of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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As the days passed, Farrah began to understand more and more of Amani and her people. They lived a very simple life - even before the cats ever found them, and began to enslave them. Amani's garment, which she explained was traditional for females among her people, was a perfect example.
In form, it was a simple garment - really just a long strip of woven cloth, about four of Farrah's palms wide, or two of Amani's broader fore-hooves, and about three times as long as Amani was tall. There were three basic ways she wore it, each for a specific purpose. The first was her "everyday" wear - she started by placing the middle behind her neck, then crossing it and tying a knot between her breasts, then bringing it behind her and tying another knot, then down to the lower part of her back where she tied another knot, then she brought one end up between her legs while the other end wrapped around her waist several times, and then a final knot tied the two ends together at about her navel. There was a small slit in part of the cloth that ran along its length, and she would always pull her tail through it once she was finished. Farrah was always amazed that Amani somehow managed to tie the cloth about herself so that the slit always fell where her tail was. Amani simply laughed and told her it was practice.
The second way she wore it, Farrah had only seen once - it was the way it was worn for swimming. The cloth was simply wrapped around her waist over and over and over and finally tied tight. The third way Amani wore her little cloth, however, Farrah had seen every day for the past two weeks - and it was terribly embarrassing.
She began by passing it behind her back, then tying it into a knot in the front. Then, she carefully passed it around her back again, bringing the two ends over each other, then passing them back behind her back again, so that they crossed in the front. She did this several times, each time carefully placing the loops of cloth to hold her breasts firmly to her chest and support them while she ran - which, apparently, was the whole purpose of wearing her garment this way. Then, when she had almost run out of cloth, she passed the ends under her arms, over and behind her neck and down to the front again, tied a knot around the crossed parts of the fabric between her breasts to hold everything together, and she was ready to go.
Farrah found the whole idea of running across country with one's sex exposed terribly scandalous and embarrassing. The first day Amani did it, the Musties all stared - even Merle - but the mus only looked at her for a few moments, then they seemed to stop noticing.
*They haven't stopped noticing, little mouse - they merely stopped looking,* Amani had explained with a whinnying laugh. *Apparently, they find me quite scandalous, as well, but I can sense from their minds that it's terribly rude in their culture to stare.*
"I agree, Farrah," Merle replied that morning at camp when Farrah brought the subject up, nodding. "It's quite scandalous. But, it's her way. Byarl has told all the musties that they should follow the example of the mus, and shouldn't stare and make her feel embarrassed, but I don't think she'd be embarrassed even if they did stare. It's been nearly two weeks, though, so nearly everyone has gotten used to it," Merle said, then giggled. "Well, everyone except Ayori. He still stares when he thinks she's not looking."
Farrah giggled. "He doesn't realize she always knows when he is looking, whether she's looking or not. She can sense it in his mind."
Merle giggled again, nodding. "Well, she looks a lot like us - just bigger, and with a different head, paws and feet. The Last God said he made six races... Well, seven, counting the mus, but they're really mice, like you, only made carnivorous, like me, and bigger, like her. Xaa said once he thought that perhaps the Last God followed one basic pattern that he knew would work when he elevated all the races from wild animals. Xaa said that perhaps the Last God lacked imagination in that regard. Or maybe this was the only pattern that would really work," Merle explained, and popped another piece of dried jerky into her muzzle. Farrah didn't flinch at that - after watching carnivores eat for two solid weeks, both jerked meat and cooked, she had become somewhat inured to the idea. It helped that Amani's calm, reassuring thoughts showed that while she found their food revolting, she had become used to the eating habits of carnivores long ago.
Farrah shook her head, in awe of Merle for a moment. "It's still so amazing... You met a god."
"The Last God, apparently. All the others are gone, or so it said, and we're left to our own fate. Of course, he was insane - it's hard to say whether or not that part was true. I prefer to think the spirits of the forest still watch over our people, myself," Merle said, and smiled.
Farrah nodded. "I prefer to think that the gods and spirits which watch over our people still are, too. And given we walked so far and finally met Amani and now she's helping us find my people, I think they are," she replied, and grinned.
*What was the Last God like? Could you ask, please? I'm quite curious,* Amani asked, her soundless voice echoing in Farrah's mind.
Farra grinned, looking over her shoulder to where Amani sat in the grass nearby, eating. She had already donned her cloth for the day's running, and was simply resting before it was time to go, waiting for everyone else to finish breakfast. She simply tore clumps of grass out with her fore-hoof, shook the dirt off from the roots, then popped it into her muzzle and began chewing. The rolling hills they were traveling though at the moment were all bright and green with lush grasses and other small plants, forming an endless banquet for Farrah and Amani - though the musties and the mus had to survive on dried meat and rabbits the musties caught with their slings. "Come on over here, silly. There's plenty of tasty grass and roots here, too, you know," Farrah called, smiling.
Amani paused a moment, and Farrah realized she was taking a few heartbeats to feel her and Merle's minds to know if that would be alright. Finally, she smiled, rose to her feet, then came over and knelt next to Farrah, sitting on her heels demurely. Farrah then looked back to Merle, and grinned. "Amani was asking me to ask you what the Last God was like."
Merle thought for a moment, remembering. "Well... He was very strange. He had no legs... Just a big silver box his upper body sat on. He had two arms and two paws and five fingers on each paw, like you and me, but he had no fur - he was made all of metal. His head was metal, too - but it wasn't like ours, it was like a ball. He had no muzzle. He also had no eyes, no nose, no ears, nothing - just a shiny metal ball for a head. Yet, he could hear Xaa and I talking to him, and could talk back in our own language. He said he could sense something he called 'The Lightning in our Brain', but I don't know what he meant by that. I think maybe he meant he could read our thoughts, like Amani can."
Farrah nodded. "And he's still there? On Forbidden Island?"
Merle paused for a moment before replying. Amani's eyes widened slightly as she sensed the truth of the matter from Merle's mind. An insane God/Machine of the Ancient Ones, left alone for ages after the Ancient Ones departed this world - or were, perhaps, destroyed by the machine in a single night of madness, terror and death. It was difficult to tell - the Last God's story had been, to Merle, confusing and difficult to truly understand. She only knew it was insane. A rapid flicker of events crossed Merle's mind, and were sensed by Amani. T'Vril, the she-cat, holding Xaa at bay by threatening Merle while Tinker restored the source of the god/machine's power... T'Vril lashing out once she felt she had what she wanted, mortally wounding the little mouse she had strung along for months using her sexuality as a weapon against his innocence and loneliness... The mus, Xaa, killing T'Vril in a particularly brutal paw-to-paw encounter... The dying Tinker tricking the Last God into destroying itself, and by doing so saving not merely Merle and Xaa, but perhaps the entire world... Tinker's slow and agonizing death from internal bleeding... The months of sorrow and weeping over his grave that had followed for Merle, mourning a lost friend, and in many ways, a lost innocence...
Merle shook her head, and smiled. "Well, he's still there, but he wants nothing to do with any of us anymore. He says he made us - maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Either way, he's insane, and wants only to be left alone. So, that's what we did. We left him alone."
Amani held her peace, and did not share the truth with Farrah. She could sense from Merle's mind why she kept the truth to herself - and, having learned more of the ways of her people, the mus and the mice, she found she had to agree with them.
"Hoyo, Merle, Farrah. May we join you?" Byarl called.
Merle and Farrah looked up, and grinned. Byarl and Lord O'dmemet were approaching, Byarl carrying a roast rabbit on a stick. They stopped before them, and bowed. Merle and Amani bowed from where they sat, and Farrah followed suit, thinking this was still a strange way to greet each other. "Hoyo, Chief!" Merle said, grinning, then switched to the language of the mus. "Good morning, Lord O'dmemet. Please, have a seat."
Byarl and O'dmemet sat, and Byarl then passed a leg of the rabbit to Merle, and another to O'dmemet. Farrah simply averted her eyes, waiting for them to be done, and noticed Amani was doing the same. "Farrah, please ask Amani how close she thinks we are," Byarl asked around a mouthful of meat.
*Tell him I do not know, exactly. I only know we are nearing where we need to be. In a dawn, perhaps two, we will be there. Then, we wait.*
Farrah nodded at Amani's soundless voice, then repeated what she had said. Merle translated what Farrah had said to Lord O'dmemet, and he stroked his whiskers for a moment, thinking. Finally, he nodded. "Well, Lady Merle, she's lead us this far without difficulty. Chief Byarl's scouting has shown that she has, somehow, managed to lead us around patrols and villages that might spot us without even knowing where they were. However, we're quite deep into the cat's territory, now. The risks have become quite great. Ask her how long we would have to wait, once we get to where we would have to be?" O'dmemet rumbled.
Amani replied without waiting for the translation, since she could hear the meaning of his words from O'dmemet's mind. *Tell the mus, O'dmemet'ap'W'mefa, that I do not know. I waited for you for two moons, Farrah Smithsdaughter. It could be that long, or it could be less. I only know we are still not where we need to be.*
"Amani says she doesn't know," Farrah replied, interrupting Merle's translation. "She says she only knows we aren't where we need to be. She waited for momma and me for two months. She says it could be that long, or it could be less. And she can hear what he means from his mind, Merle - she doesn't need you to translate what he says. The words we make are just noise to her, anyway, and our writings are just scribbles. Her people communicate only with their minds."
O'dmemet nodded at Merle's translation. "Alright. Well, we'll be leaving as soon as she is ready to lead us, then," he replied, then rose to his feet, bowed, and walked away.
"He doesn't look happy," Farrah said, watching O'dmemet's tail lash from side to side as he walked away.
*He is very concerned for the safety of the mustelid, Merle Mousefinder. If we are caught by the cats and killed, he feels he will have failed his friend and ally, the mus Xaa'ap'Gasha,* Amani thought in reply.
"Oh, I think he's just worried that we might get caught," Merle replied, and Byarl nodded.
"We all are. He's right - we're very deep in the territory of the cats. And having crawled so deep into the lair of a bear, it makes one wonder if we'll crawl back out again alive," Byarl added, finishing off the last of the rabbit. "Let's not waste too much time, here - the sun is up, it's time to move," he said, looking at Amani, and she nodded in reply.
Merle licked her lips clean of the juices from the rabbit meat, then grinned, hopping to her feet. "Come on, Farrah, you can ride with me, today," she said, tapping her cuirass with a clawtip.
"Okay, just let me get my pack," Farrah replied, smiling. She then rose to her feet, and Amani stood behind her.
Suddenly, Ayori came bounding up. "Hey! Farrah! I found something Amani might like! Would you tell her that..." he called, his voice faltering as he skidded to a stop. Amani had turned around to face him, and his muzzle was only a few paw-widths from her sex, as she was so much taller than him. Farrah and Merle struggled not to burst out laughing - the expression on Ayori's face was priceless. His little black nose twitched, and his whiskers trembled for a long moment as he goggled. Finally, he managed to wrench his gaze up, and look into her face.
"I... Ummm... I found... Err... I found carrots. Wild carrots... They're kind of small, but Farrah said you were wondering what they might be like... Ummm... Jamat... Lord Jamat... He's a mus... He showed me what they looked like one time... Ummm... The big riding-birds eat them... As a treat... They... Ummm... Drop them in the feed bags..." he stammered, stepping back and holding out his paw, from which three small orange tubers dangled.
Amani smiled, reaching down to take the tubers, which clung to the frog of her fore-hoof. She selected one with her other fore-hoof, and popped it into her muzzle, chewing slowly, then smiled at Ayori again.
Farrah grinned. "Ayori, she says they're very tasty, thanks."
"Ummm... Okay, well... Ummm... I gotta go. Lord J'tah is waiting for me. I'm riding with him, today," Ayori stammered, then turned on his heel and sprinted away.
Amani whinnied with laughter for a moment, then popped another carrot into her muzzle and gave the last to Farrah. *For you, little mouse. Enjoy.*
"Thank you!" Farra replied happily, and dropped the carrot into the pocket of her smock to eat later.
Merle giggled. "You know, Amani, I think Ayori likes you. A lot."
Amani simply smiled, then trotted away to where Lord O'dmemet was waiting for her.
A few minutes later, Farrah was riding behind Merle on the huge bird she called her own, their journey having resumed. Amani was again in the lead, her bare, dappled flanks flashing in the morning sun as she ran. 'But you're still not attracted to him, are you?' Farrah thought quietly at her back.
*No, little mouse, I am not. I can sense in his mind he is a gentle, sweet soul, but... No. He is a carnivore. He lives by tearing the life from another being, and devouring their flesh. To me, he is... A little monster.*
Farrah had a sudden surge of pity for Ayori - it was obvious that he cared for Amani, or else he wouldn't have bothered to search for something nice for her. Musties didn't eat roots at all, and hardly noticed dozens of edible plants they walked by. His finding those carrots wasn't a simple fortunate happenstance. He had to be searching for them. And yet the person he cared for loathed and despised him. 'You should tell him,' she thought at Amani's back.
*No. Later, perhaps... When this journey is done, and your people are safe. But not now. He is not one of my people. A stallion of my people who expressed interest in me or any other mare would know immediately if I was interested or not, and would understand my feelings. He cannot - he can only hear what you tell him. And I do not think that it would be wise to try to work that out now, when danger still lies all around us.*
Farrah simply clung tighter to Merle, thinking. It seemed so sad, to her - and so unfair.
Amani wisely held her thoughts to
herself, and simply continued running.
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