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

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"And over there is where I used to live, Amani!" Ayori chittered excitedly, tugging Amani's fore-hoof.

Amani gazed at the low, grassy dome of the small mustie-home nestled among the others in the weed-ridden clearing, and smiled. To her, it looked terribly uninviting. She could see the webs of countless spiders through the window, and already her skin crawled with the thought of the endless tiny insects that must inhabit the empty home, now. Their little minds were far too small for her to sense, but she knew they had to be there. *It's terribly charming, I'm sure, my little love - but please don't ask me to go inside. I'm afraid just the thought of all those little insects crawling all over me has me quite nervous.*

Ayori burst into giggles at Amani's silent mental voice echoing quietly in his mind. "Don't worry, we're not going inside! I don't want all those bugs crawling in my fur, either."

Amani nickered in amusement, then looked up. *Chief Byarl Bearkiller and Bessie Onestone are returning, my little love.*

"How far away are they?"

*Not far - they never left my range to begin with. The river you once fished from is quite close, and judging from their minds, still quite full of fish.*

"Oh, okay. Well, I've got the old fire-pit cleaned out and smoking rack built over it - everything's all set," Ayori replied, then grinned impishly. "It's too bad you don't like fish, Amani. I'm sure the oil would be very good for your fur!"

Amani nickered again, grinning, knowing Ayori was teasing her. She did not bother to remind him that eating fish was anathema to her, as an herbivore, nor did she bother to tell him that she could sense some of the tiny little minds of the two-dozen fish Byarl and Bessie had captured that were still alive, each gasping in dying agony as they slowly drowned in air. All this, Ayori already knew. No, Amani simply grinned and shook her head. *Perhaps when you learn to appreciate the lovely taste of those delicious carrots you seem so adept at finding, my little love.*

Ayori made a moue'. "Bleah! Eat a root? Something from the dirt?" he replied, then burst into giggles. In this way, the two lovers and mates sometimes teased each other, making light of the differences that, despite how stark they were, often seemed to draw them closer together, now.

"Hoyo, Amani! Hoyo, Ayori!" Bessie called from the edge of the clearing. She and Byarl carried two dozen fish strung neatly on a pole between them, and Bessie waved a paw, grinning broadly.

"Hoyo, Bessie! Hoyo, Chief!" Ayori called back with a wave, and Amani whinnied in greeting while waving a fore-hoof.

A few minutes later, the fish had been gutted and filleted, and their carefully-sliced meat hung over the smoke-rack to cure. Bessie and Byarl sat atop their helmets (as they made convenient stools), but Ayori simply sat in Amani's lap, as was his habit, and placed his helmet beside him on the ground.

"I see you got plenty of good, dry wood, Ayori," Byarl commented, between bites of a fresh fish.

"Yes, Chief!" Ayori replied, glancing at the smoke-rack as he ate one of the fish. "There was plenty about in the woods. I don't think the mice have spent much time clearing the underbrush since we left - in fact, I don't think they've cleared any of it at all."

Byarl nodded. "Well, they'll learn when the first forest-fire comes along," he said, grimly.

Bessie sighed, pausing in eating her own fish as she sat in the small circle the four friends had made. "It's so sad, Chief. Maybe they'll learn, maybe they won't, maybe they'll be okay, maybe they'll all get burned up... I want to help them, you know?"

Byarl nodded. "We spent eight centuries 'helping' them, Bessie. It's only natural you should feel that way. But now, our people have parted - and, in the end, it's for the best."

Bessie sighed again. "Yes, Chief. I know it's for the best - we couldn't remain the slaves of their technology forever. Something bad would have happened. Well, something bad already was happening, we just couldn't see it. Still, I was friends with a few of them..."

"I was, too, Bessie. But those mice who were our true friends now live in Smith's Village," Byarl replied solemnly.

"And all the rest have shunned us, now," Ayori added, making a face.

Byarl nodded, then looked to Amani, who quietly pulled up clumps of grass, shook off the dirt from the roots, then popped the grass into her mouth. "Amani, are they still watching us?"

Amani paused for a moment, her gaze distant, then looked to Byarl and nodded. Ayori, hearing her silent, mental voice, spoke up immediately. "Amani says 'Yes, Chief'. She says that after their first forest-patrols spotted us, they've steered clear of the village. Still, they come back from time to time to peek at us and see if we're still here. She says their village is within her range, and she can sense from their minds we've created an enormous stir. They all want to know what we're doing back, and they want to know about Amani, and a lot of other things - but they can't ask any of it, because they shunned us when Smith and the others split off from them."

"Hmm..." Byarl muttered finishing off the last of his fish. "Couldn't you just tell them, Amani? You said their minds were open enough to allow you to speak to mice easily."

Amani snorted disdainfully and shook her head, wrapping an arm around Ayori for a moment and hugging his little green-armored form before returning to grazing. Ayori, however, didn't translate - he simply burst into giggles.

"What is it?" Byarl and Bessie asked, in chorus, then glanced at each other and giggled, as well. After a few moments, even Amani grinned and nickered in amusement.

Finally, Ayori managed to stop laughing long enough to explain. "Amani says she'll only do that if you tell her to, because you're the Chief and she's a member of our tribe. Otherwise, she wants nothing to do with them at all, because anyone who shuns her mate shuns her, too. She thinks they are all very silly people, and the mice in Smith's village are much more sensible about things. Well, actually, what she said was..." Ayori explained, then snorted again. "She said the mice here in the Wild Wood don't have horse-sense like a proper mustie!"

Byarl burst into little guffaws while Bessie fell onto her back with a -CLUNK- of her little green armor and kicked her little feet in the air, roaring with laughter. Ayori, for his part, giggled so hard he nearly fell out of Amani's lap.

"Hee-hee-hee! That's rich, Amani!" Bessie gasped, once she was finally able to speak again. Still giggling, she rolled back up to sit on her helmet again and grin at Amani.

Amani simply grinned back, chewing quietly on her grass, and hugged her little mate again.

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