Then shall they challenge the Children of God. For life, for their families, for their homes, for their freedom shall they pit brother against brother for justice on the Court of God. The cause of right shall prevail, and the plan of the Evil One shall at last be defeated. - The Book of the Prophets of God, the words of Morallen (giver of the Game).

    

    “What! You can’t do this to me,” Adreeum exclaimed. “I need you now more than ever Rownan.”

    “I’m sorry Clan Leader, but I must follow my heart in this matter,” Rownan replied. “I shall continue my duties for a reasonable length of time so that you may have time to find a replacement for me.”

    “Is there nothing I can say that would make you change your mind?”

    “No Clan Leader, there isn’t. I have been call to serve God and I must go where he commands. Have no fear; I will be at your side when Jonnaul challenges us.”

    “So you believe that Jonnaul will challenge us in the near future?”

    “I do. However, Jonnaul must wait until the next Grand Council meeting.”

    “Zothor, you’ve been awfully quite these days. What do you think?” Adreeum asked.

    “I think Rownan is correct. Jonnaul must wait until the Grand Council meets again. In order to force compliance to his edicts he must challenge us as a whole. Until then, we can only wait,” Zothor replied.

    “Any chance that you can talk Rownan into staying with us?”

    “Clan Leader, I’ve had three sons called with the same calling as Rownan. They have been called by a true prophet of God to go out into the world in the service of their God. They are going to be sent to parts of the world we know nothing about. I am worried. Only Tangoral has the knowledge and the experience to make this kind of a journey. Balator and Adamor have lived in the city all their lives. They don’t even go camping. I can only trust in God to keep them safe. If I could say nothing to them, what could I say to Rownan?”

    “Yoeith is developing quite a following,” Adreeum said.

    “Yes, he is, and I’m one of them,” Zothor said.

    

~~~

    

    Syanor walked out onto the court as Cantor was playing a practice game with Margeeum. “Cantor, I need to talk with you,” he said.

    “Sounds serious,” Cantor replied as he caught the ball in his left claw.

    “It is,” Syanor said. “I made a deal with Yoeith and then couldn’t fulfill my end of the deal.”

    “You made a deal with the Prophet?” Margeeum asked in disbelief.

    “Yes I did, and I’ve lost the dining hall because of it.”

    “Whoa, Mom must have hit the ceiling,” Cantor said. “If you’re thinking of challenging I can’t help you. You’re physically able to play for yourself.”

    “Actually, Mom did not hit the ceiling,” Syanor said. “She was disappointed, but she wouldn’t lift a claw to help me. I can’t say I blame her. It was my own fault. I should have waited to get supplies for the dining hall, but all I could think was Balator was open for business and I wasn’t.”

    “Balator, wasn’t open for business. He was just feeding the hungry brothers and sisters in need,” Margeeum said.

    “I understand that now, but in the meantime I don’t have a job anymore.”

    “What has all this to do with me?” Cantor asked.

    “I need a job,” Syanor replied.

    “I don’t have a business or I’d help you out,” Cantor said.

    “You do now,” Syanor said simply. “You’re the new owner of the dining hall.”

    Cantor dropped the ball he was holding. “You want to backup and start over again. I thought your deal was with Yoeith.”

    “It was, but the deal had the ownership fall to you if I failed to meet his requirements. I have the papers that transfer my part of the ownership of the dining hall to you if you’d like to look them over.”

    “That won’t be necessary. Just leave them with Mom. I’ll look them over later.”

    “I still need a job Cantor,” Syanor said.

    “What kind of job did you have in mind?” Cantor asked.

    “Manager, unless you plan to manage the dining hall yourself,” Syanor replied. “In that case I’ll take anything you might have available.”

    “Ok, I think that we can work something out. Stop by our dwelling later and we’ll talk it over with Mom. I’m sure we can come to a fair arrangement.”

    “Ok, thanks Cantor.” Syanor turned and walked off the court still feeling somewhat dejected.

    “What are you going to do with a dining hall?” Margeeum asked after they had the court to themselves again.

    “I don’t know. I really don’t want a dining hall,” Cantor replied.

    “Why didn’t you just give it back to him then?”

    “Well think about it Margeeum. That dining hall will do more business than Syanor’s old dining hall ever did. It’s a good investment in the future. I can hire Syanor as manager and tie his wages to the dining hall's profits. He gets to keep living in the lifestyle he is use to, Mom still gets her share, and now I get a share of the profits too. It’s just good business. If I could get in on some of Tangoral’s inventions I’d be set for life.”

    “Is that all you want to do is get comfortable?”

    “No, I want to go out and explore some of this world we know nothing about, but it would be nice to have someplace comfortable to come back to. It all means nothing to me if I don’t have you to share it with me,” Cantor said.

    Margeeum’s color flushed bright blue as she smiled at him. “Cantor, serve the ball.”

    

~~~

    

    By the time Tangoral reached the dining hall the fire raged out of control. Most of the Brachyura were just standing around helpless watching as this section of the dwelling burned. Fire in a dwelling was a rare thing and they were at a loss as how to handle this kind of a problem. Tangoral spotted Balator standing with a group of brothers just watching the dwelling burn. He walked over. “What happened?” he asked.

    “I don’t know,” Balator replied. “The fuel oil tanks exploded a little while ago. That spread the fire throughout this section of the dwelling.”

    “Didn’t you have a shut-off valve on your fuel tank?”

    “I had three of them, one next to the stoves, one where the piping passes through the wall, and one on each tank.”

    “What are we doing to get the fire out before it spreads further?”

    “Nothing, there’s nothing we can do. We just have to wait for the fire to burn itself out.”

    “What of the brothers and sisters that live in this section?” Tangoral asked.

    “I can only hope that they got out in time,” Balator replied.

    Tangoral pulled the headset microphone down next to his mouth. “Command this is Tangoral, have Tragal and some brothers suit up in full body armor. No ammo, they’re going to be working close to a fire. Have them meet me at Balator’s dining hall. I needed them several time parts ago, Tangoral out. Sentinel, move all the guardians to my location now.” Tangoral flipped the microphone back up and turned to face the Brachyura just standing around watching the fire. “Brothers, we need to get this section sealed off to keep the fire from spreading to other sections of the dwelling. Start at the top and work your way down making sure those that can get out have gotten out.” So began the battle to contain the rapidly spreading fire.

    

    Tragal found Tangoral trying to drag an unconscious sister out of her dwelling. “Let me take her,” he said. Tragal slipped her on top of his body armor, turned and walked rapidly back down the hall. Tangoral ran back into the dwelling to make one last search of the dwelling. Tragal waited in the hallway for Tangoral. He was about to go back down the smoke filled hallway when Tangoral crawled out of the smoke carrying a small child. “I was beginning to worry. We need to seal this hallway.”

    “This little guy was hiding in a corner.”

    “He’s lucky. Ok, seal it up,” Tragal told the brothers standing in the hallway with him. “I’ve got about fifty other brothers on different levels trying to get everyone out that we can.”

    “How we doing on getting the fire put out?” Tangoral asked as he sat down on the floor and leaned back against the wall. He watched as a couple of brothers began to seal the hallway.

    “Not good. The fire has made it to the tree and that’s going to make it harder to keep the fire from spreading,” Tragal replied. “How did this fire start anyway?”

    “It started in Balator’s dining hall and somehow managed to set off the fuel tanks.”

    “Do you know how many got out before the tanks went up?”

    “No I don’t, but it couldn’t have been a lot. The tanks exploded shortly after the fire started. I doubt those that lived above the dining hall knew they had a problem until the explosion.”

    “I wish we had the fire protection system Sokegal installed at our dwelling,” Tragal said.

    “Maybe we could get it to rain inside the dwelling while you’re wishing for things,” Tangoral said as he closed his eyes to take a moment to rest.

    “That’s easy enough. We blow a few hundred holes in the roof and ask Yoeith to pray for rain.”

    Tangoral’s eyes snapped back open. “That’s it. How many water tanks are on top of the section of the dwelling?”

    “Four or five, why?”

    “If we blow some holes in the roof where the tree and the dwelling meet. Then blow the water tanks so the water will drain off through the holes in the roof we could put the fire out by putting out the section of the tree that’s burning out of control.”

    “How would that put the rest of the fire out?”

    “The smoke and steam would suffocate the rest of the fire.”

    “Sounds good to me. Let’s go get some explosives,” Tragal said.

    Tragal and Tangoral raced through the smoke filled hallways with a new sense of hope. As they were about to exit the dwelling they found their way blocked by two armed yellow brothers. “I thought you said he was running around without a bodyguard,” one of the yellow brothers said.

    “He was,” the other yellow brother said as he chambered a round into his gun.

    Tangoral dove behind Tragal. “Tragal, close all your eyes and push the button for the weapon of last resort,” he shouted as he hit the floor. Tragal put his hand on the button, closed all his eyes, and pushed the button.

    Both of the yellow brothers fired their guns. The bullets exploded harmlessly against Tragal’s body armor. This was followed by a blinding flash of white light that seemed to burn into Tragal’s brain despite his eyes being closed tighly. He could hear the screams of the yellow brothers as he kept his eyes closed long enough for the spots to go away. When he finally opened his eyes again he saw Tangoral pounce on top of one of the yellow brothers. Tragal went after the other brother sweeping his legs out from under him. It was all over in a moment. Two yellow brothers lay in the hallway blinded with half their legs broken. “Nice secret weapon,” Tragal said as he stood back admiring his handiwork.

    “We can pick these guys up later. Let’s get this fire out first,” Tangoral said as he jumped off the yellow brother he attacked.

    

    “The fire was deliberately set. The shut-off valves at the stove and in the piping where it goes through wall were intact and still functional,” Tragal reported. “We’re still looking for the tank shut-off valves. This was a very clever attempt on Tangoral’s life.”

    “Have the yellow brothers said anything yet?” Adreeum asked.

    “No, and I don’t expect them to,” Zothor replied grimly.

    “Tragal, I’m not so sure that I was the target,” Tangoral said. “Judging from what little they said, I was just an added bonus. It was like they were watching the fire and saw that I was running around without a bodyguard.”

    “If you weren’t the target, who was?” Adreeum asked.

    “I don’t know,” Tangoral replied. “Do we know who all died?”

    “Not yet,” Rownan said. “With eighty-seven dead and a hundred twenty-three injured it’s going to be sometime before we can identify all the bodies. Also we still have a few brothers and sisters unaccounted for. The guardians were able to rescue the brothers and sisters trapped on the roof or it would have been much worse”

    “You’re right, it could have been much worse,” Adreeum said. “That was good thinking Tangoral. I doubt that anyone would have thought to use the water tanks to put out the fire.”

    “I’m only glad I could be of service Clan Leader,” Tangoral said. “Our Craft Master has invented a fire protection system that we should install in all our dwellings.”

    “Yesterday, I might have argued that such a system was not needed, but today, today it is already too late to have that kind of protection for our dwellings,” Adreeum said. “Rownan, we will revise the building codes to make it mandatory to have a fire protection system in all dwellings.”

    “We could make putting out fires part of a soldier’s duties,” Zothor said.

    “I will design some carts to carry firefighting equipment around in,” Tangoral said.

    “These are all good ideas,” Adreeum said. “We still don’t know why the fire was started in the first place.”

    “If you’d let me have the yellow brothers I could make them talk,” Tangoral said.

    “I’d love nothing better than to do just that,” Adreeum said. “However, there are customs and laws that I must abide by. After I satisfy the demands of our law, you may get your chance to question them. That is if Amoonda will let us keep his brothers.”

    “If Tangoral was the target, they may try again,” Tragal said.

    “Tangoral, you will take a bodyguard with you wherever you go until we sort this out,” Adreeum said.

    “That includes into burning dwellings,” Zothor added.

    

~~~

    

    A great number of brothers and sisters of all colors came to the worship service. So great were their numbers that the service had to be held outside. They had come to hear the words of the new prophet of God and his disciples. “My brothers and sisters, it warms my heart to see so many of you here to give praise and honor to God,” Yoeith said as he stood before the multitude. “I have asked that Brother Tangalen open our service with a prayer.”

    Tangalen stood up as Yoeith stepped back and settled to the ground. “Most kind Father in Heaven, we gather to honor Thee. We give thanks to Thee that we have another day to serve Thee and to prepare our hearts and minds to meet Thee. We ask that Thou would pour out Thy spirit upon us this day and may an extra portion of Thy spirit be with those that would impart words of wisdom to us this day. May we honor You forever. This we do ask in the name of thy most holy Son. May it ever be so.”

    “May it ever be so,” the multitude repeated.

    “So it shall ever be,” Tangalen finished and then he returned to his place on the ground.

    Yoeith stood back up. “First, we will hear words from Brother Tragal, he will be followed by Brother Almmoni.”

    This would be the first time that Tragal gave testimony before the brothers and sisters. He wished that there were not so many of them. “Every day I ask myself why God chose to call me into his service. I pray that what I have to say to you will be of some worth to you in some small way,” Tragal said. “It is written that we are saved through faith in our God, and yet it is also written that we are to be judged according to our thoughts and deeds, be they good or bad. I ask, if we have faith and our deeds are evil, shall we still obtain Heaven? I ask again, if we have no faith and our deeds are good, shall we be cast into Hell? How can we be judged according to our deeds if the reward for good deeds is Hell and the reward for evil deeds is Heaven? Is this the justice of God? I submit to you that it is not.”

    “No good deed will go un-rewarded regardless of whether your eternal abode is the fires of Hell, or the comforts of Heaven. God cannot abide the presence of sin. Though we have faith in God we shall forever fall short of his expectations of us. How shall we then return to live with him in Heaven? It is through the great sacrifice that he made for us that mercy might lay claim on those that have faith. Can you have faith in God and do evil? I submit that your faith is false if you will not strive to keep the commandments of God. How can you call yourself the faithful of God if you will not obey him or the prophets he has sent you? Thus, we see that true faith in God opens the door to Heaven. Then shall our reward in Heaven be given to us according to our deeds.”

    “Shall my reward in Heaven be the same as yours? Perhaps not, though I have faith in God, how shall I claim a good reward in Heaven if I have been less than valiant in doing those things that I ought to have done? Shall my reward be the same as someone who has fought the good fight all their life? Is this the justice of a fair God? I submit to you that it is not. The rewards of God are many even as our deeds are many. If I have faith in God and only do one good deed, shall I be placed ahead of another brother with the same faith and a hundred good deeds? I think not.”

    “True faith in God can only be seen in our good deeds. Without obedience to God how can we call ourselves his faithful children? Truly, faith without action will profit us nothing and we will be cast into Hell on the Last Day. If we will not give aid to a brother in need, though we say we have faith in God, we will be cast into Hell. God will look into our hearts and find that our faith in Him is a lie and He will cast us into the fire. If our faith in Him is true then we will help one another. We will lift up our brother or sister that has fallen by the wayside. We will feed the hungry, warm those that stand in the cold, and comfort those that are poor in spirit. This is the right way of God. May it ever be so.” Tragal turned around and walked back to his place and settled to the ground as Almmoni stood up.

    Almmoni looked out upon all the brothers and sisters before him and smiled. “My heart is filled with such joy and love toward you that I cannot find the words to express the moment,” Almmoni said as he began his doctrinal discourse. “I am certain that God looks down upon us and His heart too is filled with joy that so many brothers and sisters have embraced His gospel. We are the works of His hands and He delights in bringing about our salvation. Sin brings darkness into our lives and that darkness separates us from the world of light that God lives in. If we stand in darkness how shall we find our way? Indeed sin causes us to become lost in darkness and there we would stay if it were not for the tender mercy of God. A way was prepared before the creation of this world to lead us out of darkness. For into the darkness came a lamp to light our way, and we have but to follow that light to find our way out of the darkness.”

    “Can mercy rob justice? God forbid. Justice demands payment in full for our misdeeds. Mercy cannot lay claim to us without a payment and the payment must be made in full. No partial payment will be accepted. One of the children of God rose up and stood before the Father of all creation and offered himself as a sacrifice to justice in order that we may lay claim to mercy. It is through this great sacrifice that mercy entered into the world. A life lived in perfection and offered up freely as a sacrifice that justice might receive payment in full by the blood of that man. A son of God gave himself freely that we might be free from the burden of sin. This is the Christ.”

    “This is the light that came into the world to guide us out of the darkness. So it shall be if we take hold of his words, and the words of the prophets, we shall be guided back to our home with God. For this is life eternal that we should know the one true God and his only begotten Son, the Christ. When we stand before God to face our judgment none shall speak on our behalf without permission. Although there be ranks of angels none shall say a word. Then shall the Christ stand forth to plead our case before God, and he will speak only that which is true. If we will not confess Christ before our brothers, how shall Christ confess us before the Father of all?”

    “Salvation comes to us after all we can do. Ever shall we fall short of the glory of God. Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance my brothers. For you know not in which hour that you may be called to face your Maker. Shall you be caught doing evil, or good? How shall you be called the faithful of God if you will not do that which your God asks of you? In the end, you are not justified before God through works of the law. Yet, if you will not obey the law, mercy cannot claim you as her own and justice will come to claim you and drag you down to the fires of Hell. If you will not hear the voice of your God; He will not listen to your plea for mercy. May you my brothers and sisters seek to do the will of your God that you may lay claim to the mercy of God through the sacrifice of his Son. May it ever be so.” Yoeith got to his legs as Almmoni returned to his place on the ground.

    “We will next hear from Brother Balator and then I shall address you after Brother Balator,” Yoeith said and then he returned to his place among the other brothers.

    “Into every life comes adversity,” Balator began his oration. “There are the little things that go wrong. Plans that don’t quite work out, a wall that falls over before it dries, a broken leg or claw, a mate that takes out their anger on you thoughtlessly. Every day there is something that just doesn’t go right, but this is everyday life. Then there are the big things that drive us into the ground. These are the times when the weight upon our shell seems unbearable. A failed business venture where you lost everything and the tragic loss of loved ones are some of those great trials of life. These are the times when we think that God is far from us. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. God is ever near us. We shall never go through life without facing some kind of adversity in our lives. When life’s adversities fall upon us, do we let them beat us down into the ground or do we rise up finding new strength to face still tougher challenges ahead of us.”

    “If our faith is firmly planted in God like a great tree in the ground, when the winds and rain come, how shall we be moved? My Brother Tangoral sits behind me surrounded by his bodyguards. I would have you notice the plates stuck to the sides and top and bottom shells of his bodyguards. This is called body armor. My brother tells me that the Blue Brotherhood has several kinds of body armor. The body armor on the guards you see here is the lightweight kind. I have seen Brother Tragal in body armor that completely incased his shell and legs. Regardless of what kind of armor a blue brother might wear, a heavy gun cannot shoot through it. God too has armor that we might put on. While this armor will not protect our bodies, it will protect our spirit. Those that have their faith in God have no fear of death. They have put on the armor of God as protection in their battle with the Evil One. For the true battle is not for the body but for the soul.”

    “Many are the weapons of God. Ever study and hold fast to his words, pray often, and be ever ready to be of service to your brothers and sisters. For as you lose yourself in the service of others you come closer to your God. The closer you get to God the more weapons he will give you to use in your battle with the Evil One and his minions. It is my wish that you should draw ever closer to God until you can put on the full body armor of God. Then, there will be no place that the Evil One may find to pierce your heart and lead you astray.”

    “This life is nothing. From the first breath of life we draw our bodies are doomed. We are doomed to become dust and home for worms. Yet, salvation is within our grasp if we will just reach out to God who is ever reaching out to us. Our faith and our hope is in God and his Son, the Christ, who sacrificed himself that we might be able to return to our home in Heaven. The Christ, having defeated death so that we will in the end be able to stand before God in our shells to answer for our deeds. Hold fast to the words of God that you may grow in faith. Forgive others that you may be forgiven. Serve your God by serving others. This is the straight path of God. May your legs ever be found upon the path. May it ever be so.” Balator returned to his place next to Tangoral.

    Yoeith stood up and looked out upon those that had gathered to hear him and the other brothers of the faith. “Who is God that we should worship him?” he asked. “This is a question that has echoed through the ages and throughout the universe. I would not have you ignorant as to the nature of God that you may know whom you worship as Creator. There are those that say he is a great spirit that fills the universe. Some say he is one creature with many attributes able to assume whatever form he needs to accomplish his works. Still, others think that he dwells within us and can only manifest himself at the end of this creation. Many are the theories as to who and what God is. This has given rise to many religious sects each claiming to be the true religion of God. I shall add my voice to this chorus. I ask only that you listen with an open heart and mind and then ask God to lead your legs to the right path.”

    “God is an eternal being with a physical form that would look a little like a tree dweller if you were to see him in person. His son, the Christ, is identical to the Father of all creation in physical appearance. Still, there are enough subtle differences between them that you can tell them apart. The Spirit of God has no form that we can see, but the Spirit of God is not God. He is rather the messenger of God able to touch the hearts of every creature. The Son is not the Father, nor is the Father the Son, any more than we are our children. God is the God over all. His Son and the Spirit have given up their will freely to the Father and they can do nothing of their own accord. By His will did the Son create this world and many others like it. So many are the creations of the Son that they cannot be numbered and yet not one of those creations was made without the direction of the Father of All.”

    “Even as the Christ is the son of God, so are we all. Each of us is a son or a daughter of God struggling to find our way through the darkness in order to get back home. All too often we lean upon our own knowledge to help us find the way. This is like crawling around on the ground with our eyes fast upon the ground because it is all that we know. Wisdom is to stand and look about for the light that God has provided us with that we might find our way out of the darkness. Our knowledge is foolishness before a God that knows all, from the greatest to the smallest.”

    “Now is the time given to prepare to meet our God. Our first visitation was to show us the path on which God would have us walk. The next time God comes to visit us, justice and mercy comes with him. For the next time we are visited it will be for judgment. That time is at hand, and is already past our claws. We must take His words unto the whole world that the lost and despised of God shall find their way out of the darkness. The words of God are a light unto the world and as we go out into the world we become lamps unto a world that gropes upon the ground in darkness searching for what, they know not. It is my wish that you hold fast to the words of God that the light of God may burn brightly within you. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.”

    Yoeith shifted his stance slightly. “As you know Brother Balator’s dining hall caught fire and many of our brothers and sisters lost their lives. I would ask that you open your hearts and dwellings to the many brothers and sisters that were displaced by this fire. Brother Balator and Brother Adamor will continue to feed those in need in a day or two as soon as Brother Tangoral finishes building a new invention.”

    

~~~

    

    Amoonda stood with Adreeum and Zothor looking at the burned out remains of Balator’s dining hall and the charred dwelling section above it. “Are you sure that the brothers in question started this fire?” he asked Adreeum.

    “No, we’re not sure if they had a claw in starting this fire. They did try and take advantage of the fire to try and kill Tangoral as he was trying to contain the fire and evacuate the dwelling,” Adreeum replied.

    “Are you certain that this fire was set?”

    “Yes,” Zothor replied to the yellow clan leader’s question. “All the shut-off valves have been found and tested. They all work. We have also reconstructed all the piping, and the pipe into one of the tanks was tampered with. While the fire was started in the kitchen it quickly spread to the fuel tanks, much too quickly. In fact, it should not have been possible for a fire that started in the kitchen to have reached the fuel tanks at all.”

    “So you want to hold these brothers for questioning,” Amoonda said.

    “We have been questioning them,” Adreeum said. “We can’t even get them to tell us their names. No, we want to keep them, and you won’t be getting them back.”

    “Then you plan to have them destroyed.”

    “In time. We plan to use more extreme methods of questioning. If they talk, we may return them to you. If they don’t talk, they will not live through the questioning process,” Adreeum said.

    “I see. Tell me again how many died,” Amoonda said.

    “Ninety-three,” Zothor replied. “Thirty-one brothers, twenty-five sisters, and thirty-seven children. One hundred and thirty-eight were injured to some degree. Another hundred and eighty were displaced from their dwellings.”

    “I will question these brothers myself and if I cannot get you the answers you want, I don’t want them back,” Amoonda said.

    

    PaTouan lay in his prison cell looking at two yellow brothers in the cell across from his. They had casts on several legs and it was evident to PaTouan that they were blind as he watched them feel their way around their prison cells. They were questioned several times daily. He was amazed that they could remain silent for so long. His own fate was sealed. He had pled guilty to all the charges against him. Now he waited for KarEena to decide in what manner he was to die. For now he was grateful that he had seemed to have been forgotten. His mate came to visit him a couple of times but he put an end to that. It was just too hard to look her in her eyes knowing his fate. His shame was hers as well and he could not handle what he had done to her. Now here he lay watching as the yellow clan leader questioned the yellow brothers himself with Tragal and Tangoral present as witnesses.

    “You will start talking, starting with your names, or I will turn you over to the Blue Brotherhood,” Amoonda said barely containing his anger. Never in the history of the brotherhood had a brother refuse to answer questions put to them by their clan leader. “If I turn you over to the blue brothers they will torture you until you talk or die. Is whatever secret you keep worth that? Answer me,” he demanded

    “What more can they do to us than what they have already done to us?” one of the yellow brothers asked. “For that matter how can we even know that you are indeed our clan leader? There is more to be feared by answering the same questions that have been put to us for many days now.” The other brother just stood there with his blind eyes turned toward the floor.

    “You don’t fear death because that’s what is waiting for you if you do not answer my questions,” Amoonda said.

    “There is more to be feared than death,” the brother replied.

    Amoonda turned an eye on Tangoral. “Zealots, they work for Jonnaul indirectly or directly,” Tangoral said. “It will be impossible tell which without a more persuasive means of questioning. The silent one will talk. Note his down cast eyes. The other one may talk after a time, but I doubt it.”

    “You can keep them,” Amoonda said. “It’s plain to me that they are guilty. I would have them destroyed for the good of the brotherhood. If they talk I want their deaths to be swift.”

    “It will be as you say Clan Leader,” Tragal said.

    PaTouan understood their fate when he heard Tangoral tell Tragal they would have to take these brothers out of the city too. He was grateful that at least he would not share KaZanna’s fate as these yellow brothers would. He could only hope that his death would be swift. Maybe when his time came he would have Tangoral do it so that none of his brothers would have his blood on their claws.

    

~~~

    

    “The brothers that went out to take care of that matter with the dining hall got caught,” Pattish said.

    “They got carried away too,” Sammatis accused. “How many died in that fire?”

    “That’s not important,” Jonnaul said. “What is important is that they do not talk.”

    “If they had talked the blue brothers would have challenged us by now,” Pattish said. “Besides, I took precautions to be sure that they wouldn’t lead the blue brothers to us in any case.”

    Good. Sammatis, what about the Brother Yoeith?” Jonnaul asked.

    “I’m having trouble getting some of our brothers near him,” Sammatis replied. “That fire did little good. He plans to continue feeding those that are in need just as soon as the tree dweller builds some new invention. All those brothers and sisters died for nothing.”

    “How was I to know that the fire would get out of claw?” Pattish responded to the accusation.

    “Brothers, we should not fight among ourselves,” Jonnaul said. “It was terrible tragedy that so many of our brothers and sister died, but we are fighting for our survival as a church. So they did not die for nothing. Have no fear that God will understand that with every war there will be causalities. Make no mistake that we are in a war, a war against evil.”

    “I understand that Jonnaul,” Sammatis said. “I’m just pointing out that we should avoid collateral damage in the future.”

    “Believe me Sammatis, I too hope that we can avoid the deaths of innocent bystanders in the future,” Jonnaul said.

    “How did those brothers get caught in the first place?” Sammatis asked.

    “They went beyond what was asked of them and tried to kill the tree dweller,” Pattish replied. “They fired on a blue brother in that body armor that the blue brothers wear. They were disabled in some manner that is not to clear to me. Rumor has it that Amoonda is letting the Blue Brotherhood keep our brothers for further questioning. We don’t dare ask about them directly. That could bring up questions we do not want asked. That makes it all the harder to gather information with regard to this matter.”

    “Let us concentrate on exposing this new prophet for now,” Jonnaul said. “Soon the Grand Council will meet, and then we’ll put an end to all our problems.”

    

~~~

    

    Tangoral took the yellow brothers to a nearby tribe for questioning. He watched as members of the tribe prepare one of them for cooking. Tragal was finding it hard to watch as the tree dwellers began breaking the legs off the yellow brother a segment at a time. There are four segments to each leg and there were eight legs and two claws. Tragal tried to be indifferent to the brother’s screams. “You know, you don’t have to watch this,” Tangoral said to his friend.

    “I know,” Tragal replied. “It would help me feel better if you would at least ask him some questions a little more often than you’re doing.”

    “He’s not talking as it is. Besides, most of this is for the benefit of his friend anyway.”

    “You think that hearing his brother scream as he is slowly being ripped apart will make him talk?”

    “Yes, I do. I will make him feel guilty about causing the deaths of so many brothers and sisters that died screaming as well. I will appeal to his sense of honor and then I will offer him a quick death in exchange for him telling us everything he knows. I bet he’s ready to talk now, but I want him to hear the screams that I did.”

    “My brother sometimes you frighten me,” Tragal said.

    “Are you frightened of me or my brand of justice?” Tangoral asked.

    “Both.”

    “Good. What you are feeling right now is what every member of a tribe feels when they must deal with a healer. The more knowledgeable a healer is the more he is feared and respected.”

    “Respect can only be earned,” Tragal said.

    “This is true, but to enforce the laws of the tribe a healer must be feared at least a little. If this were not true the law would become meaningless. Why would one fear to break the law if he knew his healer was powerless to enforce it? This is why KaZanna started the war. He thought he was above the law because he thought that the brotherhood was powerless to enforce the law. If he’d have won the war he would have become the law and then you would have known true fear.” Tangoral left his friend with something to think about as he went back over to question the yellow brother once again.

    

    It took two days for the yellow brother die after being prepared and slowly roasted. Tragal did not stay to watch the whole questioning process. His stomach gave out before the end of the first day. True to Tangoral’s prediction the yellow brother did not talk. On the other claw Tangoral really did not want him to talk anyway. He was counting on the other yellow brother to do all the talking. Tragal really hoped this one would start talking right away. He did not want to have to watch this brother die too. Already the tree dwellers had tied the yellow brother down so they could begin to break and cut his legs off. Tangoral went out of his way to make sure that this brother had a very clear picture of what happened to the other brother and what would happen to him if he did not talk. Tragal found himself standing beside the yellow brother. “Brother, please talk to us,” he pleaded softly. “I have no desire to watch another brother die as horribly as your brother did. Your clan leader has ordered your death. I cannot change your fate, but I can change the amount of time it will take you to die. Talk to us and your death will be swift; that was the will of your clan leader. Don’t talk to us and I fear that you will take longer to die than your brother did.”

    “If I talk to you, I will bring shame upon myself and my family,” the yellow brother said.

    Tragal realized that this brother too would not talk. “Brother please, even now Tangoral is walking this way,” Tragal begged.

    “How can I?” the yellow brother replied.

    Tangoral stopped next to Tragal. Tragal looked over at him. “He is not going to talk.”

    “Watch and learn the power of a healer my friend,” Tangoral said as he sat down next to the yellow brother. “Do you have anything to tell us?” he asked the yellow brother.

    “No,” he replied.

    “I understand,” Tangoral said. “Do you have anyone you would like us to notify of your death?”

    “Yes, but I cannot speak her name.”

    “I understand. If it were up to me I’d let you go, but if I did, how would you live with the shame of the deaths of so many brothers, sisters, and their children on your conscience.”

    “I don’t know. How could I look my mate in her eyes knowing my shame to the hurt of so many? I deserve the death that that my clan leader has ordained for me,” the yellow brother said as tears filled his sightless eyes.

    “You know that sooner or later we will find out who you are. Your mate will report you missing if she has not done so already. How many yellow brothers do you think turn up missing every day? When we find the report, we will know who you are, and she will know your shame. How will she live with your shame?” Tangoral asked.

    “Oh God, what have I done?” the yellow brother cried out in anguish. “What have I done?”

    “Brother, I am a healer among the People of the Trees. It is within my power to heal her heart so that she will never know what you have done. She will never know of the destruction and death that you caused. Neither her nor anyone else save God.”

    “You would do that for me?”

    “Yes, but you must talk to us. You must answer our questions. If you do this then you could become just another unidentified victim of the fire. No one else need know differently.”

    “What is it you want to know?” the yellow brother asked.

    “First, I want to know your name and the name of your mate so we can inform her of your untimely death,” Tangoral replied as he smiled at Tragal. “Then I want to know who got you to do what you did. How you did it and why.”

    “I am Jossean and my mate is Aleeanna. Shortly after the war started I lost my business. I blamed the Blue Brotherhood for this. Not long ago my brother and I went out drinking.”

    “Blood brother,” Tragal interrupted.

    “No, a friend of mine that lived nearby,” Jossean replied. “Anyway, we went out to drown our sorrows and bemoan our mutual fate in life. As we lay there drinking in a small kitchen that caters to such pursuits as we were pursuing another brother joined us in our sorrows. As we drank together he told us of a way we could get even with the Blue Brotherhood and help the Church expose a false prophet that the Blue Brotherhood set up to try and replace the Prophet. He told us how the Prophet wanted all the tree dwellers destroyed especially the tree dweller that lived with the blue brothers. He told us the Church and God would look favorably upon anyone that would help them in their efforts to expose this false prophet and destroy the tree dweller. All we had to do was start a fire in a dining hall. We were very drunk and it seemed like a very good way to get even with the Blue Brotherhood. So we all went to the dining hall. The brother that joined us at the kitchen had some guns for us to take with us just in case we needed to protect ourselves for some reason. He kept a lookout while we went in to start the fire. My brother broke one of the dining hall fuel tank pipes to get fuel because the valves were locked. We used the fuel to start a fire in the kitchen. We had no idea that the fire would get out of control the way it did. Later, as we watched the fire, I saw the tree dweller helping brothers and sisters get out of the dwelling. My brother thought that we could get even more revenge on the blue brothers if we killed the tree dweller. The rest of the story you know.”

    “Do you know this other brother’s name?” Tangoral asked.

    “If he told us what it was I have forgotten it,” Jossean replied. “Will it hurt when you kill me?”

    “No, you will go to sleep and not wake up,” Tangoral replied. “Would you recognize this brother if you ever saw him again?”

    “Yes, but I will never see him again, will I?”

    “No, I guess not.” Tangoral stood up and reached into the bag that always hung at his side. He pulled out a small pouch. “I am going to sprinkle some sleep dust in front of your face. I want you to breathe deeply. I want you to think on better days and happier times.”

    Tragal was surprised how quickly the brother fell asleep. “Will you kill him now?” he asked.

    “Not yet. Tragal, how long before your eyes grow back when you cut them off?”

    “About twelve seven-days for our eye poles; three to four seven-days for our retractable eyes to become useful again, why? Wait, you’re not thinking what I think that you’re thinking?”

    “Why not? I can’t kill him. The honor of the dead cannot be redeemed with his death as it was with the other brother. The dead would be redeemed with his life not with his death.”

    “Tangoral, he expects to die. We have been ordered to kill him whether or not he answered our questions,” Tragal said. “How would you fulfill your promise to him? What would you tell his mate?”

    “I cannot be ordered to kill Tragal. Not by the yellow clan leader, nor by ours. The codes by which all healers live require that I let him live. He is not a danger to the tribe or to his mate. His death will not redeem the honor of the dead, but his life will, and my promise to him is only good if I kill him. What I tell his mate will depend on his mate.” Tangoral took out his knife and began cutting the ropes that held the yellow brother to the platform.

    “When am I ever going to learn how you think?” Tragal asked.

    “Probably never, but if that ever happens you may find that you too have become a healer,” Tangoral replied as he cut off the eyes from the yellow brother.

    

    “You were ordered to kill them,” Adreeum snapped at Tangoral after hearing Tragal’s report. Tragal and Rownan were trying to find someplace in the room where their now furious clan leader would not notice them. Zothor stood uncomfortably next to his adopted son who was showing no sign of backing down.

    “I am not one of your brothers that you can order around,” Tangoral replied calmly. “If I do as you request, I do so only because it will benefit my people in the end. Even if I acted only for myself, you still couldn’t order me about. I am a healer. The code by which I live guides me, not you. I am only obligated to obey a leader up to a point. Being ordered to kill crosses that point. When I kill I do so because justice requires a death that balance might be restored to the world. Jossean’s death will not restore balance to the world, but letting him live will.”

    “Just what am I supposed to tell Amoonda? My soldiers won’t follow orders.”

    “I am not a soldier and I am only a brother by adoption. My economic standing within the brotherhood grows daily. As the leader of my people I am equal to any clan leader.”

    Adreeum stopped his pacing and focused all his eyes on Tangoral. It never occurred to him that he was yelling at another clan leader. Tangoral had gently reminded him there were other reasons why he needed to calm down and think before he spoke. Adreeum took a deep breath. “Ok, so what do we tell Amoonda?” he asked calmly.

    “We tell him that the yellow brothers are dead and we tell him what Jossean told us up to a point,” Tangoral replied. “If he wants to know how they died, tell him that one of them died quickly and he really doesn’t want to know the details about the other one.”

    “I can vouch for that,” Tragal said. “You don’t even want to know how that brother died.”

    “What about Jossean? He should be in our care,” Adreeum said.

    “Jossean will remain with my people under my protection. He will stay asleep for as long as we can keep him that way safely or until I decide differently,” Tangoral said. “The fewer that know he’s alive the better. Banneesheanta will keep an eye on him medically. We leave out the Church’s involvement with the fire until we can identify which of Jonnaul’s councilors got a couple of drunk down on their luck brothers to set fire to the dining hall.”

    “I still find it hard to believe that Jonnaul would order such a thing,” Zothor said.

    “Yoeith is becoming a threat to the Church on many levels,” Rownan said. “He has lost the economic support of two whole clans. With the possibility that at least two other clans will follow our example, he or his councilors are beginning to panic. Everyday Yoeith gains followers and the Church loses supporters. At what point does he lose the ability to use Cantor as the Church’s champion?”

    “A majority of the brotherhood would have to claim membership to the Church of the Son of the Most High God,” Tangoral answered.

    “Could we stop Jonnaul from challenging us if two more clans shifted their support to Yoeith?” Adreeum asked.

    “No,” Tangoral replied. “He could require that you have a census taken of all the brothers and sisters. Salvation is a personal matter and cannot be dictated by any clan leader. You would have to answer the challenge within a seven-day and the Game would be played within another seven-day. It’s not possible to ask the entire brotherhood any kind of a question and get an answer back in two seven-days even if you stalled the actual game for the full two seven-days. You couldn’t do it even if you started to survey the brotherhood right now.”

    “So in six days when the Grand Council meets Jonnaul is going to issue a challenge that will be binding on all the clans,” Adreeum said.

    “I’m afraid so,” Tangoral said.

    “Ok, we will watch Jonnaul and his councilors closely. Zothor, you will oversee that. Rownan, you will keep an eye on Yoeith to make sure that Jonnaul doesn’t try anything else that might bring harm to the Prophet. We will meet again in a seven-day. Tangoral would you stay for a moment please,” Adreeum said dismissing all those in his office.

    Tangoral waited until the others left Adreeum’s office. “You know you don’t have to say anything,” he said.

    “Jonnaul once accused you of being able to read minds. Sometimes I think you can. I would apologize for my earlier behavior. You have always been so willing to do whatever I asked of you. I came to expect that of you. It never hit me until now that you must have your own agenda as the leader of the tree dwellers. If you wouldn’t mind, would you tell me what that agenda is and how far your influence extends over the tree dwellers?” Adreeum asked.

    “Thanks to the war, I am known to every tribe directly or indirectly throughout all the land held by the Brachyura in this part of the world,” Tangoral replied. “Because I am a healer that gives me a certain amount of influence among all the tribes. I have direct control over three tribes, and indirect control over two more. I have only one goal and that is to bring our two races together in peace and stop the killing.”

    “I wish my agenda was as simple.”

    “I suspect that your agenda is just as simple, you just have a lot more details to deal with than I do.”

    “I know that you are considered by some to be one of the greatest inventors of our time, and I must admit that I too think of you in this manner. Still, I can’t help but wonder how much you truly know and understand over what is simply a blending of our two cultures and the products that come out of our association with each other.”

    “Are you wondering if the well will run dry at some point in time?” Tangoral asked.

    “No, I was wondering about the limits of what you know and understand. Notwithstanding the fact that you brought back with you a lot of equipment from the ancients’ city,” Adreeum replied.

    “I brought back more than equipment. I brought back all their knowledge as well, but you are correct in thinking about many of my inventions come about because of my association with the Brachyura. New weapons, the body armor, and improvements on existing weapons all come from the knowledge of the ancients that I have stored within my mind. I know more about the intricate details of the world around me than you do. All this knowledge helps me to understand your race far better than most would guess that I do. I am a trained observer and I remember everything I see and hear. I could read the words of the prophets as fast as I can turn the pages, but I prefer to read them slowly that I may be able to meditate on the words and their meaning. I understand what my economic standing within the brotherhood is and how that will grow in the future. I doubt that I need to go on. You get the picture.”

    “Yes I do. We are not your equal.”

    “Only intellectually, and then only because you lost a lot of knowledge over three thousand cycles of the sun.”

    “I must say that you do not act the part which makes it easy to forget that you are someone to be reckoned with,” Adreeum said.

    “There is an advantage to that. I’m always underestimated by my enemies and I am a constant source of amazement to my friends,” Tangoral said smiling.

    

~~~

    

    Aleeanna was worried, very worried. Her mate was now missing for more than a seven-day. At first, she stayed at home hoping he would come back, but now she went out every day to search for him. She visited almost every medical center in the city searching for him. The only medical center she had not been to was operated by the Blue Brotherhood. Aleeanna was afraid of the blue brothers. She had heard rumors that the relations between the yellow and blue clans were not good and bordered on being hostile. Rumors had the blue brothers willing to crush anyone that would cause trouble and she did not want to cause them any trouble. A noise at the dwelling door caught her attention and she thought she saw two armed blue brothers rush past her door. It was hard to tell given the green panels stuck to their shells. Still, the only armed brothers were blue brothers for the most part. She started for the door to look out to see what was going on. She stopped when she saw a blue sister and a tree dweller standing in the doorway of her dwelling.

    “May we come in?” Ishihari asked. Aleeanna was terrified for many reasons. Her greatest fear was that they had come to tell her her mate was dead. She just stood there in silence. Ishihari smiled and stepped through the door followed by Tangoral. “You reported your mate missing?” she asked as she entered the dwelling.

    “Is he dead?” Aleeanna asked in reply. She could feel herself shaking.

    “That is what we are here to determine,” Ishihari replied noting Aleeanna’s change in color. “Please, make yourself comfortable. You look as if you might fall down.” Ishihari settled to the floor. Tangoral waited for Aleeanna to get settled before he sat down next to his mother.

    “Is Jossean all right?” Aleeanna’s question begged a positive response.

    Ishihari ignored the question for the moment. “I have no doubt that you heard about the fire.” Aleeanna nodded that she had. “There are some badly injured brothers that we have yet to identify and there are dead as well that must be identified. So, we have been keeping an eye out for reports of missing brothers. We cannot even be sure that your mate was among the injured. That is why we are here. So if you will answer some questions it will be most helpful. Will you do that for us?”

    “I’ll try.”

    Aleeanna wondered if the tree dweller was a pet until it spoke. “How long have you known your mate?” Tangoral asked.

    “We grew up together,” Aleeanna replied after she got over the shock of hearing a tree dweller speak.

    “How have you been getting along lately?” Ishihari asked.

    “We’re doing ok. Things haven’t been great since he lost his business but that’s because he’s been worried about supporting us. I kept telling him things will get better after all this war business is taken care of.”

    “When did you last see him?” Tangoral asked.

    “Nine days ago when he went out with his friend, Robbeal.”

    “Are you aware that was the night of the fire?” Ishihari asked.

    “No, I didn’t know that.” Aleeanna began to worry.

    “Does Robbeal have a mate?”

    “No, he lives alone.”

    “I know that your race has a curious sense of honor. Could he have gotten into enough trouble to want to protect you from his shame and that is the reason he has not returned to his dwelling?” Tangoral asked.

    “You don’t know Jossean like I do. He would never do anything really bad,” Aleeanna replied.

    “What if by accident he did do something really bad and it shamed him so much that he could not look you in the eyes again because of his shame. Shame he knew you too would have to share. Does he love you so much that he couldn’t let you share his shame and that is why he has not come home?”

    “I tell you he would never do anything like that, and even if he did, I would still want to share my life with him.”

    “Even in exile?”

    “Even in exile.”

    “You must love your mate very much. When Jossean left with Robbeal what were they going to go do?” Ishihari asked.

    “They were going out to a little kitchen out and around the dwelling on the third level,” Aleeanna replied.

    Tangoral looked at the guard standing in the door. “I know the kitchen. It’s not far from the Church dwelling,” the guard replied to the unasked question.

    “Have Doesen send someone. I may be wrong, but I doubt that they have a lot of church councilors visit the establishment,” Tangoral said.

    “Don’t you believe me?” Aleeanna asked wondering why they wanted to verify what she told them.

    “I believe you,” Tangoral replied. “We are simply backtracking your mate’s movements.”

    “Tangoral it’s up to you, but if I have a vote, I vote you tell her,” Ishihari told her son.

    “Tell me what? Do you know what happened to Jossean?” Aleeanna asked

    “You always have a vote Mother,” Tangoral said. “Yes, I know what happened to your mate.”

    “Tell me.” Tangoral was silent as he waited for her say something more. Aleeanna remembered the questions that the tree dweller had asked her. She knew he waited for her to say something more. “Even in exile,” she said again with tears in her eyes.

    Tangoral smiled. “Jossean lives, but he was injured during the fire.”

    “Thank God,” Aleeanna cried.

    “A fire that he and Robbeal started.” That bit of news stunned Aleeanna into silence. “They got caught,” Tangoral continued. “He was blinded and several legs were broken when we captured them right after they fired the guns they were carrying point blank at a one of the blue brothers and me. Both Robbeal and Jossean refused to answer any questions even when questioned by your clan leader. He ordered their deaths for the good of the brotherhood.”

    Aleeanna did not know what to say. “When will they…,” she let her question trail off not wanting to speak the words.

    “Robbeal is already dead. He died during questioning,” Tangoral replied. “I was the one ordered to kill them. Jossean answered my questions under the promise that I would tell you that he died in the fire. Right now, he sleeps thinking he is about to die or is already dead depending on your point of view. He lives because Amoonda does not realize I cannot be ordered to kill. Jossean is under my protection and faces a life in exile.”

    “How can you protect him?” Aleeanna asked.

    “My son is the leader of the tree dwellers, equal in power to any clan leader,” Ishihari said. “A fact most clan leaders tend to overlook.”

    “Can I see him?”

    “If I take you to him you can never return,” Tangoral said.

    “Let me get a few things,” Aleeanna said as she stood up wiping the tears from her eyes.

    “I can’t let you do that,” Tangoral said. “If someone were to search this dwelling they might conclude that Jossean was still alive if it looked like things were missing. It is important that everyone thinks he is dead. We will send someone around to collect all your things later. That way it will look like you moved away.”

    “Ok, in that case I am ready to leave now.”

    “Good, you will go with my mother and I will remain here to question others of this dwelling to make it look like we did not single you out for questioning.”

    

    Banneesheanta watched as the young sister stroked the shell of the brother under her care. Jossean still slept and would continue to do so until Tangoral said differently. “You know when we wake him up, at first he will be glad to see you or hear you in this case. Then he will remember his shame and he will want to withdraw from you,” she told Aleeanna.

    “I would be a poor mate if I did not share his pain,” Aleeanna said. “When will he wake up?”

    “When Tangoral says so.”

    “You obey a tree dweller?”

    “He’s my clan leader.” It was the only way that Banneesheanta could think of to explain her relationship to Tangoral to this yellow sister.

    “How can that be, you’re a brown sister?” Aleeanna asked.

    “Barely, I was banished my dear. While my name was restored recently, I cannot forget what was done to me,” Banneesheanta replied.

    “I keep wondering where we will live if we can no longer live among our brothers?”

    “I’m sure Tangoral has already decided your fate.”

    “How can he do that?”

    “The same as your clan leader could. The difference is that Tangoral will consider what is needed to heal your mate’s heart so he will not be so burdened by the deaths of so many. In time, you will be sent far away to start a new life, and that too will be part of the healing.”

    

~~~

    

    “I’m told that with Amoonda’s approval, the blue brothers tortured the two yellow brothers to get them to talk,” Pattish said.

    “Did they talk?” Jonnaul asked.

    “Not that I know of, but it seems they found out their names at least.”

    “Any chance that will cause us problems?”

    “With both of the yellow brothers dead, I don’t see how.”

    “Did they have mates or someone they left behind that might cause problems?” Jonnaul asked.

    “One of the brothers had a mate, but she moved from the city when her mate disappeared and she couldn’t find him. From what I’ve heard they were having problems anyway,” Pattish replied.

    “How do you know that?”

    “From the brown brothers engaged to move her stuff. I believe they said she’s moving back in with her parents. They live in a small dwelling a long way from here.”

    “Good, we don’t need the blue brothers asking questions,” Jonnaul said. “Still, keep an eye out. We don’t need this to become a problem when we’re so close to forcing Adreeum to do what we want.”

    “What do you plan to ask for?” Pattish asked.

    “The banishment of the Blue Brotherhood and the removal of any clan leader who will not support me,” Jonnaul replied. “We will call for the extermination of any tree dwellers that will not follow the Blue Brotherhood into banishment.”

    “What if they won’t except judgment? How would we fight them?”

    “With regard to the Church they have to except judgment or risk having to fight all the other clans forever.”

    “What if we can’t get Cantor to play for us?” Pattish asked

    “He has to. He has no choice, and if he refuses to play the Blue Brotherhood must automatically accept judgment in our favor,” Jonnaul replied. “Even if he loses, we still win. We claim that he did not play his best and intended to throw the game. You see no matter how the game turns out we win.”

    

~~~

    

    Yoeith helped Balator feed brothers and sisters in need from the cart that Tangoral had made. Adamor had a similar cart and was serving brothers in a different part of the city with Almmoni. “Brother Yoeith, can you tell us about this Son of God we have heard you talk about?” a yellow brother asked. “I heard you say they he will save us in our sins.”

    “In that you do error brother. He does not save us while we are yet in our sins. The Christ saves us from our sins through his sacrifice for us. We cannot be saved from our sins if we continue in them. Our salvation is only for sins forsaken. Hence our need to repent daily. Still, his blood covers our sins if we continue to try and go forward even though we may stumble on the path of life.”

    “You would have us become perfect,” another yellow brother said.

    “No, I would have you obey the law,” Yoeith replied. “While we are commanded to be perfect even as God is perfect, realistically, we cannot be perfected while we are yet in our shells. Yet, if we do not put forth our best effort, then I tell you we cannot expect a good reward from our God.”

    “You say that this Son of God was born of a female, one of the ancients. Did God make love to this female?” the first yellow brother asked.

    “God forbid in your ignorance you insult the holiness of God. God would not abase himself in such a manner as to lie with a female,” Yoeith replied. “God merely needs to say, “Be,” to bring a thing to pass. Unto the female he said, “Be,” and in due time she gave birth to a son to be called the only begotten of God. Neither Christ nor his mother is of this world. The sacrifice of the Christ is universal for all of creation of which our world is but a tiny part. Even as a grain of sand is upon our world so is our world among the worlds of this creation.”

    Rownan watched from a distance as the yellow brothers questioned Yoeith. He knew them having seen them with Jonnaul and his councilors. He listened for a while before he decided to send them on their way. He walked over to stand between them. “Brothers, do you seek answers for yourselves or Jonnaul?” he asked.

    “Councilor Rownan,” one of the yellow brothers said in surprise.

    “Tell Jonnaul his days as prophet is nearing an end,” Rownan said. The yellow brothers quickly disappeared among the other brothers and sisters that had come for food they desperately needed because of the lack of supplies throughout the city. Rownan thought that Yoeith should have known who they were.

    “Sometimes we can take stalkers, the fierce creatures that they are, and turn them something quite gentle,” Yoeith said cryptically as he turned back to help Balator.

    

~~~

    

    “Wake him up,” Tangoral told Banneesheanta.

    “Fast or slow?” she asked.

    “Slowly,” he replied. “Aleeanna, he will want to stay asleep. Call to him, help him to come back to us.”

    Banneesheanta held a flower in front of Jossean’s face. “Jossean, my love, wake up,” Aleeanna said softly stroking his shell with her claw. “Come back to me.”

    “Aleeanna,” he whispered as he began to return to the land of the living.

    “I’m here my love.”

    “I had such a horrible dream.”

    “I know,” was all she could say.

    “Why can’t I see you?” Jossean asked and then he remembered everything. He tried to get up and pull away from his mate at the same time.

    “Hold him,” Tangoral commanded. Several claws reached out to keep Jossean from moving and possibly hurt himself. “Jossean stop struggling. You’re still blind and you still have several broken legs and you are very weak from being asleep for two seven-days.”

    “Why didn’t you kill me? You should have killed me,” Jossean said accusingly. “You promised you wouldn’t tell her. Now, now what am I going to do?” Jossean folded his claws back over his shell and began to cry.

    “Jossean,” Aleeanna said softly as she reached out to her mate but Jossean pulled away from her touch.

    “Jossean, I let you live for a reason,” Tangoral said. “I would have done what I said I would do if I had killed you. Killing you would not bring honor to the dead. They cried out not for your death but rather that I should let you live.”

    “You should have killed me. Aleeanna, I’m so sorry, I never wanted to bring dishonor upon you.”

    “It’s not your fault,” Aleeanna said as she tried to reach out and touch her mate again. Jossean pulled away at her touch again.

    “It is my fault. Don’t you know what I’ve done?” he asked his mate.

    “She knows,” Tangoral answered coldly. “Even though your claws started the fire you are not responsible. We have not yet identified the brother that got you and Robbeal drunk and then talked you two into seeking revenge against the Blue Brotherhood. You didn’t have enough money to buy more than a couple of drinks. We were not lucky enough to have the owner of the kitchen identify the other brother with you and Robbeal. We do know that this brother bought more than a dozen drinks for both of you. When you regain your sight you will identify this brother for us so he can be brought to justice.”

    “How can I identify him? I’ll never see again.”

    “You will see again. I cut your eyes off. You should be able to see again with your retractable eyes in another couple of seven-days after they have grown back.”

    “What about our clan leader? He ordered our death, I heard him. My days are numbered, now Aleeanna must carry my shame the rest of her life,” Jossean said.

    “Even if Amoonda finds out that you are alive. You are under my protection, he cannot touch you,” Tangoral replied.

    “Who are you that you can protect me from my clan leader’s wrath?” Jossean asked.

    “He is the leader of all the tree dwellers,” Aleeanna replied. “You are in his dwelling high above the blue brothers’ dwelling.”

    “Clan Leader Adreeum has already tried to order me to release you into his custody. If the clan leader to whom I owe a certain amount of allegiance can’t make me give you up, what chance does Amoonda have of getting you from me?” Tangoral asked. “I know the law. He would have to challenge me. In that case, I have two options. The first is to play the Game myself. The second option is to have my brother play in my place and he’s the All Clan Champion.”

    “Will you protect me all my life? What kind of a life is that?” Jossean asked. “I can never again live among my brothers.”

    “Life is what you make of it Jossean,” Tangoral replied. “You have a mate that loves you enough to want to join you in exile. I have a dwelling deep in the Great Swamp beyond the lands of the Blue Brotherhood where you will be sent. There you can find a new life if you’re brave enough to look for it.”

    “You mean I have to go live with tree dwellers?”

    “The tree dwellers are really nice Jossean,” Aleeanna said.

    “Do you know what they did to Robbeal, Aleeanna?” Jossean asked.

    Tragal had watched this drama in silence for far too long without saying something. “Do you really want your mate to know what they did to Robbeal?” he asked. “Aleeanna, tree dwellers are capable of terrible savagery when directed toward an enemy. Jossean, you started a fire that ended in the deaths of many and then you tried to kill me and my brother. You’re in no position to point a claw at anybody. Now you complain because my brother offers you a chance for a new life. You do not deserve your mate who is willing to give up everything to be with you. Tangoral, you can still have him cooked. It’s not too late.”

    “You judge to soon my brother. The dead may yet cry out for his life. We shall see,” Tangoral said. “Aleeanna, we will be going down to eat with my mother. Jossean needs to rest.”

    “Can’t I stay here?” Aleeanna asked.

    “No. Banneesheanta will keep an eye on him,” Tragal replied.

    Banneesheanta watched the others as they left. “Where are they going?” Jossean asked.

    “Do you care?” she asked.

    “I just wondered where they were going.”

    “Tangoral and the others are going down to have dinner at his dwelling with his mother. I regret that I have to watch you. Ishihari is a very good cook.”

    “What did the tree dweller mean when he said that the dead may still cry out for my life?” Jossean asked.

    “That is a term used by healers meaning that he is not sure if he will let you live. He waits to see if you prove worthy of the life he has given you,” Banneesheanta replied. “I hate to think what your death would do to Aleeanna. However, Tangoral is a very good healer. He may be able to give her heart to another before he kills you.”

    “What do you mean by that?”

    “Tangoral will give you time to drive your mate away from you and then he will find her another mate. Then you will walk off this platform right after you identify which of Jonnaul’s councilors were responsible for the fire. Tree dweller justice is often very quick and it takes into account all involved. Our justice requires that the balance in the world be maintained. For now our justice system requires that you remain alive to maintain the balance in the world. Pray that the scales of our justice system remains tipped in your favor.” Banneesheanta smiled, that would give Jossean something to think about. She hoped he would prove himself worthy of Aleeanna’s love. She knew that was one of the reasons why he was still alive.

    

~~~

    

    “We cannot catch Yoeith in his words,” Sammatis said. “Even when we have tried to catch him with the words of the prophets he tells us that our interpretation of a given passage is wrong, or that we’ve failed to understand the passage correctly. He has confounded everyone we have sent against him. What’s worse is that he has converted several of the brothers we sent to try and trap him.”

    “Well, you’ll just have to try harder,” Jonnaul said. “Have we been able to determine where he keeps getting the food he keeps giving away?

    “No,” Pattish said. “I have spies watching every move that Yoeith and his followers make. The two portable kitchens that Balator and his brother have cannot possibly hold all the food they give out. They give out food from morning until night without being re-supplied and I am at a loss to explain how they do it.”

    “Well keep watching,” Jonnaul said. “It must be some kind of a trick and if we watch long enough we will discover where the food comes from. Anything else?”

    “While watching Yoeith we discovered there are a couple of yellow brothers living up in the hive with the tree dwellers and Yoeith,” Sammatis said. “They may or may not be prisoners. They seem to have personal guards in any case.”

    “Could it be Almmoni and his mate?” Pattish asked.

    “It could be, but I doubt it,” Sammatis replied. “Almmoni doesn’t walk around with a personal guard outside the blue brother’s dwelling. Because of the distance from the hive, we can’t even be sure they’re brothers. It could be a couple of sisters up there.”

    “I will say something to Amoonda,” Jonnaul said. “We’ll see what happens then.”

    

~~~

    

    Amoonda walked into Adreeum’s office trailing two blue guards. “I understand you’re holding two more of my brothers,” he said angrily. “I know that you know that you are required to inform me of any such action. What do you have to say for such an outrage?”

    “First, I’d have to wonder where you are getting your facts,” Adreeum replied calmly. “The only brother we are holding at this time is PaTouan.”

    “Then you are not secretly holding two of my brothers up in that hive of yours?”

    “Not that I know of, but then I don’t know what goes on up there any more than I know what goes on in your dwelling.”

    “How can that be?” Amoonda asked. “Don’t you know what goes on in your own dwelling?”

    “The hive that we have allowed to be located in the tree above us is beyond my jurisdiction,” Adreeum said. “I know what you’re thinking and I have made the same mistake you are making now. The tree dwellers are an alien race completely different from our own. You cannot take advantage of them and I am forced to respect the wishes of their leadership.”

    “They have a leader,” Amoonda ask incredulously.

    “Yes, they do,” Adreeum replied. “The war enabled them to invest their personal and tribal interests in a single healer and leader of three of the most powerful tribes within the boundaries of our land.”

    “Who is this leader?”

    “You already know him.”

    “Tangoral.”

    “That is one tree dweller you cannot push around especially with two giant metal monsters standing outside. I will tell you something you can repeat. If Tangoral had been killed the night of the fire we would have all died. The metal monsters would have avenged his death by destroying us all. They would kill us now if it weren’t for Tangoral. Within their machine minds they are still fighting a war with us that is three thousand cycles old and only Tangoral stands between us and them.”

    “I had no idea,” Amoonda said.

    “No one does, and Tangoral to his credit does not act the part which is very disarming,” Adreeum said. “It comes as a shock when he does exert some portion of the power that is his by his right as a leader of a clan. I know, I’ve made that mistake already.”

    “So what do I do about this report that two of my brothers are being held against their will?”

    “Will you take my word for it when I tell you that no one is being held against their will?”

    “If I must, but I’d still like to see for myself,” Amoonda said.

    “Then I will take you up personally,” Adreeum said as he rose to his legs.

    

    “Greeting Clan Leader Amoonda, I am actually pleased to see you again,” Tangoral greeted his unexpected guests. “What brings two clan leaders to my home?”

    “Some of your guests I suspect,” Adreeum replied.

    “Oh?”

    “I have a report that you are holding two of my brothers against their will,” Amoonda said. “I am required to investigate this accusation.”

    “So you came personally, I’m honored,” Tangoral said. “I do have two guests that are from your brotherhood. One is a sister and the other is her mate. They will be leaving as soon as her mate has healed from his injuries.”

    “May I see them?” Amoonda asked.

    “Certainly.”

    

    Jossean sat by himself having pushed all those that cared about him away. He chose to wallow in his own self-pity. Aleeanna watched him from a distance with tears in her eyes. Watching him sit there was tearing her heart out. She turned when she saw Tangoral, the blue clan leader, and a yellow brother walking toward her. She wiped the tears from her eyes. “Hi Tangoral,” she said. Her voice betrayed her emotions to Tangoral.

    “Aleeanna, I believe you know Clan Leader Adreeum,” he said.

    “Clan Leader, I pleased that you would take the time to come and see us.”

    “The other brother with us is your clan leader, Clan Leader Amoonda,” Tangoral said.

    This frightened her badly. Aleeanna glanced at her mate nervously. “Clan Leader, I’m... I’m honored that you have come,” she stammered.

    Amoonda was surprised that any sister would be frightened of him. Her quick fearful glance at her mate was not lost on him either. “I am only concerned for your well-being Sister Aleeanna,” he said. A couple of his eyes turned to face Tangoral. “I know her mate, don’t I?”

    “Yes, I believe you do,” Tangoral replied.

    “I believe I ordered his death. So why isn’t he dead?”

    “He saw the one responsible for the fire.”

    “He didn’t start the fire?”

    “He started the fire alright, but the brother that put him up to it escaped.”

    “What happened to the other brother?”

    “He died during questioning.”

    “So the report was right you are holding one of our brothers,” Amoonda said.

    “I suppose you could say that, but you already gave him to us,” Tangoral said. “As he should be dead, I figured that I could do whatever I wanted to with him. I choose to give him back his sight and then use him to identify which of Jonnaul’s councilors got him drunk and then got him to start the fire.”

    “When you’re done with him I want him back.”

    “I can’t do that.”

    “Why not?” Amoonda asked.

    “Because the balance in the world would not be restored if I did so,” Tangoral replied.

    “I could make you give him back.”

    “How? You’d have to challenge me to do that and I could choose Cantor to play on my behalf.”

    All of Amoonda’s eyes were focused on Tangoral now. Adreeum nudged Amoonda with his claw. “Now you begin to see what I was talking about earlier,” he said.

    “Yes, I do, and you were right,” Amoonda said. “What is the brother’s name?”

    “Jossean,” Tangoral said. “Presently, he is wallowing in his own self-pity. If I can find a way to bring him out of the pit of despair he climbed into he might be worth saving.”

    “You did not want me to know that he was still alive, did you?”

    “No, not really.”

    “Now, you’re hoping that I can snap him out of his mental condition or you would not have let me see him.”

    “Now you see why I selected Amoonda to be the yellow clan leader,” Tangoral told Adreeum. “He is guided by his heart.”

    Amoonda wondered if Tangoral’s assessment of him was correct as he settled down next to Jossean. “Who’s there?” Jossean asked.

    “My name is Amoonda. I am the clan leader of our brotherhood. I must say that I am surprised to find you still alive.”

    “I wish I had died.”

    Amoonda looked back at Tangoral with one of his eyes. “No, I think I want you to live now. If you were to die you could not make amends for your deeds, and you will make amends for your actions.”

    “How? I can’t bring the dead back to life.”

    “No, you can’t, but you can help us find the brother most responsible for the fire. You will identify this brother, after that you will leave and I never want to see you again as long as I am clan leader. There are many here that think you are worth saving. Personally, I think that they’re wrong. Anybody that can tear the heart out of a beautiful young sister as you are doing to your mate doesn’t deserve to live. You will do as I command this time or I promise you that I will make sure you die as your brother did. Am I understood?”

    “Yes Clan Leader, I understand,” Jossean said.

    “Surly there is still some spark of honor that remains within you. I offer you the chance to regain at least a portion of the honor that you have lost. God is most forgiving. The toughest thing you face is learning to forgive yourself. I think that you will find forgiveness in hard work and in doing good. I think that I shall see you again, but not as your clan leader. I would like to see the chance I give you now has not been wasted,” Amoonda said. Amoonda stood up and walked back over to where Tangoral stood. “I see now what you mean by balance,” he said. “Jossean will remain dead to the world for now. We truly have upset the balance in the world. Will we ever be able to set it right?”

    “Yeah, little by little, in time,” Tangoral replied.

    “Lady Aleeanna, I wish I could spare you the hardships ahead. You deserve better,” Amoonda said as he took her claws in his. “If you ever need anything before you leave, please, let me know.”

    To be called a Lady by the clan leader was a great sign of respect. It was not lost on her despite her fears for her mate. Jossean was given back his life and chance to redeem part of his honor. He promised himself he would not fail his clan leader even if it cost him his life. Everyone seemed to have gotten what they wanted except those that watched the hive from a distance. Their masters would be sorely disappointed.

    

~~~

    

    PaTouan stood before his Clan Leader with down cast eyes. He waited for KarEena to tell him in what manner he would die. “Have you nothing to say before I pass judgment?” she asked him.

    “What is there to say?” he asked. “I deserve to die. I only ask that you have Tangoral kill me so that my blood will not come upon any of the brotherhood.”

    “You ask for death, and yet, your mate has pled for your life on many occasions. I am of a mind to grant your request but the eloquence of your mate’s pleas touches my heart also. So hear the judgment of your clan leader. Because in the end you chose life for the brothers under your command, whereas my mate chose death for those with him; I will make the same choice. You are to be stripped of all your holdings and rank, and you are to be banished forever. Your name will be removed from our records, never to be spoken again. If you ever again stand upon our land I will grant your request and you will share my mate’s fate. I give you a seven-day to set your affairs in order and leave. After that, I will have you driven out from among us,” KarEena said without any emotion in her voice. “You may appeal my judgment but I must tell you that the blue brothers have promise me that I may use Cantor to represent our clan due to the death of our champion.”

    “I will not appeal such a generous judgment,” PaTouan said. He knew his mate loved him enough to follow him into permanent exile. He loved her enough to make sure she would not share his shame. Four days later PaTouan was found dead in his dwelling.

    

~~~

    

    “Who’s there?” Jossean asked.

    “Aleeanna.”

    “Go away Aleeanna.”

    Aleeanna ignored him and settled down on the platform next to her mate. “Talk to me Jossean. We use to be able to talk. Don’t keep pushing me away. Talk to me, tell me what you’re feeling. Don’t you love me anymore?”

    Jossean could hear the pain and hurt in her voice. He could hear the silent sobs as she cried quietly. “Oh Aleeanna, don’t cry. I still love you. I love you more than life, but how can you look upon me knowing my shame. I’ve hurt you so much and I can never take that hurt back. I’ve lost everything, my business, our dwelling, my honor, and it is all my fault. The blue brothers are just an excuse I used to cover my failures. I wish they had killed me. I deserve to die.”

    “Jossean, you haven’t lost everything. You still have my love. If you had died I don’t know what I would have done. Part of me would have died with you.”

    “You deserve someone better than me.”

    “Jossean, there aren’t any perfect brothers out there. You’re still a good brother that made a bad mistake. Everyone else can see this, why can’t you?”

    “No eyes,” Jossean joked. It was a bad joke but Aleeanna smiled anyway.

    The trouble with living in the shared lifestyle of the tree dwellers is the lack of privacy. Others watched and listened to the estranged lovers. One was a white brother on his way to bed after a long tiring day. He walked up on Aleeanna and Jossean silently. “Then we will have to fix that,” he said.

    “Yoeith,” Aleeanna said startled by his presence.

    “Who is it?” Jossean asked.

    “The Prophet,” she replied in a whisper.

    Yoeith laid his claws on Jossean’s shell. Jossean started to move. “Be still and feel the love of your God toward one of his fallen children,” Yoeith commanded. Jossean quit moving. “Our Father in Heaven, I ask that you pour out Thy love upon this child of yours. Return his sight to him that he may see your love and the love of those around him. Heal his body and give him the strength and the desire to find the honor he has lost. This I ask in the name of thy Son. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.”

    Aleeanna watched in amazement as Jossean’s eyes regenerated right before her eyes. Not only his retractable eyes but his eye poles as well. In a moment it was over and Jossean saw for the first time in two seven-days. He saw his mate crying. He looked for the Prophet but he was gone. He reached out with tears in his eyes and pulled his mate to him.

    “That’s cheating,” Banneesheanta said as her son walked by.

    “No, that is the healing power of love,” Yoeith replied. “You can take the casts off his legs tomorrow. Good night Mother.”

    

~~~

    

    The first two days of the Grand Council meeting past uneventfully. It was taken up by clan reports detailing the current state of affairs in each of the clans. Almost ninety percent of the herds had been rounded up in five of the six clans. As expected the red clan had suffered the most on account of the war. They lost almost all their shunail herds and they had not had the advantage of the blue clan herders going out and re-gathering the lost herds after the war.

    Tangoral was more than bored by the third day. Those that sat with him as his councilors were equally bored but it was an odd group of councilor that sat with him. His Councilors were made up of both tree dwellers and assorted Brachyura. Tragal, Doesen, and Tangalen sat next to Tangoral. Sheylmasa, Ashorah’s father and Neylosso who fought with Yoeith throughout the war sat behind them. Jossean sat next to them feeling very much out of place. A small green monster lay at Tangoral’s feet sleeping. They were listening to Adreeum’s summation of the past two days of reports.

    “Lady KarEena, it seems that your clan is in the most desperate need of help even though you have several unauthorized dwellings that were discovered during the war. Because I can offer immediate aid to you, you will receive a limited amount of help in trying to gather your herds that were scatter during the war. I am not sure how effective we will be given the amount of time that has past,” Adreeum said.

    “We will be grateful for whatever help we can get right now,” KarEena replied. “If it is possible to gather even a small portion of our herds, it will be most helpful.”

    “Although we can help our red brothers all the cities are in grave difficulty,” Adreeum continued. “Despite the much appreciated efforts of certain individuals we are still unable to effectively feed the brothers of this city, and many of the other cities are much worse off than we are. Supplies to these cities must be resumed to this and the other cities somehow.”

    “Clan Leader, may I speak?” Tangoral asked when Adreeum took a moment to pause.

    “I have listened to your wise words before. I will listen now,” Adreeum replied.

    “My brothers and friends, I have listened for days of sad tales of a world out of balance,” Tangoral began to speak the thought on his mind. “Adreeum’s earlier suggestion is your best course of action. You cannot continue as you have done. You stifle your own growth and breed resentment between clans living by the customs you have imposed upon yourselves. You have separated yourselves into clans to your own detriment. The time has come to abandon these foolish customs of your fathers. I propose that you allow the establishment of as many dwellings as anyone would desired to establish. Do so in a spirit of cooperation that will allow blue brothers to work side by side with red brothers for the good of the dwelling where they live together in peace with other brothers of different clans. This “us” verses “them” mentality can only lead to war again.”

    “Are you proposing the abandonment of the clan system altogether?” Nabbinic asked.

    “I suppose I am after a fashion,” Tangoral replied. “There are many good things about your system of government that should be retained. Unless you can find a way to work and live together, as surely as day follows night another KaZanna will rise up. If that happens there may not be another clan in a position to stop him and then you will find yourself servants to a master race.”

    “That really doesn’t help us now,” Nabbinic said.

    “Ah, but it does,” Tangoral said. “By establishing new dwellings you will take some of the stress off the cities by reducing the populations within those cities. Fewer brothers in the cities are fewer mouths to feed. As you begin to push outward, you will begin a new age of exploration of the world on which you live. Take a look at me and look at those I have chosen to advise me. We are explorers and I am pushing forward with the help of my brothers to establish a route through the Great Swamp to the ancient city where this creation began. Once there, we will unlock many secrets that the ancients had. At present, there are representatives of three clans working with my people in this endeavor. Soon, there will be a fourth representative of the clans joining them. I am proof that we can live, work, and have fun together.”

    “I do not say that we should change your system overnight,” Tangoral continued. “In fact, I think you should go slowly to avoid mistakes and misunderstanding, but there are some things that can be done quickly to alleviate some of the problems you have right now. The establishment of joint dwellings beyond your present boarders would do just that.” Tallon stirred at Tangoral’s feet. The small green monster started to growl softly. Tangoral looked down at the small stalker. “Adreeum, our long expected guest is about to arrive,” he said looking toward the doorway. “Jossean, try and stay out of sight.”

    Jonnaul thought he would make a dramatic entrance by interrupting the Grand Council meeting. In that he was disappointed. It was like they were expecting him as he and his councilors entered the room.

    “This has been a long time coming,” Adreeum said.

    Jonnaul would not give Adreeum the benefit of knowing that he was surprised by the unexpected welcome. “Yes, it has,” he replied. “I challenge you all in the name of God and his Church. You have departed from the right way and this is the only way you have left me to bring you back to the true path of God.”

    “No, this is the last act of a desperate brother trying to hold onto the lie that has become his life,” Tangoral said.

    “I did not address you, Tree Dweller,” Jonnaul said angrily. “Since when does the brotherhood let a tree dweller speak for them?”

    “Tangoral, does not speak for us. He only voices out loud what is in our hearts,” Adreeum said. “What is it you want?”

    “I want the Church given its proper due as is required by law. I want the elimination of all tree dwellers within our boarders. I want the resignation of all the present clan leaders and their councilors, I will appoint new ones later, and I call for the banishment of your entire clan Adreeum. That includes the false prophet you have set up to discredit and degrade the Church.”

    “Jonnaul, have you gone mad?” LaKento asked.

    “Not at all. I can no longer stand by and watch the very fabric of our society destroyed by your heresies.”

    Tangoral looked back at Jossean. He pointed toward the yellow brother standing to the right of Jonnaul. Tangoral looked back at Adreeum and nodded. Adreeum turned his full attention on Jonnaul. “A few days ago I would have made you wait the full seven-day before giving you my answer,” he said. “Today, I accept your challenge, but what do we get if we win?”

    “Nothing, you will not win.”

    “Then the game cannot be played,” Tangoral said. “Already you push the limits of the law and your authority. As it is we have no control over Yoeith, nor can your challenge of the clans’ leadership be inclusive of him. You will have to challenge Yoeith separately. As to this challenge you will accept the tree dwellers as equals and resign as prophet taking your councilors with you into exile.”

    “What! I will do no such thing,” Jonnaul said.

    “Then the game will not be played and we are under no obligation to accept your challenge,” Adreeum said. “Each side must have something to be gained and something to be lost. You want my banishment. Then I want nothing less than yours in return. I accept your conditions as it pertains to this council. As Tangoral pointed out, you must deal with Yoeith separately. Do you accept these conditions of play?”

    Somehow the table was turned; things were not working out as planned. Still, Jonnaul knew he could not lose even if he lost. “I accept your conditions if that is what it will take to get you out on the court,” he said.

    “Good, we will meet on the Court of the Judgment of God at the end of seven-day,” Adreeum said.

    “So you will make me wait to see who you will pick as your champion?” Jonnaul asked.

    “No, I’ll tell you that now,” Adreeum replied. “Our champion will need some time to practice before meeting Cantor in play.”

    Again, Jonnaul was surprised. Adreeum had already picked a champion. “So who have you found that would be willing to play against the greatest player the Game has ever known?” he asked.

    “Jonnaul, there are other players equal to the task.”

    “So you would pit a father against his own son?” Jonnaul asked.

    “No, but I am willing to pit brother against brother,” Adreeum replied. “Tangoral, will you stand for the brotherhood and be our champion.” Almost everyone in the room was caught by surprise by Adreeum’s choice.

    “The tree dweller cannot play the Game,” Jonnaul gasped in surprise.

    “Show me that in the words of Morallen,” Adreeum demanded.

    “He is not of the brotherhood and cannot play.”

    “Wrong again Jonnaul,” Tangoral said. “My brothers, I was adopted by my father, Councilor Zothor, for saving the life of my brother Cantor twice. I have save the lives of many blue brothers since including all the brothers that sit with me this day. My birth parents are dead. My father is Councilor Zothor and my mother is Lady Ishihari. They are the only parents that I have known for a long time now. Though I am deformed by your standards; in my heart I am a brother of the Blue Brotherhood. My clan leader has asked that I represent the brotherhood on the Court of the Judgment of God. I accept this honor and will make a good account of myself.”

    Amoonda stood up and looked at his fellow clan leaders. “I cannot say that I was not as surprised as the rest of you by Adreeum’s choice to represent us. I have had my share of encounters with Tangoral as I’m sure some of you have had as well. I have taken time to learn more about this young tree dweller. He is filled with hidden talents. If you think of him as a brother then you will find that he is a brother filled with honor to overflowing. I shall place my trust in Adreeum’s choice.”

    Nabbinic was next to stand. “I suspect Adreeum knows something we do not,” he said. “I remind my brothers that Tangoral commanded the armies that defeated KaZanna. I accept Tangoral’s representation.”

    “I’ll wager all that I have that you will lose Jonnaul,” KarEena said from where she sat. “I’ve seen him practice many times.”

    Dar Noth stood. “Jonnaul, I believe you must accept our champion regardless of who it is,” he said looking at Tangoral who nodded that he was correct in his thinking. “Do not accept him and judgment goes against you automatically.”

    “I shall not cast the descending vote,” LaKento said.

    “Your champion will either play Tangoral or you will accept judgment in our favor,” Adreeum said.

    “Jonnaul, the Church has never in the recorded history of the brotherhood made a challenge before,” Tangoral said. “The brothers here are experts in challenging and being challenged. Now you think about that as you set the points for the game, but before you go, would you tell me the name of the brother standing next to you on the right?”

    Jonnaul was in such a state of shock he did not think about such a harmless question. “Councilor Pattish,” he replied. The tree dweller was right he did not know anything about challenging the brotherhood.

    “Jonnaul, you may leave now while we further consider this matter,” Amoonda said. “Pattish, you will remain here.”

    “Why?” Pattish asked.

    “What do you want with my councilor?” Jonnaul asked.

    “That will be explained to Pattish once you are gone,” Amoonda replied.

    “I will not leave my councilor here. I came with him and I will leave with him,” Jonnaul said.

    Amoonda waived his claw and fifteen blue soldiers rushed into the room. “You will leave and you will leave Pattish right where he is,” Amoonda commanded. Pattish began to shake inside his shell as Jonnaul and the other councilors were escorted from the room. “Pattish, a fire was set in the dining hall belonging to Balator, son of Councilor Zothor of the Blue Brotherhood. Three yellow brothers were involved in starting a fire that killed thirty-one brothers, twenty-five sisters, and thirty-seven children. Every clan here was affected by that fire. One brother stood watch while the other two brothers started the fire. This brother also supplied the other two brothers with short barreled heavy guns which were used to try to kill two brothers that are seated in this room today. Those two brothers, Robbeal and Jossean, were captured.”

    Pattish realized that the yellow brothers must have talked, still he lied. “What has that to do with me?”

    “You have been identified as that third brother,” Amoonda said.

    “That’s impossible,” Pattish said.

    “Lie to someone else Pattish,” Amoonda said angrily slamming his claws down on the table before him to emphasize his point. “I can have the owner of a certain kitchen brought here. I’m sure he would remember someone who bought two down on their luck brothers a lot of drinks. Robbeal died during questioning. Jossean is still very much alive and has already identified you as the third brother. While you were here with Jonnaul foolishly challenging us, blue and green brothers in body armor removed all the weapons and all the records pertaining to those weapons from the Church dwelling. Your dwelling was the only dwelling that was not disarmed after the war. What do you want to bet that we find two short barreled heavy guns missing from your armory? All I want to know, did Jonnaul order you to set fire to the dining hall or did you act alone?”

    Pattish’s legs gave out and he fell to the floor, but he remained silent. Tragal got up and walked out onto the floor. “I wonder if you will hold up under questioning as well as Robbeal did?” he asked circling Pattish. “We broke each segment of his legs off one leg at a time. Once he was legless and clawless he was hung over a fire and slowly roasted. A lot like the brothers and sisters and their children that died in the fire. Jossean we got to talk without too much trouble. He had a couple legs broken and his eyes cut off, but he talked.” Tragal left out that none of that was done during the questioning of Jossean.

    Pattish knew he was in real trouble. He knew the law and he knew that Jonnaul could not protect him from his own clan leader. His only hope was to tell the truth. “Jonnaul suggested that something like that could happen to the dining hall. I took that to mean that he wanted the dining hall to have a fire. Jossean and Robbeal were only supposed to start a small fire in the kitchen. The fire wasn’t supposed to get that far out of claw. Jonnaul wanted to stop Yoeith from feeding the brothers and expose the Blue Brotherhood’s secret support of the false prophet.”

    “Tragal, take him and put him somewhere safe. We may want to question him some more,” Amoonda said. “That is not enough to bring down Jonnaul and stop the challenge. Jonnaul can say he was only thinking out loud.”

    “Still, it was a nice try, and Pattish may still prove to be of use to us,” Adreeum said.

    

    Jonnaul returned to a dwelling in chaos. The commander of his guard stood before him trying to explain what happen. “After you left about a hundred green and blue brothers invaded our dwelling. They took all our weapons from us and some of our records.”

    “Were they armed?” Jonnaul asked more than a little irritated.

    “No.”

    “Then why didn’t you stop them.”

    “We tried to stop them but they all had on that body armor they wear. We might as well have been shooting blanks for all the good it did. They disarmed any brother that would not give up his guns. The brothers that resisted are all in the medical center with broken legs and claws. We’re not trained to fight claw to claw and the soldiers they sent in were probably their best soldiers. They cleaned out our armory in next to no time. I don’t think that they were here more than sixty-two or sixty three-time parts.”

    “This is an outrage. Adreeum will pay for this,” Jonnaul shouted at no one in particular.

    “I don’t think Adreeum is too concerned about what we think at this point,” Sammatis said. “You just challenged him and all the other clan leaders. What has he got to lose? He can openly annoy us now, win or lose. We might have been better off challenging Yoeith instead of the clans.”

    “I would have to challenge him personally,” Jonnaul said. “It’s not possible for the Church to challenge an individual but an individual can challenge the Church.”

    “Maybe we can make Yoeith challenge the Church,” Sammatis suggested.

    “Perhaps, but we must be cautious. We made too many mistakes today,” Jonnaul replied.

    

    Jonnaul stormed into Adreeum’s office. “I want all my guns returned,” he demanded before he noticed, Amoonda sitting in front of one of the big round windows in the office.

    “Your guns will be returned if they can all be accounted for,” Adreeum replied.

    “What gives you the right to invade my dwelling in the first place,” Jonnaul demanded to know.

    “I did,” Amoonda replied. “The Church’s dwelling is actually a part of my dwelling that was given over to the Church. After today, be grateful that I don’t kick you out. You may retain your dwelling for now, but as long as I’m clan leader the clan will not provide you with any other support.”

    “That won’t be for long,” Jonnaul retorted.

    “I think that you will find that all the other clans have withdrawn their support of your church as well,” Adreeum said.

    “I’ll get it back.”

    “I think you should know that Pattish was charged with a most heinous crime,” Amoonda said casually. “He has admitted his guilt and implicated you as well, but not to the extent that you could be charged. I’m personally beginning to think that you should be destroyed for the good of the brotherhood. If I were you, I would pray that I don’t find a suitable charge that would justify my doing just that within the next seven-day.”

    “Jonnaul, you found your way into my office. I think that you can find your way out,” Adreeum said.

    

~~~

    

    Cantor stood in the Prophet’s office. He knew why he was there. The law required that the All Clan Champion represent the Church in the event it was challenged or issued a challenge. Yes, Cantor knew why he was he was there but that did not mean he had to like it. “You are required to defend the honor of the Church. Can you do that?” Jonnaul asked.

    “I can do what is required of me, but I question whether I am truly defending the honor of the Church,” Cantor replied. “I could play the best game of my life, but I doubt that I will win.”

    “What makes you think that you won’t win?” Sammatis asked.

    “You are not in the right,” Cantor replied simply.

    “Just what makes you think we are not in the right,” Jonnaul demanded to know.

    “Examine your heart, do you truly believe what you are doing is of God?” Cantor asked. “I will do my duty and play to the best of my ability for all the good it will do. This is not competition. This is a game for judgment on the Court of God. Lives hang in the balance and God protects the innocent.”

    “So you don’t think you can win against the tree dweller?” Sammatis asked.

    “In competition I’d say yes, but this is for judgment. While I have played Tangoral in the past and won, it has been a long time since I last played my brother. I know my brother, he probably has improved a great deal since we last played,” Cantor replied. “I heard that he beat my Dad once. We could be nearly equal in terms of our skill as players now. I may still have an edge but that will be a very small advantage I’m sure.”

    “Thank you for your honesty,” Jonnaul said. “You may leave now.” Cantor turned and walked out of the office. He was thankful to be away from such brothers that seemed to ooze evil from their shells.

    “So it will come down to which player will give up first,” Sammatis said. “How do we stack the odds in our favor?”

    “We set the points beyond the reach of the Tree Dweller,” Jonnaul replied. “Three thousand points ought to do it.”

    “Jonnaul, no game has ever been played beyond fifteen hundred points.”

    “I know. The Tree Dweller cannot possibly hope to reach such a high number. We make it so he will have to win by three hundred points. We could even stretch the break points to two hundred. That should wear him out.

    “Break points are usually every hundred points and the most anyone has had to win by is two hundred points,” Sammatis pointed out.

    “I know, it’s perfect. We set the points out of reach and sooner or later the Tree Dweller will have to give up,” Jonnaul said.

    

~~~

    

    “You have to come see this,” Bittanic said as he grabbed Cantor by the claw and tried to drag him off to one of the blue clan’s game courts.

    “See what?” Cantor asked.

    “Your adopted brother practicing,” Bittanic replied. “I have never seen anything like it. It’s so amazing; you have to see it to believe it.”

    “I’ve seen him practice a lot of times.”

    “Oh.” Bittanic’s enthusiasm waned and he let go of Cantor’s claw. “I never knew your brother was so good. He could turn pro if the other clans would allow it.”

    “Tangoral would never become a player. He doesn’t have the heart of a player,” Cantor said as he continued to follow Bittanic down the hallway.

    “That may be, but I think if your championship was on the line and you had to play him. I’m not sure that I’d bet on you,” Bittanic said.

    “I thought you were my friend?” Cantor asked in jest.

    “I am, but that doesn’t mean I want to lose money betting on you,” Bittanic replied smiling at his young friend.

    A small crowd gathered along the edge of the lower gallery. Cantor and Bittanic pushed their way through the brothers to get to a place where they could look down on the court. Cantor looked down and saw his brother playing a practice game with Margeeum. A wave of jealousy sweep over him for an instant and then he set it aside as he settled down to watch the game. “I don’t see what’s so great about this game,” he said after a few moments. “It’s not very intense. I know that Margeeum can play better than she’s playing.”

    “Don’t you see,” Bittanic said pointing. “He’s playing this game with his eyes covered.”

    The revelation took Cantor by surprise. He looked closer and sure enough Tangoral had his eyes covered with a piece of cloth. Now all his all his eyes focused on the game below. Cantor watched for a while before he realized that Margeeum was not scoring any points but he also realized the game was not about points. “How long has he been playing like this?” he asked.

    “At least a hundred time parts,” Bittanic replied. “It’s so amazing. He doesn’t miss often.”

    “I can see this is just for practice. What score are they taking their breaks at?”

    “Around a hundred fifty, I’d say. Margeeum isn’t playing very hard or I’m sure they’d be breaking sooner than they are.” Bittanic pointed toward the corner. “Hey look, there’s your dad,” he said.

    Cantor turned an eye, and sure enough his father was walking out onto the court followed by a green brother. Cantor recognized the green brother as the green clan’s champion. Tangoral took off his blindfold and looked up at the gallery. He spotted his brother and waived. Cantor waived back. He watched as a new game began. This time it was against two champions at once. The intensity of the practice session picked up. Cantor got up and walked off knowing his next game would be the toughest game of his life for more than one reason.

    

~~~

    

    “This is good,” Yoeith said as Balator brought his food cart to a halt.

    “Are you sure about this?” Balator asked. He eyed the dwelling across the way. Yoeith had stopped right in front of the Church’s dwelling.

    “How else can I annoy Jonnaul,” Yoeith replied. “Let’s get set up.”

    Balator with Yoeith’s help set up the canopy. It unrolled from the center of the cart, stretched out over both sides, and attached to corner posts that folded out from the sides of the cart. Yoeith attached the stovepipe that would carry the heat of the oven/stove combination out and away from the canopy. Balator busied himself setting up condiments and other foodstuffs needed for the sweet balls and pies. In a very short time they were set up and ready for business. A little while later they were surrounded by hungry brothers and sisters.

    

    “He’s what!” Jonnaul quickly stood up walked to the window and looked down.

    “He’s right outside our dwelling with one of his food carts. It looks like one of the new carts they added to the two carts they already have,” Sammatis said as he joined Jonnaul at the window.

    “Have we figured out how the Blue Brotherhood is supplying them yet?”

    “No, not yet, but they must be doing it somehow. Those carts cannot possibly hold all the food they serve during the course of day.”

    “I’m going down there,” Jonnaul said.

    “Do you think that’s wise?” Sammatis asked.

    “I can’t very well have him out in front of our dwelling now can I,” Jonnaul replied. “It makes us look bad in front of our own brothers.”

    

    “What brings the Prophet down out of his dwelling to see a humble servant of God?” Yoeith asked as Jonnaul stopped in front of the food cart.

    “You are going to have to move this... this contraption somewhere else. I can’t have you here in front of my dwelling,” Jonnaul replied.

    “We have every right to be here,” Balator said. Jonnaul turned a glaring eye on him and Balator quickly ducked back behind the food cart.

    “Shall we not do good works that we may gain salvation?” Yoeith asked.

    “Salvation is a free gift of God. It cannot be obtained through works good or bad,” Jonnaul said.

    “Truly you are correct in that we are brought to the saving grace through our faith in God. We are indeed justified through our faith in God, but this was not the salvation I was referring to. I spoke concerning our reward in Heaven,” Yoeith said.

    “I’m sure that you know the story of the laborers,” Jonnaul said. “How the laborer that began working at the beginning of the day was paid the same as the laborer that began work late in the day. We can conclude from this that our reward in Heaven will all be the same.”

    “You are correct, I know the story,” Yoeith said. “This story is about faith and justification not about our rewards in Heaven. God said that all must stand before him to be judged according to that which we have done. The story of the laborers shows that no matter at what point in our lives we place our faith in God we may obtain his grace and a remission of our sins. This is the wages that is freely given to the first as it is to the last. Having obtained a remission of our sins, shall we continue in them? God forbid such a thing. This is just the beginning of our salvation and exaltation. If you have faith and do nothing, shall you have the same reward as another who labors all his life in the service of his brothers and his God? Shall your reward be an upper dwelling with many rooms, and the other brother’s reward is a small one room dwelling on a bottom level? Is this the justice of your God?”

    “No, that is not the justice of God. God will reward all his chosen faithful followers with great rewards,” Jonnaul replied. “The hand of God is in all things. He saves whom he will and he damns who he will. When God comes he will destroy those whom he has cast off and he will reward those whom he has saved.”

    “If that is the case, then why did God go to all the trouble of creating this world? Why do we need to preach His gospel at all?” Yoeith asked. “All of creation has free will, the ability to choose between right and wrong. Our place in the Great Circle of Life determines the extent to which we are able to exercise our free agency. If we were to stand before God and claim that we were never given a chance to hear his words, would we not be justified? Would God say, I never gave you a proper chance, but it is my justice system and you were damned when I created you anyway, so it’s ok? I tell you this is not the case. All will hear his words, living and dead, and they will be judged accordingly. For this cause shall His gospel be preached to every creature in every corner of the world. No one in the end will be able to say on the Last Day that they were not given a chance to hear of His salvation and the choice to accept or reject the gospel. They that choose to embrace the darkness will not have an excuse.”

    “I see what you are trying to do,” Jonnaul said. “I have no intention of getting sucked into a debate with you. Either you move this cart or I will have it moved for you.”

    “Balator is right, we have every right to be here,” Yoeith replied. “If you look across the way you will see Councilor Rownan and four soldiers of the Blue Brotherhood. If you try to have this cart moved they will stop you. The brothers and sisters in this city are in desperate need of food. What do you have against us feeding the poor in this area?”

    Jonnaul looked in the direction that Yoeith had indicated. Sure enough, there stood Rownan and four blue soldiers in body armor. He glared at Yoeith for a moment. “One day soon you will not have the Blue Brotherhood to protect you,” he said then he turned and walked off barely controlling the anger he felt build inside his shell.

    

    Jonnaul looked down from his office and watched Yoeith and Balator handing out food to the brothers and sisters that surrounded the cart. “Sammatis, the Blue Brotherhood will most likely not give us our guns back. Have some new ones made.”

    “Why won’t they give us our guns back?” Sammatis asked.

    “Pattish was charged with starting the fire in the dining hall. He gave two of our guns to the two brothers that actually started the fire. Our records may reflect Pattish’s mistake. If that is the case, then we will not be getting our guns back,” Jonnaul replied. “Once we are done with the Blue Brotherhood, I will deal with this false prophet once and for all.”

    

~~~

    

    Tangoral stood next to Zothor. They stood upon the First Court of God. No competition games were played here nor were any practice games allowed. The score keeper’s place was where Tangoral expected to see the gallery seating to start. The gallery was ten lengths above the score keeper’s position and it seemed to go up forever. “There’s no ceiling,” Tangoral whispered. His whisper seemed to echo across the court.

    “There is a ceiling but it’s higher than any ball could be hit straight up,” Zothor replied with the same reverence that Tangoral felt. “This court is reserved for only the gravest of matters or challenges between brothers in leadership positions. I have had the honor of playing here once. Even if I would have lost, it still would have been an honor to have played here. It is said that the Prophet Morallen once played a game here.”

    “Against who?” Tangoral asked.

    “It is said that it was against the Evil One himself,” Zothor replied.

    “That’s not possible. The Evil One exists only as creature of spirit, but I can see where it would make a good story.”

    “Perhaps it was just a story, but it would have been the greatest game ever to see.”

    “What were the points set at?”

    “No one is really sure. Some say it was to a thousand points. Others say it was two thousand. The highest number of points set for any game in our recorded history is fifteen hundred.”

    “Who won?” Tangoral asked.

    “The Prophet of course,” Zothor replied. “It is said that God took him right after the game ended.” They both stood there for a few silent moments thinking about what that game might have been like.

    “I was told that I would find you here,” a loud voice from the door said breaking in on thoughts of the sacred.

    “What can we do for you Jonnaul?” Zothor asked.

    “You know the rules as well as I. I’m here to tell you what the points have been set at as required by law,” Jonnaul replied. “That way your champion will know what he is up against and can withdraw even before the game begins, if he so desires.”

    “I will not withdraw regardless of what the points you have set are,” Tangoral said.

    “I didn’t think you would Tree Dweller, I didn’t think you would,” Jonnaul said.

    “So tell us the bad news Jonnaul. Just get it over with,” Zothor said.

    “The game will be to three thousand points.”

    Zothor gasped in surprise. “No game has ever been played higher than fifteen hundred points,” he exclaimed.

    “Yes, but I get to set the points and I say that the game will be played to three thousand points.”

    “What else?” Tangoral asked calmly.

    “You will have to win by three hundred points and breaks will be every two hundred points,” Jonnaul replied.

    “I agree to all except that the break will be set at one hundred points,” Tangoral said.

    “I set the points Tree Dweller and I say that the breaks will be every two hundred points.”

    “I am not concerned for myself. I am concerned for your player,” Tangoral said. “At two hundred points between breaks your player will overheat and dehydrate. If Cantor dies or is otherwise unable to continue playing judgment will go against you. I have played games beyond two hundred points without taking a break. So you go ahead and keep the break points at two hundred. I will win the judgment by default before we reach the second break. Given the points needed to win even a hundred points between breaks may tax your player’s endurance.”

    Jonnaul instantly grasp the wisdom of what the tree dweller told him. He had nearly made a fatal mistake. “Ok, the break points will be set at one hundred. Sammatis will keep score.”

    “That is not acceptable,” Zothor said. “Sammatis is your councilor and by the law he cannot sit in judgment and keep score.”

    “I make the rules here,” Jonnaul said.

    “No, you only set the points for the game Jonnaul,” Tangoral said. “My father is correct. No one that belongs to the leadership of your church can keep score. The same could be said for the leadership of the clans. The one who sits in judgment and keeps score must be completely impartial. That of course leaves out all of the brothers of the blue clan. For a similar reason we would find it hard to have anyone that belongs to your church keep score.”

    “Just where do you think you will find a brother that will be acceptable?” Jonnaul asked. “Any suggestion you make I will reject.”

    “Any suggestion you make we will reject,” Zothor said.

    “I remind you that the game must be played within the seven-day. I can hold out longer than you,” Jonnaul said.

    “You really should study the law more Jonnaul,” Tangoral said. “As long as the players are on the court ready to play they can wait as long as it takes to find a scorekeeper agreeable to both parties.”

    “Brothers, perhaps I can help,” a voice said. The voice belonged to an old red brother standing in the doorway. “I am the keeper of the Court of God. I have cleaned and otherwise taken care of this most holy of places since before Brother Jonnaul became the prophet. I would be honored to sit in judgment and keep score.”

    “Are you a member of the Church?” Zothor asked.

    “I am, but without a census so are you all in the eyes of the law. If that is your standard by which you gage the worthiness of a brother to keep score then a scorekeeper will never be found,” despite the apparent great age of the red brother his eyes sparkled.”

    “What is your name brother?” Jonnaul asked.

    “I was named for the prophets by my mother. I am called BoTalen.” Tangoral and Zothor looked at each other in surprise when they heard the name. It sounded so much like a prophet they both knew. “My great, great, grandfather told me once that we were related to the Prophet Morallen. In any case that is how I got my name.”

    “Anyone named for a prophet would be acceptable to me if it will get me out of the impasse I seem to be stuck in,” Jonnaul said. “Is this brother agreeable to you?”

    “I would be honored to have you keep score Brother BoTalen,” Tangoral said.

    “Now that we have concluded our business here, I have other things to do,” Jonnaul said. He turned and walked briskly off the court.

    “Thank you for giving an old brother the honor and a chance for a place in history. I shall endeavor to keep score in all fairness,” BoTalen said.

    “I know you will,” Zothor said.

    “I could not but help hearing you earlier from where I was cleaning in the gallery,” BoTalen said. “The game that the Prophet Morallen played was indeed a very real game and he played a very real brother. Strange as it may seem to you, that game was to three thousand points as well. Morallen allowed his opponent to set the points.”

    “How do you know that?” Zothor asked.

    “There are records that I could show you that chronicle the life history of the Prophet. They are with the records of every game ever played here. The challenge was given over the Prophet’s choice of a red sister as his mate. A great debate over the propriety of such a thing occurred and lasted for nearly two cycles of the sun before one brother challenged the Prophet over this matter. The Prophet won but winning cost him his life. He died right where you are standing young tree dweller,” BoTalen replied. Tangoral looked down at the floor where he stood.

    “That’s how you became related to the Prophet,” Zothor said.

    “Where are these records now?” Tangoral asked.

    “I have them,” BoTalen replied. “They have been passed down from father to son since the time of Morallen. Unfortunately, I have no son to pass these records to.”

    “If you have such a record as you say. Then you should share it with the brotherhood,” Zothor said.

    “Perhaps I will do just that.”

    “BoTalen, are you aware how much your name sounds like the full name of the prophet Tal?” Tangoral asked.

    “Because you know that I will tell you a secret,” BoTalen said. “Sometimes, late at night during the rainy season, the prophets Tal and Kel come here to practice and play each other in a friendly game that sometimes lasts the whole night. Sometimes, they stay with me in my dwelling high above the Court of God. They have been the guests of all that have taken care of the Court of God since the time of Morallen. They even helped build the very dwelling that the Keepers of the Court have lived in since the Game began.”

    “Keeper of the Court, now I understand the term,” Tangoral said. “Your family was to keep score and sit in judgment on the Game when no one else was able or desired the responsibility of keeping score.”

    “You know the words of the law well young tree dweller. Not since the game that the Prophet Morallen played has my family been called upon to fulfill that responsibility. I am greatly honored that you call upon me to do so now,” BoTalen said. “Who is your champion? Who will play a game that has only been played once before? Is it you Brother Zothor, will you play here once again?”

    “No Brother BoTalen, the young tree dweller, my adopted son you see before you will champion our clan,” Zothor replied. “He must play one of my other sons who is the All Clan Champion.”

    “Brother against brother as it was written,” BoTalen mused.

    

    Tangoral looked out of the small round opening that passed as one of the windows in BoTalen’s dwelling. “Brother BoTalen, you must have the greatest view of the whole city from here,” he said. The dwelling was built partially in and partially out of the grandfather tree high above the Court of God. “I must also apologize for invading your dwelling as we have. I had no idea Yoeith would bring so many brothers with him. Yoeith you should come and see the view of the city from here.”

    “I’ve seen it already. It is quite nice,” Yoeith said.

    “Brother BoTalen, if you’d like I could have a couple large round windows installed,” Tangoral offered.

    “I would like that but those windows must cost a small fortune,” BoTalen replied.

    “They do,” Bittanic said wondering why Yoeith had asked him to accompany him and the other brothers to this dwelling. Nor was he alone in wondering why he was there. Sheylmasa and Neylosso were wondering the same thing.

    “Take him up on his offer,” Yoeith said. “Tangoral invented the windows. He can afford to be generous.”

    “Is this true?” BoTalen asked.

    “Yes, it is. I can have them installed in the morning if you like,” Tangoral replied. “If you wouldn’t mind having a bunch of very bored tree dwellers invade your dwelling. We could also enlarge your dwelling on the inside of the tree also.”

    “I don’t know what to say to such an offer.”

    “Say yes,” Yoeith said. “Our people need something to do and Tangoral needs to do something with all the wealth he keeps amassing.”

    “You make it sound like a sin,” Tangoral said in self-defense.

    “It is, but not in your case,” Yoeith replied. “Brother BoTalen, Tangoral has a rare problem. He makes money faster than he can spend it. If he spent all his money today he would have twice as much money tomorrow. It’s a curse he has to live with.”

    “I wish I was so cursed,” Doesen said. “How about you Tragal? Do you want Tangoral’s curse?”

    “No, I fear what that would do to me,” Tragal replied. “Tangoral can handle it only because he is one of the People of the Trees. Money means nothing to him, although I know he knows its value. The wealth that he has would change and destroy us. Would we offer charity to a stranger without thinking about the cost?”

    “We can’t afford to,” Doesen said.

    “That’s just it, we can afford to Doesen,” Tragal said. “Tangoral gives his entire heart every time he reaches out to a brother. Can we do less? Can we do more? Sheylmasa and Neylosso do the same and they have no money. They put their hearts and bodies into everything they do as do all the tree people. In Tangoral’s mind his wealth is the wealth of all the People of the Trees.”

    “Doesen, what is it you would want if you had more money than there are leaves on a tree?” Tangoral asked.

    Doesen was silent for a moment. “Nothing, I already have all I want or need,” he replied.

    “What about the rest of you?” Tangoral asked the others. “What would you want?”

    “I’m already wealthy,” Rownan said.

    “When you have nothing, you have everything,” Almmoni said. “I live to serve God. What more do I need that God will not provide?”

    “Food on the table and a roof overhead,” Adamor said.

    “With you for our brother, what more do we need?” Balator said.

    “I need nothing Tangoral,” Sheylmasa said.

    “I could use a new knife,” Neylosso said. Tangoral took the knife out of his belt and tossed it to Neylosso who caught it deftly.

    “Bittanic, what about you?” Tangoral asked.

    “What I wanted you can’t buy with money,” Bittanic replied. Tangoral smiled, he would have a talk with Cantor later.

    “Brother BoTalen, what would you like?” Yoeith asked.

    BoTalen looked at his daughter setting the table. “Understand I love my daughters dearly but I would like to have had a son. All the money in the world cannot help me with that.” Tangoral thought he could help here as well. He could not help notice Rownan watching every move BoTalen’s daughter made. He had to admit to himself that she was a fine looking young sister.

    “Brothers, some of you are wondering why you are here,” Yoeith announced seeing that dinner was almost ready. “Bittanic, Sheylmasa, and Neylosso you are called into the service of your God. You are called that the words of the prophets might be fulfilled, that there should once again be twelve witnesses for God upon the face of the world. Only one remains to be called. Now, let’s eat. We’ll ordain you later.” One brother and two tree dwellers found themselves speechless. Yoeith got up walked over to the table and settled back down.

    “Why me?” Bittanic asked as he settled down next to the table. “Surely there is someone else better qualified?”

    “I’m certain you’re correct,” Yoeith replied. “But, God has chosen you for his own purpose. You would not have been my choice, but then it wasn’t my choice.”

    “You must be a faithful honorable brother or Cantor would not even associate with you,” Tangoral said as he sat down next to Yoeith. “Will you stand with him during the game?”

    “Your brother is my best friend. It was my honor to stand with him during competition. I shall not desert him now,” Bittanic replied.

    “Who will stand with you?” Rownan asked.

    “Doesen and I have been with Tangoral from the beginning. Shall we not go the rest of the way with him,” Tragal replied.

    “Yoeith has also asked to stand with me,” Tangoral said.

    “May I have the honor of standing with you as well?” Rownan asked.

    “I would be honored,” Tangoral replied.

    BoTalen’s daughter came out of the kitchen and put the last of the food on the table before settling down at the table next to Rownan. Tangoral smiled, he knew BoTalen would get his wish for a son or at least a son-in-law.

    Sadness washed over Yoeith. He knew that this would be one of the last times he’d be with all his friends and fellow servants of God, but he smiled anyway.

    

~~~

    

    The home of the tree people had three full platforms that completely encircled the tree far above the Blue Brotherhood’s dwelling. There was evidence of the beginnings of a forth level here and there, but for now all work had stopped for the day. Fires burned brightly in the night on the top platform. The sound of drums pulsated through the bodies and shells of those gathered there. Tangoral stood facing Ashorah. His heart beat faster as he lost himself in her blue eyes. White flowers formed a cap on top of her head and the same flowers were woven throughout her long brown hair. It looked like flowers were raining all around her.

    Ashorah smiled at Tangoral as he reached out and took her hands in his. His ceremonial headdress was made up of multi-colored feathers and spines from a long neck. The twin tails of the headdress flowed down his back like two rainbows. The headdress was symbolic in that it reminded all that he was a healer, both gentle and deadly. Of course, that meaning was lost on the Brachyura who were attending the wedding and festivities to follow. Yoeith stood in front of the couple. He was saying something but Tangoral was not listening.

    Yoeith finished his oration on the duties of a husband and wife to one another. “Have you heard a word I said?” he asked again as he poked Tangoral with his claw. Still holding Ashorah’s hands he turned and smiled at his friend. “You will now declare your love for this woman,” Yoeith said to continue the ceremony.

    “I give my heart to Ashorah for as long as the trees stand and for as long as the sky is blue I am hers. The stars in the heavens above us should fade away before my love does. I tell the world that Ashorah is my true love and I am hers,” Tangoral said as he watched her eyes sparkle as he spoke the words that she longed to hear. His words pierced the souls of all those gathered and carried far into the night as he used his vocal talents to tell world of his love for Ashorah.

    “You will now declare your love for this man,” Yoeith said.

    “I give my heart to Tangoral for as long as there is earth beneath the trees, and I shall love him one day for every leaf upon every tree in the world. Even as the leaves are endless so is my love for Tangoral. I tell the world that I am his even as he is mine.”

    “Tangoral and Ashorah have joined together as husband and wife. Having declared their love to the world let nothing ever come between them. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be,” Yoeith said to finish the ceremony.

    

    There were a great number of guests. The number of Brachyura guests almost equaled the total number of tree dwellers in attendance. All the clan leaders, their mates, and some of their councilors were invited. Many blue and green brothers that fought in the war with Tangoral were invited as well as any who were his friends. KarEena thought she was the only member of the red clan invited to the wedding until she caught a glimpse of a red brother standing in the shadows. She walked over to find out who the brother was that merited an invitation to this special occasion. The brother seemed to withdraw further into the shadows as she approached. They were well away from the others and the light of the fires when she caught up to him only to realize that he was not alone. “Brother, stop right there,” she commanded.

    “What can I do for you Lady KarEena?” the brother asked. He was almost totally surrounded by the night.

    “You can tell me your name and how you know Tangoral,” she replied.

    “I met Tangoral just before the war and I fear that I cannot tell you my name.”

    “Do you know who I am?” KarEena asked.

    “You are the leader of the red clan in this part of the world,” the brother replied.

    What a strange thing to say, KarEena thought. “As your clan leader I require your name.”

    The red brother stepped more into the light. He did it to take her mind off the other brother behind him. “I am not one of your brothers. My name is withheld from the world at large. I mean no offence to such a great lady as yourself.”

    Despite the brother’s politeness not to be obeyed irked KarEena. “I still require your name. So are you going to tell me or do I need to call the guards?”

    “My dear sister would you disrupt this joyous occasion for my dear brother just to find out my name? I will tell you this much. Long ago I stepped down from being the clan leader of your clan to serve God. I did that many, many, cycles before you were born. Now I answer only to God and his Son. I want you to close your eyes now.”

    “Why?” KarEena asked.

    “I know that trust comes hard to you but just take a moment and do as I have requested. Close your eyes,” the red brother replied.

    KarEena could not help herself. She closed all her eyes. KarEena’s eyes could not have been closed for more than a fraction of a small time part. When she opened them again the brothers were gone. She looked all around but the brothers were nowhere to be found. As KarEena returned to the festivities she vowed to search the clan records to find the name of the brother she saw.

    Ishihari watched as her son danced with his mate. He was growing up so fast. She could hear the pitter-patter of the rain on the roof and she was swept away to another time many cycles in the past. Tears came to her eyes. Not wanting anyone to see her cry she walked out into the night and into the rain. She wondered how long she stood there before she realized she was not alone. “It was a long time ago wasn’t it,” Tangoral said. Two great claws wrapped around Tangoral as he knelt next to her.

    Zothor stood on the edge of the platform looking out into the night. “I don’t suppose you two know it’s raining out there?” he asked.

    “I thought they were tears washing us clean,” Tangoral replied. Hearing the very same words she used to answer the very same question one rainy night long ago only made Ishihari cry that much more.

    “Are they ok out there?” Adreeum asked.

    “They’re fine,” Zothor replied. “For some reason that escapes me they both go out and stand in the rain together from time to time. It’s kind of a private a mother-son thing of which I have no understanding.”

    

    The food was wonderful, but the celebration lasted far longer than most of the clan leaders. Only Dar Noth and KarEena stayed and KarEena was asleep where she lay. Someone had covered her with a blanket so she would stay warm. Dar Noth sat watching the festivities with Banneesheanta. Before Adreeum left he took Tangoral aside and asked for the honor to stand with him during the game. Tangoral of course accepted. Dar Noth watched as Tangoral put blankets over both his sleeping adopted parents before chasing everyone else still up off to bed.

    Tangoral stopped in front of Dar Noth and Banneesheanta last. “Banneesheanta, would you stand with Cantor during the game?” he asked.

    “Why? There should be plenty of brothers that would be honored to stand with Cantor?” she asked in reply.

    “The game is to three thousand points and I want a medical technician to keep an eye on my brother. We are nearly equal and he has never play against an opponent with the skill equal to his own. I’m worried he’ll over heat.”

    “Ok, I’ll do it.”

    “You have a very high opinion of your ability as player of the Game,” Dar Noth said.

    “If I was unequal to the task I doubt that Adreeum would have picked me to represent you and our clan,” Tangoral said smiling. “You know you two could be married. The Prophet Morallen has already played the Game for the right to go outside of the clan for a mate, and he won,” he added as he dropped the two blankets he was holding before them. “Now, I bid you good night.” Tangoral walked off, swept up his sleeping bride in his arms and disappeared into the night.

    “I wish he wouldn’t do that,” Dar Noth said.

    “Wouldn’t do what?” Banneesheanta asked sleepily.

    “Just say something completely off the wall and then walk away before you can come up with a reply.”

    “That’s a healer’s way of planting a seed. After he does that he’ll sit back a wait to see if what he planted will grow. Sometimes you need to water the seed and sometimes you can just let it grow. I do the same thing only I’m not as good at it as he is. Do you understand?” Banneesheanta asked.

    “I’m beginning to,” Dar Noth replied reaching for the blankets.

    

    The gallery of the First Court of God was packed with brothers and sisters there to watch one of the most interesting games of judgment ever to be played. Never in the history of the Game was the fate of an entire clan at risk. Never before had a tree dweller stood upon a Court of God as a player or in any other capacity much less as a clan champion. The first level of the gallery was divided in half. Each side was reserved for the parties in direct conflict with each other. The sides correspond to the corner that the players representing the conflicting parties would be taking their breaks in.

    From one corner hung six banners, strips of cloth about a claw’s width (about 50 centimeters) each a color of one of the six clans. Five very grim looking clan leaders sat there with their mates and their councilors and their mates. The blue councilors were there without their leader. Adreeum was one of six brothers that were allowed to stand with their champion and help with refreshments during breaks. Tragal, Doesen, Rownan, and Yoeith also stood in Tangoral’s corner. Ishihari would not choose between her sons, so she sat in the gallery with the mates of the other blue councilors.

    On the other side, the Prophet sat surrounded by his councilors and six of his bodyguards. Jonnaul’s bodyguards wore deep purple work vests, which made them stand out as no one else from the Church was wearing vests of any kind. That in itself was a sharp contrast to the many colors of vests worn by the rest of the brotherhood.

    Below on the court Bittanic stood with his young friend. Zothor also stood in his son’s corner wishing he did not have to choose between his sons. Balator, Adamor, and Syanor also stood with their brother. Banneesheanta felt a little out of place as she checked over her supplies and the jugs of some kind of liquid Tangoral prepared for Cantor’s refreshment to be used later in the game. “What are those?” Cantor asked her pointing at the jugs with his claw.

    “Something Tangoral whipped up,” Banneesheanta replied. “Mostly flavored sugar water with vitamins and minerals your body will need later as your body starts to dehydrate. Without this drink mix you have no hope of reaching the end of the game.”

    “I’ve played long games before. I should be alright with just water.”

    “I’m a medical technician here at your brother’s request. You will drink what I tell you, when I tell you, and if you do that you may just live through this game. The only other game played to three thousand points both players died on this court. You will do well to remember that.” Banneesheanta turned back to her work leaving Cantor with something to think about.

    

    “What’s in these jugs?” Adreeum asked.

    “Flavored sugar water with a few other things added that will help keep me from dehydrating during the game,” Tangoral replied. “I had Cantor supplied with the same drink mix. I made a lot of extra just in case either of us need more than what I have here.”

    “It might be better for us if you weren’t so helpful to the other side,” Adreeum said.

    “I can run for three days straight before I’d need food or sleep. If I don’t exert myself I can go much longer without food. Can the other side say the same?” Tangoral asked. “I’d rather not see my brother die just so you can make a point. If he is unable to finish the game due to no fault of my own, judgment will go against him and that is all we need. I have read the records of the last game played to three thousand points. The Prophet Morallen’s opponent died before Morallen reached two thousand points. Morallen himself died in the claws of his mate shortly after judgment was given to him due to the death of his opponent. Cantor will not be able to finish this game either. The Game may be Cantor’s life but I’ll be damned if I’ll let it kill him.” Tangoral turned and walked out onto the court.

    Yoeith walked over to stand next to Adreeum. “He loves his adopted family more than his own life you know,” he said.

    “I know but I still don’t have any idea what goes on inside his head,” Adreeum said.

    “It’s simple, he’s a healer, and like all healers he is consumed by a love for all life in the Great Circle of Life. It’s love that takes him out there to face his brother,” Yoeith said as he grabbed hold of the door and swung it shut behind Tangoral with Adreeum’s help. Yoeith turned and faced Adreeum. “If your God called you into his service would you answer the call?” he asked.

    “That depends on what is required of me,” Adreeum replied.

    “It is required that you spill your blood upon the Court of God with me. Only the blood of prophets may be spilled upon the Court of God as a testament of the truth.”

    “Are you’re asking me to die?”

    “Perhaps, can you think of a better way to die than in the service of your God?”

    “Yeah, old age.”

    “And so you may yet but the law requires the testament of two witnesses,” Yoeith said. “Are you ready to spill your blood for the brotherhood and the brother that defends your honor this day?”

    Adreeum did not know how to reply. Words came into his mind. “This day your life is required of you,” a voice seemed to whisper to him.

    “Would you have another stand in your place before God and the brotherhood?” Yoeith asked.

    “No,” Adreeum replied. “I hear the call of my God and I will obey.”

    

    The door closed behind Cantor as he walked out to greet his brother. “Well, we finally get to play a real game,” Tangoral said as he stopped in front of his brother.

    “This is about as real as it gets,” Cantor returned his brother’s greeting.

    “Do you want to play by the rules?” Tangoral asked.

    “There are no real rules in a game for judgment,” Cantor replied.

    “That’s not what I meant. Do you want to play for blood or for honor?”

    “By the rules then.” Cantor turned with Tangoral to face BoTalen where he sat in the place of judgment, and where he would keep score and act as referee for the game.

    “We are gathered in judgment of the right and the truth,” BoTalen said loud enough for all to hear. “These are the rules of judgment. The game will be to three thousand points. The game must be won by three hundred points. The short rest periods will be every hundred points. There will be long rest periods every five hundred points due to the extended nature of this game and as allowed by law for such games. The ball will be changed at the players’ request. All other standard rules given by the Prophet Morallen for judgment apply.” BoTalen dropped the ball they would begin the game with.

    Cantor reached out and caught the ball before it hit the floor. “Volley for the serve?” he asked.

    “No, you go ahead and serve. I’ll get the ball back shortly,” Tangoral replied.

    Cantor walked up to the service line. Tangoral positioned himself in the middle of the court just in front of his brother. Cantor threw the ball high and hit it hard with his left claw. It was a flawless serve, one of his best. It should have died in the right corner but Tangoral raced forward to reach the ball in time before the second bounce. He just tapped it lightly with his paddle toward the opposite corner. The ball just glanced off the front wall. Cantor raced forward but he started too late. He did not reach the ball in time; he picked it up as it rolled back toward him after bouncing off the side wall. “That was a cheap shot,” he said tossing the ball to Tangoral.

    “So was your serve,” Tangoral replied as he caught the ball. “But, if you want to do that another two thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine times this will be a very short game.”

    “The score is one to zero in favor of the Blue Brotherhood and the other clan leaders. Service is given to Tangoral,” BoTalen said loud enough for all to hear.

    Tangoral served the ball so that it hugged the left wall. Cantor returned the serve easily with the back of his right claw. Tangoral sent the ball down the right side wall next. Cantor just reached the ball. Rather than trying to hit the ball forward, he hit it with his left claw with enough force to reach the front wall by bouncing it off the back wall. Tangoral was in position to just tap the ball back to the front wall and over against the left wall. Try as he would Cantor could not reach the ball. He was out of position and he knew it. It did not help that Tangoral used a playing serve to keep the ball in play. Tangoral took advantage of the break in the rhythm of his brother. It was ten to nothing before Cantor could get the serve back.

    Cantor was breathing hard. He had underestimated the skill of his brother. He vowed to correct that mistake as he served the ball. They battled back and forth and from side to side. Many time parts past before Tangoral was able to get the serve back. For all his hard work Cantor only gained five points on his brother. Tangoral only gained two points before he lost the serve again but he got it right back just to lose it again. Cantor had another run of five points before he lost the serve. His lungs were already screaming. He had never played a game this hard before. Every point was a supreme effort on his part. Tangoral got four more points before Cantor could get the ball back. “The score is seventeen to twelve in favor of the Blue Brotherhood and the other clan leaders. Service is given to Cantor,” he heard BoTalen say.

    Tangoral only thought about the ball. He returned to the center court position after each time he hit the ball. For him the game was all there was in the world for the moment, a moment that might last for days. All his concentration was on the game. Every sense he possessed was focused on where the ball was at every give moment. He could feel the direction Cantor would hit the ball before he hit it. He felt the ball push the air aside as it raced toward the front wall. He was there to greet it once again. This time he only gave up two points to his brother before he got the ball back. If he had the time he would have given thanks to his father and all his healer training. Even as he did not give thought to the past he did not give thought to his body. He simply willed it to react to the ball. More and more he could feel the slight lag in the timing of his opponent and he exploited it. He gained six points before he lost the serve again.

    Cantor recovered the ball and took his time returning to the service line. It was a cheap way to catch his breath. He looked up at the Prophet. He looked over at his mother. Margeeum and Ashorah sat next to her. He looked at Tangoral standing in front of him ready and waiting for him to serve the ball. Never before had he felt the eyes of all those watching him. It was very unnerving. He tried not to think about it as he threw the ball high in the air. Four points later he lost the serve again but he got it right back. It was an extra ordinary effort that lasted a long time but Cantor managed a run of twelve points before losing the serve.

    “The score is thirty to twenty-four in favor of the Prophet and the Church. Service is given to Tangoral,” BoTalen said at the change of the serve when a playing serve was not used as was the custom of announcing the score during a game for judgment. Tangoral gained four points before he lost the serve but it only cost him two points before he got the ball back. He gained another five points before he lost the serve again, but he got it right back with a light tap that sent the ball into the far corner well out of Cantor’s reach. Tangoral gave up the serve again after gaining three points and regaining the lead.

    

    Ishihari watched her sons with mixed feelings. This was the most intense game she had ever witnessed. It was true that she had only watched one other game for judgment and that was the one her mate had played. Still, she had been at many of the competitive games to watch her mate and son play and this was by far the most fiercely played game she had ever watched. She could not help but feel a certain amount of pride in her sons but she knew and understood that Tangoral had to win in the end. Anything less than that was unthinkable.

    

    Zothor watched the game though one of the view ports in the door. As he watched he could feel what Tangoral felt, the lag in Cantor’s reactions and the time it took him to reset. It was almost unnoticeable at present but he knew that over time the lag in the timing of his son would grow. Tangoral was almost flawless and getting better. He took advantage of every little mistake Cantor made. Every flaw in Cantor’s timing cost him a point. Zothor knew what the outcome of the game would be. “The score is fifty-two to forty-eight in favor of the Church and the Prophet. A short break is called. Service will be given to Tangoral after the break,” he heard BoTalen say. Zothor grabbed the door and swung it back out of the way.

    Cantor dropped down on the floor in his corner. “Pour some water over him,” he heard Banneesheanta say. Someone handed him a water bottle. He gratefully emptied it as he felt the cold water on the top of his shell. “How are you doing?” Banneesheanta asked him.

    “I’m playing the toughest game I’ve ever played in my life. Somehow it’s not as fun as I thought it would be, but then this is the most serious game I’ve ever played too. All things considered I’m fine,” Cantor replied.

    

    “How are you doing?” Tragal asked Tangoral as he sipped on the water bottle.

    “Good,” he replied with his eyes closed. Tangoral continued to play the game in his mind. He could feel every move Cantor would make and his response as the game flowed through his mind.

    “Do want me to pour water over you?”

    “Not yet.”

    

    Even before the end of the break was called the corner doors swung shut behind their respective players. The game resumed. Every point was fought over with a supreme effort on the part of both players. It seemed to those watching that the serve changed almost every other point. Short breaks came and went. Some times Tangoral held the lead, other times Cantor did. There was never a time when they were more than five points apart. Cantor was very grateful for the long break even though he was winning for the moment, but then he was only ahead by one point. Tangoral used the long break productively. He curled up and went to sleep.

    The game seemed to go on forever. Many in the gallery went to sleep as the game continued into the night. Tangoral was still playing strong. Cantor on the other claw was operating on pure instinct. It was a matter of honor for him to reach five hundred before his brother. He put everything he had into reaching his mark, but in the end, he fell short. Tangoral reached the five hundred mark before him, but the next long break had them tied.

    “The score is five hundred to five hundred. A long break is called. Service will be given to Tangoral after the break,” BoTalen said to those in the gallery still awake.

    

    Cantor collapsed in his corner totally exhausted. He gave the Game his best and still it demanded more from him. He was not sure he had more to give. Cantor felt the cold water running over his shell. It no longer revived him. Banneesheanta handed him a water bottle. His first sip jolted him wide awake. It tasted like a tart fruit punch. “Keep drinking,” Banneesheanta said.

    “Is this Tangoral’s stuff?” Cantor asked as he began to feel his body begin to tingle all over.

    “Yes, it is,” Banneesheanta replied. “This will help for a while but after a time not even this liquid refreshment will keep you on your legs. It’s taken more than a half a day to reach the five hundred point mark. At the rate you two are playing it could take a couple of days to finish this game. It’s only a matter of time before you start to fall behind. If we don’t exert ourselves we can go long periods without food, but we cannot match the People of the Trees in physical endurance over long periods of time. Tangoral will simply out last you.”

    “I may lose. In fact, I expect to lose, but it will not be said that I did not give my best effort,” Cantor said.

    

    “Fill my water bottle with my drink mix from now on and wake me a little before the break is over,” Tangoral told Tragal. He curled up on the large pillow that Adreeum went out and got while Cantor and he were playing the game. Tangoral was asleep almost instantly. Tragal envied his friend’s ability to fall asleep so quickly although as a soldier he could do the same.

    “I’ve never seen anyone fall asleep that quickly,” Adreeum said.

    “A healer’s trick,” Yoeith said. “I can do the same thing when I need to. He still hears us and he can wake up before the break is over. However, he gave that worry over to Tragal and so that’s one more part of his mind that can rest. Very useful trick, a healer can seem to stay awake for couple of seven-days with this trick.”

    “Now that explains it,” Doesen said. “There were a couple of times during the war when I’d have sworn Tangoral never seemed to sleep.”

    “Given Tangoral’s ability as a healer he might even be able to carry on a conversation and still be asleep,” Yoeith said. “Cantor cannot hope to outlast a healer with this ability. Not even Tangoral’s drink mix will help him. In time, Cantor’s body will shut down due to lack of sleep.”

    

    Tangoral threw the old ball up to BoTalen who caught deftly with his right claw. “Tangoral has requested a new ball,” he stated as he dropped a new ball down to Tangoral.

    Once again, the game resumed. Every point became an individual battle in a long drawn out war. The sun came and went before they reached the next long break. Cantor found himself in the lead by four points as he retired to his corner. When the game resumed Tangoral jumped back into the lead quickly. Cantor was hard pressed just to keep even with his brother. Tangoral began to use the playing serve to keep the ball in motion and drain the last of his brother’s reserves of energy. He could feel the lag in Cantor’s timing begin to grow and he was ready to take advantage of it. “The score is one thousand and twenty-three to nine hundred and seventy-seven in favor of the Blue Brotherhood and the other clan leaders. Service is given to Cantor after a long break,” BoTalen announced well after midnight on the second day.

    

    Cantor felt his legs give out as he reached his corner. Water flowed freely over his shell as Adamor and Balator poured bucket after bucket of ice cold water on top of their brother’s shell. Tangoral’s fruit drink no longer helped. Cantor could barely stay awake much less stand up. Zothor felt his son’s pain. He could not remember a game for judgment that had lasted as long as this game. Most games he knew of lasted less than a day. This game was going on the third day. “How do you think Tangoral is holding up?” Zothor asked Banneesheanta.

    “He sleeps on the long breaks. They are both slowing down but Tangoral could go on for another two maybe three days. I fear Cantor will not make it much past morning,” she replied.

    “Maybe Cantor should try sleeping on the long breaks too,” Zothor said.

    “The law forbids that I so advise him. You should know that. They must be equal and they must stand alone,” Banneesheanta said. “This is one of the rules of judgment given by the Prophet. Much depends on our obedience to these rules. I could teach Cantor to rest the way Tangoral is resting. It is part of the healer’s art but that could change the outcome of the game, or at the very least prolong the game.”

    

    Tangoral roused himself at Tragal’s gentle prodding. Doesen hand him his water bottle. Tangoral quickly drained it. “Ok, now you can pour a bucket of water over me,” he said tossing the water bottle back to Doesen. Rownan picked up a bucket of water and poured it over the top of Tangoral’s head. Tangoral inhaled sharply as the water was ice cold. “That will wake a guy up in a hurry. Cantor will not make it to the next long break,” Tangoral told Adreeum.

    “You think so? It seems to me that he is still playing a strong game,” Adreeum replied.

    “I’m amazed that he is still on his legs as it is. He cannot go on much longer. I’m beginning to pull ahead. Now I will finish this,” Tangoral said before turning to walk out onto the court.

    

    Once again, brother faced brother. Back and forth across the court they fought for the possession of the ball and a single point. Tangoral marveled at his brother. He could not understand what kept Cantor on his legs. At the next short break Tangoral was only fifty-two points ahead. Just after the sun rose on the third day Cantor stumbled and hit the floor hard trying to get to the ball. Tangoral hope that his brother would have the good sense to stay down but Cantor got back up on his legs. Tangoral took a moment to look up at Ishihari. It looked to him that she too wished that her son had stayed on the floor. It was an effort but Tangoral began to steadily increase his lead over Cantor. Tangoral was three hundred and seven points ahead at the next long break. Adreeum was only too pleased to point out to Tangoral that Cantor had made it to the long break. It was just after the long break was over that Cantor fell again hitting the floor hard and sliding into the left side wall. This time he did not get up.

    Tangoral let the ball go by as he rushed over to his brother. Cantor did not respond to anything Tangoral tried. His eyes would not focus and seemed a little glassy. “Banneesheanta,” he cried out as he pulled Cantor away from the wall.

    The corner doors swung open on both sides. Banneesheanta rushed out onto the court. The others remained within their respective break rooms. They looked on apprehensively. “He’s unconscious and overheated,” she said. “Somebody get a bucket of water. We have to cool him off.”

    Yoeith grabbed a bucket of water sitting by the door and raced out onto the court. The others quickly followed his example. After several buckets of cold water Banneesheanta was able to get Cantor’s temperature down but he still did not regain consciousness. “Is he going to be alright?” Tangoral asked with tears in his eyes as he stroked the top of his brother’s shell.

    “I don’t know,” Banneesheanta replied.

    “Will Cantor be able to continue to play?” BoTalen asked.

    “If he has not over heated badly and he regains consciousness. He may be able to continue playing sometime tomorrow,” Banneesheanta replied.

    “Then you’re saying that he will not be able to continue playing within the next few time parts,” BoTalen rephrased his question.

    “That is what I’m saying. This brother is in no condition to continue playing even if he were to regain consciousness right now. That is my professional opinion as a medical technician.”

    “Then by the rules of judgment I must award judgment to the Blue Brotherhood and the other clan leaders,” BoTalen said. “The score is one thousand four hundred and twenty-six to one thousand one hundred and four in favor of the blue clan and the other clan leaders. Cantor is unable to continue playing. He was not interfered with nor was he injured by his opponent. By the rules of judgment the game is given to Tangoral as the champion of the Blue Brotherhood and the clan leaders of the other clans.” BoTalen’s voice carried to the highest galley level.

    Jonnaul was on his legs in an instant. “I object. This is a put on by the Blue Brotherhood. This is the only way they can save themselves. Cantor was playing fine but a moment ago. He has been drugged willingly or unwillingly it doesn’t matter which. Either is foul play and an insult to God and the Prophet.”

    “I find this hard to believe,” BoTalen said. “I am exhausted just keeping the score for the most extraordinary game I have ever witnessed. I expect Cantor was dead on his legs for a long time.”

    “This whole game has been a fraud from the very beginning,” Jonnaul said. “Do you think that it was chance that a medical technician stood with Cantor and is now available to declare him unfit to continue playing the game? Never mind that she was banished by her clan and branded a demirep. We must also point out to those here that your cooperation in this matter has been bought and paid for with some new and very expensive windows.”

    BoTalen saw many of the brothers’ eyes turn toward him. “It is true that I was given these new windows but nothing was asked for in exchanged for them nor did I offer anything in return. I have kept the score fairly and I now give the judgment to the Blue Brotherhood as the law demands. Who here not associated with either side of this conflict is willing to say otherwise? Let him meet me here on the floor of this court and then we shall find the truth of the matter.”

    Banneesheanta found herself being drawn into the conflict by Jonnaul’s words. “Jonnaul, you are a fool. The Blue Brotherhood did more than you know to keep Cantor on his legs. Cantor gave everything and more to your cause. Any other brother would have fallen long before this.”

    “In front of witnesses Cantor himself declared that he would lose this game. So I find it hard to believe that he gave all,” Jonnaul replied.

    Yoeith walked to the center of the court and turned to face the gallery. “That is your undoing Jonnaul.”

    “What?”

    “The witnesses.”

    “Talk sense, what do you mean?” Jonnaul asked.

    “Look around you Jonnaul at all who have watched this game,” Yoeith replied. “The Game is our life. Many are well acquainted with the history of many of the games played here. Everyone here has watch more than one game played in normal competition. This game was played by two of the greatest players that the Game has ever known. Can anyone here doubt the extraordinary effort given by both players as champions of their respective causes? If anyone has made a mockery of the Game it is you. You are losing your control over the brotherhood and this is your last desperate effort to force your beliefs upon the brotherhood.”

    “I am the defender of the faith. I must protect the brotherhood from heresies and false prophets such as you.”

    “We stand upon the First Court of God built by the Prophet Morallen himself. Here we seek the justice of God to maintain order in our lives. God is more than capable of defending himself anywhere. How much more so is God able to defend himself than on his own court of justice? You are as much to blame for the war as KaZanna and like KaZanna your way has been blocked at every turn. You have been given every chance to turn back to the true path. Still, you insist on making your own path and then forcing everyone to follow you. Now here you are unwilling to accept the judgment of your God claiming that the Blue Brotherhood has conspired to fixed the game. In truth, you are the only one who has conspired to keep from having judgment go against you. You thought in your mind if you lost you would claim the game was fixed, as you have done. Now that I lay bare your plans to the world, what will you do? Are you so devoid of honor that you will not accept the judgment of your God?” Yoeith stood there daring Jonnaul to say something else. “If there is a false prophet, I am not it,” he added.

    “I see what you are trying to do,” Jonnaul said glaring at Yoeith. “You are turning my accusations around and trying to use them against me. Only a servant of the Evil One would do such a thing. You are indeed a false prophet. The doctrine of your church teaches things contrary to what is written by the prophets. You seek to blind the eyes of God’s faithful children by twisting the meaning of words around. We are to worship God and him only; not this Christ that you would have us believe is the Son of God. God has no need of sons or daughters for that matter.”

    Yoeith held out his old worn copy of the Book of the Prophets of God. “You are caught in the snare of your own belief. You think that this tiny claw full of paper is all that God has given us and there is no more. This is by no means all the words of all the prophets that have ever walked upon this world. Nor does this contain a fraction of God’s works upon this world alone. There are not enough trees on this world, if they were all turned into writing instruments, to write all the words and works of God. Yet, you foolishly think that this one tiny book is all there is. The reality is that you could fill a hundred worlds top to bottom with books and still not have room to store all the books that could be written. God has seen fit in our day and age of greater understanding to reveal more to the world about his true nature, his creations, and his plan of salvation. I do not teach that which is contrary to the words spoken by the prophets, I build upon them. Your real problem is that you’re comfortable with the way you believe and the way you live. You don’t want God to encumber you with more to do. ”

    “The God of the prophets is the Christ, the son of the living God,” Yoeith continued. “I do not teach that any brother should worship the Christ. I teach that they should worship the Father of All in the name of the Christ. Christ is the mediator between God the Father and all life. He is our intercessor with the Father. Christ stands between all of creation and the Father of that creation. He has done so since the beginning of time. All that the Father has he has given to the one he calls his son, and that is the Christ. You see there is more to salvation than you know. This is the essence of my teaching. I do not change the words of the prophets. I simply make plain that which was unclear for those who want to truly understand the words of the prophets.”

    “So you would have us believe, but I know better,” Jonnaul said. “You are the son of an outcast, a demirep. You have lived among the children of the Evil One all your life with your mother. This new book you claim to have gotten from God didn’t even make it to the printer before changes were made. Everything you teach is a cleverly disguised lie. You use vague passages from the words of the prophets to make your point. Then you use this other book, you have made up, in order to bolster your claims of truth. You even plagiarized whole books from the Book of the Prophets of God in order to provide a link from this false religion of yours to that of the true religion of God’s. You made small changes in the text of these books you needed to support your lies to provide the links to this new religion of yours. You would pervert the whole brotherhood and you must be stopped.”

    Adreeum walked over to stand next to Yoeith and looked up at Jonnaul. “All this does not change the fact you have accused my clan of cheating in an effort to escape banishment. Judgment has gone against you and the only way you can avoid your own banishment is to claim foul play. You forget that I hold one of your councilors and he is charged with being responsible for the deaths of more than a hundred brothers and sisters and their children. I can have Pattish brought here for further questioning before the brotherhood assembled here. Even if it was possible to play this game out, and you lost, you would have still claimed foul play. I’m willing to bet that I can prove what I say. I have no doubt Pattish would testify to the truth of my claims.”

    “You say that I am perverting the brotherhood, but what are you doing?” Yoeith asked. “By not accepting the judgment of this court you make a lie of everything we hold dear, this court, God, and his servants the prophets. Your orders brought about the death of Candean who died doing his duty. You sanctioned the burning of the dining hall where more than a hundred of the brotherhood died. You gave your blessings and support to KaZanna and he went out and started a war where many thousands of brothers died. Many more brothers and sisters still suffer because of that war. Now, you stand before the brotherhood and refuse to accept the judgment of God in accordance with His laws. Your whole life has become a lie to support even more lies. How many more must suffer before you see that? Everything has been against you from the beginning. What will it take before you realize that God is not on your side?”

    Jonnaul knew he had lost but his heart was still hardened. He was doomed but he was determined to take his enemies with him. Jonnaul turned to look at his guards and nodded pointing at Yoeith. “If I must leave I will not leave you in my place.” The guards striped their work vests from their shells and began to quickly assemble the guns hidden in the vests. A moment later they began to open fire on those on the court below. They aimed first at Yoeith. Great holes appeared in the top of his shell as the exploding projectiles struck his shell. Tragal and Doesen climbed on top of Cantor and Tangoral to protect them with their bodies. Everyone else ran for cover. Adreeum went down almost as quickly as Yoeith did. Legs were blown from his body and holes appeared in his top shell. Explosions rocked Tragal and Doesen protected by the body armor built into the vests they wore. They felt their legs being blown from their bodies and still they held their position.

    Zothor swung the break room door shut in Tangoral’s corner as the last of those running for their lives made it to the relative safety of the break room and the hallways beyond. Zothor could hear Jonnaul shouting at his guards. “Keep shooting, I want that tree dweller dead.”

    He could hear the steady firing of the guns. Zothor was at a loss for what to do. He assumed that Rownan went to get help but that did not help his children in harm’s way right now. As he waited he prayed that help would come quickly. Then one of his eyes caught sight of the headgear that Tangoral always wore sitting on the only table in the small room. He reached out and picked up the headset. “Hello, I need your help,” he said into the little stem looking thing.

    “Identify yourself,” a tiny little voice replied.

    “I am Zothor, Tangoral is under attack. Two of his Brachyura friends have placed their bodies between Tangoral and his attackers. I do not know how long their body armor will hold out against the heavy guns being used. We have to stop those shooting at my son now before it is too late.”

    “Identification accepted. Message understood. A guardian is being dispatched to your location.”

    “Hurry please.” Zothor wondered if Jonnaul was insane enough to fire on those in the gallery next to him. “There are only six Brachyura with guns. All the other Brachyura here are unarmed. Soldiers may also be in route to help us,” Zothor added. The last thing he wanted was the guardian killing everyone just to protect Tangoral.

    Two of Jonnaul’s guards turned their guns on the clan leaders settled in the opposite gallery at Jonnaul’s direction. Jonnaul was determined to make a clean sweep of all his enemies, but his command came too late. Many of the councilors had already placed their bodies between the guards and their respective clan leaders. Ishihari grabbed Ashorah, pulled her to the floor, and climbed on top of her. Margeeum dropped to the floor behind Ishihari and began to pray that they would go unnoticed in the corner from where they were watching the game.

    “The guardian will arrive momentarily. No soldiers of the blue Brachyura are in route to your location at this time. Many Brachyura are fleeing your location. I have a target lock. Six targets confirmed. Firing,” the little voice from the headset said. There were several bright flashes of red light and then suddenly silence reigned. “Targets destroyed,” the voice said again. “Please ascertain if there are other targets and Tangoral’s status.”

    Zothor swung the door back cautiously and looked out. He looked up at the gallery. There were six large jagged holes in the short retaining wall that separated the gallery from the court and corresponding holes in the front wall of the Court of God. Zothor looked over at the spot where he last saw his sons. The top shells of Doesen and Tragal still looked intact even though they were missing most of their legs. Tangoral was climbing out from underneath his two protectors. “Zothor, give me the headset,” he said. Zothor quickly ran over and handed Tangoral the headset. “Sentinel?” Tangoral asked for a response as he put the headset back on.

    “Online and awaiting your command. Has the war resumed,” Sentinel responded with a query.

    “No, the war has not resumed. Stop the first blue Brachyura soldier you see and find out if there are medical technicians on their way here. Tell the soldier I want this whole complex sealed. No yellow Brachyura may leave this complex until I say so. Give a verbal warning and fire a warning shot. Kill any yellow Brachyura that will not heed your warnings, Tangoral out.”

    “Isn’t that a bit extreme?” Zothor asked.

    “Maybe, but I don’t want Jonnaul getting away if he wasn’t killed by the lasers,” Tangoral replied. Tangoral walked out to the front wall of the court and turned to face the gallery. “Those of the Yellow Brotherhood,” he yelled loud enough for all to hear. “You will remain where you are. Do not try to leave. My giant metal monster is outside the entrance and he will kill any yellow brothers attempting to leave. This is only a temporary inconvenience until soldiers of the Blue Brotherhood can take into custody all who are responsible for the tragedy of this day.” Tangoral promised himself that he would bring Jonnaul to justice as he looked at the bodies of his friends.

    Banneesheanta ran back through the break room and across the court floor where her son now lay in a pool of his own blood. She collapsed on the floor before her son in tears. His broken and torn body was scattered over a large area of the floor. She heard a raspy whisper behind her. She turned an eye toward another equally shattered body. “Zothor, Adreeum still lives,” she said with a certain amount of amazement.

    Zothor ran quickly to his clan leader. “I am here my Clan Leader,” he said as he settled to the floor in front of Adreeum.

    “How many?” Adreeum asked his voice barely audible.

    “I don’t know. Not too many I’m sure,” Zothor replied.

    “Good, now you must lead us into a new age. I envy you. The things you will see and do,” Adreeum whispered. Adreeum tried to take a breath and started coughing. A moment later he lay still.

    

    Tangoral ran back through the break room and around to the stairs leading to the gallery. The stairs were packed with panicking brothers and sisters trying to get out. “My brothers, stop,” he yelled out. All the Brachyura stopped their mad rush and looked at him. “The worst is over. We must now tend to the wounded and the dead. You of the Yellow Brotherhood will not be allowed to leave. If you try you will be killed. Let calm return. Please allow your brothers and sisters to exit in an orderly fashion. Now, I must get to my mother, my mate, and the other clan leaders. There will be soldiers and medical technicians trying to reach them as well. I need you to clear a path up the stairs.” Brothers and sisters stepped out of the way as Tangoral started up the stairs.

    Tangoral could hear the sobbing of sisters crying as he reached the gallery. He could hear Amoonda’s voice giving orders. He tried pushed his way through some of the brothers that blocked the door. “Get out of the doorway,” Dar Noth yelled. “There are brothers out there trying to get into help us.”

    “Mother,” Tangoral called out after getting through the doorway.

    “Tangoral,” he heard the strong reply of Ishihari’s voice. A moment later Tangoral wrapped his arms around his wife. He tried to brush away the tears in her eyes.

    Margeeum looked at him with tears in her eyes. “Is Cantor all right?” she asked hoping for the best.

    “I don’t know Margeeum. He’s alive for now. He wasn’t hit by any of the bullets,” Tangoral replied. “We can only hope for the best.”

    

    Brilliant beams of red light punched holes through the wall and cut all six guards in half. Some of Jonnaul’s councilors that got in the way of the beams of light were dead too. Jonnaul was also in the way, and the beam of light that touched him burned away part of his left claw in an instant. Jonnaul did not stop to think, he just ran. He was afraid he would run into the blue soldiers if he went down, so he ran up the stairs. He knew he could get out at the top of the stairs. There was an opening in a storeroom at the top of the court that opened out onto one of the lower branches. Once out on the branch he kept running. Somehow the tree dweller had defeated him once again.

    

    “Would you mind getting off me?” Doesen asked.

    “Sure, once I grow some legs,” Tragal replied. He extended his retractable eyes. Tears filled Tragal’s eyes when he saw what was left of Yoeith and Adreeum’s bodies scattered about on the floor. He took a good look at his own condition. What was left of his legs lay scattered on the floor along with Doesen’s legs. His right claw hung uselessly at his side.

    “Tell me, how bad is it? I don’t want to look,” Doesen said.

    Tragal looked his friend over. “The good news is that it looks like you have the use of both of your claws.”

    “What about my legs?”

    “They’re kind of tangled up with my legs so it’s hard to tell whose legs are whose. With a lot of spit-sand you could glue them back on if you want.”

    Doesen extended his eyes, but with Tragal on top of him, he could not see much. “Did Yoeith get hit? I can’t see.”

    “You’re better off not seeing,” Tragal said. “Yoeith and Clan Leader Adreeum are dead. With their lives they bought us the time we needed to save Tangoral and Cantor.”

    “Where is Tangoral anyway?”

    “Out helping take care of the wounded I imagine.”

    “What are we, chopped shunail.”

    “He probably left us here in case they start shooting again.”

    “It didn’t occur to him to drag us out of harm’s way?” Doesen asked

    “I guess not,” Tragal replied.

    Blue soldiers poured through the doorways and soon after Tragal and Doesen were gently lifted off Cantor. All three were quickly taken to the nearest medical center. The few remaining councilors of Jonnaul’s were quickly rounded up. Sammatis was killed when he failed to heed the guardian’s warning, and tried to escape anyway. Unfortunately, Jonnaul was not found despite a thorough search of the First Court of God and the surrounding dwellings.

   


Library Index The Game of God Chapter 10     —    FOREWORD