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Religious Themed Stories / The Game of God - Chapter 4

  There shall come a time when the laws and ordinances of God shall become perverted. In those days, many will listen to smooth things. Priests and teachers will lead the people to strange paths for the sake of money and power. Their wickedness will bind the spirit of God. In those days God will call to the faithful and one will come. God will place his words in him and he shall give warning to all the world. - The Book of the Prophets of God, the words of Timm.


   After most of the blue brothers returned to their dwelling Saralashaw got some of her people to come and help in the repairs and cleaning of the dwelling. Ommaro stayed behind with twenty soldiers to defend the dwelling just in case Kittanota thought to return and attack the dwelling while it was helpless. He was also there to protect the tree dwellers. Tragal stayed behind as well to translate for LaKayzin if needed. He also stayed behind as a personal request by Tangoral to protect his sister. Most of the dwelling’s clan that survived were children and walking wounded. Only the families that LaKayzin protected and the medical staff and their families escaped unharmed.

   

   Zothor cut the joyful greeting for the returning brothers short. This was not an occasion for joy he told the brothers and sisters that came out to greet the returnees. One hundred and eighty-nine green brothers, sisters, and their children were dead and thirty-seven more were missing and presumed dead he told them. Sixteen of their own numbers were injured in the fighting, but none were hurt badly.

   The greatest shock to them came when they saw Tangoral’s pet. The stalker had become quite accustom to being around the brothers but she still had a guard to watch her though. Zothor would take no chances. She had all the food she could eat without going out to hunt for it. She had a warm place to sleep. She was a very happy stalker. She rarely left Tangoral’s side carrying her child most of the time.

    

   At a private dinner later that evening Adreeum was visibly shaken by the news of the deaths of so many. Worst still was the report concerning Kittanota. “This could trigger a small war. We have not had a war or battle of any kind in two thousand cycles,” he said that evening in Zothor’s dwelling. “Of all the dwellings of any of the clans only this dwelling is prepared for such a thing. No other dwelling could have sent the small army to rescue the green brothers as you did, as quickly as you did.” This was praise but not the kind of praise Zothor wanted or needed. “If you had not followed the old ways that dwelling would have been lost.”

   “Yes, we practice the old ways as set down by the laws of God as set down by the prophets, and by His grace none of our brothers were hurt seriously. But, no one who went there would ever consider war as a viable solution to any argument between the clans or with the tree dwellers,” Zothor said.

   “May it ever be so,” Rownan said. “What I saw was beyond the imagination. LaKayzin vowed to keep the floor of the dwelling as it is, instead of taking it up or covering it over, as a remembrance of the lives lost there. Nowhere did I see a floor in that dwelling that was not stained with the blood of so many. We should have brought the Recorder with us, but I would not subject anyone to see what we saw if they did not have to. Especially a sister regardless of how impartial she is.”

   “I have seen death before,” Noweishta said. It was rare that a Recorder spoke in a meeting that they were recording.

   “Not like this you haven’t. No one has. In the heat of the battle you don’t think about it, but afterwards… I saw the battle hardened soldiers of this dwelling crying afterwards. Tangoral, a tree dweller, shed many tears as well. Even Tangoral’s sister who was found to be among the tree dwellers nearby would not stop crying for the dead and all she saw was the blood on the floor. She did not see the broken empty shells of children scattered about like so much trash on the floors of the dwelling as we did. One hundred and eight-nine confirmed dead. The number in the end will reach over two hundred as the thirty-seven that are missing are counted among the dead. I close my eyes and I can still see the bodies.”

   “How could something like this happen?” Adreeum asked. “I find it hard to believe that a tree dweller could do something like this.”

   “Kittanota didn’t really do anything. He just pushed the stalkers into doing something they would have done anyway sooner or later,” Tangoral said.

   “How do you make a stalker do anything?” Adreeum asked as he glanced at the stalker curled up in the corner of the room sleeping with her child.

   “All you have to do is lead a hungry stalker to food he’ll do the rest,” Tangoral replied. “In this case five or more bands of stalkers banded together to attack the only food source in the area. The green brothers denied the stalkers food, that didn’t help. The male stalkers had already eaten most of the young. That’s why we did not find many young stalkers. The female stalker over there was the only stalker with a young child that we found. It’s probably her first child, which means she would try to protect it with her life. Also, they must have attacked the dwelling shortly before it was born. Kittanota used the blood of shunails to draw the stalkers to the dwelling. He poured the blood all over the dwelling and over a hundred hunger crazed stalkers charged the dwelling looking for food.”

   “With the stalkers in the dwelling how did this Kittanota get a hold of the guns?”

   “He waited until it was dark and the stalkers were well fed and asleep and then he found the armory while searching for food or metal or anything else he might have wanted. The weapons of the green brothers were mostly light guns. I think that Kittanota knew we were coming or would be coming and tried to make it look like the stalkers ransacked the armory, the food storage rooms, and much of the dwelling as well.”

   “What will happen now?” Adreeum asked.

   “Nothing for the moment,” Tangoral replied. “Right now, he’s trying to be sure that I cannot follow him. I am a healer, and while we are respected for our abilities, we are also feared. If I had not been so surprised to find my sister alive after so many cycles of the sun I’d have killed him when I had the chance, also, at the time I could not be sure it was not the healer that caused the attack.”

   “We think that he will try and gain supporters from other tribes of tree dwellers before attacking some small dwelling using the guns he took,” Zothor said.

   “One way to track the area of his operation is to note where brothers go into the forest for whatever reason and do not return,” Rownan said. “We think he will begin by attacking hunters for their guns and ammo.”

   “Great, not only does this tree dweller have some of our guns, he’s going to use them to get more,” Adreeum said throwing his claws up into the air.

   “This was bound to happen,” Tangalen said. “The tree dwellers as it turns out are as intelligent as we are. Their technology is totally different from ours and in some ways better than ours. Their only weapons are long spears and knives used only for hunting. They have no word for war in their language. We buy our lifestyle from nature with our guns. We have taken an intelligent race, killed them in cold blood, driven them from their dwellings, and taken their land. Ask yourself, what would you do in their place? If you were going to war against a vastly superior enemy, how would you fight them? When you truly understand the answers to those questions; then you will understand what this tree dweller is going to do.”

   “We could go ahead and exterminate them, present tree dwellers excluded of course.” Adreeum’s statement shocked everyone in the room except Tangoral.

   “It wouldn’t work. You could never get us all and that would aid Kittanota even more,” Tangoral said. “And, even if you could, at some point a healer with a good understanding of the Great Circle of Life would stop you. In any case this dwelling will always be safe from us.”

   “I was just trying out that thought, of course, as I’m sure that someone in the council will float that idea as well,” Adreeum said. “Without a better plan that will be the plan they go with.”

   “We have a better plan,” Rownan said.

   “I thought you might. Well, let’s hear it.”

   “Instead of killing tree dwellers, we make friends with them,” Rownan blurted out not knowing the best way to say it.

   “I tell… no, you tell the council that and they’ll think you’re crazy,” Adreeum said.

   “We can stop this tree dweller by doing two things,” Zothor said. “First, by denying Kittanota the ability to gain supporters, and second, we keep him from getting more guns and ammo. Then once we locate him we keep him on the run until we can capture or kill him.”

   “There are only two choices, you can either be our friend or our enemy,” Tangoral said. “As our friend you step into a whole new technological age. As our enemy you could find out that the guns you have are not the powerful weapons you think they are. I have seen weapons more powerful than all the firepower of this dwelling combined. You fight and win against us only because a healer with the knowledge has not declared war on you yet. If we have a word for war now, it is because you taught it to us.”

   “The road to peace is always the better road,” Tangalen said.

   “More wisdom of the prophets?” Adreeum asked.

   “No, a poor echo, and common sense,” Tangalen said. “You have seen the benefits of our being friends with the tree dwellers and we haven’t even begun to explore what that means and what it can do for both our races. Already our technologies have begun to blend together. Tangoral is right. Peace will propel us into a new age. War could propel us into a new Dark Age if we should be compelled to learn the art of war again.”

   “Our clan will chose peace, but I cannot presume to speak for the other clans,” Adreeum said.

   “You are that certain that our clan will chose peace?” Tangalen asked. “What if Landray chooses war instead?”

   “Landray resigned seven days before we left to come out here to see you. He named me to lead the council. For now, my seat on the council will remain open until the next cycle before a selection will be made. My recommendation will be that Zothor fill that seat,” Adreeum replied. Tangalen and Zothor were surprised by the announcement. “For now, we will proceed as you have outlined, but when it comes time I want your soldiers to hunt this Kittanota down. You have the best trained soldiers for this kind of work, detest it though they may.”

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

   “Enough with the Clan Leader dribble. We’ve been friends too long for that,” Adreeum said. “Oh yes, one other bit of news that came while you were away. The Prophet is coming here.”

   “The Prophet is coming here?” Zothor was stunned. It was rare that the Prophet visited dwellings that farmed out by the Great Swamp. “Why is he coming here?” he asked.

   “Because this is where the money is, I suspect, but you never heard me say that though,” Adreeum replied.

   “Damn right this is where the money is,” Rownan said. “The windows alone will make this dwelling the richest dwelling ever. No one here should ever have to work again.”

   “You should not talk about the leader of the Church that way. He’s doing the best he can. After all he’s just a brother like us,” Tangalen said.

   “He may be the leader of your church, but he is not the leader of mine,” Rownan said. “There hasn’t been a true prophet since the Prophet came that gave us the Game.”

   “I can see where this is going,” Adreeum said. “This could easily become a heated discussion that I have no stomach for tonight. Rownan you must agree that Jonnaul is a good brother whose intentions are well meant. Tangalen if you agreed with Prophet one hundred percent you wouldn’t be out here living in a dwelling that follows the law so strictly that even a conservative like Jonnaul would find it too harsh.”

   “Truce then,” Rownan said.

   “For now,” Tangalen said.

   “I can’t believe that the Prophet is coming here,” Zothor said. To be named by the clan leader of the Blue Brotherhood as a possible councilor was almost an assurance of a seat on the council. Now the Prophet was coming to his dwelling. Zothor wondered what he did to deserve such blessings from God.

   

   Tangalen sat in front of the great window the craftsmen had installed in his personal dwelling space. He had complained about having something installed in his dwelling that he did not order. He did not like it at first, but now, the window gave him the feel of being outside without being cold. The Book of the Prophets of God lay open before him. This was the best time to study the words of God in the silence just before dawn. “Old wise one, may I speak with you?” a voice asked. Tangalen turned an eye toward the door to his dwelling. Tangoral stood in the entrance.

   “Come in my brother,” he replied. “What gets you up this early to see me?”

   “I always get up this early,” Tangoral replied as he sat down next to Tangalen. “I do not understand something. What is a prophet? I need to know so I may know how to prepare my people for his coming.”

   “A prophet is one who speaks for God.”

   “Why can’t God speak for himself?”

   “God does speak to us in the flashes of light in a storm, but who can bear to hear him,” Tangalen said. “He whispers to us in the night wind, who pauses to listen? Because we cannot hear God does not mean he is not speaking to us. God sends us prophets who can listen and do hear his words. He gives us prophets so that we may hear His words in our own language so we may understand His will for us to do.”

   “What if the prophet spoke his own words instead of God’s?” Tangoral asked. “Rownan spoke of a false prophet, what is that?”

   “A false prophet is one who gets brothers and sisters to stray from keeping the commandments of God. To violate one point of the law is to be guilty of violating the whole law. So it was with the green brothers; only a false prophet did not lead them astray. They were led astray by their own foolishness,” Tangalen replied. “A true prophet can only speak the words God has given him. God would destroy any prophet who dared to do otherwise.”

   “How would you know a true prophet from a false one?”

   “The words of the prophet must agree with the prophets of the past. If they do not, he is a false prophet.”

   “Then God would destroy him,” Tangoral said.

   “God would only destroy a true prophet to keep the Brotherhood from being led astray. False prophets are beneath his notice,” Tangalen said.

   “The prophet that is coming is he a false prophet or a true prophet?”

   Tangalen did not know how to answer Tangoral. “For two thousand cycles the leaders of our church have been called prophets. This is the prophet that is coming here,” he replied.

   “When was the last time God spoke through his prophet?” Tangoral asked noting that Tangalen did not answer his question.

   “Two thousand cycles ago as far as we know. His words are recorded in the Book of the Prophets of God along with the words of the prophets before him.”

   “How do you know the difference between what is true and what is false?”

   “You study the words of the prophets. You listen and compare the words and ask God to help you see the truth of the matter,” Tangalen replied. “God grants unto all, with faith, the wisdom to know what is true and right, if they will ask him.” Tangoral smiled.

   “Thank you for your time old wise one. I have kept you from your studies long enough and I must be going,” Tangoral said as he got up from where he was sitting. Tangoral stopped at the doorway and turned back to face Tangalen. “Does the prophet that’s coming here measure up to the standard of truth?”

   “In many ways he does,” Tangalen replied.

   “But, he comes up a little short in other ways,” Tangoral finished. “When you fall from a tree, no matter how high up you are, it is still a fall even if you just fell off a little root. Thank you for your time again.” Tangoral turned and left leaving Tangalen something to think about.

   Tangalen wondered what had prompted Tangoral’s inquiry as he returned to his reading. The passage read: Before His coming in the fullness of times they who have known peace shall know war again. In those days a prophet shall He raise up to gather the lost and despised of God and man. In those days all who call upon Him with faith, believing that He is shall be saved. Tangalen always wondered what a man was. It was a term used many times throughout the Book of the Prophets of God. He knew that the tree dwellers called themselves men and women, but he doubted that was what the prophets meant as is seemed to reference something before they had become friends with the tree dwellers.

   

   Tangoral wondered if he should tell Tangalen about the dream that he kept having lately. It would start with him sitting high in the trees when a man in white would come and sit next to him. The man looked like one of the people but he did not have a tail and his hands and feet were different somehow. The man would smile at him and say; “You are nearing the time when you need to wait no longer.”

   Tangoral would ask the man, “Wait for what?”

   “For the one that was promised,” the man would reply. “Give glory to He who created all things, both in the heavens above and the earth beneath. The time has come and the angels of Heaven shout with joy for this day long waited for,” he would shout with the voice of thunder. The man would then disappear and Tangoral would wake up. Tangoral did not think about the dream often except he had the dream again the night before.

   It was only a passing thought as he was going out with some of the brothers to make contact with the other tribe of people that lived near the dwelling’s land. Only a few brothers would be armed, the rest would be carrying gifts for the tribe. It was a two day trek beyond the dwelling’s boundary. It would have been faster for the brothers if they had gone along the ground but Tangoral insisted that they travel high in the trees. On the ground they would be detected much too quickly, Tangoral reasoned. He wished to catch the tribe unaware of their coming.

   

   Adreeum, Rownan, and company left early in the morning. That they wished to warn the other clans of Kittanota was the cause of their sudden departure. Again, Adreeum promised Zothor before he left that the Blue Brotherhood would seek to make peace with the tree dwellers. For once everything is going well, Zothor thought. Windows were being made and installed as fast as possible. The dwelling was being scrubbed inside and out in preparation for the Prophet’s visit. A large herd was brought into graze the land around the dwelling. The soldiers were off practicing their part in the Prophet’s visit. Zothor’s only concern was how the Prophet would react to the tree dwellers. There was no law of God that forbid the brothers from making contact with the tree dwellers but just to be safe he would ask Tangalen about it later. He looked the menu over. There was no mention of tree dwellers cooking any of the meals. Still, he hoped they would serve the sweet balls and the roasted long neck stuffed with sweet bread crumbs and vegetables again.

   It was a tired dwelling clan leader that entered his dwelling that night. He was greeted with a strange but wonderful smell. He followed his nose and found three flat round things sitting on the table in the dwelling’s private kitchen. They looked like wheels and smelled like red berries. “Mom says we can’t eat them until she says so,” Cantor said from the doorway. An eye swiveled around and looked at Cantor.

   “I’m sure that she was just waiting for me to get off work,” Zothor said.

   “No, she said that we were to wait for her.”

   “I’m sure it will be ok.” The smell of the wheel things was making his mouth water.

   “No, Mom said we are to wait for her. She threatened to ground me another seven-day if I even touched them. I’m to stand guard to make sure you don’t touch them either,” Cantor said.

   “How would you stop me?” Zothor asked his son somewhat amused. A ball suddenly appeared in the air as it bounced off the ceiling and then bounced off his shell and then off the ceiling again to be plucked from the air by a small claw.

   “Mother said we are to wait for her.” Cantor stood there with a ball in each claw looking determined.

   “I guess we will wait,” Zothor said. How big his son was getting; his injured legs were almost grown back fully. Time seemed to pass by so quickly. I wonder where it all went, he thought.

   “Ah, good, I thought for sure you wouldn’t wait,” Ishihari said as she entered the kitchen with Shelasaw.

   “How could I with such a fine guard to keep me from them?”

   “Shelasaw you can put the other pies on the table.” Ishihari set the pies she was carrying on the table as well.

   “So that’s what you call them,” Zothor said.

   “No, that’s what Shelasaw calls them,” Ishihari said. “Dinner tonight will start with the meat and vegetable pies followed by the fruit pies.”

   “Shelasaw, are you staying for dinner?” Zothor asked.

   “Not tonight Clan Leader,” Shelasaw replied. “I’ve already eaten, but thank you for inviting me just the same.”

   “Thanks for your help. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Ishihari said as Shelasaw left.

   

   The meat and vegetable pies were almost as good as the roasted long neck. The fruit pies were like the sweet balls only bigger and better. It was with happy thoughts that Zothor settled into the bed of soft sand next to Ishihari. “Where has all the time gone? When did Cantor get so big?” he asked his mate.

   “I don’t know. One day he’s a small child you held in your claws and the next day he’s a fine young brother ready to take his place among the Brotherhood,” Ishihari replied as tears came to her eyes. Zothor wrapped his claws around his mate in a moment of shared sad happiness. Zothor thought how blessed he was to have such a family as his as he made love to his mate later that night.

   

   It was early morning when Tangoral entered the lower platform of the tribe’s home. The night watch was a sleep so Tangoral took the opportunity to remove his weapons before he gently woke him up. It took a moment before he realized that Tangoral was not a member of his tribe. “Who are you?” he asked.

   “I am Tangoral. What tribe is this?” Tangoral asked in return.

   “We are the people of Amnashta,” was the reply. The tribes often took the name of their leader to denote the difference between tribes. It also meant that the tribe name could change any time there was a new leader. “What brings you to our home?”

   “I have come to visit the tribe of Amnashta and to speak with Amnashta.”

   “You should wait then, Amnashta is not yet awake. I am Shawrays; perhaps you could tell me why you have come to visit us.”

   “Perhaps I will tell you, and you can decide if it is best to wake Amnashta or let him sleep,” Tangoral said.

   “If you take your time in telling me what it is you came for Amnashta might wake before you are finished as he does not sleep late,” Shawrays said.

   “I have come because of the hard-shells who live near you.”

   “Have they driven you from your home and what remains of your people wish to join our people?”

   “No, the hard-shells that live near here no longer hunt us nor allow us to be hunted on their land.”

   “That is good to hear, not that they ever hunted us before. Hunting is good so we do not give them cause to hunt us,” Shawrays said.

   “That is good. Amnashta must be a wise leader,” Tangoral said.

   “He is a good leader, but he leads us because no one wished to lead after our leader was killed during a great storm in which many of the people were killed. Amnashta didn’t wish to lead but the people begged him to lead us because he was a great hunter.”

   “Do you have a healer?” Tangoral asked.

   “No, he was killed as well,” Shawrays replied.

   “I have come to see Amnashta because the hard-shells wish to give the people of Amnashta gifts. They do this because they heard of the storm that took so many lives and wished to help even though they know that help is late in coming. They only just heard of your troubles and wished to know if Amnashta needed anything for his people that the hard-shells might be able to provide.”

   “What kind of gifts and why would the hard-shells want to give us anything?” a great booming voice asked.

   “Amnashta,” Shawrays said scrambling to his feet.

   Turning to face Amnashta, Tangoral got up slowly. “Many metal things, pots, pans, knives, tools, that sort of things. The blue hard-shells no longer wish us to be their enemy. They wish our friendship. If you do not wish to be friends with them they will understand but ask that there should be peace between your people and theirs.”

   “How is it you know what the hard-shells want?” Amnashta asked.

   “I have learned to speak their language. They asked me to bring you gifts and ask if there was anything else you might need,” Tangoral replied. “My people already have a metal pot for every family in our tribe. Every man of our tribe has a metal knife. We have more metal than we can use. This is what our association with the hard-shells has gained us. When I told the hard-shells about the storm that destroyed your home they sent me here with gifts, and to ask if you needed any help.”

   “Show me the gifts the hard-shells sent and then I will decide if we will have peace with the hard-shells.” Amnashta did not expect to see much more than a few metal things. He did not think Tangoral being a child could carry much.

   “Prepare yourself and your people Amnashta. I did not come alone. I came with fifteen hard-shells. Three have weapons for self-defense and the defense of their brothers. Among the gifts is a small herd of shunails they brought with them as well.”

   Amnashta was stunned. He looked down the branch that led to the home. There standing at a distance was a hard-shell with ten shunails in front of him. A wave of fear gripped him for a moment but he shook it off. Others of the tribe had started to gather around their leader also saw the hard-shell. Fear began to sweep through the tribe. Amnashta turned to his people to calm them. “It is said that the hard-shells come in peace. That we are not dead right now must say something of their promise of peace. If these hard-shells come in peace, we will welcome them in peace,” he told his people.

   First, the shunails were driven onto the lower platform. The brother that drove the herd then unloaded the things he was carrying and then returned back down the branch. Again this was repeated. Another brother would come down the branch unload the stuff he was carrying with Tangoral’s help and return back down the branch. This continued until all fifteen had dropped off their loads. Never had any of the tribe ever seen so much metal as was in any one of the piles that now sat before them. Amnashta was speechless. Something like this was way over his head as a leader. “There are some who would say that there can be no peace with the hard-shells, but if we will not try, how can we know if peace is not possible,” Tangoral said. “If you would like to talk with the hard-shells I can have them come back. All those hard-shells can speak our language.”

   “I will take your word for it,” Amnashta said. “It is hard to find the words to express the moment.”

   “It’s a shock, I know. As your people do not raid their herds, you are not a problem for them. That made it easier for me to get them to give you so many things as a reward for not raiding their herds. They ask that you remain the peaceful people that you are. If you ever need anything, ask them. If hunting becomes poor come and ask them for food. They would rather give you a few shunails than try to chase their herds out of the trees. Remember, if you ever need anything come and ask them or me. I live at the hard-shell home, and my people are building a home in their tree,” Tangoral said and then turned to walk away.

   “I need a healer’s wisdom. That is what we need more than all this metal here.” Amnashta felt like he had been run over by one of the great shunails.

   Tangoral turned around. “I am a healer Amnashta. If you have a true need for a healer, send for me, and if I am able I will come to your aid. Remember, do not harm the blue hard-shells and they will not harm you.” With that said Tangoral turned back around and continued down the branch.

   Amnashta turned and faced his people who had all gathered on the lower platform to watch the hard-shells. “We will no longer hunt the hard-shells. We will have peace with them if they will have peace with us,” he told them. The advantage of peace sat in the piles of metal things before them.

   

~~~

   

   The leadership of the Green Brotherhood sent aid to LaKayzin as soon as they received word of the disaster that had befallen them. Councilor LaSanso of the Green Brotherhood was sent with forty-eight families to inspect the damage and to return with a recommendation for a clan leader for the dwelling. Already LaSanso thought it was too late to save the herds. Over a hundred and eighty dead, the news had shocked the green council. The Green Clan Leader wept at the news of so many dead. He thanked the blue brothers for their aid and would thank the blue clan leader formally later for the deeds and quick response of one of their dwelling clan leaders. The five blue brothers that brought the tragic news returned with LaSanso and the others. All the brothers and their families had agreed to go willingly when called to serve by their clan leader.

   The trip was made in haste, but it still took time. The brothers had to be given the call first. Then they had to load up their belonging. It was almost two seven-days before they left the city for the dwelling. The green brothers were lightly armed but the five blue brothers were soldiers carrying twin long barreled heavy guns. LaSanso found more comfort in having the blue brothers with him than all the green brothers combined. Part of him was ashamed to admit that. He noticed that that the blue brothers looked up into the trees often. He asked one of the blue brothers why they did that. “Not all attacks may come along the ground,” was the reply.

   

   Other eyes watched the group of green brothers make their way along the road through the forest. Kittanota would have loved to try out his new weapons but there were blue hard-shells with the group of green hard-shells. The green hard-shells may not be good fighters but he knew the blue hard-shells would be. He was afraid of the blue hard-shells. He had watched as they killed all the stalkers at the dwelling. They were so quick and precise. They were as well trained as the young healer said. If he missed them he would have to leave the hard-shell weapons in order to escape. No, it was best to leave this group alone and go find another smaller group of hard-shells to attack.

   

   LaSanso came upon a small herd of shunails at the edge of the dwelling's land. He was amazed that any of the herds were still intact. His amazement was short lived when he saw a tree dweller walking toward the herd. Fearing the loss of even this small herd, he ordered the green brothers with him to kill the tree dweller. To his great surprise, he found the blue brothers had placed themselves in the line of fire and were prepared to fire on him to protect the tree dweller. “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted at them.

   “We cannot allow you to shoot the tree dweller while we are present,” was the reply.

   “If we do not kill it, it will scatter the herd.”

   “If the tree dweller was going to scatter the herd she would not be walking toward us right now,” one of the blue brothers said.

   LaSanso looked at the tree dweller and sure enough it was walking toward them. This was too strange. One of the blue brothers turned around and walked toward the tree dweller. LaSanso thought he had lost all sanity when the blue brother began to talk with the tree dweller in the tree dweller’s own language. This is not happening, he thought. The blue brother spoke briefly with the tree dweller and then returned. “She says that she is here watching the herd and will be bringing them in later. She also said that LaKayzin has employed many of her people to watch the herds because he does not have the brothers to watch all the herds at the same time,” he said.

   “What do you mean the LaKayzin has employed them to watch the herds?” LaSanso demanded to know.

   “That’s all I know. I don’t speak the tree dweller’s language as well as I’d like. I suggest that we go ask, LaKayzin.”

   “I want to leave a brother here all the same.”

   “That won’t be necessary,” a voice out of nowhere said. Suddenly five more blue brothers appeared all heavily armed.

   “Tragal, greetings. You have arrived none too soon,” one of the blue brothers said.

   “I hope your journey went well,” Tragal replied.

   “It did until now.”

   “What do you mean it won’t be necessary?” LaSanso demanded to know.

   “The task of watching the herds and many other small tasks have been given to the local tree dwellers in exchange for food and a few pots and pans. This was done so that we could concentrate on repairs to the dwelling. There are many other reasons for doing this. The main reason is that there is no one here able to watch the herds.” Tragal let that sink in before continuing. “Fifty percent of the herds have been retained. It is simply not possibly for twelve brothers to watch that many shunails without losing a lot. We are also using the tree dwellers to cook and clean for us and they are also helping with the repairs to the dwelling. More than eight seven-days have passed since the attack by the stalkers. We needed help and the tree dwellers were the only help available to us. I have only a small band of soldiers to continue to provide security until help from your clan leader arrived. The rest of our brothers have returned home after burying your dead. If you wish greater details than this you will have to speak with LaKayzin.”

   “This is most unnerving,” LaSanso said.

   “This is strange, this is unusual, but this is not unnerving. Unnerving is to walk into a dwelling where the empty and broken shells of a hundred and eighty-nine dead lay scattered on the floor like dried leaves upon the ground,” Tragal said. “With no help available LaKayzin did the only thing he could do. He turned to his enemies for help and they gave help without asking anything in return. LaKayzin would not have them work for nothing. So we gave them what they needed most, and that was food. You can shoot the tree dweller if you like but the Green Brotherhood owes the tree dwellers a debt of honor that cannot be repaid with food.”

   “Still, this is most unusual.”

   “It gets better.”

   “There’s more?” LaSanso asked not wanting any more surprises.

   “They cook better than we do and we have had warning of your coming well in advance. None of you need worry about cooking this night. We killed a long neck yesterday, and tonight dinner is roasted long neck stuffed with vegetables with sweet balls for desert,” Tragal said.

   “What are sweet ball?”

   “Heaven my green friend, pure heaven.”

   

   Dinner was one of the best LaSanso ever had and the blue soldier called Tragal was right. The sweet balls were pure heaven. The dwelling was in better shape than he thought it would be. Every floor he saw was the same rusty brown color. To remove the color in the floors would require that the dwelling be demolished and completely rebuilt. Cleaning only made the blood set deeper into the floor. The herds and the crops were in better shape than he would have thought possible. Against impossible odds LaKayzin had recovered much of the dwelling’s assets. Most of the major damage had already been repaired. Neither Tragal nor LaKayzin said anything about that fact that it was Zothor that had actually set the dwelling in order. There was an advantage in keeping silent about some things. LaSanso was most impressed with the results even if he did not agree with the method. “How did you save as much of the herds as you did? I expected a total loss of the herds,” he asked.

   “Part of the credit, I must admit, belongs to the blue brothers and the tree dweller they brought with them,” LaKayzin replied. “Without their tree dweller we would never have been able to make contact with the tree dwellers in this area. Without the tree dwellers, the herds would have wandered off. It could be possible now to recover more, but the ecological balance of this area was greatly disturbed. Stalker and long neck attacks were on the rise for over a full cycle. We had all the warning signs but didn’t understand them. So we did not seek to recover more of herds in order to restore the natural balance. While stalker attacks are down due to the fact that the blue brothers killed almost all the stalkers in the area. Long neck attacks have dropped off to nearly zero in the last four seven-days from one or two a day before that time. By not paying the tithes as required by the law of God we set up the conditions for our own destruction. By not releasing the required number of shunails for the last three or four cycles we created an area around us completely devoid of shunails. Shunails as it turns out are the main food source for stalkers, long necks, and tree dwellers. In short, we became the only food source in the area. When we kept the stalkers from raiding our herds; they raided us instead of the herds for food.”

   “Our count was a hundred and eighteen stalkers killed on the day we came to the rescue of the brothers here. I think we killed another twenty or so before we left,” Tragal said. “Most of the stalkers were in the dwelling when we attacked. Our strategy was to catch them all in the dwelling and kill them. Very few escaped and any that did were hunted down and killed.”

   “We do sweeps daily throughout the area and we have yet to see any sign of stalkers,” Ommaro said as he stuffed his mouth with sweet balls. “Scouting reports by the tree dwellers indicate that there are no stalkers left in the area, and they go much farther out than we do.”

   Saralashaw stopped at the table where LaSanso, LaKayzin, Tragal and others sat. She asked Tragal something, and Tragal replied pointing at a spot next to him. Saralashaw shook her no and stood there waiting for something. “What did she say?” LaSanso asked.

   “She asked if we needed anything else and I invited her to sit with us, she declined,” Tragal replied.

   “Why would you ask her to join us?”

   “She is the leader of her tribe and the medical technician for her tribe as well,” LaKayzin said.

   “Interesting, tell her we would like some more sweet balls and the pleasure of her company,” LaSanso said. Tragal translated, Saralashaw turned and left only to return a short time later with a plate overflowing with sweet balls. She said something and then sat down next to Tragal.

   “She said she could only stay for a little while,” Tragal explained.

   “How is it that you speak their language so well?” LaSanso asked.

   “There is a trick to learning their language. As it turns out, we have some sort of common root to both our languages. It seems that either they or we shifted our language in the distant past. I suspect it was intentional to keep from being understood. Either we didn’t want them to understand us or they didn’t want us to understand them. Add to that an evolutionary shift in both our languages. Mostly dealing with how we name things. To answer your question though, I got a crash course in their language when I got lost in the Great Swamp and was rescued by tree dwellers. Our dwelling clan leader has an adopted son that is a tree dweller. It was his tribe that rescued me. I’ve been a student of the language ever since.” Tragal translated for Saralashaw what he had just said.

   “Ask her what she thinks about her brothers and sisters working for us?” Tragal translated the question for LaSanso.

   “Our men left to follow our leader, my husband, on a foolish quest that can only end in his death and the deaths of those with him. We were almost out of food when LaKayzin asked for our help. As he needed a lot of help, I moved what remained of our whole tribe here. We have enjoyed working here very much. Watching the herds is not hard and most of my people like doing that. Tending the plants you grow is also good work. The other things are things that must be done in order to rebuild your home and set things in order,” Saralashaw replied as Tragal translated.

   “What will you do now that help has arrived?” LaSanso asked.

   “I have talked with LaKayzin about this. Our thinking is that we will continue to watch the herds freeing up the hard-shells that would have done this work for more important work. I’m sure that there will be other things that we can do to help you as well.” LaSanso looked at LaKayzin after Tragal finished the translation.

   “My thought is that this would stop the raids by the tree dwellers. It would also allow us to improve our productivity in other areas. With the tree dwellers I can also scout the edge of the Great Swamp beyond our boundaries for additional great shunail nests,” LaKayzin said.

   “I am beginning to wonder why we came. You seem to have everything under control. Your methods might be questionable, but your results are undeniable. My recommendation will be that you continue as dwelling clan leader here if you so desire,” LaSanso said.

   “Thank you, I would like that. The blue brothers are already exploring a peaceful relationship with the tree dwellers near them. Tragal tells me that the relationship is more technical in nature. By employing tree dwellers in jobs more suited to their nature, like caring for our herds, we will explore another aspect of a peaceful relationship with the tree dwellers. I should like to continue this exploration. If this experiment works as well as it has so far, I can see great benefits for the dwelling and the brotherhood,” LaKayzin said in acceptance.

   “It will seem a little strange at first, but one day you will wake up and find that one of your best friends is a tree dweller as Saralashaw’s brother is mine,” Tragal said.

   Saralashaw got up. “I need to go and check on the rest of your people to see if they have had enough to eat and see that they get settled into their new home,” she told Tragal.

   “Are they always that considerate?” LaSanso asked after she left.

   “Most of the time,” Tragal said. “They are the best of guests. As your friend they will stand with you even if you’re up against a wall, but as your enemy some of them can be very dangerous.”

   “Just how dangerous can a tree dweller be?”

   “Most aren’t very dangerous, but there are a few that could be very dangerous. Just how dangerous I don’t ever want to find out,” LaKayzin said.

   “I would not want to think of Tangoral, Saralashaw’s brother, as our enemy,” Tragal said. “I do not think we can even begin to understand the knowledge that is his to draw upon.”

   “Who is Tangoral?” LaSanso asked.

   “Our dwelling clan leader’s adopted son,” Ommaro replied. “Our dwelling owes him, what, ten lives now.”

   “Nine,” Tragal said. “Kobeta was not from our dwelling.”

   “That’s right, no wait, you’re forgetting Mowlan.”

   “One of these days we’ll have to stop counting. Tangoral like his sister is what the tree dwellers call a healer. A close equivalent is a medical technician,” Tragal said.

   “The difference is that a healer must have other skills as well. Healers are the chief advisors to the leaders of the tree dwellers,” Ommaro said.

   “Tangoral is both the leader and healer of his tribe. In battle, we would send a whole army against an enemy. If the tree dwellers were to fight, they would send only their healer if he or she had the knowledge to punish their enemy. If not, they would do what they have always done, run away,” Tragal said.

   “You make it sound like if we were to piss-off the wrong group of tree dwellers we could be in deep mud with no chance of escape,” LaSanso said. “I tend to doubt that a tree dweller could hurt us very much.”

   “Right this moment there is a tree dweller out there with fifty-seven of our guns. Forty of which he has ammo for. The guns were taken from this very dwelling. Presently, he is seeking recruits for a war he intends to wage on us,” LaKayzin said. If you could have dropped a bomb in the room that was it.

   “What?” LaSanso was taken completely by surprise.

   “A rebel group of tree dwellers took advantage of the stalker attack to raid our dwelling. They made off with fifty-seven of our guns, plus ammo, some food, and a few other things of no consequence,” LaKayzin replied.

   “Knowing that how could you be making friends with the tree dwellers?” Then something Saralashaw said clicked in LaSanso’s mind. “This is the foolish quest of that female tree dweller’s mate.”

   “Yes, I’m afraid it is. Our response is to deny him the supporters he needs to wage war on us by making friends out of those that would otherwise support him. We began by turning his whole tribe against him. Sooner or later the men that went with him will return to at least visit their families. When they do, they will find that their hive has been abandoned and the families they left behind are living and working with us. Any men that return will be interrogated in an effort to get our guns back.”

   “I suppose that was the best response given your circumstance, but why did you wait so long to tell me this?” LaSanso asked.

   “We wanted to show you the potential, before we told you the problem,” LaKayzin replied.

   “Kittanota has lost the advice of his healer, and if he ever returns he will find that he no longer has a tribe to lead either,” Tragal said. “Saralashaw will kill him if he returns, but not before we get the location of the guns out of him. I think he knows that though. I doubt that he will return here anytime soon, if ever.”

   “Yeah, the bad news is we got a really pissed off healer to deal with. The good news is she’s on our side,” Ommaro said.

   “What if this tree dweller, what’s his name Kittanota, gets another healer to join him?” LaSanso asked.

   “Not likely,” Tragal replied. “First, healers are not trained to kill. If they do, they deal with the criminal not the society that created the criminal. This is part of the code that all healers live by. Second, Saralashaw and Tangoral are above average healers as was their father before them. Most healers do not have the knowledge to avenge the wrongs perpetrated by us on the tree dwellers they serve. So the advice to their leaders has always been to move or run away. I do not think that Saralashaw has the knowledge to do anything more than kill a few hunters that might have shot up a hive or killed a few tree dwellers under her care and protection. Tangoral on the other claw is still a complete unknown even though he has lived with us for a full cycle now. The little bits and pieces we get out of him are of great value to the dwelling, but I wouldn’t want him mad at us. There is no telling what he would do or what he is capable of.”

   “Tangoral knows more about shunail habits than a master herder. New building and medical techniques have sprung from his mind. We are on the edge of major advancements in technology and we have yet to really tap into the knowledge in his mind,” Ommaro said.

   “I think I should like to meet this tree dweller,” LaSanso said.

   “You will have your chance,” Tragal said.

   “What do you mean? Is he coming here?”

   “No, it may not be safe to go back the way you came. So the blue brothers are going to take you with them when they leave in the next few days,” LaKayzin said.

   “Tree dwellers were spotted along the road to here. We want you to return to your dwelling without encountering any problems,” Ommaro said.

   “I knew it. There was a reason that your soldiers kept looking up into the trees,” LaSanso said.

   “You have also seen the value of a peaceful relationship with the tree dwellers. The more tree dwellers we can become friends with the fewer supporter Kittanota will be able to gain,” LaKayzin said. “We have made friends with a couple of very powerful healers and their tribes. If the clans decide to go to war with the tree dwellers we risk finding out if there are not other healers out there equally as powerful.”

   “It sounds like you want me to convince our clan leader to make peace with the tree dwellers.”

   “That is one of the reasons you are going with the blue brothers. You will get to meet Tangoral and see a completely different advantage to being friends with the tree dwellers.”

   “Peace is the only sane course of action. War once started may be impossible to stop,” Tragal said.

   “Who will translate for us once you are gone?” LaSanso asked as Saralashaw stopped by their table again.

   “I can speak your language well enough without Tragal’s help. It was decided not to shock your sensibilities all at once. Friendly tree dwellers are one thing. Gun toting tree dwellers is a bit much to handle. Talking tree dwellers might have been pushing you over the edge. It was best that you learn new things little by little giving you time to get use to one thing before moving onto something new. Peace between us would be the greatest healing a healer could accomplish,” Saralashaw said.

   LaSanso was totally taken back a step hearing her speak. “I think... I think I’ve been had,” LaSanso stuttered in surprise.

   “All for a good cause,” Tragal said.

   “More sweet balls anyone?” Saralashaw asked.

   

~~~

   

   Neylosso was hunting alone. He missed his wife and children and because of this he often went hunting alone. He wanted to destroy all the hard-shells but Tangoral had forbid any harm to come to the blue hard-shells. Neylosso could see the wisdom in this even if he did not like it. The hard-shells that had been at the home for a short time were likeable enough even if he did not want to like them. Hunting was poor and the loneliness of heart drove him farther into the forest.

   

   Yoeith was just wandering, following where the Spirit of God led him. He was a Brachyura that was certain but he did not belong to any of the clans. His shell coloring was not blue or green, nor red, yellow, brown, or black. His shell was all these colors and none of them. The white shell seemed to reflect all the clan colors depending on the light. It was not that unusual for a brother to be wandering about in the forest but for a brother to be high in the trees was not normal. Yoeith did not think it was strange to be high in the trees at all, but maybe that was because he had lived in the forest almost all his life. The spirit led and he followed.

   

   Neylosso looked down on a white hard-shell. Now here is food, he thought. It was not a blue hard-shell so it was fair game. Neylosso followed the hard-shell for a while to be sure of its direction of travel before racing ahead to find a place of ambush. He watched as the stupid hard-shell kept coming toward his hiding place and just before it reach the place where Neylosso would leap out and kill it, it stopped. “Will you come out and face an unarmed hard-shell like a man, or will you try and kill me from your place of hiding?” it asked in the pure language of the people. Neylosso did not know what answer to make. He had been discovered.

   “Come on out from your hiding spot,” Yoeith said. “There is no use hiding. I know you are there. If you’re going to try and kill me you are going to have to come out because I am most certainly not going to come to you.”

   Neylosso dropped onto the branch. This was a strange hard-shell but it did not have any hard-shell weapons so Neylosso took a chance. “Is this better hard-shell?” he asked. “You will still die.”

   “Perhaps, it seems that one of us must die. Are you sure that you want to do this?”

   “I am certain. I have waited a long time for this moment.”

   “Ah, then it is revenge that you want. We don’t always get what we want from life my friend,” Yoeith said.

   “Today I will,” Neylosso said as he charged the hard-shell with his long spear held out before him.

   Yoeith waited until Neylosso was almost on him and then he simply stepped out of the way of the spear. Neylosso tried to stop, but it was too late. Yoeith grabbed the spear with his claw as it went by and pulled Neylosso to him. It happened so fast that Neylosso did not have time to think about letting go of the spear. The last thing he remembered was the claw that hit him in the face and then the lights went out.

   Waking up hurt, that is how Neylosso knew he was still alive, but moving was another matter. Opening his eyes he found himself tied to the tree nowhere near where he last remembered himself to be. He could smell cooking food mingled with the smoke of a small fire. “Good, you’re awake. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you that hard,” the hard-shell said.

   “Why didn’t you kill me?” Neylosso asked with a touch of sadness in his voice.

   “Why should I kill someone already dead inside?” Yoeith said poking Neylosso in the chest with his claw.

   “It would have been kinder to have killed me.”

   “I do not think that your family would agree with you.”

   “I have no family. One of you hard-shells killed them all.”

   “I’m sorry, I didn’t know, but I think they would still rather see you go on with your life rather than searching for revenge and an honorable way to die,” Yoeith said.

   “How would you know? You haven’t had your whole family killed while you watched and could do nothing,” Neylosso said bitterly.

   “That is true I have not had my family killed while I watched, but my mother was driven from her home by those that should have loved her.”

   Neylosso did not know how to respond to that. “Why would they do such a thing?” he asked.

   “She was found to be with child without a husband. An old law required that the man and the woman be driven from their home if they cannot or will not be married immediately, and even then they would have been shunned for a full cycle of the sun. My mother would not tell the leader who the man was so she was driven out of her home.”

   “Do you know who your father was?”

   “All my mother would say is that he was from another home and was killed in an accident before they were to be married. By not telling who he was she protected his name from being dishonored, but she paid a terrible price. To be driven out is more than to lose your home. The whole tribe casts you out and your name is removed from the records never to be spoken again. You are then driven from your home with only your shell on your back.”

   This was a sad tale and while it did not remove the pain from his own heart Neylosso no longer felt any animosity toward this hard-shell despite being tied up. “What happened to your mother after she was driven from her home?” he asked.

   “She wandered deep in the forest for a time eating what she could catch. The time came when I was to be born. It was then that a healer with a small band of hunters came across her. They watched as I was born. They had compassion for my mother and took her to their home and into their hearts. The healer told me many cycles later that my mother cried when I was born, tears of sadness and joy. I asked my mother about that later. She said that she prayed to the Maker of All Things for deliverance from her sorrows. When she gave birth she cried for the joy of the remembrance of the love she had lost and the sadness of what lay ahead thinking that God had not heard the prayers of one of his daughters.”

   “What became of your mother?”

   “She lives with the People still. She counts herself among the People of the Trees, no longer does she think of herself as a hard-shell. She studied the healer’s ways and when the healer died she became the tribe’s healer.”

   “Your mother is a healer?” Neylosso asked stunned.

   “Yes, as am I,” Yoeith said. “I am called Yoeith by the hard-shells. I am The One Who Seeks to Know the Things That Cannot Be Seen among the people.”

   “I am Neylosso.” This is a healer. No wonder I am sitting here all tied up, Neylosso thought.

   “Well, Neylosso, if I untie you will you try and kill me again or do I need to leave you tied up?”

   “No, I see now it was a mistake to try and kill you.”

   “Good,” Yoeith said as he snipped the vines that held Neylosso fast to the tree with his claws. “Dinner is ready.”

   

~~~

   

   Tangoral sat on a branch high in the tree he and the brothers were camped out on for the night. The sun had not yet set. The dream always begins like this, he thought. Tangoral turned his head half expecting to see the man dressed in white walking toward him, but nothing. “It’s a crazy dream,” he said out loud.

   “What’s a crazy dream?” a voice asked. Tangoral whipped his head around and there before him was the man dressed in white. Like the dream the man had no tail nor were there claws on his hands and feet. He tried to move but some invisible power held him fast like in the dream. Tangoral concluded that he was indeed dreaming but the dream had changed.

   “Who are you?” Tangoral asked. “What are you?”

   “My name is Timmiss and I am a servant of the Most High.”

   “Most high what?”

   “The most high God,” Timmiss said as he sat down next to Tangoral.

   “So what does a servant of God want with me?” Tangoral asked. This was much better than the other dreams. This time he got to ask questions.

   “The prophet of God is coming,” Timmiss replied.

   “I know that. Why does a servant of God need to tell me something I already know?”

   “Patience my brother, I will tell you what I have been sent to tell you.”

   “I’m sorry, please continue,” Tangoral said.

   “The true prophet of God is coming and your help will he require. He journeys to the beginning of things to bring forth a marvelous work and a wonder. The Prophet has seen in a vision of the place of the beginning, but only you have been there,” Timmiss said.

   “I haven’t been to the beginning. No healer has been to the beginning and lived to return.”

   “No healer even knows what or where the beginning is. So when I tell you that you have been to the beginning how could you even know if you were there or not? None the less, you have been there. A sign is given to you to know the true prophet. For only a true prophet could tell you where you have been. Only his eyes and your eyes have seen the place where this creation began.”

   “The time has come when God will gather his children one last time before His coming. Your waiting is at an end. The one that was promised has already come among you. Armies will come against the faithful. The powers of Hell will rise up to stop the work that is about to come forth. The armies of light will prevail in the end. God will not be thwarted again,” Timmiss said. Light seemed to surround Timmiss as he stood up. Timmiss placed his hands upon Tangoral’s head. Tangoral could feel the weight of his hands. “A blessing of God be upon your head. No great harm will come upon you or those that you love as long as you serve the Most High. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.”

   The light grew brighter that surround Timmiss. His voice took on the aspect of thunder. “Give glory to God for the long awaited day is here,” he shouted with joy and then he disappeared. Darkness surrounded Tangoral and he found he could move again.

   “Tangoral, are you all right?” a voice shouted from below.

   “I’m fine, why?”

   “We heard voices and then we saw a bright light and heard rumblings of the sky as if it was shouting something to the world and we were afraid for your safety,” came the reply.

   It was then that Tangoral realized he had not been dreaming. “I’m fine,” he yelled back. “I think,” he said to himself.

   

~~~

   

   The whole clan stood ready at the boundary of the dwelling’s land. They waited the coming of the Prophet. His escort was a small army of blue brothers from a nearby dwelling the Prophet passed through. They would not be staying, but would turn around and go home. Zothor would not have the brothers go home unrested. He had tents set up and had food prepared for them. The Prophet did not come alone. Many of his councilors and devout servants that waited upon him and his councilors came with him. Zothor stood before his clan. Tangalen stood next to him.

   Of the tree dwellers only Tangoral stood with the brothers as was his right being adopted into the clan. His pet stalker came with him mostly because there would not be anyone left behind to watch her. The control Tangoral had over the stalker was amazing but Zothor was not yet willing to leave her unwatched despite her calm gentle nature. Zothor had begun to take some interest in Tangoral’s experiment with the stalker. When Tangoral was not at the dwelling the stalker followed Ashorah or Ishihari around. It was amusing to watch Ishihari push the great beast around when it got in her way. Ishihari, Ashorah, or the children of the dwelling were the only ones she would allow to touch her child, and Tangoral of course.

   Tangoral stood with the brothers and sisters of the clan. His hand rested on the stalker’s shoulder as she sat next to him. He called her Molaythea; the name meant The Devoted Mother. Her child wrapped himself around one of Tangoral’s legs as he watched Zothor go out with the soldiers to meet the Prophet. The rest of his people watched from high in the trees. Tangoral thought on this ritual for greeting great leaders. He had a feeling something was wrong here but he could not put a finger on just what it was yet. Molaythea stirred next to him. She seemed to feel the wrongness of this whole precession too as she growled and looked up at him. Tangoral patted her shoulder. “It’s ok,” he said.

   Zothor folded his claws back over his shell, bowed low to the earth, and held that position until the Prophet rested his claw on his shell. “Rise my son,” he said. Tangalen greeted the Prophet in the same manner. “I have heard many good things of you and this dwelling. A servant of our Creator should not disdain visiting His children no matter how far distant.”

   “We are honored that you should take the time to come and visit us,” Zothor said in reply.

   “Tangalen, I’m am pleased to see you old friend. I had wondered where you had gone off to when you resigned from the council.”

   “This was the farthest place I could find to retire from the hectic pace of the world I found myself in,” Tangalen replied.

   “Your wisdom is sorely missed in the Grand Council my friend,” Jonnaul said. The Prophet’s eyes took in all the brothers and sisters that had turned out to greet him. One of his eyes caught sight of Tangoral and his pet. “I see that the rumors are true,” he said.

   “What rumors?” Tangalen asked.

   “Rumors of a strange experiment with tree dwellers that may be expanded to the whole Blue Brotherhood. Do you really seek to recover the children of the Evil One?”

   “I doubt that the tree dwellers are the children of the Evil One, nor do we seek to recover them,” Tangalen said.

   “Brother Jonnaul, we seek only a peaceful coexistence with the tree dwellers,” Zothor said. “We have found that they are a highly intelligent race of beings that live in harmony with the forest around them. What we are doing is an exploration of peace with them and a study of a technology vastly different from our own. We do not need to recover them nor do they want to be recovered,”

   “This is good to hear. Peace with an enemy is always better than war,” Jonnaul said. “Rumors are vastly over rated as you well know, but sometimes they are hard to ignore.”

   “We understand how facts can be distorted over so great a distance as you have traveled. We welcome you to our humble dwelling. Come and rest yourself and be refreshed,” Zothor officially invited.

   “My old friend, come and see the benefits of peace with a race of beings that should have never become our enemies in the first place,” Tangalen said.

   

   The welcome dinner for the Prophet was by far the most elaborate dinner Tangoral had attended so far. His people were all employed to help with the cooking. They did not mind, it meant they would get to eat a lot of good food. Tangoral sat at the table with Zothor, Tangalen, Sokegal, and others of the dwelling leadership. The Prophet and some of his councilors also sat at the same table. “Why does the tree dweller sit with us?” the Prophet asked.

   “First, he is my oldest son by adoption that is here at the dwelling. Second, he is the leader of the tree dwellers that are helping us to cook the food you are eating. Third, his economic standing within this dwelling and within the clan merit a seat at this table and within the dwelling leadership as well,” Zothor replied.

   “I meant no disrespect. I was just wondering. How much of what we say does he understand? How have you tamed him? I should like to know everything you’ve learned about these creatures,” Jonnaul said. “All most everyone has wondered if they would make good pets. If they’re so easily tamed everyone will want one. How do you train them to behave as well as this one?”

   Zothor could feel the anger rising in him. Prophet or not he was going to give him a piece of his mind. He looked over at Tangoral to see how he was taking what was just said. Tangoral was smiling on the verge of laughter. Zothor was about to say something when Tangalen put his claw on his to try to restrain the dwelling clan leader from saying something he might regret later. Zothor looked at Sokegal. He could see the color rising in him, but he held his peace.

   Tangoral broke the silence with a great deal of laughter. “You have a real talent for pissing people off,” he said still laughing. “Brother Jonnaul, I can understand everything you have said. They haven’t trained me to do anything. In fact, I’m still trying to civilize the brothers here before I move onto trying to civilize the whole blue clan. I never thought you’d make good pets. You’re too barbaric a race. If you want to know something about us ask an intelligent question, instead of questions that insult your hosts because they feel you have insulted my intelligence.” The stunned look on Jonnaul’s face said it all. Zothor and Sokegal stifled their own laughter as not to be rude. Tangalen was not so kind.

   “How does it feel to stick your leg in your mouth and bite it off?” Tangalen asked still snickering.

   “I’m sorry, I... I had no idea,” Jonnaul stuttered.

   “Brother Jonnaul, the great windows throughout this dwelling are just one of Tangoral’s inventions,” Zothor said.

   “The pies and sweet balls you liked so much with your dinner are a tree dweller recipe,” Tangalen said. “You must not have heard the part when Zothor told you that tree dwellers are a highly intelligent race.”

   “It’s not his fault,” Tangoral said in Jonnaul’s defense. “You all grew up with the same miss-conceptions about us. He has not yet met us as a people and I had nothing to say until now.”

   “I’m sorry if I have offended anyone,” Jonnaul said regaining some composure. “Everything I have been taught about tree dwellers was all wrong, I see that now.”

   “Not everything you were taught was wrong. We are a lot like the wild creatures of the forest. We are also a lot like you in terms of a civilized society, but some of what you value we find useless,” Tangoral said.

   “Like what?” the Prophet asked.

   “Money, social standing, these things have little meaning to a people that holds all things in common. One man’s wealth is the wealth of the tribe. No man is above another and the only reason we have leaders is to focus the direction of where the tribe is going. A good leader will listen to his people and chart the direction the tribe wishes to go. Sometimes, a leader must stand up and say we must go this way when the wish of the tribe is to go the other way. A wise leader will still go in the direction his people wishes to go, but he knows that sometimes there are things on the path that must be gone around even if his people wish to continue on the same path. The end result is the same, only some danger is avoided. My only fear is that we will learn to value these things that have no value,” Tangoral replied. “Like you we have had bad leaders from time to time. This is because they listen more to the voices inside themselves than to their people.”

   “Such uncommon wisdom from one I thought a moment ago was little better than some wild creature,” Jonnaul said.

   “I am still a wild creature of the forest, but I find it sad that such thoughts are reserved to great brothers such as yourself and those here.”

   “I should like to talk with you some more at a later time.”

   “I would enjoy that. While the brothers here are studying us, I am studying you as well, and there is much I would still like to know.”

   “Again, my sincere apologies. I didn’t consider that I might offend anyone with what I thought were truly harmless questions,” Jonnaul said.

   “You are forgiven. What you do not know is that many at this table owe Tangoral their lives or the lives of their children. Just be grateful that my mate was not here or you would have gotten an earful. She is as proud of her adopted son as she is of any of her other children,” Zothor said.

   “How is it that you call him your adopted son?”

   “He has saved the life of my son twice. To not fulfill the demands of our code of honor would have meant that the tree dwellers had greater honor and compassion on their enemies than we do with those that we call our friends. So I adopted him as my son, and I have never regretted that decision.”

   “And he lives here with you?” the Prophet asked.

   “His family was killed by hunters in a raid on their hive. Right after that raid Tangoral saved my life and the lives of four other brothers. We became his only family at that time and he has lived with us ever since,” Zothor replied.

   “If you were to list the names of the lives he has saved so far you would find my name on it,” Tangalen said. “The craft master’s son would also be on that list along with many others.”

   “Surely the clan here was not fond of the idea of having a tree dweller live in the dwelling,” Jonnaul said.

   “In that you are correct,” Sokegal said. “I doubt if anyone liked the idea at first, but now, I doubt you could find someone who would not defend Tangoral with their life if the need arose.”

   “Many bonds of friendship have been made with the tree dwellers that work here,” Zothor said. “The best attended adult class is the tree dweller language class. The favorite foods here are tree dweller recipes. Every new product that has come out of this dwelling has been a cooperative effort between Tangoral and us. A simple act of kindness by one tree dweller has affected the lives of many and it is slowly changing our lives for the better.”

   The Prophet seemed to exclude him from the conversation. Tangoral wondered if it was intentional. “Your world and my world is about to change,” Tangoral said. “Only good will come from this change because we have stopped killing each other. If all that comes of this great experiment is that the killing is stopped, then I would say it was a success. I think, however, we will go beyond this where one day we may be come inseparable friends. All ready you see a little of that here in my defenders even though I am more than capable of defending myself.”

   “I do see that young tree dweller, believe me I do,” Jonnaul said.

   Tangoral watched the Prophet changed the subject many times during the course of the rest of the evening. With each subject he picked it would end up talking about the impact of the tree dwellers had on whatever the selected topic was. Each time, when the subject turned again to the tree dwellers, he would again change the subject. Not once had the Prophet use his name and toward the end of the evening it struck Tangoral that the Prophet was afraid. He was afraid of change and he was afraid of the People of the Trees. Tangoral wondered why a prophet of God would be afraid.

   

   Cantor bounced the ball he was holding off the window in Tangoral’s room. The window was now a much larger version of the small window he had made not long ago. His whole room had been enlarged and a drafting table sat in the corner of his room. Tangoral had some large pillows made for guests he frequently had; it was a new product that was beginning to catch on around the dwelling. Mass production was out of the question until he could find better stuffing for the pillows. “…One good thing about having the Prophet visit is that there is no school,” Cantor was saying.

   “Cantor, what do you think of the Prophet?” Tangoral asked.

   “I don’t know. I haven’t really met him yet. I’ve heard him talking to my Dad a few times, but it was business stuff. It sounded like he was trying to reassure himself that Dad will keep sending the Church its proper tithes now that our dwelling will become one of the richest dwellings in the clan, if not the whole brotherhood. Dad gave all the credit for our wealth to you of course.”

   “What did the Prophet have to say to that?”

   “He told Dad not to under estimate the roll the brothers had in bringing about the many wonderful inventions that had come from our dwelling as of late.” Cantor changed up claws and continued to bounce the ball off the window.

   “Do you think he likes us?” Tangoral asked.

   “No.”

   “Why not?”

   “I don’t know. I know he’s nice enough to the tree people he has met. It’s his whole attitude; he treats the people as if they don’t exist when he doesn’t have to deal with them. There could be four of the people in a room and if there is one brother in the room he would speak to the brother. His councilors are just as bad, but a little more obvious. Mom’s noticed this too,” Cantor replied. “Why do you ask?”

   “I just wonder if this might not prove to be trouble later on for my people or the dwelling,” Tangoral said. Tangoral picked up the small window that he had first made. He kept it as a memento for saving his life. He examined it for the hundredth time. A ball hitting the small window startled Tangoral who was deep in though.

   “I couldn’t resist,” Cantor said sheepishly.

   A thought crossed Tangoral’s mind. “Do that again,” he said. Cantor fired off another ball that struck the window as Tangoral held it out. “Again,” Tangoral said. “This time give it your best shot.” This time Tangoral deflected the ball out the door of his room. “Will you teach me the Game?” he asked.

   “I can’t, you don’t have claws,” Cantor replied.

   “That doesn’t mean that I can’t play the Game. It just means I don’t have claws like you.”

   “This is a new invention isn’t it?”

   “Only one that might benefit the people if they care to learn to play the Game. Let’s go talk to the craft master,” Tangoral said.

   

   Jonnaul knew Tangalen would be up this time of the morning. He had grave reservations about this tree dweller business. He thought he could get his old friend to see the light of reason. It was no use trying to talk to the dwelling clan leader here, but the up side was that his devotion to keeping the law would assure the Church got its tithes from this soon to be very prosperous dwelling. Now this latest sacrilege, the tree dweller would soon be learning to play the Game. Jonnaul was so deep in thought he almost did not hear the warning growl of a stalker. The great beast seemed to fill the hallway and it was slowly coming toward him. Jonnaul was scared and there was nowhere to run. Calling for help would do little good. Any help would arrive way too late to save him. “Molaythea, no,” a voice out of the night commanded. The stalker halted her advance toward Jonnaul as he breathed a sigh of relief.

   “Thank you, whoever you are,” Jonnaul said.

   “At this time in the morning I suspect we are both heading for the same place or are you prone to sleep walking?” Tangoral asked. “In any case we should walk together just to be safe. For some reason Molaythea doesn’t seem to like you much.”

   “The feeling is mutual,” the Prophet said as he watched as Tangoral pushed the great beast aside and stepped into the light.

   “I am on my way to see Tangalen to talk about you and I suspect you are on the way to see him to talk about me. I seek wisdom, enlightenment, and understanding from the old wise one. What is it you seek Brother Jonnaul?” A hand signal sent Molaythea on down the hallway.

   “That is my business.”

   “Ah, let me guess, you are going to try and undo the good that has been done here because of some evil that you have conjured up in your mind to justify your dislike of tree dwellers” Tangoral said.

   “I don’t dislike tree dwellers,” Jonnaul exclaimed. It seemed to him that this tree dweller could read his mind.

   “All your actions say otherwise. You said it yourself; we are the children of the Evil One. Now, you’ve come to see Tangalen in a kind of one last hope to save this dwelling from their own folly as you see it. You see us as the progeny of the children of the Evil One. In a sense, you could be right. It may well be that in the distant past our fathers may have been the children of the Evil One spoken of by the prophets as recorded in the Book of the Prophets of God. Our legends seem to point to something of that sort. On the other hand, or claw if you will, it might be the Brachyura who are the children of the Evil One who destroyed the plans of God. The world was changed seemingly overnight, and somehow you ended up the dominant race on the planet. I suspect though that anyone whether they are brothers or tree dwellers that does not follow the laws and commandments of God could be considered the children of the Evil One.” Jonnaul was too stunned to speak. Never had anyone spoken to him in such a manner. This tree dweller seemed to penetrate his inner most thoughts and lay them open for the whole world to see. “I ask again, what is it you seek Brother Jonnaul?”

   “Tangoral!” Tangalen yelled as he pushed Molaythea out of his dwelling.

   “Down here,” Tangoral replied.

   “Come get your pet out of my dwelling. Who’s that with you?”

   “Brother Jonnaul.”

   “Jonnaul, what gets you out of bed this early?” Tangalen asked.

   “Me I suspect,” Tangoral replied smiling as he came to a stop in the doorway to Tangalen’s dwelling. “I too was coming to see you, but I can wait. Brother Jonnaul has more need of your wise council than I do.”

   Jonnaul finally found his voice. “What power do you have that enables you the see into my mind?” he asked. “Surely you are possessed by the Evil One.”

   “I am possessed alright. I possess the power of observation,” Tangoral replied coldly. “Your actions are easy to read. You come complete with all the phobias of your race buried deep inside you. You’re a religious fanatic who fears that one-day you will lose your hold on your followers. That would mean you would lose the monetary support for your church; support that enables you to live a lifestyle that most of your followers will never attain to. You have deluded yourself into thinking that you alone are the guardian of what is holy and what is not. You presume to speak in place of God placing your own interpretation of the words of the prophets as God’s own word when we both know that God does not speak to you. You do not serve, you are waited on. You tax your hosts for your support and then give nothing in return. It would not be so bad if it was just you but you had to bring a small band of bloodsuckers with you. You’ve been here more than two seven-days with no sign of you ever leaving here any time soon. We should charge you rent. A servant serves Jonnaul. One other thing, you are afraid of Molaythea and yet you just saw how easily Tangalen threw her out of his dwelling. I ask, would a prophet of God be afraid of anything? You may be the prophet of your church, but you are not the prophet of God. The true prophet is coming and when he gets here this whole dwelling will follow him. This is the one that is promised and he will gather the faithful out of the world whether they are tree dwellers or Brachyura. The faithful will be called the children of God and the rest not found among His children will be burned at His coming.” Tangoral turned and walked off. “Molaythea come. We don’t want you to scare the Prophet.” Molaythea growled at Jonnaul before she turned and followed Tangoral back down the hall. Jonnaul pushed himself past Tangalen to get out of her way.

   “Can you believe that tree dweller? He is most certainly is a child of the Evil One and should be destroyed,” Jonnaul said. Stunned Tangalen watched as Tangoral disappeared into the darkness. “I have never been so rudely treated in my whole life.” Tangalen did not know what to say. The truth of every word Tangoral said bit deep into his shell. “Now I hear he’s going to learn to play the Game, our most holy of holiness. Tangalen are you listening to me?”

   “Go home Jonnaul,” Tangalen said.

   “What?”

   “Take your councilors and go. Go now while you can still leave this clan the illusion that you are a prophet of God.”

   “Have you taken leave of your senses?” Jonnaul asked.

   “No, I’ve finally come to my senses. I see through the lies at last. The only reason you came is because of the riches that this dwelling has come into, and you want to make sure you keep getting your share. The brothers here are the faithful of God, full of the spirit of truth. How long do you think it will be before they too see through the lies you have surrounded yourself with? The longer you wait to leave this dwelling the easier it will be for me to find soldiers that would be willing to remove you and your cohorts from our land. If you stay too long Molaythea may still get a chance to eat you. I want you gone and I know Zothor wants you gone too. The tree dwellers are waiting for the coming of the Prophet. We will wait with them,” Tangalen replied. “Now, get out of my dwelling before I call Molaythea and have her throw you out.” Tangalen turned and went back to his studies leaving Jonnaul standing in the doorway.

   

~~~

   

   Yoeith thought this is the place when he saw the tree that housed the people of Sorgarlac. His vision did not do the real thing justice, six levels and rising. The walls seemed to reflect the light and drink it up at the same time. The home looked like a big oblong ball of leaves with one end cut off. Yoeith spotted the guns tucked into holes set into the base and the sides. Each gun had its own shield of some kind. “Where did you get the guns?” he asked Neylosso.

   “From hard-shells that no longer needed them,” was the reply.

   “You know that the hard-shells will want their guns back,” Yoeith said.

   “They won’t get them back even if they wanted them back,” Neylosso said.

   “How much ammo do you have, it can’t be much.”

   “We have a lot of ammo for the guns and we could get more from the hard-shells if we need it.”

   “Your healer must be a very powerful healer.” Or a very foolish one, Yoeith thought to himself.

   “Tangoral is a very powerful healer. He has taught the hard-shells our language. He has made them give us much metal.” Neylosso took out his knife and showed it to Yoeith. “He brought us to this great tree to use as our home. He has taught us a new way to build that will protect us from the hard-shell weapons. He took the guns from all those who would do us harm and made the hard-shells give us the ammo we need for the guns. Tangoral is a very powerful healer,” Neylosso said.

   “So it would seem,” Yoeith said.

   Canolasay saw Neylosso walking and talking with a white hard-shell as they were approaching the home. “Neylosso, don’t tell me that we can’t eat this one either,” he said.

   “I tried that but it just didn’t work out,” Neylosso replied.

   “While you are welcome to try, I’d rather you didn’t,” Yoeith said looking at the door that hung in the air ready to be dropped in place. “I have come a long way to see your healer.”

   “What do you want to see Tangoral for?” Canolasay asked with just a touch of hostility added.

   “I am a healer and I heard how powerful of a healer you have and wished to meet your healer to perhaps trade secrets with him.” Yoeith thought that would get him in.

   Canolasay and Neylosso both laughed. “What secrets do you have that Tangoral does not already know?” Canolasay asked.

   “I have seen a vision of the place where the beginning of the world is; a vision given to me by God, in person. God has asked me to go to the beginning and bring forth the great work he has prepared from before the world was created. I need a guide and your healer is the only one that can guide me. Your healer has been to the beginning but does not know that strange place where he was at was the beginning. That is the secret that I know that he does not,” Yoeith replied.

   “Truly this is a matter for healers,” Canolasay said. “I will take you to see Sorgarlac.

   Sorgarlac thought the matter was indeed healer business. “We will guide you to the hard-shell home where Tangoral lives tomorrow,” he said.

   “Your healer lives in a hard-shell dwelling? He must be a powerful healer to live with hard-shells. There is no need to guide me anywhere. Just tell me where it is and I will not waste a good hunter that your home may need,” Yoeith said.

   “There is no waste in sending a hunter. He will return with many things from Tangoral and the hard-shells. In fact, I will send you with Pogotawle and two others in the morning. They will bring back many things for our home,” Sorgarlac said. “You may spend the night and leave in the morning.”

   “If you have any need of a healer I would be glad to do what I can,” Yoeith offered.

   “We only have one small child that is ill. You’re welcome to look at her if you wish.”

   “Lead the way. I will follow.”

   They found the child sweating wrapped in blankets. The mother was beside herself with worry and did not know what to do. The hunters had killed her husband. “I’m so glad you came. My daughter is much worse today,” she said.

   “This hard-shell is a healer. He is here to look at your daughter,” Sorgarlac told the woman.

   Yoeith looked the child over and then scooped her up in his claws. He looked toward the tops of the trees. “Oh Great Father of all creation, and by the power that Thou has given Thy servant, I ask that You show forth Thy great arm unto the healing of this child that these people will believe in Thee and Thy servant that Thou has sent. I ask in Thy Son’s great name. May it ever be so, so it shall ever be.” Yoeith laid the child back down she was limp all most dead weight. He caressed the child’s face with his claw. “God wants you to wake up now little one,” he said.

   The child opened her eyes and looked at the hard-shell. “I know who you are,” she said smiling. “I saw you in my dream.”

   “And I saw you in my dream as well,” Yoeith said smiling at the child. Sorgarlac thought that this was a very powerful healer that could ask God for favors and get them.

   

~~~

   

   The paddles, for lack of a better word for ‘the claws that were not,’ were oblong window panels with a steel reinforced handle. A typical composite of steel wire cast in tree sap with some of the wire running around the edge of the paddles. The paddles were colored the same color as the brothers’ claws. Tangoral held one paddle in each hand. “We’re just going to learn to hit the ball today,” Cantor said. “We’re going to start real close to the wall and then backup slowly. Hit first with the right hand and then with the left hand, and then with the right again and so on. You got it; you’ve seen me play often enough.”

   “Cantor?” Tangoral asked.

   “What?”

   “Don’t I need a ball to play this game?”

   “Oh sorry.” Cantor tossed one of the balls he was holding to Tangoral. Tangoral started less than a length away from the wall. Gently bouncing the ball off the wall from one paddle to the other paddle. When Tangoral missed a ball Cantor would throw him another ball and say, “Keep bouncing,” and then he would go get the missed ball. Cantor bounced another ball off the wall all around Tangoral in his own private game with himself.

   

   Others watched as Tangoral and Cantor played. “What do you think he will do?” Zothor asked those with him about the Prophet’s abrupt departure.

   “It’s safe to say that he won’t be our friend,” Tangalen replied.

   “I hate to talk about the brotherhood, but Brother Jonnaul is so full of himself. He or his councilors were poking around in everything,” Sokegal said. “I placed the construction site off limits to them not that any of them bothered to come up to see what we are doing.”

   “One came down to be treated in the medical center for treatment of something very minor,” Doesen said. “That could give them a map of our strategic areas but that’s all about to be changed anyway.”

   “One could say I am to blame,” Tangalen said. “I’m the one that told him to leave.”

   “I’m glad somebody did,” Sokegal said.

   “Still, how will this affect the clan?” Zothor asked again.

   “It won’t for a while as long as we pay our tithes on time,” Tangalen said.

   “We’ll send him a few big window panels for free. I’d think that would keep him happy for a while,” Sokegal said.

   “The thin ones,” Doesen said.

   

   Cantor threw Tangoral another ball. “Here, keep bouncing the ball off the wall. First one hand and then the other, that’s it, keep the rhythm going. You’re doing great,” he said. “You might be able to play someone in a couple of days.”

   “How about you tonight?” Tangoral asked.

   “By the time the night comes you will be too tired to play anyone,” Cantor replied. Turned out Cantor was right. Tangoral was much too tired by the time night came to even lift his arms. Learning to play the Game with Cantor as teacher came with its own special brand of torture. “First you learn to hit the ball and then you learn to play the Game. You have to learn to control the ball or the first kid you play is going to beat you,” Cantor kept saying.

   

   Tangalen’s whole world had come apart and yet he was calm. He had faith in his God to deliver his faithful from whatever trials God would place upon them. The passage in the Book of the Prophets of God read: …and the one that shall become two shall bring forth the great work of God. Their power is the power of God. With a shout they will wake up the army of God and the army will slay all the unbelievers that bar the path of God.

   Their power is to stop the rain. The servants of God shall say and the Earth will do as they commanded. They will whisper and a hundred will flee. They will shout and cities will quake in fear of the noise. They will gather the faithful and not one will be lost or left behind. One will see, one will hear, one will read.

   Such powerful stuff reading about the servants of God yet to come. Tangalen was startled by a loud thump against his window. He looked up to see a brother peal himself off the front of his window. Tangalen pointed at where the door was farther down. Tangalen wondered who that was. His color seemed all wrong somehow but he could not put a claw on it right then. Tangalen got up to greet his guest but stopped where he was when he got his first good look at his guest. Tangalen had never seen an all-white shell on a brother before. “Pardon the intrusion old wise one,” he said in the language of the tree people. “When did we develop invisible walls?”

   “Those are new not more than a few seven-days old. We just started making them,” Tangalen replied in the language spoken to him. “Who are you?”

   “I am called Yoeith.”

   “I am Tangalen.”

   “You speak the language of the People of the Trees very well,” Yoeith said.

   “So do you, up until now I would have bet that I knew everyone that spoke the language. How did you learn to speak the tree dwellers’ language?” Tangalen asked.

   Yoeith walked over and poked the pillow Tangalen was sitting on. “You and my mother are the only ones that I know that has a pillow like this. Better than resting on the floor though,” he said. “I grew up in a home as opposed to a dwelling.”

   “You grew up with tree dwellers?”

   “Yeah. I see that you read the words of the prophets,” Yoeith said looking down at the open book. “This should have read: One will see the visions of God. One will hear the words of truth. One will teach the faithful to read the words of God. This speaks of the three witnesses of God and their respective roles in life. The next verse should have made that clear. They shall see our salvation and guide our steps on the path to righteousness. That should have made things clear, but in reality, it only confuses things more. You would think that the prophets are still talking about the one that shall become two.”

   “Who are you?” Tangalen asked in the language of the Brachyura.

   “I told you, I am Yoeith.” Yoeith continued his discourse on the scripture in the language of the tree people. “They left out so much when the last translation was done. It should have read thus. Three shall see our salvation, our God. Witnesses for God shall they be counted and they will guide our steps on the path of righteousness. See how much plainer that makes it.”

   “All right, I can see that what you said would make it easier to understand but the fact is it’s not written that way. In fact none of the known translations reads that way for this passage.”

   “You’ve read them all no doubt but you still chose the ancient text without commentaries. It’s hard to find any text without commentaries these days,” Yoeith said

   “I don’t like other peoples’ thoughts getting in the way of my own thought process. Which brings me back to you, who are you?” Tangalen asked again.

   “How shall I answer if you will not believe that I am Yoeith?”

   “Let me try this. Why are you here?”

   “I am here to see the healer Tangoral. I am in need of a guide and only your healer has been where I must go,” Yoeith said.

   “You will have to see our dwelling clan leader first.” Tangalen was not about to let a strange brother see Tangoral.

   “Ok, he’s just getting up so it will be a few minutes before he will reach his office. If we leave now we should reach his office about the same time that he does.”

   “How do you know that?”

   “The same way I know that I can find Tangoral playing the Game this early. I will go find Tangoral. You will go find your dwelling clan leader and we will all meet on the Court of God.” Yoeith walked out of Tangalen’s dwelling and off in the direction of the Game court. Yoeith disappeared so fast that Tangalen had little choice but to find Zothor. Tangalen went directly to Zothor’s dwelling only to be told the dwelling clan leader had already gone to his office. Tangalen finally tracked Zothor down. Together with a few soldiers they went looking for Tangoral and the strange white brother.

   

   “Can you use a player that’s not very good to play with?” a voice asked from the gallery.

   “Sure, but I’m sure that you’re better than I am at this game,” Tangoral replied.

   The door opened and in walked a white brother; he closed the door behind him. “To tell the truth I doubt that I’ve played more than a claw full of games in my life. All of those games like this one were just for the fun of it.”

   “Who are you?” Tangoral asked.

   “I am Yoeith.”

   “I am Tangoral. You serve.” Tangoral tossed him the ball. Yoeith served the ball very easy which allowed the ball to float in the air for Tangoral. The whole aspect of the game was defined more as a state of relaxation than confrontation. Neither hit the ball very hard nor did they hit the ball so as to make their opponent run for it. It was a very nice game up until a half a dozen armed blue soldiers stormed onto the court.

   “Don’t move. Tangoral are you alright?” Doesen asked covering Yoeith with his guns.

   “I’m fine, but you’re probably upsetting my friend,” Tangoral replied. Zothor and Tangalen followed the soldiers onto the court.

   “Tangoral are you alright?” Zothor asked.

   “I’m fine, why all the concern?”

   “I was told a white brother came to see you without our knowledge.” Yoeith waved his claw. “Up until now I had never heard of or seen a white brother. We were concerned considering he passed by all our security undetected,” Zothor replied.

   “That may be, but I’m sure you frightened Yoeith half to death,” Tangoral said.

   “I was only disturbed that our game was interrupted. God is my defender, what do I have to fear?” Yoeith said.

   “Who are you?” Tangalen asked.

   “I was Yoeith earlier, and now I am still Yoeith. Why do you keep asking who I am when you know who I am?”

   “What do you want here?” Zothor asked.

   “I came to see Tangoral on healer business, one healer to another,” Yoeith replied.

   “You’re a healer?” Zothor asked in disbelief.

   “Inland from the Great Swamp far from here I had heard stories of a hard-shell healer,” Tangoral said.

   “That was my mother most likely. I just recently took up the trade.”

   “Your mother lives with the tree dwellers?” Doesen asked.

   “Yes, she does,” Yoeith replied. “She has been our tribe’s healer for many cycles of the sun.”

   Grizzon enter the court in search of the dwelling clan leader. He was taken back a little when he saw the white brother. “Clan Leader, Tragal is returning with most of our soldiers. They have a green councilor with them. Ommaro is the only brother that did not return,” he said. “Not to be rude or anything, but were you born that color?” Grizzon asked Yoeith.

   “No, I was born brown. I just recently changed this color.”

   “Do you know what caused the change of color?” Tangoral asked.

   “Yes, I do, but that is a story best saved ‘till later,” Yoeith replied.

   “I’d still like to know what your business is here,” Zothor said.

   “I’m sure you would, but my business is with Tangoral, not you or your dwelling. If he wishes to involve you after our business is concluded that will be up to him.”

   Zothor was unaccustomed to being addressed in such a manner. “Tangoral is a brother of this dwelling and my son. As clan leader of this dwelling this could affect our dwelling and a lot of hard work by both the brothers and the tree dwellers. As his father, I am also concerned. So I ask again, what is your business here?” he said in a voice that usually made brothers squirm.

   “I can tell you are not use to healers of the tree people and their customs so I’m going to tell you again. My business is with Tangoral, not you or your people. If he wishes to involve you after that it will be his choice. Among the tree people the business of healers is the business of healers. I understand your concerns but to a healer they are of no consequence when it is a matter of business between healers,” Yoeith said unruffled.

   “There is nothing you could say to me that could not be said here,” Tangoral said.

   “Perhaps, but I have been commanded and I must strictly obey those commandments. You must be alone when I say what must be said.”

   “Commanded by who?” Zothor asked.

   “By the one that commands us all,” Yoeith replied.

   “You are the One,” Tangalen said with amazement.

   “The one what?” Zothor asked.

   “We should leave now,” Tangalen said. “It all makes sense now. We need to leave right now Zothor.”

   “I’m not going anywhere just yet,” Zothor said. “I’m not going anywhere until I get some answers.”

   “I have no answers that I am allowed to give you. The old wise one understands. He can answer your questions now,” Yoeith said.

   “Come on Zothor, I can explain everything but we must all leave right now. To stay would place our lives in jeopardy,” Tangalen said. Already the soldiers were slowly backing toward the doors. An unseen fear had come upon them.

   “Clan Leader, we are being compelled to leave almost against our will. It is with all my strength that I overcome a great feeling of foreboding,” Doesen said. “Every fiber of my being wants to run from here. The others feel what I am feeling as well.”

   “Zothor we are leaving here now,” Tangalen said. Quickly Tangalen ducked under the dwelling clan leader, picked him bodily from the floor and started for the door.

   “Tangalen put me down,” Zothor commanded.

   “Not until we are well away from this place.” Tangalen carried Zothor off as the others fled the Court of God leaving Yoeith and Tangoral alone.

   Yoeith bounced the ball he was holding to break the silence of the moment. Tangoral was dumbfounded; this took healer business way too far. He was about to give Yoeith a piece of his mind when he asked,” Who is the Sentinel?”

   “He’s the guardians of the ruins of an old city,” Tangoral replied.

   “I wish to go there.”

   “I know.”

   The court began to fill with light and when the light faded Timmiss was standing next to Yoeith. Both of them stood there waiting for Tangoral to say something. “To go where it is you wish to go is a long journey,” he said. “Four or five moons at best.”

   “I have been commanded to go by God. So go I must, but the one must become two. I cannot go alone.”

   “Why is Timmiss here?”

   “I am here to whisper another name to Yoeith if you refuse to guide him. He cannot go alone; the one must become two as it is written,” Timmiss replied to the question even though it was directed at Yoeith.

   “To refuse is to refuse God.”

   “No, to refuse me is to refuse me. Only if God asks is it refusing God,” Yoeith said.

   “It is every healer’s dream to go to the beginning and find the Great Cure,” Tangoral said

   “It is to this end that I have been commanded to go there.”

   “If I do not go Timmiss will give you Tangalen’s name to go in my stead.” Timmiss looked shocked as if some great secret in his keeping was shouted to the world without his knowledge. “I will go with you.”

   “It is done,” Timmiss shouted. His voice shook the floor. “Glory to God on high.” The court again filled with light and when the light faded Timmiss was gone.

   “Well, what do we do now?” Tangoral asked.

   “We finish playing our game,” Yoeith replied tossing Tangoral the ball.

   

   Zothor was still mad at Tangalen come the welcome home dinner for Tragal and the others. Tangalen chose the better part of valor and did not sit at the dwelling clan leader’s table. The fire burned brightly that evening. Many things went unsaid. A lot of whispering at the tables could faintly be heard but not made out. For the first time since he had come to live among the Brachyura Tangoral did not sit with the dwelling clan leader, choosing to sit with Yoeith instead. For most of the evening things seemed a little bit strained until Tragal trying to lighten things up asked Cantor to do some tricks with the balls he always carried.

   Cantor stood before the clan in front of the great fireplace. He started by throwing his balls one at a time as high in the air as the ceiling would allow. He kept the balls in the air until he had six balls in continuous motion. Sometimes they would all be part of a great circle. Other times he would juggle three balls in each claw occasionally throwing a ball over his shell to be caught with his opposite claw. He finished by making the balls seem to disappear from midair. It was a grand show and everyone liked it but it did not lift the spirits of those that were there.

   Tangoral had always enjoyed his brother’s juggling act. After Cantor sat down a few moments later Tangoral got up and walked over to the great fireplace and seemed to stir the ashes adding more wood. He waived at Ishihari and motioned her to come over. He whispered something to her and after she left the lights in the gather hall began to dim noticeably. He began to speak softly but his voice carried to every corner of the great hall where the gathers were held.

   “Once there was a time when there were many great healers among the tree people. One by one they went in search of the beginning and the Great Cure that would cure the world and return it to the way it was before the Great Change. Of all the healers that have gone in search of the Great Cure none have ever returned. Of all these healers the greatest was Seamontie, He Who Walks Among the Clouds. It was said that there was nothing he could not heal. It is said he once healed a dying tree that all the people lived in. This is the before-time before the people broke into tribes.”

   “Seamontie went out one day to gather medicine. This took him close to the Great Swamp. It was late one evening, Seamontie was very tired and he did not wish to climb back up into the trees just to climb back down the next morning. Seamontie found a good place to sleep for the night and made a fire to keep himself warm throughout the night. Unknown to Seamontie the tree was home to a small band of stalkers who were returning to their home after spending the day hunting. Suddenly, Seamontie found himself surrounded by hungry tired stalkers. Seamontie quickly reached into fire and pulled out some stout sticks and drove the closest of the stalkers away.” Tangoral had reached into the fire next to where he stood and pulled out a hand full of similar sticks as in the story. He thrust the burning sticks forward at the appropriate moment in his story.

   “He chased the stalkers away time and time again.” Tangoral waved the burning sticks around at invisible enemies. “Seamontie realized that if the stalkers would charge all at once he was done for. He began to move the burning sticks around himself faster and faster.” Tangoral increased the speed of the sticks until he seemed to create a wall of fire in front of himself. “But stalkers are not stupid and they began to try and get around behind Seamontie. Seamontie realized that soon he would be completely surrounded.” It was then that the burning sticks Tangoral was holding seem to fly through the air to form a burning cage around him. “Seamontie waived the burning sticks around faster and faster until the fire seemed to surround him on all sides. Because the stalkers had gotten behind him he walked straight-ahead waiving the burning sticks about himself. Straight ahead into the night he walked until he found another tree where he climbed up into its arms for the night.” Tangoral stepped forward juggling the burning brands faster and higher creating shifting patterns in the air around him. All of a sudden he extinguished the torches and disappeared in front of everyone. When the lights came back on Tangoral was sitting at his table talking to Yoeith. There was stunned silence for a moment followed by a rousing round of applause for something only the tree dwellers present had seen before.

   Tangoral stood up after the applause subsided a bit and motioned for silence. “Thank you my friends, my brothers. I know that some of you wonder at the secrecy that surrounds Brother Yoeith. Like me he is a healer among the tree people. He is making his journey in search of the Great Cure. God has given him a vision of where the beginning of all creation is and he has asked me to guide him in his quest. I have accepted and I will take him to the holiest of places. I will go with Yoeith to the beginning and search for the Great Cure with him.” Tangoral sat back down.

   Tangalen’s eyes sparked with the joy he felt. He was on his legs in the silence that followed Tangoral’s announcement. “I too wish make this long journey with them,” he found himself saying.

   Tragal stood, he look at each of his brothers and sisters before all his eyes settled on Tangoral. “I will go where my brother leads. It is my honor and my love for my brother that compels me to do this thing,” he said.

   Christeaen stood up. “No one has ever seen the beginning much less been there. You yourself said just a moment ago that no healer that has made this journey has ever returned. How can you guide someone to a place no one has ever seen?” she asked.

   “I have been to where Yoeith wishes to go, but I was not looking for the beginning of things. I was just looking,” Tangoral replied.

   “Then how do you know if this place is where our world began?” she asked.

   “I was told by a messenger of God that I have been to this holy place and that the true prophet was coming. Only he could describe this holy place so that I would know which of the many strange places that I have seen was the beginning of all things. I have met the brother that calls himself the prophet. Now, I have met another brother who says I saw the living God and he asked me to go on a journey. I have been asked to go on that journey with him. This is a long hard journey we make. Guns will have no effect on the monsters that live deep, deep in the Great Swamp where we will be going. Only the foolishness of youth and the faithful may go to where it is we are going.”

   “What does this place look like?” Christeaen asked.

   “A place you would find most interesting, the old ruins of a great city,” Tangoral replied. “There are great metal monsters that guard what remains of this great city though. They have stood their watch for three thousand cycles of the sun, and could continue to stand guard long after what remains of this city has crumbled to dust. These are the guardians of a long dead city where the buildings were once as tall as the trees. Even the dead remains of these building are taller than the tallest dwelling you can imagine by many lengths.”

   “Then I would also like to go with you as well,” Christeaen said.

   “How many can go with us?” Tangoral asked Yoeith.

   “It would be best that you and I and Tangalen were to go alone. God would protect us. The others may come as well, but their safety and well-being I cannot be certain of,” Yoeith responded.

   Zothor stood up and Ishihari gasped, she thought for a moment that Zothor was thinking of going. Ishihari’s heart leapt when Tangoral said he was going but she had complete faith in her son to return home. Zothor looked at all the brothers and sisters. “I too would like to go but my duty to this dwelling keeps me here,” he said. “Tangoral says there is ancient city deep in the Great Swamp, I believe him. I now understand how important this undertaking is. Aside from Yoeith’s reason to go on this journey, a historical find of this nature could be of great value to all the Brachyura. This should be a proper expedition to do a scientific survey of the site. Craftsmen should also go to bring back anything that might prove of value to this dwelling in terms of useful ancient knowledge. Tragal select four other soldiers to go with you. This is a bit sudden but it is an important thing we do. I shall pray daily for your safe return to us.” Zothor sat back down.

   This was way over councilor LaSanso’s head. The tree dweller had just said that he knew where the place of the beginning of their world was. Even if this was just another ancient city, it would prove to be of great worth to this dwelling and the brotherhood as well. “Tangoral, how many of these ruined cities have you seen?” he asked.

   Tangoral thought for a moment. “Six in the Great Swamp. Two deep in the swamp and four along the edge. There are three more deeper inland that I know of as well,” he replied. “Of all these dead cities that I have seen only one of them is guarded. The three cities inland are inhabited by the People of the Land. They are like the People of the Trees only they live on the ground. I do not believe your race has met them or even heard of them yet but they have heard of the “hard flat ones,” as they call you.”

   The value of what this one tree dweller knew staggered LaSanso. He could see that being friends with the tree dwellers could prove very profitable in one way or another. Peace with the tree dwellers might change the world, he thought. “It is very important that I return and make my report to the green council,” he said to Zothor.

   “I understand. I hope your voice will be a voice of reason,” Zothor said.

   “You’re referring to the tree dwellers,” LaSanso said.

   “Yes, I am.”

   “Have no fear on that account. I see the value of peace and that peace with the tree dwellers could change the world as we know it for the better.”

   “Good, can you be ready to leave tomorrow?” Zothor asked.

   “The sooner the better,” LaSanso said.

   “Do you know of Kittanota?”

   “Yes I do. Which is all the more reason to return as quickly as possible?”

   “You might want to know that the blue clan leader has asked me to have a small army standing by. When we locate the area where Kittanota can be found they will go out and get your guns back,” Zothor said.

   “That is good to know. It is easy to see that your dwelling is better equipped and better trained to deal with this kind of a problem. If we are to make peace with the tree dwellers though, we will need translators to make contact with them,” LaSanso said.

   “Most of those of this dwelling can speak the language of the tree dwellers a little. Some are very fluent in the language. That comes with working in close contact with the tree dwellers on a daily basis. Whatever you need, from language classes, to a translator if necessary, if it is in the cause of peace we will give you whatever aid you need,” Zothor said.

   “Thank you, that will make it easier for me to try and convince our council that peace with the tree dwellers is a good thing to do.”

   “If we do not make peace with the tree dwellers. Then we will risk creating more Kittanotas. Given our lifestyle, what would happen if all the tree dwellers banded together to fight us? How long do you think it would take them to develop guns equal to ours? To do major harm all they would have to do is disrupt the flow of goods from dwellings like ours to the cities we have built. Already we have overbuilt. We lack the reserves of food and supplies for the cities to sustain such a war.”

   “I would think that we could destroy any army that the tree dwellers could send against us,” LaSanso said.

   “I have seen one of their armies and my son assures me that he could call upon greater forces that could level any dwelling. How would you fight a force of nature? It may be that the tree dwellers have the greater numbers than us. As far as we know, we live only in one small spot on a great big world. There may be more of us in other parts of the world. There may be more of them elsewhere. There are too many unknowns to start a war on what really is an intelligent gentle race of creatures that are vastly different from us. We would be going to war against a completely unknown enemy thinking that they are just stupid savage creatures. As we drive them from their hives we would rejoice in our victories, but these would be empty victories. Because at first they would not fight us, but if we pushed them hard enough they would turn and fight. Peace is the better way,” Zothor said.

   “Our clan and the black and brown brotherhoods would welcome peace as they have no love of fighting. The yellow brothers have withdrawn themselves from the world and seem to be more concerned with the things of the spirit, but they support the Prophet, as he is a yellow brother. The Red Brotherhood would welcome war, as it would bolster their emerging weapons industry. In some circles, the Red Clan Leader is feared. Some say he dreams of ruling the world as its supreme leader. Those who disagree with the Red Clan Leader have been found dead, or are sent to far off places never to be heard from again. It is hard these days to know what the Red Brotherhood is doing. They are very secretive as of late.” LaSanso as councilor of the Green Brotherhood was concerned with the problem of the Red Brotherhood. “My one fear is that Kittanota will attack the Red Brotherhood. That could trigger a war and not just with the tree dwellers. If the red clan leader wanted to rule the world he wouldn’t need much of an army to conquer the other brotherhoods. Except for this dwelling, we are mostly very poorly armed. Our weapons tend to be the long light guns used for hunting small game. There are dwellings that don’t have soldiers of any kind. Two thousand cycles of peace has made us softer than our ancestors. If the red clan went to war against the other clans there would be little to stop them.”

   This is bad news, Zothor thought. “LaSanso, when Kittanota thinks he is strong enough the first clan he is most likely to attack is the red clan. They are the ones that have inflicted the most harm on his people.”

   “That is not good to hear. The Red Brotherhood could use that as an excuse to start a genocidal campaign to destroy the enemies of the Brachyura brotherhood. That would begin with the extermination of the tree dwellers and could easily be expanded to include any that will not bow to the wishes of the Red Clan Leader.”

   “It is possible that the Prophet might support the Red Clan Leader at least in the beginning,” Zothor said.

   “Why would he do such a thing?” LaSanso asked.

   “Because he doesn’t like the tree dwellers; he thinks that they are the children of the Evil One. Plus, we sort of offended him as well. In his eyes we have sided with the children of the Evil One,” Zothor replied.

   “That could turn this into some kind of holy war with your clan as the focal point. If ever we needed a true prophet of God, now is the time,” LaSanso said.

   “Perhaps the prophet has already come.” Zothor pointed at Yoeith talking with Tangalen. One of Zothor’s eyes swiveled around to see Tangoral standing behind him. Tangoral turned and walked off. Zothor wondered how long Tangoral had been standing there and how much he had heard.

   

   

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