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

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Pup-Chup sighed as he leaned against the rail at the edge of the main lodge, gazing out at the vast jungle the musties called home. It was his turn at guard-duty, and as Chief, he always tried to set an example for the others. Yet, it was difficult to remain vigilant, as his thoughts continued to turn to Mishi.

Some of the others had offered to take his place, of course. In the last week, the outpouring of sympathy from those of his tribe had been great, and it seemed that as he wept, his entire tribe wept along with him. Yet, Pup-Chup knew that life must continue. He was no ordinary mustie, with only the usual responsibilities of adulthood. He was, rather, chief of his tribe, and it was his responsibility to insure the safety of everyone. Thus, when his time at watch-duty came, he went to stand guard.

Watch-duty was critically important to the musties of the Southern Jungles. The Snap-Snaps, ever the bold hunters, often would try to catch the musties unawares. It was the duty of each guard to watch carefully for them, and sound the alarm if they spotted the enemy. Then, all the adults in the village would take the supply of stones, each gathered with difficulty from the jungle floor and lifted up into the trees, and drop them on the heads of the marauding Snap-Snaps.

This, in itself, was far harder to do that it seemed. A stone dropped or tossed from the rail of the lodge took over three seconds to reach the ground - and hitting a moving target took a great deal of practice. There were only so many stones that could be lifted up to the trees - too many, and the lodge itself might collapse. Each stone was, as such, critically important, and misses were to be avoided, if at all possible. Thus, the musties practiced regularly, particularly when a deer, wild pig, or other animal of the forest wandered beneath their homes. Not only did attempting to hit a small deer hone their skills, but the rewards were food for the entire tribe. Of course, that happened only rarely - most animals had learned over the millennia to avoid the homes of the musties - so occasionally game would be driven by hunting parties beneath the trees, to serve as target practice.

Only rarely did the Snap-Snaps actually attempt to assault the trees. Usually it occurred when the weather was very warm at night, at the height of the dry season. When the nights were cool, the Snap-Snaps would normally only attack during the day. Yet, whenever they attacked, their tactics were the same - they would swarm the trees, and attempt to climb them as best they could, or they would stealthily approach one by one, and attempt to climb. Unlike the musties, the Snap-Snaps never used weapons - though to Pup-Chup's mind, it seemed obvious that they didn't need them. Giant in size (compared to a mustie) and gifted as they were with large claws and an enormous maw of dangerous teeth, the Snap-Snaps had little need for the hunting tools the musties had developed. The Snap-Snaps could also sprint blindingly fast, though they tired quickly. An agile mustie who managed to avoid their initial charge and flee could often easily escape by simply continuing to run - after a minute, usually less, the Snap-Snaps would give up the chase.

Of course, the musties didn't merely wait for the Snap-Snaps to approach their trees before they took action. Surrounding the trees, hidden in the gloom of the forest, were various traps the musties had made. Pits filled with sharpened sticks and covered with wood, then a layer of sod. Small trees bent back, with a sharp stick attached. Yet, they could not turn the entire jungle surrounding their homes into a death-trap - hunting parties had to come and go, children had to be taught to hunt, and so on. More, the traps the musties set were more often tripped by the animals of the forest, rather than their intended enemies. So, the musties had to design their traps carefully and use them sparingly, lest they over-hunt the population of game nearby or cause a fatal accident for one of their own people.

Pup-Chup's eye caught a small movement on the jungle floor, and he peered down. A young pig, perhaps only as large as Pup-Chup himself, snuffled quietly as it gazed about. Pup-Chup rapped his knuckles against the rail of the main lodge, glancing about to the other males on watch-duty. The nearest was forty paces away, but as he heard Pup-Chup's signal, he looked. As he spotted the pig, he nodded, and repeated the signal. The sound was small - and with the distance above the pig, it hardly noticed, as the sound was much like that of the termite-eating birds, who pecked holes in infested trees to feed. After a few moments, all the males on watch-duty nearby were alert, waiting to see if the pig might approach.

Casually, with the careless air of a young animal inexperienced with the jungle, the pig wandered over to root about the small bushes that grew nearby the trees.

Pup-Chup reached to the box nearby him, and lifted one of the smaller stones. Only weighing a pound or so, it was only useful against a Snap-Snap with a direct hit - a glancing blow only injured them, and wouldn't drive them off. Yet, it wasn't intended for them. It had been gathered just for occasions like this, when animals drew too close. Pup-Chup raised the stone, gauging the shot carefully, then lobbed it overhand.

There was a long pause as the stone fell, over three seconds.

With a meaty smack, the stone connected with the pig's skull, killing it instantly.

Pup-Chup grinned as the other males on watch-duty nearby whooped and cheered. It had been a very good shot, and he was rightfully proud of it. Pup-Chup started to open his muzzle to call for Mishi to climb down and gather the carcass, as he couldn't leave his post until dark, but then stopped.

Mishi was gone, of course, and would never return.

Pup-Chup sighed deeply, his eyes watering. He took a moment to wipe away his tears, then turned to call for Na-Nu. She was too old to help lift the carcass by rope into the tree, of course - in truth, Na-Nu was really not limber enough to make the climb down to butcher it at all anymore, and hadn't left the safety of the trees in over ten years, now. Still, she could gather a few of the younger females, and they could do the work easily.

Na-Nu hobbled over after a few moments, then peered over the edge of the rail. "Ah, mate-of-my-daughter's-daughter. A very good shot you are." Pup-Chup simply nodded in reply, his heart heavy with thoughts of Mishi. Na-Nu looked to his face, and saw his expression. "Thinking are you of Mishi again."

Pup-Chup nodded. "Miss her I do, still. Very much."

"Grows less does the hurt, in time. Know this well, I do. None but you have I left. Know this pain well, I do, Pup-Chup."

Pup-Chup sighed again. "Away does this pain ever go?"

Na-Nu shook her head. "No. Away it never goes. Grows less, in time, yes. After long time, not hurt much. But away it never goes, Pup-Chup, because love never dies," she replied, then looked into Pup-Chup's eyes. "Musties die - not love. Live forever shall Mishi-Love, in your song and in your heart," she said, tapping Pup-Chup's chest with a clawed finger, "just as live forever shall her spirit, in the forest," Na-Nu continued, waving a paw broadly at the jungle. "The mustie way, it is."

Pup-Chup smiled. "Thank you, Na-Nu."

Na-Nu grinned, and nuzzled Pup-Chup silently for a moment before hobbling off to summon a few of the younger females to help with the pig. Pup-Chup turned his gaze to the forest again. Na-Nu was right, and he knew it. Mishi's spirit would, indeed, live on, in his heart and his songs. That was the mustie way.

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