Surely enough he found a thicket of edible fungi just half a mile beyond the spot where he had sat down to think. Burl tugged at one and broke off a piece. Nibbling as he went, he entered a broad plain over a mile across, broken into odd little hillocks by gradually ripening and suddenly developing mushrooms with which he was unfamiliar. Their rounded, blood-red protuberances forced aside the earth as they grew.
Burl passed among them without touching them. They were strange, and strange things meant danger. Besides, he was full of new purpose. He wished garments and weapons.
Above the plain a wasp flew, a heavy object dangling beneath its black belly, ornamented by a single red band. It was a hairy sand wasp, carrying a paralyzed gray caterpillar. After depositing the caterpillar in a deep underground burrow, the wasp would lay an egg on it, then emerge and seal the entrance with dirt and stones. Later, the egg would hatch into a tiny grub, which would feed on the torpid caterpillar until it waxed large and fat. Then it would weave itself a chrysalis and sleep a long sleep, only to wake as a wasp and dig its way to open air.
Uncomprehending, Burl watched the wasp go by, then trudged onward. Reaching the farther side of the plain, he found himself threading the aisles of a fungus forest where the growths were hideous, misshapen travesties of the trees they had supplanted. Bloated, yellow limbs branched off from rounded, swollen trunks. Here and there a pearshaped puffball, Burl's height and half as much again, waited craftily until a chance touch should cause it to shoot upward a curling puff of fine dust.
There were dangers here, and Burl moved forward cautiously. He continued to eat from the mass of edible mushroom under his arm, while his large eyes scanned about for threats of harm.
Behind, a high, shrill roaring grew slightly louder, but remained too far away to impress Burl. The army ants were working havoc in the distance. By millions, they were foraging the country, climbing every eminence, descending every depression, antennae waving restlessly, mandibles extended threateningly. The ground was black with them, each ten inches long.
A single such creature would be formidable to an unarmed, naked man like Burl, whose wisest move would be flight, but in numbers they presented a menace from which escape seemed impossible. They advanced steadily and rapidly amid shrill stridulations and multitudinous clickings.
The great helpless caterpillars on the cabbages heard them coming, but were too stupid to flee. Black multitudes covered the rank vegetables, and tiny but voracious jaws tore at the flaccid masses of flesh.
Each creature had some futile means of struggling. Caterpillars writhed and contorted ineffectually. Bees fought their entrance to the gigantic hives with stings and wingbeats. Moths took to the air in helpless blindness when discovered by the relentless throngs of small black insects.
There was a strange contrast between the ground before the advancing horde and that immediately behind it. Before, a busy world, teeming with life. Mushrooms and fungi fought with thinning numbers of giant cabbages for food. Behind the black multitude--nothing. Mushrooms, cabbages, bees, wasps, crickets, every creeping, crawling, or flying thing that did not get aloft before the black tide arrived was lost, torn to bits by tiny mandibles. Even spiders and tarantulas fell before the host of insects, killing many their final struggles, but ultimately overwhelmed by sheer numbers. And the wounded and dying army ants became food for their comrades. There is no mercy among insects.
Surging onward, flowing like a monstrous, murky tide over the yellow, steaming earth, the army ants advanced. Their vanguard reached the river, and recoiled. Burl was five miles distant when they changed course, communicating the altered line of march to those behind with antenna gestures, stridulations, and formic acid trails.
A million tragedies marked the insect army's progress. There was a tiny colony of mining bees--Zebra bees; a single mother, four feet long, had dug a huge gallery with ten cells, in which she laid her eggs and fed her grubs with hard-gathered pollen. The grubs had waxed fat and large, become bees, and laid eggs in turn, in the same gallery.
Ten such bulky insects now foraged busily for grubs within the ancestral home, while the founder of the colony had grown draggled and wingless with passing time. Unable to forage herself, the old bee became hive guardian, as is customary among mining bees. She closed the opening of the hive with her head, making a living barrier at the entrance, withdrawing to give entrance and exit only to duly authenticated members of the colony.
She was at her post when the wave of army ants swept over her. Tiny, evil-smelling feet trampled on her. She emerged to fight with mandible and sting for the sanctity of the hive. In a moment she was a shaggy mass of biting ants, rending and tearing her chitinous armor. The other bees emerged, fighting as they came, for the gallery leading down was a dark flood of small insects.
An epic battle raged. Ten huge bees, each four feet long, fighting with leg and jaw, wing and mandible, with the ferocity of tigers. The tiny, vicious ants covered them, snapping at their multiple eyes, biting at the tender joints in their armor--sometimes releasing the larger prey to leap upon an injured comrade wounded by the huge creature they battled in common.
The outcome, however, was inevitable. Struggle as the bees might, herculean as their efforts might be, they were powerless against the incredible numbers of their assailants, who tore them into tiny fragments and devoured them. Before the last shred of the hive's defenders had vanished, the hive itself was gutted alike of the grubs it contained and the food brought them by such weary effort of the mature bees.
The army ants went on. Only an empty gallery remained, and a few fragments of tough armor, unappetizing even to the omniverous ants.
Meanwhile, Burl was inspecting the rent and scraped remains of a great beetle's shiny casing lying on the ground. A greater beetle had met the first and slain it.
A few minims, little ants barely six inches long, foraged industriously among the remains. A new ant city was to be formed and the queen ant lay hidden a half-mile away. These were the first hatchlings, who would feed larger ants on whom would fall the great work of the city. Burl ignored them--and the rising noise of the advancing army any horde behind him--as he searched with his eyes for a weapon.
The best he could find was a fiercely toothed hind leg. He picked it up, and an angry whine rose from the ground.
One of the black minims was busily detaching a fragment of flesh from the joint of the leg, and Burl had snatched the morsel away. The little creature advanced toward Burl, shrilling angrily. He struck it with the leg. Two of the other minims appeared, attracted by the noise the first had made. Discovering the crushed body of their fellow, they unceremoniously dismembered it and bore it away in triumph.
Burl went on, swinging the toothed limb in his hand. Accustomed to using stones to crush the juicy legs of the giant crickets his tribe sometimes scavenged, he formed a half-defined idea of a club. The sharp teeth of the thing in his hand made him realize that a sidewise blow was better than a spearlike thrust.
The sound behind had become a distant whispering, high-pitched and nearer. The army ants swept over a mushroom forest, and the yellow, branching, treelike growths swarmed with black creatures devouring the substance to which they clung.
A great bluebottle fly, shining with metallic luster, reposed in an ecstasy of feasting, sipping through its long proboscis the dark-colored liquid that dripped slowly from a mushroom. Maggots filled the mushroom, and exuded a solvent pepsin that liquefied the white firm "meat".
They fed on this soup, this gruel, and a surplus dripped to the ground below, where the bluebottle drank eagerly. Burl drew near, and struck. The fly collapsed into a writhing heap. Burl stood over it, pondering.
The army ants came nearer, down into a tiny valley, swarming into and through a little brook over which Burl had leaped. Ants can remain underwater a long time without drowning, so the small stream was but a minor obstacle. The first wave of ants choked the brook bed, forming a living bridge for their comrades.
A quarter mile to the left of Burl's line of march, and a mile behind the spot where he stood over the dead fly, was an acre-wide stretch where giant, rank cabbages had so far resisted the encroachments of the ever-present mushrooms. The pale, cross-shaped cabbage flowers fed many bees, while the leaves fed numberless grubs, worms, and loud-voiced crickets which crouched about on the ground, munching busily at the succulent green stuff. The army ants swept into the green area, ceaselessly devouring all they encountered.
A terrific din arose. The crickets hurtled away in rocketlike flight, a dark cloud of wildly beating wings. They shot aimlessly in any direction; half fell into the black tide of devouring insects and were seized instantly. They uttered terrible cries as they were torn to bits. Horrible inhuman screams reached Burl's ears.
Individual cries of such agony were too commonplace to attract Burl's attention--but the chorus of tormented creatures made him look up. This was no minor horror, but wholesale slaughter. He peered anxiously toward the sound.
A wild stretch of sickly yellow fungus, interspersed with an occasional squat toadstool or splash of vivid color where one of the many "rusts" had found a foothold. To the left, a group of awkward misshapen fungoids clustered in silent mockery of a forest of trees. There a mass of faded green, where the giant cabbages stood. But as Burl watched, the green became slowly black.
From where he stood, Burl could see three great grubs in lazy contentment, eating ceaselessly the cabbages on which they rested. Suddenly first one and then another began to jerk spasmodically. About each, a rim of black appeared. Tiny black motes milled over the cabbages' green surfaces. The grubs and cabbages became black. Horrible contortions of the writhing grubs bespoke their agonies. Then a black wave appeared at the further edge of the stretch of sickly yellow fungus, a glistening, living wave, moving forward rapidly with the roar of clickings and a persistent overtone of shrill stridulations.
The hair rose on Burl's head. He knew all too well the meaning of that tide of shining bodies! With a gasp of terror, intellectual preoccupations forgotten, he turned and fled in ultimate panic. And the tide came inexorably on.
Clinging desperately to his sharp-toothed club, Burl darted through the tangled aisles of the little mushroom forest with heedless disregard of the dangers that might await him there. Flies buzzed about him loudly, huge creatures, glittering with metallic luster. One struck him on the shoulder, tearing his skin with vibrating wings.
Burl thrust it away and sped on. The oil covering him had turned rancid, and the odor attracted these connoisseurs of the fetid.
A heavy weight settled onto his head, then doubled. Two of the creatures had dropped into his oily hair, to sip the rancid oil through disgusting proboscises. Burl shook them off with his hand and ran madly on. His ears were keenly attuned to the sound of the army ants behind him, and it grew little fainter.
The clicking roar continued, but the buzzing of flies began to overshadow it. In Burl's time flies had no great heaps of putrid matter in which to lay eggs. Ants--those busy scavengers--carted all carrion away long before it acquired the gamy flavor beloved by fly maggots. Only in isolated spots were flies really numerous, but there they clustered in clouds that darkened the sky.
Such a buzzing, turbulent cloud surrounded the madly running figure of Burl. It seemed as though a miniature whirwind of winged bodies and multifaceted eyes kept pace with the little pink-skinned man. He twirled his club before him, and almost every stroke connected with a thinly armored body which collapsed in a spurt of reddish liquid.
Pain like a red-hot iron struck Burl's back. One of the stinging flies had thrust its sharp-tipped proboscis into his flesh to suck blood.
Burl yelped--and ran full-tilt into the thick stalk of a blackened, draggled toadstool. There was a crackling as of wet punk or brittle rotten wood. The toadstool collapsed with a sickening splash. Many flies had laid eggs in the fungoid, and it was a teeming mass of corruption and ill-smelling liquid.
As the toadstool's "head" crashed to the ground, it fell into a dozen pieces, and the earth for yards around was spattered with a stinking liquid in which tiny, headless maggots twitched convulsively.
The buzzing of the flies took on a satisfied note, and they settled by hundreds about the edges of the foul pools, becoming lost in frenzied feasting while Burl staggered to his feet and darted off again. Now he was but a minor attraction to the flies, and but one or two pursued him. From every direction they hurried to the toadstool banquet.
Burl ran on. He passed beneath the wide-spreading leaves of a giant cabbage. A great grasshopper crouched on the ground, tremendous jaws crunching the rank vegetation voraciously. Several huge worms ate steadily from their resting places among the leaves. One had slung itself beneath an overhanging leaf--which would have thatched a dozen huts for men--and was placidly anchoring itself in prepartion for the spinning of a cocoon in which to sleep the sleep of metamorphosis. All, even the mighty grasshopper, would soon be torn to myriad mouthfuls and devoured by the great black tide of relentlessly advancing army ants.
The clicking roar of their advance overwhelmed all other sounds, now. Burl ran madly, breath coming in great gasps, eyes wide with panic. Alone of all the world about him, he knew the danger behind. The creatures he passed went about their business with the terrifying efficiency of the insect world.
There is something strangely daunting in the actions of an insect. It moves so directly, with uncanny precision, utterly indifferent to anything but the end in view. Cannibalism is almost universal. The paralysis of prey, so it remains alive and fresh--though in agony--for weeks on end, is commonplace. The eating piecemeal of still-living victims is a matter of course.
Absolute mercilessness, utter callousness, incredible inhumanity beyond anything in the animal world is the way of insects. And these vast cruelties are performed by armored, machinelike creatures with an abstraction and a routine air that suggests a horrible Nature behind them all.
Indeed, Burl now passed within yards of a space where a female dung beetle was devouring the mate whose honeymoon had begun that same day. And behind a clump of mushrooms, a great yellow-banded spider coyly threatened a smaller male of her own species. He was discreetly ardent, but if he won the favor of the gruesome creature he wooed, he would also become her next meal.
Burl's heart pounded madly. The breath whistled in his nostrils. Behind, the wave of army ants drew nearer. They met the feasting flies. Some took flight and escaped, but those too engrossed in their delicious meal were seized, and vanished into tiny maws. The twitching little maggots, stranded on the earth by the scattering of their soupy broth, were likewise torn to pieces. The serried ranks of black insects went on.
Combined, the tiny clickings of their limbs, the stridulations of the creatures, the agonized cries of their victims, and the rending of fungi, cabbages, flesh, and chitin, produced a deafening din.
Burl was putting forth his last ounce of strength. His limbs trembled, his breathing was agony, sweat dripped down his forehead. This little, naked man ran for his insignificant life, as if his continued survival among the million tragedies of that single day were the purpose for which the whole universe existed.
He sped across an open space 100 yards long. A thicket of beautifully golden mushrooms (Agaricus caesareus) barred his way. Beyond them a range of strange hills began, purple, green, black and gold, melting into each other, branching off from each other, inextricably tangled.
They rose to a height of 70 feet, and above them a little grayish haze had gathered. There was a layer of tenous vapor on their surfaces, which slowly rose and coiled, gathering into a tiny cloudlet above their tips.
The hills themselves were actually masses of mushrooms, yeasts, "musts", and fungoids of every description, which had grown upon and about each other until these great piles of strangely colored, spongy stuff had gathered into one gigantic mass that undulated unevenly across the level earth for miles. Covered with purple mold, this mass seemed a range of purple hills, but here and there patches of other vivid colors showed through.
Burl burst through the golden thicket and attacked the ascent. His feet sank into the spongy hillock. Panting, gasping, he staggered across the top. He plunged into a little valley on the farther side, up another slope. Ten minutes he forced himself on, then collapsed in a little hollow, still gripping his sharp-toothed club.
He lay motionless, breathing in great gasps, limbs stubbornly refusing to move. Above, a bright yellow butterfly with a 30-foot wingspan fluttered lightly. The sound of the army ants grew nearer.
Burl, lying in an exhausted, panting heap on the purple mass of fungus, was conscious of a strange sensation. His body felt warm. He knew nothing of fire or the sun's heat; the only sensation of warmth he had ever known occurred when his tribesmen huddled together in their hiding place to banish the damp chill of the night with the heat of their bodies.
The heat Burl now felt was hotter, fiercer. He rolled over with tremendous effort, and for a moment the fungus was cool and soft beneath him. Then, slowly, the sensation of heat began again, and increased until Burl's skin was red and inflamed from the irritation.
The tenuous vapor, too, made Burl's lungs smart and eyes water. He breathed in great, choking gasps, but the period of rest--short as it had been--enabled him to rise and stagger on. He crawled painfully to the top of the slope, and looked back.
The hillcrest on which he stood was higher than those he had passed earlier, and he could see clearly the whole purple range. He had nearly reached the farther edge of the range, which was here half a mile wide.
A thin, dark cloud had gathered overhead. To the right and left, Burl saw the hills fading into the distance, growing fainter in the haze. He saw, too, the advancing cohorts of army ants, creeping over the tangled mass of fungus growths. They fed as they went, on the fungus that had gathered into these incredible monstrosities.
Burl leaned heavily on his club and watched resignedly. He could run no more. The army ants were spreading everywhere over the mass of fungus. They would reach him soon.
Far to the right the vapor thickened. A column of smoke arose. What Burl did not know and would never know was that far down in the interior of that compressed mass of fungus, slow oxidation had been occurring. The temperature of the interior had risen. In the darkness and dampness deep inside the hills, spontaneous combustion had begun.
Just as the vast piles of coal the railroad companies of 30,000 years before had gathered together sometimes began to burn fiercely in their interiors, just as the farmers' piles of damp straw suddenly burst into flames without cause, so these huge piles of tinderlike mushrooms had been burning slowly within themselves.
There had been no flames, because the surface remained intact and nearly airtight. But when the army ants began tearing at the edible surfaces despite the heat they encountered, fresh air found its way to the smoldering masses of fungus. Slow combustion became rapid combustion. Dull heat became fierce flames. The slow trickle of thin smoke became a huge column of thick, choking, acrid stuff that set the army ants into spasms of convulsive writhing.
Flames burst out from a dozen points. Columns of blinding smoke rose skyward. A pall of fume-laden smoke gathered above the range of purple hills, while Burl watched apathetically. And the serried ranks of army ants marched into the widening furnaces.
They had recoiled from the river, because instinct had warned them. 30,000 years without danger from fire, however, had extinguished their racial fear of fire. They marched into the blazing orifices they had opened in the hills, snapping their mandibles at the leaping flames, springing at the glowing tinder.
The blazing area widened, as the purple surface was undermined and fell in. Uncomprehending, Burl watched the phenomenon. He stood, panting more and more slowly, breathing more and more easily, until the glow from the approahing flames reddened his skin and the acrid smoke made tears flow from his eyes.
He retreated slowly, leaning on his club and looking back. The black wave of army ants was sweeping into the fire, into the incredible heat of that carbonized material burning with an open flame. At last there were only the little bodies of stragglers from the great ant army, scurrying here and there over the ground their comrades had denuded of all living things. The entire main army had vanished--burnt to ashes in the furnace of the hills.
There had been agony in that flame, dreadful agony such as no man would like to dwell on: the insanely courageous ants attacking with horny jaws the burning masses of fungus, rolling over and over with flaming missiles clutched in their mandibles, sounding shrill war cries between screams of agony--blinded, antennae burnt off, lidless eyes scorched by licking flames, yet going madly forward on flaming feet to attack, ever attack this unknown enemy.
Burl limped over the hills. Twice he saw small groups of army ants. They had passed between the widening surfaces their comrades had opened, and were feeding voraciously on the hills they traversed. Once Burl was spied, and a shrill war cry sounded, but he moved on, and the ants were busy eating. A single ant charged. Burl brought down his club, and a writhing body remained to be eaten later by its comrades.
Burl emerged from the range of mushroom hills as night fell. Utter blackness covered the whole mad land, save where luminous mushrooms shed pale light and fireflies the length of Burl's arm shed fitful gleams on a jungle of fungus growths and monstrous insects. From the sky, now a drop and then a drop, the nightly rain began.
The ground was hard beneath Burl's feet. He picked his path with his large blue eyes, pupils expanded to great size, and listened keenly for sounds of danger. Something rustled heavily in a thicket of mushrooms 100 yards away. There were sounds of preening, and delicate feet padding on the ground. The throbbing beat of huge wings began suddenly, and a body lurched into flight.
A fierce, downward air current smote Burl, and he looked up in time to catch the outline of a huge moth passing above. He turned to watch its line of flight, and saw a strange glow in the sky behind him. The mushroom hills still burned.
He crouched beneath a squat toadstool to wait for dawn.
Slowly, slowly, the sodden rainfall continued. Drop by drop, all night long, warm pellets of liquid fell from the sky. They boomed against the hollow heads of toadstools, and splashed into the steaming pools that lay festering all over the fungus-covered earth.
And all night long the great fires grew and spread in the mass of already half-carbonized mushroom. The flare at the horizon intensified. Eyes wide and full of wonder, Burl watched it grow nearer. He had never seen flame before.
The flames brightened the overhanging clouds. Over a stretch a dozen miles long and as much as three miles across, seething furnaces sent columns of dense smoke up to the roof of clouds, luminous from the glow below them, and spreading out to form an intermediate layer below the cloudbanks.
It was like the glow of the many lights of a vast city thrown against the sky--but the last great city had molded into fungus-covered rubbish eons ago. Like the flitting of airplanes above a populous city, too, was the flitting of fascinated creatures above the glow.
Moths and great flying beetles, gigantic gnats and midges grown huge with time's passing, they fluttered a dance of death above the flames. As the fire grew nearer, Burl could see them.
Colossal, delicately formed creatues swooped above the strange blaze. Moths with riotously colored wings of 30-foot spread beat the air with mighty strokes, huge eyes glowing like carbuncles as they stared with frenzied, intoxicated devotion into the flames below.
Burl saw a great peacock moth soar above the burning mushroom hills. Its wings were 40 feet across, and fluttered like gigantic sails as the moth gazed down at the flaming furnace. The separate flames had united, now, and a single sheet of white-hot burning stuff spread across the country for miles, sending up clouds of smoke through which fascinated creatures flew.
Feathery antennae of the finest lace spread before the head of the peacock moth, and its body was softest, richest velvet. A ring of snow-white down marked where its head began, and the red glow from below eerily illuminated its maroon body.
For one instant it was outlined clearly. Its eyes glowed more redly than any ruby's fire, and the great, delicate wings were poised in flight. Burl caught the reflected flash of flames on two great iridescent spots on the widespread wings. Shining purple and vivid red, the glow of opal and sheen of pearl, all the glory of chalcedony and chrysoprase formed a single wonder in the glare of burning fungus. Then white smoke swirled about the great moth, dimming the radiance of its gorgeous dress.
Burl saw it dive straight into the thickest and brightest of the licking flames, flying madly, eagerly, into the searing, hellish heat--a willing, drunken sacrifice to the god of fire.
Monster flying beetles with horny wing cases stiffly stretched blundered above the reeking, smoking pyre. In the red light they shone like burnished metal, and their clumsy bodies with spurred and fierce-toothed limbs hurtled like meteors through the luminous haze of ascending smoke.
Burl saw strange collisions and stranger meetings. Male and female flying creatures circled and spun dances of love and death in the wild radiance from the funeral pyre of the purple hills. They mounted higher than Burl could see, drunk with the ecstasy of life, then descended to plunge headlong to death in the roaring fires below.
From everywhere they came. Moths of brightest yellow with soft, furry bodies palpitant with life flew madly into the column of light that reached to the overhanging clouds. Moths of deepest black, with gruesome symbols on their wings, danced, like motes in a bath of sunlight, above the glow.
And Burl sat crouched beneath an overshadowing toadstool, watching--and listening. A continual faint hiss penetrated the sound of fire: raindrops turning to steam. From afar, Burl heard a strange, deep bass muttering. Unbeknownst to him, it was the chorus of insect-eating giant frogs, reaching his ears 15 miles from their vast swamp.
The night wore on, while the flying creatures above the fire danced and died, ever replaced by fresh arrivals. Burl sat tensely still, awed yet uncomprehending. At last the sky grew dimly gray, then brighter, and day began. The flames of the burning hills grew faint as the fire died, and at last Burl crept from his hiding place and stood erect.
He turned to continue his odyssey, and saw the remains of one of the tragedies of the night.
A huge moth had flown into the flames, been horribly scorched, and floundered out again. Unable to return to its devouring deity, it now lay immovable, one beautiful, delicate wing burned in gaping holes, eyes dimmed by flame, and exquisitely tapering limbs crushed by the force with which it had struck the ground. It lay helpless, only its broken antennae moving restlessly, painfully.
Burl approached, and picked up a stone. He moved on presently, a velvet cloak across his shoulders, gleaming with all the colors of the rainbow. A gorgeous mass of soft, blue moth fur covered his middle, and bound to his forehead were two yard-long, golden fragments of the moth's magnificent antennae. In a strip of sinew about his waist was thrust the fiercly toothed limb of a fighting beetle. He soon added to his inventory a sharp-pointed spear from another scorched victim of the flames. It was longer than he himself.
So equipped, Burl resumed his trek to Saya, looking like a prince of Ind on a bridal journey--though no mere prince ever wore such raiment in days of greatest glory.
For miles Burl threaded his way through a forest of towering toadstools, decorated with colorful rusts and molds. Twice he avoided huge bubbling pools of festering green slime, and once hid fearfully as a monster scarabeus beetle lumbered within three yards of him, moving heavily with a clanking of limbs like some great machine.
Burl saw the creature's mighty armor and inward-curving jaws, and envied its weapons. The time was not yet come, however, when he would smile at the great insect and hunt it for the juicy flesh inside those armored limbs.
Burl was still a savage, still ignorant, still timid. His principle advance had been that whereas he had fled without reasoning, he now paused to see if he need flee.
He was a strange sight, moving cautiously through the shadowed lanes of the mushroom forest. Against the play of color from his borrowed plumage his pink skin showed in odd contrast. He looked like some proud knight walking slowly through the gardens of a goblin's castle. But he was still a fearful creature, superior to the monsters about him only in the possession of latent intelligence. He was weak--and therein lay his greatest promise. 100,000 years before, his ancestors had been forced by lack of claws and fangs to develop brains.
Burl was sunk as low as they, but he had to combat more horrifying enemies and more inexorable threats. His ancestors had invented knives, spears, and flying missiles. The creatures about Burl had knives and spears a thousand times more deadly than the weapons that had made his ancestors masters of the woods and forests.
Burl was in comparison vastly more weak than his forebears had been; that weakness that would someday lead him and those who followed him to heights his ancestors had never known. But now-- He heard a discordant, deep bass bellow, from a spot not 20 yards away. In a flash of panic he darted behind a clump of mushrooms and hid, panting in sheer terror.
The bellow came again, this time with a querulous note. Burl heard a crashing and plunging as of a struggle. A mushroom broke with a brittle snapping, and the spongy thud as it fell was followed by a tremendous commotion. Something was desperately fighting something else, but Burl could not identify the combatants.
The noise gradually faded. Presently Burl's breathing slowed, and his courage returned. He stole from his hiding place, and would have retreated, but something held him back. Instead of creeping from the scene, he crept cautiously toward the source of the noise.