Ayre of the Last God
(Book III of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2000 BY


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Amani found the visitor would have been easy to locate, even were it not for the fact she could sense her mind, and know her approximate position anyway. Already, a dozen musties had surrounded the visitor, babbling away at her in their incomprehensible language. The visitor had tried to hide from them, but that was impossible - this was the Laughing Wood, and the forest was the musties' element. They found her tracks and located her very easily.

Amani stopped, staring at the visitor for a moment - she'd never seen any horse like her before. The mare was black as night, her mane and tail the same ebon hue as her pelt. Her eyes were twin pools of black ink, the whites flashing as the musties chittered at her. She was also tall - a full head taller than Amani herself, though only about fifty pounds heavier. A powerful, lithe frame lay beneath her pelt, and it seemed as though Amani could see every fiber of the muscles that lay beneath. 'A heavy-labor breed,' she thought to herself, 'and probably once belonging to the western logging clans.'

*Yes,* the visitor replied, sensing her thoughts. *Help me...* One of the musties reached out to touch the mare, and she danced away with a nervous whinny.

Amani smiled, trotting up to the group. *They mean you no harm, they only wish to talk to you.*

*I know... But I fear them. And I cannot talk to them, it is impossible. They are carnivores.*

Amani smiled as the musties parted, allowing her to step up to the strange mare. *No, not impossible - though very difficult. I have mastered the trick -and I can teach it to you, later. For now, just relax, and reach out to their minds. They mean you no harm. They are curious and excited by your arrival, as am I.*

Amani felt the flare of irritation in the stranger's mind for an instant, then she relaxed. *You are right, of course. I sense you have dealt with these little predators before, and are a seer, like myself,* her mind-voice replied, and she stood still.

*And more,* Amani replied with a smile, her thoughts briefly flashing to Ayori and the pleasant relationship they had.

The black mare blanched, and shuddered. *You... You coupled with one of them? Willingly?*

Before Amani could reply, Bessie Onestone, one of the musties present, turned to her. "Hoyo, Amani! Look what we found! She was trying to hide, but something as big as her and all colored black doesn't hide well in the forest in daylight," Bessie said, and burst into giggles. The other musties joined her for several moments, and Amani nickered in amusement. Even if the stranger had been colored green and the size of a rabbit, Amani doubted the musties would have failed to find her. Their senses were extremely keen, and they were deadly hunters.

Amani sat down beside Bessie, and held out a fore-hoof. "Oooo! I've been practicing! Ayori told me how!" Bessie chittered, and plopped herself down before Amani, taking her enormous fore-hoof in a paw and closing her eyes. While Bessie calmed herself, controlling her breathing to clear her mind, the other musties gathered round and sat, waiting. In a few minutes, her mind calmed, and she was listening carefully.


The stranger jumped, startled. Amani's silent scream was a surprise, and months of practice had strengthened the power of her mental shout to the point where any horse would have easily sensed it at several leagues. *You... You scream at them? Why?* she asked - but the answer came before Amani could reply, as Bessie grinned and giggled.

"Amani says the black mare is scared of us!" Bessie chortled, and the other musties burst into giggles again. Bessie hopped to her feet, still grinning. "Okay, Amani - we'll leave her alone for a bit. Come on, everyone! Let's go tell Byarl! She's even bigger than Amani!"

Amani sighed as Bessie and the others dashed off. She could already sense that Ayori was telling Byarl the news, over a league away in the village. Still, it would get the rest of the musties out of her mane for a moment. Amani waved a fore-hoof. *Come... Sit. Let us talk. I am Amani, a seer of the Blue Wind Clan,* Amani called with her mind's voice, lifting the forelock from her forehead with a fore-hoof to reveal the symbolic eye she had painted there - little more than two semicircles and a dot (though now made in black ink Ayori had provided), it was the mark of a Seer among the horses.

The stranger nodded, stepping over to Amani and sitting on the grass. *And I am Naien, a seer of the Dark Flame Clan,* she said, lifting her own forelock to reveal a similar eye, made from white caliche-mud.

Amani blinked in surprise. *I've never heard of your clan. How strange.*

*It is not surprising you have not. We created it two lifetimes ago, to give ourselves something to call our own. We had nothing... Clan D'Kirr bought our ancestors from slave traders for many lifetimes, seeking only size and strength, then later bred us to have our ebon coats and manes, out of vanity. The blood of a thousand horse-clans runs through my veins.*

Amani smiled. *Then you must have the histories of a thousand clans in your mind! How wonderful!*

Naien shook her head. *No - only a dozen or so. Our clan is drawn from a thousand young foals, most bought as soon as they were weaned, all over the course of many lifetimes. There was no time for the sharing of memories between mother and foal in the early days... So we have but a few clan-memories, and what little we have accumulated ourselves.*

Amani gazed at Naien sadly. To lose clan memories was, to a horse, a terrible thing. Untold generations of wisdom, learning and experience, gone to dust with the bodies of those who carried them. Amani leaned forward, nuzzling Naien sympathetically. Naien nuzzled back, and smiled. Naien then held out her fore-hooves to Amani, and Amani touched her fore-hooves to Naien's.

Amani and Naien then sat together in silence, sharing each other's thoughts, as was the way of the horses. After a moment, Naien blinked. *You were led here by a vision?*

Amani nodded. *Yes - and I remain because of a following vision. More, each time I turn my inner eye to my vision, I am again convinced I do what must be done.*

*Share with me your vision, Amani of the Blue Wind Clan.*

Amani nodded again, and opened up her mind, linking her mind, her thoughts, to Naien's mind and thoughts. Naien paused as the first feelings washed over her, then gasped at the scope, the splendor, the awesome destiny contained in Amani's vision.

In just a few generations, the races of Oerth would explore the whole world, traveling the skies and the seas with ease. Vast cities would be raised in empty lands. There would be wars - yet there would also be peace, in the end. And someday, perhaps only a dozen lifetimes from the moment Naien sat with Amani to share her vision on a warm spring day in the Laughing Wood, the races of Oerth would rise from their world, and scatter their seed among the stars.

In Amani's vision, there were two distinct paths for her people - they could either join with the carnivores of Oerth, and share in this grand and powerful destiny, or be left behind, to forever gaze up at the stars and mourn their lost opportunity. Amani had chosen the former path, and after a moment, Naien nodded.

*Your vision is true, and your choice sound, Amani of the Blue Wind Clan. I apologize for thinking poorly of you when you shared your warm thoughts of the mustelid, Ayori Treeclimber. You follow your vision, and you follow your heart. I can see from your mind that he is a kind and gentle soul..." Naien thought, then sighed. *They are... So unlike the cats. These people are... Compassionate.*

Amani nodded. *And they have taught me that my prejudices against them were wrong. I am glad I was able to share this lesson with you - though, even knowing this, I still find it difficult, at times. It is hard to shake the beliefs of a lifetime, and eat grass that they have spilled blood upon. Yet, it must be done.*

*Indeed. And your vision... It is also far, far grander than the vision which led me to you here, today.* Naien thought in reply after a moment, then sighed again.

Amani frowned, sensing the deep sadness in Naien's mind. *Share with me your vision, Naien of the Dark Flame clan.*

Naien withdrew her fore-hooves from Amani's, hanging her ebon head. *I cannot. My vision is nothing compared to yours. You are the greater seer, not I. Your vision was of the future of all our people. Mine was... Much smaller than that.*

Already, Amani could sense some of it from her mind, despite Naien's unwillingness to share it. Amani could sense that Naien spoke the truth - it was a small vision, with little scope beyond the personal. Amani smiled, and nickered softly. *Come - share it with me anyway. My own vision began as a small one... I sensed I needed to be in another place. That was all I knew. My brother and sister stole from my master the things I needed to survive and make it to the place the Mus call 'Grahnahdoh Mountain,' for which my master killed them, of course. For many months, I followed my vision as it slowly expanded, leading the mustelids and the mus to rescue the mice the cats had kidnapped. Then, one day, my vision bloomed into that which it is now. I sense that somehow, my own actions have allowed this grand destiny to become possible - though I know not how. Perhaps yours will be the same, Naien. Share this vision with me... It may be small, now, but it might not remain so. Such is the path of the seer, my friend.*

Naien nodded. *Such is the path of the seer,* she agreed. Tentatively, she held her fore-hooves out, touching Amani's fore-hooves again. After a moment, she opened her mind, and shared her vision with Amani.

A long moment later, Amani sighed. Naien was right - her vision was, indeed, very small, and very personal. More, it only showed Amani again what she had already learned.

Amani, like most horses, had once believed that she and her people were better than the cats, because they did not hurt, and they did not lie. Her people were incapable of harm - every pain they inflicted, they felt. Her people were incapable of lying - they could sense each other's thoughts. Then, last year, she learned that she can hurt. She hurt Ayori's feelings deeply by rejecting his love - even though she knew in her heart he was a sweet and gentle soul, she had spurned him out of her own prejudices against carnivores. To her people, carnivores were ghastly, soulless things who survived by tearing the life from other creatures and consuming their flesh, soiling the grass with the blood of their victims. She had seen Ayori, kind and gentle though he was, as a little monster, and rejected him - and this wounded his heart.

More, she realized that her people could lie - and had been lying for many, many lifetimes. For six centuries, they had concealed their mental abilities from the cats. Since the day the first horses were taken as slaves, they had retained this as their only advantage over their masters. They kept this secret in the hope that someday, a path might appear that led them to freedom. And now, it had - through Amani's vision.

Yes, her people could lie, and they could harm. And that was the essence of Naien's vision - and a small vision it was, indeed.

*I told you it was,* Naien replied to Amani's thoughts, placing her fore-hooves in her lap and hanging her head. *You are the greater seer between the two of us, by far.*

For many moments, the two mares sat quietly. A gentle breeze stirred Amani's mane, rustling the leaves in the trees of the forest. Finally, Amani looked to Naien. *He will hurt her,* Amani said, simply.

*There is no other way,* Naien replied, hanging her head lower.

Amani and Naien sat silently after that, sharing their emotions. No words passed between them, merely feelings - Amani's sadness at Naien's situation, and Naien's regret at the necessity of her decision. Finally, Amani sent Naien a strong, mental embrace, the horse-equivalent of a hug. *Such is the path of the seer, my friend,* she said, and smiled slightly.

Naien simply nodded, her head still down.

Amani turned her head, gazing off into the woods. *They are coming. The mustelid, Byarl Bearkiller, Chief of the Mustelids of Laughing Wood... He and perhaps two dozen others come to greet you.*

Naien nodded. *I sense them, barely. Your range is greater than mine... You are, indeed, the greater seer.*

Amani nodded. Talking to the musties had been, at first, an enormous effort of mind, and incredibly tiring. Now, after months of practice, the power of her mind had been strengthened greatly. Amani said nothing in reply, however, simply sending Naien another mental hug.

*Will you tell them?* Naien asked, her head suddenly lifting to gaze at Amani.

*No. They would not understand. They cannot feel your mind... If I told them now, they would think you very selfish... Perhaps even evil, for following this vision. They must get to know you, first... They must learn to see you as a friend, first. Ayori is coming to understand me and our people, however. In the full of time, I will tell him,* Amani replied, then paused, turning her inner eye to the question. Finally, she looked to Naien. *And, in the full of time, you and he will tell the others, and they will understand.*

*And we continue to lie... We continue to hurt... Just as in your memory of Ayori,* Naien replied with a sigh.

Amani nodded. *And that is why they will understand, eventually.*

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