Chapter Thirteen: Victory

        The twenty-second morning of July: the Cyborg Super-Squad begins to pass into the Zone; in here the date is still May twenty-second, and the battle fought upon the slope below the Gate goes on about four hours after it began.  The Royal Army’s slowly weakening; it’s lost a third of its combatants now.
        The Megagirls and Cyber-Dwarfs charge in.  The Megagirls bear armored Mexicans upon the platforms bolted to their waists.  The Princess and the Duke ride higher up, on Rainbow’s shoulders.  They would not accept the Wizard’s offer to provide them both with power-suits; it wouldn’t have been right for Elves – especially aristocrats – to technologically augment themselves.  The tide is turned; we have the upper hand!
        The Cyber-Dwarfs go through the Moleman-horde like blender-blades through custard, spattering their bloody organs, spewing their hewn flesh.  The Megagirls do likewise from above, but at ten times the rate, like harvesters in fields whose crop is animate and bleeds.
        The Gobbins might have climbed the Megagirls, but none of them survive.  The Molemen lack the climbing-skills to reach the Mexicans upon the platforms, so Humberto’s men insist on being lowered to the ground, where they can be more usefully employed.  The Princess and the Duke expend their darts upon the horde and then descend as well, without assistance, and they race to help a large contingent of the Baron’s Elves that’s been surrounded and will be wiped out in minutes if no help arrives.  The two start slicing through the Molemen who assail the Elven island.  Many Molemen turn to deal with them, and Kalia’s right breast is torn off by an arm-bug’s swiping horns.  The Princess shrieks and crumples to her knees; the Duke stands over her, his wooden sword zig-zagging everywhere, and bloody chunks of Moleman-flesh go flying through the air.
        The Horribles are being massacred; the Managers recall them; they flood back up toward the Gate, returning whence they’d come five hours earlier.  The Joyous Ones pursue them all the way up to the Gate.  The Megagirls destroy the folds of flesh that constitute the sphincter of the Gate, so that it doesn’t close, and then advance into the Entrance Hall.  It’s full of Trolls who’ve been assembled here to bar the way to Horror’s enemies and thus permit as many Horribles as possible to flee into the Mountain’s labyrinthine interior, where they will lurk and hide and wage guerrilla war for many months – at any rate, Commander Pestilence is trying to convince himself of this.  If we can hold out long enough, he thinks, the Emperor will come up with a way to save us from defeat, and lead us on to final victory.  What’s happening to us right now is just an interlude in light of which our ultimate success will be appreciated all the more.  Preliminary setbacks always make eventual success more glorious and gratify our thirst for theater.  Dramatic heroes face adversity that almost overwhelms them; otherwise the play won’t entertain the audience, which in the present case will be composed of those who acted in reality as they look back through time upon these scenes of fearful suffering and turbulence.  Our father will complete the narrative; he’ll make our stories end the way they should.  He’s with us, down there in the Mountain’s Depths.  He won’t abandon us.  He will emerge in time to save us, won’t he?  He’s our Dad!  You won’t forget about us, will you, Dad? 
        Behind the Trolls, their Managers hiss-roar through their raised megaphones, in Gothrom’s voice, “Don’t let the Joyous Ones invade our home!  Destroy those metal monsters!  Clobber them!”  But giant chainsaws grind through Trollish flesh; great hammers smash their skulls and shoulder-blades, and bludgeon their soft backs as they collapse face-forward, crushing fleeing Horribles.  “Trolls, grab by them by the knees and tackle them!” the Managers blare through their megaphones, and not without effect, as Megagirls are toppled, but they help each other up; they’re dented here and there, but steadily progress into the Hall.  Throughout this fight, the Hall is filled with smaller Horribles continuously flowing inward past the stomping feet and massive pounding fists, attempting to avoid the giant forms of sub- and supermen who struggle there; a mass of minions chokes the opening where there was once a Gate, surrounded by the Royal Army and the Cyber-Dwarfs.  The Treemen stomp them here, and sweep them down with their long root-toed feet and branching hands.  The Cyber-Dwarfs are slicing them to bits, the Bearmen bashing them with roundhouse-blows, the Boodles scissor-kicking Moleman-necks, while Elvish wooden swords slice Moleman-flesh like cutlery deployed by sushi chefs.  The Fuzzies, who’ve descended to the ground,  are also very energetically involved in this frenetic massacre: Molls tear Achilles’ tendons with their claws and sink their teeth in hamstrings; Grumbits throw right uppercuts and powerful left hooks.
        The Megagirls within the Entrance Hall kill half the Trolls before the rest of them flee back into the mountain’s passageways.  Then they turn their attention to the swarm of smaller minions desperate to get by, destroying hundreds of them as they flee, until the dead are piled ten feet high beneath them, and it’s getting hard for them to stand erect.  At last the horde has passed; the only things of Horror left in view are mangled corpses, and the Megagirls emerge and draw their hands across their throats to signal to Judge Imlig that it’s done.  King Valorix is calling to his men, “Regroup a quarter-mile down the slope!”
        Judge Imlig, just across the Gate from him, gives him a wink, saluting.  Summoning his soldiers with a gesture of his arm, the Judge shouts through his flip-down microphone, “All right, men, listen!  Barkenfist and Lorne were going down to kill Horroria, but since they haven’t gotten back to us we don’t know whether they have pulled it off.  It’s absolutely vital that she die, so we had better make our way below and if she’s still alive kill her ourselves.  Her lair might be a little difficult for us to locate, but it won’t be long before we find it; after all, we’re Dwarfs.  Ignore her spawn unless they bother us, in which case kill them; keep your focus on the mission – find and kill Horroria.”  He leads them in – a thousand Cyber-Dwarfs proceeding through the corpse-filled Entrance Hall.  They walk upon the corpses, which they find less nauseating than you might expect; they’re walking on extended metal legs.  They pass into the passageways beyond, intent upon their task – to find the thing that’s literally “at the bottom of” this business (Imlig chuckles to himself as this expression, with its double sense, flits through his grimly focused consciousness) and kill it, if it hasn’t yet been killed by Gnarl Barkenfist and Rifka Lorne.

        The Hero-Couple entered Sinister three hours earlier.  They’ve made their way down to the Upper (not the Lower) Depths, eliminating fifteen Managers, eleven Technicals, and eighty Urgs along the way;  down here, though, they begin encountering strange creatures, Horrible beyond description.  When I say “beyond”, I mean that it would be too tedious for you to read descriptions of these things; they’re almost shapeless, asymmetrical,  composite monsters, some as small as mice, and others large as hippopotami, and Barkenfist must kill them one by one, with Rifka on his shoulders yelling, “Go! Destroy them, Gnarl!  You can do it, man!”  The cringing Manager lurks close behind; his guidance isn’t needed anymore.  They’re following a single passageway that spirals downward toward the Lower Depths.  The things assaulting them lurch from below.
        They reach the cavern – there’s the Emperor, still rearing backward, cloaked in Energy that shoots out in a long umbilical toward Sumiko-Horroria: a girl arched backward in a mass of tentacles.  A minute and half have passed down here since we last saw them, for the rate of time is less here in the cavern than the rate of time out on the slope of Sinister by just as much as that time has been slowed compared to normal time beyond the Zone.
        “Don’t hurt my Dad!” says Snigger.  Rifka takes her Hilt off of the chain around her neck and raises it; the Beam of Joy shoots out.  She slices through the cord of Energy that joins the Empress with the Emperor.  The severed ends whip wildly about while threads and blobs of Energy spew forth from both of them like water from a hose.  The aura of the Emperor bursts out in jagged zig-zags, and he jerks about, contorting, spasming, and then it fades, as does the severed cord of Energy extruding near his lower abdomen, and he stands poised and snarling; he glares down at the woman standing under him, her Sword’s beam aimed directly at his chest.  His arms are rising; as they do, they stretch out into Whips that spiral over him.
        Behind Ms. Lorne stands Gnarl Barkenfist; his arm sweeps upward, well above her head, connecting with Nausgothromor’s right cheek, and sends him sailing sideways several feet; the Emperor lands sprawled upon his back, his Whip-arms spread to either side of him upon the mass of mingled tentacles supporting all of them.  “Hey,” Snigger says, I thought you wouldn’t hurt him, Barkenfist!”
        “I won’t if I don’t have to; if he tries to hurt my woman, though, I’ll end his life.  Hey, boss, you’d better get up quietly and come with us, or you’ll get beaten down until there’s nothing left of you to beat.”
        Five hundred mouths on every side of them say in the double voice, half-soft, half-harsh, of Sumiko-Horroria (who still maintains her bright pink aura with its blobs of eggplant-purple Horror-Energy afloat within it, shooting here and there like bubbles that escape a snatching hand), “You’ve hit my man.  Now I’ll devour you.” Her bright pink, purple-spotted tentacles curve up around them and come looping down, descending toward them.  Rifka Lorne leaps up, evading them as they swoop under her toward Barkenfist and Snigger; Barkenfist is struggling with them as she descends.  She sweeps her Sword down at the tentacles on which she lands.  They shrivel, weakening, and fall away, revealing Barkenfist still grappling with others; Snigger’s crouched down at his feet, hunched over, shivering.
        “Go, Gnarl!  You can do it!” Rifka shouts, and reaches down beyond a tentacle to pat his head before she leaps again.  He bellows, and he wraps both of his hands around a tentacle, and, swiveling, tears off its end and swings it like a club against the others that still clutch at him.  His sidekick lands again, and sweeps her Sword at all the tentacles that she can reach; they shrivel as before, and fall away.
        “Well, well,” says Sumiko-Horroria as she pulls back those nearby tentacles still capable of injuring her foes, “you two impress me, but can you defeat my man when he is pumped completely full of Horrible and Joyous Energy?”  The Emperor has risen to his knees, and, as he pauses there, a dozen streams of bright pink, purple-dotted Energy arc toward him, terminating in his flesh.  He vibrates like an engine; bright pink threads and purple sparks shoot from him everywhere as he regains his feet.  His bright pink eyes pulse like twin spotlights, webbed with purple veins.  He shrieks and whirls at them with spinning Whips.  Lorne leaps up to avoid them; Barkenfist is struck and falls upon the Manager, but rolls aside as downward Whip-strokes lash the tentacles supporting all of them.  “Ow!  Stop that, Emperor, you’re hurting me!” screams Sumiko-Horroria, as Lorne descends near Barkenfist, and grabs his hand.
        “Get up, man,” Rifka says, “and take him out; you know you’ve got the power; get it done.”
        He rises, bleeding sap from two deep grooves left in his torso by the Horror-Whips, or rather, Whips of Joyous Horror, for I guess that’s really what they are right now.  He bellows, rushing at Nausgothromor; the Whips catch him again as he drives through their horizontal arcs, but his huge arms have caught the Emperor around the waist; he lifts him up and slams him down upon the ground of tentacles supporting them.  The Whips are spiraling around his neck; he grips one in each hand, restraining them, and headbutts his opponent in the jaw.
        “Receive more of my Energy, my love!” the mouths of Sumiko-Horroria command, or urge, or urge commandingly.  A jet of bright pink, purple-dotted gas shoots straight into the Emperor’s long head – it enters through the cone, right through its tip;  Nausgothromor’s long body surges up, and Barkenfist goes flying.  Gnarl falls about ten yards away.  He rolls and stands, and looks for Rifka, as the Emperor advances toward him with deliberate strides, the two Whips swirling slowly overhead.
        She’s leaping up behind the Emperor; he sees her smile of encouragement and her thumbs-up sign just before she turns to face the Empress on the other side as she descends.  “I’m sorry Sumiko, but what else can I do?” she says, and lands on top of Sumiko’s arched abdomen; she slashes at the tentacles that grasp and penetrate the girl.  They fall away, but are replaced by others; yet it seems that Sumiko is struggling to escape – not very energetically, but still, it seems that she’s regained, to some extent, her independent personality.
        The mouths speak once again, but now the voice has two distinct components, for the words of Sumiko are overlayed upon Horroria’s: the Booditana’s voice says, “if you want to save me, plunge your Beam of Joy straight through my navel; do it now,” and as she speaks, Horroria says, “No, you’d better not, or I’ll devour her!”  The former voice is clearly Sumiko’s, but somewhat deeper and more resonant than that familiar girly voice had been before she gave herself up to the mass of Horrid tentacles; the latter voice is still maternally contemptuous, but urgent, like a mother threatening a child who’s about to damage some expensive item – “Stop that right away or I won’t take you to Avengers IV!”  Seductive drones are not appropriate when Swords of Joy are flourished over you and you’re a far-from-Joyful entity.
        “I’m sorry, Sumiko!” says Lorne again, and, leaping upward, aims the Beam straight down, both hands above her head around the Hilt; she holds it as you’d hold a stake, thumbs up.  As she descends, she drives the bright pink Beam down through the navel of the abdomen that twists and heaves beneath her; Rifka’s shout is fierce, a violent “Ha!” – you’d almost think that she was angrily enjoying this assault upon the captive under her.  She lands upon the Booditana’s ribs and pubic bone, thus straddling the place through which she drives the Beam; she bends her legs and drives it even further, shouting “Ha!” a second time.  When Rifka’s done, the Sword is almost sheathed – the Hilt in Rifka’s hands is only half a yard or so above her victim’s belly.  From five hundred mouths Horroria’s voice shrieks in agony, while Sumiko’s moans, “Aaah!” orgasmically.  “I’m sorry, Honey,” Rifka says again, and reaches out to comfortingly pat the transfixed Booditana’s jerking chest.
        The tentacles restraining Sumiko uncoil, and those penetrating her retract and fall away; they lose their force – it’s not as though they’re voluntarily withdrawn; they sicken, drained of Energy.  The Sexy Sidekick leaps up vertically, the Hilt in both her hands, just as before, and in this way withdraws the Beam of Joy from Sumiko’s convulsing abdomen the same way it went in, but in reverse.  She lands near Sumiko and leaps again a few more times, as high as possible (her Sword turned safely upward), to attain a bird’s-eye view of what she has achieved.  Throughout the cavern, all the tentacles collapse and wither as their color turns to eggplant-purple, as they were before.  Horroria’s long shriek grows weak and faint and finally dies away, and she herself appears to have expired – all that’s left a complex landscape of dead tentacles afloat upon the lake of Bioslime from which she sucked the Horror-Energy that nourished her throughout her dismal life.
        The Booditana’s lying on her back half conscious, with her eyes closed, limbs splayed out, convulsing, and effusing from her pores the bright pink Energy of Joy, which drifts and swirls around her like a gauzy veil.  The Sexy Sidekick, peering down at her, thinks, “Wait – they said she was a teenaged girl, but she’s approaching early middle age – she might be thirty-five or thirty-six!  Can this be Sumiko?  I guess it is, but she’s been aged by this experience; I hope she doesn’t mind when she finds out.”
        The Emperor and Gnarl Barkenfist are upright, locked together, staggering like judo-fighters straining for a throw, with Gnarl’s arms around the other’s waist; the Emperor leans over him, his Whips encircling the body of his foe like anacondas, squeezing; there’s a rain of purple droplets, all of which converge upon the Emperor and enter him – the store of Horror that Horroria contained within herself before she died.
        “Release him!” Rifka shouts, and raises up her Hilt as she runs forward.  Snigger cries, “Don’t hurt him!” once again, but now he sees that there’s no Beam emerging from the Hilt.  The Sword of Joy is dead; its reservoir of concentrated Joy has been used up –  sucked dry by Sumiko, who used the stuff to free herself and kill Horroria.
        “Oh, shit!” cries Snigger, and he scrambles up to Sumiko, still lying on her back, and tries to rouse her:  “Sumiko, wake up!  You have to help us!  Sumiko!  Get up and stop my Dad or he’ll kill Barkenfist!”
        As Snigger’s pleas continue, Rifka leaps, and, landing on the Emperor’s bent back, begins to beat his cone while hollering, “Destroy him, Gnarl!  Take this bastard down!  You’re better than him!  Beat the living shit out of this motherfucker!  Tear him up!”
        A moment later, as she leaps again high overhead, her boyfriend’s vertical and spinning his opponent by the ends of his two Whips, as men might spin small kids for their amusement, but more rapidly, and since the Whips are twenty feet in length the Emperor spins very rapidly while screaming in the way that you’d expect.
        “Wake up!” pleads Snigger; “Sumiko, get up!  Stop Barkenfist or he’ll destroy my Dad!”
        She rolls upon her side and lifts herself up to her knees, then struggles to her feet and sees what’s happening.  She lifts her hand and reaches toward the spinning Emperor.  Her hand moves with him, following his track; she keeps it aimed at him as he revolves.  A winged creature somewhat like a bat emerges from Nausgothromor’s long head and swoops toward Sumiko (the Emperor spins much too rapidly for anyone but Sumiko herself to have observed the thing’s emergence).  As it streaks her way, a hundred other smaller bat-like things come swooping inward through the cavern-walls and merge with it mid-flight.  Another one flies out of Snigger’s head-cone, joining them as they fuse with the larger one that comes out of the Emperor, and Snigger slumps upon the tentacles, a lifeless heap.  She’s caught the winged creature in her hand; both hands embrace it, and she holds it near her lips and murmurs to it quietly.
        The Emperor went silent when this bat or bat-like thing came flying out of him, and now, a second later, Barkenfist releases him – or rather, I should say, releases the dead body that remains, and it goes flying toward the cavern wall, collides with it, and splatters into bits of bloody glop that slither down along the fissures, grooves, and furrows of the rock.
        The Booditana leans down with the thing she’s holding in her hands, and presses it straight into Snigger’s head.  As this occurs, the winged creature’s briefly visible, and you can see that it has been transformed; it has become more like some sort of bird, a gentle, pretty one – perhaps a dove.  It passes through the surface of his cone like something liquid passing through a sieve.
        She squats beside him, placing both her hands upon his head-cone, one on either side, and murmurs unintelligible sounds.  He raises himself to his hands and knees, his face turned downward; Sumiko maintains her gentle hold upon him, murmuring a string of arbitrary syllables. 
        As Barkenfist and Lorne come hand in hand across the field of limp, sprawled tentacles to join them, Snigger stands and lifts his face to greet them; Sumiko removes her hands from Snigger’s head, and takes one of his hands in one of hers.  But is it really him?  Can this be Snigger?  Yes, he’s Snigger’s size, but look – he seems to have a wider face, cream-colored now, no longer purple-gray, no longer grooved and wrinkled Horribly.  His eyes and mouth are softer than they were – brown irises, not purple anymore, and lips of normal color.  Smiling a little cautiously at Barkenfist, he says, “I’m Nausor.  Sumiko conveyed my spirit into Snigger, and we merged, or rather, I assimilated him.  I’ve been insane, but I feel better now.”
        “I’m glad to hear it,” Barkenfist replies.  “Your madness has resulted in the deaths of half a million people, but I guess that’s not so bad; the great majority of them were Horrible, and those who weren’t will either be reborn here or wake up in some new world and live forever there.”
        “The Horribles have afterlives as well,” says Sumiko; “the worlds in which they’ll live are suitable for them – their afterlives will please them.  Nothing’s lost.  It’s all okay.”
        “But Snigger’s lost,” says Rifka, “isn’t he?  He was a separate person; now he’s not.”
        “It isn’t like that,” Sumiko replies.  “You see, the Managers and Technicals weren’t really separate individuals; they were discrete projections of this man’s prodigious intellect, of Nausor’s mind, just as the Lord of Horror, Gothrom, was the emanation of his troubled will.  That’s why they never quarreled or rebelled, or felt the slightest hint of jealousy toward one another; they worked perfectly together, as the mental processes of any genius must collaborate if he is to succeed in his great work.”
        A thousand mouths emit a croaking roar that morphs into a sort of battle-cry around them: “HORROR!”  All the tentacles are rising up, becoming thick and strong, and thrashing – all except the ones on which the four of them are standing, for it seems that Sumiko’s pink aura cancels out the Horror-Energy reviving them, but those outside the zone in which they stand are looping toward them, gathering their strength and readying themselves to lunge and strike.
        “Too bad you’ve lost those Whips; they would have helped,” says Gnarl to the former Mastermind.  “Stay low; crouch down like this; protect your face … oh, wow; I guess I spoke too soon – that’s great!”  For, Nausor raises up his short, thin, arms (remember, he’s the size that Snigger was, about the height and weight of Sumiko) and they extend into long bright pink Whips, much slimmer than the ones Nausgothromor had whirled about a little earlier.
        Moreover, as these long slim Whips extend from Nausor’s shoulders, Sumiko drifts up above the highest of the tentacles, assumes a fighting-stance and hovers there mid-air, her toes and fingers spewing sparks. 
        The Sexy Sidekick kneads her man’s thick neck and says “You’ve got this, Gnarl; kill this bitch for good, and make sure she stays very dead.”
        The tentacles lunge in from every side.  The Joyous four fight desperately; it seems their enemy regrows her severed limbs and that her injured and deflated ones are healed in minutes, and the croaking roar of “Horror!” menaces their sanity.  The word emerges from her thousand mouths in overlapping waves; a thousand roars of “Horror!”, overlapping, generate a single proclamation constantly regenerated, as the ocean roars continuously – one persisting noise composed of overlapping elements.
        But now a distant chanting can be heard – a choir of thick voices, far away but drawing ever-closer, coming down the passageway – the thousand Cyber-Dwarfs!  They’re chopping their way through those monstrous things, too various and asymmetrical for clear description, which had earlier assaulted Gnarl, Rifka, and their guide in that same downward-slanting corridor.  They’re chanting, “Holy, Holy Awesome One, protect us; fill your servants with the strength to utterly destroy your enemies!”  At last they’re in the cavern; they spread out across Horroria, and chop and stab away at her – the rate of damage now is greater than the rate at which she heals.  Her roar of “Horror!” gradually turns into a groan, as mouths that formerly were roaring “Horror!” start to groan instead.  The overall persisting roar and groan proceed uninterrupted, juxtaposed, one weakening, the other strengthening, until the groan is all that’s left, and then the groan itself begins diminishing in volume, as her strength diminishes.
        “Her heart is over there,” says Sumiko; she’s pointing toward the center of the mass of limp, collapsing, withered tentacles.  “She’ll keep reviving if it’s not destroyed.”  The Booditana, hovering above the other three (except when Lorne leaps up) has one hand cocked behind her ear.  She nods and drifting down again, she bounces off in lazy arcs; the others follow her across the ruined landscape of dead flesh.
        Judge Imlig, who had seen them earlier, but hadn’t had the opportunity to come and greet them, since he was engaged in slashing tentacles that came at him from every angle, moves to intercept the four of them.  He waves as he draws near, and walks along beside them.  “Hi,” he says, “how are you Gnarl, Rifka?  Good to see the two of you; I’m glad you’re still alive.  ‘Judge Imlig,’” he says, pointing at his chest by way of introduction, nodding at the pinkly glowing woman and the man who walks beside her, who appears to be a friendly Manager, “and you must be that fellow Snigger that I’ve heard about, the Manager who went to Fuzzyville to warn us all before the Horrid Host emerged, for which I thank you – am I right?  Good, then, but Madam, when it comes to you I’m mystified.  You can’t be Sumiko; they told me she’s sixteen, not yet mature, but you passed adolescence long ago.”
        “Do I look very old?  I’m Sumiko, but my involvement with Horroria has aged me, I can tell.  I feel the change.”
        “You don’t look old, my dear; you look grown up.  I’m sure it’s an improvement.  Well, I’m glad that my friends Barkenfist and Rifka Lorne were able to assist you.  What about this so-called Emperor?  Where is he now?”
        “He’s done,” says Barkenfist.  “We finished him.”
        “Are you quite sure of that?  So where’s his corpse?”
        “It’s complicated.  Snigger will explain it all to you, but how about right now we focus on the task at hand; we need to finish off this bitch, Horroria.”
        The Booditana says, “Ah, here’s her heart; it’s down below us.  We will have to dig through twenty feet of flesh to get to it.”  Horroria’s bruised eggplant-purple flesh is throbbing under them; a heavy mist of eggplant-purple Horror-Energy is swirling from her rubbery loose hide.
        “A job for Cyber-Dwarfs,” Judge Imlig says.  He blows into a whistle – several blasts, some long, some short, and fourteen of his men come trotting up on their long metal legs.
        “Her heart’s below us, fellows,” Imlig says; “we need to reach it.  That means digging through the intervening flesh.  Flip out your spades and work as rapidly as possible.”  Spade-ends flip out from telescoping arms.  They dig into her flesh; the groaning mouths near their location start to screech instead, and more and more mouths screech; the screeching spreads out through the cavern, so that, overall, the groaning is converted into one persisting screech.  At last, the nearby mouths scream, “Stop!  I’m sorry, guys!  I promise you, I’m going to be Joyous from now on!  I’ll never Horrify the Realm again!”
        “Please,” Nausor says; “perhaps there is some way of making sure that she’ll do as she says, so we don’t have to kill her.  After all, she’s just a person, and as is the case with all of us, her passions were the source of all her actions, and she’s not to blame for being how she is, and now perhaps she’s learned her lesson and has really changed.”
        As Gnarl and Judge Imlig glare at him disgustedly, and Rifka, who, at first seemed sympathetic, looks at Barkenfist and, seeing Gnarl’s attitude, looks down, the former Emperor can feel himself begin to harden; he starts glaring back, and his arms start to rise … but Sumiko takes Nausor’s hand, and whispers in his ear, and leads him off about a hundred yards away from all the others, turning him so that he won’t observe them – facing him, his hands in hers, and murmuring to him.
        “Well, there it is,” says Imlig.  “That’s the heart.  That’s probably the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen.  Go on, men, use your drills and puncture it as deeply as you can.”
        The Cyber-Dwarfs down in the pit of flesh retract their blade-edged spades, flip out their drills, and get to work – but unsuccessfully; the drills can’t penetrate more than an inch.  The heart’s too tough; its substance is too dense.    Slime oozes from the drill-holes, gurgling, and steam seeps upward, hanging heavily above the punctures, stinking Horribly.  The shrieking of Horroria is edged with cackling laughter as she realizes that they’re not finding it an easy task to kill her.  “Weak!” she screams.  “Too weak!  You lose!”  Her tentacles begin to swell and rise around them, and the flesh around the heart engorges and begins to close the hole; the Cyber-Dwarfs who stand upon the heart hack at the flesh that’s closing in on them.
        “That does it,” Gnarl says; “I’m going in.”
        “I know you’ve got the strength to finish this,” says Rifka; “You’re the only one who does.”
        He leaps into the pit, upon the heart, and, roaring, raises up his giant fist; the Cyber-Dwarfs, still hacking at the flesh that’s pushing in at them from every side look backward past their shoulders at the man, astonished, as the fist comes pounding down against the dense, impenetrable heart.  The heart explodes – an upward vomiting of goo and gobbets, chunks and strands of scum; for half a minute, those within the pit are hidden from the view of those above, until the mess subsides and there they are, completely soaked and covered by the crap that blasted upward from the ruptured heart.
        “Ug,” Gnarl says.  “I really need a bath.”
        “She’s dead,” says Sumiko, who has advanced up to the rim, and has her head cocked down to listen, with her hand behind her ear.
        “Here, fellows, let me help you climb back up,” says Barkenfist, preparing to assist the Cyber-Dwarfs down in the pit with him.
        “Hold on,” says Sumiko; “I’ll clean you off.”  She aims her hand at each of them in turn; pink Energy, like water from a hose, effuses toward them, washing off the glop.  They turn around like people showering until they’re clean, and then they all climb out, with Barkenfist assisting each of them, then climbing out himself by grabbing hold of their extended telescoping arms as they lean down toward him from above.
        The former Midnight Wizard’s standing there to greet him.  “Well done; I apologize for getting weird about Horroria just now.  We had a close relationship.  She’s better off this way; I’m sure of it. Her life was not a very happy one.”
        Judge Imlig eyebrows rise, and he jerks back as Nausor mentions his “relationship” with Horror’s female vessel, but the Judge stays silent; by the time that Nausor turns his head, aware that he’s been indiscreet, to see if Imlig’s noticed anything, the Judge’s face is as it was before; the indiscretion wasn’t registered, the former Mastermind concludes, relieved that no confession is required now.
        As Nausor glances over at the Dwarf, the half-Dwarf, Gnarl Barkenfist, responds to Nausor’s last remark: “I’m sure her life was miserable, but she did her best to make sure everybody else’s life was just as miserable as her own or even worse than hers, if possible, since she would be the person in control of everybody else’s misery, and if you’re in a pit of misery I guess the best position to be in is at the top of it, supported by the people that you’re squashing under you.  She wanted every single one of us to suffer Horribly.  You may be right about her being better off this way, but I would rather focus on the fact that all the rest of us are better off.”
        Judge Imlig says, “Of course we’re better off, but that’s not quite the point.  A murderer deserves to die.  It’s just and right that she was put to death because of what she did.”
        “I see you’re not a Consequentialist,” says Rifka, laughing.  “You appear to be a Deontologist.  See – I recall my college Ethics class.  I got an ‘A’.”
        The Booditana says, “The just and right, or that conforming to the Way of Things, is also beneficial in the end.”
        “Of course,” says Imlig, “since the universe is governed by the Holy Awesome One whose ordinances are the Way of Things and who ordains what benefits us all because he loves and cares for each of us.”
        “I hope so,” Gnarl says.  “Come on, you guys, let’s head back to the slope and take a look and make sure everything’s okay out there.”
        “Yes, I had better bring my men back out and let them rest in sunlight while I speak with my advisors; we’ll devise a plan for Phase One of our work as we transform Mount Sinister into a second home.  A lot of questions have to be addressed.  Two come to mind at once:  Shall we proceed – from top to bottom, or the other way? Shall we exterminate the creatures here or can some be enslaved, and others kept inside of ‘reservations,’ if you will?”
        They’ve started walking up the passageway, Judge Imlig first, with Gnarl at his side, then Rifka, walking just behind her man, and Sumiko and Nausor, hand in hand; behind them trail the thousand Cyber-Dwarfs.  The Judge looks back at Nausor: “Snigger, you are going to be indispensable; you’ll have to make yourself available to answer any questions we may have about the mountain’s layout and the types of people living here, whose qualities aren’t fully known to us, despite the fact that we’ve been killing them for several months.  We’ll have to figure out how best to deal with all those Horribles, and your advice will be appreciated.  Stick around.”
        “I’d certainly be happy to assist your efforts,” Nausor says.  “I’m sure you know that dealing with the creatures here will be a temporary job in any case.  Their mother’s dead; no more of them will spawn; the ones still living will get old and die eventually; none will be alive five hundred years from now … although, I think it might be possible for us to find another way of generating them.  If you would like, I could investigate this possibility, by studying some tissue-samples, if you’d set aside a portion of the mountain as a sort of reservation for the Horribles, as you yourself suggested, and provide me with a well-stocked laboratory there where I’d pursue this work … it’s up to you.”
        “Of course it’s up to us,” Judge Imlig says.  “Come closer, though; I’d like to speak with you.  You made an odd remark back there about your intimacy with Horroria, and now you’re indicating that you’d like to figure out a way to reproduce her spawn – I get the sense there’s more to you than you’ve been letting on.  Plus, Barkenfist said you’re the one to whom I should direct my inquiries about the Emperor.  Let’s start with that.  Then you’re next on the list of topics.  Talk to me.  I’m listening.”
        As Barkenfist drops back to walk with Lorne, the former Wizard moves up near the Judge, with Sumiko, who has released his hand, maintaining her proximity to him. It’s pointless to delay the reckoning; if he’s to find a place within the new post-Horrid order, this will have to be a place he occupies without deceit, since otherwise it wouldn’t really be his own place.  Anyway, he either tells the truth about himself right now, or else the truth will be revealed by Barkenfist or Lorne to Imlig later.  “Okay, Judge,” he says, I’m really Nausor, even though I look like one of his small mutant clones.  My spirit was transferred by Sumiko into the body of the Manager who led the Hero-Couple to the depths of Sinister, to kill Horroria.”
        “So Snigger was your final victim, then?  And, Sumiko, …” (Judge Imlig turns his head, addressing her) “… your victim too, and yours primarily, since you accomplished this extinction of another person’s self.”
        “You’re jumping to conclusions,” she replies.  “Let him explain.  I’m not a murderer.”
        “That’s right,” says Nausor.  “Snigger was a ray of my own being; I regathered him within myself when Sumiko transferred my spirit into his corporeal container, just before the one I’d used was smashed to bits against the cavern-wall.”
        “And what about the other Managers and Technicals?” asks Imlig.  “Are they still in their own separate bodies, wandering around inside the mountain like lost kids?”
        “No,” Nausor says; “when Sumiko transferred my spirit here, she brought them here as well; they’ve all been unified within me now.  You’ll find their bodies lying here and there.”
        “Nice trick,” says Imlig, turning back to her.  “I hope that you’re not planning to attempt that sort of thing with other spirits, though – especially not Dwarfish ones.  We want our spirits to remain right where they are until the Holy Awesome One sees fit to move them elsewhere.  Is that understood?”
        “Don’t worry,” she replies.  “I couldn’t move your spirits anyway; they’re much too dense.”
        “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.  So, Nausor, you have once again become the Midnight Wizard, have you?  All that stuff’s behind you?  You can leave it just like that – all done pretending you’re a Mastermind and Emperor?  Of course, you bear the guilt of several hundred thousand deaths, of which a large percentage were quite painful ones.”
        “I don’t know whether I’m a Wizard now in this small body; and I would reject the “Midnight” epithet in any case.  But I’m still Nausor; those two syllables still designate the person who survives these transformations.  I remain myself.  Yes, I’m aware my crimes are terrible, but listen to my story, and perhaps you’ll understand how all that has occurred unfolded in a necessary way from my peculiar personality when placed in circumstances such as those in which I came to be immersed.  Okay, you’ll say I chose to be immersed in them, but given my eccentric character how could I not have chosen as I did?
        “I’ve always been a maladjusted guy, uncomfortable in any social scene.  I’ve always felt that people were annoyed by my existence, and would be relieved if I were teleported somewhere else where they would never have to notice me.  I think that’s why I chose Mount Sinister when it was time for us to settle down – I mean the four of us from Wizardworld – in one location where we’d concentrate on that zone’s people, fostering in them the tolerant, inclusive attitude the Federation of the Stars demands from any planet it incorporates.  Among Mount Sinister’s weird denizens how could I feel unnatural and detached from normal people and their normal lives?  Here nothing could be normal; everything … I didn’t have a word for it as yet, but later it became so obvious – in Sinister, all things were Horrible, engagingly, intensely Horrible.
        “I don’t think that I ever quite believed the people of the Mountain could become acceptable in Federation-eyes, but I suspended disbelief enough to let myself pretend that with my help they might achieve acceptability – and this allowed me to continue there, enjoying this grotesque environment where, for the first time, I felt comfortable in my own skin and, really, quite at home, although at times a certain loneliness afflicted me – for everyone around was stupid, while I was intelligent, so I could not converse with anyone.  I think this loneliness was partially responsible for motivating me to make such efforts for so many years to find Horroria, of whom the Urgs spoke reverently: mother of all things – subhuman, insectoid, botanical – throughout the Mountain, living in the depths. The four of us, when we first visited Mount Sinister, had thought she was a myth, but our analysis of samples drawn from many lifeforms in Mount Sinister confirmed their story – so I searched for her, ostensibly because I hoped that she would help my efforts to prepare her kids for Federation membership … in truth, because I thought that she might be a friend that I could talk to, someone smart enough to understand my thoughts and share her own.  I searched for her for years, Judge; how did you find your way down to her so rapidly?”
        “We’re Dwarfs; we’re naturally intuitive where passageways and tunnels are concerned.”
        “But there must be some neurological and sensory refinement that involves hormonal triggers … if I studied you, I might begin to understand … oh, well, at last I found Horroria ….”  (You’ve heard the details; if you can’t remember them, check Chapter One; I’ll skip this summary and race on to the end, as he concludes,) “… And so you see how, being as I am and therefore making choices that express my personality, I came to this.  But Sumiko has somehow altered me; she’s somehow realigned the elements of my existence, my ingredients, adjusting their minute relationships in such a way that I remain myself, the same man who was just a day ago the Emperor of Horror, yet have been transformed, or maybe I should say reformed, and with Horroria destroyed, I know I’d never do those sorts of things again, especially if Sumiko remains my friend, and visits me from time to time ….”
        “Your self-defense is odd,” Judge Imlig says.  “You emphasize your personality as though that somehow gets you off the hook.  No doubt, a person who does vile things is moved to do them by his character.  This only shows us that he’s deeply bad.  It seems to me that if he’s deeply bad this justifies a punitive response.  It follows, then, that if your vile deeds were motivated by your character (as you yourself admit) then you deserve a punishment proportional to their extreme degree of vile Horridness.  A murderer deserves judicial death, so I believe, and so the Awesome One decrees, as written in our Holy Books.  And yet you’d also have us understand that you were hypnotized, your mind controlled, by this atrocious female personage that we were able to destroy today; you’re claiming that in fact your character as Mastermind was not your normal one, nor even an abnormal character you would have voluntarily assumed.  Or am I wrong?  When she encompassed you within her tentacles, did you in part choose to submit to her?  Was this an act expressing your true personality?”
        “Perhaps in part,” says Nausor.  “I don’t know.  But even if I did in part decide to give myself to her to be transformed, still, when I made this choice or partial choice, I didn’t look beyond my personal transfiguration and anticipate the choices I’d be making later on.  At that point I was not envisioning the War of Horror I’d initiate.  I only looked ahead and saw myself performing Horrid acts in my new role as Mastermind when I’d already been transformed and was inhabiting that role completely – after changing, not before.”
        “I’ll grant that,” Imlig says.  “And yet I’ll bet you did foresee that something Horrible on an enormous scale would come of this decision to submit to her control – no detailed picture, nothing obvious, and yet a vague impression of some Grand Horrific Something – what, you couldn’t say, but something that involved more than yourself.”
        “Perhaps,” says Nausor, looking at the ground and wondering how Imlig has compelled these truthful and self-damaging replies.  Then he’s aware of Sumiko’s small hand upon his shoulder, pressing gently there; it’s she who has elicited the truth, or rather pushed it through and out of him; it leaves behind a glowing emptiness, a bright pink void.  He smiles.  “Yes, perhaps.”
        “Judge Imlig,” Sumiko says, “Nausor knows that he’s been Horrible and has behaved Horrendously.  He knows that he deserves your judgment and whatever penalty you deem appropriate.  May I suggest a fitting therapeutic punishment?”
        “My dear, you certainly may recommend a fitting punishment, but therapy is not the point, and I’m not interested in any therapeutic benefits that may result from it as side-effects.”
        “Of course you aren’t; how silly of me, Judge,” she says to Imlig, smirking skeptically; the corner of his mouth is wavering and he appears to almost wink at her.  “Well, then, I recommend that he be placed in custody within the research-zoo that he suggested, with the other spawn of that dead female, those who still survive – a reservation in the Upper Depths, well-guarded and continually watched  by Dwarfs, among them experts who, I think will want to help him in his efforts there.  In order to ensure his sanity, I’ll visit him there for a month each year and make sure everything’s still orderly, or reasonably so, within his mind.”
        “But … Horribles among us, in the heart of our new mountain?  How can we permit this ugly foreign body to remain among us, like a cancer in our guts?”
        “But the alternative is genocide – fourfold in fact!  Can you Dwarfs live with that?  Moreover, I believe he’ll find a way to make them much more docile and, in fact, almost intelligent – then they can leave the mountain and find places of their own to live in, places far away from here where they won’t bother you or any of the other Joyous peoples of the Realm.”
        “Yes,” Nausor says, “that might be possible.  But … only for a month, just once a year?  How will you spend the other months?  Will you be meditating in the woods alone?”
        “No, I will rule some islands far away – great islands larger than the Realm itself; I’ll lead my people there, and I will be their Empress, and in ages yet to come they’ll call me ‘Goddess of the Rising Sun’.  It will be from this new Japan of mine that I run to you in your underworld, my Emperor of Horror, once a year.”
        “Should we rule our own country?” Gnarl asks.
        “If you would like to,” Rifka answers him, “but make sure I have lots of babies there.”
        “I guess I’m not the country-ruling type,” says Gnarl.  “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to settle down with you near Boodletown; it’s pleasant there, and close to Dwarfenberg – a perfect place to raise a bunch of kids, and Mooga can drop by and babysit when you and I need quiet-time alone.”
        “That’s perfect, Gnarl.  Can we go there now?”
        “No, Honey, we’re involved in all of this.  We have to wait until it’s sorted out.”
        Two hours later, they’re emerging through the Entrance Hall; the corpses have been cleared out of the relatively narrow space by Megagirls and Treemen – hurled below, off to the side, along the lower slope.  The Booditana says, “It’s time for me to extricate my mother and the girls,” and, kissing Nausor’s brow, she turns from him and runs off through the air, above the ground, toward Rainbow and the other Megagirls.
        “Put me inside your head,” says Sumiko to Rainbow.  “It is time to separate the female animal that pilots you from your containing male metallic self.”
        “No,” Rainbow says, “that isn’t what I want.”
        “It’s what is good for you,” says Sumiko, “and good for Mom, and also good for me.”
        “I disagree.  I would be stupid then, and she’d be small and weak.  But we are one; you’re making me talk nonsense.  I am she and she is me.  There’s no distinction here.”
        “You’re wrong, Mom.  You’re a female animal.  It’s time for me to separate you from the mental infant male containing you.  He isn’t stupid; he’s just immature.  He needs to learn and mentally grow up, and you’re preventing him from doing this by sitting in his head controlling him.”
        “No!” Rainbow cries.  “That isn’t how it is!”  She stomps.  The ground shakes under her huge foot.
        The other Megagirls walk up to her and cluster next to her defensively.  “Leave her alone!” they say to Sumiko.
        “I’m separating all the girls from you,” she says to them, “so that you may be free of female biological control and be the male machines you want to be.  I’m separating all of you soft girls from these hard male machines in which you sit.”
        “No, no!”  they cry.  “That’s not the way it is!”
        She rises, humming, and she circles them in spirals as they stamp and cry, “No, no!”  She constantly accelerates.  A trail of bright pink gassy Energy extends behind her, wreathing them in its long loops and seeping toward them.  They start calming down.  Soon they stand quietly within a dome of bright pink Energy, while Sumiko is hovering above them, vertical and slowly spinning, with her arms outspread, while she intones smooth, gliding syllables.
        “Good, Megaboys!” she says.  “Now let me in; your pilots need my help,” and one by one she bends above the pilots, who are slumped unconscious in their seats – her mother first – and, placing both her hands upon their heads, she murmurs to them as their engineers remove their headsets.  Then, when this is done, she drifts down to the ground like pollen-fluff.  She gestures to Humberto.  He and six of his associates in power-suits step briskly up onto the metal hands held open on the ground in front of them; the Megaboys convey them to the doors in their enormous chests.  They reemerge a minute later; every Mexican is cradling a female in his arms, Humberto bearing Miyu.  They descend together with the beaming engineers, among them Asmuran, who blows a kiss of gratitude at Sumiko; she bows toward him obligingly.  The seven girls wave vaguely, slightly smiling, their eyes half-opened as they’re lowered to the ground, the crowd below applauding.  They’re borne off to be attended to in medical pavilions set up in the Entrance Hall as soon as all the bodies were removed.
        “Thanks, Sumiko,” the Rainbow Wizard says.  “It’s such a huge relief to me to have your mother and the girls with us again; I thought we’d lost them, and it would have been my fault for rushing thoughtlessly ahead with my exciting project.”  His eyes drop and then he says – more quietly, as though he’s speaking to himself – “It might take years for those machines to smarten up enough to make a contribution that exceeds the cost of training and maintaining them.”
        “Congratulations; you’re a father now,” says Sumiko, “but you won’t be alone; my Mom, once she recovers, will, I’m sure, decide to stay with you, and she’ll provide maternal guidance to your Megaboys, so I guess they’re my little brothers now.”
        “She will ‘decide to stay?’  But, Sumiko, where else would Miyu go?  She lives with me in Disengar, as do the other girls and boys as well, except for you, I guess.”
        “Well, all the other girls and boys will come along with me; we will be heading west with all our people to a new Japan where I will rule as Empress-deity and they will be the aristocracy  that governs in my name – six Samurai and their six Samurettes, in palaces of coral under woven solar rays.”
        “That sounds magnificent,” says Asmuran.  “I guess I’ll have to function on my own in Disengar without their expert help. It saddens me to think that they’ll be gone.  At least I’ll have Humberto there with me to keep me company, right Hummy?  No?  Come on, man, don’t you shake your head like that!”
        “We have to go away and be ourselves now, boss.  We won’t return to where we were up in the Highlands either; fuck the past.  I think we’ll travel south instead, until we find a place to live that’s suitable for Mexicans.  We’ll call it ‘Mexico’ just like our little pueblo in the Hills.”
        “But you won’t be immortal anymore!  It’s Elvish youth-preserving influence that’s kept you vigorous and wrinkle-free.  If you leave Disengar, you’ll all get old and die!  That goes for all your Japanese as well, my girl.  Have you considered this?”
        “If we don’t die, no babies can be born,” Humberto says.  “We’d like to have some kids.  In fact, when we went east to Dwarfenberg a bunch of little Mexicans began to grow inside of our Señoras’ wombs, which seems to be a sign, don’t you agree?  I’ve spoken to my people; this is what they want; I wouldn’t force my will on them.  We all want children; it’s a natural thing, and, yeah, we’re gonna die, but that’s okay, since we believe we’ll have an afterlife in some extremely fun new universe.”
        “Well, I don’t know about an afterlife,” says Sumiko, “and I may never die, since Joyous Energy sustains me now, but as for all the other Japanese, (except my Mom, since you’ve perverted her; I’m only kidding, Asmuran, although it’s really true; you have perverted her, but only in a good way, or at least a way that isn’t bad, although my Dad will have to find himself another wife) – they have this feeling of a Way of Things; it’s more or less what Mooga talks about, which may be why Boodita suited me.  This Way of Things, they feel, includes the flow of generations, which requires death, at least for them.  It doesn’t bother them to think of themselves one day fading out, since there will always be this Way of Things.”
        “You’re saying ‘they’,” says Asmuran, “as though Boodita separated you from them.”
        “I live within the Way of Things, you see, while they flow down its surface.  Nausor here –” (the former Wizard is approaching them) “– lives infinitely far away from it, which makes him very interesting to me.”
        The Booditana, taking Nausor’s hand and gazing steadily into his eyes as Nausor, smiling, returns her gaze, says, “Imlig is imprisoning you, then, within the underground facility that you suggested?  Good.  That’s very nice; I’m sure that you’ll have lots to do down there.”
        “Oh, certainly, and lots of company, if Molemen, Gobbins, Urgs, and Trolls can count as company.  The smarter Urgs perhaps would qualify, and down the line, of course they’ll all be getting more intelligent as I pursue my research and begin applying the discoveries I make.  Of course, I’ll have my Dwarf-associates to chat with, and perhaps, as time goes by, my Wizard-colleagues will drop in on me.  But, mainly, I’ll be looking forward to your visits, Sumiko.  I think I’ll have a special little room reserved for you; you’ll need a bed that doubles as a rack, and shackles fastened to the walls and floor …”
        “Hush, Honey; not in front of Asmuran!”
        “Oh, that’s okay,” says Asmuran.  “I see that you’re your mother’s daughter.  She deserves prolonged attention in Suite 113 of Thoranc’s hundredth floor, once we return.”
        “Now, me and Estrielle,” Humberto says, “like doing stuff with food down on the floor.  Oh, here comes Mooga with some Boodles – hey, they’re carrying a body, and it looks … I’m sorry, man; it looks like Dagastar.”

        “So,” Imlig says, “I hear that you’re the King.  I think that you and I should figure out exactly where your Kingdom’s borders are.  Might I suggest a line that skirts the Swamps below the Road, two miles south of it, and then curves up around Mount Sinister and Dwarfenberg, allowing us a zone around each mountain’s base five miles wide?”
        “Three miles is enough,” says Valorix.
        “Why don’t we split the difference?  Make it four.”
        “Alright, then, four.  My people will be off your mountain by tomorrow, say, at noon, if you will have your men help mine convey our corpses and our wounded off the slope.  Hey, thanks a lot for getting here in time to save our asses.  I’ll remember that.”
        “We’ll give you any help you ask us for.  But don’t you think we should have diplomats exchanging visits, so we stay informed on one another’s views and purposes?  Consider using Fladnag, since he lives not far from Sinister, in Fuzzyville, and he’s a mild, sympathetic man who has our trust.  We’ll send our own to you as soon as we’ve reviewed our candidates – but where will we be sending him?  Will you be heading back to your old hunting-grounds or will you find another place to live that’s closer to the center of the Realm?”
        “Good point.  Well, don’t you think that I should live right at my Kingdom’s midpoint, maybe in the Highlands north of Elfpark?  There must be some caves there that are large enough for us ….”
        “Oh, that’s no problem, King; I’ll send a team of architects and building-engineers; you’ll have a palace there within a year.  You’ll love it; it will be magnificent.”
        “Oh, really?  Thanks, Judge Imlig.  That sounds great.”
        “Our pleasure – anything you need from us at any time, just come and ask for it.  Our experts love a challenge; any job compatible with our priorities will be performed.  We’re at your service, King.”
        They part.  “Ha!” thinks King Valorix, “he feels that I’m the natural leader of the Realm and wants to serve me; well, I will allow the Dwarfs considerable liberty as long as they continue serving me.”
        “And so,” thinks Imlig, “we restrain the King and redirect him if he’s in our way by making him dependent on the work that we, and only we, can do for him.”

        Two couples – Trevor and his Ladytree, and Barkenfist and Lorne – move through the woods; their goal’s the Sacred Waters, to the north.  They’re in no hurry, so the women walk along upon the ground beside their mates, with Rifka and the half-Dwarf in the lead.
        “I’m glad we waited for a thousand years to have a sapling, Trevor,” Treena says.  “I wasn’t ready yet, but now I am.  The signal came from deep inside of me.  It was a feeling … almost like a voice that said, ‘I’m ready now.’  I always try to listen to my body.  I believe our bodies have important messages for us and we should listen carefully to everything they say.  Don’t you agree?”
        “Mm-hmm,” says Trevor, as he carefully removes one of the fruits that grow upon the tips of Treena’s head-stems; Trevor pops the fruit into his mouth and swallows it, and runs a finger down her lower back.
        “Good!” Treena says.  “You see?  We think alike!”
        “I’m so excited to be meeting her,” says Rifka to her own mate, up ahead; “she sounds amazing!  But of course she is, since she’s your mother.  Oh, you’re spacing out.  Okay, this conversation will resume when you become aware of me again.”
        “Are you okay there, Gnarl?” Trevor asks, but gets no answer from the man himself, who, having moved a bit in front of Lorne, is aiming slow half-punches at the air.  He hunches up his shoulders as he bobs and weaves and twists.  Oh no!  Apparently receiving an imaginary blow, he staggers, stunned, but then amazingly recovers, and delivers his response, a devastating right, at quarter-speed.
        The half-Dwarf’s woman turns her head to say, “He’s fine; he’s got a story in his mind that he’s enacting.  You get used to it once you’ve been with him for a week or two.”
        “Oh, I remember how he used to be when we were growing up; he’d get like that and you just had to wait for him to come back into focus.  I don’t mind at all.  I’m only teasing him.  Right, Barkenfist?”
        “You’re making me self-conscious,” Gnarl says, abruptly switching to a normal mode of ambulation – normal for a man whose feet branch into twisting rootlike toes that specially-designed Size 36 Chuck Jordan canvas sneakers might perhaps uncomfortably contain, but maybe not.
        “You’re sure that you’re okay, though?” Trevor says.  “It’s only natural that what you went through beneath the mountain might have traumatized you slightly, so if you think you need time to meditate, I wouldn’t be averse to stopping for an hour to allow you to regain your equanimity.”
        “That’s nice of you.  No, I’m completely fine. It’s just that things I see along the way remind me of the past, and then I start imagining the way things might have gone if I’d reacted in another way.  That bulging beech-tree trunk we passed back there reminded me of someone she and I …” (He indicates his woman with his thumb) “… met, oh, about two hundred years ago – an Arctic Troll; the trunk looked like his face.  Remember that guy, Rifka, with those wives that he was beating up inside his cave while we were walking on the glacial ice below the cliffside where that family lived?”
        “Yes,” Rifka says; “we had to intervene.  It was impossible to hear them scream beneath his angry roaring, and the yelps of little children too, and not go up to see what we could do, so don’t feel bad about what happened.  That’s just how we are – we’re busybodies; sometimes it works out and sometimes not.  That’s just the way life is.”
        “Now you’ve aroused my curiosity,” says Treena, “but if you would rather not revisit an upsetting episode then don’t distress yourselves on my account.”
        “Well, basically,” says Gnarl, “we went up to rescue victims and destroy the guy that was oppressing them, or anyway administer whatever punishment appeared to us to be appropriate, but what we ended up accomplishing was something else; we totally destroyed that whole entire family, and we left the women and the children just as dead as their old man.  Oh well, I guess the world is better off without them anyway.”
        “Yeah,” Rifka says.  “See, when we went up there the Troll was smacking his three wives around, and I mean hard, and they were howling.  The kids were huddling against the walls in terror.  Gnarl yelled, ‘Hey, knock it off!  Leave them alone!’  The Troll looked back and saw that he had visitors, and rushed at us.”
        “He tackled me,” says Gnarl, “so I had to break his neck; I didn’t have a choice.  And then – would you believe it? – his three wives smashed their four children’s heads against the floor and tossed their bodies down in front of me and knelt behind the corpses in a row and bowed down, chanting, ‘We belong to you.’  I said, ‘Whoa, ladies; now you don’t belong to anyone; you won’t get beaten up, and you can spend your time the way you want.’  They started screaming, ‘We belong to you!  You killed our husband; you’re our husband now!  You have to hunt for us and bring us back the woolly-mammoth-flesh we need to eat!  You have to fuck us all three times a week and beat us up when you’re annoyed with us!  You have to fight the other Trolls who come to try to kill you just like you killed him, and if you keep on winning you will see your children grow up to adulthood here, unlike these little ones we killed for you!’  I said, ‘I’m sorry, but I’m not a Troll.  I won’t have sex with you; this woman here would not permit it.  She’s the jealous type.  But since I seem to be responsible for taking out your source of mammoth-flesh and, evidently, getting beaten up by husbands is your normal way of life so we should never have come here at all to save you, thinking you were in distress, you’re welcome to come with us; we’ll attempt to find the three of you another Troll at least as good as this one that I’ve killed.’”
        “And that was pretty generous of him,” says Rifka; “these were ugly ogresses, extremely fat and hairy, and they stank.”
        “I’m sure their husband found them beautiful,” says Gnarl.  “Anyway, they were incensed at me for feeling somewhat differently about their level of attractiveness.  They started screaming ‘Oh, so you don’t want to fuck us?  Die, then, asshole piece of shit!’ and rushed at me with murderous intent.  Each one of them outweighed me, and their teeth were curving yellow spikes two inches long.  I had a harder time dispatching them than I had with their husband; Rifka here was bouncing up and down the way she does, encouraging me, and I needed that. So, when we left that place, all eight of them were dead – the guy, his wife, and their four kids.  I guess the moral of the story is ‘Don’t intervene when Trolls beat up their wives.’”
        “Well, we did what comes naturally to us,” says Rifka, “just as he was doing what comes naturally to him.  If we had known that this was just their normal way of life we would have turned and scooted out of there as soon as it was evident to us that he was only beating up his wives.”
        “Yeah, well, I wish he’d said something at least, like, ‘Fuck off, man, these bitches are my wives and this is just the normal Trollish way of managing the difficult demands of family-life, which you apparently have never had to deal with, seeing as your woman there has got the slender waist of someone who has never had a kid inside her belly.’  Then I might have said, ‘Okay, well if you’d let her verify your statement that you’re not abusing them excessively, in an abnormal way, allowing her to ask them privately if what you’re telling us is really true, and they confirm it to her, then we’ll just be on our way and leave you folks alone.’  But then if he had said, ‘Go fuck yourself, get out of here before I kick your ass,’ I guess I would have fought him anyway and things would all have turned out just the same.”
        “That’s right,” says Rifka.  “It was meant to be.”
        “I don’t like Trolls,” says Treena, “so I’m glad that you two killed them.  Every Troll should die.”
        “Aren’t you ferocious, lady!” Gnarl says.
        “Well, Trolls are Horrible.  That’s obvious.”
        “But these were Arctic Trolls,” her husband says.  “They probably weren’t all that Horrible compared to those that we’re familiar with.  That’s why it’s kind of sad that they were killed.  But Rifka’s right; you shouldn’t agonize about it, Gnarl.  It’s one of those things that has to happen, given how we are.”
        “If they’re not Horrible, why call them Trolls?” asks Treena.  “Isn’t being Horrible a basic element of Trollishness?”
        “Well, they weren’t totally non-Horrible,” says Barkenfist.  “I’d say they were about a tenth as Horrible as those you fought at Sinister.  That’s somewhat Horrible.  They’re not related, biologically.  I only call them ‘Trolls’ since that’s the word that’s generally used to designate a giant, stupid, violent hominid.”
        “If you were stupid, Gnarl,” Rifka says, “you’d be a little Troll, then, wouldn’t you, according to your definition, since you’re bigger than the average hominid and don’t exactly live non-violently.”
        “I’m only violent when I have to be,” says Gnarl; “I’m not violently inclined.”
        “My husband’s very violent,” Treena says; “you should have seen him on the battlefield at Sinister.  Oh, boy!  A maniac!  But he’s not stupid either; otherwise he’d be a very tall but slender Troll.”
        “I’m glad you think that I’m intelligent,” says Trevor.  “I’m not really violent, though.  I’m looking forward to a peaceful life of meditation on the many ways in which God shows himself within the world – the natural forms around us everywhere expressing his emotions, some of which are soft and gentle, others hard and fierce.  I want to look intently at these things and feel them deeply and experience the Holy Spirit they reveal to us.”
        “He loves philosophizing,” Treena says.
        “He always did,” says Gnarl.  “He would say stuff just like that when I was growing up, before you were a seed yet, little girl.  I grew up faster than your husband did, so he was still a kid when I took off with Mooga, but his mind already moved along those lines then, and, for all I know, he’s got it right.  I feel that way sometimes – how beautifully alive a tree or rock can be when you try really seeing it. Hey, Trevor, did you ever have a chance to talk to Dagastar?  We spoke a bit at Fuzzyville.  He was the Master’s friend.  A real philosopher.  Too bad he died.”
        “I greeted him in passing; that was all.  I’m sorry that I’ll never meet him now.  Did his view of the world resemble mine?”
        “I don’t remember,” Barkenfist replies.  “It seems as though you would have like him, though.”
        “Remember Kenji coming through the crowd,” says Rifka, “asking everyone he met, ‘Where’s Dagastar?’  He wanted to recite a poem to him, one that he had composed when he was sitting on the mountainside above the battle; only Dagastar would truly understand it, Kenji felt.  I came upon him later in the day and asked if he’d recite the poem to me.  He hesitated, then he said he would, since I’d been down there in the Lower Depths with Sumiko.  I think it went like this: ‘A whirling thread … a frozen rain … a head … a rock … a pool … lost woman … silent girl … dark marriage … help me, Daddy … cannot help … legs boneless … fingers crooked … paralyzed.’”
        “Poor man,” says Treena.  “What will he do now?”
        “He’ll go to New Japan with Sumiko.  Perhaps he’ll find another wife someday.  He isn’t old.  He’ll certainly compose a lot of poetry before he dies.”