of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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L'Sala looked over the half-dozen warriors that they had run across, her mind whirling with the implications of what they'd said. All were wounded, exhausted, and starving - and the news they brought with them was dire.
The mus had driven R'Nalas' army back - more than that, really. Under the leadership of The Slayer, they'd worn R'Nalas' forces down to nothing. All that remained was about twenty thousand riders under D'Lahst's command - the majority of the rest had fled, scattered like a covey of quail before charge of The Slayer's forces. But the worst news of all was that R'Nalas was dead, killed by The Slayer in exactly the manner he said he would do - a single arrow to the heart. R'Nalas had died bravely and nobly, refusing to flee when he had the chance to, proving he was not a coward and bringing great honor to himself and his family name, but he was dead all the same.
R'Narr was beside himself with rage and sorrow. L'Sala couldn't even speak to him - he snarled and raged at anyone who came near. The warriors they had run across, who were little more than deserters who had fled before the fury of the mus, found themselves now trembling before the fury of R'Narr. It had been all L'Sala could do to get R'Narr to let them live rather than slaying them. R'Narr now sat alone in his pavilion, his grief and anger burning a hole in his soul, while L'Sala struggled to focus her mind, to mentate upon a solution.
"Mrowrrrr... My lady L'Sala? How is the general?"
L'Sala looked up from where she sat near the wounded warriors, and saw Captain D'Viall. "Miao... Not well, captain. He has taken this news very poorly. Though he has three daughters from his late mate, R'Nalas was his only son. I think-"
"Fsst! Captain D'Viall!" R'Narr snarled, coming out of his pavilion suddenly.
Captain D'Viall trotted the few yards over to R'Narr's pavilion, then bowed his head. "Mrowr... Yes, General?"
"Fsst! Leave some food and water for those dung-headed cowards, there, and let's move on! Once we're through the forest ahead, we'll be within a day's ride of my castle! With luck, D'Lahst will have enough brains to head for it, as well!"
"Mrow... It shall be as you command, General," Captain D'Viall replied, bowing, and trotted off to relay R'Narr's orders.
L'Sala rose and went over to R'Narr's pavilion, following him inside. R'Narr spun on her, snarling. "Fsst! What?! What is it?! What in the nine hells do you want?!"
"Miao... My lord, I hope you are not thinking of trying to gather what forces you can to strike back against the mus. We need this war to end, not continue."
"Fsst! I already agreed with your plans, witch! It's obvious you are right - we must make peace with the mus. This fighting is futile - we are too evenly matched. Oh, the mus won - this time. Perhaps the next time, we might win - particularly once we, too, have the weapons of the Little Ones. But in the end, this is accomplishing nothing! We die, they die, but nothing is accomplished! My son is dead, his army scattered - the same army we needed if we're to wrest the throne from D'Zhin! Yes, I've already agreed with you... We must have peace. Peace with honor, peace with dignity..." R'Narr replied, then snarled. "Fsst! But somehow, someway, I shall kill that rat!"
"Miao... Then you would make a martyr of him, my lord, and the war will never end."
R'Narr glared at L'Sala, then roared wordlessly. His paw flew up above his head, the claws extended, and he trembled with rage, trying to resist the urge to claw her down.
L'Sala didn't flinch. She simply stared at R'Narr quietly, her expression calm, impassive. "Mrr... My lord, if you must claw me, do so. If you must kill me, then do that, as well. But do not continue this war with the mus. We only weaken ourselves, and make them stronger. They will not be defeated, my lord, and in the end, they will win. They will fight to the last, my lord - and as much as you hate The Slayer, Xaa'ap'Gasha, he is only what we made of him, my lord. Kill him, and a hundred others shall rise to take his place, and we shall be destroyed," L'Sala said, and R'Narr paused, her words striking home. The story of the dishonorable way D'Larith T'Chang had conquered Castle Xaa was well known to him, and R'Narr considered it the lowest deed his people had yet stooped to.
L'Sala saw R'Narr's hesitation, and continued. "Miao... My lord, you see us as being evenly matched, like two stags in the forest who lock antlers and struggle until they are both exhausted. This is not so, my lord. It is more like we were hunters, and they were bears. We have killed all the slow, fat and weak bears - now, all that remains is fast, lean and strong bears, who get faster and stronger each year as they raise another generation of cubs. Soon, it is they who shall be the hunters, and we the hunted. Just as you forged the Little One, Smith, into a warrior, our people forge the mus into greater warriors than they ever had been before. We must stop, my lord, before they become so powerful they can crush us with ease, and before their hate has grown so much that they will not stop until we are exterminated from the face of Oerth."
L'Sala fell silent for a moment, then turned her head, baring her neck. "Mrow... I have said that which I needed to say, my lord. I am ready to die, if that is your wish."
R'Narr lowered his paw slowly, placing it on L'Sala's neck, then turned her muzzle with a thumb until he was looking into her eyes. He lowered his face to hers, and nuzzled her gently. "Mrr... No, L'Sala. I shall not hurt you, ever."
Then, to R'Narr's complete surprise, L'Sala wrapped her arms around him, and hugged him tight, and sobbed.
R'Narr gently placed his arms around L'Sala, his touch hesitant, as though she were made of delicate crystal and might break at any moment. He didn't know what to say. Her tears shocked and surprised him - he didn't know Mentalts could even feel emotion, much less express it. For a long moment, he simply stood there, silently stroking the jellicle she-cat's back as she wept.
Finally, L'Sala's tears subsided
into long sighs, then silence. Still, she held him tight, and he
returned her hug, each lost in their own quiet thoughts.
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