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


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"Mrowrrr... No, no! It's this way! East is this way!" L'Valin insisted, tugging on the stallion's massive, ebon fore-hoof.

The stallion simply looked at her quietly, and slowly shook his head. He pointed his other fore-hoof to the southeast, gazing off into the distance.

Already the guards standing by the nearby city gate were chuckling at the mismatched pair of the enormous black stallion and the raggedy, filthy, rain-drenched little street-whore, and this angered her even more. "Fsst! But that's southeast!" L'Valin snarled in frustration, blinking away the raindrops that fell into her large, sapphire eyes.

The stallion simply nodded, and pointed to the southeast again.

"Mrowrrrr... But that's cross-country! This road goes east. Trust me, I know where we're going. East is this way! The lands of the mus are this way!"

The stallion gazed at L'Valin, his eyes filled with sadness again. After a long moment, he shook his hoof free of her grasp, turned, and began striding off the muddy road, to the southeast.

L'Valin stared in shock as he easily stepped over a low fence, and began striding across a one of the muddy fields that surrounded Raldad. Finally, she gathered her wits. "Mrowrrr! Wait! Waaaaait!" L'Valin dashed off the road after him, scrambled over the fence, slipped, and fell headlong into the mud.

A roar of laughter from the guards at the gate greeted L'Valin as she lifted her head, spitting out a mouthful of mud. She tried to wipe the mud from her eyes, only to discover her paws were coated in mud, as well. "Mrowwww! Waaaaait, pleeeease!" she yowled, struggling to sit up and to see. Silence greeted her, broken only by the guard's laughter.

Suddenly, she sensed more than saw a looming presence standing over her, his arrival announced only by the quiet squishing sounds of his hooves on the mud. Before she knew what was happening, L'Valin found that the stallion had swept her up in his arms. Gently, he wiped the mud from her eyes with the furry backside of his hoof. When L'Valin could see again, she found he was gazing down into her eyes, that same, sad expression on his face.

L'Valin was thrilled by his power. He held her effortlessly, arms that he had used all his life to move felled trees of enormous weight carrying her thin, wasted form easily. She could do nothing, say nothing... She could only listen to the pounding of her heart as she felt his powerful arms around her.

The stallion paused, as though hearing her thoughts, sensing her feelings - which, L'Valin knew, was exactly what he was doing. He then looked up, turned to the southeast again, and resumed walking.

L'Valin relaxed, snuggling into his powerful, ebon shoulder with a purr. She found that she was exhausted - Raldad was a large city, and even walking from R'Min's hovel to the eastern gate had taken an hour. Her stomach growled meaningfully at her, but she simply took a sip from the water-skin she'd bought, and slipped out her pouch of catnip for a small sniff to kill her hunger. L'Valin slipped the filthy little bag under her dress and between her breasts again just as the first sneezes hit.

The stallion paused in his walking, looking down to L'Valin as she sneezed once, twice, then three times. L'Valin looked up at him, grinning as the drug began to take hold, and her hunger began to fade. "Mrow? What?"

The black stallion simply shook his head, and resumed walking.

"Mrr... You don't like my catnip, do you?" L'Valin guessed, still grinning.

The stallion shook his head, his dark eyes on the land before him.

"Mrow... Well, I'll have to keep it. It keeps away hunger, at least. I certainly can't hunt in the wilderness, I don't even know how. And you can't hunt for me, can you?"

The stallion shook his head again, easily stepping over a low fence and into the next muddy field.

"Mrow! There you have it, then." L'Valin said, and grinned again.

The stallion said nothing, of course, since he was mute. He simply continued walking, his massive hooves leaving deep depressions in the muddy field. Still, his whicker of distaste said volumes for what he thought of L'Valin's words. L'Valin's mind, however, was already beginning to fog from the catnip's effect, and she didn't notice the stallion's displeasure.

"Mrowwww... Look! The drizzle is easing up, and there's the sun! And oh! What a beautiful rainbow!" L'Valin called, pointing with a mud-caked paw.

The stallion paused, looked, and nodded. It was, indeed, very beautiful - a glimmering arc of color across the sky, shimmering in the emerging sunlight that bathed the muddy fields around Raldad. A brief smile flickered at the corners of his mouth for a moment, as though he was remembering happier times... Then was gone, as though it never was. With a sigh, the stallion began trudging through the muddy fields again. Soon, only the sounds of the fading drizzle and the quiet squishing of his hooves in the mud echoed in the still air.

L'Valin stared at the rainbow for a long time afterwards, the catnip expanding it to the most beautiful, glorious thing she had ever seen. Against the roiling clouds split by beams of sunlight from the afternoon sun, the rainbow seemed magical, powerful... A shimmering bridge between the mortal world, and that mystical place beyond.

The cats didn't believe in 'heaven', the same way the other races of Oerth did. They believed that there was only one place all souls went to upon death - hell. There were nine hells, in all - each successively worse than the last. By the theology of the cats, no being, no matter how well-intentioned, could avoid at least receiving some punishment in the afterlife. All mortals were imperfect, and sinned. As each soul moved on to the afterlife, it was assigned to one of the nine layers of hell, depending on its deeds in life, to suffer torment. Yet, there were exceptions... The stillborn, and those who died as infants, for instance. They had done nothing, and would suffer nothing. There was also those who had suffered more in life than any of the hells could offer - those born blind, lame, or worse. Yes, those few went to a different place... A place outside of the nine hells, a place where the gods lived. It was a quiet, restful place of endless food, warmth, and happiness, filled with lovely clouds and glorious light. And as L'Valin stared at the lovely clouds in the sky, the golden sunbeams piercing them, and the shimmering beauty of the rainbow, her catnip-hazed mind seemed to have a brief vision of that legendary home of the gods, where sweet, cool water flowed pure and free, endless banquets of lovely food awaited, and there was no pain, no suffering, and no unhappiness...

L'Valin snuggled into the stallion's shoulder, purring loudly, and slowly fell asleep, dreaming of the home of the gods, and forgetfulness.

The black stallion glanced down at L'Valin as she slept, carrying her effortlessly as he trudged over the muddy fields. He sighed quietly, then looked back up, his gaze fixed in the distance to the southeast.

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Chapter One<<<<