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PART V: The Shuttle

Chapter 26

Dhowifa himself brought the summons. As she watched her little lover approach their yurt, Nukurren found it hard not to whistle derision.

He's getting fat, the lazy little creature. Look at him waddle along! Even slower than usual. He's gotten used to riding in Ushulubang, and working no other muscles than those of his siphon. Which he works constantly.

But, as always, Nukurren did not begrudge Dhowifa the new life he had found on the mountain. She did not begrudge him the comfort of his new friendship with Guo's malebond, nor the joy he found in Ushulubang's company.

No, not at all. After eightyweeks of misery as an outcast, Dhowifa had found acceptance. More than that, he had found hope and purpose. He was well into the Coil, now, learning the Way of the Pilgrim, and learning it very well. Still shy at times, uncertain, diffident. But Nukurren knew that if Ushulubang had, at first, called Dhowifa the best of the new apashoc out of her desire to shake the error of the Answer, she did so now because it was the simple truth. And many apashoc, especially the younger ones, were learning to shed their bigotry and seek discourse with the unnatural truemale whose understanding of the Question was subtle, supple, and uncanny.

Dhowifa's happiness stemmed from other things he had found on the mountain, as well. He had spent hours in the company of the Mother of Demons, during meetings of the council. Returning each time with new awe and wonder at what he had heard. And a growing adoration for Inudiratoledo herself, and the new world she was making.

No, Nukurren loved Dhowifa, and was glad for him, and listened, patiently if not attentively, to everything which Dhowifa told her. But she herself said nothing. It was not that she disbelieved. Simply that—she didn't care.

She didn't seem to care about anything, anymore. It was as if she had lost her soul along with her eye. Her heart kept beating, her lungs kept breathing. Beyond that—nothing. She had no need of shoroku to keep her mantle gray. Her soul itself was gray. All around her, day after day, she watched a new world being created. A strange new tapestry, woven of mysterious alien threads, colored in dazzling hues.

With, as always, no place in it for her.

It was not that she was outcast. Not at all. Oh, no, not at all.

She was admired, now. Respected, praised, even adulated. New chants were being chanted, throughout the Chiton, of the battle which was called Shatalunungurdu. (Ushulubang had decreed that strange name, for reasons known to none, save, perhaps, the Mother of Demons.)

Glorious, triumphant chants. (Longwinded ones, too, but none complained.) Chants which told of the exploits of heroes and champions. Of the sagacity of Kopporu, and the battlecraft of her warriors, and the might of Guo, and the honor of her malebond (and none objected to the presence of males in a battlechant, unheard-of though it was), and the valor of the Pilgrims against the shield wall, and the ferocity of Ludumilaroshokavashiki and Takashimidudzhugodzhi, and the fleetness of their apalatunush, and the spearcast of Yoshefadekunula, and the courage of his Companions (for so, in fact, they were called in the chants), especially the great warrior Dzhenushkunutushen.

And, most of all, of Nukurren the Valiant. Many new chants had been composed, over the past eightweeks, by chantresses of all peoples. Pilgrim chants and Kiktu chants, and Opoktu chants, and chants by former swamp-dwellers, and even, in a strange unrhythmic meter, a short chant by a young demon named Anagushohara. Each chant was somewhat different. A Kiktu chantress might dwell on the details of the battle on the Utuku left flank; a Pilgrim chantress, on the fury at the shield wall. But in one respect, all chants agreed:

The height of the battle, the decisive moment, the turning point, the pivot of history, the opening of the Way and the salvation of the peoples, had been the Charge of Nukurren. The Kutaku of the Coil, as many chants called it.


Oh, glory and grandeur and triumph and hope!
Oh, valor and courage and heroism and nobility!
Nukurren the Mighty! Nukurren the Bold!
Nukurren the Champion!


Nukurren had heard the chants. Had been unable not to hear them, for all that the chants grated on her soul. During the long days after the battle, she had remained in the hospital at Dzhenushkunutushen's bedside. Nukurren herself had suffered only minor mantle-wounds during her charge, quickly healed. But Dzhenushkunutushen had lain near death. He had not suffered any single great wound. But he had nearly bled to death, for it seemed as if his entire body had been flailed.

As, indeed, it had been. Most of his wounds had been received at the very end of the battle, in the last moments before Nukurren reached the little band of human warriors in the center. For, at the end, Yoshefadekunula had fallen, knocked down in the press of the fray by the staggering body of another demon, mortally injured. Unhurt, but helpless, the demonlord had been the target of all the remaining Utuku. At last, the cannibals had seen their chance to destroy the implacable demon who had been the most terrible of them all, and they had fallen upon him.

Or, had tried. But the cannibals never reached the black monster. Their flails never touched him. The assault of the Utuku broke against the demonlord's companion, who stood over his prostrate form, unmoving, unyielding, accepting each blow of the flail and returning it with a stroke of the spear. And if Utuku flails tore the demonlord champion's flesh, his spear split Utuku brains; if their flails spilled his blood, his spear spilled their lives; and if they gave him pain, he gave them oblivion.

Then did the cannibals falter, for the spear-strokes were unstoppable. If the white passion of the demonlord's companion seemed mysterious to them, they had not the time to wonder at it. For the blue rage of their mantles was the palest of shades, compared to the color in the monster's eyes. The demon's white passion quickly vanished, covered with red blood. But the blue never faded from his glare, and it seemed, to the Utuku who faced him, to be the color of Fury Itself.

They faltered. And then gray death arrived, for Nukurren was there. The demonlord's companion finally collapsed. But the demonlord himself had regained his feet, and took up his spear, and fell upon them. Black as night, implacable. Endless night, then, to the Utuku who had flailed his companion.


For days Dzhenushkunutushen lay near death. Indeed, would almost certainly have died, were it not for the strength of his body. Other demons in the hospital, weaker than he, did die in those days. Three of them. Two had been among the human warriors in the center, and they had died soon after arriving in the hospital, from terrible wounds.

The third was a female demon. Though many of the apalatunush warriors who had ravaged the Utuku right would bear scars, only two had been slain. Of those two, only one had survived the battle itself, to be brought to the hospital.

The female demon lingered for days before she died. Her name, Nukurren learned, had been Shofiyaburrunushtayn. She learned the name from the many demons who came to the hospital. All of the demons came, Nukurren thought, to sit by the side of their wounded and dying. Nukurren found the demon way of expressing grief, like so much else about them, to be messy, unsightly and grotesque. But she did not doubt for a moment that the water which leaked from their eyes, transparent though it was, bore the essence of brown misery.

The Mother of Demons herself came, many times, to sit with Shofiyaburrunushtayn and Dzhenushkunutushen. Nukurren was mildly interested to note that the Mother of Demons, alone among them, never wept (such, she learned, was the Enagulishuc word for that strange means of showing grief). She merely sat there, silent, still; her flat, armless face as rigid as bronze.

In her visits to the hospital, the Mother of Demons spoke rarely, and never to Nukurren. At first, Nukurren wondered (not caring, simply curious) if the Mother of Demons was angry at her for some unknown reason. All the other demons who came to the hospital spoke to Nukurren. Spoke to her often, in fact, and sometimes at tedious length; expressing their gratitude and their affection.

Eventually, Nukurren thought she understood. The Mother of Demons never showed her grief because it was so great that the showing of it would break her completely. And if she never spoke to Nukurren, it was not out of anger. It was because to speak to the gukuy warrior who had saved so many of her children (perhaps, in the end, all of them—for battles are fickle things) would be to acknowledge her own responsibility for sending them into their death. A responsibility which the Mother of Demons had taken, and had accepted; but could not yet, thought Nukurren, call by its own name.

The day came, after Shofiyaburrunushtayn finally died, when the healer demon Mariyaduloshruyush pronounced Dzhenushkunutushen safe from danger. Shortly thereafter, the Mother of Demons arrived at the hospital. The young male demon was conscious now, if still very weak, and he and his mother exchanged a few words before he fell asleep. For long, then, did the Mother of Demons remain, holding the huge, deadly hand of her child in her own tiny and much deadlier one.

The Mother of Demons sat on one side of Dzhenushkunutushen's pallet. Nukurren, as she had done for many days, squatted on the other. As always, the Mother of Demons said nothing to Nukurren; did not even look at her.

Much later, the Mother of Demons arose and made to leave. But at the doorway, she stopped, motionless for a time, and then turned back. She came to stand before Nukurren and then, still silent, bowed to the warrior.

Nukurren recognized the bow. Nukurren was very observant, and had already learned many of the subtle methods by which the demons expressed their sentiments. But no subtlety was needed here. The bow which the Mother of Demons gave to Nukurren was not the bow which ummun gave to gukuy. This was the great bow, the special bow. The bow which had no name in Enagulishuc, but which the Kiktu called the gukku tak tu rottonutu, the "homage to the Old Ones"; and the Pilgrims, in Anshac, the purren owoc.

Truly, the Mother of Demons, thought Nukurren, after Inudiratoledo left the hospital.

She, alone, almost understands.


There was no place for Nukurren in this new world being born, for the chants were absurd. Grandiose, preposterous, ridiculous—lies. That the chantresses themselves, and those who listened to the chants, thought them the truth mattered not at all. Lies, believed, are still lies. And untruth was made even the worse, by the fact it was thought to be true.

For there was no Nukurren the Valiant. That creature did not exist, had never existed, could never exist. There had been no glory in her charge. Neither glory, nor grandeur, nor courage, nor valor, nor justice, nor hope for the future, nor even the thought of triumph.

There had been nothing in it. Nothing.

It had been that nothing which had made her charge truly irresistible. Nukurren knew, had long known, that she was a great warrior. But not the greatest warrior in the world could have carried through that charge. Her charge had been irresistible because it was not a warrior's charge.

To be sure, she had used all her warrior's skill—and immense skills they were. But the soul of that charge had been the shriek of a newborn spawn, realizing, from the first moment of consciousness, that the universe was a cannibal. Knowing, always, that there was nothing in the world; nothing but pain and solitude, which endured, and endured, simply because the universe was a torturer enjoying its sport. A cannibal, lingering over the feast.

Nukurren had gone to the battle, but she had not intended to participate. She had come, simply because—she did not know, exactly. A professional interest, partly, to see how well the demons had learned the lessons she had taught them. But, mostly, she had gone because Dzhenushkunutushen had given back her weapons and her armor, and she had never realized he possessed them. She had been moved, then. She had been moved, not by the still-new and uncertain friendship embodied in Dzhenushkunutushen's return of her belongings. No, she had been moved by her astonishment that a monster could exist in the world who would salvage the possessions of a creature who, at the time, had done nothing to him but harm. She had come to the battle, in the end, wondering if such a capacity for friendship was possible.

Then, at the battle itself, she saw Dzhenushkunutushen die. (He did not die, as it happened. But Nukurren had been certain he would, and had been utterly astonished to find him still alive when she broke through). She watched Dzhenushkunutushen die, and the demonlord he cherished, and the other demons for whom he was their champion and protector, and knew they were dying because they were young. The universe had not given them time. The universe had given them, demons that they were, all the colors of creation. It had given them all the things which Nukurren had never had, and never would. It had even given the demons the power to extend friendship to one whom all others had cast out since birth. And then, had denied them the time to learn from the friendship. Had cast them, in the fearlessness of their youth, into a battlefield that needed the cunning of experience to survive.

The universe, which had tortured Nukurren all her life, would extract this final, gleeful moment of agony.

Though it never showed on her mantle, Nukurren's shoroku had broken then. Had shattered into pieces. The one tie which might have held her back, her love for Dhowifa and concern over his wellbeing, had snapped like the slenderest thread. Dhowifa was safe, now, with Ushulubang and the demons, as safe as he could ever be.

Nothing, now, held Nukurren from her revenge.

The Utuku cannibals who died under her flail and fork that day, died horribly by eights and eights, had simply the misfortune of being the manifestation, to Nukurren, of that ultimate cannibal. They could not stand against her any more than they could have withstood Death itself, Despair itself, Nothing itself.

Nukurren had wreaked her terrible rage on the universe, and had taken from it the last, full, bitter measure. Her spirit had blazed the blinding blue of pure fury, and her soul had been filled with the purest black of the most pitiless executioner. But never, not once, had she allowed the universe to see the colors of her vengeance.

No, she would repay the universe in the same bleak hue with which it had always tormented her. She had not expected to survive the charge, but she had intended, on that last day of her life, to have the grim satisfaction of casting her death into the beak of creation in the same color it had first spewed her forth. Nothing.


In the event, to her surprise, she had survived. Had survived, she realized later, only because she had not expected to, and had not cared if she did.

She still did not care. She was glad that Dzhenushkunutushen and most of the other young demons had survived. She was especially glad that the demon Ludumilaroshokavashiki had survived, to bring comfort and joy to Dzhenushkunutushen during the many hours she spent in the hospital with him. (Even, toward the end of Dzhenushkunutushen's convalescence, making love to her mate; and if the demon way of lovemaking was, like so much else, messy and wet and grotesque, Nukurren had not minded.) Nukurren was glad, even, that the demonlord had survived. She did not much care for Yoshefadekunula, but she knew how much he meant to Dzhenushkunutushen, and Ludumilaroshokavashiki, and all the demons.

But Nukurren's own survival meant nothing to her. She had survived, but so had the universe. Cannibals had died, but the cannibal remained. So it had always been. So it would always be.


When she heard what Dhowifa had to say, she felt a slight curiosity. Nothing more. Later, in the command circle, after Kopporu explained the proposal to her, Nukurren felt, if anything, even less.

So. Once again, I am to be a mercenary.

Then, harshly:

Be thankful, fool. Not many people would hire a one-eyed, perverted mercenary. And you have no other skills. And nowhere else to go.

"I accept," she said, and turned away.


The voice belonged to the Mother of Demons.

Nukurren turned back.

"Yes, Mother of De—"

"Call me Inudira."

Nukurren made the gesture of obedience.

"Tell me how you understand our proposal, Nukurren."

"You want to hire my services as a trainer of warriors. It is a common job for mercenaries. The pay is not as good as battle pay, but—" she gestured to her eye "—I am satisfied. I do not ask as to the pay itself. So long as Dhowifa and I have food and shelter, I will not complain."

Inudiratoledo made the demon gesture of negation, a peculiar sideways shaking of the head.

"That is what I thought. You are wrong, Nukurren. We have no use for a mercenary."

"Those are my only skills."

Again, that odd gesture.

"That is not my point. The skills of a warrior are not the same as the nature of a mercenary. Your skills we need, and badly. But not if they come with the soul of a mercenary."

"I do not understand."

"I will try to explain. Has Dhowifa told you what we are hoping to do here? The—nashiyonu—we wish to weave?"


"Do you believe it can be done?"

Nukurren hesitated.

"Speak honestly."

There could be no defying that voice.

"No. I do not believe it can be done."


Nukurren made the gesture of resignation.

"The world is a place of evil. It has always been so. Evil cannot be destroyed."

"On the world from which I came, Nukurren, there was also much evil. Much evil, and much as you have seen it on this world. There is still some to this day. But not so much as in the past."

"The demons have conquered evil?"

"You cannot conquer evil, Nukurren. Evil is not a thing from beyond, a foe to be vanquished. It is a thing which emerges from within the life of a people. It can only be changed, by changing that life. That is what we seek to do."

Nukurren considered her words. She had never thought of it in that manner.

Perhaps I should start paying more attention to what Dhowifa is saying.

"How long will it take, this change?"

"A very long time, Nukurren. It will not happen in your lifetime, or in mine. Not for many generations to come. We can only begin the change. And even in that beginning, we will create new evils alongside the ones we lessen. But we will be on the right road."

"You are certain—that it is the right road?"

"Yes, Nukurren. I have spent my life studying that road. The one we travel will be different, in many ways. No two roads are ever the same. But—there are always certain forks, where certain choices are made. We are at such a fork today.

"Long ago, in my world, such a fork was reached, and a people made a decision. They made the right decision. In so doing, they did not eliminate all evil. By no means. They brought much evil with them, and created still more. Great wars had to be fought, to change those evils. But those wars, and those changes, would not have been possible had they not made the right choice at an earlier fork."

She hesitated.

"I do not have the time now to explain all this. Soon we will be creating a new kind of school, where I will explain this—and much more—at great length. I would be glad if you chose to become a student. But for the moment—

"When that people came to that fork, Nukurren, and made their choice of road, there were many other peoples who were angry at the choice. It was a new choice, and one not to their liking. The new people—the new nashiyonu—were a small people, surrounded by powerful enemies. They had to fight for their existence, knowing little of the art of war. They eventually won their battle, but it was very difficult.

"It would have been even more difficult had they not had the help of a warrior. A veteran from one of the old and powerful prevalates. A master of the skills of battle. That veteran came and showed them the ways of war. He was not a mercenary, Nukurren. He did not come because he had been paid, he came because he wanted to help create a new road. That is what we need."

Nukurren was silent, for over a minute. Then, she said: "I must think."

The Mother of Demons nodded. "Yes. You must. It is not easy to accept hope. Hope is the most terrible emotion of all, Nukurren, for it has no color. It is color itself, and thus we fear it more than any color."

Nukurren pondered these words. She remembered the face of the Mother of Demons, days past, as she sat in the hospital where her children lay dying. Unyielding, like bronze, where that of all other demons had been twisted and contorted; waterless, where all others had been wet. And Nukurren understood, then, that the words the Mother of Demons had just spoken were words she had torn from her own soul's despairing grasp.

"I will return," she said. "First, I must think."


Once outside the command circle, Nukurren found a number of gukuy waiting. For her, she realized. And one demon.

Most of the gukuy present were barbarian tribespeople, but there were three Pilgrims, as well, and one she thought was a swamp-dweller. She recognized one of the Pilgrims, although she did not know her name. Long ago, the Pilgrim had been a warrior in the Anshac legions, and Nukurren remembered seeing her from time to time in the Warrior's Square.

She made the gesture of recognition, and apologized for not remembering the Pilgrim's name.

"I am Rurroc, Nukurren."

"When did you leave the legions?"

"Not until we sought refuge in the Chiton. But I had long been a follower of Ushulubang. Since shortly after you and Dhowifa fled Shakutulubac."

"Why did you become a Pilgrim?"

"Because of you."

For a moment, Nukurren's shoroku almost wavered.

"Because of me?"

The gesture of assent. "Yes, Nukurren. Many warriors joined the Pilgrims after you fled. At least double-eight that I know of." Sensing Nukurren's puzzlement, Rurroc continued: "It was because we thought it was very unjust."

"Why? I was a deserter. And I stole one of the Paramount Mother's husbands."

The gesture of dismissal. "Not that. Everything that went before."

Nukurren was silent for a moment. Finally, she said, "I had not realized anyone cared."

"Many cared, Nukurren. But it was impossible to tell you, then. You were not easy to approach."

Nukurren thought back to the past, and, grudgingly, admitted to herself that Rurroc was possibly right. She had, perhaps—

One of the Kiktu whistled amusement. Nukurren stared at her. She had recognized the warrior at once, of course.

"What do you find so humorous, Kokokda?" she demanded, speaking in Kiktu.

"You! There you are, pondering Rurroc's words. 'Perhaps I was a mite touchy.' 'Possibly I was, just a tiny bit'—what is a good Enagulishuc word, Dzhenushkunutushen?"

The demon laughed. "How about 'prickly'?" The demon explained the term, while all the warriors practiced pronouncing it. Their efforts were made difficult by the fact that most of them were whistling gleefully.

Throughout, of course, Nukurren maintained her shoroku. But, at the end, she too joined in the humor.

"I suppose I have been, perhaps, just a trace—purrikkulai."

She made the gesture of welcome to Kokokda.

"I am pleased to see that you have survived."

"I owe it to you, Nukurren," replied Kokokda. There was no trace of humor in her tone now. "Had it not been for the lesson you gave me long ago, I would also have become as foolish as the clan leaders. It was a hard lesson, but well worth it."

"Hard?" demanded Nukurren. "Foolish sp—what is the Enagulishuc word for 'spawn'?"

"Child," replied Dzhenushkunutushen. "The plural is children. Boy, if male. Girl, if female."

"Foolish dzhiludh. Very stupid gurrul. That lesson was not hard. The beaks of Utuku at the victory feast are hard. The flail tips of Anshac legions are hard. Helotry is hard. Slavery is hard. Life is hard. The universe is hard."

Again, the group of warriors whistled. When the humor died down, Nukurren scrutinized them carefully. Nukurren knew one of the other Kiktu personally. She had spent a pleasant afternoon in Ipapo's company, long ago, during the time when she and Dhowifa lived in exile among the Kiktu. She made the gesture of recognition, which Ipapo returned.

Nukurren now examined Aktako. She had seen the Kiktu warrior, but had never spoken to her. Dhowifa said she was Kopporu's lover as well as the chief of her personal guard. Aktako was the oldest gukuy present, and not particularly large. But Nukurren sensed instantly that she was a deadly warrior. Aktako stared back at her, and the two veterans exchanged an unspoken, ungestured, recognition.

Whether she knew them personally or not, they all had one thing in common, which was immediately obvious to Nukurren's experienced eye. They were the toughest veterans at Kopporu's disposal.

Tough enough, I think. Aktako certainly. And, of course, Ipapo. And Kokokda as well, if she has truly learned her lesson. Which she must have, or she would not be here. The others? Yes, I believe so.

She was silent, thinking. Those thoughts, at first, moved far away from the gukuy before her. But, after a time, her thoughts returned and settled upon them. Throughout her long silence, they had squatted patiently. Now, returning her gaze, they remained still and motionless.

Nukurren understood, and appreciated, and then accepted, their own acceptance of her. And she thought that perhaps the Mother of Demons was right, after all. She was still skeptical, but—the eyes were there, after all, staring back at her unflinchingly. The eyes of outcasts, refugees, exiles, with nothing in their gaze but confidence and trust.

"Do you think it can be done?" Nukurren asked. She was looking at Aktako, but it was Kokokda who answered.

"Train a new army? Yes, Nukurren, it can—"

"That is not the question," interrupted Aktako. "She knows the answer to that question."

Aktako made the gesture of bemused uncertainty.

"Who knows, Nukurren? I did not think we could cross the swamp. But I was determined not to give that muck the satisfaction of my defeat. And, after a time, we were through the swamp. Then, we met the Utuku ogghoxt. I did not think we would survive the battle. But I was determined not to give the cannibals the satisfaction of a meal. Then the demons came, and destroyed the Utuku. And perhaps that is what you need to ask yourself."

Aktako gestured toward the young demon.

"I think there is more to this world than we know, Nukurren. So I think we should not assume the world will always defeat us. Did not this same world allow demons to exist? And who knows what can happen to a world which has demons in it?"

Nukurren looked away from Aktako's hard stare, and examined the gaze of a much smaller pair of eyes. Eyes of fury.

"And why are you here?" Nukurren asked.

The demon made that strange facial gesture which served them as a whistle of amusement.

"You are my friend, Nukurren, and I thought you could use some moral support. Besides, my wounds are almost healed, and it's my job. I'm the Sharredzhenutumadzhoru of the apalatunush. We ummun and the gukuy warriors will need to learn to coordinate our efforts." The armless, flat-faced gesture of ruefulness. "We didn't do so well in the last battle."

"Not true. The Pilgrims did extremely well," said Nukurren forcefully. "The demons were stupid. Especially the big male demons who led them, thinking they were invincible. Mindless sp—dzhiludhurren. Very stupid buyush. I shall tell Ludumilaroshokavashiki to seek another mate. Why waste love on one who is determined to die?"

Nukurren could not misunderstand the meaning of the gesture which the young demon now made, alien though it was. The slight bow, the clasping hands.

We were invincible, Nukurren. We had you. And still do. Teacher.

Suddenly, she was filled with love for the young demon. As always, her mantle remained gray. But she made the gesture of fondness to the boy. With some difficulty, for it was a gesture she knew but had never made herself before. Then, to the assembled warriors, she made the gesture of respect. And finally, to Aktako, she made the unnudh wap kottu.

"I think you are right, Aktako," Nukurren said. "And, even if you are not, we should not give the world the satisfaction of our surrender."

"Wait here," she commanded them, and went back into the command circle.


"You spoke of an ancient warrior, who taught a new people the craft of war," she said to the Mother of Demons. "What was her—hisname?"

"Steuben. Baron Friedrich von Steuben."

Nukurren made the gesture of negation.

"That is too long."

She turned to leave. "I accept, Mother of Demons. I will be your shutuppen."


The ranks of the future army of the nashiyonu were drawn up in the center of the valley. In ragged files.

Very ragged, thought Nukurren. But the immediate problem is that they are still separated. Tribespeople here; Pilgrims there; and the former Utuku clustered away from everyone else. Avoided by everyone else. We must put a stop to that. At once.

She was not concerned. She had served as a trainer for the Anshac legions, whose warriors came from everywhere.

For a moment, she pondered her course of action. In general, she had no intention of taking charge of the daily training of the warriors. Her assistants, she thought, were quite capable of that task. Nukurren's principal responsibility lay elsewhere. It would be she who would shape and develop the structure and methods of the new army, particularly its tactics.

To be sure, the new battle leaders would be filled with grand schemes and ambitious projections. And, in truth, many of these would be worthwhile and potentially valuable. Nukurren was well aware of Ghodha's capabilities, and all she had heard regarding Kopporu led her to believe that she would make an excellent commander for the army.

Still—officers were by nature a fanciful folk, much given to impracticalities and vaporous theory. Nukurren eyed Aktako and the other members of her cadre.

No, no. Here lies the heart of the new army. They will make excellent trainers, as well as troop leaders. After today, I will not have to concern myself much with that task. But today—is the first day. So—

She spoke to Aktako. "I believe it would be wise if I personally led the training today."

Aktako made the gesture of assent. "I agree, Nukurren. It is essential that the warriors see us as a united group. Since you are the leader, the—we do not have a title yet—"


Aktako groped for a moment with the unfamiliar word.

"—the dzhu—shutuppen, then, I think it would be best if the warriors take your measure immediately."

Nukurren eyed the other cadre. It was obvious by their stance that they were in agreement. And, she was pleased to note, it was equally obvious that Aktako was already accepted as Nukurren's second-in-command.

Yes. They will be excellent. Better than any I have ever worked alongside.

"Do you have practice flails and forks?" she asked. Aktako made the gesture of affirmation.

"Good. I will need them. Bring several sets. At least four."

A slight tinge of orange entered Rurroc's mantle.

"You are going to start by teaching them weaponry?"

Kokokda whistled. Dzhenushkunutushen laughed.

"No, Rurroc," said Kokokda. "She is going to start by teaching them the most important lesson of all. I remember that lesson well."

"So do I," said the demon. "And I'm glad, this time, to be on the other side of it."

The Kiktu veteran and the young demon exchanged, each in their alien way, the gestures of amusement.

"Trust us, Rurroc," said Dzhenushkunutushen. "It is a lesson much better behind you than before you."

"Much better," agreed Kokokda.


The lesson began very quickly. Immediately following Nukurren's first command, which was that all the battle groups would accept several Utuku members.

The command stirred up great outrage. All praise of the much-chanted Nukurren the Valiant vanished. And, though it did not vanish, the knowledge of Nukurren's prowess was drowned under a wave of indignation. These were warriors, after all, who loved their chants but did not, at bottom, take them too seriously.

Three Kiktu warriors were especially vociferous in their displeasure; exchanging loud quips on the subject of pitiful, decrepit, tired, over-large, old, ugly, beaten-down, one-eyed sexual deviates. At Nukurren's command, Aktako gave them practice weapons. The warriors advanced boldly upon Nukurren, expressing great contempt at the use of toys.

Very soon thereafter, two of them limped painfully back to their battle groups. The other did not recover consciousness for some time. Whereupon she too rejoined her battle group, and took her place alongside a former Utuku. Maintaining silence throughout.

Soon, Nukurren was comfortably into the routine. It had been many eightyweeks since she had trained recruits, but it was something one did not forget.

You are garbage beneath my peds. You are lower than worms. You are shit. You smell like shit. You look like shit.

As the ranks began to take ragged form, Nukurren considered the formations she would shape them into.

No, that's a lie! You smell worse than my shit. You look worse than my shit. And my shit is the smelliest, ugliest shit in the world. Do you know why? DO YOU KNOW WHY?

She decided she would start with the basic structure of an Anshac legion, the division of the army into cohorts of triple-eight warriors.

BECAUSE I AM NOT NUKURREN THE VALIANT. I do not know that nukurren. THAT IS SOME OTHER NUKURREN, the nukurren of your fantasies.

Each cohort would be led by a . . .

I am the real nukurren.

No. We must use an Enagulishuc term.


She motioned toward Dzhenushkunutushen. The young demon trotted toward her.


"What is the Enagulishuc term for cohort leader?"

The demon's face crunched. "I don't know, Nukurren."

I AM THE shittiest gukuy who ever walked the Meat of the Clam.

"Find out. Discuss it with Yosephadekunula. And with Inudiratoledo, if necessary. We must have clear ranks and structure."

"Yes, Nuk—shutuppen."

You will learn. Oh, yes—you will learn.

As Dzhenushkunutushen moved away, Nukurren eyed him fondly.

You will learn to hate me. And that is good.

He has been a good friend.

But you will learn something which is much, much, much more important.

And he will become a truly great warrior, if I can beat some sense into him.

You will learn to fear me.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of Aktako. The Kiktu veteran looked at her, and made a small gesture of amusement.

You will tremble when I fart.

Aktako will be a great help. And, I think, also a friend.

You will turn scarlet when I come near.

For a moment, Nukurren pondered this strange new thing which had come into her life, this friendship. This wonderful new thing. But her attention was almost immediately diverted.

You—I mean you, snail! What is your name?

Although the Pilgrims, as a rule, were showing themselves more willing to accept Nukurren's commands than the tribespeople, still there were some—it was important to treat all gukuy equally, after all.

WHAT IS YOUR NAME? You are offended? You dare to turn blue? Aktako—the flails!

She concentrated a bit on the task while she thrashed the unlucky Pilgrim, but not much.

Are there any more worms who dream of being snails?

Comfortably back and forth, only half her mind on what she was doing. Routine requires little concentration.


To her mild surprise, there was one. A young Opoktu. Quite good, too, Nukurren thought. After the Opoktu dragged herself back into the ranks, Nukurren told Aktako to find out her name. In a few eightdays, if she proved to be as intelligent as she was skillful, they would promote her.


She resumed her consideration of the army's structure. It was Anshac practice to divide the cohorts into eight groups of eighty warriors, but Nukurren had long thought such groups were awkward. Too large to be flexible; too small to have much impact.

Any two? Any three?

She decided she would adopt the ummun apalatunush as the first sub-division of the cohort. She had been impressed by their performance in the battle.

Any four? ANY FIVE?

The formations had been large enough to operate independently, yet Ludumilaroshokavashiki and Takashimidudzhugodzhi had been able to control their maneuvers with no difficulty.


The apalatunush numbered eighty and six-eight, approximately—

No? No? Such a pity.

What is the ummun way of counting that?

I was enjoying the exercise.

A "unnunduredh," I think.

Perhaps at a later time. When you have learned to crawl.

I will have to speak to Ushulubang about this. We must decide if we will adopt the ummun way of numbering as well as their language.

Now. Let me explain the truth—naked; stripped of its shell.

Her thoughts hesitated, stumbling for a moment.

You are no longer Kiktu or Pilgrim or Opoktu or Utuku.

Yes, and I must listen to what she has to say about the Way. And Dhowifa. I must listen to him more carefully, from now on.

You are simply Nukurren's shit.

I must put all bitterness behind me. I am no longer Nukurren the mercenary. I can no longer think like Nukurren the outcast. I am the—

You will do what I say, when I say, where I say it, how I say it. At once. No—sooner than that!

Shutuppen. Nukurren rolled the name in her mind's arms, examining it from every side.

Do you understand?

It is a good name, she decided.


For the first time in eightyweeks, she felt life return to her soul, in all its myriad colors.


But to the scarlet-hued warriors who watched her, pacing back and forth like a nightmare, there was nothing in her mantle.

Nothing but cold, pitiless, gray.




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