"It happens up in the mountains fairly often," Longbow said. "It can be quite useful when you're hunting—or fighting a war. It's fairly easy to find out just where the animals—or your enemies—are."
"Do the bugs blow out steam when they talk to each other in the same way that people do?"
Longbow shook his head. "Most bugs don't talk with words the way we do," he said. "They talk with touch instead. Most bugs don't even have voices."
"They do make noises, Longbow."
Longbow nodded. "They rub their legs together to make the noises you've heard, Gunda, and the noises they make aren't words. Bugs don't need words. They all know what they're supposed to be doing, so they don't have to talk about it."
"Were you able to see the wasteland when you came down that mountain range, Longbow?" Keselo asked their friend.
"Fairly often, yes."
"Are the bugs moving out there yet?"
"I saw a few—quite a long way out in the Wasteland. I'd say that the ones I saw are probably scouts. The overmind needs to know whether we're here or not and how many of us there are. The main force is probably quite a way behind the scouts."
"How far behind you would you say that the Tonthakans, Matans, and Malavi are?"
"Just a few days would be about all. The Malavi would be quite a bit farther south, of course."
"But you still outran them, didn't you?"
"Probably," Longbow replied with a shrug. "Horses get tired after a while."
"But you don't, do you? You can run all day long, can't you?" Keselo's voice was strangely intense.
"If necessary, yes. You seem to be concerned, Keselo. What's bothering you so much?"
"There are times, friend Longbow, when I'm not absolutely sure that you're human."
"We don't live the same kind of lives, Keselo," Longbow replied. "I almost never walk. I run instead. Your body gets used to doing things the way you want it to. I've trained my body to run. When you get down to it, walking tires me much more than running does." He looked off to the east. "It's almost daylight," he told them. "You'd better tell your men to get started, Gunda. Days don't last very long in the wintertime."
It was about mid-morning that day when they rounded a turn in the pass and came to something that noticeably brightened Gunda's day. Andar waded across the now-shallow river and rubbed his hand down a weather-worn rock face.
"Well?" Gunda called.
"It's granite, all right," Andar called back. "It's been worn down until it's quite smooth, but there are cracks here and there, so we should be able to pry quite a bit of it free."
"You Trogites seem to be very fond of that particular variety of stone," Omago said.
"It's the very best that there is," Gunda replied. "If you want something to last for a long, long time, build it out of granite. It's heavy and hard, and if you know what you're doing, you can chip it into blocks. If we have access to granite, and the bug-people aren't right on top of us when we get to the head of the pass, we'll be able to build a fort that nobody will be able to get past. A well-built overhang makes it almost impossible to climb up the outer face, and the archers and spearmen will delete 'almost.' Give me and my crew about three days, and the bug invasion will stop right there at the head of the pass, and that sort of translates into 'we just won another war,' wouldn't you say?"
"That's what this is all about," Omago agreed.
Then Longbow came back down the pass. "Why have we stopped?" he asked Gunda.
"We just came across a sizeable deposit of the best building material in the whole world," Gunda replied smugly. "Give my men and me a few days and we'll have an impregnable fort at the head of the pass."
"We're talking about that grey rock, aren't we?"
"We might as well move along, then," Longbow suggested. "Almost all of the rock at the head of the pass is the same as that rock face on the other side of the river. Your men won't have to come down here and dig up building material. It's lying all over the ground up at the head of the pass."
"Let's move right along, then, Longbow," Gunda said, concealing a broad grin. "All this shilly-shallying around is just wasting time."
Longbow gave him a hard look and then he turned around and continued his hike.
"Wasn't that just a little bit—?" Omago started.
"It's good for Longbow, friend Omago," Gunda said. "It'll take some of the wind out of his sails."
They made camp for the night as dusk settled down over the pass, and Gunda was quite happy when he came to realize that his legs and back weren't aching nearly as badly as they'd been the previous evening.
He slept very well that night, and he even woke up before Longbow came around to rouse him. "You're already up and moving?" the archer said. "What an amazing thing."
"Don't beat me over the head with it," Gunda replied. "When do you think we'll reach the head of the pass?"
"Late tomorrow," Longbow said, "or early the following day." Then he smiled, and that slightly startled Gunda. Longbow almost never smiled. "We have company," he announced.
"Way out here?" Gunda demanded. "Who's foolish enough to join us out here in the wilderness?"
"Zelana herself," Longbow replied. "She has some information for us."
"Let's go see what she has to say," Gunda said, throwing back his blankets.
Zelana was sitting near the riverbank, and she looked rather pensive. Gunda, as always, was more than a little awed by her presence. Lady Zelana was by far the most beautiful woman Gunda had ever seen, and just her presence set him to trembling. He reminded himself over and over that she was not a woman in the usual sense of that word. She was an immortal goddess instead, and she was quite probably at least a million years old.
"Are you all right?" Longbow asked her. "You seem to be a little unhappy about something."
"It's nothing important, Longbow," she replied. "I'm approaching sleep-time, is all. There were many, many things I wanted to do during this cycle, but I seem to be running out of time." Then she stretched up her arms and yawned. "It's getting closer," she said. "My nap seems to be creeping up on me from behind." Then she straightened. "Let's get down to business. I rode the wind out over the Wasteland late yesterday to see what the Vlagh is up to. She's sent out many of her servants to nose around and find out what we're up to, and I don't think she likes what they've been telling her. She doesn't really have very many choices this time. Long-Pass here is her only possible invasion route, and I'm sure that she knows that you're coming up the pass to block her off, and she doesn't like that one little bit."