of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Farrah kept on up the slope, following the little trail. She didn't know what made the trail - the Lore of the Mice said it was probably deer or mountain goats or some other unintelligent creature. Still, it was going up the mountain, and at this point, that was all that mattered. Climbing the mountain.
The little harness she had made from a blanket helped spread the weight of the travois across her shoulders, but she still had to hold up the poles in her paws, or else her shoulders became unbearably painful. Of course, now, after endless days of pulling the travois up the mountain, it didn't matter much. Her entire body screamed with pain. Her arms, shoulders and back were in constant agony, her forearms burned, her paws were blistered, and her footpads were raw from the sharp stones of the trail. Each night, her mother would gently massage her, and rub healing herbs on her paws and feet. It only barely allowed her to rise the next morning and continue. At first, she had cried with the pain of her mother's gentle touch. After a few days, she could no longer even do that. She simply would set up their small camp, eat, lie down, and sleep. If her mother touched her aches and pains afterwards, she simply didn't know.
Farrah no longer knew how long she had been walking. Days, weeks... Perhaps a lifetime. As she stared at the trail before her, her head down, the air passing into her lungs feeling like white-hot fire from her father's forge, she no longer really even knew where she was going - or even why. She only knew she had to keep going. Onwards, over the mountain, down the other side, and on... On to the northeast. She couldn't stop, she couldn't rest - she had to continue. Towards what, she know longer knew. Her world had narrowed to the small reality of simply lifting one foot and placing it before the other, over and over. Her muzzle moved quietly, as she mouthed a small mantra. "Tinker made it, I can, too. Tinker made it, I can, too," she muttered, her voice barely a whisper. She had tried to encourage herself with this thought when she first began dragging the travois, long, long ago, repeating it to herself as she struggled along. Now, an age later, the words no longer even had meaning to her. It was simply an exhalation of labored breath.
"Tinker made it, I can, too," Farrah gasped in reply, not even realizing who she was talking to, or that she was even speaking. It was simply a thought. A thought that had become her entire existence.
Farrah blinked slowly, still plodding along. Slowly, the words sank in. "No, momma... Can't stop... Must keep going..." Farrah gasped.
"Farrah, stop!" Bootie called again, her voice pleading.
Farrah staggered to a halt, her heart pounding. As she did so, she gently set the travois down, slipping out of the harness she had made. Realization slowly sank in, as she turned her bleary eyes to her mother. "Is it... The baby?" she gasped.
"No, Farrah," Bootie replied, climbing out of the travois with an effort. Though it was easier to ride in the travois, it wasn't truly restful. The ride was extremely bumpy, and each step of the way, she heard her daughter's agonized breathing. As hard as the journey had been for Farrah, it had been nearly as difficult for Bootie. She moved slowly and carefully, now, her belly aching, so as to not trigger another premature labor. When she was finally on her feet, Bootie looked to Farrah. Farrah was swaying with exhaustion, her tail drooping to the ground, her eyes completely glazed. Bootie's eyes misted with tears, and she hugged her daughter gently.
Farrah made a soft, breathy gasp of pain, but slowly hugged back. "What... What is it, momma? If... If it's not the baby... What?" she gasped.
"There's something ahead of us, Farrah. Look," Bootie replied, and pointed, gently turning her daughter by the shoulders.
Farrah looked. Ahead on the trail, perhaps two hundred paces away in the small pass they were traveling through, there was a mine of some sort. "Wha... What is that? It looks like a mine, momma... But it's too big."
And, indeed, by the standards of the mice, it was too big. The entrance to the mine was easily twice Farrah's height, nearly three times. Their little iron mine hidden in the Wild Wood had an entrance a fraction of the size of this cavernous maw that lay before them.
"I don't know, Farrah, but I think we need to go around it somehow. It might be cats."
Farrah looked at the sloping sides of the pass, and slowly shook her head. "I can't, momma. It's too steep. I'm too tired," she replied, and as the realization of just how tired she really was hit her, Farrah slowly sank to her knees. "It's... It's too much, momma. I can't... I shouldn't have stopped..."
Bootie knelt by her daughter, hugging her gently. Farrah simply sat on her heels, panting. After awhile, Bootie sat, pulling Farrah into her lap and holding her. "We came so far..." she thought, and sighed quietly. As she held her Farrah's breathing slowed. Bootie looked down, and saw that she had fainted.
Bootie wept quietly. This was as far as they could go. Farrah couldn't go on, and certainly Bootie couldn't walk far, herself. Bootie didn't even have the strength to drag Farrah off behind a nearby boulder or bush. This spot, this very spot, was as far as they could go.
Bootie closed her eyes, hugging her brave daughter, still weeping quietly. They had tried, and failed. Perhaps the cats wouldn't eat their people. Perhaps they had some other plan for them. But, it no longer mattered. There was nothing Bootie or Farrah could do to stop it. Their people were doomed. She would never see her mate again - assuming he was even still alive.
Bootie heard a quiet step behind her, a soft crunch of gravel beneath a heavy foot. Her heart leapt to her throat. She knew she couldn't run, and she certainly wasn't about to abandon Farrah, even if she could. Bootie controlled herself with an effort, and simply hugged her unconscious daughter lovingly, nuzzling her for the last time. 'Please, spirits of my ancestors... Let it be quick,' she prayed, and waited for the end, her eyes shut tight.
After many long moments, Bootie realized that the creature behind her was not attacking. It simply stood there behind her, it's breathing quiet and regular. What was it waiting for? Bootie didn't know. Finally, she snorted in disgust. "If you're going to eat us, get it over with already," she muttered, so tired that she found she simply couldn't be afraid anymore - she was simply annoyed that the creature was taking so long to kill her and Farrah.
Bootie jumped at the soundless voice echoing in her mind.
*Why in the world would I do
that?* A strange sound came from the throat of the creature
behind her, and after a moment, Bootie realized in stunned
surprise that it was laughing.
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