of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY
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"How long has she been there, Ayori?" Byarl asked, looking at Amani.
"Two days, chief - ever since the mice left. I can run to the village near Castle Xaa, and maybe get Farrah-"
"No, no. That won't be necessary," Byarl said, looking around to the other musties gathered near. "Has anyone brought her water?"
"I did, chief," Bessie replied. "But she didn't drink any. She just sits there, in front of Ayori's house."
Byarl looked down to Amani again. She sat there on the ground, her head slightly bowed. She looked very tired. Byarl leaned close, gently placing his paw on Amani's face, and drawing down her eyelids to examine her eyes. Amani allowed his touch, and did not move. Byarl sniffed her carefully - in the end, Amani was an herbivore, like the deer of the forest. Just as the keen nose of a mustie was able to sense when a deer was ill and easy prey, he hoped that he might be able to sense if Amani was ill. Yet, his nose could smell nothing of the scents that marked a deer as being sick. As he considered her, Amani slowly shook her head.
"You're not ill, I take it," Byarl said, looking at her carefully.
Amani slowly shook her had again.
"Just tired, hungry and thirsty."
Amani slowly nodded.
Ayori looked to Byarl. "Chief? What do we do? Why won't she eat? What's the matter with her?"
Byarl shrugged. "Well, I'm only guessing, but I think what's the matter with her is you, Ayori."
"Me?!" Ayori yelped, and the other musties gathered near chittered in amusement.
"Yes, you. I think she wants to tell you something - desperately. But she can't. And she doesn't want to talk through Farrah."
Amani looked to Byarl and nodded, a brief smile flickering at the corner of her mouth.
"But how?! She can't talk to us at all," Ayori asked, staring at Amani in confusion.
Byarl sat down carefully so as not to aggravate the injury in his side, then looked at Amani. She had once again closed her eyes, as she had often done these last two days. Yet, she wasn't sleeping. The other musties, seeing Byarl sit, also sat, encircling Amani. Byarl stroked his whiskers for a moment, then spoke. "Well, I'm only guessing again, but I think that the reason why she can't talk to us is because we're carnivores."
"That's what Farrah said before," Bessie replied, nodding.
"Well, yes, but there's more to it than that. I think that the problem isn't that she eats plants, I think the problem is that we don't. I think that maybe our minds are formed so we don't have too much empathy for the animals we kill and eat. We are grateful to the rabbits and deer and other creatures we kill for providing their flesh, and we are careful to never over-hunt them. Still, we can never feel what they feel, because if we could, we would feel their pain when we killed them. And, if that happened, we wouldn't be able to kill them, and we'd starve. I think the mus and the cats are the same. The mice are closer to her, I think, in that they mainly eat plants - but, because they also eat insects which squirm and wiggle and try to get away, they don't have enough empathy to be able to do what she can do."
"Hmm... That makes sense," Ayori replied, looking at Amani. Amani simply nodded quietly, then held still. "But why is she starving herself? I don't understand - if she doesn't eat and drink something, she could die!"
"I think she's fasting... Trying to meditate, and focus her mind. Maybe, hopefully, get through and be able to tell you what she is thinking."
"Okay, but why me?!" Ayori yelped.
Byarl shrugged again. "I don't know. I only know it's probably you she wants to talk to. If she wanted to talk to me, it seems to me she'd be sitting in front of my house, instead," he replied, and grinned. The other musties giggled again, and Ayori made a moue'.
"It's not funny," Ayori grumbled.
Byarl nodded. "No, it's not. And if she can't talk to you, she might just die, at that - right here, in front of your house."
Ayori blanched, as did several others. "Chief! We can't let her die! What do we do?"
Byarl shrugged. "I don't think we can do anything, Ayori. I think it's all up to you."
"Me?!" Ayori yelped again, and the other musties burst into giggles again.
"Yes, Ayori, you!" Byarl growled, then stood. "This creature here is trying to communicate with you, and she is going to die if she can't manage it. Help her."
"How, Chief?" Ayori replied, somewhat taken aback.
"I don't know. Try sitting with her for awhile. Hold her hooves in your paws. Try relaxing, and listening with your mind. Farrah said it's like a voice in your head. Try listening for it, with her. We'll all leave you be while you sit with her and work on it - but if you need something, just yell. Alright?"
"Alright, Chief. I'll try."
"Good. Now, as for you..." Byarl said, gazing at Amani. "You are not going to starve yourself to death in my village, you understand me?! You will eat something and drink something! Do not let yourself die. If you can't get through today, you can try again another day, alright?"
Amani opened her eyes briefly, and nodded. She sighed deeply, smiled at Byarl briefly, then closed her eyes again.
"Okay, the rest of you, shoo! There's plenty of work to do today, and I still have to hunt up some rabbits for supper - I'm sure the rest of you do, too. Bessie, bag an extra rabbit for Ayori so he can just relax and work with Amani for today."
"Okay, chief!" the other musties chorused, and slowly scattered, each returning to their daily routine.
Ayori sighed, and scooted closer to Amani. The last thing in the world he wanted to do was to spend all day sitting next to her, wasting time trying to help her communicate. He was hoping to perhaps clean his house a bit, hunt up some dinner, and just take some time this evening around the communal cookpot with the other single males and females and just dance and sing and forget about all about Amani. That didn't seem like it was going to happen. It was obvious she was going to stay here until she had figured out how to communicate with him, or died trying - and he couldn't have that. Much as he was annoyed and angry with her, he didn't want her to die.
Ayori reached out, taking one of Amani's enormous fore-hooves in his much smaller, callused little paws. Byarl had said perhaps he should try to relax, and listen with his mind. Ayori thought it was a waste of time, but he knew that Byarl was probably right. He had to at least try, at any rate. 'Pfft! Why couldn't you have wanted to talk to Sarto? He's much better at sitting still for hours on end than I am.' Ayori thought sourly.
Amani opened her eyes briefly, and shook her head.
'I figured as much.' Ayori thought. With an effort, he struggled to obey Byarl's command, and simply sit and relax.
Time passed interminably slowly as Ayori sat there, holding Amani's fore-hoof in his paws. He tried to simply relax, and found he couldn't. Amani was simply too distracting.
It started with her fore-hoof. After awhile, Ayori realized by the feel of it that it was like a single, enormous finger. Where he had wrist bones, then the bones in the back of his paw, then finger-bones coming from that, she had a single ball joint for a wrist, a single long bone where he had bones in the back of his paw, and a set of short, very thick bones like a single finger after that. At the end was her fore-hoof itself - it was unlike anything he'd ever seen before. In the center was a soft, fleshy pad, similar to the pad at the base of his palm, but at the same time, not. She could turn that single, large finger at her wrist, and use it to grasp large or heavy things. Small or light things she simply touched, and they clung to the frog of her fore-hoof through the power of her mind. Ayori found he couldn't just probe it with his fingertips - he had to open his eyes and look at it. It was just too interesting. Which, of course, led to the next problem - looking at her.
She was, in a word, beautiful. She was also tall. Taller than the mus, taller than even the cats, she towered over everyone like a giantess. Even sitting, she was taller than any standing mustie by half a head. Her legs were long and lovely. Like the musties and all other sentient beings of Oerth, she walked on her toes - but where others had five bones in the foot and walked on a footpad and five toes, Amani only had one long, thick bone coming down from her ankle and one very thick toe, ending in a hoof. Her breasts were large - they were proportional for someone her size, but to Ayori, they were enormous. The thin garment she wore concealed nothing, really - and it frustrated Ayori greatly to know that she wasn't interested in him, and never would be. Ayori squeezed his eyes shut before he looked into her face. He didn't want to see her laughing at him for being attracted to her. He'd already had to endure enough giggling about that before, and then the sad, sorrowful looks which followed everyone learning Amani wasn't interested in him at all. 'Bah. What was I thinking, then? I mean, she's so huge compared to me... Even if she was interested in me and we mated, she probably wouldn't feel a thing. Pfft! I must have been out of my mind,' Ayori thought sourly.
Yet, even with his eyes closed, he still couldn't escape her presence. He could smell her. Her scent was interesting... Strong, to Ayori's nose, yet not unattractive...
Ayori forced that thought down with a quiet snarl. "This isn't working," he said at last, opening his eyes and looking at her. "I need to take a break. I'm thirsty. Can I get you some water, too?"
Amani sighed deeply, rolling her eyes in obvious frustration, and shook her head.
"EEP!" Ayori leaped back, his eyes wide. "You talked!"
Amani blinked in surprise, but said nothing in reply.
"Do that again!" Ayori chittered, grinning.
Amani paused, looking to Ayori questioningly.
"Ummm... No, I'm not getting anything, now," Ayori said, frowning.
Amani had a thoughtful look on her face for a moment, then she gestured for Ayori to sit again. Ayori did so, and she held out her hoof to him again. Ayori nodded, taking her hoof, and waited. Ayori again tried to relax, and listen with his mind. Amani concentrated, breathing slowly, then looked to him.
*Can you hear me now?*
"Yes! It's... It's a lot like a whisper. It's really quiet," Ayori replied, then grinned. "But... But how?"
*It is as Byarl said - your minds are closed, because you are carnivores. It is as though I am speaking, but you are deaf.*
"Then how are you managing it?"
*I am embarrassed to admit the truth,* Amani replied, and Ayori blinked - she did look embarrassed.
"You? Embarrassed?" he replied, and giggled. "Just tell me."
*I was... I was tired and hungry, angry and frustrated. I had sat here for two days trying to meditate, concentrate, focus my thoughts and reach you with my mind... And you were ready to stop after less than an hour of trying. What you heard then as a whisper... Was a scream of frustration and rage.*
Ayori looked at Amani, and found he couldn't help himself. He burst out laughing. "You mean you were screaming at me?!"
Amani paused, grinning slightly, then concentrated again. *Yes, I'm sorry. What you are hearing now as whispers... Are not. I am screaming at you. It is... The mental equivalent of putting my muzzle to your ear and screaming at the top of my lungs, because you are so deaf. It is also very tiring, and I cannot project anything to you unless we touch. More, you are only hearing me because you are listening carefully, with your mind. If you were distracted... Or if you were like a cat, and simply didn't care what I was thinking or feeling... You would hear nothing.*
"Oh," Aryori said, frowning slightly. "And this is tiring for you?"
Amani simply nodded.
"Hmmm... You know, if we scream too much, we can lose our voice for a day or so. Maybe you should take a break, eat, drink, and rest. You've only now figured out how to do it - you don't want to lose the ability to talk altogether."
Amani rolled her eyes again. *It is not the same thing as strained vocal cords. It is a thing of the mind, not the body. I will not lose my voice, I will simply grow weary,* she replied, then paused. *I am sorry. I find that now that I have mastered the secret, I am very tired and hungry and thirsty, and this is making me short-tempered.*
Ayori grinned, realizing that what had been a quiet whisper to him was again a scream of frustration. "Well, that's alright. You rest and get some food and water - I'll go tell Byarl you figured out how to talk to us, okay?"
*No. There is something I must say, first.*
*I was wrong. I am sorry.*
Ayori grimaced, realizing what she meant. "Well, no matter, it's over, now," he replied, and started to rise to go tell Byarl they had succeeded. Amani snorted, her brows furrowed. Suddenly, Ayori felt a tingling grip on his paw, pressing it tight to the frog of her fore-hoof. The power of her mind manifest, Amani dragged him roughly back to sit before her again. "Hey!"
*No, it is not over. I was wrong, don't you understand?* Amani's quiet whisper came to Ayori, her nostrils flaring as she snorted with anger. *Like the mice were wrong. I was wrong, and my people were wrong. For six hundred years, we have thought ourselves to be better than the cats, because we did not lie or hurt others. Now, I realize that we have been lying to the cats all along, concealing our true abilities, and our true feelings. And more, we can hurt. I hurt you. I never meant to, ever. I saw you as a little monster, a beast who rips the life from helpless creatures and devours their flesh to live. Even though I knew inside you were a gentle, sweet creature, I still allowed my own prejudices to color my thoughts towards you. You said you cannot help the way you were born. You were right, and I was wrong. You asked me a question. I told you no. I should have cast aside my own prejudices and said yes. To our people, those who eat meat are soulless beings, predators, monsters. Yet-*
Ayori snarled at Amani, baring his fangs. "Well, maybe we are!" he replied, flustered and angry.
Amani whinnied with anger, the whites of her eyes showing. Lashing out to her pack nearby, she clopped a hoof atop it and dragged it near, opening it a quick flip of her fore-hoof. Digging her fore-hoof inside, she pulled out a small, dried piece of smoked rabbit meat - a leftover from the journey she apparently had obtained, somehow. Without pause, she popped it into her muzzle, chewed it up, and swallowed it. She then glared at Ayori. *There. If you are a monster, a soulless being, then so am I.*
Ayori did a double-take, then stared at Amani in amazement. As it dawned on him that Amani had spent the last few moments literally screaming in rage at him, not whispering quietly, her words took on a new meaning. Slowly, he began to grin. Then, he began to giggle. A few moments later, he was whooping with laughter.
*It is not funny.*
"Oh, yes it is! It's hilarious! You got so mad at me you ate meat just to prove your point! You must have had that in your pack for days, hoping to prove your point to me - it's probably half-rotten!"
*More than half, I think,* Amani replied, looking a little green about the gills. Suddenly she hopped to her feet, dashing off to the bushes next to Ayori's house, then dropped to her knees, retching loudly.
Ayori couldn't help himself - he laughed harder. Musties didn't have a vomit reflex, but then again, they could eat meat that hadn't gone too bad, if they had to (though the taste was horrid). Ayori stood, still laughing, and found the bucket of water Bessie had brought over earlier in the day, bringing it over to Amani. "Here - drink this. It might help." Amani nodded, poking her muzzle into the water and gulping loudly, but after a few moments she turned to the bushes again and vomited the water back out. "Well, maybe not," Ayori replied, his smile disappearing as it dawned on him that she wasn't a mustie - she might even die from eating tainted meat.
Amani, sensing his thoughts, shook her head, dipping her muzzle in the bucket again and gulping down more water, only to retch it up again. She repeated this twice more until the bucket was nearly empty, then sat back on her heels, shuddering.
"Are you going to be alright?" Ayori asked, his face a mask of concern.
Amani nodded, then gestured for him to come closer, holding out her fore-hoof again. Ayori sat before her, taking her hoof into his paws, and waited, listening. For the longest moment, she said nothing, but instead simply sat and gasped.
*Perhaps that was not the wisest thing I could have done, I admit,* she said at last, her voice very quiet.
Ayori grinned. "No, it wasn't. But you got your point across, anyway," he replied, chuckling.
*I had intended to do that before your chief, to show all of your people that I now understand I was wrong.*
Ayori giggled. "Ummm... I don't think vomiting in the bushes would have impressed Byarl much."
Amani stuck her tongue out at Ayori. *You know what I meant.*
Ayori grinned. "Yes, I do. And you still can - I can cook you something nice that won't upset your stomach, so you can still make a nice display, if you want. A small piece of meat, boiled really well. Something that would be very, very bland to us might be okay for you."
Amani made a face, but nodded. *That is what I wish, Ayori Treeclimber. As I said, it is our belief that those who eat meat are soulless beings, monsters - and that belief is wrong. I wish to show my understanding to your people, and through my mind and my memories, my own people, as well."
Ayori looked at Amani again. Even hungry, thirsty, and having been very sick, he still found her beautiful, and powerfully attractive. 'If only she was serious about saying yes, as well,' he thought with a sigh. After a moment, he cast that little thought aside. It was not the mustie way to dwell on things that could never be. "Well, okay. I'll go tell Byarl you figured out how to talk to us now."
"No? What now?"
*I told you. I was wrong. I should have said yes.*
Ayori's eyes widened. "You mean... You would..."
*Yes,* Amani replied, and smiled through her exhaustion and hunger.
Now it was Ayori's turn to roll his eyes. "Oh, come on! Now you're just being nice to me. You're huge compared to me! You'd hardly notice I was there."
*Remember those little carrots you gave me?* Amani asked in reply.
Ayori nodded, blushing. "I do... And that's about what you'd be getting, too," he replied, feeling his ears heat.
Amani reached up with her other hoof, lifting Ayori's chin until he was looking into her eyes. *I learned that day that it is not the length of the carrot, but the flavor that matters,* she replied, and grinned wryly.
Ayori snorted, then burst into giggles. Amani grinned, then whinnied with laughter. She couldn't send Ayori a mental hug - she couldn't scream a gentle feeling. So, instead, she simply reached out and hugged him, wrapping her long arms around his small body.
"Oooo... I reeeeally have to go and tell Byarl, now," Ayori said, looking down at the enormous breasts that were pressed up against him, just below his chin, his eyes goggling.
*Why now? We can sit and chat while I eat and drink, can we not?*
"Well, yes, but right now if you don't stop, I'm afraid we won't get around to talking to Byarl again for at least two or three hours."
Amani blinked as she read his meaning from his mind. *Your people couple for two or three hours at a time?*
Ayori looked up into Amani's eyes. "Well, yes, of course. Two or three hours at a stretch. During mating season, we often couple four or five times a day for two weeks, also. Doesn't everyone?"
Amani slowly opened her arms, and leaned back, looking Ayori over. She was silent for a long moment, then finally held out her fore-hoof again. When Ayori took it, Amani shook her head, smiling at him. *I am thinking I should have said 'yes' to you a long time ago, Ayori Treeclimber.*
Ayori simply grinned. "And I am thinking that my adult name is going to cause even more giggles in the future, Amani of the Blue Wind Clan."
Amani did a double-take, then
whinnied with laughter again.
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