"Are we at all likely to get hit with a blizzard like that one?" Ekial asked.

Two-Hands shook his head. "Dahlaine's got a very tight grip on the weather just now. I'm not really sure exactly why, though. From what I've heard, I could go a whole lifetime without seeing that older sister of his. I guess she's gone completely crazy."

"Oh, that's nice," Ekial said. "Why should we bother to save her? Let the bug-people eat her and have done with it."

Two-Hands shook his head. "If the Vlagh gets her feet into people-country—where there is food—she'll lay millions and millions of eggs. That's what these wars have been all about, really. The Vlagh wants the whole world, and if she wins just one war here, she'll spread out and take it. It won't just be Dahlaine's sister who'll be eaten, it'll be the entire world, and all the people of the world will be nothing but something to eat."

Ekial felt a sense of horror welling up from his stomach at that point.

"There are thousands and thousands of those bug-things coming this way from that desert out there, Ekial," Ariga reported a few days later when Ekial's horse-soldiers, the Tonthakan archers, and the Matan spear-throwers reached the narrow opening at the upper end of Long-Pass.

"Why don't you just go on out there and kill them?" Ekial asked.

"You're joking, of course," Ariga said.

"Well, maybe," Ekial conceded, "but not entirely. We've got to hold those things out there back until the Trogites get here and build a fort. We have a sizeable number of Tonthakan archers here now, and Matan spear-throwers as well. We've worked with them before, and things turned out quite well."

"I think I get your point, Ekial. See if I've got it right. The archers and spear-throwers sort of stay out of sight while we gallop on out there and nudge the bug-people into trying to chase us down."

"Nudge?" Ekial asked.

"We have lances, remember? We gallop on out to where the bug-people are busy sneaking, and we skewer a few dozen with our lances. Then we gallop on back. The bug-people should be very angry because we just killed quite a few of their friends and relatives, so they try to chase after us. That's when we lead them into the range of the arrows and spears. In short, we lead them, and the archers and spear-men kill them. Isn't that sort of what you had in mind?"

"I'd say that it's worth a try, Ariga, but let's hold off until morning. The Tonthakans and Matans are probably worn down just a bit, so let's give them some time to rest before we put them to work."

"You're getting better at this, Ekial."

"Practice," Ekial replied modestly.

Chapter Three

"I think we were right about why those bug-people were coming across that desert miles and miles to the north of this pass," Kathlak the Tonthakan said the next day. "I sent out some scouts, and they told me that there are enemies in the hills and along the ridges on both sides of fhis pass. I'd say that what happened in Crystal Gorge taught them a lesson. They learned that having enemies up above you doesn't make for very pleasant days. It looks like they learned very fast. If there are bug-people up above this pass when the Trogites are coming up here to build forts, life could get very exciting for them. I'd say that cleaning off those hills and ridges might be even more important than killing the ones coming toward the upper end of the pass."

"Those bug-things seem to be more clever than everybody was telling us they are," Two-Hands added. "They seem to learn much faster than we'd been told they could."

Ekial swore. "I'm afraid that you two might be right," he said. "Clearing off the ridges along the sides of the pass is probably much more important than thinning out the herd coming across that Wasteland. If the Trogites are blocked off, we'll be in deep trouble."

"A suggestion—if it's all right," Kathlak said.

"I'll listen to almost anything right now," Ekial admitted.

"There are trees up along those rims," Kathlak said, "and Tonthakans are skilled at hunting in a forest. The Matans are more accustomed to open country. If I led my people up into these tired, worn-out old mountains, we could probably deal with the bug-people up there, and that would leave Two-Hands and his spear-throwers free to deal with the enemies coming in off the desert, wouldn't you say?"

"It does make sense, Ekial," Two-Hands agreed. "Throwing spears in a forest is mostly a waste of time—and spear-points. If we let the Tonthakans deal with the enemies hiding in the forest, your horse-soldiers and my spear-throwers should be able to thin out the bugs coming across the desert, don't you think?"

"I suppose we can give it a try," Ekial agreed.

"How long would you say that it's likely to take for the Trogites to get up here?" Kathlak asked.

"I wouldn't start looking for them tomorrow," Ekial replied. "I think there might be some law down in Trog-land that forbids a soldier to walk more than ten miles a day."

"That's ridiculous!" Kathlak exclaimed.

Ekial smiled faintly. "Laws are supposed to be ridiculous, aren't they? Gunda explained it to me once. A Trogite army moves as a group, as I understood what he was saying. That means that the army can only move as fast as the slowest man can walk, and they spend a lot of their time resting."

"If that's as fast as they can go, they don't really need to rest, do they?"

"I guess that it's a custom, and customs don't really have to make sense. It's about a hundred and twenty miles from the beach at the bottom of the pass up to here, so we're not likely to see any Trogites for twelve days or so. That gives us twelve days to clear away the bugs along the rims of the pass and thin out the ones crawling through the sand out here. We've got plenty to do, so I suppose we should get started."

There was a mindless quality about the Creatures of the Wasteland that chilled Ekial. It appeared that they were not intelligent enough to be afraid, so they kept on trying to do what they'd been told to do despite the fact that they were running directly into the face of certain death. To some degree they looked like people, but they definitely didn't think like people. On one occasion during the war in Crystal Gorge, Longbow had told Ekial that the servants of the Vlagh were totally unaware of their mortality. "They seem to think that they'll live forever. Of course they don't have any idea of what 'forever' means. A bug lives in a world of now, and that's all that they can understand. Yesterday was too long ago for them to have any memory of it, and tomorrow will probably never arrive."