“I was fairly sure that’s what we would need. I might have to sit on it a bit to keep it from roaming up out of Crystal Gorge, but it will do what I want it to. What have you come up with to produce this ‘fire unlike any fire we have ever seen’ Enalla’s Dream mentioned?”
“It’s going to be blue, child.”
“‘Swamp-fire,’ you mean?”
“It goes just a bit further than swamps, dear,” Ara said. “The gas that comes out of rotting trees in swamps also lies under the ground in beds of coal. There’s a vast pocket of that inflammable gas in a coal-bed that lies under Crystal Gorge. We’ll want to shatter the rock plate that’s holding the gas in the coal-bed. That’s where the whirlwind comes in. Not only will it push the gas south toward the Wasteland, but whirlwinds create a great deal of lightning, so it’ll ignite that gas, and there’ll be a huge wave of blue fire rushing down toward the Wasteland.”
“You’re going to create another inland sea, I take it,” Balacenia said shrewdly. “The one in Veltan’s Domain was water. The one up here will be fire. Their colors will match, though. Veltan will love that. He adores the color blue.”
“You’re not supposed to make these jumps ahead without letting me know, Balacenia,” Ara scolded her.
“A habit of mine, I suppose,” Balacenia confessed. “I’m very sorry, Mother. Can you ever forgive me?”
The weather had turned cold, and Sorgan Hook-Beak was very grateful for the bison-hide robe Chief Two-Hands had given him to ward off the chill. He squinted up at the bright blue sky just after sunrise. “At least it isn’t snowing yet,” he muttered. He’d been here in the Land of Dhrall for almost a year now, and he still remembered the deep snow that had been piled up on the village of Lattash when he’d arrived there with his fleet.
At least he’d been more or less in charge of things during that first war, but as more and more outlanders arrived here in the Land of Dhrall, he felt that he wasn’t really all that significant anymore.
That didn’t sit too well with him, for some reason.
He decided that he should probably go have a few words with his friend Narasan. There was yet another peculiarity about this part of the world. If someone had told him a few years ago that he would ever be friends with a Trogite, he was sure that he’d have laughed in the fool’s face. Narasan had been a little stuffy right at first, but as the two of them had come to know each other better, that stuffiness had faded away, and they now got along very well together.
“You’re up early, Sorgan,” the dark-haired Trogite noted as Sorgan joined him on the west side of the breastworks.
“Not really,” Sorgan disagreed. “The sun comes up later, that’s all. I’m having a bit of trouble with some of the things the bug-people did when they attacked your first breastwork. I was almost positive that the mud-pit would stop them dead in their tracks, but it didn’t seem to slow them down very much. Of course, the idea of their using their friends as building material to get across that pit never would have occurred to me.”
“That’s probably because we don’t think the way bugs do, Sorgan,” Narasan replied. “It startled me probably even more than it startled you. I’d say that there’s no such word as ‘friend’ in the language of the bugs. What they did sickened me right down to the core, but it was extremely practical. They needed to pile up something to build a road across that mud-pit, and since there wasn’t anything else nearby, they used their fellow bugs instead.”
“You’re probably right,” Sorgan conceded. “Do you think there’s any way at all for us to get back down to that fort we built near the bottom of the gorge?”
“I wouldn’t get my hopes up, Sorgan. Now that the bug-people have run us off once, they know exactly how to do it again.”
“Maybe the horse-soldiers could rush into those caves and put out the fires. That fort would have stopped the bugs right there if it hadn’t been for that cursed smoke.”
“I wouldn’t make any large wagers on that, my friend.”
“Your people have found a way to get the bug-people’s immediate attention, though. Those fire-missiles your men threw at them yesterday worked very well. When you set fire to anybody—or anything—he seems to forget all about whatever he’s supposed to be doing.”
“It worked out even better than we’d expected. The only problem is the fact that the bugs have fires of their own now. If we throw fire at them too often, they’ll probably steal our idea and start throwing fire at us.”
Sorgan squinted off toward the south. “I’m not really very useful here right now, Narasan,” he said. “Your people—and the horse-soldiers, of course—seem to have things under control. I think I might just drift on down along the rim of the gorge and see just how many of the bug-people are coming this way. That’s one of the things we really need to know.”
“You’re going to take up scouting as a hobby, Sorgan?” Narasan asked with a faint smile.
“I need something to do, Narasan,” Sorgan declared. “I feel so useless just sitting here watching my friends fight this war.”
“It’s not really such a bad idea, Sorgan,” Narasan replied thoughtfully. “You’ve got a steady mind, and younger scouts tend to get excited, and they exaggerate things. Older soldiers are much more dependable. Why don’t you take Padan along? He’s got a good mind, and you two seem to get along quite well.”
“Iff’n that’s the way you want ’er, we’ll do ’er that way,” Sorgan said, grinning at his friend.
“Clown,” Narasan accused.
And then they both laughed.
It seemed to Sorgan that it might not be a bad idea to take another friend or two along on the expedition down the rim of the gorge. The bug-people were very unpredictable sometimes, and there was no real reason to limit their party to just two men. Longbow would have been his first choice, of course, but Longbow seemed to be everybody’s first choice, so Sorgan went in search of relatives instead.
Skell seemed to be in a bad humor, however. The abandonment of the fort at the bottom of the gorge had really irritated Sorgan’s cousin.
“We spend weeks and weeks building that fort, and then the bug-people drive us out in less than a day. We aren’t getting paid enough for this silly war, cousin. If things don’t start getting better, I think I’ll just pack up and go on back home.”