of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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Ayori gazed at Amani quietly as she slept, the moonlight gleaming off her soft, pale fur. She slept in the open - Farrah was in the tent nearby, but Amani simply curled up on the ground, a blanket from her pack wrapped around her. Ayori didn't know whether or not she had a tent. He supposed that she might have one rolled up tight and stuffed inside her pack, but he doubted it. She hadn't asked for one from the mus, however. She seemed perfectly comfortable simply laying out in the open - and that fascinated Ayori greatly.
Everything about Amani fascinated him, really. The little brown spots on her pale fur, looking like someone had taken brown paint and poked her pale fur all over with their fingers, particularly on her rump. The way she laughed. Her smile. Her eyes.
Ayori sighed quietly. He was in love - and even he knew it. The other musties giggled behind their paws at times. Sometimes, they giggled openly. Even the mus sometimes smiled, despite how polite they all were. Yes, he was in love - and he was in love with a giantess. Amani was well over twice his size. She was even taller than the mus, by a head. He couldn't blame everyone for laughing at him. Even he knew it was ridiculous.
But he loved her, just the same.
Ayori sighed quietly, gazing at Amani's sleeping face. He knew she could read his thoughts. She had to know. And yet, she had made no sign that she returned his love... Or even really cared. Oh, she smiled, of course. She smiled at everyone. She was a very pleasant, friendly person - though mute, to him.
'I suppose I'm too small... Too different from her,' he thought, and sighed again. Yes, Merle and Lord Xaa had fallen in love... But that was different. Even Ayori could see that. Merle and Lord Xaa... Fit together, somehow. Just to see them together, it was as plain as the muzzle on one's face. The mus and the musties fit together, also. Where the mus were stoic, the musties were playful. Where the mus were reserved, the musties were outgoing. Amani, on the other paw, was different. In fact, she was as different from the musties as bird from fish, and Ayori knew as much about her as he knew about the dark side of the moon.
'I wish I could talk to you, somehow, without having to talk though Farrah,' he thought, gazing at Amani's face. 'That would be... Too embarrassing.'
To Ayori's surprise, Amani opened her eyes, blinked, and yawned. When he looked into her eyes, he felt his heart fill with love for her again, and he smiled. Amani seemed to gasp at him for a moment, her eyes wide. Then, slowly, she smiled back.
"I'm sorry... I didn't mean to wake you," Ayori whispered. "I know Farrah said that thinking something at you is the same as talking at you... I didn't mean to wake you up." Amani started to turn her head towards Farrah's tent, but Ayori shook his head. "No, don't wake her. It's alright," he whispered.
Amani simply looked at him quietly.
Ayori gazed back, and felt a growing frustration in his heart. "You know how I feel about you. You have to... Don't you?" he whispered.
Amani nodded, and Anyri felt a sudden burst of hope. "Well... Don't you feel the same way? I mean... Even a little?"
Amani gazed at him silently, and Ayori bit his lip. 'Spirits of the Forest, please! Let her at least like me, for pity's sake!'
For a long moment, they gazed at each other in the moonlight. Countless possibilities raced through Ayori's mind. For a brief moment, he imagined the possibility of having a relationship with this gentle giant, much as Merle had her relationship with Lord Xaa. He knew no pups would ever come of it - she was a different species from him. He knew everyone would giggle at him behind his back. He knew that it would be difficult even to communicate. He knew that if she said 'yes', it would only be the start of a long and difficult path. But still, his heart was filled with hope. She was beautiful, and gentle, and kind. 'Spirits of the Forest, she is worth a thousand and twenty-four impossible things each day, if only...' he thought, and held his breath, waiting.
Finally, Amani sighed. Slowly, she shook her head.
Ayori staggered, his hopes dashed. "But...!" he exclaimed, then lowered his voice. "But why?" he whispered.
Amani shook her head, and slowly sat up. Her blanket slipped down, baring her left breast. Ayori felt a sudden surge of desire at the sight, followed by an even worse feeling of despair from the knowledge that she would never be his. Amani bowed her head apologetically, touching her fore-hoof to the edge of her blanket. It clung, the power of her mind manifest, and she tucked the blanket tightly under her arms.
Carefully, so as not to have her blanket slip, Amani reached for her pack, and pulled it near. She searched inside for a moment, and Ayori wondered what she was trying to find. In a moment, the answer was revealed - the small, carved, slightly curved stick Farrah said she used for her strange, inexplicable healing skills. "I'm not sick, I'm in love. There's a difference," Ayori muttered, and made a face.
Amani nickered quietly in amusement, then shook her head. She patted the ground next to her with a fore-hoof, smiling. Ayori sighed, and sat beside her. "Alright, what is it?" he whispered.
Amani held out the small stick, and tapped Ayori's chest with it. Then, she tapped her own, and waited, looking at him.
"Oh... You're trying to talk to me," Ayori whispered, and Amani nodded. "You... You're trying to answer my question?" Ayori guessed, and Amani smiled and nodded again. "Alright... Why? Why don't you like me? Did I do something wrong? Was it..." he asked, then paused, feeling his ears warm with a blush. "Was it because I stared at you? If that's it, I'm really sorry," he said, lowering his gaze.
Amani shook her head, smiling at him. Lifting the small stick, she pointed to her smile, then tapped her flat teeth with the tip of the stick.
Ayori grinned. "Oh! Charades! I'm good at this game!" he whispered, grinning broadly. "Ummm... Mouth? Teeth?"
Amani shook her head, then reached out to Ayori, and gently tapped his grinning fangs with the tip of the stick, then tapped her own flat teeth again. She then reached down to the grass by her side with her other fore-hoof, pulled up a small clump, and popped it into her mouth. She chewed for a moment, swallowed, and grinned. Pulling up another clump, she held it out to Ayori.
Ayori made a moue'. Grass was something that grew from the dirt and the ground. 'A thousand and twenty-four things could have peed or pooped on that!' he thought with disgust. "Umm... No, thanks, I don't eat grass. Musties eat meat."
Amani smiled and nodded, reaching out with her little carved stick and tapping Ayori on the nose. She then sat back, popping the other clump of grass into her mouth, and chewed quietly.
Ayori blinked in confusion. Slowly, understanding dawned. "You mean... You don't like me because I eat meat?!"
Amani winced, and nodded hesitantly.
Ayori sputtered with outrage, and it was several moments before he could speak. "I can't help the way I was born!"
Amani winced again, and held up her fore-hooves helplessly.
Ayori glared at Amani, hurt and disappointment fueling his anger. He now understood, but he found the old mustie saying was still true - 'A nibble of Knowledge is better than a mouthful of Ignorance - though it doesn't always taste as sweet.' He snarled, his fangs bared, and Amani flinched at his anger. "Why... You... You're..." he sputtered, then flattened his ears to the side of his head. "You're just as bad as the mice!" he yelped, and stood, turning his back on her.
Amani gasped, sensing the thoughts in his mind.
Ayori fumed for a long moment, then finally turned back to Amani. "Farrah says you're here because you want us to help your people. I don't see why we even should! You're just as bad as they are! I didn't think badly of you because you eat yucky, disgusting things that grow in the dirt! I accepted you as you were! That's how my people are! But you and your people are narrow-minded and mean, just like the mice!" he snarled, and shook his finger at her. "We're helping the mice because we don't want the cats to get all their secrets and use them against our friends, the mus, or against us! But you...!" he snapped, then glared at her again. "You and your people don't have anything to share with our people or the mus except your stupid prejudices!" he finished, and turned his back on her again.
Amani nickered fearfully, sensing Ayori's thoughts. Ayori was very angry, and as he considered what he knew of Amani, he realized that the last thing in the world he wanted to do was in any way help her free her people from slavery to the cats. Ayori was certain that once he told Byarl and Lord O'dmemet what Amani and her people were really like, they wouldn't want to help the horse-people, either. The horse-clans had nothing to offer either the musties or the mus. They couldn't fight, they had no technology worth speaking of, and the only thing they were good for was servants - which neither the mus or the musties needed. They couldn't even offer their friendship, which the mus and musties had done with each other. The horse-people would always hate the mus and the musties because they were carnivores.
Amani turned to look at Farrah's tent, her eyes wide with desperation. She'd heard Ayori's thoughts - and she feared them. *Farrah Smithsdaughter! Help me!*
Farrah peeped out of the opening to her tent. She had been awakened by Ayori's first yelp, and had grasped the gist of the conversation from what little she had heard of it. 'How?' Farrah thought back to her. 'I don't know what to say to him that would make it any better. You don't like him because he's a carnivore. I understand how you feel, but I don't think there's anything I could say to him that would make it better.'
*I am sorry, but to me, he is... A little monster. I can sense in his mind he is a sweet and gentle soul, but... He kills to live! He tears the life from another living being, and consumes its flesh to survive! It's horrifying!*
Farrah nodded. 'Well, it's a bit easier for me to understand him, I guess, because our people lived by his so long, and we eat bugs as well as plants. Bugs squirm and try to get away - they don't want to be eaten. So, I guess I can understand him. I don't like it anymore than you. The thought of eating meat... It's just disgusting. Still, our Lore says that we should accept each other, despite differences like that. Maybe if we'd actually followed that instead of treating them the way we did, our people wouldn't be in the fix they're in.'
*But all my people feel this way!*
'Well, our people felt the same way, and look where we are now. The musties are good people. The mus are good people. And we treated them badly, and now they aren't our friends anymore. We're very sorry, now - but it's too late. Your people won't really have a chance to even be their friends in the first place - you already can't stand them. What could I possibly say that would help?'
*I do not know, Farrah Smithsdaughter. I only know that I cannot allow him to think ill of me, or my people. I sense in his mind he is thinking we have nothing to offer them, or the mus. We have no technology, we cannot help them fight, and they have no need of servants. We cannot even offer them our friendship, since they are carnivores. Yet, if we cannot at least offer them that, they will have no need or desire to help us. Please, Farrah Smithsdaughter... Just speak to him for me. Speak my words, that he might hear my thoughts. Please.*
Farrah nodded again, then listened as Amani spoke to her. After a moment, she spoke up, her voice quiet in the moonlit night. "Ayori?"
"What?!" Ayori snapped in reply.
"Amani says she's sorry. She can't help the way she feels, and she's very sorry."
Ayori turned to look into the tent. From behind the small tent-flap, his keen mustie night-vision could see Farrah peeping back at him. "Yeah. She's sorry. Like you mice are sorry. Well, sometimes 'sorry' doesn't make everything better, you know."
"I know. She knows, too. But she's still sorry."
Ayori snorted in disgust, and turned his back to Farrah and Amani, sitting down in the grass.
"She is really sad right now. She's worried that the musties and the mus might not want to help her people."
"Pfft! Why should we? What can they offer us that we might want? Nothing. They can't even be our friends."
"Amani says the only thing they could offer you that you might want is their gratitude."
"And we and the mus are supposed to fight and die to free a people who can't do more than say 'thank you'?!" Ayori snapped. "No, wait - they can't even do that! They can only talk to you!"
"Well, Amani says-"
"I don't wanna hear what she says anymore! Just shut up, Farrah! I don't care anymore!"
In the silence that followed, Amani sighed deeply, a single tear rolling down her muzzle. Ayori didn't see it, as his back was to both of them, but Farrah could tell that even if he could see it, he wouldn't have cared.
Farrah closed the tent-flap with a sigh, and curled up beneath her blankets. 'I'm sorry, Amani, but I don't think talking to him is going to work. He's just too angry.'
*I know, Farrah Smithsdaughter... But I thank you for trying,* Amani replied, sadness tinging her mind-voice.
'I don't understand how you could have messed this up so badly, though... I mean, you can read his mind! Couldn't you tell what the right thing to say would be?'
*Yes. When he asked the question of whether I felt love for him in return, I could feel his mind clearly.*
'Well, then why didn't you say that? Why did you have to tell him you don't like him because he's a carnivore?'
*Because, little mouse, there was only one answer that would have ever made him happy - 'yes.' And that would have been a lie.*
Farrah sighed. There was an old saying of the mice - 'Sometimes a lie told in kindness is better than the truth told harshly.'
*So I have learned, Farrah Smithsmate,* Amani replied, sensing her thoughts. Amani sighed sadly, and dabbed at her tears with a corner of her blanket. *Our people did not know the concept you call 'lie' until we were enslaved by the cats. We learned it from them. We do not lie to each other - we cannot. It is simply impossible. Now... I wish I had lied to him. I sensed his love in his mind, Farrah Smithsmate. It was bright, strong, and beautiful. But I could not honestly tell him I loved him in return - or even that I liked him much. He is a sweet and gentle being, but...* Amani said, and sent a mental sigh. *Now that bright love I saw shining in his mind has turned to a sour bile in his stomach that eats away at his soul.*
'And now he hates you,' Farrah thought quietly.
*Yes. He feels embarrassed, hurt, and betrayed. I do not know what to do. If he was a cat, I would offer my body to him to make him feel better, and be happy with me again,* Amani said, and Farrah blushed deeply at Amani's silent, echoing voice in her mind. *But he is not a cat. Such an offer would upset him even more than he is right now - he would know it is meaningless to me. He... He truly is a sweet, gentle soul, and I... I have hurt him deeply. I was wrong... Yet, I do not know how to make it right.*
Farrah thought about it for a long while, trying to think of something Amani could say or do to make things right again. Suddenly, just as she was about to say something to Amani, she heard a sudden rustle, and felt Amani's mental start of alarm. Nervously, she peeked out of the tent-flap again.
Ayori was standing again, his gun at the ready, his whiskers quivering, his gaze locked on the shadows of the nearby forest. Farrah cleared her throat nervously. "Ummm... Ayori? Is everything okay?"
"Shh!" Ayori replied, the fur on the back of his neck standing on end, and his tail fluffing out.
*There is a cat nearby!*
Farrah nearly squeaked in fear at Amani's soundless cry of alarm. 'Why didn't you notice it before?!' she thought in reply, terrified.
*I was so preoccupied with Ayori and my mistake, I-*
Suddenly, Ayori flicked his gun to his shoulder, cocking the hammer smoothly. He sighted for a moment, then squeezed the trigger. A loud BANG ripped the air, and as a yowl of pain echoed from the forest, Ayori shouted at the top of his lungs. "CATS!"
In a matter of heartbeats, the camp came to life, and from Farrah's perspective, things got very confusing, very quickly. Lord O'dmemet stormed up, his sword drawn, and began roaring orders in his strange language. Byarl and the other musties were there in what seemed like a few heartbeats, their guns at the ready, and as soon as Ayori had reloaded, they dashed off into the woods, at least two dozen mus-warriors following behind. Then, before Farrah could see what happened, a mus-warrior had pulled open her tent-flap, grabbed her, swept her up into his arms, and was running to the center of the camp with her. Farrah squeaked in terror, her eyes wide.
The warrior that was carrying Farrah stopped after a few moments, and set her down near one of their campfires. Farrah shivered, partly in fear, and partly from chill. All she had was her blanket - it wasn't very comfortable sleeping in one's clothes, after all - and the night was cool. A few moments later, Amani had been dragged to the same campfire by the wrist, whinnying nervously. She was nude, her blanket apparently fallen when the mus grabbed her, but none of the mus paid any attention. In short order, they were surrounded by six mus with bows, each looking around warily, an arrow nocked. "What's happening?!" Farrah squeaked fearfully, clutching her blanket around herself, her tail lashing.
*They do not understand you, Farrah Smithsdaughter. They only know they are to guard you while the others find out how many cats are nearby. Apparently, they have captured one,* Amani's soundless voice replied, and she sat down beside Farrah. Farrah glanced to Amani and saw she was shivering, too - and her mind's voice carried a strident note of fear. Farrah instinctively stepped over next to Amani. The natural instinct of the mice was to seek groups in times of danger, and Farrah was comforted somewhat when she noticed Amani scooting closer to her in return - apparently, her people had a similar instinct.
A few moments later, Merle trotted up. Farrah blinked - she was only wearing her little green-dyed leather dress. Farrah had gotten so used to seeing Merle wearing the miniature mus-armor, it seemed very strange to see her out of it. "Farrah? Are you and Amani okay?"
Farrah paused for a moment, then nodded. "Amani says she's fine, just a little cold. I'm cold too. What's happening, Merle?"
"I don't know, exactly. Apparently, Ayori saw a cat sneaking around the edge of the clearing. When it turned to run, he shot it in the knee. The mus have it tied up somewhere over there," Merle replied, pointing. "They're searching the woods now to see if there are any others."
Farrah nodded, then paused again. "Umm... Amani says she can only sense the one cat's mind anywhere near. That means there's probably not another one within about a league."
Merle raised an eyebrow. "Why didn't she say something before, if she can sense them that far?"
Farrah blushed, and Amani bowed her head. "Ummm... Well, she was distracted. She kind of... Ummm... Got into a fight with Ayori."
Merle blinked in surprise. "You did?" she asked, looking at Amani.
Amani simply nodded, turning her head away from Merle in embarrassment. This was even more surprising, to both Farrah and Merle - they had never seen Amani embarrassed about anything.
Merle looked Amani over, and saw how the cool night air was causing her large nipples to crinkle. "Ummm... Well, okay - we'll work that out later. For now, I'll see if I can't find your blanket. I'll be right back!" she called, and trotted away.
An hour later, things had finally settled down, and Farrah and Amani had been allowed to go back to their camp area and get dressed. Shortly after Farrah came back out of her tent, Merle came by to tell her that Lord O'dmemet wanted her and Amani to meet him where they were interrogating the prisoner.
Farrah had never before seen a cat close-up, much less one who was wounded and bound paw and foot, snarling and spitting. Even lying on the ground as he was, Farrah could tell the cat was very tall - taller than the mus, easily, but still not quite as tall as Amani. He was also more slender compared to the mus - Amani guessed that the wounded cat and Lord O'dmemet probably weighed the same, though the cat was half a head taller. The cats didn't wear boots or gloves, and Farrah could clearly see his claws as he flexed his fingers and toes, struggling against the ropes. The snarling glare he gave everyone was very frightening, and Farrah hid behind Amani's legs. Even with all the musties, Lord O'dmemet and nine of the mus gathered around, the cat still frightened her badly. The only curious thing to Farrah was that they had laid the cat out on a large white sheet of oiled canvas. The large bloodstain on the canvas stifled her questions, however - combined with her fear of the cat, she was simply too nervous to ask about it.
Merle stepped up, crooking a finger to Amani, and whispered. "Lord O'dmemet wants you to listen in and tell Farrah what the cat is thinking when he asks him some questions," she hissed, and Amani nodded.
As soon as he saw Merle explain to Amani, Lord O'dmemet nodded, then turned to the cat. "So, cat. It appears you've had a brief encounter with our little friends, the musties. How inconvenient for you - though I suppose you should be grateful that our little friend, Ayori, decided to shoot you in the knee rather than in the brain. Certainly I'm grateful - it gives us this marvelous opportunity to chat. Now, let's begin with the simple questions. May I ask your name?" he rumbled in the cat's language.
"Fsst! You can die and rot in the nine hells, rodent!" the cat snarled in reply, and spat.
"What did he say, Merle?" Byarl asked.
"Ummm... He told Lord O'dmemet to die and rot in hell," Merle replied, and as the cat continued to swear, Merle blushed. "Ummm... Now he's... Ummm... He's calling Lord O'dmemet a..." Merle said, and paused. "Wow - we don't even have words for that!" Merle said, and paused to think. "Ummm... The son of a drunken, pox-ridden female who takes money for sexual favors."
A few of the mus understood the cat's words, and bristled at the insult of their liege-lord. Lord Jamat, who stood nearby Merle to make sure nothing would happen to her, had little reaction, however, since he was the vassal of Lord Xaa. He simply made a face at the cat's rudeness. Byarl looked up, and saw that O'dmemet simply smiled. Byarl shook his head. "You know, Merle, I think the cat is probably going to regret that," Byarl said, and grinned.
"You speak their language?" Farrah asked, amazed.
Merle nodded. "Lord Yarro taught me. He's one of W'mefa's vassals," Merle replied with a grin.
"My, my. I suppose that leg of yours hurts quite a bit, cat," O'dmemet rumbled in the cat's language, then turned to Merle. "Lady Merle, would you please extend my congratulations to Ayori on an excellent shot?"
"Certainly, Lord O'dmemet," Merle replied. "Ayori, Lord O'dmemet says that was a great shot you made."
"He and Bessie are the best shots in the tribe," Byarl commented, smiling.
"Thanks, chief! Thanks, Lord O'dmemet!" Ayori replied, grinning, and exchanged a bow with the enormous mus.
O'dmemet turned back to the cat, and smiled. "Well, cat, as I said, I can see that leg is bothering you quite a bit - it's the only possible explanation I can think of for why, when you are in such a precarious position, you would be so incredibly rude. Fortunately for you, we do have a healer along with us. He'll pull the bullet out for you."
One of the other mus stepped up, kneeling next to the cat's leg and setting a small box beside himself, and four mus knelt to grab the cat, flipping him over so the wound in the back of his knee was visible, then holding him tightly.
Lord O'dmemet smiled. "So sorry, but our healer has told me earlier we don't have any anaesthetics that we know will work safely on your people. We have some ether, but we've never used it on a cat before. We don't know the result, so sorry. What works on us, you see, might simply kill you - and we can't allow that. My healer assures me that your wound is not fatal, however, and if he's careful, you may be able to walk again in a few months - though he says it's likely you'll limp for the rest of your life, so sorry." Lord O'dmemet then looked down to the healer, and nodded. "Begin."
The healer nodded, reaching into his little box to produce a small bottle of alcohol and a scalpel. Byarl sat down, and the other musties around him sat, as well.
As the first howls of agony began, Farrah squeaked in terror. "What are they doing?! Are they torturing him?!"
Merle shook her head, looking a little green around the gills as she watched the healer pour alcohol into the wound, then scrape away matted fur and dried blood the alcohol had loosened with his scalpel and pour a little more. "Well, no. They're trying to pull the bullet out of his leg. Their healing lore says that the first hour after an injury is the best time to try to repair it. But, they don't know if their anaesthetic will work on him without killing him - he's not a mus, and he's not a mustie. They don't want him to die, because they want to ask him some questions. So, they're going to work without it. The healer, Hragh, says that the cat appears young and healthy - it will hurt a lot, but he won't die," Merle said, and looked again at the healer, who was carefully working on the wound, trying to open it enough to where he could slip in his forceps and grasp the bullet. The cat screamed in agony, thrashing violently, but was held fast by the other four mus that knelt beside him.
*Tell them to wait for a moment - I can ease his pain,* Amani said, and trotted off.
"Merle! Amani says she can help with his pain! Tell the healer to wait a minute!"
Merle translated what Farrah had said, and the healer paused. "Alright - but tell her to hurry. This has to be done smoothly and quickly, or we may as well just saw his leg off," Hragh rumbled.
A few moments later, Amani trotted back, her little carved stick clinging to the frog of a fore-hoof. She stepped over to the cat, then knelt by his head. The cat looked at her, and snarled. "Fsst! You get a horse-slave to help you torture me?!"
As Amani reached out for him, he snapped at her fore-hoof. Amani frowned slightly, then clopped her fore-hoof on top of his head and pressed down, holding him still with her strength and greater weight. He snarled at her, but could do nothing. Amani then carefully, precisely pressed down with her stick on several spots on his head and ear, pinching parts of his ear between the top of the stick and her sold hoof several times. She pressed hard, and the cat yowled several times at the sharp pain. She then pressed down at a point at the base of his neck, and the cat blinked in surprise - the pain in his leg had eased.
Amani looked up to Farrah. *Tell them this will not last, little mouse. A few minutes, as you measure time.*
When what Amani had said had been translated, the healer nodded. "That will be long enough."
As Amani stepped back to her side, Farrah looked up to Lord O'dmemet. He seemed satisfied at what was happening, though perhaps miffed that the cat wouldn't at least suffer some.
*No, little mouse. His people find torture dishonorable, something to be avoided unless there is no other way, and a life is at risk. Strange as it seems to us, they actually intended to heal him - though they also knew that afterwards, the cat would be easier to interrogate, because his spirit would have been broken by the pain.*
Farrah found she couldn't watch, and simply closed her eyes and hugged Amani's legs until it was over. Towards the end, as Hragh pulled the bullet out of the cat's leg with a pair of thin forceps, Amani's treatment had begun to wear off, and the cat gasped in pain. When he was done, Hragh opened a small unguent jar, scooping a dollop of bloodmoss and packing it into the wound. The cat gasped again - the pain instantly stopped.
"My lord, you may interrogate him while I bandage the leg," the healer rumbled.
O'dmemet nodded, and began again. "Alright, cat - now that your wound has been treated, perhaps you'll be in a better mood to chat."
The cat growled, but said nothing - this was not the treatment he had expected, and he wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Suddenly, his eye caught Farrah in the crowd gathered around him, and he blinked. "Fsst! A Little One! How did you escape?!" he snarled.
O'dmemet smiled. "She did not escape. She's with us. Now, since you've admitted that you are with the group of cats we're seeking, would you be so kind as to tell us where your camp might be so we can recover the rest of them?"
The cat clapped his mouth shut with an audible click of his teeth, and said nothing.
"Amani says that they're about three leagues to the southwest of us. She read it from his mind when you asked," Farrah said after a moment.
Merle translated what Farrah had said, and O'dmemet nodded. "My, my. You are certainly the ungrateful one. Perhaps you would at least be kind enough to tell us the composition of your forces, and how the Little Ones are being held?"
The cat remained silent, simply glaring at O'dmemet. He didn't speak the language of the mus or that of the Little People of the Wild Wood, and had no idea that Amani was literally picking the information from his brain.
"Amani says they have about fifty riders, and four wagons. The mice are being held in three covered wagons, and the fourth wagon contains our entire village library," Farrah replied after a moment. "Amani also says that someone called General R'Narr is in charge, and he has something called a Mentalt with him. She's scared of the Mentalt."
"Hrm? She is? Why?" O'dmemet asked, once Merle had translated.
"Amani says... They are special. Specially trained, very, very wise. She says their minds are very bright - not bright like smart... Bright like light. I can't explain it - there aren't any words in my language for what she's thinking. They come from a place called T'Masa Keep - it's like a big library and... Something else I don't have a word for. A place of great learning, a place of lore and respect for the cats. None of her people are allowed within ten leagues of it, and the Mentalts almost never leave it. They hate horses. They kill horses who stray too close to that place."
"They do? Why?" Merle asked.
"Amani says she doesn't know. They just do."
Lord O'dmemet nodded, stroking his whiskers. Finally, he turned to his warriors. "Guard this cat by the main campfire until morning, then cut him loose with a skin of water and some food. We'll be leaving then, so it won't matter. And take his bird that the musties found and use it as a pack animal," he ordered, and as his warriors bowed and dragged the surprised and confused cat off, he turned to Byarl. "It appears, Great Chief Byarl, that we are within sight of our goal. Shall we sit by my tent with Lady Merle and plan how we shall rescue the Little Ones?"
Byarl nodded, and looked to the other musties. "Alright, all of you, go get some sleep. We're going to be very busy in the morning, that's for sure."
Byarl and Merle then followed Lord O'dmemet as the musties nodded and walked back to their tents. Ayori came to take Farrah and Amani back to their sleeping-area, and they followed him quietly. Farra found her little heart was bursting with joy, and she could hardly contain herself. She turned to Amani, and grinned broadly. "It's going to happen! It's finally going to happen! My people are going to get rescued!"
"Yeah. Now let's hope that not too many of us die doing it," Ayori snapped, shocking Farrah into silence. She hadn't thought of it that way - that others might die to help her and her people.
Perhaps Ayori, who had been so nice before his spat with Amani, might die. Or perhaps Merle, who had been very kind the entire trip, and treated her like a friend. Or Lord O'dmemet, who was so polite and honorable.
'Or maybe even Amani!' Farrah thought suddenly, and reached out to hug her large friend's legs as they stopped by Farrah's tent, her eyes filling with tears.
Amani said nothing in reply. She
simply gave Farrah a warm, mental hug, and smiled reassuringly.
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