"Many, many more," dear Mother replied. "I will bury the man-things in freshly hatched spawn. I will have the land of the sunrise, and my children will feed on the remains of all the man-things that contaminate this entire land that is—and always will be—mine."

We did not wish to remind beloved Mother that a spawn of that size would severely reduce any future spawns to the point that there would hardly be enough new care-givers to see to her needs, and seasons uncountable would pass before she could spawn more. We tried as best we could to bring this to her attention, but she paid little heed and commanded us to carry her straightaway to the spawning chamber. And, since it is required, we did as she commanded.

Should disaster come again, however, the children of future spawns will be so limited that as the seasons plod on by, the nest of our beloved Mother will have few—if any—care-givers to see to her needs, and in time, it may be that she will dwell here alone.

Chapter One

It was well past midnight, and Zelana was standing alone on the balcony of what big brother Dahlaine called his "War Chamber." It seemed to Zelana that those fancy names had always been one of Dahlaine's failings. For some reason he seemed to feel a need to give almost everything some kind of stupendous title. If he'd spend as much time solving a problem as he usually spent coming up with a name for it, things might go a bit smoother for him.

Right now, however, Zelana was trying to swallow some very peculiar events. It seemed that they had a mysterious helper who could pull miracles out of her hat—or sleeve—without any kind of warning at all.

Down in baby brother Veltan's Domain, Longbow had been plagued with a series of very peculiar dreams which were being rammed into his mind by an entity he always called "our unknown friend," despite the fact that he'd told Zelana and the others that he recognized the voice—but he couldn't quite attach a name to the speaker. Zelana knew that Longbow's mind was too sharp to start getting fuzzy about something that important, so it was quite obvious that "unknown friend" had been tampering with him in ways Zelana could not even begin to comprehend.

There was one thing that was abundantly clear, however. Not only could "unknown friend" erase memories, she could also break—or just ignore—some very important rules. Zelana and her family were not permitted to kill things. "Unknown friend," however, had manipulated the members of the Trogite Church with her "sea of gold" and lured them into a confrontation with the Creatures of the Wasteland. Then, when the two enemy forces were locked in what would almost certainly have turned out to be a war of mutual extinction, "unknown friend" had obliterated them all with an enormous wall of water that she'd pulled up from about six miles down below the face of the earth.

It seemed that their friend had powers that Zelana could not even imagine, although she was almost positive that their friend was using the Dreamers to assist her.

The more Zelana thought about it, the more certain she became that Eleria's flood and Yaltar's twin volcanos had also originated in the mind and imagination of "unknown friend."

The involvement of the Dreamers had been confirmed when the children's shared vision had mentioned "a fire unlike any fire we have ever seen," which had produced the blue inferno that had obliterated what had almost certainly been an entire hatch of the Vlagh.

That, of course, brought Aracia's idiotic attempt to conceal Lillabeth's Dream right out into the open. Aracia had always been obsessed with her own divinity, but now—probably because of the overdone adoration of those assorted indolents who had identified themselves as her clergy—Aracia's mind had begun to slip, and she seemed to be convinced that she was now the most important creature in the entire universe. Her absurd attempt to conceal Lillabeth's Dream had been a clear indication that sister Aracia's mind was starting to come apart.

The more that Zelana thought about it, though, the more she remembered that Aracia had always been more than a little unwilling to go to sleep and relinquish her Domain to Enalla. It seemed that deep down, Zelana's sister hated Enalla. The length of their sleep-cycle made change inevitable. Zelana ruefully recalled the time in the distant past when she'd awakened to find her Domain covered with ice that must have been at least two miles deep. It had taken Dahlaine weeks to explain that to Zelana's satisfaction. He'd assured her that the inevitable thaw had already begun, but it had been almost five centuries before the ice was gone, and Zelana's Domain didn't look at all the way it had when she'd drifted off to sleep. Perhaps even more disturbing had been the fact that the creatures she'd come to know in her previous cycle were all gone, and strange new animals had arrived to replace them. Dahlaine had used the term "extinction," and that had chilled Zelana all the way down to her bones. She'd had almost no contact with Aracia during that particular cycle, but she was almost positive that her sister had somehow twisted things around in her mind so that she could blame Enalla for those eons of ice and the disappearance of almost all of the creatures that had been present in her Domain when she'd gone to sleep.

Something like that was the sort of thing Aracia would do.

Zelana was growing more and more weary now, and she'd be more than willing to hand the responsibilities of the Domain of the West to Balacenia—the adult version of Eleria—but she was almost positive that Aracia wouldn't see things that way at all, and her priesthood was probably in a state of near-panic by now. Whether they liked it or not, Aracia would go to sleep very soon, and Enalla would replace her. Zelana had caught a few hints from Eleria that Enalla—the real version of Lillabeth—had some plans that Aracia's priests wouldn't like very much at all.

"It might almost be worth staying awake long enough to watch," she murmured to herself. "Almost," she added, "but not quite." As closely as she could determine, "sleep-time" was no more than a few months away. She'd long since decided that the pink grotto on the Isle of Thurn would be the place where she'd sleep this time. The pink dolphins would sing her to sleep, and she might even have dreams of her own this time—dreams of a Land of Dhrall without a Vlagh, and a land where her friends did not grow old and pass away, and where she could sing and write poetry, and where it was always spring and the flowers never wilted. Now that might be the best of dreams.

"I thought I could feel your presence here, dear sister," Dahlaine said as he joined Zelana on the balcony over the "lumpy map" of his Domain. "You seem to be troubled. What's bothering you so much?"