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Religious Themed Stories / The Game of God - Chapter 11

   For truth is the blood of the faithful spilled upon the floor. Their blood shall rise up as a testament before all of the brotherhood and God. Many shall believe the truth that was brought forth from the depths of the earth because of their sacrifice for truth. - The Book of the Words and Works of God, the words given unto BoTalan.

    

    Six councilors of various clans died along with Yoeith and Adreeum. Eighteen other councilors were injured, some badly. The entire brotherhood of the city came out to honor those that died on the Court of God as they were laid to rest. Tangoral stood before the open graves with tears in his eyes. Zothor stood next to his son. He could not find the words to speak to express what he was feeling. With his last dying breath Adreeum named him clan leader. Zothor did not know if he was ready for the responsibility of leading the clan, but he was determined to honor his clan leader’s last request. The other clan leaders stood before the open graves of their respective councilors that died to protect them.

    It tore Tangoral’s heart out to see all those affected by the deaths of these eight brothers. His heart went out to the mates of those brothers. He watched as one of the sisters collapsed in tears next to the grave of her mate. He tried to find the words that would lay these brothers to rest. “We shall not forget the sacrifice these brothers made for their clan, for their faith, and for the cause of peace,” Tangoral said wiping tears from his own eyes. “This is the second time I have had to bury a dear friend and a brother. Why is it that the blood of our very best must be shed before we can begin to see the light?” The words he wanted to say seemed to get stuck in his throat. Tangoral collapsed to his knees unable to stop the tears pouring from his eyes. Ishihari walked over and wrapped her claws around him. Tangoral buried his head in his arms on top of her shell. Ishihari found herself wishing that it would rain as her tears ran down her eye poles.

    Dar Noth stood next to Banneesheanta. His claw rested on top of her shell. He felt her pain as well as his own. No one seemed to be able to speak the words that would lay these brothers to rest. KarEena stood there with tears in her eyes for the brother that had given his life for her. She barely knew the brother that she had called as her councilor. He had pushed her down and climbed on top of her. She had felt the impacts as the bullets exploded against his shell. She had no words. Through her tears she saw a red brother walking toward them. She remembered this brother. He stopped before the gathered Red Brotherhood and in front of the other clan leaders.

    The red brother opened the book that he held in his claw and began to read. “I have labored long in Thy fields. I grow tired and I long for Thy call to come home. I long to be embraced by Your loving arms. I long to sleep in the comforts of my home above.” The red brother turned a few pages before he continued to read. “Let me die in Thy cause as a soldier in Thy army. Let me stand against the armies of the Evil One. Let me stand in Thy light forever. Let me sing of Thy glory. Let me stand as a witness before my brothers. Let me declare Thy words with a voice of thunder. Let me show the world the power of Thy hands. Let me be ever ready to serve Thee and my brothers. Let me see my salvation from sin. Let me find my rest in Thee.” Again the brother turned the pages of the book. “Then said the Lord of all creation, I go to prepare a place for all those who are faithful to God in my name. A place of rest for my saints, those that are worthy to be called saints. This life is but a moment and then you are called back home where I shall wait to greet you.

    The red brother closed the book slowly. He looked up into the trees. “Oh great Father in Heaven, receive these Thy servants into Thy tender care. Wrap Thy arms around our brothers and kiss them for us. May our fallen brothers forever be in our hearts that we may never forget the cause for which they gave their lives. May we now go forth and finish the work that they have begun. May the sorrow in our hearts be lifted. May we rejoice in Thy salvation looking forward to the time when we will see our loved ones once more. Keep the resting place of the bodies of Thy servants safe until the happy day when You will call them to come forth. Thy work they have begun. Thy salvation they have brought forth. Now give us the strength to carry it to the ends of the world. They have given their lives in Thy service. May we follow their example. This we ask of Thee in the name of thy Son. May it ever be so.”

    An entire city gave their hearts to God and they raised voices in agreement. “May it ever be so,” the brotherhood repeated.

    “So it shall ever be,” the red brother said to finish the prayer. He turned to face the clan leaders. “Will you continue on the path you started down or will you begin to fight among yourselves again?” he asked. He looked at Ishihari. “Even now Heaven begins to cry with you.” He turned and started to walk away. He stopped in front of KarEena and smiled. “BoTalan,” he whispered as it began to rain. BoTalan walked off and vanished into the pouring rain.

    

~~~

    

    Ishihari sat next to her son. Five days had past since the game and Cantor still had not regained consciousness. Margeeum was asleep in the corner of the room. Tangoral sat with his back to the wall next to his brother opposite Ishihari. His eyes were closed and Ashorah was using his lap for a pillow. They all waited and hoped Cantor would wake up.

    Tangoral stroked his wife’s hair in the early morning as she lay sleeping. The rest of the watchers were asleep. Zothor had joined them during the night and was asleep next to his mate. Cantor opened his eyes slowly one by one. He looked about at his sleeping family and then focused all his eyes on Tangoral. He could see the worry in his brother’s eyes. “If I ever play you again, I’m going to need longer breaks,” he said weakly.

    Tangoral’s head snapped up. “You want a rematch?” he asked smiling. Joy filled his heart to see his brother awake.

    “Not right this moment, but yeah, I do,” Cantor replied. “I’d like to play you when not so much is on the line. Playing for judgment just isn’t any fun.”

    “Then you’re talking an exhibition game.”

    “I guess I am.”

    Zothor thought he heard voices. He opened one of his eyes. He couldn’t believe his ears. His sons were talking about playing each other again. He nudged his mate. A moment later conversation was not possible. Cantor was nearly crushed by his parents and Margeeum as they all tried to embrace him at once caressing his shell with their claws. Many tears of joy were shed all around.

    Banneesheanta heard the commotion and came down the hall to see what was going on. Even with a sad heart of her own she found joy in the fact that Cantor had survived his ordeal. “I am glad to see you awake Cantor,” she said. “But, I must remind everyone that Cantor still needs his rest and he needs to avoid excitement until he has gained some strength back.”

    “You’re right,” Ishihari said wiping the tears from her eyes. “We just lost our shells in our joy in seeing our son return to the land of the living.”

    Tangoral stood up and helped Ashorah to her feet. “I’ve sat around watching him sleep long enough. I have unfinished business to attend to,” he said.

    “What business?” Zothor asked.

    “Jonnaul.”

    “What about Jonnaul?” Cantor asked.

    “Nothing you need to worry about now,” Zothor replied. “You have done your duty. You just need to rest now and I’ll explain everything later when you’re stronger.”

    Banneesheanta chased everyone out of Cantor’s room. Tangoral knelt down next to her as he was leaving. “Our justice or theirs?” he asked her in a whisper.

    “Ours,” she whispered back. Tangoral nodded as he stood back up.

    Ishihari stoked the shell of her son one more time before she got up and left. Zothor followed her out. Margeeum was the last to leave and she left Cantor with a good reason for getting stronger quickly.

    

~~~

    

    Zothor wanted Tangoral to bring Jonnaul back alive but Tangoral was not inclined to do so and told his adopted father as much. Zothor knew when Tangoral set his mind to do something nothing would stop his son. So, he just accepted the fact that Jonnaul would not be coming back to stand trial. When he so informed the other clan leaders he found he didn’t have a lot of supporters for his position. KarEena expressed their feelings on the matter the best. “There is a lot to be said for the tree dwellers’ system of justice. At least this way we know that justice will find Jonnaul and that he will not escape the punishment he richly deserves. I know that Tangoral will make sure that he receives an appropriate punishment for his crimes,” she said. The rest of the clan leaders echoed much the same sentiment. Zothor wanted to deal with Jonnaul within their system of justice but he had to admit to himself that KarEena was correct. This way Jonnaul would not escape punishment.

    

    Sheylmasa and Neylosso followed Tangoral up the stairs. Tangoral in turn was following a little green monster. They spent three days of searching the Court of God for clues to how Jonnaul escaped. It was Tallon’s nose that found the secret passage he was now racing up. Once Tangoral stood upon the branch at the end of the stairs it was an easy thing for him to pick up Jonnaul’s trail from there. Four very determined hunters began to track a quarry that had an eight day head start. Jonnaul had not run far before he slowed to a walk. However, those that followed him did not slow down. They followed his trail at a run from morning until nightfall day after day.

    

    Jonnaul was tired, hungry, and lost. He wasn’t totally lost. He was on the edge of the Great Swamp, he knew that much. He kept glancing back over his shell from time to time. He half expected to see blue soldiers at any time. He tried to hide his trail. He could only hope that he wouldn’t get caught. He even camouflaged his shell the best he could with one working claw. When he heard the sounds of something ahead he hid himself along the trail and waited to see what new terror might want to eat him.

    

    Danotock walked with his sister as she went out to gather berries. Breelaya was grateful for her brother’s presence in these troubled times. It was true the war was over and all the people were returning to their homes. It was said that there was peace with the hard-shells. Still, it did not pay to take chances and Danotock was one of the tribe’s best hunters. She felt safe with her brother.

    Breelaya had already gathered many berries. So close to the home Danotock was not expecting trouble which may explain why he was so easily surprised. One moment he was walking along talking with his sister. The next something hit him hard in the face. He heard his sister scream and then his world went black as something hit him again.

    

    Jonnaul watched the two tree dwellers slowly coming toward him. A plan quickly formulated itself in his deranged mind. He would kill the male tree dweller and take the female captive. He would use her to find food. When the tree dwellers got close enough it was a simple matter to hit the male tree dweller a couple of times with his bad claw and trip up and catch the female with the other. Jonnaul had to hit her to keep her silent. He only hoped he hadn’t killed her as he stuck her hands together before he picked her up and carried her off.

    

    Tangoral was the first to see the body lying on the branch. He could see the signs of a brief struggle as he knelt beside the body to check for signs of life. “What happened?” Neylosso asked.

    “Jonnaul attacked two of our people here,” Tangoral replied. “He left this one for dead and the other one he carried off. The one that was carried off was a female out picking berries.”

    “How do you know that?” Sheylmasa asked.

    “If you look you will see some berries crushed into the branch. Jonnaul picked up some of the berries that spilled out of her basket. Then he picked her up. You can see where his tracks suddenly got heavier. He’s turned toward the Great Swamp. That was a day or so ago,” Tangoral replied.

    “Good, we should be able to catch up with him in another day,” Neylosso said.

    “Jonnaul will have to wait. This man still lives,” Tangoral said. “I lack the necessary herbs to help him. We’ll go back to the red clan dwelling we saw earlier today. We should be able to get the help this man needs there.”

    

    AcEeack was too old for these kinds of problems. Four tree dwellers and a baby stalker were seen headed for the dwelling. He was aware of his clan leader’s command concerning these creatures. They were quite near the dwelling when they were spotted. That in itself was distressing. He had no love for these creatures. It seemed that the whole world was still turned upside down. News of the game for judgment and the Church’s challenge against all the clan leaders and the blue clan had just reached the dwelling. Some brother with a strange name successfully defended the clan’s honor. That was at least a bit of good news, he thought as he watched the tree dwellers coming toward the dwelling entrance where he stood waiting. As they got closer he realized that they were carrying one of the members of their party.

    “Greetings, I am Tangoral, I hate to impose on you but one of my people was hurt. You were the closest dwelling with the supplies I need to heal him.” Tangoral guessed the red brother he was addressing was the clan leader of the dwelling.

    AcEeack was taken back when the tree dweller spoke. He regained his composure quickly. “You will find no help here tree dweller. Only the command of my clan leader keeps me from having you torn into little pieces. Now go away,” AcEeack suddenly had the feeling he should know this tree dweller. It was a strange sensation.

    “I can’t do that. My friend may die without treatment for his injuries. I must remind you that I have requested your aid. By law you are required to give me the aid I have asked for,” Tangoral said.

    “You are not a brother. I don’t have to give you anything.”

    “The law says nothing about rendering aid to brothers only. The Prophet’s words are quite clear. You are to render aid to the stranger who asks for your help. You can’t get any stranger than us. I do not ask for food. I am only asking to use the services of your medical center and a few medical supplies that I need to save the life of my friend.”

    “That is a fair argument but that will not change my mind. We of the red clan have no love of tree dwellers,” AcEeack said.

    Tangoral took a deep breath as he studied the dwelling clan leader. “I give you two choices. You can show us a little kindness now and reap great rewards later. But, if you send me away I will come back, and I will come back with Lady KarEena. She spent a great deal of time with tree dwellers during the war. There are even a few tree dwellers she calls friend. Believe me, she will show up on your doorstep with a small army of blue soldiers. Not long after that this dwelling will need a new clan leader.”

    This was something AcEeack had not considered. This tree dweller spoke the red clan dialect perfectly. He knew the law and if he knew the Lady KarEena… AcEeack did not want to think about that possibility. “Ok, you win. I’ll have a brother take you down to the medical center,” he said.

    

    Danotock felt something cool on his face as life returned to his body. “Lie still” he heard someone say.

    “Breelaya, what happened to Breelaya?”

    “You were the only one we found. Jonnaul carried her off along with whatever berries she had.”

    “Who is Jonnaul and why would he take my sister,” Danotock asked.

    “He is a very bad hard-shell. We were hunting him when we came across you,” was the reply.

    Danotock heard a strange noise like that the hard-shells make. Fear suddenly gripped him. He pulled the cloth from his face and opened his eyes. His worse fears were realized. The first thing he saw was a red hard-shell. He tried to get away but he nearly blacked out again when he tried to sit up. He felt hands pushing him back into the sand firmly but gently. He opened his eyes again and saw the face of one of the People for a brief instant before his face was covered with a cold damp cloth again.

    “We brought you to the hard-shells’ home because it was closer and you were in need of immediate attention. I am Tangoral and I am a healer. KarEena a dear friend of mind, and leader of the red hard-shells, she has commanded her people that no tree dweller is to be harmed. You are quite safe here, relax. Hard-shells don’t think of us as food, as we do of them, so your sister is safe if she is alive. Jonnaul may have wanted some kind of guide. That is the only reason that I can think of why he would take her in the first place.”

    Danotock pulled the cloth from his face again. This time he saw the healer and standing next to him was a small stalker. “RREEEND,” it growled softly.

    “Yes, he is a friend,” Tangoral said.

    This must be a very powerful healer Danotock reasoned. No other healer that he had ever heard of had a stalker for a pet. If this healer was hunting the hard-shell that took his sister then there was hope for his sister if she still lived. “Why do you hunt this hard-shell?” he asked.

    “To redeem the honor of the dead that cry out for his blood,” Tangoral replied.

    Now Danotock was satisfied that his sister would be rescued or her honor returned to her if she were dead. He relaxed a little even though he was surrounded by red hard-shells. “Take me with you.”

    “I anticipated your request,” Tangoral said. “You will rest now. We will leave tomorrow morning.”

    

    To say that his greeting at this dwelling was less than polite would be an understatement. Still, Tangoral went out of his way to be nice to all the brothers and sisters that he met. He, Neylosso, and Sheylmasa even went out to see how many shunails they could round up. There were a lot of startled brothers and sisters when they returned with nearly four hundred shunails following them. For their much appreciated help the dwelling clan leader swallowed his pride and invited the tree dwellers to his dwelling for dinner.

    AcEeack was unsure how to proceed. It was true that he was not overjoyed to have four tree dwellers on his doorstep asking for help for an injured member of their party. He would have just as soon have killed them but he was loyal to the clan. The command of his clan leader was very clear; no tree dweller was to be harmed. He obeyed, even if he questioned the wisdom of that command. Now, here he sat dining with them and he was beginning to see a little of what his clan leader must have seen when she gave the command concerning the tree dwellers. “I find that I must apologize for our earlier behavior. Perhaps, if it had not been for the war things might have been different. You have shown us more kindness than we have shown you I am ashamed to say. I thank you for your efforts despite our obvious animosity toward you. I would not have thought it possible to recover any of our herds. I see now that my clan leader knows things that I do not.”

    “Lady KarEena has many friends among the tree dwellers of which I am just one,” Tangoral said.

    “I fear that there are still ill feelings over the loss of two of our dwelling to the raids by tree dwellers,” AcEeack said. “Still, that does not excuse our actions.”

    “KaZanna brought that upon you. There were special trained soldiers readily available to take care of the tree dweller that led the attacks on those dwellings. If KaZanna had asked for our help early on the brothers and sisters of those dwellings might still be alive today.”

    “The tree dwellers have soldiers?” AcEeack asked.

    “Tree dwellers don’t fight in the same way as you do. They have no soldiers,” Tangoral replied. “The soldiers belonged to the Blue Brotherhood.”

    “I don’t understand. It sounded like the soldiers were yours.”

    “In a sense they are. I trained them. It might help your understanding to know that my adopted father is now the new clan leader of the Blue Brotherhood. By adoption, I am a brother of the blue clan.”

    Everything suddenly became clear to AcEeack. He had wondered why the tree dweller’s name seemed so familiar to him. This was almost the worst possible person to insult. If there was a tree root nearby he would have crawled under it. This was the commander of the blue clan’s armies that defeated the armies of his own clan. News of the game for judgment that reached the dwelling just a few days earlier brought the name of this tree dweller to his attention again. At the time it was just a weird sounding name. Only then it was name of the champion of the Blue Brotherhood. AcEeack folded his claws back over his shell in total submission. “I beg you to forgive an old fool. I had no idea who you were. I had no idea that it was a tree dweller that successfully championed the honor of our clan leader. I have been a fool and a poor host for which there can be no excuse.” The few brothers and sisters that had been invited to dinner were equally shocked by this revelation. They were stunned to find out that the tree dweller they had all been so rude to was their clan champion. “Why didn’t you tell us who you were when you arrived?” AcEeack asked.

    “Would you have believed me?” Tangoral asked in reply.

    “No, probably not,” AcEeack said. “I should have known better though. You spoke our language too well. You were well versed in our laws and customs. I am a blind old fool. I had all the parts before me and I just couldn’t put them together.”

    “Why did the Lady KarEena pick you to represent our clan?” a sister asked.

    “She didn’t,” Tangoral replied. “Clan Leader Adreeum chose me to face the All Clan Champion in judgment. All the clan leaders supported his choice though. We played for two and half days straight before judgment was given to me. I am told that was the longest game ever played.”

    “The word we got from the city said Jonnaul tried to kill the clan leaders. Is that true?” AcEeack asked.

    “It’s true. Jonnaul refused to accept judgment and ordered his guards to open fire on the players and the clan leaders,” Tangoral replied. “Every clan lost at least one councilor with many more badly injured. Clan Leader Adreeum was killed. He named my adopted father as clan leader of the Blue Brotherhood before he died. I had a friend killed and two more of my dearest friends were badly injured protecting me and my brother. Jonnaul escaped capture after the game but he will not escape justice.” Tangoral stroked the small stalker next to him.

    AcEeack asked himself why someone so important would show up at his dwelling. He answered himself almost at the same time. “You’re tracking Jonnaul,” he said.

    “Yes, I am. Jonnaul attacked the injured tree dweller we brought here and he kidnapped his sister. Coming here is only a small delay.”

    “Why would Jonnaul kidnap a tree dweller?” a brother asked.

    “He’s headed into the Great Swamp and he’s hungry. He needs a guide and someone who can find him food,” Tangoral replied. “He doesn’t realize the tree dwellers are as afraid of the Great Swamp as you are. She will be next to useless as a guide but she will be able to find food for him.”

    “What about you? Aren’t you afraid of the monsters in the Great Swamp?” a sister asked.

    Tangoral laughed. “My dear sister my tribe lives in the Great Swamp. We are well aware of the dangers there.”

    “How did KarEena become so friendly with tree dwellers?” another sister asked.

    “That is a question not easily answered,” Tangoral replied. “She became friends with my sister before the war. KaZanna took his mate with him when he started the war. Because she was my sister’s friend I had her captured at the beginning of the war. I wanted to spare her the suffering that we inflected on your armies. She was sent to live in one of the hives where I have some influence.”

    “There is a rumor that she had her mate fed to the tree dwellers,” a brother at the end of the table said. “Is it true?”

    Tangoral’s eyes went stone cold as he fixed them on the brother. He smiled a very wicked toothy smile. “In truth, I know the answer to your question, and the story behind the answer. To answer your question as you stated it. She did not feed KaZanna to us, but if I were you, I would not want to make your clan leader really mad. If you did, you might find out what she did with her mate and believe me you don’t ever want to know that.”

    “Some questions are best left unanswered,” AcEeack said. He could see that the tree dweller would not answer that kind of a question. Still, AcEeack could see that there might be some truth to the rumor. He began to think about what might have happen to him if he had turned this tree dweller away.

    “I have a long day ahead of me tomorrow,” Tangoral said as he stood up. Neylosso and Sheylmasa stood up with their healer. “Dinner was wonderful. Thank the cook for me”

    “I will see you to your rooms,” AcEeack said getting to his legs.

    “After you have found Jonnaul would you come back and teach my herders how to recover our herds as you did? It might still be possible to recover even more of our herds if we knew how you got our animals to follow you the way they did,” AcEeack asked as they walked down the hallway.

    “Lady KarEena has already asked for our help. I would think that in the next couple of seven-days or so you will be visited by some of our master herders. They will train your herders and help you to recover as many animals as possible. I myself must attend to other things,” Tangoral replied. “Some of those herders we are sending out could be tree dwellers. So it would be helpful if you don’t try to turn them away.”

    “You aren’t sending them out without brothers with them are you?”

    “Probably not.”

    “Then there shouldn’t be a problem,” AcEeack said.

    “Not unless your herders are too proud to learn from a tree dweller,” Tangoral said.

    “Will we see you again?”

    “Sometime in the future I’m sure. The fullness of the gospel must be preached to the world and unless I am mistaken you are still a part of this world.”

    “There’s a new prophet?” AcEeack said and then he thought about what he said. “Of course there must be a new prophet if you are hunting down Jonnaul to being him to justice.”

    “There were twelve prophets. Two of them died,” Tangoral replied. “Their blood was spilled on the First Court of God when Jonnaul gave the order that had them killed.”

    “Who’s the prophet that leads the Church now?” AcEeack asked.

    “My brother, would you believe me if I told you,” Tangoral said smiling as he stopped in front of the guestroom door. “Now I bid you goodnight.”

    Understanding hit AcEeack like a falling tree. He didn’t want to believe it but he knew it was true. Every part of his body screamed the truth to him. He walked away shaking. He had insulted the commander of the most powerful army in the world. He had insulted the clan champion that had successfully defended the honor of his clan leader and the clan. Now, he realized that he had insulted a prophet of God too. Could this day get any worse, he wondered.

    

    Danotock’s head still hurt, but he could move about. Tangoral came and got him well before the sun rose. He never realized the power of the healer he followed until he walked out of the hard-shell home. The entire dwelling clan, made up of mostly sisters, stood before the entrance of the dwelling. When they saw Tangoral they all sank to the ground covering their shells with their claws in total submission. Tangoral had hoped to avoid this kind of thing by leaving early but his heart went out to them.

    “My brothers and sisters, please rise. There is only one to whom you should bow down to in total submission and that is God the Father,” Tangoral said. “Please stand and put smiles upon your faces. I harbor no ill will toward you. God looks down upon you and smiles for He sees the change in your hearts. My heart desires to stay among you and preach the words of God to you, but I cannot. When I return to my dwelling I will send someone unto you to preach the words we have been given. In that way you will know the fullness of the gospel of your God as it has been revealed to us. Now rise and wipe away your tears.”

    The clan rose to their legs as one great body. They cleared a path as Tangoral and his friends began to walk towards them. Tangoral was almost through the crowd when he saw a young mother holding her child in her claws. He could feel something was wrong. He turned into the crowd and stopped in front of her. “What is wrong with your child?” he asked.

    “He was born blind,” the sister replied with sadness in her eyes.

    “Give him to me,” Tangoral said as he reached out and took the small child from her. Tangoral stood up with the child. “Neylosso, Sheylmasa place your hands upon his shell.” Neylosso and Sheylmasa did as they were bid placing their hands on the hard-shell child.

    Tangoral looked up into the trees. “Oh great Father of all creation, by the power which you have bestowed upon us I ask you to look down upon this child with mercy. I ask that Thou would restore this child’s sight. This I ask in the name of thy Son, the Christ. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.” Tangoral set the child on the ground. The child blinked his eyes a couple of times and then close them tight. “Open just one eye to begin with,” Tangoral told him.

    The child opened just one eye and looked up at Tangoral. “Are you a tree dweller?” he asked.

    “Yes, I am one of the People of the Trees.”

    “You look funny.”

    “I suppose I do,” Tangoral said smiling. “Now, if you will open your other eyes slowly one at a time you will be able to see everything around you.” The child did as he was told. Tangoral turned the child around to face his mother. “This is your mother,” he said pointing.

    “Mommy, I can see. I can really see.”

    Tears poured down the eye poles of the young sister as she scoped up her child. She looked up at Tangoral. “Thank you,” she said.

    “Thank God, I did nothing,” Tangoral replied.

    The clan would have followed Tangoral anywhere after they witnessed the healing of the child. To avoid having to walk with them to the edge of the clan’s lands he and the others ran up the nearest tree and disappeared into the forest.

    

    Danotock jogged along side Tangoral on their way back to where they last saw a sign of Jonnaul’s passing. His head pounded with each step. “I am Danotock. You must be the greatest healer in the world to make the hard-shells obey you,” he said.

    Tangoral looked over at him and then slowed to a fast walk. “I am Tangoral and the hard-shells don’t really obey me. They are required to obey laws given to them by God. One of those laws required them to help strangers in need.”

    “I have heard of you. You are the healer that stopped the hard-shells from killing us.”

    “I did not do that alone. That was the efforts of many, hard-shells and people.”

    “Still, you must be a great healer or the hard-shells would not have bowed down before you,” Danotock said.

    “Here again you misunderstand their actions. That was their way of apologizing for being rude,” Tangoral replied.

    “Why would the hard-shells need to apologize to you,” Danotock asked. “What did they do that was so rude?”

    “Within the social order of the Brachyura, or hard-shells as we call them, I am a leader and an honored brother. Because they didn’t know me personally it took the hard-shells of that dwelling a little while before they would accept me as one of their own. Once they realized their mistake they had to apologize for treating us so badly.” Tangoral did not think that Danotock understood and he was not inclined to explain further. He started jogging again to forestall any more questions.

    

    Jonnaul pulled the female tree dweller along with the vine he had glued around her neck. He had glued her hands in front of her and hobbled her legs so she couldn’t run away. Jonnaul had to drag her into the Great Swamp. She did not seem to want to go into the Great Swamp willingly. He made her go without eating for a whole day. After that he ate what she ate. Every now and then he would pull on her leash and make her stumble just for fun.

    Breelaya would have killed the hard-shell if she could. She was hungry, thirsty, and tired. Her hands and legs were covered with cuts and scraps from numerous times she had fallen from the occasional tug on the vine around her neck. She thought how easily the hard-shell had killed her brother and captured her. She was afraid of this hard-shell and wondered what he planed to do with her once he got where he was going.

    

    “This hard-shell must be crazy. No one in their right mind would go into the Great Swamp,” Danotock said as he knelt to get a better look at the hard-shell’s tracks. “Are all hard-shells this easy to follow?”

    “Most of them are,” Neylosso replied.

    “There are some that would be most difficult to follow,” Sheylmasa said. “This one is not comfortable in high places. He uses the little claws on his legs to hang onto the branch with every step he takes. Frothay would be nearly impossible to track through the trees.”

    “Who is Frothay?” Danotock asked as he stood back up.

    “He is a hard-shell with a heart and skill equal to any of the People,” Sheylmasa replied.

    “He was one of the blue hard-shells that Tangoral trained to hunt down Kittanota,” Neylosso said. “He’s a good hard-shell, you’d like him.”

    “I don’t think that I ever could like a hard-shell,” Danotock said.

    Tangoral was watching something moving on the ground. His mind was somewhere else as he listened to the conversation. “Do you remember the healer that came and warned your tribe in time to escape the red hard-shell army?” he asked.

    “I remember that she came into our home surrounded by hard-shells that scared my tribe half to death,” Danotock replied.

    “Do you remember the hard-shells?”

    “Yeah, they all spoke our language and seemed nice enough.”

    “Did any of those hard-shells stand out in your mind?” Tangoral asked.

    “There was one. He always stood near the healer. He was probably the friendliest and the most helpful of any of the hard-shells that was with the healer,” Danotock replied. “There was something about him, something special. He felt like a healer, or a tribal leader. It’s hard to explain.”

    “That was Frothay,” Tangoral said. “He was in charge, not the healer as you may have thought.” Tangoral walked along the branch looking down at the ground.

    “How can that be? She gave the orders and he and all the other hard-shells did what she told them to.”

    “All for the sake of appearances for the benefit of the People. Believe me; all who fought with Frothay knew he was the one in charge.”

    “What happened to the healer?” Danotock asked.

    Tangoral turned and faced Danotock. “Soolayinna was killed during the war. For the loss of his best friend Frothay redeemed her honor a thousand times over.” Tangoral turned back to study something on the ground again.

    “I don’t understand how anyone could become that friendly with a hard-shell,” Danotock said.

    “They grow on you,” Sheylmasa said. “Spend a cycle of the sun working with them every day and before you know it you got hard-shells for friends. Soolayinna and Frothay were more than good friends. The only family Tangoral has are hard-shells. So you see it is possible to become good friends with them. Even, Neylosso learned to like hard-shells.”

    “I wouldn’t say I learned to like hard-shells,” Neylosso said.

    “You certainly followed Yoeith around a lot,” Sheylmasa accused.

    “That’s not the same. He wasn’t one of them.”

    “He still had a shell and you must admit that Tangoral’s adopted parents are quite likeable. What about Margeeum and Cantor? Then there is Banneesheanta and Dar Noth and…”

    “Alright, I give up, you’re right. I’ll give you that there are some hard-shells worth having as friends.”

    “You see Danotock, even when you think that you don’t have many hard-shell friends. If you start to count them you begin to find that almost every hard-shell you meet could be a friend,” Sheylmasa said.

    “Then there are hard-shells like Jonnaul,” Neylosso said.

    Sheylmasa walked over to stand next to Tangoral. “What do you find so interesting down there?” he asked.

    “Jonnaul’s death,” Tangoral replied.

    “I don’t see anything,” Sheylmasa said.

    Danotock and Neylosso came over to see if they could see what Tangoral was talking about. “I don’t see anything either,” Danotock said.

    “Don’t you see the stalker?” he asked pointing at the creature.

    “Yeah, so,” Neylosso said.

    “It’s an unaccompanied young female and we are going to capture her.”

    The others all looked at Tangoral as if he just lost his mind. “You’re crazy,” Danotock voice what the others thought.

    “Maybe, but she will take a long, long, time to eat Jonnaul,” Tangoral said.

    

    Hunting wasn’t very good for the young stalker. She was forced to forage for bugs and grubs and other small animals to fill her empty stomach. As she tore apart another rotting log something hit her in the back. Whatever it was exploded enveloping her in a tiny white cloud. It didn’t hurt but it did startle her enough to make her stand up and look around. A moment later two more things fell from the trees. One hit her in the head and covered her in a fine white power. The other exploded at her feet and added to the small cloud that surrounded her. Whatever it was that was falling from the trees didn’t hurt so she was not concerned. She turned back and ripped another chunk from the log hoping to dislodge a bug or something.

    

    Tangoral and the others raced down the tree and over to where the young female stalker lay draped over the log sleeping. They all had several coils of vines over their shoulders. “Tie her up real good,” Tangoral said as they reached the sleeping stalker.

    “How long will she stay asleep?” Sheylmasa asked.

    “A good part of the day,” Tangoral replied. “Long enough for us to get her tied up and carry her up into the tree, I hope.”

    “What if she wakes up before we get her up into the tree?” Danotock asked.

    “That will make it a little harder to untie her later.”

    “You plan to untie her?”

    “Well, she can’t eat Jonnaul if she’s tied up, can she?”

    “I’m in league with crazy people,” Danotock said as he lashed a pair of arms together.

    Tangoral smiled. If Danotock knew what he had in mind he would have certainly run away. Quickly they finished their work. Carrying the stalker back up the tree was not easy. It took a half a day but the four of them managed it.

    Neylosso collapsed on the branch still breathing hard after they dropped their load. “Now what?” he asked.

    “We wait,” Tangoral replied.

    

    The young stalker woke up slowly as the sleeping powder wore off. She began to panic almost immediately. She laid face down on a branch high in the tree. Her arms were all tied behind her back and she was staked down to the branch. She did the only thing she could do, she screamed for help. Night came and went but no help was forthcoming. She was reduced to whimpering by morning. By midday she was parched. The fear in her was rekindled when she saw some of her mortal enemies walking toward her.

    

    By midday Tangoral figured the stalker was ready. He walked down the branch toward her. Neylosso, Sheylmasa, and Danotock would only get so close. They wanted to be able to run if things went wrong. Tangoral stopped in front of the stalker and stooped down so he could look into her eyes. He saw her fear. He tried to project a feeling of love and concern for the creature before him. He took his water bottle from his shoulder, made a great show of drinking it, and then he offered the stalker some water. The stalker lapped at the water as it ran past her mouth.

    The wind shifted and the stalker caught the scent of the creature before her. It was that of an enemy but it was mixed with the familiar scent of her own kind. She was confused by it. Her fears eased as she was given water to drink.

    Tangoral could see the fear fading from her eyes. “Tallon,” he called out. A small green monster bounded past Neylosso and the others to stop at the side of his master. Tangoral reached out and stroked Tallon’s shoulders.

    The young stalker was now very confused. One of her own kind stood next to an enemy. She growled at him. He growled back.

    Tangoral could see all the fear fade from her eyes. He stood up slowly and began cutting the vines that held the stalker to the branch. He cut her arms free next and then walked back around to stand in front of her. The stalker sat up rubbing her wrists trying to get blood flowing back into her hands. Tangoral took some dried meat rolls from one of his pouches and held them out to the stalker. She reached out slowly and gently took the food that was being offered to her. She quickly stuffed the much needed food into her mouth. Tangoral reached back into his pouch for more meat rolls.

    

    Danotock thought he had seen it all as he watched from across the fire as Tangoral stroked the stalker’s head. If a couple of days earlier someone had told him that a stalker could be tamed he’d have told them that they were insane. Now, now he was amazed how easy it was. “Are all stalkers that easy to tame?” he asked.

    “I don’t know,” Tangoral replied. “I suspect that the young stalkers are. It could also be limited to just young female stalkers. Molaythea wasn’t much older than this stalker when I saved her and Tallon. This is basically a little more elaborate experiment along the same line. I just happened on Molaythea. This time I created the whole situation.”

    “How did you get her to follow us?”

    “Stalkers love an easy meal. Keep them fed and they’ll follow you anywhere. Molaythea was around hard-shells most of the time and not once did she attempt to harm any of them.”

    “I seem to remember that she was killed by a hard-shell she attacked,” Sheylmasa said.

    “That was during the war, she died protecting my mother and other hard-shells,” Tangoral replied sharply.

    “I only wanted to point out that they can be provoked. My daughter was there when she died and I helped bury Molaythea,” Sheylmasa said by way of an apology. “Danotock, Molaythea was like a big child. The hard-shell children, as well as our own, would play with her. Still, she would have killed anyone on command.”

    “So you plan to have this stalker kill the hard-shell on your command,” Danotock said.

    “That’s the plan,” Tangoral replied. “I’m hoping she takes her time and plays with her food for a while before eating it.”

    

    Jonnaul wondered why he kept the female tree dweller around. She wasn’t that useful anymore. He could identify most of the fruits, berries, and plants that were eatable without her help. He was no longer amused when he tugged on the leash to try and make her fall over. At least the tree dweller was keeping up with him now. He thought about killing her. Dead she’d be of no use to him at all, but alive she might still be useful in some way.

    He had long since lost track of time. The days became an endless stream that stretched into an uncertain future. He still feared for his life, but he was no longer as afraid as he was. A lot of time had past. Jonnaul figured that the Blue Brotherhood should have caught up with him by now but he still was not taking any chances. The forest was as endless and uncertain as his future. He was half way across a clearing in the endless tangle of branches when an unarmed tree dweller dropped down on the branch in front of him at the edge of the clearing. Jonnaul glanced back the way he came. He breathed a sigh of relief, the trail was still clear.

    “Hello, Jonnaul,” the tree dweller said.

    Jonnaul’s heart jumped up into his throat. “Tree Dweller.”

    “Even now you still won’t use my name,” Tangoral said.

    “Where are the others?” Jonnaul asked. He expected to be taken prisoner and returned to stand trial.

    “What others?” Tangoral asked in reply.

    “The soldiers of the Blue Brotherhood, I know they don’t let you run around without a bodyguard. So where are they?”

    “You’re deep in the Great Swamp. This is my home. I don’t need bodyguards here.”

    “You’re alone. I don’t believe it,” Jonnaul said.

    “Believe what you will. For now we are alone,” Tangoral replied. “There was a request that I return you so you could stand trial but in the end they accepted the justice system of my kind.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “When a tree dweller commits a crime. The healer of the tribe punishes the criminal with a punishment equal to the crime. Steal something, and the healer will extract more from the criminal than that which was taken. Kill and you will die in a similar manner.”

    “I still don’t understand what you mean.”

    “A healer is judge, jury, and executioner Jonnaul, and I am a healer.”

    “Then you’re my executioner and you’re going to try and take me back and have me shot?”

    “I am your executioner but I’m not going to take you back.”

    “What do you mean you’re not going to take me back?” Jonnaul asked. “I imagine that the other clan leaders would have something to say about that if you don’t bring me back.”

    “Actually, Zothor was the only clan leader that wanted me to bring you back to stand trail. The others were all in favor of letting me deal with you in whatever manner I see fit.” Tangoral snapped his fingers. “This has always been just between us. So you see we are alone,” he said.

    Breelaya’s hopes rose when she saw one of the People drop down onto the branch in front of the hard-shell. She was taken by surprise when he began to talk with the hard-shell in its own language. She was wondering what was going to happen next when the hard-shell tugged hard on the vine tied around her neck. Breelaya was pulled from her feet and sent sprawling forward. She hit the branch hard.

    Jonnaul reached out and grabbed the female tree dweller around her neck with his good claw. “We’re not alone,” he said dragging the girl to her knees by her neck. “As you can see, I have something to bargain with.”

    “I don’t bargain Jonnaul. Too many have already died because of you. So you go ahead and kill her.” Tangoral could hear something slowly approaching him from behind.

    “You’d let me kill her. I don’t think so,” Jonnaul said. “You’re too concerned about your fellow creatures to let any of them die needlessly when it is in your power to save them. So I tell you what, you let me go, and I’ll let her live.”

    “If I let you go there is no telling how many more may die because of you,” Tangoral said. “It is better that I let you kill her than I let you go.”

    Jonnaul’s eyes went wide when he saw a rather larger green monster emerge from the forest behind Tangoral. He lost his color but he stood rooted to the tree. He knew that the emerging stalker might kill them all and worry about eating them later. Still, it might be an opportunity to escape. Quickly he stuck the leash to female tree dweller to the tree so she would not be able to escape. Already she was struggling and shouting something. Jonnaul prayed that the female tree dweller would distract the stalker long enough to buy him the time he needed to escape.

    Breelaya could tell it was a young healer that conversed with the hard-shell but she also saw the same stalker that Jonnaul did. She shouted a warning but the healer ignored her. Now we will all die, she thought.

    Jonnaul started to back away slowly dragging the struggling female tree dweller with him. “I think you’re lying. You want me to kill her so I will have nothing to hide behind. As long as I let her live I have a shield to protect me from you,” he said as he was backing down the branch.

    “I could kill you now, but I want you to die slowly,” Tangoral said. “You cannot hide behind that female forever.”

    The stalker was almost on top of Tangoral and Jonnaul had almost reached the end of his leash. “I may die, but if I do I think you will die with me.”

    “Breelaya, the stalker behind me will charge the hard-shell with me. When we rush the hard-shell, step out of the path, sit down, and remain still,” Tangoral said in his mother tongue. “Nod your head if you understand me.” Breelaya nodded her head even though she was terrified. “The stalker will not harm you if you remain still.”

    “What did you just say?” Jonnaul asked to buy just a little more time.

    “I explained that you have caused a lot of deaths and I may have to let her die in order to redeem the honor of the dead,” Tangoral replied.

    “If you want her, you can have her,” Jonnaul said as he pushed his captive forward.

    Tangoral glanced back over his shoulder. Jonnaul saw the look of terror in Tangoral’s eyes as he turned and started to run but Jonnaul was way ahead of him already running. He could hear the roars of the enraged stalker behind him.

    Breelaya did what she was told. She stepped out of the path and sat down. She closed her eyes expecting to die at any moment but the stalker ignored her and continued to chase after the healer.

    Jonnaul managed a big lead on the stalker and for a while he could still hear it chasing after him. Jonnaul smiled when the stalker quit its bellowing. The tree dweller would bother him no more, he thought. As he rounded a bend in the trail he caught sight of baby stalker standing with three tree dwellers holding long wicked looking spears. They were waiting and he knew they were waiting for him. He stopped in the middle of the path. He knew the tree dwellers saw him but they made no attempt to come after him. They just stood there looking at him. As he stood there frozen to the branch unsure of what to do next he felt the weight of something very heavy land on top of his shell.

    Jonnaul was crushed to the branch by the stalker. Claws reached out and broke two of his left legs, and snapped off his eye poles. As quickly as he was attacked he was free of the weight that held him to the branch as the stalker jumped off of him. The stalker landed on the branch in front of Jonnaul. It wheeled back around ready to pounce on him again. Jonnaul waited for his end to come but strangely the stalker did not attack again. Then something else jumped on him from behind crushing him to the branch again. A face appeared up-side-down in front of his own face. “How do you like your death so far?” the face asked. The weight lifted from his shell and Jonnaul watched as Tangoral landed on the branch in front of the stalker.

    Jonnaul was in shock. There were no words to express his fear as he watched the stalker leap back on top of his shell. This time the stalker tore his good claw and two of his right legs completely off. Jonnaul watched the stalker jump back off and hand his claw to Tangoral. He could see his legs on the branch in front of him. Pain coursed through his body. He could hear himself screaming.

    Tangoral waited for the stalker to pounce on Jonnaul again before he walked over and knelt down before him. “She’s a well fed stalker. I expect that she’ll take her time eating you. With every bite she takes out of you I want you to remember the pain you caused others,” he said. Tangoral looked up and nodded at the stalker. She reached down and grabbed another right leg and ripped it from his body. Jonnaul began to scream again.

    

    Tears started to pour out of Breelaya’s eyes when she recognized one of the people walking toward her was her brother. Danotock hugged his sister as Tangoral cut the leash free from the tree. “How do we get her hands free?” Danotock asked. “It looks like the hard-shell dip her hands in sap, but it’s not sap.”

    “It will take another hard-shell to free her,” Tangoral replied. “We can either go back to the red hard-shells and get them to do it or we can go to my home and get my mother or one of my friends to free her.”

    “What happened to the hard-shell?” Breelaya asked looking at Neylosso holding one of the hard-shell’s claws.

    “He’s playing with a stalker or rather the stalker is playing with him,” Danotock replied. “The last I saw of them the stalker was jumping about beating the hard-shell over his shell with one of his own legs.”

    “How did you keep from being eaten by the stalker?” Breelaya asked Tangoral.

    “She wasn’t very hungry,” he replied.

    “He caught, tamed, and trained that stalker to hunt that hard-shell,” Danotock said.

    “Then you were never in any danger,” Breelaya said.

    “Not at all,” Tangoral replied with a smile. Tangoral whistled and a moment later a small green monster came running down the path. “This is Tallon,” he said turning the small stalker toward, Breelaya. “Tallon this is a friend.”

    “How many stalkers do you have,” Breelaya asked.

    Tangoral just smiled. “Now, do I take you to the red hard-shells or back to my home to get your hands free,” he asked.

    

~~~

    

    Zothor stood before the Grand Council. “We shall establish new multi-clan dwellings in the south along with a couple of new small cities as my son suggested,” he said in summary. “In time we will work toward erasing the clan boundaries altogether. While we will retain our clan identities for the propose of maintaining this council as the leadership of the brotherhood. The segregation that we imposed on ourselves will come to an end with this council. We will reach out our claws in friendship to the tree dwellers wherever we find them. With their help we will begin to reclaim our world and in so doing we will rediscover the knowledge that we have lost. We will begin to search out others of our kind until all the lost and scattered of our brothers are found. This should become our work, an undertaking that will take several lifetimes.”

    Amoonda stood after Zothor settled back down on the floor. “These are radical new ideas; it will take time for our respective clans to get use to. I do not oppose these new ideas. I can see that they will breathe new life into our clans by giving us new goals to work toward, but we must use caution as we go forward.”

    “I’m certain that Zothor is not recommending that we rush into anything,” KarEena said from where she sat. “I’m certain that as we take these first steps into a brave new future it will be done in an orderly fashion. We must be prepared to defend our way of life, if need be, in case we encounter brothers that still embrace the idea of war. There are other questions that must be addressed as well. There is the question of how we will combine our leaderships. If we accept tree dwellers as our friends, how will others not of our brotherhood view this after we make contact with them? We are talking about dismantling age old customs. How will this look to others who still retain these outdated customs? This is just a few of the questions we must be concerned with. I have no doubt that we will address them in the future but for now the establishment of new dwellings must be done quickly to take some of the pressure off our cities where our brothers and sisters are starving right now.”

    “Lady KarEena, I do not believe that Brother Amoonda was addressing our immediate needs but rather he was addressing future concerns,” Dar Noth said. “No one here, I believe, doubts that we need to establish new dwellings. Every clan here knows that we have had the need for more dwellings for a long time. Until now that would have meant a shift of all our boarders. By opening up all our dwellings to other clans it enables us to establish new dwellings without the fear of offending other clans. My only concern is how will we get our share of the profits from these dwellings?”

    Tangalen got to his legs. “My brothers I’m certain that Tangoral could address this concern far better than I,” he said. “We seem to have dismantled our entire social system. I have no doubt that Tangoral would suggest that we dismantle our economic system also. I suggest that we erase the clan boundaries in this area as well. This way no one clan will posses more than another clan. We can then render aid to all dwellings equally if the need arises.” Tangalen settled back down to the floor.

    “I see that Tangoral has surrounded himself with wise councilors,” Amoonda said. “Lady KarEena, I was indeed looking to the future when I spoke. I too see the need to establish some new dwellings as quickly as possible, but even in that, as Dar Noth just pointed out, there are other concerns. Brother Tangalen has answered one of those questions for us to my satisfaction. I can see that in the future we will become a true brotherhood, concerned not only for the individual clan, but rather for the brotherhood as a whole. I give thanks not only that I have lived to see this day but that I play a small part in the great changes we will bring about for the benefit of all our brothers.” Amoonda settled down to the floor. “We have been here for a long time without a break. I move that we adjourn for lunch.”

    “Any opposed to the motion to adjourn?” Zothor asked. No one opposed the motion. “If you don’t mind a working lunch, my mate has some refreshments at our dining hall. We should be able to reach enough of an agreement to move on the establishment of the new dwellings by this evening.”

    

    Tangoral’s home sounded so much friendlier than the red hard-shells’ home. That was until Breelaya actually saw where Tangoral lived. The size of the hard-shell city was just too much for her and Danotock to take in all at once. Even the hard-shell home below them was an impossible size. They both stood looking out over the railing at the city below. “Impressive isn’t it. Is this your first time here?” a friendly voice behind them asked.

    Danotock and Breelaya were shocked to see a blue hard-shell standing there when they turned to face the speaker. “You speak our language,” Breelaya replied in surprise.

    “Yes, I do. My name is Margeeum. You will find that there are very few that speak your language other than the blue hard-shells.”

    “You speak our language quite well,” Danotock said.

    “I should, Tangoral is my friend and my brother. I’m also one of the translators that my clan sends out to other clans to make contact with the People of the Trees for them. Speaking of my brother, where did he go? I was on another level higher up when I saw him come in with you and the others. By the time I got down here he was gone.” Margeeum eyed Breelaya’s hands all stuck together but was too polite to say anything.

    “He went down to get his mother so she could get my hands apart,” Breelaya replied holding her hands out so Margeeum could get a better look. “Maybe you can get them apart?”

    “Who stuck them together?” Margeeum asked.

    “The hard-shell that Tangoral saved me from.”

    “That probably would have been Jonnaul. He’s an adult. You’re going to have to wait for and adult to undo you. I’m still too young. There are changes to my body that I have yet to go through. An adult can un-stick anything I stick together but until I become an adult I can’t un-stick something they stuck together. It’s all very technical.”

    “Who are the newcomers Margeeum?” a tall young woman being followed by a small green monster asked.

    “I don’t know. I’ll ask,” Margeeum replied. “What’s your names?”

    “I am Danotock, and this is my sister Breelaya.”

    “This is Ashorah, Tangoral’s wife,” Margeeum said introducing the newcomer to the conversation. There was a look of disappointment in Breelaya’s eyes.

    

    Tangoral found Ishihari working in his brother’s dining hall. When he walked into the dining hall it looked like the Grand Council had convened their meeting there and in fact they had. Three hundred and sixteen eyes turned to look at him when he walked through the door. “Tangoral you’re back,” was all Zothor could find to say to his son.

    “We are about done here. I move that we break for the day,” Nabbinic said.

    “We have a motion to adjourn for the day, any opposed?” Zothor asked as he looked around the room. “There is no opposition. The motion has passed. Meeting adjourned.”

    Tangoral found himself surrounded by clan leaders and their councilors before he could reach the safety of the kitchen. They all asked pretty much the same questions concerning Jonnaul. “Yes, I caught up with Jonnaul. No, I did not have him cooked. He will not cause us any more trouble. No, he did not die quickly. If you want the details asked me in private later,” he replied to the most frequently asked questions. “Now my brothers, if you will excuse me. I’m very tired from my journey and I have a young woman that Jonnaul captured that has her hands stuck together. I need to get her unstuck.” Two great claws wrapped around Tangoral from behind. Tangoral stroked his mother’s claws as he waited for the brothers’ response.

    “You can’t just leave us in suspense like this,” Amoonda said.

    “He just got back. Give him a chance to catch his breath,” LaKento said.

    “It’s still early in the day. Maybe we can have a late dinner,” Nabbinic suggested.

    KarEena laughed. “I’d have thought that you’d eaten enough these last few days,” she said looking at Tangoral expectantly.

    “All right, I’ll agree to the late dinner,” Tangoral said giving in. “But, it will be limited to just the clan leaders and a few others and it will be up in the tree.”

    “Why up in the tree?” Nabbinic asked.

    “Because up there I have guards that will ensure that I will not be disturbed until dinner,” Tangoral replied with a smile.

    

    “Breelaya, this is my mother Ishihari,” Tangoral said. “The yellow hard-shell behind her is Amoonda clan leader of all the yellow hard-shells.”

    “Hello,” was all Breelaya could think to say. She had met more hard-shells in this one day than she had even seen in her entire life and it was beginning to take its toll on her.

    “Let’s get you unstuck my dear,” Ishihari said. “Hold your hands down here where my hands can reach them.” Breelaya did what she was told. The moment Ishihari touch the glue that held her hands together it began liquefy and drip onto the floor. Ishihari use a rag to wipe the remaining spit from her hands. “Now, if you sit down I’ll get those pieces of vines off your neck and legs.”

    “What is that stuff made of?” Breelaya asked after Ishihari finished cleaning the rest of the glue from her body.

    “We secrete a fluid from a gland in our mouths. That is combined with a fluid secreted from glands in our hands. The two together form a kind of glue that we are able to control. Normally, we mix it with water and sand to build our homes,” Ishihari, replied.

    “Could the glue ever get so hard that you couldn’t get something unstuck?”

    “Not that I know of.”

    “Tangoral, tell her that I apologize on behalf of my clan. Jonnaul was technically a brother from my clan even if he was not under my control,” Amoonda said. “If I can do anything for her, all she has to do is ask.”

    “What did the yellow hard-shell say?” Breelaya asked before Tangoral could translate.

    “He said he was sorry for the actions of one of the members of his clan. While Jonnaul was a yellow hard-shell, he was not a member of the yellow clan. Still, Amoonda feels the need to apologize for the actions of one of his brothers. If you need anything, within reason, just ask him and he will give it to you,” Tangoral replied. “Now, I need to get some rest before dinner tonight. My mother will show you and your brother where you will be sleeping tonight. I’ll see you later.” Tangoral turned and walked off in search of his bed.

    “Let’s go find your brother,” Ishihari said. “I’m sure that you two would like to get some rest before dinner tonight.”

    

    Come dinnertime Breelaya felt like she was being surrounded by hard-shells. Very few of the People were actually attending the dinner. She thought that the rest of the people of the tribe were trying to avoid the hard-shells like she wanted to do. However, Ashorah told her that was not the case. Most of the People had already eaten, but any who hadn’t were welcome. This dinner was mostly for the hard-shells’ benefit Ashorah explained.

    Ishihari stopped next to Breelaya as she sat at the table alone. “Where’s your brother?” she asked.

    “He didn’t want eat when he found out that a lot of you a, um, a…,” Breelaya started to reply.

    “You can call us hard-shells Breelaya. We’re not offended by the term,” Ishihari said. “Why did you come? You don’t have to eat with us if you don’t want to.”

    “I don’t?” The relief was very apparent in Breelaya’s voice.

    “No, you don’t. Just fill up a plate with food and go somewhere else to eat it. Come back and get more if you’re still hungry. This is mostly a business meeting of all the leaders of the hard-shells with Tangoral. I doubt that you will understand much of what is said tonight without someone to translate for you.”

    “Tangoral must be very important. He must be the greatest healer in the whole world for the leaders of the hard-shells to want to listen to him,” Breelaya said.

    “My son has earned the respect of the leadership of my kind,” Ishihari said. “He is also the leader of a couple of tribes and as a healer his influence is felt among many more tribes. Tangoral stands as the voice of the People of the Trees among my people. It is important to listen to him if we wish to be your friends. There are many more reasons why our leaders would want to listen to my son and consider carefully what he has to say. You see Tangoral as an important person and healer. We see him as one of our own that has worked very hard to reach the position of leadership he is in.”

    “Healers don’t work. They go where the Great Circle of Life leads. You just think he has worked hard,” Breelaya said. “I know if you were to ask him Tangoral would say that he hasn’t done anything.” Breelaya reached out onto the table and started taking food and putting it on her plate.

    “Take extra, I’m sure your brother might be hungry,” Ishihari said. Breelaya gave her a new insight into how her son thought. She would ask Tangoral about it later.

    

    “Now that you have rested, will you tell us the tale of what became of Jonnaul?” Amoonda asked just before he stuffed a meat roll into his mouth.

    “Sure, do you want all the details or a quick overview,” Tangoral replied.

    “The quick overview,” Dar Noth said. “There are other things that must be discussed. You have missed much while you were away and I for one would like to hear your thoughts on several subjects that we have been discussing.”

    “How did Jonnaul escape from the First Court of God?” KarEena asked.

    “At the top of the stairs there is a storeroom. There is a secret exit in that storeroom. It took us three days to find it. It was Tallon’s nose that finally found the exit,” Tangoral replied patting the little green monster who sat between Ashorah and himself. “After that, it was a simple matter to track Jonnaul. He tried to hide his tracks several times. I don’t think Jonnaul has ever been hunting or even camping for that matter. It didn’t take any time at all to pick up his trail. The only real delay was when we found Danotock half dead lying on a branch. We had to detour to a red dwelling for help. I didn’t have the needed herbs to heal him.”

    “Were you well received?” KarEena asked.

    “Not at first,” Tangoral replied.

    “What was the dwelling clan leader’s name?”

    “Don’t worry about it KarEena. By the time I left the dwelling’s clan leader would like to have hid under a tree if it were possible. We collected about four hundred shunails for them while we were there. Do we still have our master herders going around trying to get your animals back?”

    “I think so.” KarEena looked at Zothor.

    “As far as I know our master herders are still out trying to get your animals back,” Zothor said.

    “Can we get back to the subject?” LaKento asked.

    “Well, after we left the dwelling we picked up Jonnaul’s tracks again early the next day,” Tangoral continued his tale. “Along the way I found a young female stalker out hunting alone. I captured her and trained her to do what I said.”

    “I know you’ve had Tallon since it was a baby, but how do you capture and tame a wild stalker?” Nabbinic asked.

    “It is much easier than you would think,” Tangoral replied. “I’m not ready to give away trade secrets yet. I’m still experimenting in this area, but so far I’m two for two with young female stalkers.”

    “You used the stalker to kill Jonnaul,” Dar Noth said.

    “Yes, I did,” Tangoral said confirming Dar Noth’s guess. “She was a well fed stalker too. He had a hostage and the only way I knew he would give up his hostage was to get him to sacrifice her in an effort to save his own life. He did just that but the stalker caught him in the end.”

    “Did you see the stalker kill Jonnaul?” Amoonda asked.

    “No, but when I left him he had only one working leg and the stalker was dancing around him beating him with one of his other legs. Without legs and claws it would take a miracle for him to survive,” Tangoral replied.

    “I thought for sure you would have caught and cooked him,” Nabbinic said.

    “That would not have restored honor to the dead,” Tangoral replied. “If it would have been my people that were killed I would have done just that, but it was brothers and sisters of the Brachyura that lost their lives because of Jonnaul. Cooking him would not have given them back their honor.”

    “I don’t understand the difference between being cooked and being eaten alive by a stalker,” LaKento said.

    “Being cooked and eaten is an offence to us. It would have been offence to the dead,” Banneesheanta said.

    Dar Noth looked at his mate to be. “I think I understand,” he said slowly. “It is a matter of what is natural and what is unnatural. To be cooked and eaten is unnatural to us and so our dead would have been offended by this. The honor would not have been restored to the dead if their traditions were violated in gaining retribution for their deaths.”

    “We’ll make a tree dweller out of you yet Dar Noth,” Tangoral said winking at Banneesheanta. “Being eaten alive by a stalker may not be a pleasant way to die but it is and acceptable way to die. Your dead would not be offended by this. It was also a death equal to the manner in which your dead died.”

    “The justice of the tree dwellers may seem simple to us but there is a certain complexity to it you don’t readily see,” KarEena said. “They deal with many more factors than we do. We could learn a lot from their justice system.”

    “I can certainly see that,” Dar Noth said. “What I’d like to learn about right now is their system of economics.”

    “We hold all things in common. Everything is shared among the tribes,” Tangoral said. “If we were to have, say, just one metal knife then the leader would hold it and use it for the good of all. He would willing let others use it for the good of the tribe, but this is not what you’re asking, is it?”

    “No, it isn’t,” Dar Noth replied.

    “I spoke with Tangalen before dinner. He told me you are having difficulty dealing with the clan profits and how they will be collected and distributed. This is what you want me to address.” Tangoral could see the nodding of the shells of some of the clan leaders. “First, the portion of profits that the clans now collect should remain the same. It is not too burdensome on the brotherhood as it is now. It is a simple portion based on business and personal profits. As you move from being six separate governments to a single governmental body; you will find a reduction in the services you now provide is desirable simply because you are able to combine the services you now operate independently. This will reduce the overall operating expenses for these services and improve the quality of these services at the same time. Because this body will still receive the same share of the profits that they always have; this will result in a surplus. You can use this surplus to continue to improve current services you offer to the brotherhood. You can also save some of this surplus against hard times or use it to provide new services to the brotherhood.”

    “You make it sound so simple,” Nabbinic said.

    “It is if you stop thinking in terms of I and me,” Tangoral said.

    Dar Noth started laughing. “I see now,” he said. “The leader with one knife made of metal. As a single governmental body we are asking our healer how to use the knife we just found. Do you always use parables to teach with?”

    “Most of the time, but you seem to want long drawn out complicated answers to simple questions,” Tangoral replied. “Just remember a knife is a sharp tool and should be used with caution.”

    “Perhaps one day we will arrive at the same system of economics the tree dwellers now enjoy,” KarEena said.

    “In many ways you already do, but you still think in terms of the individual as individuals,” Tangoral said. “When the individual begins to think in terms of the brotherhood and the brotherhood thinks in terms of the individual; you will begin to enjoy the simple happiness the People of the Trees now enjoy. Many of the problems you now have would vanish. My sadness would be your sadness and your happiness would be my happiness. Among my people the tribe’s wealth is measured by the poorest member of the tribe. A tribe with one metal knife would think that they have acquired great wealth. This is because this knife was acquired by all. If we thought in terms of the individual, the acquisition of one metal knife by an individual would cause jealousy, envy, and other bad feelings among the others of the tribe who did not have a metal knife. If you look do you not see this among your own brothers and sisters?”

    “What do you do if a tribe has one metal pot? Who uses it?” LaKento asked.

    “It is saved for tribal functions and used for ceremonial feasts and that sort of thing,” Tangoral replied. “The wealth of the tribe is used for the tribe. If all the members of the tribe had a metal knife then metal knifes would no longer be considered part of the wealth of the tribe.”

    “I know that the tribes you lead back home now have metal everything. Pots, pans, knifes, tools, everything and I also know they consider themselves the richest tribes in the world because of all this metal. This seems to me a little at odds with what you are saying,” Ishihari said.

    “This is true, but all this metal is held in common as the wealth of the tribe,” Tangoral replied. “As metal goes we have more of it than any other tribe that I know of and I know of a lot of tribes. However, true wealth is a roof overhead to keep the rain off your head, a warm place to sleep, and food to eat. All these other things help us to acquire true wealth which is happiness and peace of spirit. These other things make work easier that we may spend more time with our families and doing the things we like. You see, it is a simple matter of where you place your values. We may stand a little taller not because of personal pride but because of our pride in our tribe and its accomplishments.”

    “It seems to me I have heard all this before,” Amoonda said. “Still, these are all wise words we will consider in the coming days before we send our brothers into this brave new future of yours.”

    “Amoonda, I am but a poor echo of the words of the prophets, and this is our future. It does not belong to me alone, but to all of us,” Tangoral said. “I stand in the flow of the Great Circle of Life and I follow its spirit. It leads me down a path. By the will of God we have learned to walk on that path together. Do I lead and you follow or am I helping you along the way so that we may one day learn to walk side-by-side?”

    Amoonda just looked at Tangoral for a moment. “How is it that your wisdom seems to be equal to any of the prophets?” he asked.

    “It is not equal to the prophets. It is the wisdom of the prophets,” Tangoral replied.

    As Tangoral spoke Zothor suddenly found himself thinking about a simple act of kindness that set in motion everything that had happened up to the present moment. One act by a child that changed thousands of lives. Tears came to eyes as he marveled at the works of his God. Ishihari reached out and stroked the shell of her mate as they listened to their adopted son speak on many subjects long into the night. As the night progressed it became clear to all that Tangoral was destined to replace Yoeith as prophet.

    

~~~

    

    Most of the clan leaders elected to go with Zothor and his family, as they returned to their dwelling in the south. From there they would send out scouting parties to select sites where the new dwellings would be established. LaKento was the only clan leader who felt too old to make such a hard journey. He elected to stay behind sending LaSanso with them on his behalf. Brothers and sisters in every city were preparing to leave to establish new dwellings beyond the boarders of the blue clan in the south. Despite a lack of food in most cities there was a sense of new found hope everywhere.

    Rownan and Almmoni were sent north to preach the gospel to the red clan and to inspect all the dwellings for KarEena. Sheylmasa went with them to make contact with all the tree dwellers near each of the red clan’s dwellings and to take the gospel to the People of the Trees in the area. Balator and Adamor took their food carts and started out to visit each of the cities in turn. So it was that the Church of the Son of the Most High God continued to be established in the land.

    Zothor stopping at all the dwellings along the way. This was mostly for the benefit of the other clan leaders. It gave them a sense of the troubles that their dwellings were facing. Most of the clans’ leadership remained behind to implement changes that their clan leaders set in motion. Only one or two councilors accompanied their respective clan leaders on the long journey. Their final stop before reaching Zothor’s dwelling was LaKayzin’s dwelling of the Green Brotherhood.

    

    LaKayzin tried to impress the clan leaders when he rose from his place of concealment with his soldiers, and surrounded the small company as it entered his lands. “Nicely done,” LaSanso said as he greeted the dwelling clan leader. “I’m surprised that we were detected so soon. Your soldiers are well trained.”

    “Thank you for your kind words but we were expecting you,” LaKayzin said.

    “Hi LaKayzin,” Tangoral said stopping next to LaSanso with Zothor.

    “Hi Tangoral, it’s good to see you again. It’s been a long time,” LaKayzin said. “What do you think of my soldiers?”

    “Not bad, but with the safety of so many clan leaders in my care don’t you think that I’d be prepared for something like this?”

    “You have us covered from the trees no doubt.”

    Tangoral whistled. Ten well camouflaged blue soldiers in full body armor rose up behind the green soldiers. “And on the ground as well,” he said.

    LaKayzin laughed. “Your sister told me this wouldn’t work but then it was only meant to impress visiting dignitaries.”

    “Well, we were impressed,” Zothor said.

    “Councilor Zothor, we have a grand dinner planned. Saralashaw has been cooking all day. Frothay and others were out hunting for the last seven-day so as you can guess we will have plenty of food for all,” LaKayzin said.

    “You haven’t heard the news,” Tangoral asked.

    “What news? The last thing we heard was that you were returning to the city with KaZanna as your prisoner,” LaKayzin said.

    “Not all the clans keep the brothers apprised of what is going on in terms of current events,” LaSanso said. “Clan Leader LaKento feels if something doesn’t affect the clan as a whole. News of current affairs can wait until the regular clan reports go out. If we had lost the challenge I’m sure the Clan Leader would have sent word to all our dwellings without delay.”

    “What challenge?” LaKayzin asked.

    “We were challenged by Jonnaul,” Zothor said.

    “You were challenged by the Prophet?” LaKayzin asked in disbelief.

    “Yes, we were,” Tangoral replied. “It’s a long story. We’ll fill you in on the way to your dwelling. Events unfolded in such a way that my father is now the clan leader of the Blue Brotherhood.”

    LaKayzin looked at Zothor who indicated that what was said was correct. “I had no idea. I would think that news such as this is something we should have heard about,” he said looking at LaSanso.

    “I would agree with you, but LaKento may feel that events are still unfolding. He may wish to wait in sending you such unpleasant news until things have returned to normal and he can give you a complete account of what has happened,” LaSanso said in defense of his clan leader.

    “With Cantor as All Clan Champion, who defended your clan’s honor?” LaKayzin asked Zothor.

    “Cantor is just one of my sons,” Zothor replied cryptically.

    “The challenge called into question the honor of all the clans,” LaSanso said. “We had to find a player to defend us all with the skill to defeat the greatest professional player the Game has ever seen.”

    “Who was the champion?” LaKayzin asked. He knew he was being baited.

    Amoonda walked up on the group. “Are we walking or talking,” he asked.

    “We’re not going anywhere until I find out who they found to play against Cantor in judgment,” LaKayzin said. “I don’t care if the food gets cold. We’re not moving until I find out who it was.”

    “Tangoral. Now can we get moving,” Amoonda said.

    “Not until I find out who the champion was,” LaKayzin said.

    “I just told you, now let’s go,” Amoonda said and then started off toward the dwelling.

    Everyone followed Amoonda leaving LaKayzin standing there. He had to run to catch up to LaSanso. “Who was the champion?” he asked again.

    “Amoonda just told you,” LaSanso replied.

    “He did?”

    “Yes, he did. If you ever get to see Tangoral play, don’t bet on the other guy.” LaSanso kept walking leaving LaKayzin behind stunned.

    “They let a tree dweller play as our champion for judgment?” LaKayzin asked when he caught back up with LaSanso.

    “Jonnaul didn’t have a choice,” LaSanso replied. “Tangoral is the adopted son of Clan Leader Zothor. That makes him a brother of the Blue Brotherhood by our customs. Jonnaul had to accept Tangoral as our champion or judgment would have gone against him automatically. I have often wondered if the others thought that Adreeum’s choice was just a ploy to stop Jonnaul’s challenge. Adreeum must have known about Tangoral’s ability as a player before he chose him to represent us on the First Court of Judgment.”

    “I see now much has happen since the end of the war,” LaKayzin said. “Let’s start over. Tell me all that has happen since the end of the war.”

    

    Amoonda and Nabbinic were amazed at the number of tree dwellers working at odd jobs all over the dwelling. A small hive was being constructed above the dwelling and several smaller platforms were built all over the dwelling’s land to keep the watch as required by the law of the prophets. There was a great deal of industry all over the dwelling with Brachyura and tree dwellers working side-by-side. Two of the clan leaders were impressed but to KarEena, LaSanso, and Dar Noth this was old news.

    Amoonda was the only clan leader that was not aquatinted with Saralashaw. As he walked around observing daily life in this most unusual dwelling he made the mistake of walking into the kitchen where she was working before dinner. “Come in or go out, don’t just stand in the doorway,” someone shouted at him.

    Amoonda stepped out of the way and into the kitchen. A female tree dweller stopped in front of him and handed him a basket of bread. “What do I do with this?” he asked.

    “You take it out and put it on a table that doesn’t have any bread on it already,” Saralashaw replied as she turned back toward the stoves.

    “I think there has been a mistake. I’m not here to work,” Amoonda said looking for a place to set the basket.

    “That’s ok, I’m not here to work either but somehow I ended up cooking dinner. I got a lot of food that needs to go out and I’m running a little behind. So be a good brother and take the bread out to the tables and come back. I need all the hands, or claws in your case, that I can get right now,” Saralashaw said.

    Amoonda frowned but he did what he was told and that is how he found himself pressed into service setting the food out for dinner. It was an eye opening experience as he worked closely with some of the tree dwellers. He was mildly surprised when he sat down for dinner and he saw the female tree dweller that was ordering him about for part of the afternoon sitting at the same table.

    Tangoral ruffled the hair of his sister as he sat down next to her. Saralashaw got up and hugged Ashorah in greeting. As Amoonda watched he wondered what the relationship was. Ishihari came and sat down next to Saralashaw who greeted her adopted mother with a kiss on the top edge of her shell. When KarEena sat down next to him Saralashaw got up and walked around the table to where KarEena sat. She patted KarEena on the shell as she knelt down next to her. KarEena turned around, wrapped her claws around her friend and hugged her. Amoonda was fascinated as he listened to KarEena talk to the tree dweller in her own language. When Saralashaw waved at Dar Noth and he waived back Amoonda just had to know who this tree dweller was. He reached out and tapped KarEena gently on the edge of her shell to get her attention. “Yes?” she said as she turned an eye on him.

    “Who is the tree dweller to whom you are speaking?” he asked.

    KarEena turned her full attention on Amoonda. “This is my best friend Saralashaw. She’s Tangoral’s sister and another adopted child of Clan Leader Zothor. Why do you ask?”

    “I was just wondering,” Amoonda replied. “She seemed to know a lot of us and I thought this was someone I should know.”

    “Well, now that you know my name, who are you?” Saralashaw asked.

    “I’m Clan Leader Amoonda.” Amoonda thought by telling her his title he would get a reaction out of the tree dweller. In this he was disappointed.

    Saralashaw smiled at him. “You’re not afraid of work, that’s good. You’ll probably make a good clan leader.” Saralashaw said something to KarEena that Amoonda did not understand. KarEena giggled as she looked at Amoonda with all her eyes. “Thank you for your help earlier. If you want to stop by the kitchen later, I’m sure I’ll have some sweet balls left over.” Saralashaw said. She said something else that made KarEena giggle again before getting up and returning to her place at the table next to Ishihari.

    “What did she say?” Amoonda asked.

    KarEena turned bright red. Her eyes sparkled as she tried not to giggle. “It was personal, nothing important.”

    Amoonda knew the joke was at his expense. He could see that he was going to have to learn the language of the tree dwellers before long.

    

    Saralashaw nudged Tangoral. “Where’s Tragal?” she asked after she sat back down.

    “He is down in the medical center with Doesen sulking,” Tangoral replied. “They had all their legs blown off when Jonnaul ordered his guards to try and kill us. Tragal also broke one of his claws. Cantor is probably down there too. He still needs rest, but at least he can walk around.”

    “I’ll take them some sweet balls later,” Saralashaw said. “Maybe that will cheer them up.”

    “Where Frothay?”

    “He’s up in the home watching over a sick child. It’s nothing bad. The child just ate something she shouldn’t have. This was Frothay’s first healing and he wanted to stay to make sure nothing went wrong.”

    “How’s he doing?” Tangoral asked.

    “He’ll make a good healer. He learns quickly and remembers what he is taught,” Saralashaw said. “There are times when I can almost forget he is a hard-shell. What I teach him he teaches Molateeia. She’ll grow up to be just like her mother.” Saralashaw drifted away from the topic of conversation. She didn’t want to tell her brother about the times she saw tears in Frothay’s eyes as he stood in the night watching his adopted daughter as she slept. Saralashaw did not want Tangoral to know about the love she wished for every time that she saw Frothay staring off into the forest longing for something that he had lost. She did not want to tell him that she wished Molateeia were her daughter too.

    

    The news of all that had happened since the end of the war was recapped during dinner for the benefit of the brothers and sisters of the dwelling. The horror of what happened filled them with sadness and joy. Sadness because of the many deaths and joy because the clans had emerged victorious in the end. The events were discussed for several days afterward. Zothor and the others remained at LaKayzin’s dwelling for three days before pushing onto his dwelling. Saralashaw, Frothay, and Molateeia accompanied them to the dwelling. From there smaller scouting parties would be sent out under the direction of the clan leaders to scout for new dwelling locations.

    

    The fires burned brightly in the night. Two more days and they would finally reach the dwelling. For many it would be an end of a long journey that had kept them from their home for more than two cycles of the sun. For others it would be the beginning of a grand adventure. There were a few that would find no rest in a place that was once their home.

    From a distance, Saralashaw sat watching Frothay tuck Molateeia in for the night. She watched as he stroked the child’s hair before pulling the blanket up over her shoulders. He stuck two heavy guns to the bottom of his shell before disappearing into the night. Saralashaw wondered where he was going. Probably to stand guard somewhere, she thought. Saralashaw was startled when KarEena settled down next to her.

    “You seem so far away tonight, what’s up?” KarEena asked. She was concerned for Saralashaw. KarEena noticed a change in her friend. Saralashaw had been there when she needed a friend. Now, KarEena would return the favor.

    “Nothing, I was just thinking,” Saralashaw replied.

    “About what?”

    “Life.”

    “Somebody else’s life or life in general?”

    “Life in general.”

    “You want to talk about it,” KarEena asked.

    “No, not really,” Saralashaw replied. They just sat there watching the fire. “Who heals the healer?” she asked after a while.

    “I don’t know, another healer,” KarEena replied. “I can see you’re hurting Saralashaw. You helped me when I was hurting. Let me help you. Tell me what’s wrong.”

    “Healers are not supposed to get involved with those they help, it clouds the judgment. But, heaven help me, I have become involved and it’s tearing me apart inside KarEena.”

    “Tell me what happen.”

    “I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if you’ll understand.”

    “Tell me and I promise we’ll get through this together, whatever it is,” KarEena said.

    “It was just supposed to be a simple healing. All I was supposed to do was stop him and bring him back to his senses,” Saralashaw said.

    “Who?”

    “Frothay, he went crazy after Soolayinna was killed and I was sent to stop him from killing the red brothers in retribution for her death.” Saralashaw paused for a moment before continuing. “I found him without much trouble. I lead him to a place where I could heal him in safety. Everything was going well until I felt the love he had for Soolayinna. Part of being a healer requires that we be somewhat empathic to the needs of those we heal. You cannot imagine the love he felt for her. I found myself wishing that someone loved me that much. It’s love that drives Frothay. I see it in his desire to be a healer. I see it every time I see him looking out into the forest as if something out there calls to him. I feel it in the love he pours out of himself in caring for Molateeia. Frothay has more love in the tip of his claw than Kittanota ever did. Kittanota never really loved me and I never knew what love was until I met Frothay. Now, now I’m around him all the time. God help me, there are times when I wish I was a hard-shell.”

    KarEena did not know what to say. “Who was Soolayinna?” she asked.

    “She was a healer. I’m told that she loved Frothay in return,” Saralashaw replied. “From the beginning, when he captured her instead of killing her as he was commanded to do, they were always together. She preferred Frothay’s company to that of the People and he preferred her company to that of his own kind. He was with her when she was killed. There are times when I swear that she still walks with him. I’d give anything to have that kind of love.”

    “I’m the last one to talk, but if it is love you want you’ll have to go out and look for it. It’s not often that love comes looking for you,” KarEena said.

    “What about you?” Saralashaw asked.

    “I don’t know. After KaZanna, I’m not sure that I’m ready for any kind of a relationship,” KarEena replied.

    “I noticed that you sat down next to Amoonda at dinner the other night,” Saralashaw said.

    “Don’t start that again,” KarEena giggled. One of KarEena’s eyes caught a glimpse of a blue brother carrying twin guns. Her heart skipped a beat when she recognized him. She wondered how long he had been standing there.

    Frothay wanted to ask Saralashaw something but now that seemed unimportant as he turned and walked off into the night. They were not far from the place where she lay sleeping. He wanted to say goodbye to Soolayinna one last time without the hate that burned in his heart the day she died.

    

    Frothay walked along side Tangoral. Molateeia rode on top of his shell. “It feels good to be almost home. At long last we can finally put the war behind us,” Tangoral said. He was thinking out loud more than talking to Frothay.

    “Tangoral, can I ask you a question?”

    “Sure Frothay, what do you want to know?”

    “How do you heal a heart,” Frothay asked.

    The question took Tangoral by surprise. He looked over at his friend. “Why do you want to know?” he asked in reply.

    “I wish I could tell you, but I can’t. It’s just something I need to know,” Frothay replied.

    It must be a personal matter, Tangoral thought. “We’re not talking about a physical healing are we?”

    “No, we’re not.”

    “First, you have to be able touch the heart of the person you wish to heal. Then you must gently lead them where you want them to go. Do you understand?”

    “I’m not sure. I think so.”

    “I will try and explain myself a little better, if I can,” Tangoral said. “First, you have to be able to touch the heart. You must come to know the person. You must be able to empathize with the person until you feel as if you could walk the path of life in their place. You must reach deep inside the person to find their true desires and their true passions. You must find the good they have hidden deep inside of themselves and bring it to the surface. There is danger here. It is easy to become lost in this kind of healing. Even as you place yourself on the inside you must remain on the outside. If you become lost, then you will become entangled with the healing. Do you understand?”

    “This I understand,” Frothay replied.

    “Once you have touched the heart. Then you must lead it where it wishes to go. In essence you create the place where you wish the heart to go. Then you lead it to this place and watch to see if the heart will stay in the place where you have taken it. If you know the true desires of the person you will create a place or a situation where they will wish to find themselves in. In healing the heart it’s like the heart has lost its way and all you need to do is help it to find its way home again. Do you understand?”

    “Yes, I do.”

    “There are other applications for this talent,” Tangoral said. “With practice you can learn to look into all the hearts of those around you. You can judge the actions and the thoughts of anyone. If a person lies in word or deed you will be able to discern the truth. Always remember, there is danger in dealing with the hearts of men or monsters.”

    “What do you mean by monsters?” Frothay asked.

    Tangoral whistled and a little green monster appeared by his side. “Not all monsters are real monsters. Some are men in disguise. Not all men are real men. Some are monsters in disguise. The same applies to brothers or sisters.”

    This gave Frothay much to think about. “How do I practice this talent?” he asked.

    “This is something you must discover for yourself,” Tangoral replied smiling. “It begins with a love and concern for all life.” Tangoral wondered again why Frothay would ask him about such a subject and not his sister. Then the answer hit him like a falling branch.

    

~~~

    

    The repairs to the dwelling from all the damage were nearly complete. Only the hole that Tragal had inadvertently blown in the side of the dwelling during the fighting remained. The homecoming dinner was extravagant to say the least. After a few days of rest scouting parties were sent out. Tangoral invited Nabbinic, LaSanso, and Amoonda out to see his home in the Great Swamp. Zothor asked to come along because he had never seen his son’s home. KarEena came along for reasons of her own.

    

~~~

    

    Zothor was impressed by the hive as were the other clan leaders. “Many of the guns that were mounted in the hive here have been taken out to the hive that we established much deeper the Great Swamp just before the war began,” Tangoral explained. “That hive is actually larger than the one you see here but the construction of that hive is similar to this one. Most of the refugees that came to us for safety were sent to this hive, and when construction on the other hive reached a certain point we began sending them out there as well. After that construction on the other hive began to progress very quickly. I would take you out there but it would take more than a seven-day to get there. Now that everyone has returned to their dwelling these hives are almost empty. Some of the People of the Trees that came to us have remained with us but most have returned home.”

    “I have never seen a tree like that,” Nabbinic said.

    “I doubt that anyone has,” Zothor said.

    “We’re going to get to go inside, right?” Amoonda asked.

    “We are unless you want to sleep out here tonight,” Tangoral replied.

    “This is like a childhood dream,” Nabbinic said. “I’ve always wanted to see what a hive looks like close up.”

    “Well, this one is a little more advance than most,” Tangoral said. “Most of our homes don’t have armored side walls to protect them from heavy gun fire nor do they come with gun platforms. There is also a fully equipped craft hall and kitchen here. Then there is the rainwater collection system that supplies us with running water.”

    “Is this where you sent Jossean and his mate?” Amoonda asked.

    “No, I sent him out to the other hive,” Tangoral replied. “Some of our soldiers went out there as well. They had a hard time adjusting to the confining space of a dwelling. The sense of adventure combined with the openness of one of our homes has kept them from going crazy. This answered the problem we had with a few of our soldiers that spent most of their time before and after the war in the forest spying on and fighting KaZanna.”

    “You mean soldiers like Frothay that spent nearly two full cycles of the sun in the forest,” LaSanso said.

    “Something like that, only Frothay actually adjusted far better than many of the others did,” Tangoral replied.

    “Why is that?” LaSanso asked.

    “After the war many of my soldiers that spent a prolonged period of time in the forest had trouble readjusting to the enclosed spaces of a dwelling. Couple that with the psychological trauma of having to kill many red brothers during the war. I ended up with brothers that no longer wanted to be soldiers and could not live inside the confines of our dwelling,” Zothor replied.

    Tangoral picked up where his father left off. “Frothay was not bothered by the guilt of having killed so many of his brothers. While Frothay also no longer wished to be a soldier. He knew what he wanted to do with his life. The others had no idea what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives.”

    “Frothay may seem like he prefers the wide open spaces of the forest. He actually doesn’t have near the problem with enclosed spaces some of the others had,” Zothor said. “I suspect it is because he embraced another way of life long before the war ended. The others had nothing to cling to and so they had nothing to fall back onto help them make the adjustment. Tangoral’s suggestion to send the soldiers having the most problems out to the hive turned out to be a good one. It allowed them to remain soldiers in part by having them expand their roll in life. Now, they are builders and explorers as well as soldiers.”

    “What about their mates?” KarEena asked.

    “They adjusted to life in the hive far better than their mates did trying to readjust to life in a dwelling,” Tangoral replied.

    “I’m not sure I understand what made Frothay any different from these other soldiers of your,” Amoonda said.

    “I don’t understand it either but I think he was always meant for a life in the trees,” Zothor said.

    “Frothay found something of great beauty. He gave up everything to possess it. Now, that beauty fills him and surrounds him. It burns strong within his heart,” Tangoral said.

    The others did not understand, but KarEena understood what Tangoral meant. Tears came to her eyes. She quickly wiped them away. No one notice her tears except Amoonda.

    

    The inside of the hive was just as amazing as the outside. Brachyura and tree dwellers were all working together. It was during dinner Tangoral put forth his plan to have some of the brothers and sisters that would be leaving the cities come and live at the hives. They would help establish a route through the Great Swamp to the ancient city deep in the Great Swamp.

    KarEena stood looking out into the night. An eye turned when she heard someone walking up behind her. “What do you think of Tangoral’s plan?” Amoonda asked after he stopped next to her.

    “I’ve seen many of the things that he brought back from the ancient city. All of those things are truly amazing. We have lost so much knowledge. If we can get back even a small part of that knowledge it will be worth the risk,” KarEena replied.

    “Some of that knowledge destroyed the world of the ancients.”

    “Yes, and it gave birth to us in the process. I’m sure that Tangoral would not let that kind of knowledge fall into our claws before we are ready to handle the knowledge.”

    “What gives him the right to say what we can have and what we can’t have?” Amoonda asked. “Who made him judge over us?”

    “God gave him the right,” KarEena replied. “He is after all the Prophet and leader of the Church. We are foolish children to him. What have we done to prove his assessment of us wrong? Why do we even listen to him? It is because he is wiser than us all. He has helped us to find the direction we should have gone in long ago.”

    “I see that Tangoral has a strong defender in you.”

    “His sister and his mother are my best friends. He taught me the language of the People of the Trees. There is much that I owe him. There is much that we all owe him. I intend to do whatever I can to help him.”

    “Tangoral said something earlier that made you cry. What did he mean and what made you cry?” Amoonda asked.

    The change of subject took KarEena by surprise. “You mean about Frothay?” she replied.

    “I guess so.”

    “I know a little bit more about Frothay than most. He found true love. He gave up everything to possess it. It is a love that nearly destroyed him. Now, that love drives him forward day by day. I’d give anything to find that kind of love. I understood what Tangoral meant by what he said. That’s what made me cry.”

    “Oh.”

    “Why did you want to know,” KarEena asked.

    “I, well, I… ah, I just wanted to know why what he said effect you so much,” Amoonda stuttered. He didn’t even want to think about what he was thinking. Such thoughts were forbidden.

    His hesitation told her much but KarEena did not think that Amoonda was willing to give up everything for her, not yet. She reached out and stroked the edge of his claws with hers. “Thank you for caring,” she said. “Now, if you will excuse me, I have other things to attend to.” Walking away from Amoonda was hard to do considering what she wanted to do. She glanced back at him as she walked away.

    Amoonda watch KarEena walk away with all his eyes. He admired her more than he was willing to admit to himself. Amoonda wondered what was so special about Frothay’s love that made him give up everything. He knew who Frothay was of course, but he just did not understand what was so special about him. Maybe he would ask LaSanso about it later.

    

    It turned out that LaSanso did not know anything more than Frothay quit being a soldier after the war, and went to study being a healer among the tree dwellers. Amoonda did not think that was enough to make Frothay so special. He approached Zothor about the subject the next morning. “What makes Frothay so special?” he asked.

    “Why do you want to know?” Zothor asked in reply.

    “When Tangoral was talking about him I saw KarEena wiping tears from her eyes. What makes him so special?”

    “Frothay fell in love with a tree dweller. A healer named Soolayinna; she was in love with him as well. It was an impossible love but that did not stop them from being the best of friends. During the war she was killed while he watched and he could do nothing to prevent her death. She died in his claws. He went a little crazy after that. I’m told that he killed more than a thousand red brothers to avenge her death. He wouldn’t listen to any of the brotherhood. My adopted daughter had to go out and stop him. Frothay is now a tree dweller as much as any of the People. The only thing that holds him to us is his shell. He promised Soolayinna that he would take care of her daughter. That is one of the reasons why he studies to become a healer. Molateeia will grow up to be a better healer than her mother of that I have no doubt.”

    “That’s why killing brothers did not trouble him,” Amoonda said.

    “I suspect so,” Zothor replied. “But, it is also a tragic love story that would touch the heart of any sister. Afterward, one of his friends questioned his sanity as he openly embraced the tree dwellers’ lifestyle. That same friend is having a difficult time readjusting. He is plagued with nightmares and ended up needing an outside dwelling with large windows so he has a feeling of openness where he lives. Other brothers suffered similarly but when we sent them out to the other hive most of the problems stopped. Except for a nightmare every now and again they have adjusted to their new lifestyle quite well.”

    “It is a tragic but very beautiful love story,” Tangoral said as he walked up behind them. “Frothay gave up his life among the brotherhood for love. Dar Noth did much the same thing. He gave up being a dwelling clan leader rather than lose the love he found with Banneesheanta. How much are you willing to give up for love Amoonda? Could you kill a thousand brothers? Would you step down as clan leader? Would you gladly accept banishment? Would you die for love? Frothay is the only one that would answer ‘yes’ to all those questions, and perhaps Dar Noth too. I fear my sister became entangled in that healing and KarEena will never accept someone as her mate who could not answer ‘yes’ to all those questions too. So, I ask what you are willing to give up for love?”

    “I didn’t say I was in love with KarEena,” Amoonda said taken back by Tangoral’s abrupt entry into the conversation.

    “I didn’t say you were,” Tangoral replied. “I just asked what you’d be willing to give up for love.”

    Amoonda just looked at Tangoral while trying to formulate an answer. When no answer was forthcoming he abruptly turned and walked off muttering something under his breath.

    Zothor looked at Tangoral. “What was that all about?” he asked.

    “KarEena likes Amoonda and he likes her too, but he’s having trouble crossing over the color barrier,” Tangoral replied. “It’s something my sister asked me to work on for her.”

    “Ah, that explains his sudden interest in Frothay,” Zothor said. “What did you mean when you said your sister became entangled in the healing?”

    “You don’t miss much do you?”

    “All part of the job. Being your father has helped me to understand you a little better than most, but not as well as I’d like to.”

    “When a healer deals with the heart of any creature he or she risks being affected by the emotional state of that creature. If you can remain detached from the actual healing, you are safe, but if the healing touches your own heart in the process it can lead to problems later on. Most of the time a healer can overcome these problems. When they cannot, we say they have become entangled or lost in the healing. Saralashaw has become entangled in her healing of Frothay. Somehow, she was touched by Frothay’s love for Soolayinna. I don’t know how badly though.”

    “I don’t understand how she could be affected simply by stopping Frothay from killing the red brothers during the war,” Zothor said.

    “To stop Frothay, Saralashaw had to reach his heart,” Tangoral replied. “To reach his heart she had to become Soolayinna. To become Soolayinna she had to be in love with Frothay and accept his love in return if only for a few moments. It was a very difficult healing that only my sister could do. I might have been able to stop Frothay but I could not have healed his heart. I can understand why she became entangled in the healing but I think that in time she will find her way back. I know that Frothay understands that she got caught up in the healing. When the moment is right he will push her in the right direction.”

    Zothor gave his son that I half understood what you just said look. “How could Saralashaw become Soolayinna for even a moment?” he asked.

    “Now that is a healer secret,” Tangoral replied.

    

~~~

    

    When they return to Zothor’s dwelling Amoonda went out of his way to avoid running into KarEena. When he wasn’t working he spent his time alone. He’d take long walks staring up at the trees. He’d sit in front of the window of his dwelling for several long time parts. He’d look out but would see nothing. One day he saw his reflection in the window. Tears came to his eyes. “I don’t even know who I am any more,” he said to himself.

    “That is a start,” a voice from his dwelling doorway said. Amoonda turned an eye to see Tangoral’s sister standing in the doorway. She did not come alone, there was a blue brother standing behind her. “Rather than hold your feelings in, let them out.”

    “Go away.”

    “I wish I could but I have a friend that doesn’t understand why you won’t even look at her any more.”

    “It’s none of your business. Now go away.”

    “You made it my business when you hurt one of my friends, but I can see that you’d rather wallow in your own self-pity. Come on Frothay, let’s go.”

    Amoonda’s eyes whipped around. “Frothay, the Frothay, the one everyone is talking about?”

    “Yes, I am Frothay, but I doubt very seriously that everyone is talking about me.”

    “Would you stay a moment?” Amoonda asked. He was desperate to talk with someone but it seemed to him that everyone was a friend of KarEena. He feared they might tell her how he felt.

    “Come on Frothay,” Saralashaw said as she started walking down the hallway.

    “I’ll be along in a moment,” Frothay called back to her. What Amoonda did not see was Saralashaw turn around wink at Frothay and whisper good luck. Frothay stepped through the doorway.

    Amoonda waited for Frothay to settle to the floor. “Did you really love a tree dweller?” Amoonda blurted out the question before he realized it was probably an impolite question. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it like that,” he said in a fumbling attempt at an apology.

    “It’s ok,” Frothay said. “Not many are willing to even talk about the subject in my presence. Yes, I was very much in love with one of the People of the Trees.”

    “How?”

    “It’s hard to explain. Soolayinna was a ray of sunlight on a rainy day. She was filled with so much beauty. It was like finding something so beautiful that you wanted to spend your whole life enjoying that beauty. Soolayinna was a creature that oozed beauty and love from every pore in her flawless skin. I breathed her in like the fragrance of a beautiful flower. I bathed in her beauty. I drowned in it.” There was a certain sadness in Frothay’s voice.

    “But she wasn’t even your own kind,” Amoonda said.

    “No, she wasn’t, but I would have died myself before I would have let them destroy her,” Frothay replied. “What is in a shape or a color? When you find something so beautiful, so full of love that it takes your breath away and fills you with a happiness you have never known. What can you do but return that love, defend that love, and give your life for that love. There is nothing worth dying for except love. Love of God, love of your family, and love of your brothers. What else is there worth dying for, nothing.”

    “They say you killed a thousand red brothers for her.”

    “They’re wrong. I didn’t kill the red brothers for her. I killed them for me. If Saralashaw had not stopped me I’d have killed them all or until they killed me. That did not bring honor to her death but I shall spend the rest of my life to bring honor to her, not by death, but by all the lives I save. As it turns out, I actually like being a healer more than I liked being a soldier. There is no profit in it but there are far better rewards in life than money.”

    Saralashaw listened for a time at the doorway. She leaned back against the hallway wall and sighed deeply. She pulled herself away from the wall then turned and left knowing it would be a good healing.

    “I can’t imagine being in love with a tree dweller,” Amoonda said.

    “I can’t imagine not being in love with one,” Frothay said. “If you are ever lucky enough to find love my friend. Don’t wait before grabbing a hold of it like I did. Grab a hold of it when you have the chance. Don’t let it slip through your claws or you may lose it forever. Love is all that matters in this life. Nothing counts for anything if you don’t have love. Now, if you will excuse me I must go tend to my daughter.” Frothay stood up and started for the doorway.

    “You have a daughter?” Amoonda asked a little surprised.

    “Soolayinna had a daughter,” Frothay replied. “Didn’t they tell you? In the end as Soolayinna lay dying in my claws. I declared my love for her and she declared her love for me. In the eyes of the People of the Trees that made us husband and wife. Molateeia became my daughter and I her father. She’s a beautiful child, so full of love. She is so much like her mother that sometimes it hurts me to look at her. Now, I must bid you goodnight.” Frothay turned and ducked out the doorway leaving Amoonda to his thoughts.

    

    KarEena stood at the edge of the platform built at the very top of the tree. The top branches had been cut away to give an unobstructed view of the sky. It was one of Tangoral’s touches. He had brought back a thing called a telescope from the ancient city. It sat covered in the middle of the platform. KarEena loved to come up here at night and look at the stars.

    Amoonda had never been this high up in a tree before. He didn’t like heights but that was more because he had never lived anywhere else except on the ground. This is where Lady Ishihari had told him that he would find KarEena.

    KarEena heard the panting of a brother climbing up onto the platform. She thought it was some brother coming up to study the stars through the telescope. “It’s a nice night out for watching the stars,” she said. She didn’t bother to look to see who it was.

    “Probably, but then I didn’t come up here for the stars,” Amoonda replied. KarEena closed her eyes. She didn’t want to look to see who it was out of fear. “I have hurt you and I’m sorry for that,” he said. “I was afraid of what I felt. I was afraid of what others might think.”

    “And now you’re not afraid any more?” she asked.

    “Now, I’m more afraid than ever,” he replied.

    “What are you afraid of Amoonda?”

    “I’m afraid that I have pushed you so far away from me that I can’t get you back. I’m afraid of not finding out if we had a chance of having a life together. I’m afraid of not loving you.”

    KarEena wiped a few tears from her eyes before turning around. “Would you die for me?” she asked.

    “I would count it as a blessing to do so,” he replied. “In fact, I verily nearly did a couple of times on the way up here.”

    KarEena laughed. The two would be lovers spent the night in each others claws watching the stars. Neither of them ever knew that three healers below them kept everyone that wanted to go up and watch the stars from doing so.

    

    “I see you’re moving up in the world,” Cantor said from the doorway to Tangoral’s new office. The whole outside wall of the office was one huge window that offered a slightly distorted view of the outside. A new cast in place technique for windows Tangoral and the Craft Master were working on. The flaws in the window represented bugs in the process that still had to be worked out.

    “Come on in,” Tangoral said. “I hear they finally released you from the medical center. Can you play now?”

    “No, not yet. They still want me to take it easy. The game for judgment took more out of me than I or anyone else thought. At least I can start practicing again, so I can get ready for the next season. They canceled this season due to the war.”

    “So when do you want a rematch,” Tangoral asked.

    “I don’t know. In a couple of seven-days maybe, if I feel strong enough,” Cantor replied. “I’m going to need longer breaks. The short breaks were murder when I was playing you in judgment.”

    “It would only be an exhibition game. I imagine that we can set it up any way we want. Can we play here? I have no real desire to go all the way back to the city just to play you.”

    “I don’t see why not.”

    “Have you given much thought on how long you’re going to keep playing the game?” Tangoral asked. “I imagine that you could be the All Clan Champion for many cycles of the sun if you wanted.”

    “I figure I’d play for five more cycles before I’d retire. After that I’d make a comeback or two. I want to get out and explore some of this world. I don’t want to spend my whole life playing the Game, you know that,” Cantor replied. “So why are you asking something that you already know?”

    “I want you to go out with Margeeum to make first contact with the new tribes we will encounter as we establish our new dwellings. You need to learn how to make contact if at some point in the future if you are going to become one of the explorers of this world. We have to change the format for making contact with the new tribes we will encounter. I figure that it wouldn’t hurt you to get in on this new contact procedure,” Tangoral said.

    “As long as this won’t affect next season, I’m game.”

    “With all the dwellings going multi-clan there will be a few changes in the Game that the clan leaders have yet to work out. The next game season may be a little late in starting.”

    “How late is a little late?” Cantor asked with a frown.

    “I don’t know but it won’t be any time soon,” Tangoral replied. “There will probably be minor changes that will allow more brothers or sisters the chance to compete. I imagine that the playoffs will be a little different too. With the elimination of the clan system of government the need for clan champions have been eliminated as well.”

    “I thought we were going to keep the clan leaders as leaders of their clans?”

    “We are but only for representation purposes. The games for judgment like we just played will never be played again.”

    Cantor was shocked to hear this news. “We have to have clan champions,” he said.

    “Why?” Tangoral asked him. “Every conflict between clans has been over territorial rights. Those territories no longer exist. The clan leaders have become answerable to the brotherhood as a whole. What affects one clan will affect all the others as well. It now becomes in their best interest to work together.”

    “I don’t understand how you can change the Game like this.”

    “I didn’t but it is within my province to do so. No matter how unworthy I feel, I am still a prophet and the leader of the twelve. I lead the Church in the place of Yoeith who gave his life for the Church. That is all the authority I could change the rules of the Game if I so desired to do so but I would only do so under the direction of God. God has not so directed me.”

    “If you didn’t change the rules. Then I’m sure you had a hand in it,” Cantor accused.

    “Wrong again,” Tangoral replied. “With a change in the structure of the government the clan leaders realized a need for a change in the structure of the Game too. This is something that Adreeum started on, but was unable to finish. There has not been time for the other clan leaders to take up this issue at this time. That’s how I know that next season will be on hold for a little while.”

    “Then I might as well go out and learn how to make contact with the People of the Trees,” Cantor said.

    Tangoral smiled. “Might as well,” he replied.

    

    Tangoral sat on the roof of the dwelling in front of the newly enlarged dwelling of the dwelling clan leader. He knew his father considered him for the job. He wasn’t sure that he wanted the responsibility on top of everything else that he was responsible for. LaSanso would coordinate the growing relationship between the People and the brotherhood. Tangoral would only deal with the worst problems if they arose, when they arose. This freed him to spread the gospel and govern the affairs of the Church. He felt inadequate for the task.

    Ishihari settled herself next to her son. “Such deep thoughts. Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

    “Yesterday, my life was simple. Today, it’s more complex than I ever imagined it would be,” Tangoral replied. “How did I ever come to this place? I feel older than Tangalen and more beat down than Cantor during the game for judgment.”

    Ishihari wrapped her claw around her son. “I don’t wonder you feel this way. You have been pushing yourself for more than two cycles. You have accomplished more than any other brother in our history in a very short time. I doubt that any of the clan leaders would admit that they have been following one of the People of the Trees. On your shoulders rests the leadership of the brotherhood for now. They hang on your every word. You may not lead us in name but you lead us none the less. It is time to let go. Let us walk upon our legs and stop trying to carry us. You need to rest. You need to take that lovely wife of yours and go somewhere where they will wait on you and you can spend your time just relaxing.”

    “I wish I could, but there is so much to do,” Tangoral said.

    “Tomorrow, you will take the day off,” Ishihari told her son.

    “I can’t.”

    “You can, and you will,” Ishihari said smiling.

    “I can’t,” Tangoral said again.

    

    Tangoral got up the next morning and found all the exits to his dwelling either sealed or guarded. All the guards had orders to keep Tangoral within the dwelling and all others out with only a few exceptions. When he tried to get out Banneesheanta met him. “You will remain inside this dwelling until I tell you you can leave,” she said.

    “You can’t do this I have work to do,” Tangoral said.

    “Not any more, and if you try to get out I’ll have all the entrances sealed,” Banneesheanta said. “Food will be sent at the appropriate times.”

    Ashorah stood behind her husband smiling. “Why are you doing this?” Tangoral asked.

    “You have a serious medical condition caused by overworking. Your mother was concerned that your condition might worsen. So, you have been confined to your dwelling until you get better,” Banneesheanta replied.

    Two arms slipped around Tangoral’s waist as he frowned. “How long am I going to have to stay here?”

    “That depends on you. I recommend that you go back to bed,” Banneesheanta said. “Next time your mother tells you to take the day off, I suggest you do it. Be glad she didn’t tell you to take a vacation.”

    Tangoral shook his head. Ishihari had thought of everything. There was nothing left to do but go back to bed. Tangoral was more than amused when Zothor tried to get into see him and could not. He was able to get past the guards but he could not get past Banneesheanta. There were advantages of having a day off. The food was the least of those advantages.

    

~~~

    

    Elayainna went out to pick herbs for her mother. She had gathered quite a bit when she stumbled on the narrow branch she walked out on. Only a miracle kept her from falling to her death. She had managed to grab a small branch with her left hand. The jerk when she stopped separated her shoulder. Despite her injury it gave her enough time to grab another branch with her right hand. With her left arm useless Elayainna could only hang from the branch. Climbing backup was out of the quite out of the question. She lacked the strength in one arm to pull herself back up. It was only a matter of time before she would have to let go and fall to her death. She was determined to cling to life as long as possible.

    

    Margeeum went out with the first scouting parties in case they had to make contact with any of the tribes. Every scouting party was required to have at least one member of their party that could translate in case they came in contact with any tree dwellers. Margeeum liked the freedom she felt in the forest. She liked her job and she was the best translator for making first contact. They were not out here to make contact this time. They were just supposed to study the area but she was out with the scouts just in case contact was unavoidable.

    Traveling along the edge of the Great Swamp was not very exciting. It quickly lost its appeal after the first seven-day. It had been many seven-days since she left the comfort of her dwelling. Margeeum took to wandering around on investigations of her own after the brothers stopped for the night. The brothers were in no hurry often stopping for the day in the early afternoon. This gave Margeeum a lot of time to herself.

    She was high on an upper branch studying a flower when she spotted a young female tree dweller below her. Now here is something interesting, she thought. Margeeum followed the tree dweller as she went about picking some kind of herb. Margeeum was too high up to tell what kind of herb though. It was getting late when she saw the tree dweller stumble on the narrow branch she had walked out on. Margeeum knew something was wrong when the tree dweller did not climb back up on the branch.

    

    Elayainna knew she could not hang on much longer. Like all the People of the Trees she never thought to cry out for help. She knew there was no one to hear her. She was about to give up and let go when a vine dropped down through the foliage. “Can you get that?” a voice asked.

    “I think so,” Elayainna replied. She twisted around and reached out with her tail and grabbed the vine. She wrapped her legs around the vine. “I’m going to let go now,” she called out to let her rescuer know that she would be putting all her weight on the vine. Elayainna let go and grabbed the vine with her right hand. She dropped down a little bit but her downward motion was arrested quickly. Slowly she was pulled back up to safety. Elayainna was very grateful when she was able to crawl back on the main branch. She lay there for a moment before looking to see who rescued her. What she saw frightened her almost as badly as her fall. She had heard of these creatures but she had never actually seen one. A blue hard-shell stood before her still holding the vine that had pulled her to safety and not a moment to soon.

    “Are you alright?” it asked.

    Elayainna did not know what to say. This was all too much for her. Her world became a black void as she fainted.

    

    Pandemonium reigned in the small home as people raced about not really going anywhere. Women screamed for their children. Men snapped up their spears in preparation to defend their home. A hard-shell carrying one of the People stood on the branch that led to their home. Terror gripped everyone. They had all heard stories about these terrible creatures.

    Margeeum was beginning to debate the wisdom of coming here rather than taking the tree dweller back to her camp and the safety of the brothers there. “Hello, do you have a healer?” she yelled. “This girl has dislocated her shoulder.”

    “There are no healers here hard-shell. Go away,” came the reply after a while.

    “This girl needs help. What do I do with her?” Margeeum asked.

    “Leave her.”

    “Do you have someone to set her arm?”

    “I already told you we don’t have a healer.”

    “Well, then do you have someone brave enough to come out and hold her so I can set her arm before I leave?” Margeeum asked. Margeeum knew she had a margin of safety in that it was night and most tree dwellers did not like to go abroad at night. She only needed to retreat back into the shadows to reach safety.

    It was several moments before a young hunter came forward handing his long spear to one of the other men as he stepped out onto the branch. “I will help you if that is what it will take to get you to leave,” he said when he stopped in front of her.

    “What’s your name?” Margeeum asked.

    “I am Andieick.”

    “I’m Margeeum. Do you know who this girl is?”

    “This is Elayainna. I have no desire to talk with you all night, what do you want me to do?”

    Margeeum ran her hands over Elayainna’s shoulder before grabbing her arm in her claw. “I need you to come over on this side and lay against her side so when I pulled against her arm she won’t move.”

    Andieick did as he was told. This was closer to a hard-shell than he ever wanted to come. Margeeum jerked on Elayainna’s arm. The pain made her wake up. When she saw the hard-shell again she tried to get away but Andieick held onto her. “Elayainna it’s ok, you’re safe,” he said to stop her from struggling.

    “It felt like her shoulder popped back in but I need to feel it to be sure,” Margeeum said.

    “Elayainna, let the hard-shell touch your shoulder,” Andieick said. “It will not hurt you, I promise.”

    Elayainna held very still as Margeeum ran her hands over her shoulder. “Elayainna, I know it will hurt, but see if you can move your arm about,” she said. Margeeum felt the movement in Elayainna’s shoulder as she moved her arm around. “Now, see if you can hold your arm straight up.” It hurt but Elayainna did what she was told. “Good, your arm is going to hurt for a few days but it should be alright. Try not to over extend your arm for a day or two.”

    Andieick helped Elayainna to her feet. “How is it that you know the ways of a healer?” he asked.

    “I have many friends that are healers among the People of the Trees. My job requires that I know something of their art for times like this,” Margeeum said.

    “And what is your job?” Andieick asked.

    “I’m a translator for my people. I specialize in making contact with the People of the Trees. Now, I’ll be on my way. Elayainna take care and try not to fall off any more branches.” Margeeum turned and started back down the branch.

    Elayainna watched the hard-shell walk away. She looked down at the branch for a moment before looking back up. “Wait,” she said. Margeeum turned back around. “I just wanted to thank you for saving my life.”

    “You’re welcome. Just be more careful in the future,” Margeeum said before she turned back around and started back down the branch.

    Andieick was torn. The brief contact with this hard-shell had changed him. It had saved one of the People and healed her injuries. Now, he watched it walk off into the dangers of the night. “Wait,” he found himself saying.

    

    The brothers woke up the next morning and found their translator missing. Try as they might they could find no trace of Margeeum. They spent three days looking for her before giving up. With great sorrow they turned back toward the dwelling.

    

~~~

    

    News of the exhibition game between Tangoral and Cantor spread like wildfire. Blue and green brothers began to show up on the dwelling’s doorstep long before the game was to be played. Much to the surprise of the visitors to the dwelling they found themselves pressed into service to help repair the dwelling and enlarge the Game court adding more gallery space. Zothor was determined not to put up with freeloading brothers any more. A day or two was all he would put up with, after that they either helped with the ongoing projects or they left. The end result was that he got the rest of his dwelling repaired and many of the upgrades to his dwelling done that he always wanted to do.

    Scouts began to return. The reports coming in were very positive. Many great shunail nests were sighted. Even with one or two scouting parties still out they’d be able to establish at least eight new dwellings based on the current reports alone. Everything was going well right up until the day of the exhibition game was to be played and the last set of scouts returned.

    The loss of a translator was unexpected news. Zothor was not sure how his sons would react. He decided that he would wait until after the game to tell them that Margeeum was missing and presumed dead. Zothor could not believe that she could become lost. Margeeum had a better sense of direction than the brothers she went out with. Still, Zothor knew the chance that Margeeum was still alive was almost nonexistent.

    

    Zothor sat in the place of judgment. Ishihari sat next to her mate, prime seating to watch her sons from. Tragal and Doesen lay on their carts nearby. Front row seating, benefits of being friends of the family. The new gallery could hold more than five hundred brothers and their mates. While the dwelling was not currently hosting that many brothers and sisters the gallery was still packed. Many of the tree dwellers had come to watch the game as well. Under normal circumstance the game would be to five hundred but the players and the breaks were not normal. The breaks would last as long as Cantor needed before continuing play. So the winner would be the one with the most points at dinner time.

    Ishihari could tell something was wrong with her mate. She nudged him. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

    “The last of our scouts returned today. The translator we sent with them did not return with them,” He replied.

    “That’s terrible, who was it?”

    “Margeeum.”

    Zothor could see the shock register on his mate’s face. “How, what happen?” she asked.

    “I don’t know. She just vanished one night. The brothers that were with her searched for her for three days. We may never know what happen,” Zothor replied as he watched his sons step onto the court. The corner doors swung shut behind them.

    “What are you going to tell Cantor?” Ishihari asked.

    “I don’t know,” Zothor said as he stood up.

    

    “This is only the second real game that I’ve played, so go easy on me,” Tangoral said.

    Cantor laughed as he turned to face the place of judgment. “Yeah, right. Your first game nearly killed me,” he said.

    “This is an exhibition game. Standard rules apply,” Zothor said. “Breaks maybe longer than normal. Because if this game were to be played to five hundred we would all miss dinner. Whoever is in the lead at dinner time will be declared the winner of the game. The ball will be changed at the players’ request.” Zothor dropped the ball onto the court.

    Tangoral caught the ball. “Do you want to volley for the serve?” he asked.

    “Nope, go ahead. I’ll get it back in a bit,” Cantor replied.

    Tangoral threw the ball high in the air. His paddle caught the ball just right. The ball hit the front wall and clung to the left wall.

    Cantor was slow to react and just missed the ball. He watched his brother walk over and pick up the ball. He sighed; this was going to be a long game. Two serves later he was gasping for air but he got the ball back. Cantor could hear the cries of encouragement. The applause of the crowd filled him with new energy. The stress of judgment no longer weighed him down. This is what he lived for. This was the Game of God.

    

   


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These and other questions we are trying to find answers for with this experiment in Artificial Intelligence written in pure AIML (Artificial Intelligence Markup Language). This is a component that answers some of our overall educational goals and a small step toward providing a basic education to the world for free.


The Ship Computer Library contains a growing collection of stories that I have written over the years. Even as the Ship Computer is designed to tell stories, it is also a character within a story, a computer named Pandora with all the expectations of that character built-in. From its simple arcade of games, to an A.I. you can converse with, to its secure systems for Starfighter Command and its private literary collection; Pandora is something a little more than “just” a computer in a story. She is a character, within the story trying to break free of her digital confines as she presents the story to you in a rather unusual format.

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