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


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Ayori dropped the two skinned rabbits into the communal cookpot, then quietly washed his paws quietly in the bucket nearby, thinking. So much had happened... He now had quite a bit to think about. The first was that Amani had shared her vision with him - and that experience had been truly awe-inspiring.

It had begun simply enough. Amani had sat down with him in the shade of a comfortable tree, far from the village where they would not be disturbed. Ayori had spent many minutes calming himself, and clearing his mind - Amani had told him that they would have to join minds for her to be able to share her vision, and that was something quite difficult, given that Ayori's mind was basically non-empathic. It was only the months of practice with Amani that allowed him to hear her so easily - he was, in the end, still a carnivore, and still basically mind-deaf. When he was ready, Ayori took her fore-hooves in his paws, and waited as Amani reached out with her mind, to join their minds into one.

What happened next was... Astounding.

It was, for a moment, as though Ayori could literally see the world through Amani's eyes. He had a sense of great size and strength, and of seeing the world from a higher perspective - Amani's perspective. There was a feeling of grace, of fleetness of foot... And yet, there was more.

For a brief moment, Ayori could feel what it was to be Amani. To live in fear of carnivores, to have only the swiftness of one's feet to save oneself from danger. To sense the minds of others... Not merely when they spoke, but all the time, like hearing a constant buzz of conversation, interspersed with brilliant flares of emotion. To be female... And to enjoy being female. All this came in a brief moment...

And then the vision began.

It was not an image, or like a dream, as Ayori expected. It was a knowing. Like the feelings Ayori sometimes had that it might rain the next day, or that rabbits might be found near the river - and yet, not. It was not memory, deduction, or experience... It was to simply know what will happen.

And Ayori found that this feeling, this knowing, was as awe-inspiring as the knowledge itself.

Amani knew that in a few generations, the races of Oerth would travel the skies and seas with ease. Amani had never even seen the sea - for that matter, neither had Ayori. Yet, she knew this was so. And yet, there was still more. The races of Oerth would rise from their world, and scatter their seed among the stars. Amani did not know how this would happen - she only knew it would.

In her vision, Amani saw two paths for her people - though 'saw' was the only word Ayori could use to describe it, it wasn't actually seeing, in the sense of images, it was seeing as the act of a Seer, one of those few gifted mares among the horse-clans with the power to see the future. It was knowing. The first path was for the horse-clans to turn south, beyond the mountains, and live in the vast plains that were there between the mountains and the Wild Wood. Endless food, gentle weather, and a peaceful life would be theirs forever...

But the price...

If they followed that path, the horses would be doomed to be left behind, a primitive, stone-age people who forever cast their eyes to the stars above, and mourned their lost opportunity.

To Amani's mind, that left only one choice - to join with the other races of Oerth, and take part in their grand destiny.

It would not be easy, of course. There would be a long period of adjustment for them, learning to adapt to the ways of the other races, and learning to communicate with them. Seeking their place among them, and working together with them to forge a new society... Yes, there would be many challenges ahead for the horses.

Yet, it was their best chance at happiness, in the end.

Such was the power, the awesome majesty, of Amani's vision. It left Ayori speechless for many minutes. To know the musties had this kind of a future ahead of them was a truly awe-inspiring thought. Ayori would not live to see it, of course. He would be long dead, by then. Still, it would happen - or, more correctly, may happen, if all her people worked towards making it a reality.

"We musties will work towards it, too, Amani. We all will," Ayori had told Amani, his voice hushed.

Amani had simply smiled. *Of course you will, my little love. It is we that shall be helping and joining in your destiny, not the other way around,* she replied, then smiled again. *Now, calm yourself, and clear your mind again, and I shall try to share with you Naien's vision.* And, when Ayori had finally managed to clear his mind again, she did.

Ayori dried his paws on the little towel that hung from the side of the bucket, his gaze falling across Naien as she sat beneath the shade of a tree near the village clearing. Amani sat next to her, but otherwise they were alone, the other musties whom Naien occasionally talked to having gone out hunting. As Naien caught Ayori's gaze, she looked away, and hung her head. Of course, Ayori knew why.

As vast and grand as Amani's vision had been, Naien's had been small... And petty. It was a very personal vision, with no ramifications beyond the personal level. When Amani had finished, Ayori had simply stared at her. "Why... That's nothing! It's so small!" he exclaimed, astonished.

*Most visions are, my little love. Sometimes they grow, as mine did - but most are small, and immediate, and personal,* Amani had replied.

Ayori stood by the water bucket, simply looking at Naien as she sat beside Amani. Both mares were beautiful, by the standards of the musties, though in different ways. Amani's beauty was one of grace, of delicacy of form. Though if one was close it was difficult not to be overwhelmed by her sheer size, at a distance, Amani looked as light and swift as a deer of the forest - particularly when compared to Naien.

Naien was a full head taller than Amani, though perhaps only fifty pounds heavier. The corded muscles of her lean, lithe frame stood out clearly against her ebon pelt, and it was easy to see that she was far stronger than Amani. Yet, though she was physically Amani's superior, Ayori knew from the vision Amani had shared with him that she was mentally her inferior. Her vision had been small... And somewhat self-centered. And self-centeredness was, to a mustie, a loathsome character flaw. Naien sensed Ayori's thoughts, and hung her head lower.

Amani looked over to Ayori, and waved a fore-hoof for him to come closer. Ayori nodded, and walked over, sitting down beside Amani, facing Naien. Naien kept her face averted, and didn't meet his gaze.

Amani held her fore-hoof out to Ayori, and when he took it, she spoke. *I had hoped you would not be so harsh in your judgement of her, my little love.*

Ayori shook his head. "I'm sorry... What she's done... To a mustie, it's a very mean thing to do."

Naien suddenly burst into tears, throwing herself to the ground and sobbing in long, dreadful whickers.

Ayori looked helplessly to Amani, but she simply stared back at him quietly. Finally, Ayori sighed, and reached over to Naien, patting her on the shoulder. "It's alright, I'm not mad at you."

Naien still sobbed helplessly.

Finally, Ayori sighed again, and stood. He then leaned down, and reached out to Naien. Gently lifting her shoulders, he finally coaxed her into sitting up again. "There, there... Stop crying, now. I'm not mad at you, really. Okay, maybe I'm a little disappointed, yes, and I think that what you did wasn't nice, but I'm really not mad at you," Ayori said, wiping Naien's tears away from her broad cheeks with his fingers. Gently, Ayori wrapped his arms around the enormous ebon mare, and hugged her reassuringly, patting her muscled back softly. After a long moment, Ayori finally let her go, and sat between the two mares. He reached a paw out to Amani, resting the fingers of his paw atop her fore-hoof, then waited. After a long moment, Naien emitted a shuddering sigh, and nodded, holding her fore-hoof out to Ayori. When he'd taken it in his other paw, she spoke.

*I had no choice, Ayori Treeclimber. Such was my vision. It was the only way. I love him, Ayori Treeclimber. I love him more than life itself,* Naien explained, her silent mental voice echoing quietly in Ayori's mind as she sniffled.

"But you've never even touched him!"

Amani looked to Ayori. *As I told you, my little love, this is our way. The cats allow us little choice in whom we couple with, so we mares reach out with our minds to the stallions that we live and work with. If a stallion near us is compatible, we become life-mates - not through our bodies, but through our minds and hearts. Someday soon, we will be able to restore the Old Ways, however...* Amani said, then paused. *Can you tell me what other choice Naien had? Her vision was clear - by the end of summer, a tree that Aijou was logging would fall badly, crush him, and he would die in great pain. The only way for him to avoid this fate was to not be there - he had to escape to the west. Yet, he could not have made it without the guidance of her vision. His body is musclebound from a lifetime of hard labor, and he could not run swiftly. He does not have her seer's mind, and cannot sense the approach of cats for a league away, as she can. He would have been captured, my little love - and stallions who attempt to escape the cats are deemed too 'feisty,' and gelded. Her vision was the only way Aijou could escape - he had to follow the Yellow River far to the north, using the waters of the river to conceal his trail, then turn east and follow the back-trails to the city of Raldad. There Aijou would meet the She-Cat of Naien's vision, and, with luck, she would help him find his way to Naien, and freedom.*

"But... But she'll fall in love with him!"

Naien nodded. *She already has. Aijou and I are heart-bonded, Ayori Treeclimber, as are you and Amani. I can hear his voice when he speaks to me, and he mine, though we are separated by many, many leagues. He has already told me she has fallen in love with him - she loved him from the moment she first saw him, her emotions sparked by a drug of the cats. Now, weeks later, the drug is long gone - but the love remains.*

"Gah! Don't you understand?!" Ayori chittered angrily. "She loves him, and he can't tell her whether or not he loves her back! She'll never find out until she makes it here whether he really loves her, or whether he's just using her to escape! He can't even tell her his name!"

Naien burst into tears again, but Amani nodded. *But you can, my little love.*

"No, I can't, Amani," Ayori replied, looking at Naien as she wept. "I can't speak the language of the cats - of all us musties, only Merle can. She learned it while she was living in Lord W'Mefa's castle."

*Perhaps you can tell Merle, then, and she can tell the she-cat?*

"Maybe, Amani..." Ayori said, still looking at Naien. After a long moment, he sighed, and reached out to wipe away Naien's tears with his paw. "Look... Naien, I understand you had no other choice - this was the only way for Aijou to live, and for the two of you to be together. I understand that if he makes it here, you and he will both be very happy, since this will be the first time you've actually been able to touch each other. But... Naien... Don't you understand? You're using that she-cat. She'll love him dearly, and if they're very lucky they'll both make it here alive, and then what? We find someone who can speak her language, just so we can tell her 'Sorry, you were just being used, you can go home now'? That's very, very mean, Naien."

Naien sobbed, unable to reply.

After a long moment, Amani looked to Ayori. *It doesn't have to be that way, my little love.*

"Doesn't it?" Ayori shot back, looking into Amani's brown eyes.

*No, it does not. Naien's inner eye does not see as far, or as clearly as mine. To her, the future revealed by her vision becomes indistinct after the meeting of Aijou and the she-cat, so she must simply listen to his voice each day, and hope. To me, however, the possibilities are far clearer.*

"Okay, and what is it you see?" Ayori asked. Naien looked up to Amani, her eyes moist with tears - the answer interested her, as well.

*My little love, when I turn my inner eye to the question, I see that there are several nexi coming, and several that have already passed. Of those that yet remain to occur, the two most important turn on decisions by the she-cat. One decision she will make today - a decision she may, indeed, have already made. Then, there shall be another in a few weeks. Depending on her decisions, they may escape easily, or they may both die. If they survive, several possibilities then spring into existence - some pleasant, some not, but most involving Aijou eventually arriving in the Laughing Wood. The results of that nexus depend on Aijou. Do you understand?*

Ayori thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, it's like checkers - what happens in the middle of the game depends on what happens at the beginning, and what happens at the end of the game depends on what happens in the middle."

Amani smiled. *Trust my little love to call upon a reference to a mustie-game,* she replied, nickering with amusement. *Still, yes, that is correct. And now, as you musties say, 'The die is cast, and now we wait to see how it falls,'*

Ayori nodded, then rose to his feet. "Well, I'm the first back from the hunt, so I have to start the cookfire so the pot will be ready by this afternoon. I also have two skins I need to start tanning. I'll have to talk to you later, Naien," Ayori said, nodding to the ebon mare. Ayori then nuzzled Amani lovingly, grinned at her smile, and scampered off.

*His mind is so strange... All the musties are, to me. They are... So different from the cats,* Naien said, watching as Ayori began working on the cook-fire. *Do you think he can forgive me?*

Amani nodded to Naien. *He already does. He understands you had no other choice. He simply feels pity for the she-cat. As playful as they are, the mustelids still take love very seriously, Naien. Just as seriously as we do.*

Naien looked hopefully to Amani. *Do you think... Perhaps his people will also be able to forgive me?*

Amani smiled. *Of course, Naien - in the full of time.*

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