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

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It had been a lovely, gentle encounter, and now Pup-Chup watched quietly as Bessie finished tying the last of the laces to her strange, metal clothing. Indeed, Pup-Chup had never seen metal before in his life, much less armor, and were it not for the dents of the Snap-Snap's bite that still remained in Bessie's green armor, he would have no idea as to it's purpose. Pup-Chup sat up in the little pile of furs that served as his bed, drawing a blanket across his lap. Somehow, he felt enormously foolish - though he could not explain why. It was, in many ways, as though he was merely a child, and Bessie the true adult between them - though, in truth, he guessed that he was easily six years her senior. Still, she knew so much... The secrets of the Strange Ones, as related by the mare, Amani, comprised a body of knowledge vast and astounding to Pup-Chup. And he knew that compared to Bessie, he was like a child - in that he was vastly ignorant of the knowledge she took as commonplace.

Bessie stepped over to Pup-Chup, drawing a paw gently across his muzzle, and cooed softly at him in her strange language as she nuzzled him. Pup-Chup did not understand her words, of course, but he understood her meaning. Pup-Chup reached out, taking her paw in his. "Go not, Bessie... With me, stay, please..." he whispered, for that was all that would come from his aching heart. "I..."

Bessie simply smiled, drawing her paw gently from his, and slipped out the hide flap that made up the door to Pup-Chup's home.

Pup-Chup sat in the darkness of his lodge for a long moment, in silence. Finally, he sighed. Pup-Chup loved Bessie dearly - and it seemed that she cared for him, as well. He knew she wasn't in heat, and as such their gentle, deeply moving encounter had been an expression of something that went far beyond semi-annual lust. Yet, Pup-Chup knew in his heart that she would, when the time came, return to the north. That was her home, not here, in the jungle.

After several minutes, Pup-Chup's moping was finally interrupted. The hide-flap lifted again, and Pup-Chup looked to it expectantly - then eep-ed as he realized it was Na-Nu. "Na-Nu! Why come you in like that?!" Pup-Chup snapped irritably, covering himself in the blankets that lay about him and struggling valiantly to suppress a blush.

Na-Nu rolled her eyes. "Pah! Nothing have you that I have not seen more times than there are leaves in the forest. Old am I, sons of my own have I birthed, two mates have I had, and countless others have I helped birth their own sons - even as did I help your mother birth you. It is nothing," she replied, then gave Pup-Chup a serious eye. "Here am I now for an important reason. Much thinking have I done. Hear me you must."

Pup-Chup wrapped himself up in his blankets like a cloak, then sat up straight in his bed, trying to regain at least some of his dignity. He was, after all, Chief. "Listening am I."

Na-Nu nodded, and sat beside Pup-Chup. Her little black nose wrinkled for a moment, and the whiskers on her graying muzzle twitched - the nose of a mustie was very keen, and it was obvious to her that Pup-Chup had coupled, and only minutes before. After pausing a moment to collect her thoughts, she looked into Pup-Chup's eyes. "The Strange Ones... Know they of many things that we do not. Live they do far to the north - far from the Snap-Snaps. Powerful allies and friends they have there. Know they much about curing sickness that we do not. All true, yes?"

Pup-Chup nodded. "All true."

"Then what want they of us?"

Pup-Chup shrugged. "For us to join them, want they. Say they do many, many years ago, their tribe to the northlands did go. Here in the jungle did stay our tribe and all the others. Found have they a good thing. To share it with us, they wish. The mustie way, it is."

"Go shall we, then?" Na-Nu asked, eyeing Pup-Chup carefully.

Pup-Chup shrugged again. "Perhaps... Undecided am I." And, in truth, Pup-Chup hadn't decided. Though part of him wanted to follow Bessie wherever she may go, he had his duty to his tribe to consider, first. He could not simply make a decision like that based on what was pleasant or convenient for him, he had to base his decisions on what was right for the tribe as a whole. "Long is the journey, says Byarl. Many, many moons, it may take. To go, some may wish, but others, not. Carefully must I consider before-"

"To me shall you listen, mate of my daughter's daughter!" Na-Nu interrupted, looking at Pup-Chup imperiously. "Two sons, one daughter, four grandsons, and one grand-daughter have I had. Where are they now? Tell you, I will - dead, they are! Eaten by Snap-Snaps, like Mishi, were some. Taken by a fall from the lodge was another. Claimed by sickness were the rest, and nothing could we do to save them. Such it has been with our people, the musties, and so it has always been," Na-Nu said, then pointed downwards, towards the base of the tree. "But not with them!"

Pup-Chup simply stared, shocked into silence by Na-Nu's vehemence.

"They fear not the Snap-Snaps! They fear not sickness! Nothing do they fear! Down from the lodges Chi-Chi did climb to talk to them while in here were you rutting with their female like a stupid love-sick forest-pig! Know you what she found out?!"

"Hey!" Pup-Chup objected, but Na-Nu ignored him.

"To their chief, Byarl, did she speak. What they plan, she did learn! Know you what they plan?!"

"No!" Pup-Chup snapped, annoyed.

"Hunting and killing the Snap-Snaps!" Na-Nu shrieked.

Pup-Chup goggled, profoundly astonished.

"Nothing do they fear! To drive back the Snap-Snaps, and the jungle make safe for all who stay behind is their plan!" Na-Nu shrieked, then drew herself to her full height as she sat beside Pup-Chup. "Call must you now for the gathering of the chiefs of the other tribes! A meeting over this there must be, now! Learn and understand must each and all of them of the Strange Ones, and what they offer! Know must each of them that they can go north with the Strange Ones, live in their lands, learn their secrets, and never fear anything again!" Na-Nu suddenly paused, then buried her face in her paws, and sobbed openly.

Pup-Chup stared in silence for a long moment as Na-Nu wept. Finally, he reached out and hugged her. "Na-Nu, what is wrong?"

"Why come they now?!" Na-Nu sobbed in reply. "Why came they not a moon before - or two? Then..." she replied, and sobbed again. "Then maybe would live my daughter's daughter yet."

Pup-Chup hugged Na-Nu silently, for he had no answer.

Finally, Na-Nu's sobs became long, deep sighs and sniffles, and she hugged Pup-Chup back. "Sorry am I. A good chief and a good grandson-in-law are you. Undeserving are you of my anger and sorrow."

Pup-Chup hugged Na-Nu again. "Angry am I not, Na-Nu. Right you are, again. Gather here, all the chiefs of all the tribes should do. Of the Strange Ones, and what they offer, all the chiefs should be told. Give must I to them the chance to lead their tribes to a better life." Pup-Chup raised a finger. "By drum shall I have the message sent."

Na-Nu smiled. "How long will it be for them to gather?"

Pup-Chup looked to Na-Nu, and made a face. "Seeing as how sitting on my pants you are, awhile yet it may be," he replied, then grinned.

Na-Nu did a double-take, then cackled with mirth. Pup-Chup reached out and hugged her tight, grinning, and Na-Nu hugged him back.

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