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

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Amani slept, and dreamed the dreams that horses dream as the jungle night slipped quietly by.

It had been two weeks since Ayori had begun applying the fleabane both to her and to her newly-made horse-garment, made from the tanned hide of the python. Despite her initial trepidation at wearing the skin of the dead, she accepted it - and found it was quite comfortable. Her old garment, comfortable as it was, simply did not compare. The soft leather the musties had made caressed her skin gently, and yet also prevented insects from biting her more tender spots. As more fleabane was applied and the scent began to soak into her new garment, she found the insects bothered her less and less, until finally she was quite comfortable, the itching finally having gone.

True to what Ayori had said, the fleabane did not smell bad to her nose - far from it, in fact. To Amani's nose, the scent was quite pleasant, though a bit strong. A delicate nibble at a small bit of it confirmed Amani's suspicions - it was quite delicious, to the tongue of a horse. Byarl, Bessie, and Ayori, however, spent several days wrinkling their little black noses at the smell until they finally got used to it. Amani could sense in their minds that to the nose of a mustie, the scent was, indeed, quite bad. The musties were carnivores, of course, and the scents that told Amani something was good were not the scents that told a mustie the same thing. Yet, Ayori still slept nearby his mate, and would reach out his little black nose to rub against her large, soft one late at night, and make Amani smile in the darkness of the jungle evenings. During the days, Ayori had done as he said he would, and spent the time teaching Amani the ways of the jungle, as he learned them from his father - and the memories and knowledges she gained from The Sharing between her and her mate eased much of her fears. Now, their journey having resumed, Amani felt quite a bit more comfortable, and for the first time in many days, she slept and dreamed in peace.

The dreams of horses were not like the dreams of the other races, of course. Even asleep, their minds could still sense the minds of the other creatures and beings around them. At times, Amani dreamed of flying through the air, her spirit soaring on the winds with the effortlessness of thought. At times, she dreamed of walking through the dark jungle, seeking and finding it's endless mysteries, such as those Ayori had already shown her. Yet, at all times, she was aware of the quiet buzz of the minds around her, both sentient and non-sentient. Like walking through a shadowed field surrounded by a thousand fireflies, Amani sensed the flickering candles of the minds of the animals of the jungle that fell within her range. Close beside her, she could feel the minds of her mate, her chief, and her fellow tribe-member, strong flames of thought and dreams. One was awake, of course - the musties each took turns watching over each other at night. The other two slept, and their little mustie dreams felt pleasant to the gentle touch of Amani's mind.

Such were the nature of Amani's dreams, and she smiled briefly in her sleep at the pleasant feeling of her mate's dreaming mind beside her. Yet...

Yet, as she slept, her thoughts soaring above the jungle, she could sense something else...

Amani turned her attention in her dreams to the southeast, her mind reaching out. In her dreams, she soared high above the emerald canopy of the trees, the moon and stars in the ebon sky above. Yet, to the southeast, she sensed... Something strange. A glow, like that of a mind, yet it was far, far too vast... Too large... In her dreams, she could see the glow of this distant mind, vast and impressive, as a glimmer on the horizon, like the sun before dawn, or a fire in the forest. Curious, she reached out in her dream, trying to see that which was well beyond her range, trying to understand...

*How very interesting...*

With a start, Amani jerked awake, her eyes wide.

That thought, that silent mind-voice, had not been her own.

Wide awake, Amani reached out around her, sensing the jungle to the limits of her range as she sat up, snorting nervously.

"Amani? What is it?" Byarl asked, as he was awake and on watch.

"Mmm? Amani? What's happening?" Ayori asked, yawning sleepily. Even Bessie sat up, rubbing her eyes. Amani's nervous snort and Byarl's quiet question had been more than enough to awaken them, thanks to their keen mustie ears. Ayori's sleepy paw reached out, gently grasping Amani's forearm. "What's the matter?" he asked, yawning again.

*I... I do not know, my little love. There is a mind out there... Enormous, yet diffuse... Thinking and empathic, yet... Closed. I cannot explain it, my little love. I sense, somehow, as though a small part of it were near us, now - at the edge of my range, perhaps three leagues distant. Yet, at the same time, I sense no sentient minds there, but six small minds... Small, and in many ways very much like the snake you killed the other day. And yet...* Amani's gaze grew distant, searching, and Ayori quietly translated what she'd said so far, waiting for her next words.

After a long moment, Ayori scratched his head in confusion. Byarl, seeing Ayori's exression, looked to him in curiosity. "What does she say, Ayori?"

"Umm... I don't know if I can explain it, Chief. There aren't any words in our language for what she's saying, and what she's doing now is relaying impressions. One, but many. A part of a whole. Cold, yet feeling. Dark, yet bright. Ummm... Hunting. A hunting party. That's pretty clear, I understand that. There's a hunting party out there - but, they're not hunting, now. They're just standing there, holding torches. And they're all really, really stupid."

"Stupid?" Bessie asked, yawning as she slipped her rifle into her lap.

"Yes," Ayori replied.

"How stupid?" Byarl asked, casting his eyes about the darkness of the jungle, and listening carefully. He could hear nothing dangerous, nor did the scent of anything dangerous come to his keen nose. No, only the calls of night-birds and the constant, quiet sounds of tree-frogs and night-insects were in the air, and nothing more.

Ayori shrugged. "Stupid like a snake. Very tiny minds. Animals."

"How can animals have torches?" Bessie asked, tipping her head curiously.

"I don't know, but that's what she says. Well, actually, she says 'They are and they are not animals. They are and they are not stupid. They are and they are not one. They are young, but it is old.' It's really kind of confusing - and she really doesn't understand it herself. She only knows there's something out there, about three leagues away, roughly southeast - yet, it's only part of a greater whole, which is much farther away than that, and well beyond her range," Ayori replied, and paused, listening to his mate's silent voice. "She also says as much as she is confused and curious about it, it is confused and curious about her."

"Is it friendly?" Bessie asked, grinning.

Amani shook her head, and Ayori spoke up. "She says it's not friendly or hostile. It's curious... She says it's never felt another mind before other than it's own - she can sense that from it's thoughts."

Byarl raised an eyebrow. "It? Wait - I thought you said there were six?"

"There are six creatures out there that are very, very stupid. There is one mind out there, reaching back to her. She says..." Ayori replied, then scratched his head in confusion. "She says it's the same thing."

"Well, how can that be?" Bessie asked, checking the charge in the pan of her rifle for a moment, then flicking the pan closed.

"I don't know," Ayori replied, "and neither does she."

"Do you think it's dangerous?" Byarl asked, looking to Amani. Amani simply nodded silently.

Byarl carefully considered what to do. This was completely beyond his experience, of course - but the notion that even Amani couldn't explain what she was sensing did not bode well, to him. "Alright. Let us know if it or they or whatever you're sensing moves any closer, Amani. Ayori, check your rifle - we might need it. If it's not friendly, we don't want to find out the hard way that it's unfriendly. Bessie, help me keep an eye out."

"Yes, Chief," Bessie and Ayori replied, and as Ayori took a moment to check the charge in the pan of his rifle, Bessie hopped to her feet, shook herself to get her armor to settle comfortably, then walked over to stand near Byarl. Ayori rested his paw on his mate's forearm, and a silence fell over the camp, as the three musties listened and watched the deep shadows of evening jungle.

After a long moment, Ayori finally spoke, his voice barely above a whisper. "Amani says the hunting party is moving out of her range. She says 'As they fade, the mind I sensed fades with it.' She says they have game in their paws... They're taking it home. And that's all - they're gone, now."

Byarl nodded, thinking. "Alright. Bessie, it was your turn next, anyway. You keep watch. Ayori, try to relax and see of you can't rest a bit more before it's your turn," he said, then sat down, leaning against the tree behind him and setting his rifle down by his side.

"Okay, Chief," Ayori replied, and nuzzled Amani for a moment before setting his rifle down and wrapping himself up in his blanket again.

"Sure, Chief!" Bessie replied, smiling, then lifted her eyes to the shadowy jungle, and fell silent.

Byarl gazed at Amani for a long moment, thinking about what she'd said. Amani turned her head, gazing back at him silently as she tucked her blanket beneath her arms. 'Get some sleep, if you can,' Byarl thought silently to her, knowing she could hear him. 'We still have a ways to go, yet.'

Amani nodded, and lay down beside her little mate, bringing her nose over to him to snuffle him quietly. His faint scent was reassuring, though Byarl's troubled thoughts and Bessie's calm and deadly alertness were not.

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