Heed the voice of your God. It is not meant that you should fight one against another. For this cause is the Game given unto you. The Game is the judgment of God for only they who are in the right can stand before God in judgment. In all your disputes one with another you are to play the Game of Judgment. There is no question too small that cannot be brought before the Lord for judgment. Nor is there any dispute too large that cannot be resolved on the Court of the Judgment of God.

    If the day ever comes when you will not play the Game for the settling of a dispute among you, war will be poured out upon you until such a time comes that you repent and turn again to your God and come to His court for judgment. - The Book of the Prophets of God, the words of Morallen (giver of the Game).

    

    Smoke rose up through the trees from the fields of the Yellow Brotherhood’s dwelling below. The small herd of shunails that this mostly agrarian dwelling had was scattered beyond any hope of recovery by the retreating army. The grain storage silos were large black holes in the sides of the dwelling, and fire raged out of control around them. “I wonder how many died when the grain silos blew?” Tragal asked.

    “Less than would have died if we had blown them during the day,” Tangoral replied. “You told me that you’ve had the occasional silo blow up by accident. If they have followed the standard building practices of the brotherhood then most of the brothers’ personal dwellings should have been well back from the silos. This is why you put the silos on the outer edge of the dwelling in the first place.”

    “Still, I wonder how many died.”

    “This is war and we are in the fight of our lives. We are fighting to preserve our way of life and our loved ones. Even as KaZanna’s army grows larger, it grows weaker. This is just the first taste of what is in store for KaZanna. Tomorrow, we cross over onto the Brown Brotherhood’s land where we must destroy everything in KaZanna’s path.”

    “I know, but it still doesn’t hurt to wonder. So why are we waiting here?” Tragal asked. “We could cross the boarder today and be well ahead of KaZanna,”

    “KaZanna thinks this is just one big game. He brought his mate with him. I suspect he doesn’t trust her enough to leave her at home or he wants his favorite toy to play with to keep himself from getting too bored. In any case we are going to take her out of harms way tonight,” Tangoral replied. “While we get her the others will take out what stores of ammo and weapons they can get at. I want KaZanna to know that this is not an easy path he has chosen to walk on.”

    

    KaZanna had hoped for a good meal and a warm soft sand bed to sleep in but he knew it was not to be when he saw the yellow brothers’ dwelling. Smoke poured from the dwelling and most of the brothers and sisters stood by helplessly watching their dwelling burn. Most of KaZanna’s subordinates stood looking on in shock. None of the brothers seemed to know what to do. KarEena walked up to stand next to her mate. “You have brought this on these good brothers and sisters,” she told her mate.

    “Shut up,” KaZanna snapped at her.

    “Do something,” KarEena told her mate.

    “Like what? I can’t do anything about this,” he replied.

    “You,” KarEena jabbed her claw in the direction of a brother near her. “Take your soldiers and go down there and see what can be done to contain and or put out the fire.” Pointing at another brother, “You go down and find out who is unaccounted for, and then work on rescuing anyone still inside.”

    The brothers looked at KaZanna. “Do it,” he said glaring at his mate. An army of more than five thousand descended on the dwelling and began a heroic effort to put out the fires that raged uncontrolled around the dwelling.

    KaZanna had his army’s camp set up nearby. He watched as his army slowly got control of the fires that burned throughout the dwelling. As he watched the burning dwelling well into the night he wondered why the Blue Brotherhood would destroy this dwelling. This would only aid him in gaining followers for his cause. He was furious with his mate for taking action when he did not, but it was the right action at the right time. Still, he would have to find a suitable punishment for her. It would not do for him to look stupid in front of those he commanded. Yes, he would have to find a very suitable punishment for her, one that he would enjoy.

    KarEena circled the dwelling directing the fire fighting and rescue efforts here and there where needed. It was late and she was tired. Fires were beginning to go out as KaZanna’s army was finally getting the fires contained. Surprisingly the loss of life was minimal. Most of those in the dwelling were able to evacuate in time. Even the damage to the dwelling was not as bad as it looked. KarEena wandered off away from the others to take a moment to rest and be alone. She had no real desire to return to her mate. She knew he would be up waiting for her. “Nice fire,” a voice next to her said. An eye swiveled around. KarEena was surprised to see the very tree dweller her mate was determined to kill standing next to her.

    “You did that?” she asked.

    “With a little help, yes, I did,” Tangoral replied.

    “Why, what did these brothers ever do to deserve this?”

    “They didn’t do anything. From this point on we will leave nothing that your mate can use to re-supply his army with. Now I want you to come with me.”

    “Why?”

    “First, you are a little too helpful to KaZanna. Second, from here on out it will be too dangerous for you to remain with KaZanna and his army. It will not be long before he figures out that there was a spy inside his dwelling. He’ll figure out it was you in time. You’re the only one with any real motive to see his plan fail. In any case you are coming with me. You can come as our friend, or as our prisoner, your choice. Decide quickly though.”

    “A sister may never leave her mate as long as he is alive. I cannot so dishonor myself.”

    “I understand, would you like to walk away from here or be carried?”

    “To walk away would mean that I went willingly,” KarEena said.

    “As you wish. Tragal, Doesen,” Tangoral said calling for the help he had brought with him. KarEena felt a prick in her soft side between her shells. “Just watch the fire,” Tangoral told her. The fires seemed to be going out all over the dwelling to KarEena. She began to feel like she was floating and then everything went black.

    KaZanna had waited long enough for his mate’s return. He was on the verge of having someone go find his mate when several explosions ripped through his camp. Hugh fireballs lit up the night high above his camp. Moments later the very ground on which he stood seemed to erupt in flames. It was all over very quickly but it left more than half his camp on fire. Soldiers fired their guns up into the trees in all directions to no effect. The return fire was far more effective as snipers high in the trees had all evening and most of the night to pick their targets. When morning came KaZanna found himself without many of the group leaders he had selected to lead his soldiers into battle.

    It was a long sleepless night for everyone. The large explosions were several of the supply wagons. They carried mostly ammo and guns but a few of the wagons were also carrying food. More than half the tents were destroyed and of some concern to KaZanna was the fact that his mate was still missing. He had most of his army out searching for her most of the day but she was nowhere to be found. Several of the scouting parties he sent out looking for the blue brothers responsible for the night’s activities never returned. The ones that did come back found nothing. All this cost him a full day on his carefully planned schedule and only served to fuel his hatred of the Blue Brotherhood. His army, however, really wasn’t too sure that they wanted to fight a war with the Blue Brotherhood.

    

~~~

    

    When PaTouan left to join up with KaZanna, the city was under his control for the most part. When he left, the army that would remain in the city still had not taken the Blue Brotherhood’s dwelling but they had it surrounded. The Blue Brotherhood and any of the leadership from the other clans that had survived weren’t going anywhere. Trying to take the Blue Brotherhood’s dwelling had cost him several days and so he was hurrying to catch up with KaZanna. There was another reason he needed to hurry also. He had received several messages that a few of the clan’s dwellings were attacked, their fields burned, their herds scattered, and their food storage destroyed. The factory where they had made all their guns and ammo was also in ruins. A massive explosion ripped it apart leaving a large hole in the side of their dwelling. It had taken two days just to control the fire after the explosion. Things were not going well at all.

    

~~~

    

    Adreeum elected not to leave the dwelling when it became apparent that the red clan had given up trying to take the dwelling after eight days. Now, they simply surrounded the dwelling in hopes of starving the Blue Brotherhood out. Every now and again a bullet would explode harmlessly against one of his office windows as he looked out. Most of the escape routes were still secure but a few had to be sealed. He had known when PaTouan had left. He had the same reports that PaTouan did only in more detail. The red clan dwellings nearly abandoned by all the brothers proved to be easy targets for the soldiers sent out to attack them. By the time KaZanna got the news it would be too late. All his dwellings would be lost and unable to re-supply him. He felt sorry for the sisters KaZanna left behind. It would be a struggle for them to survive.

    Most of the clan’s dwellings in the other cities were abandon the day before the war started. Only one other dwelling in one of the cities had elected to stand and fight. A small claw full of soldiers held off an entire army slowly drawing the red clan’s soldiers into the dwelling. The leader of the red clan’s army in that city committed almost his entire army in trying to take the dwelling. Explosives were set in place in the dwelling days before the war had started. Once the army was inside the dwelling, the dwelling was destroyed; an entire red army gone in one moment. This war will be filled with heroic deeds that will be remembered forever, Adreeum thought as he listened to the report.

    Nabbinic and LaKento were both impressed with the calmness and efficiency with which the Blue Brotherhood operated. It seemed like any other day except they were surrounded by red clan soldiers who wanted them all dead. “I wish there was something we could do,” LaKento said.

    “There is not much any of us can do except wait,” Adreeum said as he turned away from the window. “It will be a few days before word of how the war is going reaches us. I regret to tell you that any of your dwellings in the path of KaZanna’s armies must be destroyed to such a degree as to prevent KaZanna from being able to re-supply his armies. We are trying to keep the loss of life to a minimum for all parties concerned. Do not think that that we will exempt ourselves from this. We are prepared to destroy our own dwellings to the same degree to prevent KaZanna from being able to re-supply his army.”

    “We may not like it, but we understand your position,” Nabbinic said.

    “This war will not last long and in the end we will win. How can we take steps together to be certain this never happens again?” Adreeum asked. “When this war is over I will have the only army left. If I were like KaZanna I could rule all the clans and you would have to bow to my will or face certain destruction of all your dwellings. However, I am not like KaZanna and I have no desire to rule the world, but I intend to take action to prevent this from ever happening again.”

    “I am certain that you have a plan or you would never have asked for our input,” LaKento said. “Tell us what you want to do and I’m sure that we can find some middle ground by which we can accomplish what it is you wish to do.”

    “I too would like to hear what you have to say. There has got to be a way to stop this kind of madness from ever getting this far,” Nabbinic said.

    

~~~

    

    The brown brother on guard was surprised to see a white brother coming towards him. The white brother stopped in front of him. “You have thirty time parts to clear the area around your grain silos,” the white brother said.

    “Who are you?”

    “I am Yoeith, a servant of God. You now have twenty-nine time parts to clear the area around your grain silos.”

    “What do you mean by we have twenty-nine time parts to clear the area around our silos?”

    “When I stop counting your silos will be destroyed. Anyone around them will die. This is the only warning I will give this dwelling and the count can’t be stopped. Twenty-eight time parts.”

    “What do you mean you’re going to destroy our silos?” the guard asked.

    “The red clan has declared war on the Blue Brotherhood. I lead the blue army in the west and you are unfortunately caught in the middle. We cannot allow your supplies to fall into the claws of the red clan. You are wasting time. We will destroy your silos in twenty-seven time parts. Now go warn your brothers before it is too late,” Yoeith replied. He turned around and started to walk away.

    “Wait.”

    “Twenty-six,” Yoeith kept walking as he counted. The guard just stared at Yoeith as he walked away. “Twenty-five...” The guard turned and raced back inside the dwelling. A little more than thirty time parts later a rocket raced toward a silo. A moment later the silo tried to launch itself into space. It failed, electing to explode shortly after liftoff in a great ball of flame. A short time later another rocket streaked toward the dwelling and another silo exploded. A few time parts later four rockets streaked towards the remaining silos.

    

~~~

    

    CaSanna could see the smoke from the burning fields when he arrived with his army late the next day. The charred remains of the silos still smoldered. The yellow brothers’ dwelling had looked worse. In his mind it seemed that the Blue Brotherhood had declared war on all the other clans. Hit and run is their only recourse, CaSanna thought. He didn’t know how right he was until later that night when several of his supply wagons exploded. Many of his group leaders during the night’s mayhem were killed but their bodies were not found until morning. He had quit sending out scouts because they rarely ever returned or he’d find them dead along the way. To be sent scouting was to be sent to die and CaSanna didn’t want to waste any of his soldiers needlessly. Death was a silent messenger and it came at any time of the day, day or night. More often than not it was a group leader that died.

    

~~~

    

    “Clan Leader it doesn’t take a genius to know that the Blue Brotherhood were prepared to fight us. Given the effectiveness of their soldiers it is not unreasonable to assume that they have been watching us for a very long time. Not only are they ready to fight us but they have new weapons far superior to anything we have. Every weapon and tactic the tree dwellers developed to use on us the Blue Brotherhood is using against us. I’d bet they knew where to find that tree dweller that was giving us a problem at any given time. They probably used him to buy the time they needed to get ready for us,” PaTouan said as he paced in the clan leader’s tent. He was two days late catching up with KaZanna. “They have attacked several of our dwellings. They probably look worse than the dwellings belonging to the brown and Yellow Brotherhoods I passed by getting here. We will no longer be able to re-supply ourselves even though we control most of the cities.”

    “Don’t worry PaTouan, we have an army of more than twenty thousand and more brothers join us every day. We out number them by twenty to one,” KaZanna said. “We can afford to lose a few brothers, after all this is war.”

    “A thousand to one is more like the odds we have in our favor right now, but that means nothing. By the time we reach Zothor’s dwelling our armies will be more than ready to surrender. Our ability to re-supply ourselves has been taken from us. We are being cut off from the rear and now the Blue Brotherhood is destroying everything in front of us that could help.”

    “We’re able to replace most of the guns and ammo lost from the dwellings that the Blue Brotherhood has destroyed so far.”

    “You can’t eat a gun.”

    “Why do I have to do all the thinking around here? Have a detail go back to the yellow brothers and get some supplies. Take it if they have to. I doubt they will have to after what the Blue Brotherhood did to their dwellings. Send out hunting details, start rationing the food, and start thinking of answers instead of coming in here telling me all the problems,” KaZanna said angrily. “Now, send five hundred soldiers from each of our armies back to protect our dwellings and see what can be done there. We can use the hunting details for scouts as well. This is just scare tactics the Blue Brotherhood is using to delay us. We need to push forward faster. Then maybe we can take a dwelling or two before the Blue Brotherhood can blow it up.”

    “We can’t send out scouts because they don’t come back and without scouts we run the risk of walking into a trap if we go too fast,” PaTouan said.

    “With eight thousand soldiers around me I’ll risk it,” KaZanna stated flatly.

    

~~~

    

    “Falleama?” the brown brother asked in disbelief.

    “That was my name a long time ago,” Banneesheanta replied. “Now days, I am call Banneesheanta by the People of the Trees.”

    “You shouldn’t be here. You know what they’d do to you if anyone saw you?”

    “Silence fool,” Banneesheanta commanded. “The Blue Brotherhood is at war with the Red Brotherhood. Your dwelling is in the way. In a few moments the Blue Brotherhood is going to burn your fields and destroy the grain silos to keep them out of the red brothers’ claws.”

    “How do you know this?” the brother asked.

    “Because I am on their side and I wanted you to know who did this to you. This is just retribution for what you did to me. We will give you a few time parts to clear all the brothers and sisters from around the silos,” Banneesheanta replied as she turned to leave.

    “Wait, you can’t do this. We’re your dwelling.”

    Banneesheanta wheeled around to face the brother again. “You’re not my dwelling. You all made sure that I understood that many cycles ago. I am dead to you, less than a ghost, and my name never to be spoken again. Those are the words, do you remember them, I do. You left me to die after trying to beat me to death. Well, I didn’t die and now I have come for my revenge.”

    

    It was not as satisfying watching the dwelling burn as Banneesheanta thought it would be. Rockets made short work of the silos around the edges of the dwelling. Firebombs drop from high up in the trees burned great holes in the fields leaving very little. She only came to watch the destruction of the dwelling that she once upon a time called home. “Do you feel better now?” Soolayinna asked.

    “No, not really,” Banneesheanta replied.

    “Revenge is never as rewarding as restoring honor,” Soolayinna said. “I know.”

    Frothay smiled, he loved to listen to the two healers talk to one another. It was like listening to two philosophers debate the Great Circle of Life. He had gone out of his way to destroy this dwelling on the way back to join his brothers. “Not enough screaming and running about I suspect,” he said. Soolayinna jabbed him in the side. “Maybe there is a part of you that still thinks of this as home?” he asked rubbing his side.

    “Perhaps,” Banneesheanta replied. She had watched as Soolayinna jabbed Frothay. Many times she had caught them playing and talking with each other like husband and wife. She wondered what would happen to their relationship after the war was over.

    

~~~

    

    PaTouan joined the east army already on the move. This army was ten thousand strong but that meant nothing as they were running out of food. Hunting parties of fifty didn’t bring back much but to send less risked not having the hunters come back at all. There was rejoicing when the detail with the supplies sent by the yellow clan returned. It was short lived. A rocket attack by the Blue Brotherhood in the late evening destroyed most of the supplies that a detail of two hundred soldiers risked life and leg for. For a time the hunting details were keeping up with the demand but there came a time when the hunting parties no longer returned. Even when he raced to reached a dwelling that had not yet been destroyed. Its much needed supplies were denied to them by nighttime raids or rocket attacks. It seemed all too well coordinated to be a plan hastily thrown together. The Blue Brotherhood allowed them only enough food to keep them going forward. Then there was the endless sniping, death that came at anytime day or night. To be made a group leader became a sentence of death. PaTouan had heard how stalkers played with their food before they killed it. He was beginning to know what that must feel like. News from the cities had stopped a long time ago or so it felt.

    

~~~

    

    “KaZanna sent back fifteen hundred soldiers to protect his clan’s dwellings. By the time they reached their dwellings it was too late, and of course all fifteen hundred soldiers did not reach their destination,” Zothor said from where he sat in the clan leader’s office. “All their dwellings were partially destroyed except for a couple of new dwellings KaZanna had built without asking. They were small and don’t pose a threat. The red clan will need the food in these dwellings to see the rest of their brothers and sisters through the hard times ahead.

    “This is the only city that we have not retaken. The remainder of the armies from the other cities have all fled here. Last count places the number of their soldiers in the city at around three thousand. Food shipments to the cities have stopped, we are going to have problems there until we can get another full growing season in. In time we will retake this city. Red soldiers have begun to try and surrender to us. We explain to them that we will accept nothing less than the unconditional surrender of their entire army. We feed them some simple snacks and then send them away.”

    “The main body of KaZanna’s armies is still advancing. We have completely cut him off from the rear and his supplies are down to next to nothing. He’s begun to take the emergency supplies from the dwellings we attacked. He is having other problems also. Due to lack of leadership he’s having trouble maintaining discipline and he’s starting to have desertions, mostly from the other clans that joined with him in the beginning. We scare the hell out of the deserters, take their guns, and send them on their way thanking God that we did not kill them. LaKento, he should cross over onto your lands any day now. Most of your dwellings have had plenty of warning to get ready for our attack on your dwellings. You can thank LaSanso for that. They have hidden most of your herds with the tree dwellers and some of the food that was in storage as well. We’ve told them what to expect from KaZanna’s army. KaZanna will get very little food out of them.”

    “The tree dwellers and some of the black brothers have been working on a new hive deep in the Great Swamp to handle the refuges that keep showing up on our doorstep. Some of our dwellings have already been abandoned. Most of the soldiers from those dwellings will swing around behind KaZanna’s armies and follow him. They’ll join up with our soldiers already in the field. We will step up our attacks on his army from here on out. KaZanna is going to find that sleep is going to be hard to come by,” Zothor said finishing his report.

    “I can’t help but wonder if KaZanna would still start this war today knowing what he must face,” Nabbinic pondered aloud.

    “He’d have still started it. The only difference is that he would be better prepared and harder to deal with,” Adreeum said. “Zothor, are you still planning to go?”

    “Yes Clan Leader, I am. I want to be there when KaZanna is defeated. As he has made this whole war a personal vendetta against me and our clan. I think that I should be there.”

    “You’re going to try and bring him back alive aren’t you?” LaKento asked.

    “I think that he should be made to answer for all the deaths that he has caused,” Zothor replied. “We need to understand how he could persuade his brothers to go to war against the rest of the brotherhood. If we are to ever prevent something like this from ever happening again we need answers to questions, answers that only KaZanna can provide us with.”

    Several bullets exploded against the windows as a soldier rushed into Adreeum’s office. “Clan Leader, the red brothers are trying to take our dwelling again,” he said with some urgency.

    “How many?” Adreeum asked.

    “All of them by the look of it,” the soldier replied.

    “Ok, let’s give them a taste of something new. Get some soldiers to man the dwelling’s gun stations. Use the new guns. If they’re all out there maybe we can put an end to this once and for all,” Adreeum said. The soldier spun about and left as quickly as he entered.

    “What are gun stations?” Nabbinic asked.

    “Small rooms with windows we can shoot out of set in various places around the dwelling. The bullets that our new super small guns shoot don’t explode and muffled behind the windows you can’t hear them either,” Rownan said.

    “If the bullets don’t explode, how do you expect to kill anyone?” LaKento asked.

    “These new guns have proven to be our most effective weapon in this war. The bullets are poison tipped. Death is instantaneous no matter where the bullet strikes its target. The guns themselves can shoot faster and more accurately than any other gun, light or heavy,” Adreeum replied. “Rownan, have some brothers put on the suits of armor. It’s time we retake the lower floors of our dwelling and put an end this waiting game. It’s time to send the red brothers home.”

    

    A movable window wall slid silently to one side so six blue soldiers incased in the same material as the window walls could step into the hallway. A hallway filled with red soldiers firing at them. The door slid closed behind them. Within a few moments the red brothers’ guns fell silent and those that survived were running for their lives. The blue brothers split into pairs and began the task of driving out the red soldiers in the lower floors of the dwelling.

    There was no safety within and no safety without as death seemed to rain down from the sky outside the dwelling. Soldiers outside were desperate to get into the dwelling and the soldiers inside were almost as desperate to get out. Bodies of the dead littered the roads around the blue brothers’ dwelling for as far as one could see provided that you did not stick your shell out too far to take a look. The red brothers found themselves trapped on the bottom level. One of the few remaining group leaders tore his guns from his bottom shell and flung them away. He settled down on the floor, folded his claws back over his shell and began to pray to God that he might see his family again. His example was quickly followed by other red brothers. Once the fighting was over blue soldiers poured out of the upper floors and collected the guns from the red brothers, living or dead.

    What leaders of the Red Brotherhood that remained were rounded up and brought to stand before the blue clan leader in his office. They cowered before the glare of three clan leaders and some of their councilors. “How you could stray so far from the path of God is beyond me,” Adreeum said, the fury in his voice barely contained. “That you would willingly kill your fellow brothers and for what, profit, land, promises that would never have been fulfilled anyway. I should have you all taken out and shot!” Adreeum paused a brief moment to let that sink in. “However, I shall not trade an eye for an eye this day. You will bury your dead and then you will take what remains of your brothers and go back to your dwellings promising never to take up weapons of war against your brothers ever again. You will do as I say because if you don’t, there will be a lot more red brothers that will be in need of being buried. Am I understood?” The red brothers before Adreeum meekly nodded their assent to his demands. “Now get out of my sight before I decide to have you all shot anyway,” he said.

    “You were far too nice to them,” Nabbinic said after they left.

    “You should shoot them anyway,” LaKento said.

    “What would it gain us?” Adreeum asked. “They were just small group leaders. Most of their main leaders died in the first volley of fire from the gun stations. We’ll hunt down any that got away. No, a little kindness goes a long way in the end. We have to rise above our enemies, not become like them.”

    

~~~

    

    “Frothay, what are you going to do after this is all over?” Soolayinna asked as she lay against her friend’s shell staring out into the night from high in the trees.

    “Go back home and go back to what I was doing before I had to go fight a war,” Frothay replied.

    “What did you do before the war?”

    “I was a soldier. I’m doing what I have spent my whole life preparing for.”

    “So you’ll go back to being a soldier?”

    “Most likely, as long as you don’t have to fight a war, it’s a great job.”

    “Are you married?” Soolayinna asked.

    “No, never been in one place long enough,” Frothay replied.

    “Did you ever want to be?”

    “Want to be what?”

    “Married,”

    “I don’t know, never gave it much thought before now. Maybe after the war is over I’ll think about settling down.”

    “What would you want her to be like?” Soolayinna asked.

    “What I want in a sister has changed a lot since the war. I’ve been living out in the trees for more than a cycle of the sun. My small dwelling would seem a bit cramped now. She’d have to like being high in a tree. I’d want her to be a lot like you, a free spirit with class,” Frothay replied. “Why do you ask?”

    “It was just something I was thinking about. I wondered what kind of a husband I would want after the war. I found that I wanted him to be like you, quite strength.” Something in the way Frothay looked at her made her heart pound just a little faster. Both of them sat in silence for a long time. “How long do you think it will be before the war is over?” Soolayinna asked to break the silence.

    “Another couple of seven-days,” Frothay replied glumly.

    

~~~

    

    For CaSanna and his army it had been a long march. They had exhausted their supplies long ago. Every day the death toll climbed. If you went out scouting, you died. If you went hunting, you died. If you were made a group leader, you died. If you trailed behind the army or got too far ahead, you died. Death did not need a reason to kill. An army that was once spread out was now tightly grouped together for their own survival. This all played into the claws of their enemy; a very ruthless unrelenting enemy.

    CaSanna’s army desperate for food pillaged the last few dwellings belonging to the green and black brothers they came across. The last dwelling they visited they stripped it bare of food and what spoils of war that caught their fancy. It didn’t matter that they were taking all the green brothers food and they might starve. The red brothers took anything they wanted from the green brothers. The dwelling clan leader was so mad at the just plain bad behavior he could have killed them all himself. It was just best to let CaSanna and his army have their way though. After all there were five thousand red and yellow brothers and only a hundred and eighty-seven green brothers and sisters at the dwelling. Once the army left the green brothers sent out to the tree dwellers for some of the supplies that were in their keeping. Several of the green brothers added their numbers to the small but growing army that followed in the wake of the army of red brothers.

    

    Yoeith looked down on the army that out numbered his soldiers by twenty-five to one. This is where he would stop them. They had settled in for the night. Even as the light faded away snipers took out the guards set high in the trees. The snipers cleared the trees level by level until there were no red or yellow brothers left in the trees. After that blue and green soldiers moved into the trees above CaSanna’s army. They waited for a signal from their leader so they could drop a thousand fire bombs on the army below.

    CaSanna was surprised to see a white brother escorted into his tent. “What do we have here?” he asked.

    “This brother approached one of our guard posts on the ground and requested to see you by name. He was unarmed when we found him,” one of the escorts said.

    “I’ve heard of you. You’re the one that warns the dwellings before the blue brothers’ attack. Have you come to warn us? I think you will find that we are not the helpless dwellings you have been destroying. We’re an army of seven thousand,” CaSanna boasted.

    “Actually, you were an army of seven thousand. Now you are an army of four thousand nine hundred and sixteen. And yes, I have come to give you a warning. I want you to lay down your weapons and surrender right now. This will be your only chance. After this comes the fire,” Yoeith said.

    “You’re either very brave or very stupid. Don’t you know that I can have you shot?”

    “You could try, but it is not my time to die yet. Until that time comes I have the power to call down fire from Heaven. Surrender now and I’ll spare the lives of your brothers.”

    “Just who do you think you are?” CaSanna asked a little put out that this brother would demand that he surrender.

    “I am the one that must become two. I am he who brings the truth of God out of obscurity for all the world to see. I am a servant of the most high God who asks you to surrender for the sake of your brothers,” Yoeith replied. “You left your dwellings to fight the Blue Brotherhood but you left your dwellings defenseless. The Blue Brotherhood has long known of your leader’s plans. When you left your dwellings the blue brothers sent soldiers out to destroy them. This is why no supplies have reached you from your dwellings. There are no longer any supplies left to be sent. Your army is starving. You no longer have enough ammo to fight a protracted battle and if you do not surrender right now you will no longer have an army to fight with.”

    “I’m not going to surrender. Take this fool out and shoot him,” CaSanna told one of the guards.

    “I am going now,” Yoeith said. “You have made your choice.” Yoeith turned and walked out of CaSanna’s tent. The guards tried to fire their guns but they jammed.

    CaSanna followed Yoeith out of his tent. “If you are a prophet of God give me a sign that I might believe.”

    Yoeith whirled around. “Only fools ask God for a sign, but be it as you say.”

    “Let me see you call down the fire from Heaven to destroy me or my army.”

    “The fires of Heaven will not destroy your army. There is an army above you right now that will do that. The fires of Heaven shall consume you and all that still stand with you after this night.” Yoeith turned and walked off.

    “Somebody kill him, anybody!” CaSanna yelled.

    “We’re trying but our guns won’t work,” a guard said.

    CaSanna wheeled around at the sound of the first explosion. A ball of flames rose from the center of his camp. A moment later it seemed like all the ground around him erupted in fire. Red and yellow brothers tried to flee in all directions but the fire seemed to start as a wall all around them and slowly moved toward the center of their camp. It was over as quickly as it started. There wasn’t a tent left that was not on fire. The wagons with their meager supplies were also on fire. Somehow CaSanna managed to survive without a scratch. It was morning before he regained some measure of control over what remained of his army. Of five thousand only three thousand remained and some of those brothers were badly burned.

    “CaSanna,” a voice cried out.

    CaSanna turn from the meeting he was having with his few remaining group leaders. Across the remains of his burned out camp he saw the white brother standing on a tree root. Fire came down from out of nowhere and struck the table they were standing around. It consumed the metal table and all those around it. Brothers that moments before were standing around the table were gone, not even their shells remained. CaSanna tried to flee but the fire consumed the earth as it followed CaSanna. When the fire engulfed and devoured a brother that CaSanna ran past trying to escape everyone fled from him despite his screams for help. The fire so completely consumed the brother that not even any ashes of him remained. The fire leaving a deep trail in the ground devoured everything in its path as it chased CaSanna though the camp. The fire vanished as suddenly as it appeared once it caught up with CaSanna and consumed him weapons, shell, and all.

    Yoeith walked into the remains of the red army’s camp. “Brothers,” he yelled out. “If you will lay your guns before me and promise to never again to take up weapons of war we will let you live. Lay down your arms and we will give you some food and escort you safely home.”

    “How can we trust you?” a red brother unseen asked.

    “I can speak only the words that God puts in my mouth for I am a servant of God. It was your clan that started this war. There are many witnesses to your actions concerning the way you have treated your brothers in need. Before you question my honor, look to your own,” Yoeith replied. “You will lay down your arms and surrender right now, or I will call again the fire from Heaven from which there can be no escape.”

    Guns were quickly laid before Yoeith. When the last gun was thrown upon the pile Yoeith knelt in prayer. As he prayed fire came again from out of nowhere and destroyed the pile of guns before him. Nothing remained of the guns. There was not even a mark on the ground before Yoeith when he stood again. It was as if nothing had ever been there. The red brothers bowed themselves before Yoeith and pled for their lives to be spared. They promised to never again to take up weapons of war. The green and blue brothers and tree dwellers watching from high in the trees were equally impressed by what they saw. Indeed, they believe that Yoeith was a prophet of God. When Yoeith saw that the red brothers had humbled themselves before God. He went among them healing their injured according to their faith in God and his servant.

    

~~~

    

    KaZanna met with PaTouan at a Green Brotherhood’s dwelling on the edge of the Great Swamp just before the lands of the Blue Brotherhood began. It was a poor dwelling with little food and only a few brothers and sisters but the dwelling’s clan leader tried his best to be a good host. KaZanna though the red brown floors were an interesting touch in design but he would have picked a different color. “Why did you choose this red brown color for your floors?” he asked at the end of a simple dinner. “I’d think you’d pick a brighter color like green or red or something.”

    “I would have preferred plain white,” the dwelling clan leader replied. “The color is in memory of those that died here. We would have to demolish this dwelling and build a new one to get rid of the color. You see the floor of our dwelling was colored by the blood of the dead. No amount of cleaning can get the color out. In fact cleaning only makes it worse.”

    “What is the stuff that is on the floor?” KaZanna asked.

    “We have had to put down a thin layer of tree sap to seal the floors to keep them from bleeding through to the ceiling below when they get wet. I’d preferred something a little better, but it was the best we could do at the time,” LaKayzin replied.

    “You’re the dwelling that was attacked by stalkers,” PaTouan said.

    “Yes, we are, but they were driven to attack us,” LaKayzin said.

    “How?” KaZanna asked.

    “By the tree dwellers. Because of unusual circumstance we were surrounded by stalkers. The tree dwellers’ leader Kittanota poured shunail blood all over the top of our dwelling one night. That caused the stalkers to attack us,” LaKayzin replied. “The male tree dwellers fled north leaving their females behind. We capture the females and made them work for us, but they escaped not long ago.”

    “Where did they go?” PaTouan asked.

    “In the land of the Blue Brotherhood not far from here there are two hives. Go thirteen days along the edge of the Great Swamp and then turn into the Great Swamp. Almost a full day’s travel into the Great Swamp is a very special hive, or so I’m told. I believe that is where they went. That is where all the tree dwellers are going that have passed through our lands lately,” LaKayzin said. “Now, if you will excuse me I have other things I must attend to. Being a dwelling clan leader is not as easy as I thought it would be.” LaKayzin got up and left. He wondered if they would eat what he had just served them, metaphorically speaking.

    “Sounds like the dwelling clan leader here has no real love of tree dwellers,” PaTouan said after LaKayzin was gone.

    “He doesn’t dislike them either,” KaZanna said. “He’s looking at them as a commodity to be exploited. First, he did so out of necessity out of trying to recover from being attacked. Now, he is looking at the profit of having them around. He doesn’t have to pay them and that has got to help his bottom line. He’s hoping we scare his tree dwellers back this way I bet. Why else would he have told us where they might have gone?”

    “What do we do about the about them? No doubt that this hive is the home of Zothor’s adopted son.”

    “No doubt. You will take your army along the Great Swamp and attack the hive. That should draw off some of the blue brothers from the dwelling. I will come around and attack Zothor’s dwelling with my army. When you finish destroying the hive, join me at the dwelling and then we will join up with CaSanna in the west.”

    “I’ll be glad when this is over,” PaTouan said.

    “In a little while I will have my revenge and then we shall rule all the clans,” KaZanna said.

    

~~~

    

    “Why don’t we just kill KaZanna and PaTouan now and put an end to this insane war of yours?” Soolayinna asked Frothay.

    “Orders, my clan leader wants KaZanna alive if at all possible,” he replied. “With the destruction of the army it will place our clan leader in a position to make changes that will affect all the other clans. With the loss of so many brothers, and their leadership, the other clans will be vulnerable. Never again will the other clans harm the People of the Trees or even think about starting another war.”

    “Still, a lot of lives could be saved if we kill those two right now. Aren’t you tired, I am? I just want to go home and be with my daughter.”

    “Just a few more days and it will be all over. Then we can go home.” Part of Frothay did not want to see the war end. He would lose Soolayinna’s companionship and that was something he desperately did not want to have happen. Still, he knew what he wanted could never be.

    “I’ll be so glad when this is all over. No more hiding and spying. No more worrying that you won’t come back from some raid or ambush.” Soolayinna was just tired and seemingly endless days of constantly being on the move had taken its toll on her, emotionally and physically. “I can’t keep going like this. I don’t have your strength. Can’t you take me away from all this? Can’t we go somewhere where we can be alone? There has got to be some happy place for people like us?” Soolayinna turn and started down the branch so Frothay would not see her cry. She wiped the tears from her eyes and as she did so she failed to notice the movement of the small branches in front of her. She was just as surprised to see the red brother as he was to see her as he stepped into the clearing. She turned and ran back toward Frothay shouting a warning.

    The red brother caught by surprise fired his guns without aiming. The bullets from the heavy guns hit Soolayinna in the knees and exploded. She felt the pain a moment after her legs were turned into bloody stumps from her hips down. She seemed to fall in slow motion landing several paces from where she was a moment before. She watched as Frothay open fired on the red brother. He had already used up two clips in each gun as he reached her side. She loved the way he came charging to her rescue.

    Frothay saw his whole life being torn from him. He emptied two full clips into the red brother before he thought to fire back along the branch to be sure there was no one behind him. Metal and bone fragments had ripped through what was left of Soolayinna’s body. He turned her over gently and held her in his claws. Tears filled his eyes. “You’re going to be ok.” He lied, he knew it and she knew it. He was amazed to find her still conscious. She smiled at him.

    Tears filled her eyes. “I’m a mess, but I finally got you to hold me.”

    “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” he cried.

    “You go on without me my love. I can finally say what is in my heart. I only regret it comes too late.”

    “I never wanted to go on without you. I never wanted this damn war to end so I could always be by your side. Now…” Frothay could no longer find the words that were in his heart amid the tears that poured freely from his eyes.

    Soolayinna reached up and stroked his shell and his soft sides. “Take care of Molateeia for me.”

    “As my own daughter,” Frothay said. “My dear Soolayinna, I have loved you for a very long time. It is why I saved your life when I was told to take it. I have never regretted my choice and I have cherished every moment that I have had with you ever since.”

    “Strange how life turns out. I started out hating hard-shells and ended up in love with one.” Soolayinna could feel herself beginning to slip away due to the loss of blood that was pouring out of what remained of her legs and other holes in her body. “Now, I look at you and call you my husband and ask that you bury me so I can look at the stars. Will you do that for me Frothay, my love?”

    “What could you ever ask of me that I would not do for you?”

    “Hold me close.” Frothay crushed her to him stroking her hair with his hands. “I truly do love you so much,” she whispered. He felt her kiss just before her body went limp. That was how Amishton and Bantan found them. It took them both a long time before they could get Frothay to let go of her body.

    

    Frothay watched as Amishton carried Soolayinna’s body higher up into the tree than he himself could climb. Amishton placed her body on the platform that the people had built for her burial on the top of the tree. Amishton was touched by the hard-shell’s devotion to this healer, but he had never really understood her devotion to him. The stars were just beginning to shine when he started back down. When he reached the place where he last saw Frothay he was no longer there.

    Frothay stayed only long enough to see Soolayinna’s body placed in its final resting-place. No one said anything to him when he went to where they kept the equipment for the night and picked up two sniper’s guns and twenty clips of ammo. Morning brought a new kind of fear as death rained down on PaTouan’s army. All too soon for his liking Frothay ran out of ammo, but that was ok there was more than enough ammo to finish the job. He would make the Red Brotherhood pay for taking Soolayinna from him. He had the time and they weren’t going far.

    

~~~

    

    Tragal returned to the dwelling with the news that KaZanna’s army had come around and was headed directly for the dwelling. Word had also come that PaTouan’s army clung to the edge of the Great Swamp and that they had past by the dwelling’s land. Eighty armored green soldiers followed after them. All the children and many of the sisters and women of the tree people were evacuated days earlier to the new hive being built deep in the Great Swamp. So only a small group of women and sisters remain in support of the men and brothers that would be defending the dwelling. The last thing they needed was a new group of refugees to get in the way. It was a mixed group of about eighty tree dwellers and Brachyura that had their escape route cut off when KaZanna’s army shifted their direction. It was mostly a group of children with adult escorts. Everyone else of the dwelling had joined Tangoral’s army to fight the red brothers. The only thing to be done was take them in.

    “Margeeum, you will stay with the children,” Ishihari said. “At the first sign of trouble evacuate everyone up to the hive.”

    Tragal pushed Molaythea out of the doorway so he could get into see Ishihari. “Get out of my way,” he told her as he pushed her aside. Hunched over Molaythea was still a giant mass that towered over Tragal but she move out of his way with the slightest touch. “Bad news, KaZanna is pushing forward faster than expected. Tangoral has gone to meet Zothor. Doesen has been unable to slow KaZanna down. They’ll be here by midday tomorrow at the latest.” Tragal settled to the floor. “Even if we could get word to the green soldiers to turn around it would be too late to do us any good."

    “Any other news?” Grizzon asked.

    “We have an unconfirmed report that KaZanna’s western army has surrendered. It’s unsure whether Yoeith went north to the cities or turned back toward us. We’ve gotten word from Bantan that Soolayinna was killed and Frothay sick with grief has begun to destroy PaTouan and his army a little ahead of schedule. Bantan is now in charge of our army in pursuit of PaTouan’s army. He says the only time he sees Frothay any more is when he comes back for more ammo. Bantan says that PaTouan will be lucky if he reaches the hive with any kind of an army left,” Tragal replied.

    “Sounds like we should put Frothay in armor and stick him in front of KaZanna with five thousand rounds of ammo,” Grizzon said.

    “Right now it’s useful, but later it could become a problem,” Tragal said.

    “It’s a problem right now,” Margeeum said.

    “What do you mean?” Ishihari asked.

    “I was there when he brought Soolayinna back with him instead of killing her like he was told to do. He got his shell chewed out for that twice. Once by Zothor and the other time by the clan leader, but his plea to have her life spared was very eloquent to the point of offering his own life in her place. I think he loved her. What he is doing is not healthy. Someone needs to go out there and stop him,” Margeeum said.

    “Margeeum is right,” Ishihari said. “Frothay needs to be stopped now Tragal.”

    “I don’t have anyone to spare right now,” Tragal said.

    “You couldn’t send one of us anyway,” Margeeum said. “It would have to be one of the People.” Margeeum turned to face Saralashaw sitting quietly in the corner of the room listening to the hard-shells talk amongst themselves. “Saralashaw, you’re they best person to stop Frothay. He would listen to you.”

    “Why would he listen to me?” Saralashaw asked.

    “Because you are a female and a healer,” Margeeum said. “Frothay is lost to us. He has become one of the People of the Trees for all intents and purposes. He is a husband that just had his wife killed by the red hard-shells. He has the knowledge and the means to reclaim his wife’s honor himself, but he has gone beyond that seeking revenge on all the Red Brotherhood.”

    “Do you want me to stop him?” Saralashaw asked Ishihari. Ishihari looked at Tragal.

    “It would be better not to have a revenge crazed soldier out there running loose. Frothay would be better use to us in his right mind, but he is not hurting us right now. We could wait to deal with him until after we’ve dealt with KaZanna,” Tragal said.

    “Mother, Margeeum is right. If you are to help Frothay it must be done now. Waiting will only make matters worse,” Saralashaw said.

    “Do it,” Ishihari said.

    Saralashaw got up and started to leave the room but she stopped in front of Molaythea before stepping out the door. “Watch over Mother, Molaythea,” she said patting her great head just before she ducked out the door.

    Ishihari was always amazed by the time between thought and action with her two adopted children. It was like thought and action was one thing. They both took action even as the thought was formed. There was no long debates, no discussions; they just did what was needed to be done at the moment. It was a rare quality, she envied them. Her own life seemed to be filled with endless debates and discussions.

    

    Saralashaw overtook the green hard-shells as they stopped for the evening. They were a little surprised to see her waiting for them as they entered a clearing. “Is there something wrong?” the group leader asked.

    “No, not really, KaZanna will attack the dwelling some time tomorrow morning. Fifty should turn back for the dwelling now and the rest should continue on after PaTouan,” she replied. “Head straight for the home, that way you might reach it at the same time PaTouan does. I have to go find Frothay now.” Saralashaw vanished so quickly it left the green brothers wondering if they had not just seen some kind of apparition.

    The wind rushed through her hair as she raced through the trees to help a hard-shell she hardly knew. Strange how twisted life had become, she thought as she ran along the upper trails through the trees. A cycle ago she would have made soup out of the hard-shells. Now, she was making friends with them and helping them when she could. Saralashaw saw it all so clearly now, she had to keep running, it was all she could do just to keep pace with the changes in her world.

    

~~~

    

    KaZanna could see that his dream of ruling over all the clans was slowly slipping from his grasp, but then this war was not about power, it was about revenge. Still, he could see his carefully made plans coming apart before his eyes. All news from the cities had stopped long ago. KaZanna wondered how his armies were doing there but the rumors he had heard were not good. He had not had any word from CaSanna since they past over onto the blue brothers’ land. The rumor was that CaSanna’s whole army had been destroyed, but KaZanna doubted that was true. PaTouan’s army was on the edge of rebellion and his own army was not much better off. At least death did not rain down on his army day and night the way it did on PaTouan’s army. To better protect his army he put almost half of his army high in the trees to try and protect his army from above. It was slower going having to coordinate both groups to move at the same time but the nightly fire bombing had stopped. It was a good system but it was not a hundred percent. Snipers were still a constant problem and every now and again they would get fire bombed despite all their precautions.

    The dwellings of the Blue Brotherhood that he had encounter so far had all been abandoned. KaZanna let his soldiers pillage the dwellings he encountered anyway. He wanted the blue brothers to have nothing to come back to if they should ever return to their dwellings. It never occurred to KaZanna to burn the blue brothers’ dwellings. Perhaps, it was because Brachyura just do not think that way, thinking that their dwellings are fireproof for the most part. More than likely it was his mate that was on his mind more and more as of late. It took a while but KaZanna realized that the Blue Brotherhood was too well prepared for his attack. The only way the Blue Brotherhood could have known about his plans was if they had a spy privy to all his secrets. The only one he could think of that made sense was his mate KarEena. She was the only one that hated him enough to do something like that. KaZanna knew she was still alive and when he found her he would make sure she had wished she had died. He thought of the many pleasures he would have with her. Perhaps he would have her claws cut off so she could not resist the things he wanted to do to her. Yes, I will tie her down so she cannot move and slowly cut her claws off one by one once I find her, he thought.

    

~~~

    

    Frothay was tired and almost out of ammo again when he saw her in the fading light. His love beckoned him to come to her before she faded from sight. Frothay followed the image that teased and taunted him in the twilight. So desperate to catch up to the vision he chased it here and there throughout the night. Sometime during the night Frothay became disorientated. Early morning found a very lost, very tired Frothay, still looking for the ghost he had seen the evening before. He stood looking at another wall of vegetation that bared his path again, one of many he had passed through during the night. He could see her on the other side but he no longer trusted what he saw. “Soolayinna, is that you?” he asked.

    “Frothay,” came the whispered reply.

    Frothay beat his way through the wall of branches before him with his claws only to find nothing on the other side. Frothay collapsed on the branch this was more than his mind and body could take and then he saw her again high above him in the tree. “Soolayinna,” he called out in despair. His claws reached out to her.

    “You promised me,” the wind seemed to whisper back to him.

    “What did I promise you?” Frothay asked confused.

    “Have you forgotten so soon and will you forget me so quickly as well,” came the reply.

    “I will always remember you. I’m just so tired Soolayinna. I don’t remember what it was I promised you.”

    “When I was dying in your claws do you remember what it was I asked of you my love? Do you remember your promise to me?”

    “You asked me to take care of Molateeia, I said I would take care of her as my own daughter, and I will.”

    “Yes, this was your promise to me. I was... I am a healer whose spirit would walk the forest in peace if it were not for your actions. You have dishonored me and you have not kept your promise to me. Why are we out here Frothay, is it to kill or save lives? Do you think I want any more deaths on my account? I just want this madness to stop,” the wind through the trees seemed to accuse him as it whispered to him.

    “Tell me what it is you want me to do Soolayinna,” Frothay pleaded. “I would do whatever you ask of me, you know that.”

    “Stop the killing Frothay. It is time to put an end to the war. Only then can you bring me honor and fulfill your promise to me and care for our daughter. Only after the war is over can our love find meaning. What you are doing now is slowly destroying yourself and it tears my heart out to see you this way. You are not the hard-shell I came to love.”

    There was nothing Frothay could say. He knew that Soolayinna’s ghost spoke the truth. He folded his claws back over his shell, tears filled his eyes, and he began to sob silently to himself. How could he have dishonored her and himself? How did he get so far out of control? He wanted to stand up and fling the guns stuck under his shell from himself, but in a war that was unwise. Never again would he carry a gun without good cause he vowed to himself. “Remember, I shall always love you my love,” the wind whispered to Frothay as he found new strength in his love for Soolayinna as he fell asleep.

    Saralashaw watched as Frothay fell into a deep sleep. It was hard for her to know what the hard-shells were thinking, but she thought this one would be ok. She could not help being touched by his feelings for the healer Soolayinna. She dropped down toward Frothay; the sleep dust had done its work. She had covered the leaves of the branches with sleep dust that blocked Frothay’s path earlier. Saralashaw found herself wishing someone loved her as deeply as Frothay loved Soolayinna as she ran her hand over his shell. Quickly she made a trail marker that would help Frothay get his bearings. It would not do to be around when Frothay woke up. Saralashaw was not sure how effective the sleep dust was on hard-shells. Clearly they had some resistance and this hard-shell may have been a special case. Still, this was a good healing and she did not want to take any chances that might screw it up. She would watch from a distance to make sure he was not disturbed. Funny how sleep in the end seems to be the universal cure-all, Saralashaw thought as she settled down on a branch far above the hard-shell Frothay.

    

    Bantan was very surprise to see Frothay, much less see him in his right-mind. “You look good Frothay, I mean that. Compared to when I last saw you, you have much better color, really you do. Are you ok now my brother?” he asked.

    “I’m fine now Bantan. I’m just a little disorientated, where are we exactly?” Frothay asked.

    “About a day out from the hive straight line, two if you follow the red brothers,” Bantan replied pointing in the direction of the hive with his claw.

    “Let’s make for the hive then. We will finish off PaTouan and his army there.”

    “I feel I should remind you that we are still out numbered by PaTouan’s army.”

    “Yes, but the hive is heavily armored with more than a hundred heavy guns in protected positions. We will let PaTouan have a few days of peace. That will be worse than having brothers killed on a daily basis. He’ll go nuts wondering what we are up to. Meanwhile, we will be making any last moment preparations to defend the hive that is needed. Once PaTouan commits his army to attacking the hive we will come in behind and trap him between the hive and us,” Frothay said.

    “His army could scatter on us,” Bantan said.

    “As long as we kill PaTouan it won’t matter. His army is on the verge of deserting him now. One more push and we will not have to kill PaTouan. The red brothers will do it for us when they surrender if we chose our words well,” Frothay replied.

    “We should leave a few people to keep an eye on PaTouan just in case.”

    “Certainly, it wouldn’t do to have any surprises now would it?”

    “It feels so good to have you back and in your right mind. I’m not cut out to be a leader. Did Saralashaw ever find you?”

    “No, why?”

    “Lady Ishihari and Tragal sent her out to stop you and bring you in before you could do any more harm to yourself,” Bantan said

    “Well, she never found me. I imagine she’ll catch up to us in time if she’s looking for me. Let’s get going, we’ve got a lot to do,” Frothay said.

    

~~~

    

    Tangoral went out alone to meet his adopted father leaving his army with Doesen in charge. “It is truly good to see you again my son. How goes the war?” Zothor asked as they greeted each other. Zothor was accompanied by a small army.

    “We’re winning of course, but we have not put a big enough dent in KaZanna’s army to stop him. Nothing short of a miracle will stop him from overrunning the dwelling. PaTouan and his army are nearly finished. CaSanna is dead and his army has surrendered. Our dwellings in the west have not had to destroy their crops yet. Yoeith sent half his army to aid us and took the remainder of his army north to help retake the cities if needed,” Tangoral replied. “Reinforcements will not reach us it time to save the dwelling I fear. Mother tells me they expect to be attacked at anytime. They will evacuate all but the soldiers that will defend the dwelling tomorrow morning.”

    “Can we reach them in time?”

    “No, and even if we did there is not enough brothers here to make a difference.”

    “Any chance that the dwelling can hold out until help arrives?”

    “There is always a chance. If they can hold off the initial attack then KaZanna will have to lay siege to the dwelling. I’m sure he is capable of making more ammo if needed but he lacks the ammo at present to surround us and bombard the dwelling endlessly.”

    “KaZanna will still try that if he cannot take the dwelling. At first he will not care that he will run out of ammo. Only after he is nearly out of ammo will he think to make more,” Zothor said.

    “That makes it all the more important for the dwelling to hold out. Surrounded and out of ammo KaZanna might surrender even though we have a much smaller force,” Tangoral said. He pulled the headset microphone he was wearing down in front of his mouth. “This is Tangoral calling home,” he said into the microphone.

    “This is home Tangoral,” came the reply in Tangoral’s ear.

    “Who is this?” Tangoral asked.

    “Ommaro, I’ve got the duty today,” was the reply. To Zothor it seemed like his adopted son was talking to himself but he knew otherwise. He understood what the headset Tangoral was wearing was even if he did not understand how it worked.

    “Ommaro, the dwelling must be held until reinforcements can arrive if at all possible. Seal all the security doors and man all the gun stations now. If we can hold the dwelling we can force KaZanna to use up his remaining ammo. Reinforcements are two or three days away at the most. If you can hold out until then we can finish this.”

    “We’ll try our best to keep KaZanna busy until you can get here.”

    “Good, Tangoral out.” Tangoral folded the microphone back up against the headset. “Ommaro said they will try and hold KaZanna’s attention for as long as they can,” he told Zothor.

    “Good, we should try and get there as soon as possible,” Zothor said. “Who else can you talk to with that thing?”

    “Yoeith when he has his satellite uplink set up and the home in the Great Swamp through the guardian. There is another guardian online but it’s too far from any of our armies to be of any use to us right now. I could move that guardian unit in position to support Adreeum if needed,” Tangoral replied. “I think I will move that unit. It would enable us to communicate with the clan leader in real time.” Tangoral flipped down the microphone once more and began talking into it.

    

~~~

    

    A lot of scientists began running for their lives when the great metal sculpture began to move. The guardian had watched the actions of the Brachyura for a while now. The sentinel program had concluded that they posed no threat to the power station and allowed them to continue their studies uninterrupted as instructed, until now. For now the guardian’s only problem was trying to avoid stepping on the Brachyura as they ran before him on top of the dam.

    

~~~

    

    Silently in the night a hundred well camouflaged red brothers closed on the dwelling. Their first attempt to gain entrance to the dwelling failed as they bounced off the window wall doors and windows in the early morning. Quickly explosives were brought out and placed against the walls next to the entrances. The element of surprise was lost long before the red brothers could circumvent the doors. The alarm was sounded when they first tried to gain entrance to the dwelling. The explosions only served to punctuate the alarm. The primary goal of the red brothers’ attack was to take the armory. Secondary, was the capture of Lady Ishihari.

    Fighting was fierce as the blue soldiers fought to protect the escape routes and get the non-combatants out of harms way. It seemed all too easy for the red brothers to gain the armory level. A single blue brother guarded the armory entrance. Six heavy gun fired at him as he lay there calmly watching the red brothers make their way down the hall. The explosion tore great chunks from the walls and ceiling. When the smoke cleared the blue brother was still there. The blue brother stood up and opened up the slot in the window wall before him. There was a popping sound and a moment later the red brothers were all dead. The blue brother closed the slot back up and settled back down onto the floor to wait for the next group of red brothers to show up.

    

    Ishihari and those with her had to pass dangerously close to the fighting to reach an exit point. The fighting had blocked their initial escape route. “Quickly this way,” she yelled to the others as she raced back the way she had come. Those with her were mostly sisters and women with their soldier escorts. Molaythea followed along behind her as she raced down the hallway. She reached a small chamber where several hallways came together. She could hear the sound of fighting coming closer. “Hurry, it’s clear here now but it won’t be for long.” The others reached her about the same time a red brother appeared in a hallway before her.

    The red brother seemed all too pleased with himself. “Don’t anybody move,” he commanded. “The first one to move dies.”

    Molaythea did not freeze as the others did. Her weight crushed Ishihari to the floor as she launched herself at the red brother over the top of Ishihari. The red brother did the only thing he could do, he fired both guns. Both rounds caught Molaythea in the chest and exploded, but stalkers are tough and she kept coming. Franticly the red brother tried to reload as Molaythea pounced on top of him. His eye poles were the first to go as she ripped them from the front of his shell as she landed on him. Within in a blink of an eye several legs and a claw dangled broken from both sides of his shell and Molaythea began to rip the top shell off the red brother as he flopped around trying to save himself. It was a horrible thing to see. Life’s blood poured from Molaythea’s chest and mingled with that of the red brother’s. It was all over in less than a time part. Molaythea lay dead on top of the red brother.

    Blue soldiers pushed their way past the others and raced down the hall the red brother had come down. “Lady Ishihari, we have to keep going,” one of the soldiers said.

    “We can’t just leave her here,” Ishihari said as tears filled her eyes. Molaythea had long become more than just the family pet.

    “There is no time; I must get you and the others to safety. Let us not waste her sacrifice.” The soldier began to push Ishihari toward the exit and the hallway the others were already running down. Ishihari took one last look at Molaythea before she turned and followed the others.

    

    The main body of KaZanna’s army arrived at midday. As the army rushed the dwelling the gun stations that had remained silent open fired on the advancing army. Even though many of the red brothers reached the safety of the lower levels of the dwelling they were unable to silence the gun stations. As the fighting continued into the evening the armory still had not been taken nor had any of the upper levels. As night fell most of the red army that was still outside retreated out of range of the heavy guns still firing at them. The red soldiers inside the dwelling set up to hold their positions within the dwelling and wait for daybreak to renew the fighting.

    

    “Report,” KaZanna told the red soldier before him.

    “Except for the armory and the medical center we have control of all the lower floors,” the soldier said. “Most of the upper levels where they have those damn guns have been sealed off. We’ll have to blast through in the morning. We killed only about eighteen of the blue brothers before they gave up the lower levels and sealed themselves in the upper levels. On the other claw we have lost nearly a thousand brothers trying to take the dwelling. That’s just a guess of course, we don’t yet have an accurate count of our dead and wounded.”

    “How is it that we have control of all the lower levels but haven’t been able to take the armory?” KaZanna asked.

    “Whatever the windows in this dwelling are made of they are resistant to our guns. The whole armory is made of that stuff. We can’t shoot through it and everyone that’s tried has died,” the soldier replied.

    “Tomorrow we’ll surround the dwelling to make sure no one can escape. We may not be able to shoot through those windows but we can shoot through the walls. In the morning I want you to start fires on the lower levels while we sit outside trying to punch holes in the walls around those gun positions. Maybe we can burn them out. If they don’t come out tomorrow, we may have to starve them out or blow the whole dwelling out from underneath them. In any case if you find my mate or the Lady Ishihari I want them brought to me alive is that understood?” KaZanna did not think it would be easy to take Zothor’s dwelling, but he did not think it would be this hard either.

    “Yes Clan Leader, I understand,” the soldier said before he turned to leave.

    “They were unable to destroy their fields before we got here. Send some brothers out to gather what food they can,” KaZanna said. Good food would boost the sagging morale of his army.

    

    “Doesen what do we do?” a soldier asked as the small army of blue soldiers and tree people watched the dwelling being invaded.

    “I don’t know,” Doesen replied still in shock by what he was seeing.

    “We have to do something.”

    “They’ll go for the fields next,” Doesen said after a while. “They’ve been on short rations for a long time now. They’re hungry; they will go for the fields. We’ll split into four groups. Some of us will start making fire bombs. Another group will go to the fields and use what fire bombs we have left. Snipe anyone trying to get into the fields we can’t burn. The rest of us will start trying to clear the red brothers out of the trees.”

    “I thought the plan was to let KaZanna overrun the dwelling,” a soldier standing next to Doesen said.

    Doesen watched as an innumerable amount of tracers streaked to and from the dwelling in all directions. He wondered how many friends and brothers had died. “I guess the plan has changed. It looks like we are going to try and hold the dwelling,” he replied.

    

~~~

    

    “I need you to move to the base of the tree where we can camouflage you,” Frothay said to the guardian.

    “Commands to move this unit can only come from Tangoral,” Sentinel replied.

    “If we do not move you, you will become one of the first targets that PaTouan and his army will destroy.”

    “This unit is more than capable of defending itself.”

    “I’m counting on that, but I need to be able to control your use of force and the timing in which that force will be used. I need to be able to select your targets when you do fire on PaTouan and his army.”

    “Only Tangoral can order this unit to do as you ask.”

    Frothay kept running into the same wall with Sentinel. It would not do anything without Tangoral’s ok, and Tangoral was a long ways from where Frothay was right now. Sorgarlac walked over to stand next to Frothay. “Problems?” he asked.

    “The damn thing won’t move without Tangoral telling it to,” Frothay replied.

    “Did you ask Tangoral?” Sorgarlac asked.

    “How, Tangoral’s at least 8 days away from here,” Frothay replied somewhat frustrated.

    “Sentinel, can you talk with Tangoral now?” Sorgarlac asked the guardian.

    “Yes, he is within the range of this unit’s communication system,” Sentinel replied. Tangoral could have been on one of the three moons and he still would have been within the guardian’s communication range, but Sentinel did not mention that.

    “Frothay would like to talk with him.”

    There was a moment of silence before the guardian spoke again in Tangoral’s voice. Frothay was more than a little startled. “Tangoral?” he ventured a reply.

    “Yes, I’m rather busy Frothay, what do you want,” Tangoral’s voice boomed from the guardian.

    “I need Sentinel to do what I tell him to do. He won’t budge right now without your ok. PaTouan will reach the home tomorrow. I need total control over Sentinel so he won’t fire before I want him to and I need to be able to select his targets to minimize the loss of life.”

    “It might take a few moments but I’ll take care of it,” Tangoral said. “Anything else?”

    “No,” Frothay replied.

    

~~~

    

    “Trouble?” Zothor asked after Tangoral slowed his pace, flipped down the headset’s microphone and began talking into it.

    “Just a small problem with the guardian unit at the home in the Great Swamp,” Tangoral replied. “Sentinel,” he said into the microphone. “I need you to give over control of the guardian unit to Frothay.”

    “That is a violation of the sentinel program,” the voice in his ear said. “I cannot give control of a guardian unit to a Brachyura.”

    “I am not equipped to remotely control the unit from here. The unit will be firing on Brachyura targets only so I don’t see the problem. Frothay simply wants to control which Brachyura targets are to be fired on. Lockout manual control, voice command only, that way you can override commands to fire on non-Brachyura targets. Do what he asks otherwise. He is only trying to protect my home and minimize the damage that the guardian unit may sustain when the red Brachyura attack my home. If the sentinel program has a problem with that, delete the program, and give Frothay control over the guardian unit anyway.”

    “The sentinel program will allow Frothay control over the guardian unit within the perimeters you just defined,” Sentinel said after a moment.

    “Good,” Tangoral said as he flipped the microphone back up. “When we become technologically advanced we should try and avoid creating machines that think they are smarter than us.

    “Why?” Zothor asked.

    “Because sometimes they won’t do what you tell them to do because they think they know better than you. It doesn’t occur to them that there are special cases where their brand of logic doesn’t apply,” Tangoral replied. “Then you find yourself trying to find a way around their logic and sometimes that takes time. In cases where lives hang in the balance and time is not something you have, it can be a real problem.”

    “I see,” Zothor said even though he didn’t. He didn’t see how a machine could think for itself. There were other things about his son that he did see, many changes, changes for the better. They had come a long way in a very short amount of time, Zothor was thinking, too short of a time. He wished he could have gone slower and then he wished that they could go slower as Tangoral picked up the pace again.

    

~~~

    

    “I think we’ve held the dwelling for as long as we can hold it without a terrific loss of life,” Grizzon said. “We should seal ourselves up now and wait for help.”

    “We still hold the armory, the medical center, and all the upper floors of our dwelling,” Tragal said. “It would be a shame to give all that up to the red brothers without a fight.”

    “Our last instructions were to hold the dwelling and keep KaZanna shooting at us so he uses up his ammo before our reinforcements can arrive,” Ishihari said. “So hold it we will.”

    “They could blow the whole dwelling out from under the new upper levels and not silence the upper level gun platforms. We will evacuate anyone left in the dwelling and seal off the new upper levels. Then after KaZanna has used up a lot of his ammo we’ll put on what few remaining protective armor suits we have and go out and keep KaZanna busy until help arrives,” Tragal said.

    “Put on your armor now and retake the lower floors. We can reduce the chance that KaZanna will try to blow up the dwelling if we hold the whole dwelling,” Ishihari said.

    “Now?” Grizzon and Tragal asked in unison.

    “Right now,” Ishihari replied. “The red brothers below us are very tired and very hungry. They could also be low on ammo. They’re under cover; they think that they’re safe. They’re starting to get comfortable for the night in our beds. They’re uninvited guests, throw them out.”

    “Right now?” Tragal asked again.

    “Right now. And Tragal, don’t go beyond the confines of our dwelling. The gun platforms will have orders to shoot anything that moves outside our dwelling,” Ishihari said.

    

    High up in the tree all traces that any construction had gone on outside of the tree had long been removed. Camouflaged doors, invisible in the side of the tree, were all that remained. Inside the tree, in the hive, was where many of the dwelling’s most important secrets were kept. The armored suits were just one of those secrets. They were the state of the art experimental models. Six third generation armored suits with modifications and two forth generation suits of armor. This was Tragal’s forth new suit that he would be testing. Each suit looked like a bush or a pile of leaves caught in a whirlwind; leaves floating in crystal amber. The two forth generation armored suits sat apart from the others. It took several brothers working for more than sixty time-parts to strap and glue Tragal and the others into their armored suits.

    Tragal looked at the other suit of armor still sitting on its stand, the Lady Ishihari’s suit of armor. Tragal wondered what kind of gizmos Tangoral had put in his mother’s suit considering all the gizmos that were in his suit. The extras of the forth generation suits of armor were night vision goggles set into the armor, mirrored surfaces on the inside of the armor on all the areas that would not block vision. This gave the suit of armor’s camouflage the look of depth that wasn’t really wasn’t there. Then there was the video communications system with the other seven suits of armor, one of the things Tangoral brought back with him from the ancient city. It was what Tangoral called a military version of conference calling with videophones that could see in the dark and then there was the new shock absorbing padding to cushion the impact of exploding shells on the armor. An improved internal weapons bay was one of the better improvements. More room to move one’s hands around in and better ammo storage were the main features. When you talked firepower this suit had it. Four clip fed guns and a rocket launcher that could fire twenty 60mm rockets. Last but not the least of the new major improvements was the button marked: Weapon of Last Resort. Warning: Can cause blindness. Close all eyes before using. Tragal wondered what that button did.

    His guns were the new and improved models as well. Two of the new small guns and two improved heavy guns adapted to being clip fed with rifled barrels for greater range and accuracy. He had two clips, twenty rounds, of the new ammo that had been dubbed “killer rounds” by some of the other soldiers. They were bullets for a heavy gun so they could shoot through the window walls. Basically these bullets didn’t explode on impact. They embedded themselves in the tree sap before exploding. When tree sap exploded in this manner it was found that the sap acted as a catalyst accelerating the explosion. This all came out of trying to find a way to shoot through the window walls and led to a whole new kind of fire bomb. Incase a small amount of explosive in tree sap and you had an explosive device ten times more powerful than the explosive alone. Make the bullets that way and you could turn even a light gun into a gun with the firepower of a cannon or a rocket. Small claw held bombs dropped from above were one of the most effective uses of this new but very lethal technology. Rockets were the best in terms of optimum size and delivery for their newest and most terrifying weapon. A weapon they had yet to use. A weapon he’d soon get to field test.

    

    Secret doors swung silently open all over the dwelling and high in the tree. A moment later they closed again. Seven blue brothers in body armor began the task of driving out several hundred red brothers from their dwelling and the tree. A battle quickly ensued and just as quickly turned to panic as the red brothers began to try and flee from an unstoppable foe. Caught between the blue brothers on the inside, and the guns outside, one group of red brothers took out one of the large windows and used it as a shield to block the entrance of the room they were in. It was a mistake that was short lived. Tragal simply changed out the clips in his heavy guns for the clips with the killer rounds in them. Two bullets were enough. The window exploded. What red brothers that weren’t killed by the explosion were blown out of the dwelling well in range of the gun platforms. Next time, I only need one bullet, Tragal thought as he picked himself up off the floor, his ears still ringing.

    

    Since the outbreak of the fighting in the dwelling KaZanna had watched the night’s activities from a safe distance. He was suddenly taken back by a huge explosion. A gigantic fireball rose up and away from the dwelling leaving a large hole in the side of the dwelling. Streams of tracers from the top of the dwelling lit up the night as the gun platforms open fired on the red brothers trying to escape the dwelling. KaZanna wondered what could have caused an explosion of that magnitude. Indeed it would be a long sleepless night for everyone. Doesen took the fighting in the dwelling as a signal and attacked KaZanna’s camp during the confusion. Morning found the blue brothers in total control of the dwelling and the red brothers more hungry, beat up, and tired than ever. Nearby fields had been burned and to try and reach the outer fields was to risk life and limb. KaZanna ordered his soldiers to surround and open fire on the dwelling at first light.

    Midday brought new problems as reports of low ammo supplies started to come into KaZanna. The blue brothers had begun to burn the out lying fields and snipers plagued the red soldiers throughout the day. As active as the dwelling was the night before they were just as silent all day. That worried KaZanna until he realized what the blue brothers were up to. By evening the red brothers had stopped firing on the dwelling and began to settle in for the night eating the last of their meager supplies. Despite reports to the contrary KaZanna thought that if he could just contain the blue brothers until PaTouan could destroy the hive and return to reinforce him. Then he’d be able to destroy Zothor’s dwelling once and for all.

    

~~~

    

    Even with the seat removed the compartment at the top of the guardian was still too small for Frothay to fit in comfortably. It was made more for someone like one of the tree people than for a Brachyura. Frothay could barely move inside the compartment but then he did not need to move about. He only needed to see out and talk, Sentinel would do the rest. When they had finished camouflaging the guardian it looked like part of the base of the tree. Once that job was done, the only thing left to do was wait for PaTouan to attack. Frothay knew how to wait. He had a lot of practice during the past cycle of the sun. His small army was circling around to get in behind PaTouan’s army and cut off their escape route. Everything was ready. He would bring great honor to Soolayinna this day, he thought as he looked out the compartment’s windows. Sentinel would warn him if anything was coming. Frothay closed his eyes and went to sleep.

    

    PaTouan was grateful for the respite whatever the reasons. No one had died during the last two days and that seemed like a miracle. That also worried PaTouan. He wondered what happened to cause the blue brothers to withdraw and leave off the constant harassment. Did they go to help when KaZanna attacked the dwelling or were they somewhere ahead preparing one final trap? If the latter was the case PaTouan knew he would never live to see his home again. Everything had gone wrong from the moment they began this war. The heavy guns proved useless against an invisible enemy that may have had fewer numbers but were better armed and better prepared than his entire army. If he had it to do over again he would have brought rockets and canons he reflected as he walked along the soggy ground. Perhaps it would have been better if he had never listened to KaZanna in the first place. Perhaps, he should have even killed KaZanna for the good of the brotherhood, but it was too late for that now. It was too late to do anything but to continue on.

    His soldiers were a little jumpy but in good spirits otherwise. He was able to do some hunting during the last two days. Food was still in short supply but his soldiers were no longer hungry. Still, the long march had taken its toll on everyone. More than four thousand brothers had died from his army alone. What had sounded so easy had become a living nightmare and PaTouan desperately wanted a way out of the predicament he found himself in. Not just for himself, but for the brothers that had so faithfully followed him these many seven-days.

    PaTouan wondered about CaSanna. He had heard the rumor that his whole army had been destroyed but rumors were as prolific as the trees. The one rumor he was trying to keep quite was the one about the destruction of all the clan’s dwellings. Another rumor was that all the cities were in the Blue Brotherhood’s claws and that nothing remained of their armies there. PaTouan wondered where all the rumors came from given the fact that that they had not heard any real news about anything since the war began and he started this long march.

    

    “Enemy Brachyura are approaching. All weapons online. Awaiting your command,” Sentinel said. Frothay woke up taking in the time of day. It was morning. He had long since gone over to the tree dwellers’ concept of time. An unhurried pace where a moment could last a moment or most of the day. He simply noted what part of the day he woke up in; in the same manner he’d take note of a flower that caught one of his eyes.

    “Where are they?” Frothay asked.

    “They are just out of range moving slowly toward us. It is a three prong attack. Two small groups to the left and right and the main body of the army is coming straight at this position. They are coming both along the ground and in the lower levels of the trees. Behind them is another group following high in the trees. They are too far away to determine their identity at present. Possible reserves,” Sentinel replied.

    “Not likely. It’s probably Bantan with our army coming in behind PaTouan’s army. To gain the advantage he would want to get above the highest of PaTouan’s soldiers,” Frothay told Sentinel. “We will let them open fire first. Only a few of the total guns of the home will return fire at first. The only ammo they have is what each soldier is carrying. We want them to waste as much ammo as possible shooting at the home at first. If they start getting too close all the home’s guns will open fire. Once we become fully engaged here Bantan and those with him will begin to open fire on PaTouan clearing the red brothers out of the trees first.”

    “Do you intend to use this unit?”

    “Yes, but much later or if it looks like they may overrun the home. I’m hoping not to use you until PaTouan realizes he has been trapped. Then when I do use you I’m hoping that a display of your firepower will convince PaTouan that it is better to surrender than to die.”

    “You’re hoping to cause them to use up all their ammunition before your soldiers surround them and once surrounded make the choice to surrender the only option and thereby reducing the possible casualties to your own soldiers,” Sentinel said.

    “Something like that,” Frothay replied.

    

    PaTouan was feeling much better now that things were going right for a change. Once everyone was in range they would open fire on the hive. It seemed that they had yet to be detected by those in the hive. PaTouan doubted that though. This was by far the largest and strangest looking hive that he had ever seen. It looked like a great bundle of leaves in the middle of a most unusual tree. The hive started much closer to the ground than any hive he knew of and was taller than any hive ever recorded. PaTouan suddenly had a horrible thought. A hive this size must have more than a thousand tree dwellers living in it and he was about to make them all very angry.

    “Everyone is in position Councilor,” a soldier said snapping PaTouan out of his line of thought.

    “Give the signal to fire at will,” PaTouan said. A moment later thousands of heavy guns opened fired all at once and continued to bombard the hive waiting for the signal to advance on the hive again.

    

    Bantan had met Saralashaw as he came in behind PaTouan and his army. She was not alone. Saralashaw had thirty green brothers in full body armor with her. When two groups split off from the main body of PaTouan’s army he sent ten of the green brothers to follow them. Five green brothers for each group. He also sent a proportional group of his own soldiers with the green brothers to follow the red brothers that had split off from the main body of their army. They were to wait for the signal before engaging the red brothers.

    

    Thousands of tracers streaked toward the hive and it was several time parts before they responded. The return fire was light and mostly ineffective. That was a very encouraging to PaTouan. He would bombard the hive for a while before he gave the signal to advance. Thousands of tree dwellers did not come pouring out of the hive as he had feared and that was another good sign. He was beginning to think KaZanna was right. Destroy the hive, destroy Zothor’s dwelling, and they might just be able to win the war after all.

    The pounding he was giving the hive should have had some effect, PaTouan thought. He could see some minor fires that the guns from his soldiers had started but the fires were quickly extinguished almost as soon as they were started. Beyond that PaTouan might as well have ordered his soldiers to shoot at a tree for all the effect they were having on the hive. As the return fire from the hive was still light and not real effective he ordered his soldiers to advance on the hive. He and his army had covered more than half the distance to the hive when the gun fire from the hive became much heavier and much more accurate. “We’re being pinned down,” one soldier complained. Indeed he was right, gun fire from the hive was so heavy it was all they could do just to stay under cover and return fire from time to time. PaTouan knew he was in trouble. He had been drawn in where the hive’s many guns could be more effective. He knew what was coming next and he didn’t have long to wait.

    “They’re behind us and we’re running low on ammo. We can’t stop them from advancing on us. They’re wearing some kind of protective covering and our guns are having no effect on them. It’s like we’re shooting blanks,” a soldier said breathlessly as he came to a halt next to the councilor. “Any chance we had to escape has been cut off. It won’t be long before our brothers in the trees are all dead. You see this?” The soldier held out a small stick with feathers on one end and a sharp metal tip on the other.

    “Yes, what is it?” PaTouan asked not really wanting to hear what it was, it looked like more bad news.

    “These are falling from the trees from time to time. The tips are poisoned. You get hit with one of these, you’re dead. Coming from so high up in the trees they have enough force to go all the way through our shells, top and bottom; not that they need to. You get hit in the leg and you’re just as dead as if it pierced your heart,” the soldier said. “We’re all going to die right here. We’re trapped and we’re not even able to fight back.”

    “We are not going to die here. Pass the word to cease fire. If KaZanna wants to fight the Blue Brotherhood he is going to have to do so alone. We are going home if the blue brothers will let us,” PaTouan said as he striped the guns from his bottom shell.

    

    “The Brachyura have ceased firing,” Sentinel said. “One of the red Brachyura is coming this way and he appears to be unarmed. The structure above us has also stopped firing.”

    “I can see that,” Frothay said. “We should go greet the red brother.”

    The guardian stepped away from the base of the tree. To the red brothers it seemed like the base of the tree had come alive. PaTouan froze; the thing coming toward him was a new kind of terror, a new weapon of the Blue Brotherhood that they had yet to use. PaTouan had no desire to find out what kind of firepower that thing had. He simply held his claws out in submission and prayed he wouldn’t die before he could beg for the lives of the brothers that were with him. “What do you want?” it asked. The voice of the thing boomed like thunder. PaTouan wanted to run away but he kept walking forward.

    “I wish to discuss terms,” PaTouan replied.

    “No terms. You will surrender or die,” the thing replied as it walked toward PaTouan.

    “What do you want us to do? We will do whatever you want us to do.”

    “You will bring all of your guns and lay them before me. Then we will decide what to do with you all.”

    To do what the thing asked would only make it easier for the blue brothers to kill them all. PaTouan saw no other choice. They would all be killed anyway. “We will do as you ask. If you let my brothers live I will…”

    “Silence! When you have done as we ask then we will determine whether or not you should be destroyed for the good of the brotherhood. You chose to start this war and while we did not wish to fight with our brothers you forced us into this position. So now you must pay the consequence for your actions. It is too late to turn back. It may be determined that you should be destroyed to set an example for the other brotherhoods so that none will ever again follow in your steps. Now call your brothers and tell them to bring their guns and place them before me or go back and we can resume fighting. Choose what it is you will do, but choose now!

    “I must have some assurances that some of us will live or it would be better to keep fighting in hopes that some of us will escape.”

    The guardian’s response was to open fire on one of the red brothers’ position. Rockets, guns, and beams of light swept the area. When the demonstration was over nothing was left alive. Rockets and guns PaTouan understood but the beams of light were something quite beyond him. The beams of light cut through anything. Young trees as thick as a claw lay scattered on the ground everywhere along the path the light had passed. The beams of light sliced through the giant tree roots and the brothers hiding behind them. They might as well have been standing out in the open for all the good it did to hide behind the roots. “Surrender or die,” the guardian demanded again.

    PaTouan knew he could not fight against this thing. There was no chance. With this strange new weapon the blue brothers could put an end to him and all the brothers with him in a time part or two. To fight when there was some hope of survival was one thing, but to fight when there was no hope was a waste of life. To surrender was his only chance for survival for himself and his brothers. “We surrender,” PaTouan said. The blue brothers had been a step ahead of him every step of the way. PaTouan wondered if this was how CaSanna ended up as he settled to the ground and placed his claws on top of his shell in submission. The red brothers behind him began to come out into the open striping their guns from their shells as they stood up.

    

~~~

    

    Three days had passed and still there was no sign of PaTouan and his army. KaZanna was beginning to worry. They were out of food and all most out of ammo. The blue brothers had burned the last of their fields to keep them out of his claws. Snipers harassed them day and night. The guns in the dwelling proved to have greater range than his own guns and so he had to pull back beyond the effective range of their guns and his. The good side of that was they no longer wasted ammo shooting at the dwelling. “I have six thousand soldiers you think I could take one little dwelling,” KaZanna said to himself as he paced the floor of his tent alone. “This is all Zothor’s fault. I wouldn’t have any trouble destroying the Blue Brotherhood if it weren’t for him.” KaZanna raged against the world and all the problems and failures he had suffered placing the blame, not on himself where it belonged, but on Zothor his age-old enemy. KaZanna was indeed quite mad and the last few days had pushed him further over the edge. A soldier entered his tent interrupting his tirade. “What?” he snapped.

    “Clan Leader, we have received word that PaTouan…” the soldier began to say.

    “Good, PaTouan has arrived,” KaZanna said interrupting the soldier before he could finish his report.

    “No Clan Leader, PaTouan has surrendered. He is now a prisoner of the Blue Brotherhood and his army was disarmed, given food, and sent home.”

    “How could that be, he had an army of ten thousand of our finest soldiers?” KaZanna asked in disbelief.

    “I am told that the blue brothers laid a trap for him. They pinned him down and surrounded his army. Thousands were killed. Less than half of his army remains. I’m told that the blue brothers used a strange new weapon that killed more than a thousand brothers in the blink of an eye. Rather than see his army totally destroyed PaTouan surrendered and begged for the lives of the brothers with him. The remains of PaTouan’s army passed by us on their way home a little while ago. They were instructed by the blue brothers not to stop. Nor would they share the food with us that the blue brothers gave them unless we threw down our weapons and returned home with them. Some of our brothers did just that. I’m told the blue brothers’ new weapon is on its way here and will be here soon,” the soldier replied.

    “That means all the forces of the Blue Brotherhood will converge on us,” KaZanna said. “We have to retake the dwelling now before they arrive.”

    

    It had been a long time since she had seen her mate. Ishihari spent most the night with Zothor in his claws catching up on all that had happened so far. She drew a lot of strength from him and until now she never realized how much. Now that he was here everything would be just fine. News of PaTouan’s surrender meant that the end of the war was that much closer. It also meant that KaZanna would make one last try to overrun the dwelling. Tragal, Ommaro, Grizzon, and others were busy preparing new surprises for KaZanna and his soldiers throughout the night

    After returning with Zothor, Tangoral went out to find Moog. A shunail twice the size of the dwelling would scare the red brothers to death. Ishihari still found it hard to believe that the shunails were intelligent creatures capable of speech and reason even if they were really slow in communicating their thoughts. Tangoral assured her that Moog bore no ill will that the Brachyura raised and ate their young. She even asked Moog how he felt about what they did to the baby shunails. Moog’s answer was that they are all part of the Great Circle of Life and that even thought they ate many of the young ones as Moog called them, they also saved many. Life was very hard and more often than not very short in the Great Swamp. Without help many would not even live to hatch out of their eggs. Moog knew very few of his kind that had not lived among the Brachyura for a time. Because of this Ishihari’s faith in God grew as she came to understand how everything fit together in the great plan of her Maker. Even the war was not a war between two old enemies but the dying struggle of evil as it attempted to over come good one final time. Darkness cannot exist in the presence of light; it can only hide in the shadows.

    

    “We’ll stick to the plan that Tangoral outlined,” Zothor said. “With the return of the green brothers that gives us an unexpected edge.”

    “Fifty more brothers in body armor, yeah, I say that gives us an edge,” Doesen said. “Are you sure that you don’t want any of the green brothers?” he asked Tragal.

    “This seems to me to be a perfect way to test the new suits,” he replied. “Those who live through the second blast won’t have fighting on their mind. They’ll be standing targets. If Tangoral gets back and you and the green brothers surround them the best you can. They will be trapped with nowhere to run.”

    “Then our only problem will be catching KaZanna,” Zothor said.

    “Probably,” Tragal said.

    “He won’t get away. I have him under constant surveillance,” Doesen said.

    “Part of Yoeith’s army will be here in less than a seven-day. Frothay and his army should reinforce us before then,” Zothor said. “We could hold out until then but I rather get this over now. Let’s take everything out and use it if we haven’t already. Tragal, I’ll be up here waiting for your signal to drop the fire bombs.”

    “When you drop yours, I’ll drop mine,” Doesen added. “After that KaZanna shouldn’t have much of an army left.”

    “After that they should be more than willing to surrender,” Zothor corrected.

    

    Tragal waited within the dwelling. Eight brothers against six thousand red brothers, one final battle to determine the fate of the brotherhood; every weapon new and old would be used this day. How did we ever come to this place in time, he wondered. “Ommaro are you ready?” Tragal asked as he readied his guns.

    “Yes,” came the reply from the speaker set in the armor near one of his ears.

    “Do you have any regrets?”

    “No, well maybe, I shall regret being killed if that is my fate this day. I will regret not growing old with LeTilleantum. If I die today then I will have died with honor defending her and our way of life. What about you Tragal, any regrets?”

    “I have lived a full life. There are a few regrets but they are small things of no real importance. The way I see it, I’m living on borrowed time anyway.”

    “I’ve got some activity over here,” Ommaro reported.

    “Why can’t wars be fought at a decent time of day? Ok everyone, lock and load, this is it. Here they come,” Tragal said into the microphone stuck to his shell below his mouth.

    Tracers lit up the dark of early morning as the gun platforms began to fire on the advancing red brothers as they raced toward the dwelling. The red brothers began firing their guns as they came within range of the dwelling. KaZanna committed all but his personal guards in this attack. Six thousand soldiers raced over the ground and through the lower branches of the trees in an effort to retake the dwelling and silence the guns shooting at them. They had almost reached the dwelling when rockets began streaking through the morning’s first light. Rockets poured out of the dwelling leaving fiery trails behind them as they sought targets in the trees and along the ground.

    “That’s it with the rockets,” Tragal heard Ommaro say.

    “Prepare to fire the shape charges as they get within range,” he ordered as he fired the last of the rocket launchers he had set up in one of the bombed out rooms on the bottom level of the dwelling. “Wait for my order.”

    Even as it looked like his soldiers would be successful in overrunning the dwelling the whole dwelling seemed to explode. KaZanna was taken back by the shear magnitude of the blast. A wall of fire appeared around the dwelling and billowed upward into the trees. When the smoke and fire cleared the dwelling was still there much to KaZanna’s surprise but his army was no longer advancing on the dwelling. A wall of small jagged pieces of metal had exploded outward killing everything in its path. Bodies littered the ground all around the dwelling. The steel shrapnel had done its job all too well.

    Rockets again began streaking toward the red brothers. This time they came from the trees. KaZanna knew his army was beaten even as some of them began to advance on the dwelling again. He was about to take his guards and flee for his life when he heard the sounds of something very big crashing though the forest behind him. When he saw what it was he began to run for his life. He ran not into the forest but towards the dwelling. As if there could be any kind of safety from the thing behind him.

    The giant enraged shunail came to a halt on top of KaZanna’s tent. Its bellows sounded like thunder. The shunail seemed to be as big as a tree. “Is that scary enough?” Moog asked. “I tried to stop sooner but I could not, sorry.”

    “You couldn’t have stopped at a better place Moog and you’re very scary too,” Tangoral said from where he sat on top of the great shunail. “Can you keep scaring them for a while?”

    “Sure, just tell me when to stop,” Moog replied.

    Terrified the red brothers instinctively ran for the safety of the dwelling. They forgot that they were just fighting with the blue brothers. However, the blue brothers had not forgotten. As the red brothers came within range and were on the verge of overrunning the dwelling. Tragal gave the signal to detonate the second set of explosives. The dwelling seemed to explode before the red brothers. Shrapnel flew everywhere.

    When he heard the explosion KaZanna did a nose-dive into the ground. Something hot tore into his left claw and right front leg. The guards in front of him were shredded by the blast. Even as the fireball from the blast began to clear the ground around KaZanna seemed to turn to fire. Firebombs rained down on KaZanna and his soldiers for what seemed like an eternity to KaZanna. After that even the giant shunail was silent and the silence was even more terrifying. KaZanna looked at his right leg. It was bent at an impossible angle. His left claw was useless; part of it was torn away. There was nowhere to run even if he could. KaZanna watched as tracers and rockets streaked toward any pockets of resistance. It was the game all over again and Zothor had won again. KaZanna did the only thing he could do. He striped his guns from beneath his shell and folded his right claw back over his shell to signify he surrendered. The rest of the red brothers that still lived quickly followed their Clan Leader’s example.

    

    The soldiers that surrounded KaZanna parted to let Zothor, Tangoral, and Tangalen through. Zothor just stared at KaZanna. “What made you think that you could do something like this?” he asked after a while.

    “I didn’t do this, you did,” KaZanna replied.

    “I’m the one defending my dwelling here,” Zothor snapped back. “I have every right to destroy you here and now for the good of the brotherhood. So I ask again, what made you do something like this? Do you hate me so much that you’d start a war just to get even? Look around you KaZanna. You had an army of six thousand brothers. I doubt that there are two thousand of your brothers left alive.”

    “It was my mate; she gave you all my secrets. I’d have won if it weren’t for her.”

    “Even before I became a councilor I heard of your plans. It was a simple matter of spying on you properly. I had the only soldiers trained to do just that. You saw what we wanted you to see and you heard what we wanted you to hear. Your mate had little to do with this. Your actions screamed out your secrets to any of those not so caught up in your lies. You’re a simpleminded fool who has to cheat to win, but like a game of judgment, all is fair in war.”

    “Go ahead and kill me then. You won, I lost, it is as simple as that. I played the game and you beat me. So finish me off. Get it over with.”

    “I didn’t beat you KaZanna. I only followed instructions. Once you started this war everything has been out of my claws. A tree dweller, my adopted son Tangoral was given complete control of our armies. It is he who has beaten you. It is his decision if you are to live or die at this time,” Zothor said.

    KaZanna turned his eyes toward Tangoral. “Our clan leader has asked that you not be killed until he has had a chance to talk with you.”

    Sheylmasa pushed his way through the soldiers that had gathered to watch the scene. “This is the hard-shell giving us so much trouble?” he asked.

    “Yes, it is,” Tangoral replied.

    “What a waste of good food,” Sheylmasa said. The some of the blue soldiers around KaZanna laughed when they heard what Sheylmasa said. “Tangoral, you told us that we can’t eat blue hard-shells, how about dead red ones?”

    “What did he say?” KaZanna asked.

    Tangoral looked at Zothor and then looked back at KaZanna. “He asked if he was going to get to eat you or any of your brothers. I don’t know what to tell him. I would say yes, but it’s not up to me,” Tangoral replied looking at Zothor again.

    KaZanna looked sick. The blue brothers that surrounded him looked like they might help the tree dweller. Zothor studied KaZanna for a moment. He could see no regret in his eyes. He wanted KaZanna and his clan to remember what war is all about and he wanted to send a message to the other clans that might try something like this in the future. “We owe the tree dwellers a great deal for their help. We have been known to sacrifice a claw or two in order to survive. Sheylmasa, you may take the claws of the dead and wounded if they must be removed,” Zothor said looking at KaZanna’s claw. KaZanna lost all color as he too looked at his claw. Sheylmasa still thought it was a waste of a lot of meat but then there were so many claws to choose from. He knew he could not possibly cook and eat all the dead hard-shells or their claws anyway, but still, it was a waste of good food.

    KaZanna looked at Zothor. “If you didn’t get your information from my mate, where is she?” he asked.

    Zothor looked to Tangoral to answer the question. “When you took your mate with you we could not see subjecting a sister to the many privations that you would suffer. As your mate was my sister’s friend I took her captive early on in the war to spare her any more suffering at your claws,” Tangoral replied. “She did not go willingly, but I think that she would love to help us cook you when the time comes.” Hearing that did not help KaZanna’s color at all.

    

    Ishihari never thought she would ever use the tree dwellers’ recipe for cooking one of her own kind. It was the only way they would ever be able to feed the eighteen hundred and something surviving red brothers and their own armies also. It made her more than a little ill to think about it. So she tried not to think about it like she tried not to think about the thousands of bodies scattered on the ground around their dwelling like so many dead leaves. There were a lot of things Ishihari tried not to think about as she stirred the stew. If you don’t think about where the meat in the stew came from this is quite good, she thought as she tasted a small spoonful.

    

    A great army shall encompass the children of God, and seek to destroy them, but God will protect his children. God will hear their cries for help and stretch forth his arm of power. The army of God though they be few in number, yet shall they lay waste to the great army of the Evil One. They that survive shall devour the flesh of their fallen for want of food. The children of God shall rejoice. Tangalen could not help but see the literalness of this passage come to life as he read the words of the prophets.

    He remembered the words of the translation of the ancient text that he was working on. The ancients had been far more graphic on this point. A great army shall surround the children of God on every side. His children shall cry out to him in faith and He will hear their cries and strengthen them and give them power over their enemies. The army of God though they are few in number yet shall they destroy the multitudes of the Evil One. The army of the Evil One shall be destroyed in a single moment. They shall be destroyed by fire and smoke. Those that are left alive shall break off the claws of their fallen brothers and devour them for want of food. Great shall be the rejoicing of the children of God in his giving them their victory.

    Tangalen like the simple beauty of the Book of the Prophets of God and the way the words flowed. The translation of the ancients’ Book of the Words and Works of God was far more exact. It left no doubt in the mind of the reader by what God meant by what He said. It seemed to Tangalen that one felt of the spirit of God when reading the ancients’ text but you did not seem to need to develop the discipline you needed to properly understand the Book of the Prophets of God. A discipline that was like bathing in the spirit of God as one read the words of the prophets. Tangalen closed his book and set it gently aside. Now was the time for the gathering to rejoice in the great victory that God had given them.

    

    Dinner was as delicious as ever, but few dared to ask what it was they were eating. Those that did Ishihari assured them that they were not eating the remains of the red brothers. In fact they truly were not eating the red brothers. With only a few tree dwellers attending the gather. There were far less guests than she first thought would be attending the gather. That made it possible to use another meat other than the dead red brothers’ claws. If the meat seemed a little tough it was because it was dried shunail meat that she had re-hydrated. Only one brother ate with the tree dwellers since their victory over the red brothers. That it was Frothay worried Ishihari a little. She had said something to her mate about it and Zothor said he too was worried but there was nothing he could do. She had said something to Tangoral as well but his answer did not do anything to calm her mind.

    Zothor stood after the dinner and held his claws up for silence. “I shall forgo the retelling of the story of our victory,” he said once the noise in the room had subsided. “We owe our victory to Tangoral, Tragal, Frothay, and many others. Some who are with us this night and some who are not. We honor those that gave their life in the service of the brotherhood to maintain our freedoms. To our overall victory we honor my son Tangoral. Without his wisdom and leadership we would not be here today.” Zothor motioned to Tangoral to stand and say something to the brotherhood.

    Tangoral stood and looked out upon the many faces of the brothers and sisters he had come to love and the reason he had fought so hard. “It is right that we should honor those that have died,” he began. “Truly they gave their lives to maintain our liberty and preserve the freedoms that we hold so dear. I cannot however, accept the honor for our victory for it belongs to another.” A murmur ran through the crowd as Tangoral held up his hand for silence so he could continue. “We have fought for the cause of right not for the brotherhood but for God, whose army we are. It is to God to whom we must give honor for our victory, not me. Without his help and aid we would have lost all. Give glory to God who watches over and protects the faithful. I cannot find any glory in the deaths of the many thousands of red brothers that I am responsible for sending to meet their Maker unprepared. It fills my soul with great sorrow, not joy. If you wish to give honor to someone give it to God. I shall ever lift up my voice and give thanks to my God for our victory and that so few of us had to pay the ultimate price in the cause of freedom and in the service of our God.”

    Tangoral bowed his head. “Father we give thanks unto thee for our salvation and our great victory over the armies of the Evil One. Take into your bosom the faithful that have fallen in your cause. Let them live in Thee. We are Thy children; help us to ever follow in Thy steps. Help us to rebuild our lives and our homes. When Thou call we shall answer, “Here am I, ever ready to serve thee.” Again we thank Thee for our salvation and do so in the name of Thy most holy Son. May it ever be so.”

    “May it ever be so,” those at the gather repeated at the end of Tangoral’s prayer.

    “So it shall ever be,” Tangoral finished.

    “Great is our God, and our protector. Who is greater than he,” Zothor said as he stood up next to his son.

    It was so like her son not to take credit for his actions. To Ishihari came another glimpse into what the future held for her son, a future in the service of God. It was a vision that warmed her all over. Tangoral had changed so much since he had come to be her son. She saw the small child that had come to live with Zothor and herself. He had changed so much so fast that Ishihari found herself wishing she could turn back time somehow. Tears filled her eyes in a sad happy kind of way as she looked at her son standing next to her mate. Tangoral looked over at his mother and smiled as tears filled his eyes as well.

    

    High above the dwelling a small child sat sleepily next to a hard-shell. The People of the Trees were celebrating the defeat of the red hard-shell after a fashion. They ate of the flesh of their enemies and they recounted the many brave deeds of the People during the fighting. In their hearts they gave thanks to God for all things. Saralashaw sat across from Frothay in the circle of women. Her rank as healer rated her a place next to Sheylmasa, the leader of the tribe. She chose to sit with the women and just listen to the tales. Frothay was accounted as the greatest of warriors next to Tangoral by many accounts. Frothay chose to down play his roll in defeating the red hard-shells. Still, he sat among the People rather than be with his own kind. Indeed he was a hard-shell in shell only. Of all the hard-shells only he never asked what kind of meat it was that was offered him. It was somewhat amusing to some of the people that the blue hard-shells would turn pale just to think that some of the food they were offered was once one of their brothers.

    Even as Saralashaw watched Frothay he had caught a glimpse of her in the shadows. At first he thought it was Soolayinna and his heart leapt into his throat. Then she moved and the light of the fire lit up her face and a wave of disappointment swept over him. Throughout the rest of the evening one of his eyes would pause as he looked in her direction. When Saralashaw got up to leave Frothay picked up the now sleeping child next to him and excused himself also.

    After he put Molateeia in bed he went out to find Saralashaw. He found her sitting on a branch outside the home. “I knew you would come,” she said without looking at him. “You were watching me all night.”

    Frothay settled down on the branch next to her. “It was you, wasn’t it?” he asked softly.

    “Yes, it was. Ishihari was worried about you,” Saralashaw replied surprised just a little that he had guessed so quickly, but it was not unexpected.

    “Thank you,” Frothay said after a moment.

    “You’re welcome.”

    “How did you do that trick with your voice?”

    “It’s a healer secret Frothay, but it is a talent that I and my brother share.”

    “Teach me.”

    “I could only teach another healer if I chose to share such a secret.”

    “Then teach me to be a healer,” Frothay said.

    “Tangoral, would be a better teacher than I would be,” Saralashaw replied.

    “Perhaps, but he doesn’t have the time to spare. He’s already busy trying to heal the world.”

    Saralashaw had never heard what Tangoral was doing put quite that way. “I suppose you’re right. Now that the war is over my people and I will be returning to our home with the green hard-shells.”

    “Then I will go with you if you will teach me.”

    “Why Frothay, why do you want to become a healer?”

    “To fulfill a promise and because I no longer wish to be a soldier. Already I know much of the healer’s art as it applies to my people, part of being a soldier.” All four eyes studied her closely. “Will you teach me?”

    Saralashaw looked out into the night. “You loved her very much, didn’t you?”

    “I would have died in her place if I could have. There was nothing we would not have done for one another. I died when she did. Yes, I loved her very much.” Tears poured from Frothay’s eyes. “Will you teach me?”

    “Yes, if that’s what you really want.”

    “Thank you, it is,” Frothay said as he stood up.

    Saralashaw traced the lines of Frothay’s right claw with her hand as he stood there. “Good night Frothay. Kiss Molateeia for me.”

    “Good night Saralashaw and thank you again,” Frothay said as he slowly pulled his claw out from under her hand. Saralashaw watched as Frothay walked away. Again she wished that someone loved her as much as Frothay loved Soolayinna. Some part deep inside of her wished she was Soolayinna.

    

    To embrace Tangoral was to embrace the world in which he lived in, a healer’s world. As frightening as it was at first to Ashorah she immersed herself in his world and found she liked it. Once you got use to looking at the hard-shells, they weren’t so bad. Because they could talk that made them absolutely loveable and her favorite was Tangoral’s adopted mother, Ishihari. It was always fun to help her. It never ceased to amaze her when she thought about Ishihari’s capacity to love those around her. She was with Ishihari when Molaythea died. She saw her tears for the great creature. It was fun to help the hard-shells in general though. It helped her to learn more about her soon to be husband’s world.

    It warmed her to know that they would soon give their love to one another. He was the finest husband to be found anywhere, she thought. He was the leader of three tribes and sat in the councils of the blue hard-shells. He had been to the beginning of the world and lived to tell about it and no healer alive could say that. When the blue hard-shells needed to protect themselves from the red hard-shells they called on Tangoral to protect them. It didn’t hurt her pride at all to know that he was the greatest healer ever known. “It’s a New World and it is in need of much healing,” he told her once. Tangoral was indeed the greatest of healers and his heart belonged to her. Soon he would tell the whole world that he belonged to her and that thought made her smile as she watched him stand in the middle of more than three hundred hard-shells. Ashorah reached her hand down and stroked the small sleeping monster beside her. Yes indeed, it was a very strange and wonderful world she found herself in.

    

    KaZanna, minus his left claw, with a spit-sand cast on his right front leg, found himself in one of the upper level gun platforms minus the gun of course. Even the walls of the gun platform mocked him. The walls looked like spit-sand but didn’t react like it. No chance of digging his way out and the guard had on some kind of body armor. Chained to the wall escape was impossible and he knew it. “I’ve brought him his dinner,” a voice at his door said.

    “Be careful Lady KarEena, you know the rules. I am using non-explosive ammo. If you get into trouble just get clear to one side or the other so I can get a clear shot. After that he won’t walk right ever again,” he heard the guard say.

    All his eyes were on the door when it opened. “You,” he hissed when he saw his mate. “You did this to me.” KaZanna lunged at her but forgot the chain that held his right claw. He very nearly pulled his other claw off as he was whipped about by the sudden stop.

    “That’s the trouble, you don’t stop to think,” KarEena said as she set the tray down and pushed it over to him.

    “I didn’t think that you’d spy for them. I’d have won if it weren’t for you,” KaZanna accused her.

    “That’s the trouble with you. When you have problems you give them to someone else to deal with. That way you can blame others for your mistakes,” KarEena replied. “Now here you are chained to a wall for crimes against the brotherhood and you still don’t get it. You’re still looking for someone else to blame. The blue brothers knew everything already and they were a dozen steps ahead of you all the way. This dwelling alone without any help could have stopped your whole army but you gave them the time to make more elaborate plans. They could have stopped you from overrunning the dwelling the first time. I’ve seen the battle plans. Tragal showed them to me. If you had all your soldiers converge on the dwelling he says they wouldn’t have been able to stopped you, but after seeing a small demonstration of what they had planed. I’d say you’d probably have gotten everyone killed. You want to blame me go ahead. I don’t care any more but then I’m not the one chained to a prison wall with a guard in body armor standing outside the door. I can’t say that I went out of the way to hinder their investigations though. I got to see one of their soldiers. The real ones, not the soldiers they showed you. After that I knew your shell was cooked.”

    “Before they built the new dinning hall they replaced your regular table at Syanor’s dinning hall with one of their soldiers disguised as a table,” she continued. “You always liked the best of everything and you ate out a lot. Syanor’s was the best dinning hall with the best food. Anybody that was anybody ate there. You had to let everyone see that you had status. Every step you took was a step closer to where you are right now. Speaking of eating, the tree dwellers aren’t the only ones eating the claws of our dead. The blue brothers didn’t have enough food to feed them and us. You know a claw is pretty good if you know whose it is. I’m looking forward to having you roasted but until then I must appear to be your dutiful mate. So eat up. I hope you choke on your stew.” KarEena turned and walked out. Saralashaw could cook a claw so that it would melt in your mouth. KarEena was indeed looking forward to having KaZanna roasted. Maybe roasted and stuffed with sweet bread. She just wondered which recipe would take him longer to die and still be tasty.

    

    PaTouan watched the final battle from his prison. Unlike KaZanna he was not chained to the wall nor was his guard in body armor. His honor kept him in his prison cell more than the locked door. As he watched the battle he realized that even if everything had gone according to plan and they had won all their battles, and were well supplied, they still would have lost the war when they attacked this dwelling. He had seen much since he’d entered the hive high in the tree. I have seen too much, much too much, he thought. “I’ll be lucky to leave this dwelling alive,” he said to himself. He turned when he heard the door open. “Lady KarEena, you’re alive,” he exclaimed when he saw her standing in the doorway.

    “Of course I’m alive. It’s better to have friends in high places than in low places,” KarEena said as she set the tray with his food down.

    “Did you see what the tree dwellers did to our dead? They cut off all their claws and carried them off to God only knows where,” PaTouan said. “These are your friends in high places.”

    “KaZanna’s soldiers ran out of food two days before the final battle,” KarEena said turning to face him. “This dwelling doesn’t have the resources to feed eighteen hundred surviving red brothers leftover from the six thousand brothers that tried to destroy them. The tree dwellers did for us what we would not do ourselves; not only the claws of our dead, the wounded as well.”

    PaTouan eyed the stew on the tray. “Look what we have done to ourselves Lady KarEena. We never even had a chance of winning this war did we?”

    “Nope, we would have blown it the moment we attacked this dwelling. Zothor’s adopted son led their armies and Zothor guessed KaZanna’s every move. Those two together, we never had a chance. Tangoral is the greatest inventor our age. Zothor is the turn around king himself. That title he won in business and in the Game as one of its great players of all time. Against those two we had KaZanna master of cheating, lying, and any shortcut that will allow him to squirm his way to the top of the pile. How many died just so he could become the clan leader PaTouan? How many have died since?”

    “He was insane. I see that now.”

    “PaTouan, I knew he was insane but that you’re just now finding out scares me. How could you brothers even follow that fool for as long as you did is beyond me. Why did you even listen to KaZanna in the first place? Answer me PaTouan, for you’re just as to blame for this massacre as he is,” KarEena commanded.

    “We all bought a pretty picture of what could be but the reality of what is slapped us down hard,” PaTouan replied cryptically.

    “In about a seven-day you and KaZanna will be sent to stand trial. KaZanna’s fate is already sealed. He will die to appease the dead that cry out for him to join them. You will get a choice as to how you want die, fast or slow. I hope you chose an honorable death. Rather than think about what’s in the stew. Think about who is in the stew instead. In your case, I thought you might like to know who is in your stew,” KarEena said as she turned to go.

    “KaZanna,” PaTouan whispered.

    “No use having you eat some nameless fool that got killed for all his efforts, is there?” PaTouan stared at the food on the tray for quite a while. After a time he tasted the stew. Part of him wanted to gag, another part, his stomach, loved the taste. KarEena was right, it did help to know who it was as he stuffed another spoonful into his mouth.

    

    “You sent for me Clan Leader,” Frothay said as he took note of the others in the clan leader’s office.

    “Yes, I did. Many of your brothers and sisters are worried about you. They have asked me to talk with you and I must admit that I too am a little worried about you. Tangoral says it’s not really any of our business,” Zothor replied.

    “This is a personal matter. It is not the business of one man to tell another what to do,” Tangoral said as he looked at the others in the room. “If you were truly concerned, why did you not take your friend aside and ask if all was well with him? My sister asked me to come to this meeting to keep you from undoing a perfectly good healing.” Tangoral winked at Frothay. “This is none of my concern. It should not be any of yours.”

    “I trust my son’s judgment and trust everything will turn out fine,” Zothor said. “I too did not wish to intrude upon your personal life. Still, your friends are concerned about you and that’s why they are here. If you could take a moment and allay their fears for your wellbeing it would be most helpful to the peace of the dwelling.”

    Frothay stared at Bantan with one of his eyes. “I no longer wish to be a soldier anymore. I made a promise to Soolayinna to take care of her daughter when she died,” he said. “I just can’t be a soldier any more. Why can’t we let it go at that?”

    “Because that in itself could be considered an unhealthy statement from one that has just finished fighting a war,” Tragal said. “You were in the field for more than a cycle before the war. When the healer was killed you lost control of yourself. You did recover in time to defeat PaTouan with no loss of life and only a few injured on our side. Now you say that you just can’t be a soldier any more. With all you’ve been through I can understand why, but like me you’ve been a soldier all your life. What will you do if you’re not going to be a soldier?”

    “I promised Soolayinna I’d take care of her daughter. A healer’s knowledge is passed from generation to generation. I will teach my daughter in the ways of her mother so that her heritage is not lost to her. The rest of my reasons are personal and as Tangoral pointed out, none of your business,” Frothay said. “She didn’t have to die. We could have stopped this war long ago. It didn’t have to go on. We could have killed KaZanna and PaTouan. Instead of stopping this war when I had the chance, I let it go on.”

    “Frothay, if we had killed KaZanna without bringing him to trial then the red brothers would have cause to fight us as their sworn enemies. Then they would have kept coming until we would have had to destroy their whole clan, sisters and all,” Zothor said. “We also had to minimize our causalities. Very few of our brothers were killed as a result of our plan to fight the way we did.”

    “So we had to play the game all the way to the end,” Frothay said.

    “In this game, yes, we did have to play the game out. KaZanna would have kept playing right up to the last point,” Zothor said.

    “There’s more to it than that,” Bantan said. “They didn’t see you go off the deep end like I did. That whole thing with Soolayinna was not right.”

    “Perhaps, but it’s none of your business what went on between us,” Frothay said. “My best friend was killed. I gave the orders that killed thousands of red brothers in a terrible battle. Now you find it hard to believe that I don’t want to be a soldier anymore?”

    “It’s more than that, it’s like you’re turning your shell on your brothers. For heaven’s sake Frothay, you don’t even care if the food the tree dwellers are offering you is a red brother or not,” Bantan said.

    “What if I am? What business is it of yours? Clan Leader, do I need a reason to say I no longer wish to be a soldier?”

    “No.”

    “Do I need to give a reason for why I wish to live somewhere else?”

    “No.”

    “If I don’t have to explain myself to our dwelling clan leader, I don’t have to explain myself to you Bantan. I’m of sound mind…”

    “I question that,” Bantan interrupted.

    “What do you want me to say Bantan?” Frothay asked. “You want me to say that I was in love with Soolayinna. I was, and she with me. That does not make me crazy. The world is changing Bantan. It is offering a whole new way of life we have never known before. I’m sorry that I am choosing a way of life that is distasteful to you, but it’s my life, and I can do with it whatever I want.”

    “Bantan, may I ask you a question?” Tangoral asked.

    “Ask what you will Tangoral,” Bantan replied.

    “You were in the field just as long as Frothay. How are you adjusting to being back in your own dwelling? I only ask because it is rare that I see you down here.”

    “Tangoral, what has that got to do with anything?”

    “I think that you’re finding your dwelling a bit confining and you are having trouble readjusting from all the space you have become accustom to. What happens if you can’t readjust?” Tangoral asked. “It maybe that you will have to embrace our lifestyle as well, but perhaps not as completely as Frothay. You all have the capacity to live in the trees as we do. As the distance between our peoples becomes less and less it might be found that more of you will embrace a life in the trees with the People. Frothay has chosen to embrace our lifestyle to fulfill a promise made to someone he loved very much. The war is over and now we can all go home but the innocents we had before the war is gone forever. Lives forever changed. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were not other soldiers that don’t wish to be soldiers anymore.”

    Zothor looked at Tragal. Tragal nodded his agreement to what Tangoral just said. “Bantan, Tangoral is right,” Tragal said. “Frothay is not the only soldier that we have that wishes a change in vocation. He is the only one we have that knows what he wants to do. The others aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives yet. They just know that they can’t go on being soldiers. It turns out that we are gentle creatures with no real taste for violence. War seems to take all the glamour out of being a soldier.”

    “Clan Leader, if we are done here I’d like to go home,” Frothay said.

    “I think we are done here, however, our clan leader has requested our presence so he may honor us for our heroic efforts on behalf of the clan,” Zothor said.

    “I have no desire to be so honored,” Frothay said.

    “Nor do I, but you are still part of the clan regardless of what you may choose to do with your life. Our clan leader has commanded that we appear before him to be honored. We will leave in a seven-day. As we are to be honored, our families will be accompanying us to the clan gathering in our honor,” Zothor said.

    “As you say Clan Leader,” Frothay said.

   



Library Index The Game of God Chapter 8     —    FOREWORD