Children of the Last God
(Book IV of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 2001 BY

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And because in all the world there was not and never would be another for him, Pup-Chup began to weep.

He did not weep openly, but wept silently as did all the other musties, for there may still be danger near. The Snap-Snap that had leaped from the water, tearing Mishi in half and gobbling her down like so much fresh meat, might still be around. With an effort, Pup-Chup stilled his tears. Pup-Chup knew he had to remain strong, and lead the others safely away. Pup-Chup looked to the others, his gaze as firm as he could make it.

Quietly, Pup-Chup raised a paw to the rest of the silently weeping musties, and made an ancient mustie-sign. The others nodded, their eyes filled with tears, and faded back into the forest.

Pup-Chup listened carefully, but he could hear only the sounds of the jungle birds. Pup-Chup sniffed, but could only smell the smells of the forest, and the nearby swamp-waters. Pup-Chup looked carefully, but he could only see the slowly moving surface of the waters. The Snap-Snap was, apparently, gone.

With a movement so subtle as to be invisible, Pup-Chup carefully withdrew a stone from the pouch at his side. With a practiced flick of the thumb, he sent the stone flying twenty yards, to splash into the waters of the swamp with a little plop, like that a fish might make snatching at an insect on the surface of the water. With a lightning move, Pup-Chup leaped forward, grabbing the large basket of fish and the fishing pole that Mishi had been using, then leaped away, running back into the protection of the jungle. He did not know if the stone had distracted the Snap-Snap. It was likely it already was gone, having eaten it's fill on Pup-Chup's mate.

Safely among the trees again, Pup-Chup sat, quietly panting from his run. Slowly, from the trees around him, the other musties appeared.

"So sorry am I, Chief... Watch carefully did we all, but nothing did any see..." Chi-Chi said, sniffling as she wiped her nose with a paw. And, indeed, they all had been watching the surface of the waters carefully, ever-alert for the twin bumps on the surface of the waters that were the eyes of the Snap-Snaps, or the shadowy movements beneath the waters that heralded their attacks. There was no truly safe place, now. Years ago, when Pup-Chup was young, the Snap-Snaps were rare, and only hunted in the waters of the swamps. Now, they grew bolder, and hunted the jungle itself. Fishing was no more or less dangerous than hunting, or any other activity, now - and with the fish in the swamp so plentiful and easy to catch, it was usually worth the risk.

Until today.

Pup-Chup hugged Chi-Chi, and sighed. "Angry at Chi-Chi am I not. Angry at any mustie am I not. Watch carefully did we all, even me - still nothing did we see. Blame any mustie do I not. Blame the Snap-Snap I do," he replied, and burst into tears for many long moments.

The other musties gathered about all hugged and stroked Pup-Chup, comforting him in his hour of grief. Finally, Pup-Chup shook his head. Though his heart was breaking, he was still chief - the safety of the other musties was more important than his own grief. "Go we must. Thinking more musties are nearby, they will be. Bringing friends, torches, they will be. Then starting night-hunt for furs, they will do. Go we must. To our lodges we must return. Come. Cry later, in our lodges, we shall. Come."

The other musties nodded, and silently, they all faded into the trees.

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