The time shall come when those that have known peace shall know peace no more. The children of darkness shall rise up against the children of the light and war shall be poured out upon the face of the earth. Some will say, “We are on the right path, follow us,” but how can they know the path on which they walk if they walk in darkness. Hold fast to the words of God for they are the light by which you may see the path on which you walk. - The Book of the Prophets of God, the words of Tal.

    

    SoLayan waited, and two hundred soldiers waited with him. This was the smallest dwelling in the area where the tree dweller Kittanota was supposed to be operating. It was only a matter of time before he would attack this dwelling if the Blue Brotherhood was right about the location of this tree dweller. The tree dweller would be in for a real surprise if he attacked this dwelling. A lot of brothers and sisters would die, but that could not be helped. They would die for the cause, SoLayan thought, and that made everything ok in his mind.

    Kittanota had scouts watching the hard-shell home for many moons. He knew of the soldiers in the dwelling waiting for the right moment to rush out and attack his warriors. He was losing followers and he needed a great victory to hold the followers he had and to gain new ones. During the night he had killed the hard-shell lookouts and those that came to replace them. No alarm had been raised in the hard-shell home. Everything was going according to plan. Two hundred guns covered the entrances and another hundred guns were set behind those guns in case any of the hard-shells managed to escape. His guns were well hidden to make it harder for the hard-shells to find a target to shoot at. This time he had a new weapon to use thanks to one of the healers that had joined with him, fire bombs. Already he had men up in the tree above the hard-shells home ready to drop the fire bombs on the home and anyone that came out of the home.

    The brothers and sisters went about their work. They knew that they risked their lives just being outside, but they had no choice. Often they would glance up into the trees as they went about their work. It was hard to tell who they feared the most, the tree dwellers or the soldiers that waited inside their dwelling. Today their waiting was over as the first shots rang out that signaled the barrage that killed everyone outside. Under cover of fire from the dwelling, soldiers began to pour from the dwelling firing up into the trees as they ran along the ground. SoLayan thought things were going well. Cover fire was keeping the tree dwellers from returning fire effectively. He watched his soldiers race across the field for the trees. Suddenly the ground around his soldiers seemed to erupt in flames and the once sporadic gun fire all of a sudden intensified. The window through which he viewed the scene was obscured when a fireball exploded in front of him. Fire poured through the window. SoLayan tried to jump clear but he was too slow. The fire stuck to his shell even as he tried to run away which only made it worse.

    Silent watchers observed the battle from high in the trees. This was a new tactic and a new terrifying weapon. It was clear to the watchers the time had come, Kittanota had to be stopped. This victory would help him gain more followers. Something had to be done to keep Kittanota from total victory without any loss of life. The watchers took careful aim and fired their guns. Their shots went unnoticed among the other gun fire, but the effect was immediate. Several points high in the trees exploded in great balls of flame as some of the fire bomb stockpiles were struck by the watchers’ exploding bullets. Moments later, several key gun platforms fell silent. This gave some of the red soldiers a chance to escape. Some ran for the forest others ran back for the safety of the dwelling. There was no real safety in the dwelling despite the small amount of interference from the watchers. SoLayan had left orders to destroy the guns and ammo rather than let them fall into the hands of the tree dwellers. Even as the tree dwellers rushed into the dwelling an explosion ripped that section of the dwelling apart. In the end Kittanota was victorious, but it cost him the guns he needed and the lives of many more warriors than he thought he would lose.

    

~~~

    

    It was more than a little disconcerting to Grizzon to have the Lady Ishihari vanish without a trace. The entire dwelling including many of the tree dwellers were out looking for her. Already, the search had been going on for three days. Grizzon began to fear the worst. He knew she went out alone early to check on the herds. He feared that she had gotten too close to the swamp and something had come out of the swamp and carried her off. He was unwilling to call off the search before he knew what had happened. He did not look forward to telling Zothor about the loss of his mate. Amnashta was waving at him to come over and look at something. “What is it? Have you found something?” he asked.

    “I’m not sure,” Amnashta replied. “I have found tracks of a stalker that came out of the Great Swamp and rested here before returning to the Great Swamp. There are tracks of one of your kind in this area as well. The stalker was fully grown. It came out of the Great Swamp and stopped here. You can see where it sat down to rest. It’s hard to say, but it looks as if one of you rushed it while it was sitting here. The stalker then got up and headed back into the Great Swamp. Whoever was here followed it back into the Great Swamp, I think. The tracks are old and the hard-shell was very light on their legs.”

    “Any sign of a struggle?”

    “That’s the strange part. There is no sign of any kind of a struggle at all. I would expect to find blood all around here one way or the other, but there is nothing. I followed the tracks back into the Great Swamp before I lost the tracks altogether.”

    “Could the stalker have been carrying one of us?” Grizzon asked.

    “I thought of that, but the depth of the stalker’s tracks is the same both before and after it reached this point. It was not carrying anything when it left here. What little tracks that I found of the hard-shell seem to indicate that they were walking side by side,” Amnashta replied.

    Shelasaw finished her own examination of the tracks before joining Grizzon and Amnashta. “Only Ishihari is missing. The tracks are as Amnashta says. No one would in their right mind would rush a stalker unarmed much less go with it willingly. We can all go home now, Ishihari will return,” she said.

    “How do you know that?” Grizzon asked.

    “I too would like to know how you know that,” Amnashta said.

    “The stalker is Molaythea, otherwise Ishihari would not have gone willingly,” Shelasaw replied. “Tangoral has returned and Ishihari has gone to greet her son. Send word to our home in the Great Swamp. That is where you may find her.”

    

    Canolasay knew he was dead when the stalker had jumped him as he was about to spring upon a lone hard-shell. The snarling monster held him fast. Out of the corner of his eye he could see the stalker’s teeth very close to the back of his neck. Canolasay hoped the stalker would kill him quickly and not play with him first. “Molaythea, no,” he heard a voice say. He turned his head and saw the hard-shell still coming his way. “Let him go,” it said. The steel grip that held him to the branch was released, but the teeth next to his face didn’t move. “Molaythea, come here. He can’t get up with you hovering over him like that.”

    Canolasay rolled over and sat up after the stalker got off him. This was the closest he had ever been to death. “Thank you,” he told the hard-shell. The relief in his voice was very evident. The silent approach of the stalker caught him by surprise more so because it was high up in the tree where stalkers rarely come. The hard-shell was equally as silent and very much at home in the trees.

    “Are you ok?” Ishihari asked.

    “I’m alive, I’ll be fine,” Canolasay replied. “You must be one of Tangoral’s friends. I thought it was agreed that you were to be escorted here so we would have an advance notice that any of you were coming.”

    “I wouldn’t know. I haven’t spent a lot of time at home for the past cycle. If you have an agreement it must be with Grizzon or Sokegal. Tangoral has returned and I could not wait to see my son again.”

    “I left our home this morning. Tangoral was not there when I left. How do you know that he has returned?”

    “He took Molaythea with him when he left. He cannot be far if she has returned.”

    “I should go with you then. Those at our home might shoot first and ask questions later when they see you,” Canolasay said.

    “Thank you, even though I had not planned to get shot anyway,” Ishihari said. “I’m following Molaythea and even though she is heading for the home she could by-pass it at some point if Tangoral hasn’t reached your home yet. If you still want to come along I would welcome the company. Molaythea is not the best of conversationalists.”

    “You should wait at our home for Tangoral anyway. You would be safer there. The Great Swamp is a very dangerous place and it becomes more dangerous the farther in you go.”

    “It wouldn’t hurt to stop there, but as you can see I’m well protected from anything that might have me on their dinner menu.”

    Canolasay looked at Molaythea. She was staring intently into the swamp. He wondered what she was looking for. He stood for a moment looking and listening in the same direction. “Something very big is coming this way slowly,” he said after a moment.

    “What?”

    “I don’t know, but whatever it is it is very big.”

    Molaythea started to become very excited and started forward toward the sound. “Molaythea, wait,” Ishihari said as she too could hear the sound of something very big crashing through the swamp coming in their direction. Molaythea was caught between her desire to leave and her command to stay. She danced around as if she was standing on hot coals. As the sound grew louder it became too much for her and she raced forward toward the coming sound. “Damn, let's go after her,” Ishihari said.

    Canolasay was a brave man, but the sound coming towards them was tremendous and he had no wish to rush headlong into danger. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said.

    Ishihari did not afford him more a quick glance as she raced after Molaythea.

    

~~~

    

    PaTouan was badly shaken by the news he was about to give his clan leader. “What is it?” KaZanna asked as he looked up at his councilor standing in the doorway.

    “SoLayan is dead, and another dwelling has been lost along with most of the two hundred soldiers SoLayan had with him,” PaTouan replied.

    “How?” KaZanna asked grimly after a few moments of silence.

    “The tree dweller, he seems to have developed some kind of a fire bomb that he drops from the trees onto the dwelling and anyone that he catches out in the open. A few of our soldiers were able to escape when a few stray rounds hit a couple of caches of the fire bombs and exploded distracting the tree dwellers. They must have known SoLayan was there waiting with the soldiers.”

    “And the losses?”

    “Over three hundred dead. There were a few bodies of tree dwellers found as well. We suspect that their losses were higher than they have hitherto have been. This is the first time that we have ever found any of their bodies. It’s not possible that we haven’t killed some of them before now. We are guessing that because we have found a few dead tree dwellers. This time their losses were higher than normal and they were unable to carry away all their dead.”

    “What of the weapons stored at that dwelling?”

    “Destroyed, the tree dwellers did not get them.”

    KaZanna closed all his eyes in thought for a moment. “I’ve watched Zothor’s soldiers train many time,” he said when he opened his eyes back up. “They race up into the trees as fast as they can where they can fight on the same level as the tree dwellers. We need to do the same. We can’t fight this tree dweller from the ground. That was SoLayan’s mistake. We need to fight him on his level. Gather our armies from the nearby dwellings. Sweep the entire area where we think this tree dweller might be. I want soldiers both in the trees and on the ground.”

    “What about Zothor’s soldiers?” PaTouan asked. “Can’t we just send them?”

    “Not until we have engaged the tree dwellers first. After that his soldiers can chase the tree dwellers until the Great Swamp freezes over. I want the tree dwellers on the move first before I ask Zothor for help,” KaZanna replied.

    

~~~

    

    Dar Noth greeted two councilors sent by the black clan leader at the edge of his lands. Despite his joyful greeting they responded coldly with only the words required by custom for such times. Profits were up so he could not fathom what was wrong. A gather was called and dinner was full of wonderful foods served by the sisters and some of the tree dwellers. Banneesheanta sat next to Dar Noth in the place usually reserved for the dwelling clan leader’s mate. Despite some of the best food Dar Noth had ever tasted the councilors did not look like their mood was improving any. Dar Noth decided he would rather have bad news over good food than wait until the gather was over. “If I’m going to get bad news, I’d rather get it now than have to wait,” he said to the councilors.

    “Did you get the Prophet’s epistle?” one of the councilors asked.

    “Yes I did, why?”

    “Why did you not follow the directions of the Prophet?”

    “Because it goes against everything I hold dear, I won’t do it. Am I supposed to obey the Prophet even though he orders the death and banishment of my friends by my own claws? If he were to write me a letter saying that God himself said to kill you I wouldn’t do that either. What he asked us to do is wrong. It goes against honor and the laws of God as set down by all the prophets of old. As long as I am clan leader of this dwelling we will continue to pursue friendly relations with the tree dwellers.”

    “If you will not follow the Prophet, and it is evident that you will not by your own words and actions,” the other councilor said looking at Banneesheanta. “You are to be removed as dwelling clan leader here and another appointed in your place.” Banneesheanta drew a sharp breath. She had read the epistle and knew what that meant. Dar Noth would not only be removed from his office; he’d also be banished because of his involvement with her and her people.

    Dar Noth was quick in thought and action. He stood up and held his claws up for silence. “I am to be removed as dwelling clan leader here,” he said. “So, as of this moment I resign as dwelling clan leader, and my last command is that no tree dweller shall be harmed by any of those from this dwelling.” There was a rumble of disbelief in the dining hall. Dar Noth held his claws up again for silence. “We have been told by the Prophet to kill the tree dwellers. You all know the worth of our friendship with the tree dwellers. I will not have a shadow cast over my honor or yours. I do not believe that these councilors here will stop with my removal from the office that I have held for so long. I do not believe as the Prophet does, and I will not repent, so I must be banished as well. It seems we are no longer led by our clan leader, but by a prophet who can and has set clan policy. He will use force to make you believe as he does, even if that means going against the laws of God as given by all the prophets before him. If God is unchangeable, then this is wrong. If God is changeable, then he is not truly God. My brothers and sisters chose for yourselves what you will do. For myself I shall make my abode with the tree dwellers until such time as true freedom is restored to us.”

    

    “Why didn’t you just repent?” Banneesheanta asked Dar Noth later that evening.

    “My beautiful Banneesheanta, there are two things in life that are truly worth anything, honor and love. To repent would mean that I would lose both. To be dwelling clan leader means nothing if you are without honor. Love is a rare thing, it must be cherished and nurtured, and when you find it you must hold onto it with both claws. Life without love even though you have honor is meaningless,” he replied.

    A full third of the dwelling mostly craftsmen and their families followed Dar Noth into exile. He counseled Banneesheanta to move her people as well just in case there was going to be hostilities. Dar Noth was uncertain where they should go so Banneesheanta led them in the direction that her son went. That was deep in blue clan territory. It was many seven-days before order was restored to the dwelling by the councilors, and no one that remained would accept the position of dwelling clan leader. Even after a dwelling clan leader was chosen and sent out to the dwelling, the brothers of that dwelling could not be compelled to take up arms for any cause except to hunt for food.

    

~~~

    

    Soolayinna had good reasons to hate the hard-shells. They had taken everything from her, her husband, her sons, and two of her three daughters. She was a healer from a long line of healers. When Kittanota came to her home he offered her a chance to avenge her loss and she jumped at it. She took her daughter and went with him, but that was long ago. Now, with the deaths of so many of the people in the raid on the hard-shell home she began to question if what she was doing was right. My fire bombs worked well enough but next time the stockpiles would have to be protected against stray gunfire, she thought. “Molateeia,” she called out. Her daughter had wondered off from their home again. She never went far but it was getting late and she had not yet returned home. Soolayinna somewhat concerned went looking for her daughter. “Molateeia,” she called out every so often as she searched the surrounding area. This was not like her daughter at all to stay out so late. Soolayinna was beginning to worry when she caught sight of her daughter in the distance. Molateeia turned and waived at her mother and then turned back. It looked like her daughter was talking to the tree. Even when Soolayinna got closer, it still looked like her daughter was talking to the tree. She was about to say something when the tree hit her.

    “You said you wouldn’t hurt her,” she heard her daughter say.

    “Molateeia, she is not hurt. She will just have a little bump on her head for a while. She might not have wanted to go with us and there are a lot of very bad hard-shells coming to hurt everyone. We wanted to save you and your mother before they came,” the tree said. That’s nice, Soolayinna thought as her vision blurred and everything faded to black.

    “Zothor is not going to like this,” Bantan said. “Our orders didn’t say anything about capturing her.”

    “I can’t kill her. I won’t kill her,” Frothay replied. “It’s my choice. I’ll be responsible for her.”

    

    “You were told to kill her,” Zothor said coldly. All four of his eyes were focused on the soldier standing before him. Frothay’s return was unexpected, and that he returned with the healer he was ordered to kill was equally unexpected.

    “I am well aware of what I was told to do Clan Leader, but I will not kill a good person for a wrong choice in life,” Frothay replied.

    “I do not relish the idea of killing any more than you do, but she is a healer. There is no telling how much she knows or how many more weapons she could come up with. That makes her very dangerous. It’s an added problem we don’t need right now. We may not be able to control her or even keep her prisoner over time. If she has anywhere near the knowledge my adopted son or daughter has, how long do you think it will be before she escapes? No, it’s best if she is destroyed,” Zothor said.

    “What if she can be made to see the error of her ways? What if she joins us? I know she is a good person at heart. She’s a good mother. She has great concern for her people. I do not believe she would have stayed with Kittanota much longer. It would be a waste to destroy her if she could be made to join our side. That way we gain her knowledge and help for the coming war.” Frothay could tell his argument was not having an effect on Zothor.

    “I’m not willing to take that chance. She will be destroyed.”

    “If you won’t be satisfied with anything less than her death, then kill me in her place. You’re going to have to shoot through me to kill her anyway.” Frothay was almost as startled by the words that came out of his mouth as Zothor.

    “You can’t be serious,” Zothor said.

    “I will watch her. I’ll keep her from escaping. I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure she is not a problem to us, but if you try to kill her you will have to shoot through me to do it,” Frothay replied.

    Zothor just stared at Frothay for a moment. This was not just some argument that Frothay was using to try to save the tree dweller’s life. He could see the commitment in Frothay’s eyes. If he tried to have the tree dweller killed Zothor knew he would have to shoot through Frothay to get to her. “Ok Frothay, we’ll try it your way for now, but I don’t have a huge problem of shooting through you if I need to,” he said giving into Frothay.

    

    “She’s awake,” Soolayinna heard someone say. “Go get her daughter, and tell Zothor.” Her head pounded like her brain was trying to get out. “Just lay back and relax. The drug will wear off very quickly,” the voice said soothingly.

    “What happened?” Soolayinna asked. She kept her eyes closed for the moment to allow herself to relax.

    “Do you want a happy story or the truth,” the voice replied.

    “The truth, you can save the happy story for my daughter.”

    “I’ve already told her many happy stories. She is a very beautiful child with a very sharp mind.”

    “I think that you are trying to avoid my question. What happen? Whatever it is I can take it.”

    “There is no easy way for me to say this,” the voice said.

    “Then just say it,” Soolayinna said. She was beginning to think something terrible had happened to her.

    “You were aiding Kittanota in his war against the hard-shells. We could not allow you to continue to do so. Instead of killing you as ordered, our soldiers captured you instead. Then they brought you and your daughter here.”

    Soolayinna’s eyes snapped open to see a hard-shell sitting next to her. Even as she tried to get away from the hard-shell her head began to pound again. She collapsed back onto the soft sand where she was laying.

    “That was stupid,” the voice said again. Soolayinna could feel the coolness of the wet cloth on her forehead and eyes. “There is nowhere for you to run to even if you could have gotten up. So please, don’t try that again. There is a least a dozen soldiers on this floor. Most are there to keep others out, but there are a few that are here to keep you inside this dwelling. We mean you no harm. If we did, you would be dead already. Now, if you’re able, I want you to try sitting up slowly.”

    This time Soolayinna did not try to get away. The hard-shell took the cloth from her eyes and very gently helped her to sit up. There were two other hard-shells in the room besides the one that helped her to sit up. Her daughter was sitting on top of one of them. “See, I told you she’s alright,” it said.

    Molateeia jumped down off the hard-shell and ran to her mother. Soolayinna scooped her daughter up in her arms. “Molateeia, are you ok? They haven’t hurt you have they?” she asked her.

    “No, I’m fine Mom. They know lots of fun games, and Margeeum is real good at telling stories,” Molateeia replied.

    The hard-shell next to Soolayinna stuffed a giant pillow behind her so she could lean back. “What do you want with me?” she asked.

    “Nothing really, we just want to talk with you for a while. When we’re finished talking with you we will send you and your daughter somewhere safe from harm,” Margeeum said.

    “Kill us you mean.”

    “No, to be more specific, we will send you to my home where you will be safe from the coming war.”

    “We are already at war with you…”

    “But, we are not at war with you, and that is not the war Margeeum is referring to,” Zothor interrupted as he stepped through the doorway. “Let me introduce myself, I am call Zothor. The sister next to you is Margeeum and the brother is Frothay. He is the one that captured you.”

    “I’m sorry that I had to hit you, but I doubt that you would have come quietly,” Frothay said. “Molateeia, let’s go play. Zothor wants to talk with your mother for a while.”

    “Ok,” Molateeia said as she wiggled free of her mother and ran back and jumped on top of Frothay. Frothay got up and walked out of the room with Molateeia on top of his shell.

    Soolayinna was in shock. Her daughter was riding a hard-shell and she was talking to them. All of a sudden she did not feel well at all. “What is it that you want with me?” she asked again.

    “Clan Leader, maybe you should wait ‘till tomorrow to talk with her. All this is a little too much for her to take in all at once,” Margeeum said.

    “I won’t stay long,” Zothor said. “You are Soolayinna, a healer. You are the one that made the firebombs that Kittanota used to destroy the dwelling. You have helped him in other ways too. This is all known to us. We do not blame you in this. There must be a reason for you to hate us so much that you would join Kittanota in the first place. The raid on that dwelling cost many lives and not all of them were hard-shells as you call us. This was the first time that you lost many men in battle. These are simply facts I tell you. We have been watching you from the very beginning.”

    “Why do you tell me this?”

    “So you know that we have been watching you. We could have destroyed you at any time even as we destroyed many of the guns which you had taken from the red hard-shells one night long ago. By fighting with the red hard-shells you have given the red hard-shells and many other hard-shells a reason to try and kill all the tree people. There are some hard-shells like myself that think this is foolish and will only serve to provoke the tree people. Because Kittanota has chosen to fight us, it may start a war between the good hard-shells and the bad hard-shells. Many thousands of lives hang in the balance, hard-shells and tree people alike. Because you may tip the scales in a direction that will cost more lives in the end, we captured you. That is why we are sending you far away where you will be safe and you can do no more harm.”

    “How can I know if what you are telling me is the truth?” Soolayinna asked even as she felt the truth of what the hard-shell told her.

    “What have I told you that you do not know to be true already? Tomorrow you will see the foolishness in fighting us, but tonight I want you to think about what I am telling you now,” Zothor replied. “The raid on the dwelling cost you thirty-seven lives and seventy-nine were wounded to some degree. So far, eighty-four of the People have been killed that we know of and many more have been injured. How many more of the People will die before you realize that fighting is not the answer? If you avenge the death of one by killing ten, and then the relatives of the ten avenge the lives lost by killing a hundred, where will it stop? I am trying to stop this madness before it can go any further.”

    “You are a healer Soolayinna, you are sworn to heal, not bring harm to others. How many of my people and yours have died? How many more people will suffer because you are beginning to anger us? One day my soldiers will go out to destroy Kittanota. They are unlike any soldiers you have yet faced. If you think I am lying, think on how easy it was for us to capture you so close to your home. My soldiers were specially trained by a healer greater than you will ever dream of being. They have been trained to do one thing and one thing only, and that is to hunt down and kill Kittanota. This is the judgment of two healers from the area of the forest that Kittanota once called home. Kittanota can never go home and he knows it. A slow death waits for him there at the hands of his mate, a healer. In my time, when I am ready, the justice they demand will catch up with Kittanota. Now you think on that, and we will talk again in the morning.” Zothor got up and walked out of the room.

    “You should try and rest now. You will be stronger in the morning,” Margeeum said.

    

    Soolayinna crawled silently to the door and peeked out. A hard-shell sat in the hallway looking at something in front of him. Soolayinna ducked back inside the room. The great round opening in the wall opened out onto the roof of the hard-shell home. Trying not to get too close to the opening she looked out. There were no guards that she could see. Quickly Soolayinna picked up her sleeping daughter and ran for the opening. There was a loud thump as she hit the window real hard and bounced off. Molateeia woke up crying. “Shh, stop crying baby they’ll hear us,” she cautioned her daughter.

    “Are you ok?” a voice asked from the doorway.

    “We’re fine,” Soolayinna replied from where she sat in front of the window holding her daughter trying to keep her from crying.

    “I am Frothay, I asked for the honor to guard you this night as I knew you would try and escape.”

    “So you knew I would try and get out that way.” Soolayinna said pointing at the window.

    “No, I thought you’d try and sneak by me. I never thought you’d try and run through a window.”

    “You wouldn’t want to just let us go would you?”

    “If it weren’t for my dwelling clan leader I’d let you walk out of here, but where would you go? Do you know where you are? Could you find your way back, and if you could, do you know what waits for you there? If I were KaZanna, he’s the leader of the red hard-shells, I would send the armies of all the nearby dwellings out to find your home, and either destroy you, or drive you from my land. That would be three maybe four hundred hard-shells sweeping the area both on the ground and through the trees until your home was found and destroyed. It is hard for you to use our guns on the move. To be effective you have to mount them in a fixed position, and that takes time. It’s not an easy thing to do when you’re running for your life.”

    “Kittanota will not run,” Soolayinna stated flatly.

    “Sure he will. That’s what he does best. He’ll be the first out the door leaving the women and children behind. That is one of the reasons his mate will kill him if he ever returns home. He not only left them, he left them to starve. When he left them he was running away. He ran about as far as he could to get away from a hard-shell army he knew he could never beat. If you were to return and challenge him, you might go walking in the forest one day and never return. If you don’t believe me ask Lotreycal when you get to our home.”

    “Lotreycal didn’t go back to his home?”

    “Oh, he almost went home alright. We captured Lotreycal much the same way we captured you, but unlike you he was sent back. He challenged the lies that Kittanota told his followers. One day he went hunting and never returned. Kittanota tried to kill him. If we had not been close by Lotreycal would be dead. You will be here long enough to learn the truth. If we sent you back after that, and if the red brothers don’t kill you, Kittanota would.”

    “I don’t believe you, Kittanota is a great leader and a great warrior,” Soolayinna said not as sure as she might have been the day before.

    “It’s a great warrior that can stand high in a tree and order the attack on unarmed men, women, and children. You forget that I have spent a lot of time watching you, and him. What kind of a great leader does it take to shoot ten unarmed brothers with a hundred guns? What kind of a leader is it that leaves his mate and the women and children of his tribe to starve and face the wrath of a hard-shell army alone? What kind of a fool seeks revenge for his own folly as a leader? This is the leader you follow. Tell me where is his greatness Soolayinna, because I just don’t see it,” Frothay said.

    Soolayinna could find no words to answer this hard-shell; his words cut through her soul. At the same time she also reflected on the words of the hard-shell called Zothor and as she did she began to see clearly for the first time. She saw the hate that drove her and Kittanota. As she tried to find answers she looked out into the night through the window. She began to notice for the fist time the lights of the city. The size staggered her. She saw the end that Kittanota must come to in time. She saw the dead and wounded from the raid on the dwelling. The vision expanded until she saw the blood of her own people flow on the floor of her home as an endless sea of hard-shells swept through killing everyone in sight. “What have I done?” she asked the hard-shell with tears in her eyes. “What have I done?”

    

~~~

    

    “I cannot be blackmailed into compliance with the threat of losing my salvation, nor will I allow clan policy to be set by the Prophet,” Adreeum said to the Grand Council of the Brotherhood of the Clans. “Salvation cannot be forced. I will not step backwards into the dark past that compliance with the Prophet’s edict would have me do. To banish anyone that does not believe as the Prophet does, would mean that I would have to start with myself. What punishment is there in the laws of God as set down by the prophets for befriending one’s enemies? What does it cost us to stop the killing that has been going on for thousands of cycles of the sun?”

    Adreeum paced the council floor for a moment before continuing. “I will not follow the Prophet into darkness as he would have us go. No longer will the Blue Brotherhood follow the Prophet. No longer will we pay tribute to the Church that only fills the coffers of the Prophet and his minions; a tribute that would be better served in giving it to the poor among us. We trout ourselves as being equal to each other as brothers; this is the greatest of hypocrisy and the leader of that hypocrisy is the Prophet. There was a time when the prophets of old worked with their own claws for much of their own support. Now, they get fat off our labor.” Adreeum paused for a moment to let his words sink in. “We stand on the edge of a great abyss. It is not our salvation that is at risk. This is not a simple matter. No challenge can be given or accepted in this matter. We are willing to fight to maintain our freedoms, our beliefs, and our honor. Do not make the mistake and think that my words are idle words. We will fight to defend that which we believe is right even if we must stand alone.” Adreeum lowered himself back down onto the floor.

    The yellow clan leader stood. “The Blue Brotherhood has chosen to follow a dark path by continuing to embrace the children of darkness. Already you can see where this will lead. They have rejected the true faith of God. The Prophet labors diligently on behalf of all brothers both great and small. The Prophet has simply called for a returning to the true path of God; a reaffirming of our faith in God and the Prophet. We are his faithful children with our feet firmly on the right path.”

    “Faithful puppets he means,” Rownan whispered to Zothor as the Yellow Clan Leader sat back down.

    KaZanna stood up and began to walk around on the council floor taking in all who were there. “This ought to be good,” Zothor whispered back.

    “It is hard to know where to stand,” KaZanna began. “I must trust in the Prophet as my faith demands, but I’m sure that no one here wants to go to war over this thing. I can see the blue brothers’ point of view. They have developed a working peace with the tree dwellers. If they go back on their word they lose their honor, and also a lot of profits. I can see, perhaps, that peace with the tree dwellers can be of some good. I myself am at war with the tree dwellers and I am finding that I cannot deal effectively with them. The lives of many brothers have been lost, including one of my councilors. It is too late for peace. My clan calls out for the blood of all tree dwellers. Tree dwellers are without mercy, they kill everything and anything that moves, brothers, sisters, and children. They attack without warning. I’ve lost a dwelling in their latest attack. No one was spared. The Prophet has called upon us to kill the tree dwellers and we shall follow the Prophet as our faith demands and drive the tree dwellers from our land. I cannot do this alone. The Blue Brotherhood once offered their help in hunting down the rebel tree dweller Kittanota. I ask if that offer still stands.”

    “I know that we have offered you our help many times in the past and point out that if you had asked for our help sooner many lives might have been spared,” Adreeum said. “The offer still stands. This tree dweller is a threat to our peace as well as yours.”

    “I did not think that one tree dweller could be such a problem. You are right I should have asked much sooner than this,” KaZanna said.

    “You will have our help as well,” the Yellow Clan Leader said.

    The Green Clan Leader stood up. “I think I speak for all of us when I say that we will give you whatever aid it is that you need. As for my clan we will not fight with the tree dwellers if they will not fight with us. We owe them a small debt of honor which I will not repay by killing them. We will no longer go out of our way to befriend them out of respect for the Prophet’s wishes.”

    “I thank you all for your support,” KaZanna said. “Even though we disagree in this matter there is no cause for fighting among us. After all, we are all brothers.”

    

    “I hope KaZanna does not read you the way you read him,” Adreeum said upon returning to Zothor’s dwelling after the Grand Council meeting. “It’s almost scary how well you predict what KaZanna is going to do. So now we let him see all your soldiers leave, and then what?”

    “Most of them will sneak back into the city and we wait,” Zothor replied.

    “Do you still think that KaZanna will stick to his time line?” Rownan asked.

    “Oh yeah, once he asked for our help he became committed to his time line,” Zothor replied. “From his point of view, he baited the trap and we walked right into it. Everything is falling in place for him. With just a little push, he’ll turn this into a holy war not only against the tree dwellers, but also against any clan that will not go out and kill tree dwellers. That is how he will get his armies in key places to invade the other clans. He’ll claim to bring a new order and that the old ways are to be done away with. He’ll promise a lot and deliver nothing. He has a superiority complex that will not allow him to believe that anyone else is smarter or better than he is. I doubt that if you told him today that we know what his plans are, and we are ready for him, that he would believe you.”

    “I can’t believe we are going to war. There has got to be a way to stop this,” Adreeum said.

    “There is a way to stop it.”

    “How?”

    “Kill KaZanna now, the same way we are about to go out and kill Kittanota. Expose his plot after he is dead and discredit the Church at the same time,” Zothor said. “That will end the threat and end the Church’s chokehold on the clans as well.”

    “We can’t do that,” Rownan said.

    “We can’t do it because he’s a brother,” Zothor said. “Yet, we are going to do just that to a tree dweller. What’s the difference? We are willing to kill a tree dweller to stop a war. Aren’t we willing to do the same thing to a brother that threatens our peace? Kittanota only threatens our lives. With KaZanna the stakes are much greater. The very freedoms that God gave to us are at risk.”

    “The difference is that KaZanna has not killed anyone yet that can be proved according to the law,” Adreeum amended. “Kittanota has killed more than six hundred brothers so far that we know of. Part of me thinks that we have waited to kill him for far too long now.” Adreeum was angry with himself for letting things get this far out of claw. He chose to take that anger out on Frothay as he sat in the hallway on guard duty. “This time,” he said to Frothay. “When you’re told kill a certain tree dweller, you do it. I want Kittanota killed, now. I don’t want anymore brothers’ deaths on my conscience.”

    “Don’t worry Clan Leader, Kittanota will be killed,” Zothor said trying to come to the rescue of his soldier.

    “I watched those brothers die and did nothing. How do you think I feel?” Frothay asked. “There is a long line of those that want Kittanota dead. Believe me, he would have died a long time ago if it weren’t for orders to the contrary. He is among the walking dead and doesn’t know it. I can only hope that it’s my bullet that kills him so I can sleep better knowing the dead can rest in peace. On the other claw, I will not kill anyone who believes they are fighting for the right but doing it for all the wrong reasons, unless I absolutely have to. Soolayinna was worth saving. Kittanota and the other healer are not worth spit and they are living on borrowed time you have so generously seen fit to given them Clan Leader.”

    “I stand rebuked,” Adreeum said somewhat mollified. “It must be hard to watch and do nothing because of your orders. Your orders are now to kill Kittanota with extreme prejudice. Kill him and anyone else that you think will continue in Kittanota’s footsteps. Destroy all his weapons. I want his tribe completely disbanded. Send them home one way or the other.” Adreeum caught Soolayinna standing in the hallway with Margeeum standing next to her with one of his eyes.

    Margeeum was looking like she had just stuck her leg in her mouth with her last translation. Adreeum turned around to face them. Adreeum smiled. “What you don’t know is that we are now committed to protecting you as a race,” he said to Soolayinna. “We are an army of more than a thousand strong on the edge of having to fight an army of ten to twelve thousand or more. There are a lot of your people caught in the middle besides Kittanota and whatever followers he has. They have to be warned to keep out of sight, and out of the way of the advancing armies of red, yellow, some brown and black brothers who will kill everything in their path. Our armies will retreat before their armies warning all tree dwellers in the way that we can. After the red brothers have tired themselves out we will attack key elements within their military structure. We don’t expect to be fighting professional soldiers and as soon as their supplies run out it won’t take long before they will be willing to give up. You see we don’t fight well hungry.”

    “That is our plan in a nut shell,” Zothor said. “You see Kittanota is an unstable element on a much larger battlefield. We cannot afford to fight two enemies. The red clan is honor bound to kill Kittanota for the many deaths he has caused. Their leader is power mad and thinks he can rule the world. He is going to use Kittanota for an excuse to attack the rest of us who desire peace with the People of the Trees.”

    “How long before this all begins?” Soolayinna asked.

    “A little more than four moons from now as you reckon time,” Zothor replied.

    

    Later that evening, Soolayinna came out of her room after getting her daughter to sleep. She walked down the hallway and sat down by Frothay. “Were you ordered to kill me, and if so, why didn’t you do it?” she asked him.

    “You’re right, when you invented the fire bombs we were ordered to kill you to keep you from coming up with anymore new weapons for Kittanota, but I couldn’t do it,” Frothay replied. “I have watched you for a long time Soolayinna. I know you have a good heart and that you are truly concerned for your people. You are not like Raytanack. I saw the heart ache you had when you had to treat the many wounded from the raid on the dwelling. I have watched you play with your daughter, you’re a good mother. I could not bring myself to kill you simply because you made a wrong choice in life. A choice I think you were beginning to regret. So I captured you and brought you here for my dwelling clan leader to decide your fate. Zothor listened to my plea for your life and decided to give you a chance.”

    “When most hard-shells want to kill us, why do you treat us as if we are your family? None of the People would do what you have done.”

    “Zothor, my dwelling clan leader, adopted one of the People of the Trees as his son for saving the life of his youngest son. This forever changed the lives of all those in our dwelling. We have come to be friends with many of the People. They live with us and they work with us. How could I go home and look my friends in their eyes if I did not choose the path of honor.”

    “You are strange creatures. How did we come to this place with so many lives hanging in the balance, and part of that is my doing. How did I get so far off the right path?” Soolayinna asked herself with tears in her eyes.

    Zothor came out of his study where he was thinking of other things and could not help overhearing the conversation outside the room. “You were hurt, and you wanted to hurt those that hurt you,” he answered as he settled down next to Frothay. “Kittanota came along with his smooth talk and offered you a chance to get even with us. I do not blame you in this. I cannot replace what you have lost any more than I could replace my adopted son’s parents who were killed. In an effort to change things we have begun a quest for peace that will stop things like this from ever happening again, but it is a long road with many dangers ahead.”

    Soolayinna looked at Zothor. “I want to go back. I can help,” she said.

    “What of your daughter?”

    “You said you were sending me somewhere where I’d be safe. Take her there without me. Let me stay and help you. It’s the only way I can make up for what I have done,” Soolayinna said.

    “She could help us warn the other tree dwellers. Otherwise, it might be hard to make contact with them. When every moment may count, anything that helps smooth out contact with the tree dwellers could save lives,” Frothay suggested.

    Ok, it will be as you say,” Zothor said getting up. He walked back into the study smiling to himself. Frothay was right about this healer. To have destroyed her would have been a terrible waste.

    “Thank you,” Soolayinna said. She hugged Frothay the best she could before getting up and returning to her room.

    Frothay felt warm all over. Things had worked out the way he thought they would. He closed his eyes and went to sleep. He no longer needed to guard Soolayinna.

    

~~~

    

    They had been hearing the sounds of some great thing crashing through the forest for several time parts. It was alarming to know that it was coming straight for the dwelling. Grizzon had armed the whole dwelling just in case. The tree dwellers he had sent out as scouts never returned and that was another worry. It was only a matter of time before they would see what it was. Grizzon wondered if they would not be better off up in the trees rather than on the ground. He could see the brothers he sent out to get a look at the thing running toward him. “Well, what is it?” he asked as the brothers came to a stop before him.

    “A great shunail,” one of the brothers answered while trying to catch his breath. “Bigger than anything you have ever seen.”

    “It’s at least twenty lengths tall and it is being led right to us by some kind of metal monster that is 6 lengths tall itself,” the other brother said.

    “Can we stop it?” Grizzon asked.

    “No,” the brothers answered in unison.

    “Not even if we were all armed with rocket launchers.”

    “Everyone into the trees,” Grizzon yelled as the great shunail came into sight. He had wasted his breath those that had got their first look at the great shunail were already running for the trees.

    Grizzon could not believe his eyes. The great shunail was taller than any dwelling. As it moved it ripped up small trees with the two tentacles on either side of its face and stuffed the trees in its great cavern of a mouth. The metal monster that seemed to be leading the great shunail was no less impressive even though it was dwarfed by the shunail. The shunail stop beneath the tree he had run up to escape this creature’s passing. It was then that he noticed some kind of dwelling on the shunail’s back. The great shunail began to make a noise that sounded like thunder rumbling through the forest on a stormy night. The shunail repeated the noise over and over again until the noise seemed to take on meaning. “I am Moog. I not hurt. Come down,” the thundering voice of the shunail seemed to say almost as slowly as it moved.

    “Grizzon, you can get down out of the trees now. Moog won’t hurt you,” a voice Grizzon could understand clearly called up to him.

    Grizzon looked toward the sound of the voice and there much to his relief he saw Tangoral standing next to his mother and surrounded by all those that went with him. The missing tree dwellers were there as well. “Are you sure it’s safe?” he asked.

    “I careful. Not eat small flat ones,” the slow rolling thunder seemed to say.

    “Moog says he won’t eat you. So yes, I’m certain it is safe,” Tangoral replied.

    “How is it that I can seem to understand what it says?”

    “Most shunails never live long enough for their speech to slow down enough to be understood. Moog has seen the seasons change seven hundred times before he lost interest in keeping track. He can still understand the small ones, but he can no longer talk to them. It takes about two hundred cycles before their speech slows down enough to be understood. I’m sure this is fascinating to you. Can we talk about this at another time though?”

    A young female tree dweller zoomed past Grizzon on her way down the tree, and a moment later Tangoral was pinned to the shunail’s shell. Tangoral forgot everything as he let himself be engulfed by Ashorah’s welcome. “Lady Ishihari, next time could you give me some warning before you disappear. Tell Tangoral when he comes up for air that I can’t wait to hear about his adventure,” Grizzon said.

    “Please forgive me Grizzon. I was caught up in my joy of knowing that my son had returned,” Ishihari said. “We will have to do the gather tomorrow. It will be evening before Moog reaches our dwelling and he will have to be unloaded. That will take a while. They brought a lot of stuff back with them.”

    All’s well that ends well, Grizzon thought as he started back down the tree.

    

~~~

    

    Kittanota was running for his life. An Army of red hard-shells were chasing him and his followers. He was headed for a near by home. He planed to bypass it in the night and hoped that the hard-shells would stop there long enough to give him time to escape. He didn’t care that the hundred or so people that lived there would be killed. He just hoped they would buy him the time he needed to escape. He wondered what happened to Soolayinna. She and her daughter had just disappeared without a trace. He could use her wisdom and her fire bombs now. Raytanack had dropped behind to set traps for the hard-shells that came through the trees.

    

    Raytanack was setting his sixth trap when he saw Soolayinna walking towards him. “Kittanota will be glad to see you,” he said. “We need you to make more of your fire bombs so we can get above the hard-shells and destroy them.”

    “I will make no more fire bombs for Kittanota. Nor will I help you kill hard-shells any more,” Soolayinna said coldly.

    “What’s wrong with you? They killed your husband and children.”

    “They have been avenged a hundred times over. Kittanota must be stopped before he can do any more harm. Join with me Raytanack. Help me to stop this madness before any more are killed. Already Kittanota is willing to sacrifice a home full of our people so that he can escape death. If we give the hard-shells Kittanota they may stop and go home. We cannot kill all the hard-shells, there are too many of them. Even if we killed the hard-shells that are following you; the next army that you would have to face would be larger. Instead of a few hundred it might well be a few thousand. How would you fight them then, with your little traps? Join me Raytanack.”

    “You’d turn your back on your people to protect the hard-shells. I always knew you were soft. Why don’t you go say hi to a hard-shell and see how far that gets you,” Raytanack said with contempt.

    “Last chance Raytanack. Join me and together we can stop the hard-shells and save the lives of many of the people who Kittanota has placed in great danger by his actions,” Soolayinna said.

    “If I don’t join you what then?”

    “Then you will not leave here alive.”

    “Just how do you think you are going to be able to do that,” Raytanack laughed. “You might as well kill me if you think you can because I am not going to join you.”

    Soolayinna just smiled at him. “You don’t understand. We are just small pieces of a much bigger picture,” she said. “I never said I would kill you, but now you will see, you will understand, but you will never live long enough to tell anyone.” The tree seemed to come to life all around Soolayinna. Raytanack stared in disbelief. Then in a moment he realized the truth as a bullet hit him in the chest and exploded.

    

    Elamano was half asleep at his post guarding the main entrance to the home. He was almost all the way asleep when he heard a noise. Even as he turned the tree hit him. When he woke a moment later a strange woman was standing over him and something was holding him by his neck. He cast his eyes wildly about and discovered he was surrounded by hard-shells that looked a lot like pieces of a tree. Even now he could not tell how many hard-shells there were. “I am a healer; there is an army of red hard-shells coming this way. They will be here by morning. We must wake everybody up and get them out of here now,” the woman said.

    “We can’t just wake up everybody…,” Elamano began to say.

    “Fool, there are three hundred hard-shells headed right for you. If we don’t get everyone up right now you will all be dead before midday,” the woman interrupted.

    “We don’t have time for this,” Elamano heard one of the hard-shells say. “Take us to your leader.” Elamano was jerked hard to his feet and shoved forward.

    It seemed to Amishton that he had just gone to sleep before Elamano was shaking him trying to get him to wake-up. “Please wake up Amishton, please,” Elamano pleaded.

    “Can’t this wait until morning,” Amishton said in his sleep.

    “No, it can’t. Now get up,” another voice he didn’t recognize commanded.

    His wife woke up. “Amishton what is…,” she started to say before she began to scream. Still screaming she tried to get away but got tangled up in the covers and fell over onto Amishton. Now he was awake and half the tribe with him.

    The sight that greeted his eyes as torches began to come on all over the home was a woman surrounded by what looked like parts of a tree. When one of them moved he understood what made his wife scream, hard-shells. A half a dozen hard-shells surrounded a woman he did not know. She knelt down before him as his wife crawled off him and tried to hide behind him, as if that would do any good. Amishton thought he was about to die. “You need to get everyone up and move from here right now,” the woman said.

    “W-why,” he stuttered.

    “You have heard of Kittanota?” she asked.

    “All have heard of Kittanota. He fights the hard-shells. Some of our young men went to join him,” Amishton replied.

    “Kittanota has angered the hard-shells and an army of three hundred hard-shells are chasing him. Kittanota has passed close by here in the night. He hopes that the army will turn from chasing him to destroy your home and give him a chance to escape. If you do not get everyone up right now, and leave, you will all be killed come morning. I am Soolayinna, a healer, if you do as I say then you and all your people will live. If you do not do as I say then you and everyone here will die.”

    Amishton could not believe what he was hearing. “Why would Kittanota do such a thing? He is a great warrior. He could kill all the hard-shells. He has already killed many hard-shells.”

    “Your great warrior hides in the trees while others fight and die for him. He and his followers have killed many hard-shells this is true, but many of those hard-shells were unarmed women and children. The first time that your great warrior had to face a real enemy he fled for his life. Now, he may have cost the lives of everyone here if we can’t get you out of here right now,” one of the hard-shells said.

    Amishton was not sure which was more shocking having hard-shells in the home or talking to one. “The hard-shells that follow Kittanota do not understand us. We need only to get out of their way to be safe. They hunt only Kittanota and those with him. We will go into the Great Swamp for a little ways. The hard-shells may try and follow us for a little while, but it is Kittanota that they follow so they will give up and go away very quickly,” Soolayinna said. “If they do not, then my friends here will discourage them.”

    “You would kill other hard-shells?” Amishton asked the hard-shell that spoke.

    “Very soon we will be at war with the red hard-shells. It’s just one less army that we don’t have to fight,” the hard-shell replied.

    “Why do you help these hard-shells?” Amishton asked Soolayinna.

    “I once fought with Kittanota. I made very powerful weapons for him to use against the hard-shell. This hard-shell was ordered to kill me.” Soolayinna replied pointing at the hard-shell that spoke. “His name is Frothay. He was told to kill me to keep me from making weapons for Kittanota. He did not kill me. Instead he captured me and took me back to his home to meet his leader. He pleaded for my life that I might be spared. While I was at their home I saw the truth. The army that follows Kittanota is nothing. If you can count all the leaves on all the trees in the forest then you can count the number of hard-shells in the world. Kittanota is just an annoying bug trying to avoid being squashed. Because they were kind to me and my daughter, and did not kill me, I agreed to help these hard-shells save lives.”

    “I have four scouts out in front of the army of red hard-shells. Right now they are camped. When they start moving about, two of those scouts will come here and warn us. We cannot wait any longer to leave here than that time. After that we will leave and you will be on your own because we cannot be seen by the approaching army,” Frothay said.

    Amishton could feel the truth of the words that were spoken to him. He had a hundred questions he wanted to ask but he felt their sense of urgency and so the questions would have to wait. “Elamano, get everyone that’s not up, up. We are leaving here now. Tell the people to take only what they can carry,” he said. “How shall we go?”

    “We will go high and follow Kittanota for a while and then slowly angle off toward the Great Swamp. This will put us in front of the army for a while, but that can’t be helped,” Frothay replied.

    “Don’t worry Amishton; these hard-shells were well trained by a healer. The red hard-shells have sent three hundred of their kind to kill Kittanota. The blue hard-shells have only sent ten of their kind to kill Kittanota and protect us from the red hard-shells. If Kittanota had one such warrior as these hard-shells, the red hard-shells would flee in terror,” Soolayinna said.

    “Why would a healer train hard-shells?” Amishton’s wife asked slowly coming out from behind her husband.

    “To kill Kittanota,” Soolayinna replied. “A very powerful healer wants Kittanota dead. There are many reasons, but it’s healer business and it is best not to get involved.” Frothay told his leader that the line for wanting Kittanota dead was long and getting longer. It just got a little longer, Soolayinna thought. The people here did not need to be waken from their sleep to flee for their lives.

    

~~~

    

    It seemed to Tangoral that a lot of work had been done in a short amount of time. The home inside the grandfather tree was large enough to hold all the People and the Brachyura of the dwelling as well. Two stairways down to the dwelling were built complete with secret entrances at key points throughout the dwelling. To this, he was adding a microwave power relay that would draw power from a satellite high above them. It would provide the power for many of the things he had brought with him from the ancient city. The receiver was set in the very top of the tree and the wire was run down the side of the tree until it reached the home. From there lines were run inside the tree to key areas like the craft hall, the medical center, armory, and his mother’s dining hall. He also put in a satellite uplink so he could keep in contact with the computer in the ancient city. He was rarely without his head set when he was working.

    He was pleased to see a system to fight fires both here in the dwelling and at his home in the Great Swamp. A rain catchment system that had been installed at the home in the swamp was also installed above the dwelling to serve the home still under construction in the tree above the dwelling. Some other advancements were made in regard to the production of pillows. Sokegal not only came up with a machine that made shavings to stuff the pillows with; he made a machine to make cloth. It was very crude, but Tangoral made a few suggestions that greatly improved the performance of the machine, increasing speed and the quality of the cloth.

    The knowledge that filled his head was almost more than he could handle. He wanted to give the Brachyura everything he knew but he knew if he did it could cause more harm than good. Little steps had to be taken. He had to keep things simple. It didn’t help that he knew about the coming war. He knew of weapons far more deadly than any of weapons the Brachyura possessed. Already, he had given the Blue Brotherhood a new kind of gun that fired a small poison-coated bullet. It was so small that it could be hidden under a shell without anyone noticing it. It was a lot like his stick throwers only more powerful, and able to go through the thickest shell. At his suggestion new guns were being made that would be far more accurate over greater distances. Everything at the dwelling was being geared up for war and that saddened Tangoral. No one took any joy in it. It was just something that had to be done for the defense of their home.

    “Tangoral,” someone said breaking his train of thought. “Yoeith wants you to come up and explain another passage in the book to him. He’s having trouble translating the book into words we can understand.”

    “Yoeith is always having trouble. I wish he had learned to read better. Isn’t Tangalen helping him?”

    “Tangalen is already up there. He doesn’t get it either.”

    “This is a case of the blind leading the blind.”

    “What?”

    “Ok, tell them I’ll be up in a little while,” Tangoral said. The translation of the book they brought back with them was progressing rapidly. Having a greater understanding of the words the ancients used, as he did, was essential in translating the book. Still, this took away from other things that Tangoral thought needed to be done to prepare them for the coming war.

    

    Tangoral stood waiting for a beleaguered group of black brothers and tree people that earlier was reported heading for the dwelling. Grizzon seemed to be deferring many of the decisions of the daily running of the dwelling to him as of late. He would have to talk with Ishihari about all these interruptions that took him away from other things he was involved in. “Greetings,” he said when they got close enough. “What brings our black brothers so far from home?”

    “I am Dar Noth, we have come a long way in search of a brown brother known as Yoeith,” Dar Noth said. “Where is the clan leader of this dwelling? I should think that he would have been the one to greet us.”

    “Lately, I’ve come to think I’ve been elected as dwelling clan leader by default. However, my adopted father is not here at present and my mother is preparing food for you that you may rest from your journey,” Tangoral replied.

    Dar Noth was too tired to comprehend what the tree dweller was telling him and he was a little upset that he would be so poorly greeted by this dwelling that they would send a tree dweller to greet him. “Is there no elders here to greet us?” he asked.

    “I am Tangoral; my adopted father is the dwelling clan leader here and a councilor of the Blue Brotherhood. There is no one here with a higher standing within the leadership of this dwelling than I am, except for my mother. Among the people I am a healer, and the leader of my tribe, both here and in the Great Swamp. However, if you want me to send for someone lesser than I to greet you I can.”

    Dar Noth realized he had just stuck his leg in his mouth and bit down hard. “Forgive me, I had no idea. We have been walking for many seven-days and we are very tired.”

    “I too am a healer,” Banneesheanta said walking up to stand next to Dar Noth. “I am Banneesheanta. I am the mother of Yoeith, who is also a healer. Have you heard of him?”

    “I know Yoeith. I will send for him while you refresh yourselves. He is in the tree above us. Now, if you will follow me I will show you where you will be staying for tonight. Tomorrow, I suspect, we will need to find you all better accommodations,” Tangoral said.

    “We are more than willing to lend a claw if you need any help,” Dar Noth offered.

    “You’re learning,” Banneesheanta whispered to him.

    “Good, we need every claw we can get.”

    “Most of the brothers with me are craftsmen. So we can do almost any thing you need done,” Dar Noth said.

    “That will help, but you will find that there will be a period of training they must go through to adjust to our level of technology.”

    “My craftsmen can do anything,” Dar Noth boasted. Although he saw the windows in the dwelling he did not think that things here could be so different.

    “I’m sure they can, but do they know the idiosyncrasies of tree dweller construction? Do they know what a microwave power station relay with a transformer to step down the power is, and can they install one, I doubt it. I only have two craftsmen here that can do that, and even then there are things I must do because they don’t understand what it is that needs to be done. We have machines here that no one has ever seen before,” Tangoral said. “I’m sure your pride in your craftsman is well founded but this is not your home, and you will find that things here are very different and take a bit of getting use to. After a period of training it will all seem normal to them,”

    “Things can’t be that different here,” Banneesheanta said.

    “Sentinel, bring the guardian out so they can see it,” Tangoral said into the microphone attached to headset he was wearing. A moment later a giant metal monster walked into view from around the tree where Tangoral had it hiding from their guests’ view. The guardian filled Dar Noth and those with him with fear. “Don’t be afraid, it will not hurt you. As you can see, things here are very different from what you are use to.”

    “This is going to take some getting use to,” Dar Noth said. Things at this dwelling were stranger than anything he could have imagined.

    

    Later in the evening Dar Noth was invited to the dwelling clan leader’s dwelling for a private dinner. Grizzon and Sokegal also attend the dinner. Shelasaw and several other sisters were serving so Ishihari could also participate in the evening’s discussions. Banneesheanta had gone up to visit with her son and settle her people in the space given over to them up in the tree. Dar Noth had to deal with this strange dwelling’s leadership on his own. “Why have you come so far with so many?” Tangoral asked pointedly toward the end of dinner.

    “You know of the Prophet’s epistle.” Tangoral nodded that he did. “We have been banished because we will not change our beliefs. Nor will we kill tree dwellers,” Dar Noth said. “Banneesheanta brought her people with us because we feared for their safety. At her suggestion we came here. I had considered living with the tree dwellers until sanity prevailed once again.”

    “Refugees,” Ishihari said. “We will become the focal point for everyone seeking safety. These are just the first. Those that will not or cannot stay and fight, like that healer whose daughter Zothor sent us, will come here seeking refuge.”

    “Great, we are about to be invaded by an army of homeless brothers,” Sokegal said.

    “Many of the People will come here as well,” Tangoral said.

    “So what are we going to do with all them?” Sokegal asked.

    “We will shift construction priorities to the home in the Great Swamp,” Tangoral said. “When Dar Noth’s people are rested we will send them there. We will send fifty of the new heavy guns with them and we will make stick throwers for all the people.”

    “Why so many guns?” Grizzon asked.

    “If we have become the focal point for refugees. Then we could become the focal point for any military operation. First rule of war, destroy the opposition. If we become the focal point for refugees then we also become a key point of that opposition. We must be destroyed to prove that there is no place of refuge. We need a place to evacuate to in case we are over run here. With guns in place we can defend the home there in case we are followed and attacked there as well,” Tangoral replied. “I will station the guardian there as a last line of defense in case we need to flee that home as well.”

    Dar Noth was beginning to feel left out of the conversation. “You decide the fate of my brothers is if I am not here. Don’t I have any say in this?” he asked.

    “If it’s useful input,” Tangoral replied. “I have talked with Banneesheanta about you. I know that you were a dwelling clan leader and that you gave up everything for honor and love. You are not very observant though, and you still think like a hard-shell. Then there is your pride that you keep stumbling over. Grizzon is acting dwelling clan leader here but he seems content to defer his authority to me. Sokegal is the craft master here and he would do anything I ask of him, as would any of the brothers here. The People of the Trees would obey me without question. This includes Banneesheanta and her people. Lady Ishihari, my mother, has complete faith in my judgment. Do you think that anyone here would follow me blindly?”

    “No, but…”

    “There are no buts! There are many things happening in the world that you are not aware of. War is coming to the very steps that lead to this dwelling and we must prepare for that event. You have come here asking for refuge, and we will grant you your request. In return for defending you, we require your help to prepare this dwelling and my home for the coming war. Now, if you have a problem with this let me know now.” Dar Noth sat there in silence feeling like he had just got his shell chewed on by his clan leader. “If we don’t have a problem, then in matters regarding your people I will defer to you as is proper in such matters as their leader. For now though you should sit and listen, but if you have any useful thoughts or suggestions I’d like to hear them. Even the simplest idea may mean the difference between victory or defeat.” Tangoral turned back to talk with Sokegal and Grizzon.

    “Tree people are conditioned to obey healers without question under certain conditions, like now, and healers have come to expect instant obedience in those times. It’s worse with my son. He is both a healer and the leader of two tribes. You’ll get use to him,” Ishihari whispered to Dar Noth.

    “He’s so hard to take. He makes me feel very small,” Dar Noth whispered back.

    “What you feel is the power of a true leader. If it makes you feel better, my mate, who is a councilor to our clan leader, has felt just like you do right now from time to time. Sometimes, it scares me too a little. In time he will become a great leader. What he does, he does to protect us all. We do not have the time to debate who’s in charge and what we will do. As oil rises to the top of water, so do true leaders in the face of adversity,” Ishihari replied.

    

~~~

    

    “I’m sure you have heard the rumors that the Blue Brotherhood is training its soldiers in case of war. I have had spies out checking on this rumor to see if it is true or false. There is some stepped up activity in this area at all the dwellings we were able to check. Nothing that I would worry about though,” PaTouan reported. “We have almost twelve thousand soldiers at the ready. Three hundred and twenty-six are already in the field chasing the tree dweller. They have yet to encounter any of Zothor’s soldiers but we’re reasonably sure that they are in the area. Someone is warning all the other tree dwellers in the path of our soldiers. Every hive that we encounter is empty. Some of them were hastily vacated. I’d bet good money that it’s Zothor’s soldiers warning the tree dwellers. All shipments are getting through. We’re as ready as we’ll ever be.”

    “Good, don’t be too concerned about the rumors. That is Zothor’s influence. He is a student of the old ways. His dwelling is the only dwelling that has a small professional army, but all of his soldiers are in the field chasing the tree dweller right now. His dwelling must be one of the first places we attack. Once his dwelling falls the Blue Brotherhood will lose heart. His dwelling may well be the key to this whole war,” KaZanna said. “We have twelve seven-days before we attack. We need to go to work on the Prophet so he’ll be infuriated enough to banish all who would stand in our way and declare a holy war on them if they won’t vacate their lands peacefully. Of course we know they won’t give up their land without a fight. By the time we’re ready to make our move we should be in control of four, maybe five, of the clans. Any who stand in our way will be crushed. Anything else to report?”

    “Only an interesting note; one of the black brothers was banished. He was a dwelling clan leader. A full third of the dwelling followed him into exile. We have no idea where he went. The rumor among the black clan is that he went to live with the tree dwellers.”

    “Think of it as a test as to which clans will follow the Prophet and which won’t. It’s of no consequence. It is an interesting note though.”

    “One other item. You have been invited to Cantor’s next victory party.”

    “That’s nothing new. I have a standing invitation to all those parties. They’re always the same. Send my regrets.”

    “This one is different. It’s in the new dining hall that his son just had built and Zothor’s adopted tree dweller son will be there. He came with the Lady Ishihari when she returned from her dwelling. He’s listed as the inventor of many new things like the windows you requested of Zothor,” PaTouan said.

    “Perhaps, that would prove to be an interesting evening after all. Send my acceptance,” KaZanna said. “If it is half as interesting as meeting his adopted daughter, it should prove to be an interesting evening indeed.”

    

    “Syanor, I like you to meet your adopted brother,” Ishihari said.

    “Greetings, I’ve heard so much about you already from Cantor and Mom that I feel I know you already,” Syanor said. “Father says you’re good at playing the Game as well. I’d like to play you if you have the time.”

    “I haven’t played a lot of games lately, but I’d love to,” Tangoral said. “This is a really nice place you have here.”

    “We’re opening with Cantor’s victory party tonight,” Ishihari said.

    “So where are the secret exits?” Tangoral asked.

    “You know about the secret exits. Is that wise?” Syanor asked his mother. Ishihari just looked at Tangoral.

    “Syanor, I saw the plans for this dining hall long before it was complete. Outside there are twenty craftsmen unloading the stuff I brought with me. I’m here to make adjustments to insure the success of the plan. Remember, the changes in the plans about halfway through construction?” Tangoral asked.

    “Yes, that made some of the craftsmen really mad. They had to redo some stuff, but the high dome ceiling turned out really beautiful. The blue inlay going around the base of the dome was a nice touch.”

    “Thank you, it was my design. I’m here to make some final adjustments with my own craftsmen. The secret exits are not on any plans; so please point it out to me so I can get to work.”

    “It’s behind the cabinet with Cantor’s and my Father’s victory cups and ribbons. The other one is in one of the storerooms behind the kitchen.”

    “Good, completely opposite of the door. We’re going to make a mess for a while, but the clan leader has promised me an army to help clean up when I’m done. We should be able to make the game. You know what the nice part about having a famous father is?”

    “What?”

    “Reserved front row seats.” Tangoral walked off as the first of the craftsmen came in carrying a large window.

    “Mother, is he always that uppity?” Syanor asked.

    “I’d like to say it comes from being rich, but in Tangoral’s case it comes from being right, all the time. He’s like that when he’s working. A great shunail on a straight path; once he relaxes he’s really quite loveable. You’ll get use to it,” Ishihari replied. “Tell Zothor before you two play. He wants to watch.” Ishihari turned to leave.

    “Mother, you’re not going to leave me here with him are you,” Syanor pleaded as he watched his mother walk out the door.

    “Syanor, if you come over here I will explain what we’re doing,” Tangoral said.

    Syanor started to walk over when he saw a black brother come in carrying a large box made of the window material. “They’re not supposed to be any other craftsmen in here when we’re working on sensitive stuff,” he said.

    “It’s ok, he’s been cleared, adds to the illusion that we’re not up to anything. The box he has brought in will hold water. I picked up some interesting water animals on the way here. We’re going to display them in these tanks. What I’m doing is placing walls in strategic places to make it harder for KaZanna’s soldiers to get a clear shot when they come storming in. Also, there will be panels in the ceiling that will be able to drop down and seal off a given area around the secret exit over there. We’ve brought new table clothes, pillows, and some cloth garments that we want your waiters to wear.”

    “Are you always this wound up? Slow down give me a chance to catch up,” Syanor said. “Why do my waiters have to wear these, what did you call them, cloth garments?”

    “It’s a new product that we hope will catch on and there are other reasons too.”

    “Like what?”

    “It will hide the guns the waiters will be carrying when you celebrate Cantor winning the All Clan Championship.”

    “Oh, forget I asked that question. I’ve got stuff I need to do in the kitchen to get ready for tonight.”

    “Don’t you want me to explain how all this stuff is supposed to work?” Tangoral asked.

    “I think I’m better off not knowing,” Syanor said as he headed for the kitchen.

    

    Zothor never saw his mate look so beautiful. The jewels set along the edge of her shell caught the light giving her a sparkling glow about her. Draped over her shell was a bright red cloth that ended in gold tassels along the edge. It served to enhance the blue in her shell. Zothor was of a mind to forget this game and stay home tonight. “You are going to break hearts tonight, and mine’s one of them,” he said.

    “You say the sweetest things,” Ishihari said.

    “You look absolutely stunning.”

    “Thank you. You don’t look so bad yourself,” she said. Zothor had let her talk him into wearing a regal looking blue cloth just like hers, only not so frilly. The edges were red and gold overlapping each other. He thought it made him look stupid, but the pockets in the front where it hung down next to his hands were real handy. Already he had them full of stuff.

    The first to see them was Rownan. “Lady Ishihari, you look great. Zothor, what can I say, you look…”

    “Stupid,” Zothor finished for him.

    “No, I was going to say you look good too. If ever there was a matched pair you’re it,” Rownan said.

    “I feel like a walking advertisement,” Zothor said.

    “You are dear,” Ishihari said. “Do you think these will catch on,” she asked Rownan as she turned in a tight circle so he could get a good look.

    “Every sister will die to have one after tonight.”

    “What about the brothers,” Zothor asked.

    “I don’t know, but after tonight all the sisters will want one,” Rownan replied.

    “That’s what I thought. I look stupid,”

    “You’re not helping Rownan,” Ishihari said. “Show him the pockets.”

    “On the backside of these flaps that hang down in the front they have these things called pockets.” Zothor flipped one of the flaps around so Rownan could get a look at them. “You can fill them full of stuff. That’s this outfit’s only redeeming feature.”

    “Lose the frills, add a few more pocket things, and I’ll take one,” Rownan said.

    “You want some kind of work outfit?” Ishihari asked.

    “I guess so. It really doesn’t look all that bad and those pocket things are a great idea. One of Tangoral’s ideas no doubt.

    “No, it was actually one of the tree dwellers called Shelasaw that came up with the idea. Tangoral’s idea was that it would help hide the guns that the waiters will be carrying,” Ishihari replied.

    “Adreeum has seen these, right?” Rownan asked.

    “Tangoral told him about them, but he hasn’t seen one yet,” Zothor replied. “Tangoral said that if these things can catch on, then when the time comes the waiters won’t look out of place.”

    “I predict that they will catch on in a big way. Everything you seem to touch turns to gold my friend. I wish I had that talent,” Rownan said.

    “Enough of this talk. Let’s go see the game,” Ishihari said.

    

    “I am not going to wear that,” Tincal said when Tangoral showed the waiters the garments.

    “This is not a debate,” Tangoral said. “If you will not wear it then you’ll need to find yourself another job and I’ll get someone else to wear it that needs the work. If my bodyguards can wear these things, you can too. In a couple of seven-days everyone will want one and you’ll wonder why you put up such a fuss. Syanor, you deal with this, I’m late. I’m not kidding about firing anyone that will not wear one of these things. Tell the Commander of the Guard for the night that you need replacements for any of your waiters if you have a problem. Adreeum has already given the necessary orders. I’m leaving now.” Tangoral turned and walked off followed by three brothers draped in dark purple cloth with silver edging.

    “I’m not going to wear that,” Tincal said. “Who does that tree dweller think he is anyway?”

    “He thinks he’s the son of the owner of this dining hall. I think he’s right,” Syanor said. “Anyone that won’t wear one of these things feel free to leave now. I’ll have the money that I owe you ready for you in the morning.”

    “You can’t be serious,” Tincal said.

    Syanor reached down and picked up the garment that was reserved for him and put it on. “What do you think?” he asked. The other waiters followed their boss’s example. Tincal was the last to pick up one of the garments and put it on. Good jobs were hard to come by.

    Syanor looked over the changes in his dining hall. Several tanks of water were filled with colorful water creatures and placed all around the dining hall. He had never seen any of these creatures before, but he had read about them. These tanks with their creatures alone would draw brothers and sisters from all over. The tanks and window walls divided sections of the dining hall into separate dining areas. A light blue cloth covered all the tables and accented the darker blue pillows. The center of the dining hall was left clear of tables. Syanor thought that would be a great place for some kind of entertainment. Anyone would be able to see that spot from any part of the dining hall. Syanor wondered if that was what Tangoral had in mind when he designed that part of the dining hall.

    

    To watch one of Cantor’s games during the playoffs no longer had the excitement of the regular games before the playoffs. Cantor destroyed his opponents, winning by more than a hundred points. Cantor had demoralized the black clan champion so badly that he quit the game at 300 to 27 and refused to finish the series of games in the playoffs. That left Cantor with a lot of time off before the next series of games were scheduled to begin. After that game Adreeum eased off on his restriction for Cantor to go all out in winning the playoff games. Adreeum feared that if another champion quit the other games might be pushed up and Adreeum needed all the time he could get before the regular scheduled All Clan Championship game.

    The highlight of the game was not who was playing but rather what Zothor and Ishihari had worn to the game. Zothor was forever showing other brothers his pockets and the sisters almost drooled over Ishihari’s cloth ornamentation. Tangoral was also one of the attractions of the evening. His answers to the questions put to him were a little less candid than his sister’s. What amazed most of those that talked to him was that he sounded and acted a lot like a brother rather than a tree dweller. Of course they lacked a certain amount of perspective having only met one other tree dweller before. “What did you think of the game?” KaZanna asked him.

    “I think that Cantor could use a better opponent. He’s not even trying hard,” Tangoral replied.

    “I suppose you think you could beat him,” KarEena said. KaZanna frowned at his mate.

    “It certainly would be a more interesting game.”

    “I suppose you can play the Game,” KaZanna said.

    “Damn good player too,” Zothor leaned over next to his adopted son and said.

    “You mean to tell me he can actually play the Game?” KaZanna asked.

    “Better than the yellow champion playing down there now,” Zothor replied. “I’ve played him myself and almost lost.”

    “I had a good instructor,” Tangoral said pointing at Cantor.

    

    The evening continued on after the game with the victory dinner held at the end of a series of games against the various clan champions. Each clan champion had to play the other five clan champions in the best of three game series. The two with the best records of wins would play each other again for the All Clan Championship. The beginning serve of the game always went to the player that lost against the other player in the playoffs. Free food always brought out anyone that thought they were someone. The opening of Syanor’s new dining hall in conjunction with Cantor’s victory dinner brought out the leadership of all the clans. Even the yellow clan leader, who normally snubbed these parties in protest, showed up to congratulate the winner of the game as good sportsmanship demanded. The guest list read like a who’s who of the brotherhood. Almost everyone was amazed by the tanks with the water creatures in them. Tangoral spent most of the evening explaining the principles behind making the tanks and how the water creatures were obtained. The size of the dining hall was more than twice the size of the old dining hall. KaZanna wonder if business had been so good as to warrant this increase in size. Not that he cared. It would make things easier for him when the time came. KaZanna had invited the Prophet as his guest and was rather hoping he would show up. Just when KaZanna thought he was not going to show up in walked the Prophet with some of his councilors and a couple of bodyguards. Adreeum and Zothor quickly disengaged themselves from their guests to go welcome Jonnaul. Jonnaul eyed Zothor’s apparel with disdain. When he saw the tree dweller he almost left before KaZanna could stop him.

    “Shocking isn’t it,” KaZanna said softly. “They are almost crawling over each other to talk with the tree dweller when they should be ripping him to shreds. Adreeum and Zothor greeted you politely enough though. They know how to kiss shell when it matters even though they no longer pay their tithes to the Church. I invited you tonight, as my guest, so you could see for yourself just how decadent the brotherhood has become. I had not planed to come either until I heard that the tree dweller was going to be here.”

    “I had doubted, but everything you’ve told me is true,” Jonnaul said.

    “Just look at this dining hall, have you ever in you life seen anything so large and so lavish?” KaZanna asked. “They have become enamored with their riches. This is what contact with the tree dwellers has brought them. I have no doubt that there is more to come. You should stay to see how truly depraved they have become. The food is free and first rate.” KaZanna knew Jonnaul all too well. It was hard for him to pass up a free meal. “You might as well stay and eat. It’s one way to get the Church’s dues that the blue clan no longer sends.”

    “You’re right I should stay. As a witness for God it is my duty to stay and watch. Thank you for reminding me,” Jonnaul said.

    Dinner had almost ended when Tangoral nudged Cantor who was sitting next to him. “Any chance that I could get you to do your juggling act?” Tangoral asked.

    “Now,” Cantor replied.

    “No, two cycles from now, of course now. It would be good entertainment for your guests.”

    “I don’t know if I should.”

    “What will it hurt? Everyone here already knows who the next All Clan Champion will be anyway.”

    “Ok, but if I get into trouble it’s your fault.” Cantor got up and started to walk towards the center of the dining hall.

    “Cantor, when you finish leave your balls out there on the floor,” Tangoral said.

    “Why?” Cantor asked.

    “I’m next, Tangoral replied.

    When Cantor reached the center of the dining hall, he began by throwing a ball as high in the air as the ceiling permitted. He threw the ball up with one claw and caught it with the other claw. This seemed like something real simple to the onlookers until they realize that the one ball had become two balls. As if by magic the two balls became three balls that seemed to float in the air. Then suddenly the three balls doubled in number and six balls now weaved patterns in the air. The patterns shifted and changed constantly. One by one Cantor plucked a ball from the air and laid it in a line on the floor in front of him. He did this until he ended much the same way he started throwing a single ball high in the air catching it only a fraction of a claw from the floor and setting it next to the other balls. Cheers of approval rose from the audience as he took his bows. Tangoral nodding at Ishihari then got up and walked toward the center of the dining hall. “Top that,” Cantor said as he passed Tangoral on his way to sit back down.

    Lights began to dim everywhere in the dining hall except the center area. Tangoral picked up the balls. “The trouble with thinking you’re the best is that sooner or later someone comes along who is just as good as or better than you are,” he said as he began to juggle the balls. “Traycalan thought he was the greatest of leaders,” Tangoral began the story he would tell as he juggled. “He thought everyone should do as he said because he thought he was a wise leader. No one dared to tell him any different because he was very strong. Everyone did what he told them because they were afraid of him. This of course made Traycalan feel all the better. He thought that he must be the greatest leader in the whole world and that the whole world should bow to him and do his bidding.” Tangoral began to weave the same patterns in the air with the balls that Cantor had just done.

    “One day a stranger came to visit the tribe of Traycalan,” Tangoral continued with his story. “The stranger was not very big or very strong. Traycalan told the stranger to do something, but the stranger told him that he did not what to do that. Traycalan told the stranger that he was the greatest leader in the whole world and that the stranger must do what he was told. The stranger asked what made Traycalan think that he was the greatest leader in the world. “Because people always do what I say,” Traycalan said.”

“That is not good enough,” the stranger said. “You must show me how great you are.” Traycalan showed the stranger how great he was and all the things he had done.” The patterns that the balls made in the air became more complex.

    Tangoral maintained the shifting patterns the balls were making for a while before continuing with his story. “Now, do you see my greatness?” Traycalan asked after he had shown the stranger everything he had accomplished.”

    “I do not see any greatness of yours in anything you have shown me,” the stranger replied. “You have forced others down the path you would have them go, and then you claim their greatness for your own. Now, I will show you mine.” All the lights in the dining hall suddenly went off thrusting everyone into total darkness. A moment later what looked like a single torch ignited in the center of the dining hall. The torch began to move slowly at first. As it picked up speed patterns emerged, and then it split into two. A moment later the two moving firebrands became four burning torches weaving a cage around Tangoral. “Traycalan you cannot rule men through fear or force,” the stranger said. “This is not the way of God or man. Small things can conquer great things and salvation cannot be forced or legislated. What you see is not always what is real.”

    The torches went out and a moment later the lights came back on. Tangoral stood before the Brachyura blindfolded juggling the balls. “Traycalan as a leader you are only what the people that follow you make of you. The people give you your power and they can take it away,” the stranger said. “In a moment Traycalan’s greatness and power was overthrown and he was pulled down to the level of the people by a stranger,” Tangoral said finishing the story. One by one, Tangoral made the balls disappeared from sight until only one ball remained. He threw it high into the air, pulled the blindfold off and caught the ball in the piece of cloth that he used as a blindfold. He shook the cloth out and the last ball disappeared as well. The crowd erupted in applause for a performance the likes of which they had never seen. Only two in the audience did not appreciate the performance KaZanna and Jonnaul.

    “Show off,” Cantor said as Tangoral sat back down.

    “When did you get a chance to tie the blindfold on?” Zothor asked.

    “Right after the lights went out,” Tangoral replied. “Here’s your balls back.” Tangoral set Cantor’s balls on the table.

    “You mean to tell me that you did that whole last part with the torches blindfolded,” Zothor said in disbelief.

    “Yeah, I was blindfolded from the time the lights went out until I caught the last ball in the blindfold,” Tangoral said.

    “Incredible, absolutely incredible.”

    “That was absolutely wonderful. Everyone liked it,” Ishihari said returning to her place.

    “Almost everyone liked it,” Rownan said as he glanced at KaZanna and Jonnaul.

    “I have been insulted again by the tree dweller,” Jonnaul said to KaZanna.

    “What did you say?” KaZanna asked. He was lost in thought thinking the story was about him.

    “I said I have been insulted again. I can’t even challenge him without admitting that story was about me,” Jonnaul said.

    KaZanna saw his chance to get Jonnaul on his side and took it. “Now do you see? They pervert the right way. They turn from the Church and encourage everyone else to do the same. That tree dweller has bewitched the Blue Brotherhood and if something is not done soon he may bewitch us all. If that happens then we are all doomed. It’s already too late to save the Blue Brotherhood. Just take one look around here, and you can see what they did with the money they should have given to the Church.”

    “You are right KaZanna. We must strive to bring everyone back onto the true path of God. That tree dweller possesses great power given to him by the Evil One. He can read our every thought. You are right, something must be done. That tree dweller must be destroyed.” Jonnaul glanced over at his bodyguards and nodded his shell ever so slightly. The bodyguards began to move from the door where Jonnaul had left them because they were armed. They made their way slowly toward Tangoral.

    Candean was the perfect bodyguard. None of the brothers around him could distract him from doing his duty. He watched anyone who might harm his charge. He saw the sour looks KaZanna and Jonnaul had on their faces after Tangoral’s performance. He saw them talking, almost whispering together while looking at Tangoral. He saw Jonnaul look at his bodyguards and the slight movement of his shell as he nodded. He saw the bodyguards move away from the door and head for the clan leader’s table where Tangoral was seated with his family. He began to move too. Tragal and Doesen caught his movement a moment later. Already Candean was beginning to angle his shell to place himself between the Prophet’s bodyguards and Tangoral. Tragal and Doesen began to move toward the clan leader’s table also. Candean heard the sound of the guns’ bolts being slid forward as the bodyguards chambered a round into their guns.

    Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. Candean wrapped himself around Tangoral and forced him to the floor just as the first of Jonnaul’s bodyguards fired his gun. The bullet impacted on top of Candean’s shell and exploded leaving a gapping hole in the top of his shell. A moment later the other bodyguard fired his gun. Another hole appeared in the top of Candean’s shell. The bodyguards were no match for two very enraged professional soldiers. Tragal and Doesen quickly disabled the bodyguards before they could reload. Even as everyone in the dining hall dove for cover it was over and the Prophet’s bodyguards lay pinned to the floor with most of their legs broken. As everyone began to regain some kind of composure the dining hall was flooded with blue soldiers.

    “My brother, all is well,” Candean whispered to Tangoral.

    “Candean?” Tangoral tried to get out from under Candean. “Candean, you can get off me now.” Tangoral was pinned to the floor by Candean’s dead weight in such a way that prevented him from seeing much of anything. “Candean? Candean, are you ok?” Tangoral could see some of the sisters across the way begin to cry. Now he was worried for his friend. “Candean, say something.” Tangoral felt the weight of Candean being lifted from off his back. Tangoral crawled out from under Candean and watched as Zothor and Rownan gently laid Candean back down on the floor. He saw the holes in the top of Candean’s shell. Tears filled his eyes as he knelt down next to his friend and stroked his shell.

    “Jonnaul, what have you done?” Adreeum asked shocked by what had happened.

    “What have I done? I haven’t done anything. The commandments of God are quite clear. We are not to associate with the children of the Evil One. These are simply over zealous servants of God who saw their duty and tried to do it. I shall have to be more careful in selecting my guards in the future when I come to one of your parties where there might be tree dwellers present,” Jonnaul replied.

    “They are your guards. You are responsible for this tragedy no matter how you look at it. This is a dining hall; your guards should not even have been armed. You’re way out of bounds here,” Zothor snapped.

    “I suppose you are correct. I am responsible. My guards knowing that they were armed only stood at the door. I had not planed on staying as long as I did. If I had known that they could not abide the presence of evil I’d have left them outside where they would not have had to witness this spectacle. I am deeply sorry for this incident. I should never have stayed. Rest assured that they will be properly punished,” Jonnaul said. Jonnaul signaled his councilors to go pick up the two guards.

    Zothor and some blue soldiers moved to block the councilors. “The law is quite clear here. This is murder; we have no obligation to turn them over to you.”

    “I do not see it that way. They thought they were doing their duty to God. Your soldier was doing his duty no matter how misguided it was in the eyes of God. He simply got in the way. This is a terrible accident. I’m sure that my guards had no intention of killing the brother.”

    “No, they just intended to kill my adopted son.”

    “I doubt they knew he was your adopted son. They only saw a child of the Evil One leading the brotherhood astray. The tree dweller has insulted me every chance he has gotten. Even the story he told tonight was a veiled insult meant to turn the brotherhood against me.”

    “Is that what this is all about, your loss of power and control over the brotherhood?” Zothor asked.

    “No, not at all. I am above such things,” Jonnaul replied.

    Tangoral lifted his head off Candean’s shell from where he had rested it as he cried for his friend. “You lie,” he said through his tears. “One of my dearest friends among the brotherhood lies dead because of you. You fell from the true path and now you’re looking for an excuse for your missteps. You figure that just because you’re the prophet everyone should walk on the same path as you, but you’ve fallen from grace. Like a true child of the Evil One you seek to take as many of the brothers with you as you possibly can. The gospel of God is one of love, but you preach hate and intolerance. You don’t seem to understand that a child of the Evil One is anyone that will not follow the way of God.” Tangoral stood up and walked over to stand in front of Jonnaul. Cold hard eyes looked at Jonnaul. “The blood of my friend cries out for vengeance. His honor must be redeemed according to the justice of my people, and I am a healer. I will take my friend home now, but I will be back.”

    Jonnaul was shaking and he did not quite know why. There was no answer he could make in the face of the truth. “You dare to threaten the Prophet,” KaZanna said coming to the defense of the Prophet. He regretted his interference almost immediately as Tangoral turned on him.

    “Jonnaul hates me so much that he would not stay in the same room with me if he could help it. You had to keep him here, didn’t you? You’re as much to blame for this night as he is. Just what did you say that pushed him into this course of action? I don’t buy his story that his guards acted on their own either. A tree dweller with a reason might do something like this, but a brother isn’t like that at all. Brothers just don’t take action in their own best interest. They think of the clan first, but I suppose there are always one or two exceptions,” Tangoral said looking at Jonnaul and KaZanna. Tangoral turned and walked over to stand next to Zothor.

    “Zothor, let Jonnaul have his guards,” Adreeum said. “Justice will catch up to those truly responsible in time.”

    Zothor watched as Jonnaul’s councilors carried the guards out of the dining hall. Tangoral could not let it go at that. He reached into his bag and pulled out two small thorns wrapped in leaves. With a snap of the wrist he threw them and a thorn embedded itself in each of the guards. Death was now certain to find them, but death would not find them all too quickly. The poison of the thorns would take days to work its way into their system before killing them. In the end it would be very painful, a reminder to Jonnaul of things to come.

    Blue soldiers gently pickup Candean’s lifeless shell and carried him out. Zothor turned around and almost stumbled over KarEena. “I’m sorry this happened. The tree dweller said he was a healer, what did he mean by that?” she asked.

    “Among the tree dwellers he is the equivalent of a medical technician, but he is also the judge, jury, and executioner of their laws. That meaning was lost on Jonnaul I’m sure,” Zothor replied. KarEena looked at her mate and smiled.

    KaZanna walked over to stand next to his mate. “KarEena, we’re leaving. Zothor, I am sincerely sorry. I had no idea this would happen,” he said.

    “KaZanna, don’t say any more, just go,” Zothor said.

    Rownan came and stood next to Tangoral and watched as Candean was carried out. “We will bury him here with great honor,” he said.

    “I will not allow my brother to be buried here so far from his family and friends. I will take him home,” Tangoral said.

    “I’m afraid that is not possible. His body could not make such a long journey before it would decay. It’s best if he is buried here,” Rownan said.

    “There is a way. I will not allow my brother to be buried here,” Tangoral said with tears in his eyes. “It is the least that I can do for him.” Rownan was touch by Tangoral’s concern.

    

    “Damn Jonnaul, he almost blew the whole thing,” KaZanna raged at no one in particular on the way home.

    “At least Jonnaul is clearly with us for the moment,” PaTouan said trying to calm his clan leader.

    “There is that, but that damn tree dweller. Jonnaul said he could read minds and after tonight I can believe it. I can only pray that what contact I’ve had with him has not given away our secret.”

    “The tree dweller can’t read minds,” KarEena said needing to placate her mate for other reasons. She had no desire to have her mate take his anger out on her.

    “What do you mean by that,” KaZanna snapped at her. “He did a real good job reading our minds tonight.”

    “He’s very observant, he listens, and he understands us far better than we give him credit,” KarEena replied. “You should have paid attention to what he was saying. Jonnaul said he hadn’t planned to stay. The tree dweller drew the conclusion that you talked him into staying. He saw you talking to Jonnaul throughout dinner. Again, he guessed that you said something that caused Jonnaul to act rashly. Your reaction told him that he was right on the mark. We are not a race of fanatics. A brother just does not contemplate that kind of action on his own as the tree dweller so bluntly pointed out. That was the telling point that told me that he understands us far better than we understand them. Jonnaul... Jonnaul is so transparent you could read a book through him. What did the tree dweller say about Jonnaul that you didn’t already know? Jonnaul is losing his hold over the brotherhood. He is preaching hate and intolerance. The story was a story with a moral to it. He’s probably told that same story to his tribe a dozen times around a campfire, complete with the juggling act. I bet he’s got a hundred stories just like that to teach his tribe with. Jonnaul was the only one that reacted to the story only because it made him feel his guilt. Of course you had no way to know that Jonnaul had a previous run-in with the tree dweller, or that he’d react so rashly.”

    “KarEena is right,” PaTouan said. “If you closed your eyes he sounded like a clan leader, and haven’t you ever known a clan leader that could almost tell what you were thinking. This tree dweller can’t read minds, but we should stay away from him all the same. He is far too observant and we can’t afford to let anything slip now. In a few days he will be gone and after that it won’t matter. We have got Jonnaul on our side right now, and that is all that matters.”

    “You’re right, we’ve got Jonnaul on our side and that is all that matters,” KaZanna said. “I stuck my own leg in my mouth, but that might prove to be the best thing I did even though I didn’t like it at the time. I feel so much better now, but I will enjoy killing that tree dweller with my own claws when the time comes.”

    

    Tangoral was hurting and angry and he was taking it out on Syanor as they played the Game. Syanor was scoreless even though he was trying his best. “Dad said you were good, but I didn’t think that you were that good,” Syanor said gasping for air. “Right now, I think you could beat Cantor.”

    Syanor’s reprieve came from above. “Looks like you could use a break,” Zothor said from the gallery.

    “Dad, thank God,” Syanor said. “Please come and spare me from total humiliation.”

    “I’m sorry I’m late. I’ll be right down.”

    “I think you did this to me on purpose,” Syanor said to his father as he walked out onto the court. “He could give Cantor a run for his money, and right now, I’m not sure that I would bet on Cantor to win.”

    Tangoral and Zothor played in silence as Syanor watched from the gallery. Every point was fought over neither giving the other any slack. As the game wore on a crowd began to gather in the gallery to watch the game. It was not every day that one of the clan leadership and ex-champion could be found playing a hotly contested game against a tree dweller. Even Ishihari came down to watch her mate and son play. “What’s the score?” she asked Syanor.

    “I’m not sure and I don’t think even they know, but I’ll tell you this much, Dad is not winning. At least he’s scoring which is more than I was doing,” he replied.

    “So this is where everyone went,” Adreeum said from the gallery doorway.

    “Clan Leader, you have got to come see this game, Zothor is playing Tangoral in one of the finest exhibition games I’ve had the pleasure to watch,” Rownan said.

    Adreeum came over and watch the game for a moment before settling down next to Rownan. “Who’s winning?” he asked as he too was caught up in the game.

    “Tangoral for sure. What the score is, I’m not actually sure. They’re breaking somewhere around fifty, and I’ve been here for two breaks,” Rownan replied.

    As the light faded torches were lit, but neither player seemed to notice. They both took their breaks in the same corner leaving the door open as they played. It seemed to Adreeum that they must have gone well beyond five hundred points, but this game was not about points. He saw the same thing Ishihari did. A child was hurting and his father was trying to comfort him the best he could. Adreeum had more refreshments sent down to replace their dwindling supply. The game progressed well into the night. Those that stayed and watched did so in silence.

    At last Zothor had enough. “You win,” he said as he caught the ball.

    Tangoral just stood there with tears running down his face. “Why did he do it? He could have just yelled at me?” he asked.

    “Would you have heard him over all the noise at the time?”

    “Still, why did he do it?”

    “He was your brother, and he owed you a debt of honor.”

    “Among the tree people only a family member might do something like that, a close family member.”

    “Tangoral, you’ve lived with us for a long time now and you still don’t understand. Candean was a close family member. He was your brother, even as I am both your father and your brother. Indeed we are all brothers and sisters with all of creation. It’s hard not to feel something for someone you spent a lot of time with as you did with Candean, Tragal, and Doesen. Candean saw the life of his brother in jeopardy. A brother he loved dearly. There is no greater service than to give up your life for a friend. This is the teachings of the prophets. It is what Candean believed in, and what he died for. He gave his all for his faith, for his honor, and for his brother.”

    “I still don’t understand. Everyone there knows Jonnaul did it and yet he was allowed to walk away,” Tangoral said.

    “You just can’t challenge the Prophet. Whoever challenges the Prophet must face the All Clan Champion in the Game, or another player of his choice. The Prophet and his councilors are the ones to set the points of the Game. We didn’t let him walk away. We didn’t have the power to stop him,” Zothor said.

    “So you let him not only get away with murder, you let him make a mockery out of everything you believe in. In a sense, Candean died for nothing.”

    “Candean didn’t die for nothing. He died that his brother could go on living. Do you have any idea the changes that you have brought about in the world? Do you know how many lives you have touched? You say a tree dweller wouldn’t risk his life for someone he knew. I know of many brothers and sisters that would say differently.”

    “I’m different, I am healer,” Tangoral said.

    “You’re not that different. Three cycles ago you’d have tossed us all in a stew pot, but now how many of us would you be willing to give your life for. Ishihari for sure, Margeeum, Cantor, Leygal, Tangalen, Tragal, and the list grows longer by the day. You have changed and if you can change so can the rest of your people,” Zothor said. “Now, I am old and tired and I am going to regret playing today tomorrow so I’m going to bed now. Good night.” Zothor walked off the court leaving the ball where he stood.

    Tangoral stood there for a moment before walking over to pick up the ball. He drove the ball hard into the wall, and watched as it flew by on the rebound. “Do you mind if I intrude,” a voice said from the open corner.

    “Clan Leader,” Tangoral replied. “Please come in. Would you like to play?”

    “Heavens no, I have no desire to be humiliated. Except for Cantor I doubt that you have an equal as a player of the Game,” Adreeum said. “If you need someone else to play against I can have a couple of brothers sent down.”

    “That won’t be necessary.”

    “There was a time when I was uncertain about the wisdom of associating with tree dwellers. Now, as I sat and watched you play against your adopted father I am prepared to defend that choice with my life.”

    “Why, you are risking more than just your life. By submitting you could avoid the war altogether.”

    “That would only prolong the inevitable.”

    “I could stop KaZanna and Jonnaul.”

    “Perhaps you could, but can you be sure that there are not others waiting for the chance to replace KaZanna? Can you be certain that they would not be just as bad? Rules of law cannot be sidestepped even though it may seem the right thing to do. I cannot say that I do not appreciate the simplicity of your way. You would remove a problem before it became a problem, but that is not our way. Our plan is to remove the leadership of any clan that would support KaZanna as well as KaZanna himself and any of his clan who would follow him. By causing KaZanna to focus on us, many lives of the brothers of the other clans will be saved. You cannot kill a long neck by shooting it in the tail. We are ready. Food has been stored. Our tree dwelling friends have been warned. We have the best trained soldiers in the world thanks in part to you. Many of our defenses were born out of your inventions. We have some of the most advanced weapons the world has ever known because of you. The lives lost in the cause of freedom will be worth it. Candean is the first casualty in the cause of freedom, and there will be others to be certain, but not too many we hope. They will all die that their brothers may live free. Do not think that your concern is lost on us. I share your concern, but we must wait.”

    “There has got to be a better way,” Tangoral said.

    “I wish there was,” Adreeum said.

    “What can I do?” Tangoral asked.

    “You are one of the greatest minds in the brotherhood, think of something. Now, it is late and I must rise early. There is still much to be done. I bid you goodnight my brother,” Adreeum said then turned and walked off leaving Tangoral with his thoughts.

    

    “I thought you were leaving,” Syanor said standing in front of one of the tanks watching the water creatures swim around.

    “I am, I just stopped by to say goodbye,” Tangoral said.

    “Mom’s going with you, isn’t she?”

    “Yes, Zothor thought she would be safer at the dwelling.”

    “As if anybody will be safe anywhere. The only thing that’s safe around here are these water creatures,” Syanor said tapping on the tank.

    “What did you just say?” Tangoral asked dumbfounded as a thought just hit him.

    “I said when the shooting starts these guys in here are in the safest place possible,” Syanor said tapping on the tank again only harder.

    “That’s it; quick give me something to write on and something to write with.”

    “Hey, if this is another invention I want credit.” Syanor handed Tangoral the pad of paper and pen out of one of his pockets.

    “You got it.” Tangoral began to draw on the paper writing notes as he went. When he was finished he handed Syanor several sheets of paper with drawings on them. “See that Dad gets these right away. I put you down as co-inventor. I’ve got to go now. Keep your shell down and try not to get killed.”

    “I’ll do my best,” Syanor said. Syanor looked at the papers after Tangoral had left. Sure enough, there was his name next to Tangoral’s as the inventor of this new device.

    

    The clan leader was taking no chances with Tangoral’s life. Tangoral’s bodyguard had swollen to the size of a small army. Candean’s body was completely incased in tree sap and leaves for the journey home. The craftsmen that Tangoral brought with him were eager to return home. “Tangoral, we’re ready to go. There is a red sister that wishes to see you before we leave,” Tragal said.

    “Who is she?”

    “KarEena, KaZanna’s mate.”

    “It’s ok, I’ll see her.” KarEena was escorted under heavy guard to Tangoral. She just stood there looking at him for a moment. “What can I do for you KarEena?” Tangoral asked as he waived the guards away.

    “I just wanted to say I’m sorry about what happened to Candean. That wasn’t supposed to happen,” she replied.

    “Thank you, but what’s done is done.”

    “Still, I’m sorry.”

    “Come with us KarEena. I know that you want KaZanna dead. I can see it in your eyes every time that you look at him.”

    “I can’t, I’m his mate. I have to stay with him.”

    “What do you owe him? Why live a life of misery?”

    “I can’t, it’s just not done. Maybe tree dwellers can change mates if they don’t like the one they have, but Brachyura aren’t like that. For the good times and the bad times we are together for life.”

    “Suffering abuse at the claws of your mate does not come under the heading of bad times KarEena.”

    “We all have our part to play, this is mine. Say hello to your sister for me.” KarEena stared at Tangoral in silence for a moment before turning to walk away.

    “That was a little on the weird side,” Tragal said watching KarEena walk away.

    “There goes one of the bravest people I have ever met and another reason to kill KaZanna,” Tangoral said.

    “What do you mean?” Tragal asked.

    “If KaZanna ever found out that she has given away all his secrets to us he’d kill her,” Tangoral replied. “I wonder how many lives has KaZanna destroyed besides hers? Let’s go home Tragal, I’m sick of this place.”

    

~~~

    

    “Come in KaZanna come in,” Jonnaul greeted the red brother standing in his doorway. “It seems like you are my only friend as of late.”

    “Is it any wonder? You tried to kill the tree dweller in the middle of a dining hall during a celebration, not that I blame you,” KaZanna said. “It was foolish to even try. He’s surrounded by bodyguards all the time. The Blue Brotherhood places a very high value on that tree dweller. After all he is the inventor of the windows you have in your office among other things.”

    “You’re right, it was foolish to try, but that tree dweller goes out of his way to annoy and insult me.”

    “I saw that, truly you were provoked, and perhaps you fell into a trap that only the cunning of the Evil One himself could have laid for you. How else was he able to read our thoughts if he was not the Evil One himself? Already, it’s too late for the Blue Brotherhood. They are lost to the Evil One.”

    “Yes, yes, I see that now. I had hoped that the Blue Brotherhood would repent and return unto God once more. If anything they have embraced the children of the Evil One all the more, but what’s to be done about it, I don’t know.”

    You’re right where I want you, KaZanna thought. “We must put out the whole clan from among us before it’s too late,” KaZanna said. “We must cleanse the whole brotherhood until there is no evil among us. We cannot leave one brother among us who will not follow the commands of God.”

    “That sounds so drastic,” Jonnaul said. “How can it be done? I don’t know if it’s even possible to banish a whole clan.”

    “I pondered that same question and I have found some ancient records that suggest that it was done long ago in our distant past. It seems that long ago there was a white clan that sided with the tree dwellers against the brotherhood. The faithful rose up and drove them out from among us. The records say they fled. The records didn’t say where they went. They must have been banished because the records seemed to have been purged with regards to this clan. It was a wonder that I found out anything at all about them.”

    “Even if we were to banish the blue clan from the brotherhood, how could we enforce it?”

    “My clan stands ready to do as you would command in the name of God. Some of the other clans might join us as well if you issued a call to arms to the faithful to purge the children of the Evil One from among us once and for all.”

    “It won’t be easy. Zothor has the best trained and best armed soldiers of any clan.”

    “Yes, but that is just one small dwelling against an army of thousands of faithful brothers. How can the children of the Evil One stand before such an army?” KaZanna asked.

    “You’re right, with God on our side, how can we fail? This not something to be entered into lightly however. There are preparations that will need to be made to minimize the loss of life to our brothers of faith,” Jonnaul replied.

    “Most certainly preparations must be made but we must act soon before this infection of evil spreads any further,” KaZanna said. How easy this was, KaZanna thought. Jonnaul fell in line with his plan as he knew he would, but one day Jonnaul too would out live his usefulness. By then he, KaZanna, would be the supreme ruler of all the clans, and perhaps prophet too.

    

~~~

    

    Kittanota was tired of running, but the army that was following him was growing larger every day. Already they were hundreds more than he could count. Most of his followers had already fled for their lives leaving him almost alone. He had only a few of the hard-shells’ guns left. Most of the guns were left behind trying to escape the hard-shells. He turned off into the Great Swamp in hopes that the hard-shells would not follow him into such a dangerous place. He was correct in his thinking. The hard-shell army turned back, but there were other more relentless pursuers of which he had no knowledge.

    Kittanota led his remaining twenty-six followers into a clear area high in the trees of the Great Swamp. “Kittanota, stop,” an unseen voice cried out. Kittanota stopped, fear gripped him. “Throw down your guns.”

    “If we throw down our guns we will be defenseless against the hard-shells that follow us,” Kittanota said.

    “The hard-shells no longer follow you. If you do not throw down your guns we will kill you,” the voice said.

    “To kill us you will have to come out into the open to do so. I think that I will hang onto my gun.”

    “Your actions have placed the lives of people everywhere in danger. You must be stopped. I will not ask again. Throw down your guns. I can kill you from where I stand.”

    “I have fought and killed many of the hard-shells for a long time and I am still alive. If you want my gun you will have to come take it from me, and that will not be an easy thing to do,” Kittanota said.

    “Kittanota, you have committed many crimes against the People, and you have taken knowledge from a healer against her wishes. We have be sent by Saralashaw to regain the knowledge you took from her, leaving her and her people to starve and fight off an army of blue hard-shells,” the voice again cried out. Kittanota almost dropped his gun when he heard who it was that had come kill him. When healers regained knowledge from someone that had taken it from them the thief always died. Kittanota looked wildly about for somewhere to run or hide. The bullet hit him in the chest and exploded almost blowing him in two. The others with him quickly threw down their guns.

    “They are all yours,” Frothay said to Soolayinna and the other tree dwellers with him. “My duty to my healer and his sister is done. A messenger will be sent to Zothor and we will continue to fall back before the army warning all the People as we go.”

    “I stay with Frothay,” Soolayinna said.

    “I will send some men to go with you to help,” Amishton said. “We will follow behind the red hard-shells. Soolayinna has taught our healer how to make the firebombs. We will wait for your signal and we will be ready.”

    “Good, we must wait until I know for sure that they have declared war on my people before we can act. After that we will make them wish that they never left home,” Frothay said grimly.

    

~~~

    

    Grizzon was surprised to see Tangoral and Ishihari walk into his office. Despite many outposts designed to detect tree dwellers and other visitors, no warning had come of their return. “I am most surprised to see you. If we had some warning we would have come out to greet you on your return,” he said.

    “Take all our soldiers and go out and escort the rest of our party to the dwelling. They are waiting for you now,” Tangoral said not in the best of moods. “Is Leyanna working in the medical center today?”

    “I believe so,” Grizzon replied. Tangoral turned and quickly left the room. “He seems rather upset, what happened?” he asked Ishihari.

    “We had a problem in the city. Candean is dead. I’ll have to fill you in later. Send the soldiers, Tangoral brought Candean’s body back to be buried here,” Ishihari replied as she turned to follow her son.

    

    Leyanna was not doing much. Checking supplies, straightening things, checking on a few sick patients, things were never really busy in the medical center. “Leyanna,” a voice called to her softly from the doorway.

    “Hi Tangoral, I didn’t know that you were back,” she said cheerfully.

    “I need to talk with you. Is there some place where we could go where you’d be comfortable?”

    “There’s the waiting room.” Leyanna noted the quite calmness of the normally energetic Tangoral and wondered what was wrong.

    Tangoral waited until Leyanna settled herself to the floor before sitting down next to her. “Leyanna, while we were at the city we had a little problem. Well, actually it was a big problem. It only seems small against the backdrop of a much larger picture,” Tangoral began to say.

    Leyanna began to worry. “Something’s wrong, did something happen to Candean?” Ishihari came into the room and settled down next to Leyanna. “Something is wrong, was he hurt?”

    Tangoral looked at her with tears in his eyes. “During the victory celebration of Cantor beating the yellow champion, two of Jonnaul’s bodyguards tried to kill me. They were armed and because we were in a dining hall not expecting any trouble, we were not. Candean placed himself between me and Jonnaul’s guards just before they fired their guns. Leyanna, Candean is dead.” Tangoral wished there were a better way to tell someone that someone they loved is dead, but there never was an easy way. “I can’t begin to tell you how sorry I am.”

    Leyanna’s eyes filled with tears. “Did they bury him with honor? It was important to him, he was a soldier. I’m a soldier’s mate. I should be strong for him, but I don’t feel very strong right now,” she said looking at Ishihari and Tangoral as she covered herself with her claws and began to sob silently.

    “They didn’t bury him, I wouldn’t let them,” Tangoral said. “I brought him home to be buried here. I could not let my brother be buried in such a friendless place so far from his family and friends.”

    “We brought him home to you so you could say goodbye,” Ishihari said as she stroked Leyanna’s shell with her claw. “In this you will know that he was buried with honor.”

    “It is the custom of my people that when another dies saving your life you become obligated to care for that person’s family,” Tangoral said.

    Leyanna looked at him through her tears. “You saved his life, and because of that I have had more time with my mate than I should have. Now, you have brought him home to me. I release you from your obligation.”

    “Only God can release me from my obligation to you. I can promise that those responsible for Candean’s death will be punished. That is the word of a healer and your brother. Now, if you forgive me I must go and join the escort that will escort my brother to his final resting place.” Tangoral wiped the tears from his eyes as he stood up. “I cannot replace Candean and I regret his loss more than you know. If there is ever anything you need, please, let me know.” Tangoral turned and walked out softly leaving Leyanna with Ishihari.

    “I too am sorry for your mate’s death. I was there, I saw it happen. He died with honor doing his duty. Tangoral took his death very hard,” Ishihari said. “I am glad that we were able to bring him home to be buried. This way he will never be far from the ones he loved and those that loved him.”

    

    Tangoral was a long way from home. He had stayed just long enough to see that Candean was buried with full honors. Tangalen’s prayer tore at his heart. He kept hearing Candean whisper to him, “My brother, all is well.” All was not well. For the first time Tangoral was unsure of who he was. A future once so clear had become blurred. He had no direction in mind, he just ran. Trying to escape the past he ran from dawn until dark. He slept high in the trees and at first light he began his trek to nowhere all over again. Twelve times the sun had come and gone since he had left home. He was tired and hungry but he didn’t care. As the day began to turn into night Tangoral spotted a fire in the distance. The fire burned brightly in the middle of a small platform, but there was no one tending it which struck Tangoral as odd. “Hello, is anyone here?” he yelled out.

    “I’m gathering more wood. I’ll be back in a moment. Make yourself at home,” came the reply from some distance away. Tangoral sat down next to the fire to warm himself. He noticed food already prepared sitting next to the fire. “If you’re hungry help yourself,” the voice cried out. Tangoral ate sparingly as not to eat all his host’s food. No matter how much he ate the bowls of food always seemed full. It was something that escaped his tired mind then, but he would remember it later.

    The red hard-shell that stepped onto the platform startled Tangoral badly. Tangoral tried to get away but his legs had gone to sleep and he found that he could not even stand. “I mean you no harm,” the hard-shell said. “There is no need to run off. Stay and finish eating.”

    “Who are you?” Tangoral asked suspiciously as he tried to rub life back into his legs.

    “I am called BoTalan.”

    “What are you doing here BoTalan?”

    “Waiting.”

    “Waiting for what?”

    “I’m waiting for lots of things.”

    “Like what?”

    “I wait for the signs of the coming of the Son of God.”

    “So you are a patriarch of one of the dwellings of the red clan,” Tangoral said.

    “Heavens no, why would I want to be something like that?” BoTalan asked.

    “If you’re not a patriarch, then you must be on some spiritual quest of some kind,” Tangoral replied.

    “We are all on a spiritual quest of some kind. Take you for example. You are far from any home of the People of the Trees. What brings you so far from your home? You’re not hunting, you have no weapons. You’re not out gathering herbs or your healer’s bag would be bulging. I can only guess that you are in search of answers. Answers that are already in your heart, but you have yet to look there. So I ask again, what brings you so far from your home young healer?”

    This red hard-shell baffled Tangoral. He acted like he had been around the People all his life. He knew too much. No hard-shell could have known he was a healer just by looking at him. “Who are you?” he asked.

    “I am BoTalan. Who are you?”

    “How do you know so much about the People, BoTalan?”

    “I have watched you for a long time. You could say that I am the only expert on the People of the Trees among the Brachyura.”

    “I hate to disappoint you, but you are not the only expert on the People that there is among the Brachyura.”

    “Good, it’s about time. You didn’t answer my question though.”

    “Which question?”

    “Who are you?”

    “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Tangoral.”

    “Well Tangoral, are you going to tell me why you are so far from your home?”

    “I don’t know any more. I say the words when I speak of brotherhood but I never really felt them before. Now, all I hear is my friend’s last words before he died. I don’t know who I am any more. I am one of the People, but I live among the Brachyura as an equal. What I was doing and who I am was so clear to me before, but now I just don’t know any more, and I’m supposed to have all the answers.”

    “Nobody has all the answers. The trouble is that you keep thinking with this,” BoTalan said bopping him on the head gently with his claw. “You need to learn to think with your heart. You feel that if you become a part of the brotherhood you’ll stop being one of the People, is that it?”

    “Something like that,” Tangoral replied.

    “Tangoral, let me tell you where the term ‘brotherhood’ came from. It was a religious term applied to the members of the Church of the Son of the Most High God nearly three thousand cycles ago. The term ‘brotherhood’ also was sometimes used to refer to the holders of the Priesthood of God. Any of the members of that church called each other brothers or sisters regardless whether they were people or Brachyura; that carried over into the culture of the Brachyura. When God gave us the Game to settle our disputes the Church was reestablished among the Brachyura. We gain a deeper meaning to the term brotherhood, but over time some of that meaning was lost and the brotherhood became a Brachyura only club. To be a brother is to be a brother to all of God’s creations. You don’t have to give up being one of the people to be a brother. To be a brother does mean that you must give up your old life in exchange for a new life in the service of God. To serve God you must serve your fellow man, be they of the People or of the Brachyura.”

    “How do you know of the Church of the Son of the Most High God? There are no records among the Brachyura that tell of that church. I would think that you would have to go to where our world began to gain that knowledge. Before now you could not have gotten to the computer to access that information. Don’t get me wrong, I understand what you’re telling me, but you know too much. How could you get close enough to any of the people to study them without becoming dinner? How could you know what we are just now learning? Who are you? What are you?”

    “There are other places in the world that can access the information you speak of,” BoTalan said. “There are even records buried deep within the archives of the Church that contain that information as well. The Church of today has secrets so old that they don’t even remember why they are secrets any more.”

    “So that’s it. You use to work in the archives of the Church,” Tangoral said.

    “Why would I want to work for the Church? The Church has made a mockery of the true path to God. There was a time when the prophets worked with their own claws for their support. Now, they who call themselves prophets live off the work of others. They cultivate the greed that is in the world today while renouncing its practice within the Church. The prophets of today raise themselves above the common brothers. The Church has become more concerned with image and the bottom line than with the saving of souls. They speak for themselves claiming divine revelation. They no longer want to hear what God has to say having stopped up their ears long ago. They seek to change God, no longer believing that he can do now what he did in the past. They tell you the lie that God no longer does things now as he did them in the past. God is unchangeable. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If God did things one way ten thousand cycles ago, then he will do those same things the same way ten thousand cycles from now. The world has changed. God has not.”

    “If you don’t work for the Church, how did you come by your knowledge?” Tangoral asked.

    “I have lived a long time,” BoTalan replied. “Long ago I was one of the twelve. I know that means nothing to you now, but it will in time. When the end came and the faithful were taken from the earth to save them from their enemies that had surrounded them on all side. I asked our Lord if I could stay and bring souls unto him until the end came. Tomarean Kel asked this favor of our Lord also and we were granted our request. Now, we roam the earth going where our God leads us. Today he has led me to you.”

    “This impossible you can’t be that old.” Tangoral could not believe what he was hearing but his heart knew it was true. How else could he have known about Tomarean Kel?

    “Still thinking with your head. When will you start thinking with your heart? My brother, I think he needs more proof.” Tangoral looked around wondering who BoTalan was talking to. Another Brachyura stepped onto the platform and into sight. His shell was solid white.

    “What will it take before you believe Tangoral?” Tomarean Kel asked. “This life is nothing. It is a dream, but it is important. None of the truly faithful ever really die. “All is well,” was your brother telling you not to worry. He knew he left this world to be embraced by his God for a life well lived, but he also knew you didn’t understand this. His last thoughts in mortality were to comfort you, his brother. Now go home Tangoral. Your mother is worried and you are needed to prepare your brothers against the coming storm.”

    Tangoral did not know when he went to sleep but the new day did not help the questions in his mind. He almost would have wondered if what he had seen the night before was a dream if it were not for the small platform on which he sat and the left over food and the dying embers of the fire. As he was about to leave he saw a book left on the edge of the platform. It was an old copy of The Book of the Prophets of God with trembling hands he reached down and picked it up. He turned the cover open to the blank first page of the book. There was writing on the page normally left blank.

    Know this that God and his Son lives and watches over us all. He waits to welcome us home. He will reward the faithful and punish the wicked. He is the unchangeable God who will give to you all those things he has promised to give to those who are faithful and serve him. Study his words, pray often, and help those who are need. This is the straight path of God. Take care my brother, and may God be with you always. - Tomarean Kel

    There was a thin strip of cloth that marked a section of the book. Tangoral turned to that place in the book to see what was marked. It was the beginning of the section entitled, The Words of Kel. Tangoral closed the book and put it in his bag. Then he started the long journey home.

~~~

    “Read it,” Adreeum told Zothor. It was Jonnaul’s latest epistle.

    “Dear brethren,” Zothor began.

    “I greet you in the name of God, but I do so with a heavy heart. I had afore time warned you not to associate yourself with the tree dwellers, and there are those among you that have chosen to ignore that warning. They do so at their own peril. The time is at hand when God will purge the clans of unbelievers. I warn you one last time not to associate with the children of the Evil One, and to kill them wherever you find them. The time is now, repent and return to your God with full purpose of heart.”

    “I also counseled you to put out from among you all those who would not follow the way of God. For the most part, most of you have obeyed this counsel of our God. However, the Blue Brotherhood has steadfast refused to listen to the warnings and counsels of God. They continue to associate with the tree dwellers, and embrace all sorts of strange doctrine. If they do not repent and turn again to the right way of God and heed his counsels then they should be put out from among us. The time is coming when, if they do not repent, they should be put out from among us to prevent the spread of evil, which they have embraced, to the other clans that are faithful to God.”

    “The Red Brotherhood has asked for help to destroy the tree dwellers. The Blue Brotherhood promised help but no help was forthcoming. Now the red clan has lost a second dwelling to the tree dwellers. All were killed except one small child that escaped by the grace of God. I call upon the faithful to aid the Red Brotherhood in their holy quest to destroy the tree dwellers. This is the command of God as I told you before. It is our holy duty to kill the children of the Evil One that we can be safe from their evil influences.”

    “Again I call all who have strayed from the path of God to repent. Repent now for the time is short and growing shorter. Those that are faithful I commend your faithfulness and urge you to stay on the straight course to God. May God’s blessings follow wherever you go. May it ever be so. So it shall ever be.”

    “Jonnaul, servant of God,” Zothor finished reading. “Sounds like Jonnaul is going to try and banish the whole clan. I’d like to know just what strange doctrine we are supposed to have embraced.”

    “I see KaZanna finally found a use for that other dwelling Kittanota destroyed,” LaSanso said.

    “I don’t suppose they’d believe us if we told them that Kittanota is dead and his tribe has been completely disbanded,” Rownan said.

    “I doubt that they would even if we had the bodies to prove it,” Adreeum said.

    “This is rapidly turning into a holy war against us. We’re not going to be facing an army of eight to ten thousand. We’re looking at an army of more than twenty-five thousand,” Rownan said.

    “Most of which will be used to assault my dwelling,” Zothor said.

    “You could repent,” LaSanso said.

    “Even if our repentance was real, it wouldn’t stop the war. KaZanna would say that our repentance was not genuine. I fear our course is fixed. We must expose KaZanna’s plot and strip him of Jonnaul’s support somehow,” Adreeum said. “Ten thousand, twenty thousand, the numbers don’t make any difference. We must stick to our plan. This means that your dwelling will take the brunt of the attack Zothor.”

    “I know, but by then we will have denied them the ability to be re-supplied,” Zothor said. “As we abandon our dwellings we will take what food we can with us and destroy the rest that we have not been able to hide. Our herds will be driven away from our dwellings and released. The tree dwellers have agreed to watch over them wherever we release them in hopes that we can recover some of the herds later. Any crops left in the fields will be burned. We will leave the red clan nothing that they can use against us.”

    “How much help can we count on from the Green Brotherhood?” Adreeum asked.

    “None, only LaKayzin will help you. Unknown to our clan leader, I have sent a hundred soldiers to LaKayzin’s dwelling. They are supposed to be there to help finish dealing with the stalker problem that LaKayzin is still having,” LaSanso replied.

    “LaKayzin doesn’t have a stalker problem,” Zothor said.

    “I know that and you know that but our clan leader doesn’t know that,” LaSanso said. “LaKayzin has had a couple of your soldiers come over to train our soldiers. He will play the part of the good host of a dwelling in very difficult times. Almost no food, herds gone that sort of thing. Of course the soldiers won’t be there. In fact very few brothers or sisters will be there.”

    “I’m betting that KaZanna only has a certain amount of food based on the records that we have been able to examine at the two dwellings that Kittanota destroyed,” Zothor said. “The larger the army the quicker he will use up his reserves. We will try and deny him the ability to re-supply at dwellings along the way. We will burn the fields and scatter the herds of any dwelling in the path of his advancing armies. Even as we retreat, we will attack. Six pairs of our soldiers are waiting to go out and visit each of KaZanna’s dwellings. We will burn his fields and scatter his herds as well. This will prevent him from being able to re-supply himself and give him a new front on which he must fight. Any clan who will aid him will be dealt with in a similar manner.”

    “When this is over it will be another two thousand cycles of the sun before anyone thinks about starting a war again,” Rownan said.

    “When this is over we will disarm all the other clans so this can never happen again,” Adreeum said.

    “Then they will only need to fear us,” Zothor said.

    “Not so, we will create a small army made up of all the clans to protect us as a whole, and to enforce the laws. It will be a force of peacekeepers,” Adreeum said. “However, in the beginning, it will fall to our brotherhood to do that job for a time though.”

    

~~~

    

    “Jonnaul is such a fool. Why didn’t he just come out and say we’re going to war with the Blue Brotherhood? The Blue Brotherhood has got to know that they are going to have to fight a war in the not too distant future. Why don’t we just shoot that idiot and be done with it,” PaTouan raved.

    “Clam yourself PaTouan. What can the Blue Brotherhood do in a few seven-days that they have left to prepare? Everything is going according to plan,” KaZanna said calmly. “We wait until the victory celebration, and then we kill the leadership of all the clans and blame the Blue Brotherhood. I see it so clearly. The Blue Brotherhood knew they were about to be banished and decided to attack first. Of course they didn’t get all the leadership. I will have escaped somehow by the grace of God to lead the clans against the Blue Brotherhood, and Jonnaul will give us his blessings. Of course, he will have to be assassinated by the Blue Brotherhood when the time comes. After having named me prophet in his place of course.”

    “Don’t you think that’s pushing it a little bit?”

    “No, not at all. Think about it. It would assure me the position of supreme leader overall the clans. The Prophet is already almost supreme leader over all the clans now. As prophet I could dissolve the leadership of all the clans at God’s command and establish the prophet, me, as supreme ruler over all the clans. There will be no clan leadership remaining to oppose me. There is no one to stop us.”

    “We must mobilize our armies now in order to be ready on time.”

    “Ok, give the command. We need a few small forces to occupy the cities. The rest we will split into thirds. One third of our army will go down the western border. Another third will go down the eastern border, and the last unit will go down the middle. We will converge on Zothor’s dwelling. We will destroy any who oppose us as apostates from the true faith. It will give me great pleasure to kill Zothor’s adopted tree dwelling son. I only regret he won’t get to watch. We will make slaves of any of the Blue Brotherhood that survive. I will make Zothor’s mate my own personal slave. I will have my revenge for that humiliating defeat in that game so long ago. Zothor will pay, his family will pay, his dwelling will pay, and the whole Blue Brotherhood will pay for my humiliation at his claws. This is a new game and I am going to win this time.”

    

~~~

    

    To Tangoral it looked like a whole tribe of the people was on the move, and a very large tribe at that. The wrongness was that the nearly two hundred plus people were mostly women and children. Tangoral circled and watched them until he located their leader, a tall slender woman. Tangoral guessed that she was nearing her thirtieth cycle, and like his sister she was a healer. He dropped down in front of the tribe and waited for them to overtake him. He expected the whole tribe to stop but to his surprise they just passed him by. He wondered if they were being chased by one of the clans. They were well inside green clan territory so he doubted they were being pursued. Word of him had reached their leader and he could see her making her way toward him. “I am Soolayinna, who are you and where is your tribe located,” she greeted him as she came to a stop before him.

    “I am Tangoral. Why do you want to know where my tribe is located?” he asked.

    “They may be in the path of a hard-shell army that will be coming this way, and if so you must warn them to flee,” Soolayinna replied.

    “My tribe will most likely be the focus of the hard-shells’ attack. You are the healer that helped Kittanota for a time. I heard you were helping the Blue Brotherhood now. How is it I now find you leading a tribe of women on the move?”

    Soolayinna has more than a little taken back by the attitude of this young healer and the fact that he knew of her. “I am taking the women to safety. The men have stayed behind to fight with the blue hard-shells against the red hard-shells. I remember hearing your name, but for the life of me I can’t remember where.” Tangoral spotted a piece of the tree moving in his direction. Soolayinna turned to see what Tangoral was looking at. “That’s a hard-shell that is accompanying us,” she said to keep the young healer from becoming frightened.

    “Frothay, is that you?” Tangoral asked much to Soolayinna’s surprise.

    “Tangoral? You have grown a lot since I last saw you almost a cycle ago,” Frothay said. “You wouldn’t happen to know where we are would you?”

    “Are you lost?”

    “No, but I not sure of where exactly I am.”

    “You’re a day or two out from LaKayzin’s dwelling if you keep going the way you are. Bend your course to the right a little bit and you can by-pass his dwelling and in that case you’d be about ten days away from home.”

    “We’re going to have to stop at LaKayzin’s dwelling, we need food.”

    “I take it you two know each other,” Soolayinna said breaking back into the conversation she was completely cut out of.

    “Soolayinna, I’m sorry. Tangoral, this is Soolayinna. Soolayinna, this is Tangoral, adopted son of my dwelling clan leader and healer extraordinaire. He’s been to the place where our world began twice and lived to tell about it,” Frothay said by way of an introduction.

    “The first time didn’t count. I didn’t know that’s where our world began,” Tangoral said trying to downplay that event which turned out not to be so eventful.

    Soolayinna was impressed. “Did you find the Great Cure?” she asked.

    “Yes and no. There is no magic cure that can restore the world to the way it was. If there was it would destroy our world just a surely as the ancients destroyed theirs. The cure we did find was one of the spirit. It will heal the hearts of the Brachyura and the People of the Trees alike,” Tangoral replied.

    “You’ll have to tell me all about it,” Frothay said. “I have been playing the part of the spy in a war not yet declared for a very long time. I could use a happy distraction.”

    “I too would like to hear this story,” Soolayinna said.

    “It will help us pass the time on the way home I suppose. It all began with the coming of the prophet of God…,” Tangoral said as he began to walk down the branch with Frothay and Soolayinna.

    

    A small army of green and blue soldiers waited for the tribe of tree dwellers about to cross over onto the lands held by the Blue Brotherhood. The tribe seemed harmless enough to Grizzon but he was taking no chances. He had too few soldiers as it was. LaKayzin had sent his soldiers over for more training and a few practice war games. That was Grizzon’s good fortune of the day to have a well trained army at his command. The down side was that all the scouts he had sent out had failed to return. What reports he had in the beginning placed the number of tree dwellers at over two hundred, mostly women and children. Then the reports stopped coming as each group of scouts he sent out did not return. Grizzon chose to wait for the tree dwellers at mid-level in the trees. Any time now, Grizzon thought as all his eyes were focused forward. The attack came from the rear and the surprise and the weight of the tree dweller that jumped down on top of his shell crushed him to the branch. “Is this any way to greet a brother?” the tree dweller asked. Even as Grizzon turned his eyes around the tree dweller had jumped off him and landed just in front of him.

    “Tangoral, I should shoot you just for scaring me half to death,” he said when he saw who it was.

    “If this was a real war you’d all be dead right now,” Tangoral said. “I just wanted to make my point. Once your scouts were detected, you lost the element of surprise. You should have come to out to engage us, or planned to defend your position from all sides. The first set of scouts that brought news of our coming should have been enough, or you should have sent scouts to points along our expected route, and they should have watched us pass by before returning to report to you. The scouts you sent out paced us and that made them detectable. Between myself, Frothay, and Soolayinna we were able to capture all your scouts.”

    “Well, next time I’ll know better,” Grizzon said.

    “Of course I was expecting scouts. Other than that it would have worked,” Tangoral said. “We’ll have to incorporate that element into the war games you’re playing here. KaZanna will be coming from all sides and he’ll be expecting scouts to.”

    “Tell everyone they can stand down,” Grizzon said to the brother next to him. The brother had been amused by the whole scene and was trying to keep from laughing out of respect for Grizzon.

    “I wouldn’t laugh if I were you,” a voice said. The brother turned to see who spoke and found himself face to face with Frothay. “You’re just as dead as he is,” Frothay said pointing at Grizzon with his claw.

    

    The joy of Tangoral’s return brought out the whole dwelling. He greeted each of the brothers and sisters, and cried many tears of joy. Ishihari notice the change in her son. The last wall around his heart had crumbled to dust. She wondered what caused the change in him. Many things had happened while he was gone and little time remained to prepare. They had received copies of KaZanna’s battle plans. KaZanna himself would lead the army that would attack from the north. The east army would be led by PaTouan, and the west army would be led by CaSanna, one of KaZanna’s councilors that was never seen much within the halls of power.

    

    “Hold still,” Tangoral told Tragal. “I have to be sure that these straps are tight. You don’t want this thing coming off while they’re shooting at you do you?”

    “Make the straps as tight as you want. How I let you talk me into this crazy idea of yours I’ll never know. Tell me again how this is supposed to work,” Tragal replied.

    “The angle of the armor casing that surrounds your shell will deflect rounds coming at you from straight on regardless whether they are shooting at you from the front, sides, or the rear. The bullets will still detonate, and you should feel some pressure from the explosions, but you’ll live.”

    “I hope.”

    “You should still be able to keep fighting. There is enough thickness in the armor to withstand several rounds from a heavy gun if they shoot at you from above. Your legs are reinforced to keep them from breaking in case you get hit in the legs. Try not to get hit in the legs though. Try to keep facing the brothers shooting at you and use your claw shields.”

    “This seem really unfair. I get two tiny little guns with paintball things and they get to shoot at me with live ammo from heavy guns.”

    “These are the same guns that you’ll be using when we fight KaZanna. They are clip fed with forty rounds of ammo per clip. Ten clips are four hundred rounds of ammo. The bullets don’t explode but the tiniest scratch caused by one of these bullets will cause instant death. They can shoot farther and faster than any heavy gun. This war game is to prove the worth of this body armor in combat. This armor is not as camouflaged as the armor we will be using against KaZanna. Our brothers have to be able to see you for this test, but you have some advantage. After all the object is for you to win against the hundred or so brothers you’ll be facing.”

    “You expect me to win? I thought we were just testing the armor. Given the limited range of these paintballs, I’d be better off throwing rocks. I don’t stand a chance.”

    “You do stand a chance. That’s what this armor is all about. You a skilled soldier going up against a small well trained army. The next time that you may have to do this the army won’t nearly be so well trained,” Tangoral said.

    “Yeah, but there’ll be two hundred times more of them,” Tragal said. “Ok, I’m ready. Let’s do this.”

    

    “The test went well I take it?” Ishihari asked.

    “Better than Tragal expected,” Tangoral replied as he dropped down on one of the pillows in the living room. “He lived through it and scored kills on all the other brothers as well. I was worried when they had him surrounded at one point, but that just proved the effectiveness of the guns he was using. He suffered some minor cracking in a couple of his legs from several rounds that hit him in the legs. Beyond that he’s in good shape although the medical technicians are still going over him. They’re going to watch him overnight just to be safe. I’m going to go down later and see him.”

    “Then the armor is a success. To bad it’s too late to get it in full production or to tell Zothor.”

    “Mom, I had Syanor give Zothor the plans for the same exact armor Tragal used today before we left the city. I doubt that Zothor will have the advantage of being able to test it out and improve the design as we have had today. I fear his testing stage will come in combat, but after today’s test everything should be fine.”

    “How many of those suits of armor can we make before KaZanna and his army can reach us?”

    “Let’s see, four a day if we bring in Dar Noth’s craftsmen to help. Maybe eighty or more if we’re lucky, and I can slow KaZanna down a little bit.”

    “Eighty against twenty-five thousand. That’s about three hundred to one.”

    “Well Tragal’s odds today was over a hundred to one and he won using paintballs! With real bullets, we will have a range advantage that Tragal didn’t have today. Those eighty will be facing the main body of the army on the ground. There will be others supporting them from the trees. By the time KaZanna’s army reaches here they will be a very tired, very hungry, and a very demoralized army. Most of their leadership will be dead, and they will have very little in the way of supplies. I think that the army will be almost ready to give up by the time they reach here. If we can divide the army so that a portion of it will attack my home in the Great Swamp, we can reduce the odds.”

    “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” Ishihari asked.

    “You’re my mother, you’re supposed to ask personal questions, it’s part of your job,” Tangoral replied.

    Ishihari smiled at the inference to an earlier time. “I could not help but notice a change in you and how you relate to the brotherhood. It’s like you crossed the barrier that kept you from being truly one of us. I remember a young tree dweller so afraid to embrace us and our ways out of fear of losing something of what it meant to be one of the People of the Trees. Now, I look upon a young brother about to take his place among the People and the brotherhood. I look at you through a mother’s eyes and see the man and the brother you have become. You are the leader of four tribes of tree people and one dwelling of the Blue Brotherhood. You have influence over a dwelling of the Green Brotherhood and the clan leader of the Blue Brotherhood listens to you when you speak. You have become the greatest inventor the brotherhood has ever known, and your personal worth reflects this. You are well on your way to becoming the wealthiest brother in the history of the clans. Now, you are about to lead the armies of the Blue Brotherhood to victory over our enemies and you do this not only as a healer among the People of the Trees, but as a brother in the Blue Brotherhood. I wonder what brought about this latest change in you and how much further you will go in the future.”

    “You make it sound like I’ve done many great and wonderful things. To me, I’ve only done what I had to do. My accomplishments are simply what have happened to me in the course of living my life. What trail life will lead me down tomorrow, who knows where it will go. The trail on which life placed me has not been an easy one. One changes in the course of a lifetime. I’ll give you the fact that I have changed, but I’ve had a lot of help in bringing about those changes. I call a hard-shell my mother, and that’s no small accomplishment. Tangalen, Zothor, Cantor, Candean, are just a few that have helped to change me. I keep seeing an angel and prophets that should be dead. No one can go through what I’ve been through and not be changed. I have even lived life as one of the ancients. I know all their secrets. Some I will pass on and some will die with me, but all this has shaped and changed me. Yet, I am the same person I was before all this happened to me. Whereas before I was very course, now, I have been polished. I now know who I am and what I must do.”

    “What prophets?”

    “What?”

    “I know about the angel Timmiss, but who were the prophets you just spoke of?”

    “When I left after we buried Candean, I ran into two prophets during my journey. One was the prophet we call Kel and the other was the prophet Tal. Their full names are Tomarean Kel of the white clan and BoTalan of the red clan. Tomarean Kel gave me a Book of the Prophets of God, very old, signed, with notes and corrections in both the Words of Kel and the Words of Tal. I read it on the way back from my journey to nowhere.” Tangoral took the book out of his bag and laid it on the floor before him. “When Yoeith and Tangalen finish translating the book we were given in the city of the ancients; the testimonies of the prophets shall run together as it was written in the Words of Kel and Tal. What was lost shall be restored one final time. We have entered the time when the Evil One will rise up and try and prevent the work of God from coming to pass as he did before. We who are the children of light will prevail though our numbers are few, and the work of God will go forward preparing the way for His coming.”

    “Tangoral, there is no white clan,” Ishihari said.

    “There was, but God took them,” Tangoral said. “They with some of the ancients and some brothers and sisters of the other clans that embraced the truth reached a state of perfection. They lived with one heart and one mind single to the glory of God. They built a great city, but the other clans became jealous of them. They tried to destroy the city of God, but God would not let them be destroyed. He took the city and hid it until the time that he should return and rule his people.”

    “How do you know all this?”

    “I asked Tomarean Kel. I knew him from my experiences in the city of the ancients, and now I know the rest of the story from where his holographic A. I. program left off. You want to meet someone who has changed. View the program he wrote and then meet him three thousand cycles later.”

    Listening to her son Ishihari had a vision of the great man that he would become. Already she could see that he believed in the words of the prophets. She now understood what had changed her son. Ishihari gave thanks to God for sending her such a son, and for touching his heart and bringing about the change in him.

   

~~~

    

    The winner of the All Clan Championship was a forgone conclusion. Cantor won the first two games of five by a hundred points. The Black Brotherhood’s champion’s heart was not in the game. Having played Cantor during the playoffs, he knew Cantor would win. Cantor on the other claw had hoped that the black clan’s champion would at least make an effort to try to win. In that hope he was disappointed. In the third and final game he devastated the black player winning by three hundred and forty-seven points. The last two games were not played Cantor having won three of the five games already.

    The victory party was the party to end all parties. The entire leadership of all six clans was there. The wealthiest of the wealth came to hobnob with the leadership of the clans. It was a gala event of epic proportions. Food flowed freely as did the drinks. Six large tables in the center of the dining hall were piled high with food. The cloth ornamentation that Ishihari and Zothor had worn during the playoffs had indeed caught on. The cloth ornamentation that many of the sisters were wearing was very colorful and the edge lacing varied from the simple to the ornate. The cloth ornamentation that some of the brothers wore were more functional than ornamental. They were still more elaborate in design than the very popular work vest with its many pockets. An area in the back of the dining hall was reserved for the clan leaders, their mates, and some of their councilors and their mates. This is where they would honor the new All Clan Champion.

    “Whatever happens don’t leave this area,” Zothor whispered to Cantor.

    “This is the sixth time you’ve told me Dad,” Cantor said. “Did Syanor fire all his waiters? I don’t recognize any of the waiters.”

    “He had to put on more help for tonight. He’s got his whole staff doing the cooking.”

    “I thought it was something like that.”

    “Congratulations young Cantor,” KaZanna said as he walked up on Zothor and his son talking. “Zothor, how does it feel to have all your old records broken?”

    “I feel pretty good. After all, it was my son that broke them,” Zothor replied.

    “This party is going to set records too. I swear that you built this dining hall just for this party.”

    “Well, in that you’d be correct. I did have this dining hall built just for this party. There was never any doubt in my mind. I knew that Cantor would win the All Clan Championship. I hated the parties that were held outdoors, or half in and half out. It spoiled the food that was kept outdoors. You know what I mean.”

    “I know what you mean. If they didn’t set up tent for the food it would be soaking wet by the end of the party.”

    “Even when they did set up tents the food soaked up the moisture in the air. That was really tough on the sweetbread.”

    “I supposed you had that in mind when you built this place,” KaZanna said.

    “I was thinking that I could rent this dining hall out to other clans to hold meetings at after tonight. As large as it is, it might be possible to hold several small group events and still serve the public. Right now, I’m just hoping it holds up for tonight,” Zothor said. “You don’t know if Jonnaul is coming tonight or not.”

    “I doubt it, but I know that he has sent someone to represent him,” KaZanna said. “There’s the yellow clan leader, I have to go talk with him. I’ll see you later.”

    Adreeum came up behind Zothor. “When do you think it will happen?” he asked.

    “At the time when Cantor should be blessed by the Prophet,” Zothor replied. “After most of the Leadership have drunk themselves under the table.”

    

    “I don’t care if Jonnaul does have a problem with the blue clan. He shouldn’t break with tradition. He should be here to give his blessing to the new All Clan Champion,” LaKento leader of the green clan said.

    “I wouldn’t come here either if I had been offered insult after insult,” Cinnoal said.

    “Clan Leader Cinnoal, who leads the yellow clan you or Jonnaul?” LaSanso asked.

    “I do,” Cinnoal replied.

    “Well then, act like it. The blue clan has been very polite to Jonnaul all things considered or have you forgotten that it was Jonnaul’s guards that killed Candean. Are we free to act for ourselves, or have we become slaves for the benefit of the Church? Just because the blue clan has turned away from the Church does not mean that they have turned away from God,” LaSanso said.

    “If the Prophet tells us to do something we should do it without question,” Hal Pron said. “We must have faith in God’s prophet and God. It is not our place to question the workings of God.”

    “Hal Pron, what if Jonnaul asked you to kill one of your children to prove your faith to God, would you do it?” Nabbinic leader of the brown clan asked the Black Clan Leader.

    “It’s not the same. We have been commanded by the Prophet to kill an old enemy,” Hal Pron replied.

    “But to the blue clan that is the very thing that the blue clan has been asked to do. I understand that Zothor’s adopted son, a tree dweller, has saved the lives of more that ten brothers. Some of those lives saved were children. The brother we honor today had his life saved twice by the tree dweller when he was younger. Honor demanded that Zothor adopt the tree dweller for saving the life of his son. Not to do so would call into question the honor of the brotherhood at large. Now, the Blue Brotherhood has been asked to kill that tree dweller to whom they owe a debt of honor to,” Nabbinic said. “So I ask again, would you kill one of your children if Jonnaul asked you to?”

    “They could let that tree dweller live and kill the rest,” Hal Pron suggested.

    “So they have to go kill the rest of his family, and let him live. You would repay a debt of honor by killing everyone that the brother you owe a debt of honor to knows and loves. Jonnaul has placed the Blue Brotherhood in the position of having to reject the Church and the Prophet,” Nabbinic said.

    “I too owe the tree dwellers a debt of honor that I will not repay by killing them,” LaKento said. “I do not believe that what Jonnaul has asked us to do is of God. I have done much praying on this matter and killing the tree dwellers feels wrong.”

    “KaZanna, aren’t you going to say something?” Cinnoal asked. “You’ve suffered the most from these tree dwellers.”

    KaZanna had watched as PaTouan had made his way to the door. PaTouan left the dining hall for a moment but now he had returned. He stood next to the door waiting for his Clan Leader’s signal. KaZanna smiled. “I asked the blue clan for help and got none. I’ve lost two dwellings with everyone killed. To me the only good tree dweller is a dead tree dweller. I will follow the Prophet no matter what he asks of me. I would kill my children if so ordered by the Prophet.”

    “Easy for you to say, you have no children,” Adreeum said. “We have spent three thousand cycles killing tree dwellers and the first time one of them fights back we wonder what we ever did to them to make them want to kill us. Jonnaul has been insulted by a tree dweller and rightfully so. To get even he is willing to use the brotherhood to obtain his own personal revenge, and he is doing it in the name of God. This is not the actions of a true prophet of God.”

    “You twist the truth to confuse the issues. You promised help and then gave none. I have lost two dwellings to your friends. There are many ways to fight back. One tree dweller has chosen to attack us from the outside. The other tree dweller has chosen to destroy us from the inside. Jonnaul has been warned of God for our benefit,” KaZanna said.

    “You have already been given the help we promised,” Adreeum said. “When your army lost the tree dweller in the Great Swamp our soldiers continued to follow him. They were able to get a head of him there and kill him. The rest of his followers were disarmed and disbanded.”

    “Where is your proof? You expect me to believe you.”

    “Would you believe us even if we had proof?” Zothor asked. “Somehow, I doubt it. We could challenge the Church and take this whole matter before God on his court of judgment.”

    “Who would you use as a champion?” KaZanna asked. “Whatever champion you’d pick would have to face your son, and he is without a doubt the greatest player of the Game ever.”

    “Don’t you think we haven’t thought about that,” Adreeum answered. “I know of a player that is every bit Cantor’s equal, but being a professional player is not something he considered as his life’s work.”

    “You would pit a father against his son?”

    “No, but I would pit a brother against his brother.”

    “I fear that being able to challenge the Church is not an option you have right now,” KaZanna said as he nodded at PaTouan. Red soldiers poured into the dining hall and blocked the entrance on the far side of the dining hall.

    Most of the clan leaders and everyone else were on their legs in a moment. “What’s the meaning of this KaZanna,” Nabbinic demanded.

    “The Prophet has banished the Blue Brotherhood, and I have come to take the blue leadership prisoners,” KaZanna replied.

    Zothor laughed. “Of course we will resist, won’t we, and you’ll be forced to kill us. All these other brothers and sisters will have just gotten in the way, or are they to be banished too.”

    “I’m leaving,” Hal Pron said. He started to move toward the entrance with his mate only to find his path blocked by one of the red soldiers.

    Cinnoal and his mate followed Hal Pron. Nabbinic start to follow them but Bittanic who was sitting nearby blocked his path. “If you have a problem at least let us clear the dining hall of the brothers and sisters not involved here,” LaKento said.

    “I’m afraid you’re all involved,” KaZanna said. “KarEena, we’re leaving now.”

    “So you’re just going to walk out, and let someone else do your dirty work?” Zothor asked still sitting at the table eating sweet balls calmly. “I would think you’d at least watch.”

    Zothor, Adreeum, and the rest of Adreeum’s councilors were still sitting at the table calmly watching the events unfold and that bothered KaZanna. “Clan Leader, if you value your life do not move from here,” LaSanso whispered to LaKento.

    “How can you sit there so calmly?” KaZanna asked.

    “Would it change what is about to happen?” Zothor asked. “This is all too well planned to be a spare of the moment thing at the request of the Prophet. I think that you are about to kill everyone here for your own personal ambition.”

    “No, I’m about to kill everyone here for revenge,” KaZanna replied. “I want to see everything you love destroyed. I’m going to hunt down your tree dwelling son and kill him. I’m going to destroy your dwelling. I’m going to make your mate my very personal servant and I’m going to destroy the Blue Brotherhood. That I get to rule all the other clans is an additional benefit this affords me. Now, the game is over and I’m going hunting for tree dwellers.” KaZanna turned and walked away followed by his mate.

    “KaZanna, the game isn’t over yet and you may find that you are the hunted,” Zothor said.

    “KaZanna, can we at least finish dinner? I hate to waste all this good food,” Adreeum said.

    “Sure, but you better eat quickly,” KaZanna said. “PaTouan, give them time to stuff their faces for a little while longer and then kill them all,” he said on the way out. Once the first shots were fired, an army of red soldiers would storm all the dwellings in the city.

    “Bittani,c get out of my way I’m leaving,” Nabbinic commanded.

    “I can’t do that Clan Leader. If I let you leave here you will be killed,” Bittanic said. “Sit and watch the wisdom of the Blue Brotherhood who has known KaZanna would start a war for a very long time.”

    Zothor got up and walked over to one of the tanks filled with the colorful water creatures. “PaTouan, you do this and I promise you will be lucky to see the morning,” he said as he reached for the edge of the tank with his claw.

    “Brave words from someone that’s unarmed. You will all die and your pathetic brotherhood will be blamed,” PaTouan said.

    “I wonder how the brotherhood could produce a brother such as you,” Zothor said as he triggered the device that Tangoral had built into the tank. Windows dropped down from the ceiling and sealed the openings between the tanks and the fixed window walls. PaTouan ordered his soldiers to fire but it was too late. The bullets exploded harmlessly against the window walls. Some of PaTouan’s soldiers turned their attention on the unprotected guests in the dining hall.

    Screams of the sisters mingled with that of the brothers as the soldiers open fired on the other guests at the celebration. Even as the soldiers began to fire on the crowd, the waiters rushed forward to their protection. The waiters returned fire with the small guns hidden under their work vests. Their bullets didn’t explode the way the red soldiers’ bullets did but they were just as deadly. As the waiters rushed forward the six large tables in the center of the dining hall came to life. Although PaTouan’s soldiers out numbered those they were fighting against by more than five to one, he was losing the battle. No sooner than his soldiers killed all the waiters he had to deal with six more blue brothers disguised as tables. Already, his fighting force had been reduced by almost half. As his soldiers began to concentrate their fire on the tables he saw that all their guns were useless against these six brothers, they just kept coming. PaTouan elected for the better part of valor. He ran through the entrance of the dining hall and out to the protection of a small army of soldiers waiting outside.

    Zothor stood next to Adreeum as he watched the battle in the dining hall through the safety of the window walls. Hal Pron, Cinnoal, and their mates were among the first to be killed. The fighting lasted only a few moments of time before the last of the red soldiers were killed, and the blue soldiers moved to block the entrance of the dining hall. More blue soldiers began pouring in from the kitchen with the medical technicians. All the wounded were evacuated back through the kitchen where a secret entrance was located to evacuate the kitchen staff. It was a horrible sight to see so many dead in one area. Nabbinic and LaKento were too stunned by what they saw to say anything. “Clan Leader, we need to leave before PaTouan tries to send in the rest of his army,” Zothor said.

    “How can you be so calm and casual about what just went on here. This is horrible. How did we let it come to this?” Adreeum asked no one in particular.

    “I’ve seen worst than this. You don’t think about it. You just do your job,” Zothor replied grimly.

    “How could you have possibly seen worst than this?” Nabbinic asked after he found his voice.

    “I was among those that rescued the green clan’s dwelling after it was attacked by stalkers. This runs a close second to what I saw there,” Zothor said.

    “LaSanso, you were right, I should have listened to you when you tried to warn me about KaZanna,” LaKento said.

    “Don’t worry Clan Leader, all will be well. The blue clan has had a lot of time to prepare. KaZanna will fail,” LaSanso said.

    Adreeum watched as the soldiers set explosives that would destroy the dining hall and burn up all the window walls. “Time to go. All the survivors have been evacuated and the charges set,” he said as the trophy case against the wall began to move.

    Rownan stepped through the secret doorway. “Everything is ready. We will draw as many of the red clan soldiers as we can back into the dining hall before we destroy it,” he said. “The red clan has stormed all the other dwellings. They are having a problem with our dwelling of course. All our escape routes are secure at this time. We have begun the evacuation of our dwelling.”

    PaTouan watched as his soldiers stormed back into the dining hall under the cover fire of other soldiers that remained outside. As his soldiers rushed into the dining hall, it exploded with enough force to knock PaTouan over from where he stood directing his soldiers. The reports of success in raiding all the other clan dwellings had come in, but the blue clan dwelling had not yet fallen as expected. All of the reserve soldiers standing by were sent to fight against the blue clan. As he picked himself up off the ground PaTouan couldn’t help but think that the Blue Brotherhood was much too well prepared for their attack both here at the dining hall and at their main dwelling. If he had any misgivings it was too late, they were committed now. There was no turning back. The war had begun.

    



Library Index The Game of God Chapter 7     —    FOREWORD