of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Captain D'Viall pushed the squirming mouse off the back of his bird, where it fell at R'Narr's feet. "Mrowrrr... Here he is, General. He didn't get far."
R'Narr glared at the Little One before him, trussed up paw and foot. "Fsst! Two days wasted hunting this little pig down!" he snarled, then pointed behind him. "Tell L'Sala we have recovered the one who escaped. And she was right - it was their 'mayor.' I'll need her to translate for me."
"Mrowr... As you command, General," Captain D'Viall replied, tapping his bird's sides with his feet. The bird trotted obediently away, heading towards L'Sala's pavilion.
R'Narr struggled to resist the temptation to simply claw the Little One to death, or run him through with his sword. Even so, the fingers of his right paw grazed the hilt of his rapier, and he could almost hear it's steel calling for blood. The Little One at his feet simply squeaked the same phrase, over and over.
L'Sala padded up quietly, Captain D'Viall just behind, and saw the Little One on the ground. "Miao... You wished me present, my lord?"
"Fsst! Yes, I need you to translate for me."
"Mrr? With this one, my lord? All he is saying is 'please don't eat me' over and over, my lord," she said, then paused, studying the mouse carefully. Finally, she spoke again. "Miao... My assessment of him is that he seems to have completely lost his grip on reality, my lord. I observe that he has been injured, most likely a week ago, but no more than two. Observe the back of his neck - a wound, apparently a bite-mark of the Little One's teeth. It also appears to be infected. Most likely, he has lost a dominance struggle of some sort, I would estimate approximately a week ago. He may be light-headed with fever from his wound, or simply hunger from short rations - possibly both. Combined with his captivity and his unbridled fear of us, it is my assessment he has gone completely insane."
R'Narr gazed down in absolute fury at the trembling Little One before him. "Fsst! The little fool has ruined everything! Now, I am forced to admit a bluff, or slaughter their children. If I admit it was a bluff, they will all attempt to escape within the hour. If I slaughter their children, I risk that whatever they may build for me will be flawed, and that as soon as they have tools in their paws, they will turn them against me, somehow."
"Miao... True, my lord. However, the latter was a possibility even before this, thus it is no change. Given the situation, I recommend that you follow through, as distasteful as that may be."
R'Narr nodded, and was about to speak to give the order to Captain D'Viall when suddenly a chorus of shrill squeaks split the air - all the captive mice of the Wild Wood shrieking at once, the same phrase.
"Fsst! Now what is it?" R'Narr snarled in irritation.
L'Sala blinked. "Mrowrrrr... They... They are calling for me, my lord."
"Mrr? For you?" R'Narr asked, surprised.
"Miao... Yes, my lord. They are, of course, aware that I can speak their language, and are all apparently shouting for the 'talker-cat.' It appears they want to say something - or, at least, their leader does."
"Mrr... Fetch their leader," R'Narr said to Captain D'Viall, jerking a clawed thumb at the wagons behind him.
A few moments later, Captain D'Viall returned, carrying Smith under an arm. He dismounted, then set Smith down before R'Narr. "Fsst! Alright, ask him what it is he wanted to say," R'Narr snarled.
L'Sala translated, and Smith simply nodded. Then, without a word, he threw himself on Cooper's bound form, sinking his incisors into the front of his throat.
R'Narr started in surprise as Cooper screamed in agony. Captain D'Viall started to step forward to separate the two, but R'Narr stopped him with a paw upon his chest. "Mrr... Wait," he rumbled, and Captain D'Viall nodded. Only L'Sala seemed unperturbed. She simply watched quietly. Cooper's shrieking went on and on, and finally R'Narr simply reached to his side, drew a knife, and tossed it to the ground next to Smith. "Mrrrr... Tell him to use that, instead. It's faster than his little teeth."
L'Sala translated calmly, and Smith stopped. His eyes met R'Narr's, and in that moment, R'Narr saw a wild mix of emotions play across the Little One's face as the blood of his companion trickled down his muzzle and onto his leather smock. Fear, anger, sorrow, horror... Each was there, in those alien, night-black eyes. And yet, so was determination, and strength. Cooper howled in agony for a moment longer, blood pouring from the front of his neck, before Smith snatched up the knife, turned to him, and rammed it into his heart. He held it there for a long moment as Cooper twitched in his death spasms, and finally was still.
Slowly, Smith stood, gazing down on the body of his friend as he held the dripping knife in his paw. He had known Cooper since they were both children. They had played together, laughed together, and wept together. They were closer than brothers, once. But now, that seemed so long ago.
Smith slowly turned from the body of his best friend, and wiped the knife clean on his trousers. Gripping it by the blade, he held it back out to R'Narr quietly.
R'Narr took the knife, looking into Smith's black, alien eyes. In that moment, R'Narr saw in those eyes what he knew eventually he would see - the fierce, burning flame of a warrior. As R'Narr sheathed the knife again, Smith squeaked something, then crossed his blood-spattered arms.
"Mrowrrr... My lord, the Little One says, in answer to your question, 'That is all I had to say. I hope you understand.'"
"Mrr... Tell him I do. Captain D'Viall, take him back to the wagons."
"Mrow... Yes, General. Shall I pull out their children after?"
"Mrrr... No, that won't be necessary. None of them will escape again," R'Narr said, and nodded to Smith. Smith nodded in reply.
"Mrowl... Yes, General," Captain D'Viall replied, picking up Smith again.
As Captain D'Viall went back to the wagons, L'Sala nodded. "Miao... I do believe you are correct, my lord. It is my mentation that none of them will attempt to escape again. I do believe we just might make a Mentalt of you, yet," she said, and grinned wryly.
"Mrr... Perhaps. Certainly I have forged that one into a warrior," R'Narr replied quietly, watching as Smith was unceremoniously stuffed back into the male's wagon.
* * *
Smith lay quietly in the space that now was his, the cool space by the left-side barred window. The wagon moved again, and Smith listened to the squeak of its axles, felt the bumping, jarring and swaying... He tried to lose himself in just the sensation, to clear his mind, to forget...
But he could not. The dead eyes of his best friend still gazed hollowly at him.
He knew the cats would understand. He knew that if he showed them, beyond a doubt, that the rest of the mice did not approve of Cooper's escape, his casting all the lives of their children to the Void... No, he knew they would understand. And they had.
'But the price...' Smith thought quietly. 'The price...'
No words were spoken. He had simply ordered the other mice to all shriek for the she-cat at once. Some, perhaps, thought that Smith intended to plead for the lives of their children. Some, perhaps thought that he would punish Cooper, perhaps in the manner of the mice, with a stern speech and public censure. A few of the males, like Drummer, Carder and Dunlass of the Forest Patrol, the only three mice who had raised a paw against the cats, may have known better. But it didn't matter.
They all had seen. They all had watched Cooper die, murdered by the paw of his childhood friend. No, not merely murdered, but murdered in great agonizing pain. A crime unthinkable, unheard of. It had never happened, in all the histories of the mice. Ever. Yet, now Smith was the first.
The first murderer.
It was silent in the wagons, now, save for the noises of the cat's poorly designed and poorly greased axles. No words were spoken. None of the males came near him - Smith had plenty of room in the wagon, now. None of the females in the wagon he could see traveling nearby would even meet his gaze. The children sometimes did, but they would turn their face away, their eyes flashing fear.
Each understood. Cooper was dead, but their children lived. In the end, that was all that mattered.
'Or was it?' Smith wondered, gazing out through the barred window at the sky, watching the clouds slowly drift by. He tried to tell himself Cooper was mad. He tried to tell himself there was no other way.
And yet, still he could see those hollow, dead eyes staring at him.
Smith wanted to weep. His heart ached for the release of tears. Yet, he could not. He no longer had any tears left in him. Smith knew that was because in his last, desperate attempt to save the lives of the children of his village...
He had forfeited his immortal
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