down through hidden tunnels to the Lower Depths where they will find and kill Horroria.
        “Nice climbing, Snigger,” Barkenfist observes.  “You may be scrawny, but your muscles work.”
        “Thanks, Gnarl,” Snigger says.  “It’s nice of you to compliment me at a time like this.”
        “The Gate is opening!” shouts Valorix.  “Spread out!  Get ready to receive the foe!”  He turns around and gestures to the rest of his few thousand fighters, who can see that what their leader’s telling them is true.  They rush into formation, spreading out defensively; they all know where to go.  The Bearmen hold the center, with the Elves on either side, the Boodles interspersed among the Elves again.  The outer flanks are held by Treemen, with the Ladytrees upon their shoulders.  Many Treemen bear a pair of Fuzzies on their backs as well.  Those Treemen (Trevor’s one) who’ve lost an eye will benefit from these two extra pairs.  The Treemen will seize opportunities to get around behind the Horribles and sweep them to the ground and stomp on them.  The Boodle-Father levitates above the Royal Army; now that he can float, his followers don’t have to carry him and make sure he’s protected; all of them can go without restriction anywhere they might be needed on the battlefield, while he stays out of range of any foe who might attempt to take a swing at him.
        The Mossy-Wizard, Dagastar, is there, as though he were a Boodle, in among the Elves; he had insisted – he could not remain at Fuzzyville while Sumiko might be imprisoned in Mount Sinister, or in some way detained against her will; he was in part responsible for her; moreover, he had some Boodita-skills; it wouldn’t be a very noble thing to fail to use them at a time like this.  But what of Kenji?  He has wandered off and sits upon the mountain, higher up, south of the Gate, and no one notices the Japanese man sitting by himself, observing everything that’s happening below him on the slope, composing lines of verse that seem significant to him.
        A mob of Gobbins surges from the Gate, a single constantly expanding mass like frothy liquid pouring through a sluice.  Among them, Spyder-mounted Managers hiss-roar instructions through their megaphones in Gothrom’s simulated voice: “Defend Mount Sinister from those colonial aggressors!  Save your home, in which you’ve lived forever!  Save your culture!  Kill them all!  Destroy those minions of the scheming Dwarfs who want to settle here and occupy your caverns and defile them with Joy!  I’m counting on you boys!  Annihilate those Horror-haters!  Massacre them all!”  The Managers stop halfway down the slope, continuing to urge the Gobbins on as they flow by.  The first ones to emerge are getting close before they’ve all come out.  As they make contact with the enemy the Urgs begin emerging through the Gate, deliberately assembling their lines across the slope above the Managers who sit upon their Spyders and observe the bloody, frantic scene developing below them:  sixty thousand Gobbins shriek and scramble over one another’s backs as they assault the warriors of Joy.  The Managers observe, and smirk, and urge the Gobbins on:  “That’s right, boys!  Keep it up!  I’m proud of you!  Attack!  Attack!  Attack!”
        Here, as at Fuzzyville, the Gobbins climb the Treemen, who keep flinging them  away as quickly as they can, while Fuzzies rush around the Treemen’s upper backs and chests, repelling these assailants.  Treemen pass their Fuzzies back and forth; the Fuzzies race along their arms, which bridge the mob below.  Urm pounds in Gobbins’ faces with his fist, while Lula, snarling, everywhere at once, rips out a throat, bites off a nose, claws eyes.  The Ladytrees fight also, kicking out and swiping with their hands.  They shriek, “Get off, you filthy little thing!  Take that, you jerk!” Their feet and legs are bitten, slashed, and gouged, and sap-like blood is oozing from these wounds, which, although painful, don’t endanger them; their skin is softer than their husbands’ bark, but spongey and resilient, like thick cork.
        The Urgs have finally formed their battle-lines, their pikes still vertical, and they declare their readiness by bellowing, “Harrumph!”  The Spyder-mounted Gobbin-Managers below them on the slope raise up their hands to signal to the Urgs, “We hear you guys, but wait up there awhile longer, please.”  They want to give the Gobbins some more time to wear the Royal Army’s strength away.  At last they clench their raised hands into fists and shake them overhead, then drop their arms and turn their Spyders to ascend the slope back toward the Gate; below, the Gobbin-mob has been reduced dramatically – five-sixths of those who first descended have been killed.  Still, in the process, they have taken out a tenth of Valorix’s warriors.  The Urgs, with lowered pikes, march down the slope with measured tread, deliberate, disciplined. Small gaps are opened in the Urgish wall to let the Gobbin-Managers pass through, then closed again.  Those Gobbins who remain as they approach the enemy below will either have to scamper to the sides or be removed by pike-thrusts from behind.
        The Urgish pike-wall crashes heavily against the Royal Army.  Bearmen roar and smack long pikes aside.  The Elves fall back.  The Treemen move around behind the Urgs, but from the Gate a strange new enemy is pouring forth – the Molemen, drug-enraged, all wielding arm-bugs, in such quantities that as the first arrive the flood still pours out unabated through the Gate above.  The flood of Molemen spreads itself around the Royal Army and encircles it – the Royal Army’s like a battered rock projecting from a hurricane-whipped sea.  The Molemen don’t climb easily, but still they’re capable of it, and they attempt to climb the Treemen, as the Gobbins did; there are so many of them that at times they reach the Treemen’s heads, and Ladytrees are torn off shrieking, plunging to their deaths among the frenzied Molemen, deaths which doom their mates, who are deprived of nourishment.  When Treemen see their Ladytrees go down among the Molemen, being torn apart, they scoop their women’s damaged bodies up along with all the Molemen tearing at their limbs and branches, pry the Molemen off, embrace their mates, and will themselves to die, and, so, embracing them, fall to the ground, with many Molemen crushed beneath their weight.
        Above the carnage, Mooga, in his jar, floats here and there, and now and then swoops down to bonk an Urg or Moleman in the head and swoop away, ascending out of reach of pikes and arm-bugs, humming to himself a meditative tune that he composed five hundred years ago; it focuses his mind, and it alleviates the pain of watching many of his children die.

        The Royal Army passed into the zone of slowed-down time around Mount Sinister May twenty-second.  On July sixteenth, the Cyborg Super-Squad leaves Disengar.  July eighteenth, it camps near Fuzzyville.  Judge Imlig, Kalia, Timoleon, Humberto and the Wizard take the lane up to the village, where they have a chat with Fladnag and Michelle, down in her lair.  The Wizard and his girlfriend summarize what happened here – they more or less repeat what Imlig and the others have been told by Elvish messengers who visited the village weeks ago and brought back word to Disengar of all the main events.  Judge Imlig, though, insists on hearing them describe these happenings in their own way; first-hand accounts are indispensable.
        “… and so,” the Dusty Wizard finishes, “since Mooga was convinced that Sumiko would keep the Emperor down in the Depths of Sinister, and we’d be safe from him if we went to confront his forces there upon the slope, so that if they came out to fight us, we would probably prevail, the Royal Army’s leaders all agreed: establishing Joy’s power at the home of Horror would be worth the loss of life in battle.  Meanwhile, Lorne and Barkenfist, led by the former Manager who came to warn us here before the Host arrived, would sneak in through a back route to the Depths; they’d try to find the Emperor down there and overcome him, maybe with the help of Sumiko, if she is capable of helping them, or, if not, on their own.  The Royal Army left on May eighteenth.  Since then, no news of them has come to us.”
        “Now, Fladnag, you saw this tall ‘Emperor of Horror’ …” (Imlig scare-quotes these three words with his thick fingers) “… fighting Sumiko out there?  You did?  So did you get the sense that this in fact was Nausor, your old friend, tremendously empowered, as I’ve heard, by his incorporation of the ‘Lord of Horror’ …” (Imlig does the scare-quote-thing) “… within himself?  Does this seem credible to you, based on your own experience?”
        “I’ve never seen the so-called Horror-Lord,” says Fladnag, “but it did appear to me that this was Nausor.   Something in the way he moved and spoke told me that it was him, and then, of course, he had a Wizard’s cone.  It totally amazes me, the way the Horrid organism in the Depths beneath Mountain Sinister transformed a man who might have been a little weird but still was certainly not Horrible.  It’s she who is responsible for all of this.  He’s just as much her victim as the rest of us.  The only truly guilty party here is that Horrific thing, Horroria.”
        “I’m not so sure about that,” says the Judge.  “Guilt spreads like a contagion from its source; those who become infected down the line are just as sick as patient zero was.  But, certainly, Horroria must die; she’s going to be target number one if Barkenfist and Lorne have somehow failed to kill her.  Nothing has been heard from them?”
        “King Valorix’s Royal Army left with Barkenfist and Lorne two months ago,” says Fladnag, “and we haven’t heard from them since then.  It’s very strange – I wonder what is going on out there.  I would have gone myself to take a look, but since I knew that you were coming here in force, it seemed more prudent to remain in Fuzzyville and let you people solve the mystery.
        “I’m very, very worried,” says Michelle.  “I keep imagining such dreadful things – my children slaughtered, taken prisoner, subjected to grotesque experiments.  Suppose I never get their corpses back!  Oh, what will happen?  Will another Host come back here now and torment me again?”
        “Don’t worry, Ma’am,” Judge Imlig says to her.  “Our Cyborg Super-Squad is heading there and nothing can withstand us.  Be assured; Horrific as the brood of Sinister may seem to be, and as in fact they are, they’re just pathetic vermin when compared to our magnificent technology – the very best that Dwarfish expertise and Wizardly invention can produce at this point – who knows what the future holds?  We may be building bases on the Moon within a decade at our current rate of progress, and why should this rate decline?  You needn’t fear.  We’ll wrap the whole thing up efficiently, and bring the bodies home to you as soon as possible, Michelle.”
        “Oh, thank you, Judge,” Michelle says tearfully.  “I’m very, very grateful – you don’t know how much this means to me; you’re wonderful.”
        “Thanks, Judge,” says Fladnag more laconically, and points at Imlig sharply, with a wink – the gesture that implies, “Hey, you’re the man!”
        “The one thing that I fail to understand,” says Imlig, “is that all of them went on to Sinister ahead of us.  You’d think they would have waited for us.  After all, presumably there are more Horribles at Sinister than you encountered here at Fuzzyville.  Perhaps far more of them.  The quantity might be some multiple of what your Royal Army bested here.  They’re very likely numerous enough that Valorix would find it difficult to beat them even if this Emperor with his long Horror-Whips stayed out of it.  No doubt they were concerned about the girl, but Barkenfist and Lorne were going in regardless, and their chances of success at bringing her out safely aren’t improved, in my opinion, by the blunderings of forest-dwellers in dark passages, supposing that our noble savages can fight their way in through the mountain’s Gate.”
        So Fladnag summarizes what was said by Valorix about the reason for the Royal Army’s race to Sinister: a general agreement on the need for some legitimate and viable authority opposing Dwarfish strength.  “It’s not a hostile thing,” the Wizard says; “they just don’t want to have to feel that you are able to determine on your own how things will go from now on in the Realm.”
        “Hey, I’ve got Megagirls,” says Asmuran.  “They’re big enough to keep these guys in check!”
        He gives the Judge a playful shoulder-punch.
        The Judge says, “Maybe, Asmuran.  Let’s see – how many tractors are we making now for Highway-building in the Southern Swamps, convertible for military use without much trouble – forty-five, I think.”  And he returns the Wizard’s shoulder-punch.  “But, seriously, Fladnag; do they think that they’ll experience more liberty with this guy Valorix on top of them than by relaxing and returning to their former, independent, ways of life, while we stay in the background and expand around them, basically invisible unless they want to come and visit us?”
        “There’s no way you can be invisible,” the Dusty Wizard answers, “when the sun is rising over Dwarfenberg and sets beyond your other mountain, Sinister.  And then you’ll have your Highway running through the Swamps; they’ll feel surrounded on three sides.  They want to feel that everything between the Mountains and above the Southern Swamps is Dwarfenfrei – excuse me; free of Dwarfs – and they can only feel that this is so if they maintain a power capable of countering your own.  Look, I agree; it isn’t rational, but men are not so rational until they have evolved into the stage of human consciousness they need for Federation membership.  That day will come; that’s why we Wizards came to Earth, to help you reach that final stage, but you’re not there yet; this is where you’re at, so this is what we’ll just have to accept.”
        As Imlig and the others stride away back down the lane to join the Super-Squad, the Wizards linger by the Meeting Hall.
        “I kind of understand why all these guys have gone with Valorix,” says Asmuran.  “I’ve been in two big battles with the Dwarfs.  The Elves aren’t at their level.  They’re outclassed.  Sure, Dwarfs can’t climb their Trees too well.  So what?  They’d saw them down, or build some giant cranes on tractor-treads to get their men up there.  But that would never happen, as we know.  The Dwarfs don’t really care about the Elves; the Elves are more concerned about the Dwarfs.”
        “I wish the Dwarfs thought more about the way their confident superiority annoys the other people of the Realm,” says Fladnag, “but I certainly agree that they’re not power-crazed or covetous.  They do their thing.  They want to live their lives according to the rules that they believe the Holy Awesome One has given them, which fortunately don’t require them to dominate their neighbors very much.  Still, you can’t blame those neighbors when they try to make themselves feel equal to the Dwarfs by coalescing under Valorix.”
        “Yes,” answers Asmuran.  He clears his throat.  “When this is over, my priority will be to figure out how we can get the girls decoupled from their vehicles.  They’re trapped inside those metal Mega-heads, and it’s my fault.  I should have run more tests; I should have paid attention to the risks.”
        “I’m sorry, Asmuran.  What can we do but hope that everything will all turn out okay, and maybe even for the best.”
        The Wizards part.  The Cyborg Super-Squad continues on its journey when the light of day begins to ooze in from the east.
        Mount Sinister appears to stand within a gray transparent dome – this dull gray hue reflects the passage of the days and nights outside the Zone, a sort of averaging of daylight and night-darkness that surrounds the mountain – so it seems to those outside, but on the mountain’s slope the warriors of Horror and the Royal Army fight beneath the morning sun; small fluffy clouds are floating slowly through the clear blue sky.
        The Super-Squad camps just outside the Zone, as had the Royal Army on the night before it started up the mountainside.  The grayish dome makes everything within a little blurry, but the Megagirls remark upon what seems to their sharp eyes to be a vast tableau of warriors who stand there motionless, like figurines.
        “Tomorrow morning, when we’re feeling fresh and energetic, we’ll head up the slope and see what’s going on,” Judge Imlig says.