The Nome King and his terrible allies sat at the banquet table until midnight. There was much quarreling between the Growleywogs and Phanfasms, and one of the wee-headed Whimsies got angry at General Guph and choked him until he nearly stopped breathing. Yet no one was seriously hurt, and the Nome King felt much relieved when the clock struck twelve and they all sprang up and seized their weapons.
"Aha!" shouted the First and Foremost. "Now to conquer the Land of Oz!"
He marshaled his Phanfasms in battle array and at his word of command they marched into the tunnel and began the long journey through it to the Emerald City. The First and Foremost intended to take all the treasures of Oz for himself; to kill all who could be killed and enslave the rest; to destroy and lay waste the whole country, and afterward to conquer and enslave the Nomes, the Growleywogs and the Whimsies. And he knew his power was sufficient to enable him to do all these things easily.
Next marched into the tunnel the army of gigantic Growleywogs, with their Grand Gallipoot at their head. They were dreadful beings, indeed, and longed to get to Oz that they might begin to pilfer and destroy. The Grand Gallipoot was a little afraid of the First and Foremost, but had a cunning plan to murder or destroy that powerful being and secure the wealth of Oz for himself. Mighty little of the plunder would the Nome King get, thought the Grand Gallipoot.
The Chief of the Whimsies now marched his false-headed forces into the tunnel. In his wicked little head was a plot to destroy both the First and Foremost and the Grand Gallipoot. He intended to let them conquer Oz, since they insisted on going first; but he would afterward treacherously destroy them, as well as King Roquat, and keep all the slaves and treasure of Ozma's kingdom for himself.
After all his dangerous allies had marched into the tunnel the Nome King and General Guph started to follow them, at the head of fifty thousand Nomes, all fully armed.
"Guph," said the King, "those creatures ahead of us mean mischief. They intend to get everything for themselves and leave us nothing."
"I know," replied the General; "but they are not as clever as they think they are. When you get the Magic Belt you must at once wish the Whimsies and Growleywogs and Phanfasms all back into their own countries--and the Belt will surely take them there."
"Good!" cried the King. "An excellent plan, Guph. I'll do it. While they are conquering Oz I'll get the Magic Belt, and then only the Nomes will remain to ravage the country."
So you see there was only one thing that all were agreed upon--that Oz should be destroyed.
On, on, on the vast ranks of invaders marched, filling the tunnel from side to side. With a steady tramp, tramp, they advanced, every step taking them nearer to the beautiful Emerald City.
"Nothing can save the Land of Oz!" thought the First and Foremost, scowling until his bear face was as black as the tunnel.
"The Emerald City is as good as destroyed already!" muttered the Grand Gallipoot, shaking his war club fiercely.
"In a few hours Oz will be a desert!" said the Chief of the Whimsies, with an evil laugh.
"My dear Guph," remarked the Nome King to his General, "at last my vengeance upon Ozma of Oz and her people is about to be accomplished."
"You are right!" declared the General. "Ozma is surely lost."
And now the First and Foremost, who was in advance and nearing the Emerald City, began to cough and to sneeze.
"This tunnel is terribly dusty," he growled, angrily. "I'll punish that Nome King for not having it swept clean. My throat and eyes are getting full of dust and I'm as thirsty as a fish!"
The Grand Gallipoot was coughing too, and his throat was parched and dry.
"What a dusty place!" he cried. "I'll be glad when we reach Oz, where we can get a drink."
"Who has any water?" asked the Whimsie Chief, gasping and choking. But none of his followers carried a drop of water, so he hastened on to get through the dusty tunnel to the Land of Oz.
"Where did all this dust come from?" demanded General Guph, trying hard to swallow but finding his throat so dry he couldn't.
"I don't know," answered the Nome King. "I've been in the tunnel every day while it was being built, but I never noticed any dust before."
"Let's hurry!" cried the General. "I'd give half the gold in Oz for a drink of water."
The dust grew thicker and thicker, and the throats and eyes and noses of the invaders were filled with it. But not one halted or turned back. They hurried forward more fierce and vengeful than ever.