Legacy of the Last God
(Book II of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY

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R'Narr grinned. It had been a simple victory. The village of the Little Ones had only the five warriors they had captured - and only three of them could truly be considered warriors, as two of them had turned to flee in the first moments of that encounter. Even the weapons their warriors had carried were pitiful - miniature flintlock muskets, too small for his large paws to even shoot and hardly sufficient to kill with a single shot unless they struck the brain or the heart. No, it was obvious the Little Ones were totally unprepared to defend themselves, even without L'Sala's mentation. L'Sala had studied the empty village his scouts had found, and it was her mentation that it had belonged to a diminutive ally of the Little Ones - an ally who apparently had all simultaneously packed up and left at least a year before. She had no explanation as to why these allies might have left, but R'narr found it didn't matter - what was important was that the Little Ones would be easy to capture.

And, in fact, they were. After having his troops surround their village by late afternoon, R'Narr had simply stood in the middle of the village with L'Sala while she tallied the prisoners R'Narr's warriors dragged out of their little homes, kicking and screaming. By sunset, one hundred and fifty three Little Ones were under his claw, counting the females and children. He had separated the males from the females and children, and had L'Sala tell both groups that any disobedience or attempt to escape would result in R'Narr personally devouring the other group, one by one, alive. R'Narr had snarled and roared suitably well to terrorize them - some of them even fainted.

R'Narr chuckled. He had no idea where the Little Ones had gotten the idea, but when L'Sala explained that half of their shrill little cries were them simply begging him not to eat them, he decided it would make a simple but effective threat.

"Miao... The legends say that our ancient ancestors found them tasty, my lord," L'Sala had explained.

R'Narr simply made a moue' of disgust. "Fsst! Eat a sentient being? That's disgusting. If that is true, then our ancient ancestors must have been amazingly repulsive barbarians. Next, you'll be telling me the males sometimes ate their own kits," R'Narr had snarled. "Mrr... Still, if the Little Ones believe it, then perhaps that belief can be used against them," he'd replied. Afterwards, he'd found the Little Ones were very quiet and submissive, as they should be, and his warriors were easily able to herd them into the penned areas they had set up.

As the moon rose above the horizon, R'Narr ran his paw over the small chests that were now piled in one of the four wagons he'd brought along. Inside was the entire library of that small village - immensely valuable knowledge, saved by the Little Ones for centuries. It was all they could take from the village - the rest was simply too much. Dozens of fascinating devices filled every home, things he had never seen before. In one home, there was a vast steel contraption L'Sala had explained was a 'Steam Engine' - whatever that was - attached to many belts and pulleys and axles, the purpose of which R'Narr couldn't even imagine. Yes, there simply were far too many things to take them all back. It would have to wait for a second trip, perhaps next year or so. The village library, however, he couldn't leave behind. With this and the Little Ones themselves under the claw of the Shazad, the mus were doomed. R'Narr grinned again, his mind imagining all of the marvelous things that his people would soon have at their disposal. New weapons... Airships of their own - perhaps even better airships than the mus had. Perhaps even things beyond his imagining, new and wondrous things he couldn't even dream of...

'None of which I'll live to see,' he suddenly realized, and snarled. 'The Mentalt bitch still has me under her claw.' It was obvious to R'Narr what she intended. She would keep him as her puppet, her personal plaything. After all, a simple word to the Shazad about what he had done, grabbing her and cutting her neck with his claws, and he would die. Eventually, however, he would die anyway. Sooner or later, she would order him to do something against the will of the Shazad. Or, he would simply discover her Manipulation, and have R'Narr killed as an old fool. The Mentalt-witch, of course, would live. She was far too valuable to be destroyed. D'Zhin would probably just turn her over to his royal torturer, to have her will carefully and completely broken while he watched. Then, when she was properly submissive and subservient to him again, D'Zhin would simply continue onwards, conquering the mus with the new technologies of the Little Ones. Meanwhile, old R'Narr would be gone and forgotten, his name never recited again, his son disgraced.

R'Narr spat, turning to stride back to his pavilion. 'Little worry of the latter - my son already is a disgrace,' he thought to himself sourly. The Battle of Two Creeks had shown his son to be a coward - though few knew it. The Slayer's message-arrow had struck his son's pavilion, within a pace or two of R'Nalas' head. His son, ever the scholar, had learned the mus' written language. When he read the message, he ordered a carefully-considered, well-organized withdrawal. 'Fsst! A trick, you fool! Can't you see that?! It was a bluff!' R'Narr had roared at him three days later, when he found out what had happened. His son had feebly tried to claim it was that he feared the message meant the mus were about to get reinforcements, and so he had withdrawn to prevent a devastating loss - but R'Narr knew the truth. He could see it in his eyes. His son was a coward. He was a well-learned scholar and historian, yes. A brilliant military strategist, yes - his withdrawal had been perfect, with the barest minimum of losses, and never for a moment had threatened to turn into a rout. He was a skilled ruler of his own lands, and one with a great deal of charisma, allowing him to accumulate a fair number of warriors under his personal banner. Still, in the end, he was a coward. R'Nalas would always command his armies from the rear, never the front - and he would never take the field against The Slayer again, for fear of that second, final arrow.

Rnarr stood inside his pavilion, about to loosen the straps for his armor, when he suddenly snarled. 'To the nine hells with it!' he thought to himself. 'I have the Little Ones, now. I no longer need her. I can get them back to the capital easily - they're easily cowed, and they are no warriors. The Mentalt bitch dies, and now. Afterwards, I'll deliver the Little Ones to D'Zhin, then fall on my sword to save him the trouble of torturing me to death for disobeying him,' he thought, then smiled. 'At least I'll have the pleasure of sending her to hell before me when I tear her throat out.'

R'narr strode outside his pavilion and across to L'Sala's. Sweeping her tent flap aside with a paw, he stepped inside. Again she had removed her cloak, and was kneeling in the middle of her pavilion, her cloak precisely folded beside her. She appeared to be either meditating or asleep, though how anyone could sleep sitting up, he had no idea. R'Narr shook his head - it didn't matter anymore. R'Narr strode up to her, leaning down to snap his paw around her throat. Her eyes flew open wide as he lifted her easily to her feet by the neck, then held her dangling in the air, her toes just barely touching the ground. L'Sala's paws clapped to the general's forearm, trying to take some of the weight off her neck - she was choking. R'Narr simply glared at her. "Mrr... I don't know what kind of game you've been playing, witch, but it's over. I am going to kill you, here and now. You're up to something. You've been pushing me and prodding me for months on this trip, like you've been trying to get me to kill you - and yet you know the Shazad has forbidden you be harmed in the slightest way. Then, you finally get me to lash out at you, and you're suddenly all polite and submissive. Bah!"

"Hrrrk... But you're harming me now... D'Zhin will have you flayed alive..." she gasped.

"Fsst! I don't really care what D'Zhin will do, Mentalt-witch," R'Narr spat in reply, flexing his claws. As he slowly pressed the tips of his claws into her neck, he brought her face close to his, and glared into her eyes. "Mrr... No, I only want to know why you're doing this before I tear your throat out," he replied, smiling at the feel of her hot blood wetting his fingertips.

"Hrrrk... Because... Because I want to be free..."

"Mrowl? What do you mean?" R'Narr asked, surprised. He'd expected half a dozen different answers, including female lies like 'Because I love you and was testing you' or something equally deceitful.

L'Sala didn't reply - she simply started to gag.

With a sigh, R'Narr lowered her to the floor and let her catch her breath, his claws still sunk into her neck. "Fsst! Hurry up and answer, bitch. I've grown tired of this game." R'Narr narrowed his eyes. "Mrr... And don't try to tell me some stupid story about how you want to become my mate or my slave and were testing my will. I'm old - not senile."

L'Sala coughed for several seconds, trying to catch her breath. R'Narr growled at her. She was becoming quite boring. Finally, she looked him in the eyes, her own eyes brimming with tears. "Miao... Just kill me, my lord. Please. Only, make it quick, not slow like that."

R'Narr's grip slackened. "Mrr... No. Now you have me curious. Tell me, or I'll make it very slow, and very painful."

"Mrowl... Shazad D'Zhin lied to you. He did not select me for training himself - nor did his father, if you were also told that lie outside my presence. The only selection he made was when he went to the nunnery at T'Masa Keep and ordered that six of us were to serve him both as his Mentalts and as his concubines, on pain of destruction of the nunnery."

"Mrr... Interesting... But I fail to see how this is relevant."

"Mrowl... I was no mere female he picked at random, General. It is not by accident that a pawful of noble males each year are invited to take their Warrior's Rest on one of the females of T'Masa keep, nor is it accident that the female kits that result from these unions are kept at the nunnery," she replied pointedly.

R'Narr nodded. It was believed among the cats that only females could come to maturity on their own, simply by reaching the age of sixteen - males had to receive their maturity and virility from an adult female. Thus, as part of the rites of adulthood for males, a young male would sleep while topping an adult female. By doing this, it was believed the young male received a small portion of her mature spirit, and gained his true adulthood - only females could truly mature on their own, males had to be given maturity by a female, or they forever remained immature. Any children which resulted from this were considered 'lucky', specially blessed by the spirits of their ancestors. R'Narr himself had been through this rite of passage, and, in fact, had been one of the fortunate few to be invited to T'Masa keep to top one of the nuns. A beautiful one she was, too - easily twice his age, but she had made the experience memorable even now, nearly fourty years later. L'Charr, her name was - R'Narr smiled inwardly at the memory for a moment. And, true to the rite, he had gone to sleep a boy, and awakened a warrior. His son had been born from that union, and was considered a "lucky" child all his life. He himself had been invited to T'Masa keep, and had also gained his maturity between the legs of one of the nuns there. R'Narr now wondered if the spirit that he had been imbued with that night was flawed, however, and perhaps that was the true source of his cowardice. 'It is, perhaps, only his luck that's kept the coward alive this long,' he thought sourly to himself.

"Mrowr... Your point, wench," R'Narr snapped, dragging himself back to the present.

"Miao... General, the nuns keep careful track of the heritage of each male that we invite. Our minds are not merely the result of simple training, nor simple random heredity. It is specific, careful training and long and careful watching of bloodlines. Our order was founded almost two millennia ago, back when the mus first drove us from the east and freed the Little Ones, back in the Age of Legends... Our founders realized that strength without wisdom is strength applied foolishly, and uselessly. It is no coincidence that our ancient ancestors looked at the Little Ones as merely a source of slaves and food, and yet today we see far more than that in them and are repulsed by the idea of eating them. That was our doing - the Nuns of T'Masa Keep. We exist to serve, guide and protect our race against outside threats, to help us grow and mature as a people..." she said, then paused, her eyes brimming with tears. "Fsst! But we are not simple concubines, to be picked and used by the Shazad as he wills!"

"Mrr... So you pushed me, taunted me, and spoke so disdainfully to me because you wanted me to kill you."

"Mrowr... Yes, my lord. I pushed you just far enough for you to make the decision to kill me, then stopped so that you could complete your mission successfully. I anticipated that once you had the Little Ones, you would simply come in here and kill me. To be a mere concubine... It is the most shameful thing a Mentalt can do. The only thing worse would be to become his slave. He thinks I should be proud of this... Proud to be selected by the Shazad. Perhaps a common wench might, but I am no common wench."

"Fsst! A damn Manipulation! I knew it!" R'Narr snarled, tightening his grip on her throat. "Mrowrrr! Why in the nine hells didn't you just Manipulate D'Zhin to kill you, bitch? Now we both die!"

"Miao... For two reasons... The first is that he is simply not subject to Manipulations. He has a strong, strong will, and a keen mind... His mother was one of the nuns of T'Masa Keep."

"Fsst! I should have suspected the Shazad's father took his Warrior's Rest there. What's the other reason?"

"Miao... No, my lord. Just kill me, please."

"Fsst! Tell me now, bitch, or I dangle you just off the floor while I claw you slowly with my other paw. You'll die very slowly, and in great pain."

"Mrowrrrrr! Because... Because when I could see that it was you he would send, I realized I could pick no better person to relieve me of this shameful life D'Zhin forces me to lead! If I could have had my choice, my only choice would have been you!"

"Mrr? Me? Why?" R'Narr growled, surprised.

"Mrowrrr! Please, please don't make me tell you!" L'Sala shrieked.

R'Narr lifted her off the floor, and held her dangling there, choking, his eyes blazing. L'Sala struggled to lift herself, pulling on his arm, trying to catch a breath of air. R'Narr slowly reached to her with his other paw, extending his index claw, and easily cut the little strand that held the two triangles of fabric over her nipples. Slowly, with great care, he lightly drew his index claw across her furry right breast, just barely deeply enough to cut. "Mrr... I think you might last to morning, bitch, if I'm careful. I'm no royal torturer, but certainly I've some skill with my claws. Tell me, or we'll find out." R'Narr slowly lowered L'Sala to the ground again, and let her catch her breath.

Finally, tears streaming from her emerald eyes, she spoke. "Mrowllll... Because you are my grandfather," she replied, and sobbed.

R'Narr blinked, surprised, then narrowed his eyes again. "Fsst! You lie."

"Mrowllll! Yes, of course - I'm lying! Please, just kill me quickly! There was no second reason! I was babbling!"

R'Narr looked at L'Sala closely. "Mrr... I under-guessed your age when D'Zhin asked, I think. You look closer to twenty-two summers in this light, not eighteen..."

"Miao! No! I'm eighteen, really!"

"Mrr... My son is thirty-nine summers... He took his Warrior's Rest at the nunnery, about twenty-three winters ago..."

"Miao! Coincidence!"

"Mrrrrr... And he himself is the child of my own rest, when I was sixteen..." R'narr murmured.

"Mrowlll! Coincidence, my lord, nothing more!"

Suddenly, the image came to him, leaping to the fore of his mind, and R'Narr remembered.

"Mrrrrr... L'Charr," he said, remembering the jellicle she-cat he had topped so long ago, receiving a part of her adult spirit. "Mrrrr... Your grandmother was L'Charr," he replied, slowly removing his paw from her throat.

L'Sala collapsed at his feet, sobbing. "Mrowrrrrr... Yes, damn you... Now you won't kill me. No, you'll just take me and the Little Ones back and die, and I'll go back to being the concubine of D'Zhin."

"Mrr... You wanted me, the eldest male of your line, to relieve you of your life, as you feel D'Zhin has shamed you beyond endurance."

L'Sala couldn't reply, she simply curled into a ball and sobbed.

R'Narr stared at L'Sala in silence, while she sobbed uncontrollably. It was no coincidence. The more he looked at her, the more he realized that she looked very much like a young version of the she-cat he had topped four decades ago. 'By the gods... If what she says is true, then neither of us should die. I should keep the Little Ones myself, use their technology to equip my own warriors, ride to the capital, slay D'Zhin and take the damn throne myself!' R'Narr thought with an inward snarl, pity for the grand-daughter at his feet before him mixing with anger at D'Zhin.

Suddenly, R'Narr stopped. Realization slowly dawned on him, and he sighed inwardly. With a flick of his tail, he tossed his angry thoughts aside, looked down at L'Sala, and shook his head. "Mrowlll... No."

L'Sala looked up to him, the fur of her face streaked with tears. "Mrr? No, my lord? No, what? I don't understand."

"Mrowrrr... I told you - I'm old, not senile," he said, and sat before her, crossing his legs. "Mrr... Come now... The Mentalt training also teaches the Mentalt to control their emotions perfectly - even more than ordinary females. If you wanted to die at my paw, you would have merely told me something simple while my blood was hot and my paw was first on your throat, like 'There was no plan, no Manipulation, I simply think you're a pathetic, disgusting old tom who annoyed me by staring at my body all the time' - something to push me over the edge and simply tear your throat out quickly. No, you have something else on your mind," he said, then tipped his head as he looked at her. "Mrowr... Just now, I was considering doing something I would never have considered this morning - keeping the Little Ones for myself, equipping my army with their technology, and riding to the capital to slay D'Zhin and snatch the throne for myself. If one of my warriors had suggested this to me this morning, even in jest, I'd have killed him on the spot," R'Narr said, and grinned wryly.

"Mrr... My father once said 'Son, when you find yourself suddenly thinking things you never would have thought that morning with fresh meat in your belly and a warm cup of tea in your paw, look around - if there's a female near you, then you can be sure you're the victim of a Manipulation.' I've lived by that advice all my life, and I have found my father was right," R'Narr said, chuckling. "Miao... Come, come. Those tears are as real as a rainbow. Very pretty, quite convincing, but there's no substance to it - it's just an illusion. Oh, certainly, parts of your story are true. You're almost certainly L'Charr T'Masa's grand-daughter - perhaps even her daughter, borne late in life. But my son's daughter? I doubt it. I'd have heard of the birth. No, you're no kin of mine, girl."

L'Sala sniffled. "Miao! But my lord, I-"

"Mrowl... No, girl. Enough games. No more tricks, no more lies, no more Manipulations. I'm guessing, but I think you, or perhaps one of the other Mentalts, saw something in the future based on things that are happening today - and you didn't like what you saw. So, you came up with this plan - a Manipulation intended to get me to kill D'Zhin and snatch the throne for myself. It was quite the Grand Manipulation, my dear. If you came up with it yourself, you should be commended. I nearly fell for it, too - and if you'd done this twenty or thirty years ago, back when I was younger and more hot-headed, it would have worked perfectly," R'Narr said, and smiled. "Mrr... Now come - it's obvious you, and perhaps all the Mentalts, are fighting for something to happen in the future. So, tell this old warrior what you're fighting for, plain and simple. No tricks, no lies, no Manipulations. Just tell me. Then, together, we'll decide what we'll do about it."

L'Sala sat up smoothly, gracefully, her sniffling and weeping instantly stopping. She wiped her eyes with a paw, then looked back at R'Narr, her face totally calm and impassive. "Mrr... Alright, General. I should have suspected this wouldn't work, but I was hoping... I'm sorry, recent events have left us rather desperate."

"Mrr? Us?"

"Miao... We Mentalts. This war with the mus cannot be allowed to continue."

"Mrrr... And why not, pray tell? With the tools of the Little Ones, we could win easily."

"Miao... At what cost, General? We would introduce a long string of new technologies, each prodded from their little minds, and all of them oriented towards war. Suppose we win. Then what? These technologies are not like a sword that can be simply sheathed. Once drawn, they must be used. Our people will have crushed the mus, then have none to fight save themselves. What would follow would be decades, perhaps centuries of internecine warfare. We would stop advancing in anything resembling culture or science - we would only be interested in war. And, perhaps, in the end, we would destroy ourselves, just as the legends say the Ancient Ones did to themselves."

R'Narr nodded. The legend of the Ancient Ones was part of their earliest and oldest stories. Great, magical beings who once ruled Oerth, then vanished. All their cities were gone, now - buildings that were ancient ruins before even the first primitive, stone-age Feline laid eyes on their rubble thousands of years ago were now little more than the lone, broken stone turned up by a spade, or flakes of rusted metal found on a beach. The legends did say the Ancient Ones might have destroyed themselves in some great, cataclysmic war - or, perhaps, something worse. And, knowing the history of his own people, this seemed very likely to R'Narr. "Mrr... What you say makes sense, L'Sala. We spent a thousand years of recorded history and untold time before that fighting each other, clan against clan, brother against brother, before D'Vailian finally conquered all the clans two centuries ago and became the first Shazad of all the Cat-Clans. The mus themselves fought each other sporadically in the last pawful of centuries, and it's only been this war that unified them against us."

"Miao... Then, there is what would happen if we lose. We still could lose, you know. The mus are more or less unified and they still developing new ideas, all because they are fighting us. They may, in the end, be superior to the Little Ones. Then, we would be doomed. If they win, they will destroy us, General. They hate us. They will not make us into slaves, as we do their people we capture. No, they will simply kill us all as their most hated enemy. Thus, either way, our race is in danger of extinction, either from itself or it's enemies. If the war were to end, they might turn their attention to more peaceful developments. Perhaps, at some point in the future, we may even call each other 'friend.' They are not without honor, General, as well you know."

"Mrr... No, they fight with honor - sometimes more so than our own warriors do, I have to admit. D'Larith T'Chang is the perfect example. Oh, he was a fine warrior, to be sure - one of the best. But the way he conquered Castle Xaa was disgraceful," R'Narr replied. 'Of course, many from the west are like that,' he thought to himself silently, not wanting to offend L'Sala, as she herself was from the west. Still, it was true - though some from the west fought with honor and nobility, many of the western clans did not. Their sense of honor was, by the standards of R'Narr and the felines of the Eastern Hinterlands, somewhat attenuated, if not simply nonexistent.

"Miao... And it also created our greatest enemy, General. Xaa'ap'Gasha is a hero to the mus, and when he speaks, they all listen. So long as he continues to live and continues to hate us, the mus will continue to hate us. If he dies hating us, he becomes a martyr, and spurs the mus to continue fighting to the last. No, somehow we must make peace with him," L'Sala replied, then paused. "Mrr... General, though you may find D'Larith T'Chang's actions despicable, you must understand he only acted as the Shazad directed. The Shazad's scholars developed the poison we used against the mus, by experimenting on mus prisoners. The mus now apparently have an anti-toxin for the poison, rendering it useless - but it's long-term effect was to make them hate us deeply, and see us as being totally without honor. They cannot make peace with us until they can see we have honor, and are interested in peace."

"Mrrr... And this can never happen with D'Zhin on the throne, thus, you conceived this Manipulation to get me to kill him and take his place," R'Narr replied, shaking his head. "Mrowrrrr... Can't you see the enormous civil war you would spark if I were to do that? Even if all my allies remained loyal, that would still mean two-thirds of the cat-clans would oppose me! Meanwhile, the mus would take advantage of the chaos and crush us all!"

"Miao... Not necessarily. First, if they did attack, they would have to know that the cats would unite against them, thus wasting their effort. Their wisest strategists are Lord W'mefa and Lord Xaa - those two will probably decide to wait until the civil war is resolved and our troop strengths are at their lowest point before they launch an attack. The other mus will follow their lead."

"Ffft! And this is good?!"

"Mrowrrr... Yes, General. You see, it is my mentation that waiting would give us time to insure they understand the civil war is happening because some of the cat clans no longer wish to fight the mus, that those clans find the war with the mus to have been a mistake and one without honor, and that the leader of these clans - one who would, if he won, become the next Shazad - is a warrior of honor who wishes to live in peace with them."

R'Narr sat silently, stroking his whiskers and thinking. After a long moment, he replied. "Mrrr... That's quite risky. They may not believe it. Also, you still haven't addressed how I would be able to defeat the other clans who would oppose me and support the Shazad."

"Miao... As to the former, that is a risk we would have to take. As to the latter, I will be helping you, of course. With a Mentalt at your side, you will have an enormous edge against those who may oppose you."

"Ffft! D'Zhin has five more just like you."

"Mrr... Yes. And with any luck, he will rely on them for advice," L'Sala replied, and smiled slightly.

R'Narr did a double take, then chuckled. "Mrr... You risk much, girl. I could still lose, and you would die. And if the Shazad realizes his Mentalts are deceiving him, he will have them slowly tortured to death. Still, it is a grand Manipulation, and a well-thought plan. Whoever conceived it was indeed a true Mentalt."

L'Sala bowed her head, wincing slightly with pain. "Mrrr... Thank you, General."

R'Narr smiled - somehow, he was quite pleased to know it was L'Sala who had conceived of the idea. "Mrrr... Come - let's attend to those wounds," he said, rising and extending a paw. L'Sala said nothing in reply, merely picking up her cloak and draping it over her shoulders (with a definite wince of pain, R'Narr noticed), then took his paw in hers. The fur on the back and sides of her neck was matted with blood, and she was apparently in some pain now that the adrenalin-surge of their previous encounter had faded. R'Narr quietly escorted her out of her tent, and into his own. After seating her on his cot, he opened his traveling chest, extracting a small jar with a mus-character on it.

"Miao... What is that, General?"

"Mrowrrrr... I don't know, really. I got it off the corpse of a mus-healer a six years ago, and found it was a marvelous little concoction. My son says that the label reads "bloodmoss" in their language, but that doesn't tell me what it is. All I know is it works, and I always have my warriors search the corpses of the mus after a battle for any more of it they may find. I have perhaps two dozen jars of it back at my castle," he replied, then patted his right thigh. "Mrowlll... I only wish I had some of it back when I was twenty-eight, and we were putting down a rebellion within Clan T'Mrr. My leg wouldn't hurt when the weather changes," he said, sitting beside her and opening the jar. Carefully, so as not to waste any of it, R'Narr scooped up small dabs of the earthy-smelling pink goo and gently rubbed each dab into the cuts on the sides of L'Sala's neck.

"Mrowr! The pain! It vanished!" L'Sala yelped in surprise.

R'Narr simply grinned. "Mrrr... And small wounds like these will heal with almost no scar. It's a truly marvelous concoction. I wish our healers knew how to make it."

"Miao... Perhaps, someday, if we can make peace with the mus, they will teach us," L'Sala replied as R'Narr closed the jar and returned it to his traveling chest.

"Mrow... Perhaps," he replied, then held his paw out to her again. "Mrr... Come. Time for you to get some sleep. We'll talk more in the morning, after I've made the arrangements to transport the Little Ones back without losing any of them. We've four covered wagons, but there's so many of them, I'm afraid we'll have to take time to build another floor or two inside them for the Little Ones to stand on, or they'll crush each other to death during the journey back to my castle. Thank the gods they eat djuducu-fodder - I've no idea how I'd feed all of them on our supplies otherwise."

L'Sala smiled wryly. "Purr... But, General... There's still one small cut you haven't cared for. And it does sting so terribly much," she replied, slowly pulling open her cloak to bare her right breast.

R'Narr narrowed his eyes. "Fsst! I told you, L'Sala - no lies, no tricks, no Manipulations. You can't possibly be interested in me. I'm at least twice your age - nearly thrice. Hell, I've scars older than you," R'Narr growled sourly.

"Purr... No trick, no lie, no Manipulation, and yes, I am interested in you, General. Yes, you're at least twice my age - and you're also still as strong as nearly any other warrior under your command, and you have a keen mind that clearly sees things for what they are. The spirit my grandmother shared with you in her youth still burns brightly within you, R'Narr V'Nass. Please... Allow me to share it."

R'Narr gazed at L'Sala quietly for a long moment. Finally, very slowly, he smiled. Sitting down next to her again, R'Narr looked at the small scratch on her furry breast. "Purr... It seems, perhaps, a bit small to use the bloodmoss unguent on. It's quite rare - we shouldn't waste it. I'm afraid we'll have to use the traditional methods our people use to heal such scratches, rather than the magical concoctions of the mus," he purred, and leaned close to her, wrapping an arm around her. Then, slowly, gently, he lapped at the cut with his rough tongue.

L'Sala purred, her fingers lightly traveling down R'Narr's side to the straps of his armor.

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