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


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"I don't know, Smith... It seems an enormous risk," Weaver said, closing the small book that lay on the table and looking up to his friend.

"How so?" Smith asked. The smell of the village library around him filled his nose - it was a good smell. A smell of freshly-made paper books, the ink only barely dry. Built like any other building of the mice, it was all beneath the earth, kept cool by a thick layer of sod across the top. Yet, it was far larger - eventually, it would contain thousands of books, rather than the few dozen it had now. It was quiet, now, as it was late evening, and Weaver and Smith were alone in the library. During the day, however, the library was always busy with at least half a dozen mice, working, studying, and building their future.

The new library contained only a fraction of the knowledge they had, so far, but this was slowly growing as each adult in the village, male and female, wrote down the knowledge that had been so painstakingly taught to them. The process was made even longer by the Official Review Board, a small group of the most well-educated mice in the village who read each work, checking it against their own memories and training for errors before including it in the library. Still, it had to be done - the mice had to record their skills and knowledges, rebuilding their library while the Lore of the Mice was still in living memory. If they failed, then much would be lost. Smith knew, however, they would not fail. Already they were slightly ahead of schedule, and it looked like they would easily complete the monumental task within the decade they had planned for it.

"What you've written here," Weaver replied, tapping the small book with a finger, "is something that we cannot share with the mus or the musties... At least, not yet."

"Not quite yet, no," Smith agreed with a nod. "Still, the musties are different - we could probably tell them tomorrow, and they'd just shrug, smile and move on with their lives. They're not the kind of people to dwell on this, and brood over it, like we and the mus are."

Weaver paused, thinking, then finally nodded. "True. The musties wouldn't care much - they're basically a happy people, and from what you've told me of Lady Merle's reaction to the knowledge, I doubt it would bother them at all. Still, this book is an enormous risk."

Smith made a face. "Again, though - how?"

"Because we would be concealing knowledge from the mus - and if they ever find out, we'll lose their trust."

"I don't think so," Smith replied, scratching his chin. "Our liege, Lord Xaa, knows of this, and he has chosen to keep it a secret from his people. So far as I know, he has told only the lie he and Lady Merle came up with, that they encountered the Last God, he was an aloof and ancient deity in a grand temple who created us all ten millennia ago, and that he wants nothing to do with the races of Oerth any longer. Likewise, Lady Merle has chosen to keep it a secret. She was more than willing to tell me my son's story, but only on the condition that I keep the parts which related to the Ancient Ones as a secret. In a century or so, their decisions will be easily understood by the people of the future - as will ours, in keeping the truth to ourselves," Smith explained, then shrugged. "Besides - our liege-lord has chosen to keep this a secret. If we're to fully join with the mus, we must adopt their ways - and that means that we should keep his secrets, as well."

"I agree," Weaver replied, stroking his whiskers. "Still, Smith... This is so vast and dark... It is perhaps the darkest secret we have ever kept. To know that we were nothing, mere mindless animals, scurrying about beneath the mighty civilization of the Ancient Ones... Then the Last God intervened, raising us to sentience and destroying the Ancient Ones in a single night of madness and death..."

Smith shook his head. "They may not be destroyed, Weaver - they may have left. Also, Merle said the Last God told her and Xaa that the Ancient Ones, towards the end of their history, had explored the stars and other planets that orbit them, and begun colonies on other worlds orbiting suns far from here. She didn't know what he meant - to her, the sun is a ball of fire in the sky, and the stars merely twinkling sparks. She didn't realize what this meant. I did," Smith said, and looked intently at his friend.

"Weaver, they may still be out there, among the stars. From what Merle said, the Last God was a mere machine, which destroyed those Ancient Ones on Oerth though a tragic accident. Perhaps it's creator didn't foresee the possibilities. Perhaps there was a flaw in his creation, somehow. Or, perhaps, it's creator was as insane as his creation, and destroyed their world through some malicious intent. Either way, on Oerth, they no longer exist. But out there..." Smith said, gesturing broadly to the low ceiling of the library. "Out there, they may still exist. Perhaps they know what happened, all those thousands of years ago. Perhaps they don't. Perhaps they have intentionally left us alone, to allow us to develop and grow in peace. Perhaps they have left us alone because they simply don't care. Or, perhaps they are watching us even now, from the stars, with motives and thoughts we can't even begin to guess," Smith said, and Weaver shuddered. Smith nodded, looking into his friend's eyes. "Either way, they're probably still out there, Weaver - and they may be waiting for us in friendship, or they may simply look at us as lower beings... Mutant things the Last God created, worthless."

Weaver raised his head. "We are not worthless! By all the Gods and Spirits which watch over our people, we are not. If the Ancient Ones do exist, and they do see us that way..." Weaver said, then stopped. After a moment, he looked to Smith, and nodded. "We shall keep your son's story in the collection of Secret Books, my friend. By the New Law of the Mice, every ten years, we will review those books in that collection, and determine which can be released to our allies."

"And that will make six," Smith replied with a nod. "With luck, that collection will not grow, only shrink."

"Seven, actually."

"Seven?" Smith asked, an eyebrow raised.

"Counting the book your mate, Bootie, wrote on the mental powers of the Horse-people. It was added this morning. The mus do not realize the horses can hear all their thoughts, not merely understand their words from their thoughts - and they probably are not ready for such knowledge. They are still in many ways a very warlike people, and knowing that they can have no secrets from the horses may make them distrustful of them."

"The musties know, and they aren't concerned," Smith interjected.

"Well, yes, they do," Weaver replied, then grinned. "But they don't care. The musties don't really keep secrets from each other, unless they're fun things like when a birthday party will be held, or a special surprise they have planned for a friend. They never keep dark secrets, as we do, Smith - dark things they share with each other, so that they all may handle the problem as best they can. Besides, the musties know what we know - the Horse-people are harmless. They literally cannot hurt another being, and knowing the true thoughts and wishes of each other makes them all very understanding, peaceful, and gentle. The mus have no reason to distrust them - though they know everything you are thinking, they would never do anything harmful with that knowledge. They feel the pain of others. They know. Still, the mus don't know this yet. They need to learn to like and trust the horses, as we and the musties do, before we can tell them the truth. Though, as they get to know them, they will almost certainly realize the truth on their own," Weaver said, and grinned. "Despite what our ancestors thought, Smith, the mus aren't stupid. They'll figure it out long before we get around to telling them."

Smith grinned back. "Yes, they will - some already have. Farrah told me how Lord O'dmemet used Amani's ability to help interrogate a cat they'd captured, and help free us last year. He doesn't seem concerned that she could, by the same token, read his mind just as easily. If the majority of mus are like him, and can accept it as easily as we mice can, it will be alright."

Weaver nodded. "They may be able to. The more and more I learn of the mus, the more and more I see their similarities to us."

"Well, the Last God apparently made them from us. I suppose it's only natural we have things in common," Smith replied, and pointed to the book he'd written, which still lay beneath Weaver's paw. "I wrote that down, as well. The mus already knew they were once small, like us, and that the Last God made them large and carnivorous. What they don't know is that the Last God was merely a machine, and that it made all of us from animals in the wilderness."

"Or that it was a flawed machine..." Weaver replied, his voice trailing off. He couldn't bring himself to say it, but Smith knew what he meant.

"We are not flawed creations, Weaver," Smith said quietly. "We sprang from the dreams of the Ancient Ones - the Last God merely brought their dreams to reality. And just because it created us doesn't mean the gods and spirits which watch over our people are any less real."

"I pray you're right, Smith," Weaver replied, his voice equally quiet. "I truly do."

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