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

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"Ah-yoh-reeh!" Amani nickered, grinning.

Ayori popped his head out of the kitchen. "What?" he called, then grinned impishly. Amani rolled her eyes at him, lifting herself up onto an elbow. She waggled a fore-hoof at him, and Ayori came over. "You know, Amani, if you're going to be able to answer questions, you'll have to learn a bit more than just my name," he said reproachfully, then giggled.

Amani stuck her tongue out at her mate, which only made him giggle harder. "Ah-yoh-reeh!" Amani repeated, holding her fore-hoof out to him as she lay in the living room of their little home.

Ayori grinned and took her fore-hoof in his paws. "Okay, okay," he giggled. "What is it? I'm still working on dinner. Is it important?"

*It is to me, my little love. Chief Byarl Bearkiller has selected you to be his successor, when the time comes.*

Ayori blinked in stunned surprise. "M-m-me?! He wants me to be chief after him?!"

Amani grinned wryly. *Yes.*

Ayori paused, then shook his head. "Wait, wait. You're just teasing me because I teased you. I'm sorry, Amani, I was just playing with you, that's all."

Amani smiled. *I know that, my little love. But I am not teasing you. Even now, Ellie Sharptooth is explaining the decision to Merle Mousefinder and her mate, Lord Xaa'ap'Gasha. Byarl and Ellie work together in leading the tribe, as you well know. She is saying this, now...* Amani said, and paused, listening with her mind. Ayori waited - Amani's range was about three leagues, and there was no thought or conversation unknown to her anywhere within her range. As even the farthest house of the village was only a few hundred paces from the central campfire, she knew nearly everything that happened, all the time. *She says you are quite intelligent, skilled at leadership, and with my help, there is none you cannot understand, and none who could ever trick you. I can tell from her thoughts that by this, she means that the hearts of all you dealt with as Chief would be, as you musties say, an easy trail to follow. She adds that I am a seer among my people, and perhaps the best. She explains that this means I can see the future, and I am very good at it - which, I suppose, is true, given certain limitations. This apparently was very important in their decision. They feel my inner eye makes me very useful to the tribe, particularly for the mate of a chief who will, one day, make important decisions for the future, and would otherwise be forced to guess.*

"A-and they just decided this now?!" Ayori yelped.

Amani smiled. *Yes, my little love. As I told you last year, the decision was not firm in their minds, and there were many candidates they could choose from. As I told you before, it has been clear to Byarl for over a year that Merle Mousefinder would not be able to take his place when the time came. This was obvious to me from a casual glance, even without the vision of my inner eye, which easily shows she has a different and far more important future that awaits her. Now, Byarl has agreed with his mate, and selected you. The conversation with Merle Mousefinder simply crystalized the decision in his mind.*

"What conversation?!"

*Merle Mousefinder has told our Chief what I already knew she would tell him, Ayori Treeclimber. She cannot replace him as chief. She has another life in Castle Xaa, and that life and the life of Chief here in the village are simply not compatible. She cannot live in the castle and help her mate rule his lands, and at the same time live here in the Laughing Woods, and help our tribe grow.*

Ayori sputtered for a moment. "But-but-but... I can't! I can't be chief! I just can't!"

Amani smiled. *You can, my little love. And, someday, you will. It is your destiny - the vision of my inner eye is clear. Someday, you will lead your people, and the Wild Musties, who will be the allies of your people. Someday, you will be called to Castle W'mefa to take part in a vote on the next emperor. And your decision then will set the course of future history for centuries to come. Your wisdom and the skills of the future child of Bessie Onestone will, one day, help find all the remaining villages of the mice which lie hidden in the wilderness. And someday, when the rest of the musties from the Southern Jungles follow the markers and come to the north, your voice will lead them. And throughout it all, I will be by your side, helping you, guiding you, and leading both your people and mine to a better, brighter future.*

"Oh, gah!" Ayori yelped, exasperated and boggled by what Amani had said. "Amani, it's just... I mean..."

*You are afraid, you mean to say.*

"Well... Yes! I mean, it's an enormous amount of responsibility, Amani! I don't know if I can handle it!"

Amani smiled, leaning forward to nuzzle her mate. *And as you once calmed my fears in the jungle, so shall I calm yours here, and now. Shall I tell you the story of my mother?*

"Well... Yes. Wait! No!" Ayori yelped. "I've still got food cooking! Let me finish with that, then I'll be right back," Ayori replied, and dashed off to the kitchen.

Amani nickered in amusement, then lay on her back, stretching out to her full length in Ayori's living room. Amani smiled. The little carpet that covered the floor, made from many small squares of rabbit-fur, was quite comfortable now that Ayori had finally finished installing the large, thin, woven-grass pad beneath it. Amani had helped weave the pad, of course, as she was far better at such things than Ayori was. It amazed Amani that she once found Ayori's little home to be uncomfortable. Now, she found it quite snug and enjoyable. Much like a tent or blanket, the small earthen dome protected her from winter's chill and summer's heat. The carpet, though made from the skin of the dead, no longer had a 'dead' feel to it - it felt alive and warm with Amani and Ayori's shared love. The living room of their little home was still the only place Amani could stretch out in comfort, as the walls couldn't be simply knocked out, they were needed to support the beams of the roof. Ayori didn't use his little bedroom at all, and really hadn't since they'd begun living together as mates - instead, he'd simply slept with Amani, snuggled up to her large and warm body beneath a nice blanket. So, Ayori simply used what was once his bedroom as a place to gather and store fodder for Amani for the winter months. There was enough to easily last until spring, when the tenderest shoots of grass would peek out from beneath the earth, and the sweetest leaves were on the trees.

Amani smiled as she looked down to her garment - she still wore the skin of the snake her mate had slain, and proudly. Though it had taken several weeks of careful cleaning with a special leather-soap the musties had developed and daily airing out to finally remove the last traces of the fleabane's scent from it, in the end, Amani decided the effort was well worth it. All the musties wished to know where Amani had gotten such a fascinating garment, made from a single, enormously long snake skin. When Amani had told them, they had all been very impressed with her mate - which made Amani even more proud of him, and proud to be his.

Several shouts came from outside as the musties bid Merle and Xaa farewell. Ayori could not go out to bid them farewell, however. He was cooking, and the food would burn if he did. Amani felt her mate's regret - which, only moments later turned to a smile, as he realized he could simply visit the castle in the spring, when the weather was pleasant, and bring a pair of the wonderful knives he forged as friendship-gifts to Merle and Xaa. The knives were highly prized among the mus, as they were very beautiful, resembling carved and polished wood somehow magically turned to steel. Perhaps by then, Ayori thought, he would even master the trick of making mus-sized swords the same way, and have yet another source of income for the village.

Amani smiled at her mate's happy thoughts as she stretched out in the comfort of the living room, knowing that someday, Ayori would, indeed, master the trick, and create a sword like that - though the vision of her inner eye showed it was not Lord Xaa who would possess it. She had known this for months, now, though she had not told her mate. A skilled seer knew that sometimes, the best way to have a vision come about was to keep it to herself.

As Amani lay there in the comfort of the living room - which truly was the room in the house she and her little mate lived in, for the most part - she thought about the changes that had happened around her in the past two years, and within her. She had been accepted by the tribe, and was, for all intents and purposes, considered to be like another mustie (though a very large one that ate plants instead of meat, but a mustie, nonetheless). And, within herself, she could sense that she had absorbed some of her mate's playfulness and boundless optimism, even as he had begun to absorb some of her solemn and pragmatic nature. In a decade, perhaps two, he would be very much like Byarl, and would be mentally prepared to assume a role of leadership - and Amani knew she would be there by his side, guiding him, helping him, and in all ways being a proper mare to her little stallion.

It was a strange feeling, really. The life of the musties was totally alien to her people, in nearly every way. Yet, at the same time, their endless optimism, their playfulness, their ability to find joy in the depths of sorrow, to laugh in the face of death - all this and more were lovely to behold to the mind of a horse. Their hunting was not the endless dark-pleasured gorging of the Dark One, or even the dim-witted feasting of a bear, but was, rather, a completely different thing. The musties cared for the animals of the forest, watched them, counted their numbers, and even aided them when necessary. The musties saw themselves as part of a great circle of life, from plant to herbivore to carnivore, then through death to return to the plants again - and all of it driven by the changing seasons, the shifting patterns of wind and weather, and the warmth of the sun. Life and death, happiness and sadness, light and shadow, existing simultaneously - such was the mustie way. It gave Amani a sense of pride and happiness to not merely understand it, now, but to join in it, and to relish the moments she shared with her little mate, among their tribe, on this ancient world of Oerth.

Ayori came back out of the kitchen, a large, flat tray in his paws made of carved wood. Carefully setting it before Amani, he sat. "Here you are," he said, and smiled. "The mice call it a 'root stew'. Farrah told me how to make it last time I was visiting Smith's Village. I thought you might like it."

Amani smiled and nodded - it smelled delicious, even though the scent was mixed with that of Ayori's own dinner, which was boiled rabbit. Amani picked up the spoon, a metal one forged by Chief Byarl (who was the best at kitchen implements). It was really more like a ladle, but Byarl had made the handle curl in a semicircle, to make it more convenient for Amani. And, indeed, it made things much easier for her, as the smallness of the home she and Ayori shared meant that she ate lying down, the wooden tray Ayori always used protecting the carpet, and serving much like a table.

They ate in silence, Ayori sitting across from Amani, the two lovers and mates exchanging smiles over dinner, as they usually did. It was too cumbersome to touch and chat while eating, for the most part, though sometimes Ayori would tickle her with his toes while pretending total innocence. Amani would then playfully nip at his little toes, and they would share a laugh in the quiet moments of their meals.

Ayori's thoughts were, of course, easily known to Amani. She was his heart-bonded mate - she would know what he was thinking even were he thousands of leagues away. He was, at the moment, considering what Amani had told him, and trying to reconcile and accept it in his mind. Amani could easily see that he would - he just needed the minutes of silence their quiet dinners gave him to do so.

Finally, they were finished, and Ayori took the dishes and the tray back to the kitchen. When he returned, he sat before Amani, taking her fore-hoof in his paws. "Well... I've given it some thought. I guess you're right - a chief who was mated to a seer like you would be a great advantage to the tribe. I'm not terribly comfortable with the idea. I don't like the notion of being responsible for the whole tribe. It won't happen anytime soon, will it?"

Amani shook her head, smiling. *No, my little love. You will not lead the tribe for many years, yet.*

Ayori nodded, and smiled again. "Well, if I've got awhile, I suppose by then I'll have gotten used to the idea."

Amani nodded, still smiling. *You will, my little love. And I will be with you every step of the way, helping you as best I can - as a proper mare should.*

Ayori grinned. "Well, okay. Now what about this story you were going to tell me?"

Amani nickered in amusement. *You hardly need to hear it, now, as you are no longer upset. Still, I'll tell it anyway - it is not the mustie way to promise a story and then not tell it, and I would hate to my mate believe I was anything less than a proper mustie,* Amani replied, grinning, and Ayori giggled as she began her story.

*When I was but four summers old, my mother had finally finished The Sharing, and I knew everything I needed to know. I had absorbed all my clan-memories, I knew all the skills she could teach me, and I knew everything I needed to know about the cats. Yet, when she was done, there was still one more thing that she wanted to tell me - one last memory she wished to share. She, like me, was a seer. It was a memory of what her inner eye had revealed for me before I was even foaled - and yet, she could not share it with me, lest by doing so, she change the vision of her inner eye.*

"Huh?" Ayori replied, scratching his head.

Amani smiled. *My little love, the past and the future are not like a trail we trod, or a river that flows. Millions and millions of possibilities could have led to the events we see around us at the moment - though, in truth, only one string of events actually led to the present. Millions and millions of possibilities lead to future events that could occur - though, in truth, only a small number of these events are likely to actually happen, and only one string of events will happen. When a seer observes the future with her inner eye, by the very act of observation, she alters the possibilities, limiting them even further. By attempting to see the future, we become a part of the nexi of decisions which will, eventually, cause the future to come about. By relating and explaining our visions to others, they, too, become a part of making the future happen - or not happen. Thus, my mother had a vision, and she did not wish to share it with me because she was concerned that by doing so, she would prevent what she had sensed from transpiring.*

Ayori thought for a moment, then nodded. "Ah! It's like checkers. If you tell one of the players what might happen and what move you think they should make, you change how they're looking at the board, and maybe change how the game will really end. Maybe the person you were trying to help even loses, instead of winning."

Amani nickered in amusement, then nodded. *Trust my little mate to again think of a mustie game, but yes, that is very nearly what I mean. By predicting the future, we become a part of shaping it. It is one of the greatest paradoxes of being a seer,* Amani said, and as Ayori grinned at her, she continued. *Well, eventually, I learned of it through simply sensing her thoughts. Not all of it, but enough of it. I was, somehow, destined for something very large, beyond the comprehension of my young mind, and something my mother feared to share. That frightened me. I did not wish to be a part of a future my mother feared to share with me, and as I was only four summers old, I had not yet mastered the seer's skill of reading the paths of memory that lie beneath the hoofprints of thought, and simply know what it was she saw. For many days, I fretted and worried. Finally, my mother simply smiled, and told me that I should not worry - so long as I always followed my heart, everything would turn out alright.*

*Now, years later, I understand what it was she saw. My actions, somehow, caused the freedom of the horses. I do not know how, but I am certain it began two years ago, the moment the she-cat L'Sala T'Masa encountered me, and fell to the ground in a fit of rage. It was shortly afterwards that my vision expanded, and I saw the glorious future that lay ahead for my people - if only I would show them the way. And, this I have done, and will continue to do as the years pass,* Amani explained, then held up a fore-hoof. *Yet, none of the good things that have happened would have happened had I not done as I had done. The freedom of my people, the flowering of our love, and all the rest never would have happened had I not heeded my mother's advice, and simply learned to follow my heart. Thus, I say to you, my little love; follow your heart. Follow your heart, and the future shall unfold like a fragrant flower before you. I, your mate and a seer of the Blue Wind clan, have spoken,* Amani said solemnly.

"And you'll be with me?" Ayori asked, still not wholly comfortable with the notion of leading his tribe.

*Every moment, for the rest of our lives, my little love,* Amani replied with a smile.

Ayori smiled back. "Alright. Then that's what I'll do, Amani," he replied, and leaned forward to nuzzle his large mate. Amani smiled as she saw Ayori's love swell in his mind, flaring brightly, brilliantly, and gloriously. "I love you, Amani of the Blue Wind clan. I love you now and forever, until the stars fall from the sky," he said quietly, and wrapped his arms around his mate's long neck, hugging her silently.

*And I love you, Ayori Treeclimber. With all my heart and soul, for as long as the rivers flow, the grass grows green and the sun shines bright in the noonday sky,* Amani replied, nickering softly as she reached an arm around him, and hugged him back.


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