“We’ve seen those as well,” Chief Kathlak replied.
“Now we come to the important question. Have your people up here seen any of them at all that were carrying bows?”
“I believe there was one,” Kathlak said, squinting down the slope. “I wouldn’t worry about him too much, though. I’m sure that he didn’t understand at all what it really was. He’d cut off the bowstring and used it to tie a spear-point to one of the bow-tips.”
“You’re not serious!” Padan exclaimed.
“Nobody’s ever accused our enemies of being very bright,” Kathlak replied. “I think ‘very dull’ would come closer.”
“Have you happened to see any peculiar-looking ones?” Sorgan asked. “We encountered some of them during the last war that looked like a cross between a bug and a turtle. When Longbow’s archers shot arrows at them, the arrows just bounced off those turtle-shells.”
“Athlan warned us about those. His friend Longbow described them. I thought he was just joking, though.”
“Longbow doesn’t know how to joke,” Torl said. “Have any of the bug-people tried to climb up the quartz walls to these rims?”
“A few tried that,” Kathlak replied, “but about all they did was cause us to waste more arrows. Those of us on this side picked off the ones on the other wall, and our friends of the Reindeer Tribes cleaned off our wall. Those bug-things climb very well, don’t they? There’s nothing at all like handholds on these quartz walls.”
“Bugs don’t have hands, Chief Kathlak,” Padan said. “Flies can walk on the ceiling if they want to.”
“How have things been going up beyond the gorge?” Kathlak asked.
“Not bad at all. You should be very proud of your man Athlan, Chief Kathlak. He came up with an idea that’s never even occurred to those of us who fight wars for a living. The Trogites had built a sort of low fort-wall to hold our enemies back, and Athlan suggested that a mud-pit to the front of the wall would slow the enemies down quite a bit.”
Kathlak smiled. “That’s Athlan for you,” he said. “How did it work?”
“Not quite as good as it should have. The bug-people decided that a raised-up road would give them a way to cross the mud-pit to attack that wall, and they used their friends to build that road.”
“I wouldn’t want friends who could do something like that.”
“We got even with them later, though,” Padan said. “We splashed burning tar—or pitch—all over the ones who were trying to attack us on up the hill a ways. There were burning bugs running in all directions up there. Over the years we’ve found that one of the best ways there is to distract an enemy who’s charging you is to set him on fire.”
“You people are very good,” Kathlak said.
“We try,” Padan said modestly.
It was about midmorning when a stiff, chill wind came in from the west, carrying dark clouds that strongly hinted that stormy weather was on the way. Sorgan periodically looked down into the teeming gorge. It seemed to him that the bug-people stretched from wall to wall across the narrow valley. They were almost all carrying weapons of one kind or another. There were a few that had obviously been picked up during the two previous wars, but the vast majority of the bug-things carried nothing except for sharp-pointed sticks. A pointed stick wouldn’t be much in the way of a weapon, but just the fact that the bug-people had moved up from using nothing but their own teeth and claws worried Sorgan more than just a little. It seemed to him that the creatures of the Wasteland were becoming more and more intelligent every day. If that happened to continue at its current speed, it wouldn’t be very long before the bug-people outclassed the people-people in the world of intelligence. There was an old saying in the Land of Maag that declared that a stupid enemy was a gift from the gods. A suddenly intelligent enemy would be much more like a curse. “I think it might just be time to kill every last one of those cursed things down there in the gorge and then sweep on out into the Wasteland itself and kill every one of them out there as well.”
“I didn’t quite catch that, cousin,” Torl said.
“Just thinking out loud, Torl,” Sorgan said. “Let’s step right along here. We’ve got a few miles between us and the south end of the gorge. Let’s go take a look at that, and then hustle back on up to the north end. Narasan’s waiting for information, so let’s get back up there as quick as we can.”
By midafternoon, the wind coming in from the west was howling through the mountains, and the clouds it carried had gone even darker. Sorgan glared at the sky. “Can’t you go someplace else to play?” he growled.
“Cap’n!” he heard a shout coming from behind them.
It was Rabbit, and the little smith seemed to be running just as hard as he could. “You’d all better get as far back from this rim as you possibly can, Cap’n,” he shouted, “and then we’ll probably need a cave to hide in for a few hours.”
“What are you talking about, Rabbit?” Sorgan demanded.
“Longbow’s ‘unknown friend’ is playing games again, Cap’n,” Rabbit said. “This time I think she’s going to use one of those land-bound waterspout things.”
“A cyclone, you mean?” Padan asked.
“I guess that’s what the land people call them,” Rabbit replied. “What they’re called doesn’t really matter all that much, though. Longbow told me that there’s one of those spin-around winds that’s going to zip right on down through this gorge. It’ll pick up the bug-people and throw them up about a thousand or so feet up into the air. That’s one of the reasons we’re going to need shelter. After that spin-around wind goes on down the gorge, it’s probably going to rain bug-people around here for an hour or two at least.”
“Aw,” Torl said with a broad grin, “what a shame. I’d say that we’re just about to hear ‘splats’ coming from all over the place, and I surely wouldn’t want some bug going ‘splat’ right on top of my head.”
“We’d better get some warning to the Tonthakan archers up at the head of the gorge,” Padan said. “If it’s really going to be a cyclone, they’d better get back at least a mile from the rim.”
“I already took care of that, Padan,” Rabbit said. “They were running when I left. Now we need shelter ourselves.”