CH 19 (part 1 of 2 )

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Veriasse could almost not believe his luck. Of all the scenarios that he had imagined, this perhaps was most ideal-to spot a dronon hive city in the distance at night. He went to his pack, pulled out his various paraphernalia. Some of it had taken him years to acquire. A translator he clipped to his mantle was equipped with a microphone that he could speak into, loudspeakers that would throw his voice, and a tiny speaker that plugged into his ear. With it, he could speak his native English softly and have his words translated into dronon in a commanding roar. Meanwhile, the device would translate the dronon's own clicks into English and feed them into the earpiece.

Veriasse plugged in the earpiece, then flipped on the translator, noticed that Everynne was doing the same with her own translator.

He also pulled out some protective goggles that would keep acid from his eyes, in case a dronon spit at him.

Under dronon law, those who engaged in ceremonial combat were not allowed any weapons to fight with, but for his own defense, Veriasse had brought a small holo projector. He got it out, set it on the ground before Everynne, turned it on: the air above her shivered for a moment, then blazed with an image of a Golden Queen, a hive mother whose abdomen was a great saucer-shaped, bloated sac. Her small useless wings were neatly folded over her back, and she stood regally, her clublike forearms raised as if to do battle, her head held high so that the uppermost of her three eye clusters allowed her to look behind her back while the other two arrays scanned the horizon at one hundred and twenty degree angles. The whiplike sensors under her mandibles swung about wildly, as if she were trying to catch an elusive scent.

Out on the horizon, the great city would drop, then rise on its legs and shudder forward, like a hive mother dragging her egg sac behind her. The earth protested under its weight, and a cloud of dust and heated exhaust poured from behind. Light glowed from the archways above the forward turrets.

Veriasse looked at Everynne. She was tense, standing with arms folded, her face pale. Orick stood beside her on all fours, the hair on his neck raised, his fangs showing as he gazed on.

Gallen and Maggie shouted as they climbed down rungs built into the dead city's huge legs. In less than four minutes, they made it down. Gallen shouted, "Veriasse, watch out! There's a sea of dronon warriors swarming out of that thing!"

"I know," Veriasse said calmly. "They will come inspect us to make sure that their hive queen is not in jeopardy. Then I will battle them for Right of Charn. If we win Right of Charn, then they will lead us to the Lords of the Swarm, so that I can battle one last time. I can only hope their queen grants us the oppor-tunity to battle."

"And if she doesn't?" Maggie asked, coming up behind him.

"Then likely we'll all be killed," Veriasse answered calmly. He glanced back. In the golden light thrown by the holo he saw the stricken look on Maggie's face. "I kept trying to warn you," Veriasse said. "The dronon are highly territorial. If we lose any step of the way, by their own law, the dronon may kill us all." He didn't want to have to tell them this, but knew that he had to tell them how to save themselves. "If I'm killed, fall on your knees and lay your arms out in front of you, with your wrists crossed and your head facing the ground. This is the dronon pose of ritual oblation. A dronon who assumes that posture is both defenseless and unable to see the leaders before him. The dronon vanquishers may spare your life if you maintain that pose, although they might strike you lightly with their battle arms. Given our thin skins, even a light blow might kill us. Still, it is your best chance."

"Are you sure it will work?" Maggie asked.

"It is a part of the order," Veriasse answered. "The dronon crave order. Yes, I believe it will work."

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