"They're eating the babies!" Rabbit exclaimed.
"So it would seem," the farmer Omago agreed. "Isn't that nice of them?"
At that point, the imitation Aracia standing near the cocoon began to scream.
"Now I think you'll put your arrows aside, Longbow," Omago suggested. "The Vlagh's doing exactly what we want her to do."
"How long would you say that she's going to continue the screaming?" Longbow asked.
Omago shrugged. "Forever, most likely," he said.
"It won't really be very hard for her to lay a new batch of eggs, will it?" Longbow asked.
"Not in the least," Omago replied. "Of course, the eggs will never hatch. That's the main reason we came here, friend Longbow. The Vlagh won't produce any live servants now. I'd say that the Vlagh will never have any children—or warriors either. From here on until the end of time, the Vlagh will never produce another child, and after about six weeks she's going to be all alone here in her nest—weeping and screaming. Does that satisfy your need for vengeance, mighty hunter?"
"Her screaming is sort of beautiful, isn't it?" Longbow agreed, "and I wouldn't for all the world want to interrupt her." Then he carefully slid the arrow he'd been holding back into his quiver.
THE LAST GENERATION
It came to Rabbit that they shouldn't really be surprised that Omago was more than just a farmer. Omago's mate, the beautiful Ara, could do things that not even the gods of the Land of Dhrall could duplicate. A woman with that kind of power wouldn't be very interested in a man whose main goal in life was to grow lots of turnips. So Rabbit was not surprised that Omago understood the nature of the creatures that confronted them in the throne room of the nest.
The bulging eyes of every bug on the chamber floor, those who were partway up the walls, and even those clinging to the ceiling were fixed on the strange cocoon as if it were some kind of holy object.
"We seem to have arrived right on time, then," Omago said. "The Vlagh is instructing the horde of 'care-givers' to take good care of this new hatch."
Omago was staring at the cocoon, and then he suddenly laughed. "I think that does it," he murmured. Then he frowned again, and what appeared to be almost all of the bug-people in the vast chamber suddenly rushed toward the narrow tunnel that led back to the outside.
"Why didn't you just send them all away?" Rabbit wanted to know.
"I need the few that are left, Rabbit. They're going to do something that's probably going to make the Vlagh start screaming, and she'll probably keep it up for a long, long time."
Since Rabbit and the others were still invisible to the remaining bugs, they crossed the now nearly empty chamber to get closer to the cocoon.
It was then that the cocoon split with a ripping sound as a very familiar figure came crawling through the web.
Rabbit flinched back. "I thought she was dead!" he exclaimed.
"That's not quite accurate, little friend," Omago said. "What we're looking at is not a reborn Aracia. I'd say that Alcevan told the Vlagh that Aracia had been the queen of the East, and the Vlagh evidently decided to alter her form until she resembled Zelana's elder sister. It is quite a bit more attractive than the Vlagh's real form could ever be, and the Vlagh has always adored adoration. In some ways, the Vlagh and Aracia are very much like sisters. Even bugs have a certain sense of vanity. Then too, the Vlagh might have a certain amount of deception in what passes for her mind."
The Vlagh, disguised as Lady Aracia, made a peculiar buzzing sound as countless many-legged worms scrambled across the nearly empty floor of the nest. They rushed to where the bugs called "care-givers" were waiting, and they all began to make a sort of squeaky sound.
"I don't speak bug," Rabbit told Keselo, "but I'd guess that the puppies are all saying, 'feed me, feed me, feed me.'"
"That probably comes fairly close, yes," Keselo agreed. "Now that Omago has chased out most of the puppy-feeders, the baby bugs might have to wait in line for quite a long time."
"Do you think they'd know how to stand in line?"
"Probably not," Keselo replied. "I'd say that we're about to see a very interesting fight any minute now."
It wasn't exactly a fight they saw, however. The full-grown bugs looked at the tiny worms with legs for a moment or two, and then they began to eat them, snatching them up with their front claws and biting off their heads.
The Vlagh began to scream, but the "care-givers" paid no attention and continued their feast.
"I think the Malavi call that 'thinning out the herd,' don't they?" Rabbit said.
"I believe I've heard them use that term, yes," Keselo agreed.
"Big Mommy doesn't seem to like it very much," Rabbit added.
"I think you might have spent too much time in the vicinity of Eleria," Keselo suggested. Then he looked at Longbow and Omago. "I'd say that our friend Longbow might be having a bit of a problem right now," he said. "He'd really like to shoot a dozen or so arrows into Big Mommy, but her screams are probably the most beautiful music he's ever heard."
"It is a pleasant sort of sound, isn't it?" Rabbit agreed. Then he looked around at the vast chamber. "What do you think, Keselo? Should we stay here and listen to Big Mommy sing, or should we snoop around in the other parts of the nest and find out how all the other buggies are reacting to this disaster?"
"That might not be a bad idea," Keselo agreed. "I'm fairly sure that the other bug-people are filled with confusion, but maybe we should go look and make sure."
"If it's all right with you, Omago," Rabbit said to their friend, "Keselo and I talked it over, and it seems to us that taking a quick look at the other parts of this fort—or whatever it is—might be a good idea. If the bugs are all coming apart, fine and dandy, but if they look like they're about to go charging out to kill all the people-people in the vicinity, we ought to know about it."
"That's a very good idea, Rabbit," Omago said. "We've all spent so much time concentrating on the Vlagh that we haven't really paid much attention to her children. Now that her mind isn't functioning anymore, her children might try to do almost anything, and we'd better know about it."
"They don't really live very long, do they?" Rabbit asked.
"No. Four to six weeks is about all. Now and then you might come across one that's seven or eight weeks old, but I don't think we'll ever see one that's older than that."