"Over there, Sorgan," Torl whispered, pointing toward the far side of the throne room.

Sorgan peered across the room and saw a sizeable party of hooded priests coming through the main door of Aracia's throne room. They crossed the oversized room to the throne Bersla had usurped, and then they knelt down in seeming adoration—all of them except one. That one came forward with a tray heaped with exotic food.

"That's one way to get the Fat Man's attention," Torl whispered.

"The best way," Sorgan agreed softly.

Takal Bersla looked very pleased, and he eagerly reached out to take the overloaded tray. Then he began to take large bites of the assorted food heaped on the tray, and he wasn't paying much attention to the hooded ones kneeling before him.

Then the one who had given Bersla the tray pushed back the hood, and Sorgan was startled to see the small priestess Alcevan. With a look of triumph she opened her robe and pulled a broad dagger that was obviously of Maag origin out of her waist sash.

"Where did she get one of our daggers?" Torl exclaimed.

"Stole it, most likely," Sorgan replied. "She is a bug, after all, and the bugs steal everything they can put their claws on."

Then Alcevan stood up and lunged directly at Fat Bersla, driving the dagger all the way to the hilt into the Fat Man's belly.

Bersla dropped the food he'd been wolfing down and screamed as he tried to wrest the dagger from the little priestess. Alcevan was obviously much stronger than she appeared to be. She pushed Bersla's hands out of her way and slowly ripped him up the middle with that very sharp dagger.

Bersla screamed, trying to hold in his intestines, which were spilling out of Alcevan's gash.

Several dozen of Bersla's followers rushed toward the throne, but the hooded ones who'd accompanied Alcevan met them with swords and spears. The followers of Bersla died by the dozens as Bersla, still screaming, clutched at his surging-out innards.

Alcevan had already moved on, however. She seized Bersla by the hair at the back of his head, pulled it, and then began to saw at his throat with the sharp dagger.

Bersla's screams suddenly stopped and huge amounts of blood came squirting out of the gash in his throat.

That should have finished it, Sorgan believed, but Alcevan wasn't through yet. She continued to slash and saw at Bersla's neck until his head finally came free. Then Alcevan lifted Bersla's detached head by the hair. "Behold Divine Bersla!" she shouted. "Follow him if you choose, and you shall soon go with him to the house of the dead! Truly I say to you, I now rule here in the holy temple."

"Now that's something I never expected," Torl declared. "That little one's a savage, isn't she?"

"No, cousin," Sorgan disagreed. "Actually, she's a bug, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if she ate all the remains of poor old Bersla."

"That might take her quite a while," Torl observed. "She's not very big, and there's a whole lot of Bersla sprawled out on that throne."

Sorgan shrugged. "Maybe she'll just have a banquet for all the assorted priests who supported her."

"And kill any of them who refuse to eat their share?"

"That's possible, I suppose," Sorgan said. "Right now, though, you and I had better come up with some way to get all the gold building blocks out of this throne room and then haul them down to the harbor. I've got a hunch that 'take the money and run' might just go on for quite a long time."


Chapter One

Tlantar Two-Hands wasn't particularly surprised when a sudden blizzard came sweeping in out of the north. Dahlaine had held the normal snowstorms back while the various armies had come down along the mountain range to the mouth of Long-Pass, but now that they were all in place, that was no longer necessary. It appeared that winter had much resented being cut off from her normal entertainments, and now that she was free, she seemed to want to unleash at the same time all the previous storms that Dahlaine had prohibited before.

Tlantar had no problems with that. He and his friends had the fort of Gunda the Trogite for shelter, but the Creatures of the Wasteland were all right out in the open where winter could bury them all under twenty-foot snowdrifts.

On about the third day of the screaming blizzard, Longbow the archer suggested that a few of them should probably go up to the top of Gunda's wall and see just exactly what was going on down on the slope leading up from the Wasteland to the mouth of Long-Pass.

"How long would you say this is likely to continue?" Gunda asked Tlantar after Longbow had led them to the top.

Two-Hands shrugged. "A week or so at least," he replied. "Dahlaine has held winter back for quite some time, so it's likely to take her a while to get over her frustration. I've noticed that winter is like that. She hates it when she's not permitted to play with her toys. I wouldn't say that we've got much to worry about. Your fort here will give us all the protection we're likely to need. The bug-people are right out in the open, though, so this won't be a very pleasant time for them."

"Oh, the poor, poor babies," Gunda said with a wicked sort of grin. "Dear old Mama Vlagh will probably lose a lot of her children before this snowstorm goes away."

"It's not impossible," Two-Hands agreed. "They won't be able to see for more than a few feet, and there's nothing on that slope for them to see anyway, and nothing to shelter them. Most of them will probably be frozen solid by the time spring arrives."

Gunda pulled his bison-hide cloak tighter about him. "Have you seen all that you need to see, Longbow?" he asked the tall archer. "I'd really like to get back inside where it's warm. My feet are starting to get very cold."

"Let's go back inside, then," Longbow agreed.

They went on back down the narrow stairway to the lower part of the fort and rejoined Sleeps-With-Dogs and the farmer Omago from Veltan's Domain in a sizeable room with a solid stove standing against one of the rock walls. Two-Hands had noticed that the Trogites were very fond of stoves, in spite of the fact that their homeland almost never received much snow.

"Is that snowstorm out there letting up at all?" Sleeps-With-Dogs asked.

"I'd say that it's getting worse," Longbow told his friend.

"Ah, well," Sleeps-With-Dogs said, "this lodge made of stone should hold it off. Are the bug-people up to anything?"

"That's just a bit hard to say," Longbow replied. "The snow's so thick that we couldn't see more than a few feet."

"How cold would you say it is out there?" Omago asked.