Trenicia's eyes suddenly went very wide as she stared at Narasan. Then quite suddenly they were filled with tears. She threw her arms about him and held him tightly.

"Are you all right, Trenicia?" Narasan asked.

"I'm just fine," she replied with tears streaming down her face. "You just called me 'dear heart,' and that means that you love me, doesn't it?"

"I thought you already knew that."

"Well, I had some hopes, but you never came right out and said it before."

"We'd have gotten to it eventually," Narasan told her with a faint smile. "Please forgive me, dear heart. I've never had these feelings before, so I'm just a bit clumsy when I try to let you know how I feel."

"You're doing just fine, dear heart," she said, wiping her eyes. "The only problem I can see is that I'll probably break down and cry every time you call me 'dear heart.'"

"That's all right," he said. "It should wash the dust out of your eyes."

"Must you always be so practical?" she complained.

"Practical is what I'm supposed to be, Trenicia," he told her. "It keeps my people alive. Why don't I save 'impractical' just for you?" Then he laughed and fondly embraced her.


Chapter One

Keselo was having more than a little difficulty with the true identity of the farmer Omago. He realized that he should have had some suspicions, in view of the evidently unlimited capabilities of Omago's mate. For some reason, however, it had never occurred to him that Omago could probably hurl disasters on the Creatures of the Wasteland in much the same way that Ara could.

The more that Keselo thought about it, though, the more he realized that Omago could almost certainly "tamper" with those around him so that they'd all look upon him as just an ordinary farmer with no unusual talents.

Of course, if what Omago had told them back in Gunda's fort had been true, Omago had even deceived himself. In his search for understanding of the people of the Land of Dhrall, Omago had erased all knowledge of just who—and what—he really was, and he'd grown up as just an ordinary farmer who planted grain and vegetables, watched them grow all summer, and then harvested them when autumn arrived.

It appeared, however, that a certain part of Omago's mind knew exactly who—and what—he really was, and when it became necessary, that part of Omago's mind stepped over the "farmer" subterfuge and took over. That meant that Keselo and his friends were dealing with an entirely different Omago—one who could, and would, step over "impossible" whenever it suited him. He'd gone down to Aracia's temple-town, picked up Rabbit, and returned to Gunda's fort at the head of Long-Pass in slightly more than an hour. Then, to make things even worse, Omago had made them all "unnoticeable"—evidently a variation of invisibility—and then had started taking ten-mile steps across the Wasteland toward the nest of the Vlagh—up until Longbow had firmly suggested that those long jumps might cause some problems.

And so it was that late in a cold winter day they had reached "the nest" of the Vlagh.

"Are we going to go through that cave to the Vlagh's main chamber, or are you going to 'poof us in there?" Rabbit asked Omago.

"Poof?" Omago asked, sounding just a bit puzzled.

"You know what I mean," Rabbit replied. "Lady Zelana 'poofs' every time she gets a chance."

"Let's just walk in," Longbow suggested. "If we happen to get into trouble in the main chamber, we might need to know which way to go when we run away."

"You still don't entirely trust me, do you, Longbow?" Omago asked.

"You're doing fine so far," Longbow replied, "but if anything can possibly go wrong, it probably will. If it doesn't though, we can all be pleasantly surprised."

Keselo was awestruck when Omago responded to his question about the peculiar shape of the peak that was the nest of the Vlagh by describing erosion in a manner that indicated that he'd actually witnessed something that had taken thousands of years to occur. Then he remembered that Longbow had told him that Omago and Ara had been around since before the beginning of time.

Rabbit seemed to be concerned about the probability that the entire nest would be totally dark, "since bugs don't know much about building fires, do they?"

Keselo reached back to what One-Who-Heals had taught him and remembered something the shaman had briefly mentioned about bugs called fireflies that generate light inside their bodies. "But there isn't any fire involved," he said. "Or so I've been told. I've never actually seen one of them myself."

As dusk settled down over the nest of the Vlagh, Omago led them to the mouth of the cave that almost certainly led to the home of the Vlagh herself. He stopped before they entered, however, and asked his friends again if they could hear a buzzing sound. They all listened carefully, but it seemed that Omago was still the only one who could hear it.

"Is it possible that you're listening to the voice of the Vlagh herself?" Keselo asked.

"It is a possibility, I suppose," Omago conceded. "Let's go on into the cave. The sound might become more clear when we get closer to the Vlagh."

The cave had seemed to be a natural opening in the side of the mountain peak when they'd seen it from the outside, but just a few yards in, the walls were very smooth, and they even looked polished. There were quite a few bug-people moving around in the cave, and Keselo was almost startled when he saw several of them who glowed in the dark.

"Living lamps, I see," Rabbit noted. "The Vlagh seems to think of almost everything, doesn't she?"

"I'd say that she's been filching again," Keselo added. "I'd swear that I've already seen thirty or forty different varieties of bugs—beetles and ants and locusts, and flies—as well as several that have wings."

"Then there are the ones that look like worms—except that they've got fifty or a hundred legs," Longbow added.

"There are a lot of other varieties that we haven't seen yet as well," Omago said.

"How does she manage to keep the peace?" Keselo demanded. "It's more than a little weird to see natural enemies all bunched together like this."

"That might turn out to be very useful," Omago said. "If these bugs start killing each other, we won't have to do very much except stand around and watch."

"Those are the very best kind of wars," Rabbit said. "Am I going to keep on being invisible even if I go on ahead?" he asked. "We probably ought to know what's there, wouldn't you say?"

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