The Last God
(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY
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The sun shone down warmly on
Merle, and she wiggled her whiskers in delight. Darting beneath
the shade of Old Gnarly, her favorite oak tree, she turned her
prize over in her paws - a gleaming river stone, shaped and
colored almost perfectly by the running water of the babbling
brook nearby. It was a nearly perfect sphere, and she was very
pleased with her find.
'I am the happiest mustie
alive' she thought, and grinned otterishly to herself.
Old Gnarly had a hollow spot at
the base of his roots, and Merle doffed her pack and sat down,
smoothing her green-dyed leather dress quietly for a moment
before she looked at her prize again. With a practiced flick of
the fingers, she tossed it spinning into the air, her sharp eyes
watching it for a wobble. There was none. She caught the stone,
and examined it closely again.
"You are just perfect. Let's
see how you fly," she said to the stone, and grinned again
for a moment before reaching into her pack for Stonecatcher.
Stonecatcher was what Merle had
dubbed a little invention of hers - a small box, about the size
of her head, made of wood. One side had a rectangular hole in it
that went all the way across its width and half way down its
height. Inside was an angled plank to deflect stones she aimed at
it into the bottom of the box, and another small plank kept them
from bouncing back out again. The other musties had just shaken
their heads when they saw it. They could never understand why
Merle wasted so much time making odd things. "Touched in
the head," they said, tapping their headfur and nodding
to each other knowingly. "My inventions." Merle
always pouted in reply, and strutted off to her burrow in a huff.
With Stonecatcher nestled snugly
into Old Gnarly's hollow, Merle scampered off twenty paces.
Reaching to her waist, she pulled her sling from her pocket, and
slipped the stone into the sling's rounded leather pouch.
Gripping the sling's leather thongs with a practiced air, she
whirled it above her head for a moment, then snapped her arm down
suddenly, releasing the thong pinched between her thumb and
forefingers. The stone flew straight and true, smacking the
bounding board in Stonecatcher with a hollow thunk and
rattling about inside the box for a moment before lying still.
Merle chittered in delight as she scampered back to the tree. The
other musties always chided her for her technique with the sling,
but none faulted her for her accuracy or the amount of succulent
rabbits she brought in to the communal cookpot. "You
don't use a sling like that. You twirl it at your side, like
this," they said. "My sling is twice as long as
yours - that won't work. I use it like this," she always
replied. "Then trim the thongs to a more reasonable
length," they chided again. "Longer slings hit
harder and shoot farther," she always snapped in reply.
Merle understood why her sling
was better than those of the other musties, but couldn't explain
it to them. She understood the longer thongs allowed greater
force to be developed as she whirled it - she had made the sling
after she had played a game of "Crack-the-Whip" with
some other musties two years ago. At first, there were only four,
and Merle was easily able to hold on as the leader spun everyone
around. She tripped waving to some others who bounded up to join
the game, and she sat on the grass to catch her breath before
grabbing onto the end of the line again. But by then, there were
nine, and she could hardly hold on. As her grip slipped and she
tumbled into the grass, it dawned on her that this was the same
force imparted into the sling stones - and a longer sling would
mean greater force. The others thought she might be hurt. They
all gathered 'round her in concern, since she wasn't giggling and
laughing after the fall, but then shook their heads in disgust
when they saw she was fine. "Oh, she's just thinking
again. That Merle. Always thinking instead of playing." Merle's
reply had been little more than an enraged snarl, and she hadn't
shared her discovery with her playmates. Instead, she made a new,
longer sling, and spent months practicing with it until she was
as good with it as she had been her old one.
Merle stood, drawing herself to
her full three feet of height, and held the stone aloft. Pitching
her voice low in imitation of Byarl, Chief of the Musties, she
intoned "I find you fit, O Stone of the River. I dub
thee..." Merle paused, then collapsed on the ground in a
gigglefit when she realized she had no idea what to name the
stone. She sat up again, resting her back against the tree, and
regarded the stone again, still grinning. "Well, little
stone, I am not Byarl, and you are not a mustie reaching their
Age of Majority, but I still name all my stones. I will call you
Seeker, for you fly true and seem to almost seek the target I am
aiming at. I hope that I will always be able to find you after a
shot, and that we will be good hunting partners," she said
to the stone, and slipped it into the pouch she carried at her
side. Patting the pouch to make the twelve stones inside it
rattle, she smiled happily.
"Hoyo, Merle!" a small
voice squeaked from the other side of the clearing. Merle looked.
It was Tinker, her mouse-friend. Tinker was a little gray mouse.
He was slightly shorter than Merle, like most mice, and had black
eyes like twin pieces of jet. He waited until Merle smiled at him
before he approached. Merle got along better with the industrious
little mice than she did the musties. The mice were always
thinking and working and making interesting things - most of
which they traded to the musties for tanned rabbitskin and other
things the musties made. Merle had two sling-stones Tinker had
made, rounded glass spheres he'd created by dripping molten glass
into a bucket of water. But, though Merle loved the mice dearly
and enjoyed their thoughtful, industrious company, the mice
themselves feared her and every other mustie as carnivores.
"Hoyo, Tinker! Whatcha got
in the basket?" Merle asked, pointing at the small woven
basket Tinker carried in his paws.
"Gooseberries. My mom wants
to make Gooseberry pie for the family tonight, and she asked me
and my sister to gather some. You'd have smelled it, but you're
upwind of me," Tinker replied with a mousie-grin, walking up
"Ooooo! Gooseberries! Can I
have one?" Merle asked, eyeing the basket hungrily.
Tinker blanched at Merle's gaze,
his own instincts sending a thrill of fear down his spine.
"Umm... No, they're for mom," he replied nervously.
Merle saw Tinker's expression,
and smoothed her own face to an apologetic look. "Sorry,
Tinker. I didn't mean to scare you. I'm just a little
"That's okay," Tinker
replied, his smile slowly returning. "I guess you could have
a pawful if you can help me find more."
Merle opened her mouth to say
'yes', but shut it suddenly, and shook her head. "No, it's a
little early in the season for gooseberries. You'll need every
pawful you can find," she replied, trying to suppress her
tummy's audible growl.
"Well, I do need your help -
that's why I came. I also need to pay you something - the
Law of the Mice demands it," Tinker said, drawing himself up
to his full height and looking down at the seated Merle.
Merle giggled, covering her mouth
politely with her paw. Mice were funny like that, with all their
rules and regulations and their orderly lives. Tinker had once
visited her burrow, and was shocked to see dozens of inventions
of hers scattered about the room, piled in corners, and otherwise
in disarray. "Don't you have any sense of order? How do
you find anything in this mess?" he had asked. Merle had
simply giggled and replied "Everything is where I put it
last. That's how I find it all - I just remember where I last put
it." Merle didn't have any parents to reprimand her for
being messy, as they had been killed by a bear over a year ago -
though even if they were alive, they wouldn't complain too
loudly. Musties were all a little disorganized, anyway (or so
Merle always told Tinker, at any rate). Merle had visited the
snug, orderly little burrow of Tinker's family, so she understood
why Tinker thought her place was messy.
"It's alright, Tinker.
You're my friend. I'll help you because I like you," Merle
replied, still giggling.
"No, that won't do,"
Tinker said, plopping himself down to sit before her, then
crossing his arms firmly. "Is there anything you would like?
Is there anything you need?"
Merle thought about it. What she
really needed was to go hunting for some rabbits or birds so she
could have something to bring home to the communal cook-pot - if
she didn't bring anything back to the village, she wouldn't get
to eat. Even so, she knew watching her hunt unnerved Tinker badly
- asking him to help was out of the question. Sweet berries were
edible to musties, and they liked the taste, but they primarily
ate meat. Berries were more a snack-food that you gathered while
hunting to keep yourself going. Merle shrugged. "I can't
think of anything, Tinker," she replied.
Tinker's sharp eyes lit on her
fingering the thongs to her sling as they hung out of her pocket.
"I know. I have just the thing," he said, and fished
about one of the many pockets in his leather vest for a moment,
producing a small steel ring.
"What is it?" Merle
asked in curiosity.
"Well, it's something I
intended to give to you at your Coming of Age ceremony next week,
but I can give it to you now. It's a ring for your sling,"
he explained, holding it out to her.
"Oh, Tinker! You were
going to come!" Merle squealed, and hugged him suddenly.
Tinker squeaked in fear for a moment, his pale, hairless tail
lashing, but he calmed down quickly as Merle cooed into his pink,
hairless ears and nuzzled him. Merle realized her mistake at
moving suddenly, but had simply forgotten how instinctive her
little mouse-friend's fear of carnivores was. She spent the next
few minutes grooming behind his ears gently, nibbling and lapping
at his fur with her tongue, until he was churring quietly with
pleasure and nuzzling her neck.
"My mother is going to kill
me, you know," he said, grinning.
"Huh? Why is that?"
Merle asked, letting him go gently.
"She thinks I spend too much
time with you - like I want to be mated to you or something - and
now I'm going to come home smelling of you. She's going to throw
a fit," Tinker replied, and chuckled.
Merle giggled. "Well, you
and I are fourteen summers, and you had your Coming of Age
ceremony last winter. You could choose a mate if you wanted to
right now, though I'm sure your daddy already has one of the
other mousie-girls in the village in mind, not me," Merle
said, and giggled again. "Next week I will have my Coming of
Age ceremony and I will be counted as an adult, too. But, I
haven't even had my first heat yet, so I haven't really even
thought much about picking a mate. Still, if I were going to pick
a mate, I would pick someone like you, Tinker. You're smart and
sweet and good with your paws, and I like you very much."
Tinker hugged Merle quietly for a
moment before speaking again. "I like you, too, Merle. A
whole lot. Even though sometimes you scare the tail off of
me," he said, and they shared a giggle.
Merle glanced about on the ground
for the forgotten ring Tinker had tried to give her, and her
sharp eyes soon spotted it in the grass. She picked it up and
examined it. It was easily large enough to slip over her thumb.
"I don't think this would make a good stone," she
"No, you tie one of the
thongs to it instead of wrapping the thong around your finger
before you load the sling. Then, when you use the sling, you just
slip your middle finger through it. That way, you can ready the
sling faster," Tinker explained.
Merle nodded, and pulled her
sling from her pocket. Taking the first few finger-widths of the
broader thong she usually wrapped around her finger, she tied it
to the ring. Reaching into the stone-pouch at her left side, she
pulled out the first missile that came to paw. "Ah.
Seeker," she said, grinning. After making sure Stonecatcher
was still firmly set into Old Gnarly's hollow, Merle stood to
walk back a few yards. Tinker hopped to his feet and followed.
Merle tucked the sling back into
her pocket, leaving only the ends of the thongs hanging out.
"Okay, let's try it," she said. Tinker stepped back to
give her room.
Merle shifted Seeker into her
palm, relaxing as though she was simply waiting for a target.
With a sudden move, Merle's right paw flashed down to her side,
her middle finger easily slipping into the ring as she gripped
the other thong between thumb and forefinger. Snapping her paws
together for a moment to bring her left index finger and thumb
around the thongs dangling below her right paw, she jerked her
paws apart, snatching the sling from her pocket. As the pouch of
the sling passed through her left paw, she slipped Seeker into
it, so stone met pouch in one smooth motion. Releasing the loaded
pouch, she flicked her right wrist, spinning the sling above her
head for a few moments, then snapping down her arm as she
released the thong held between thumb and forefinger. Seeker flew
straight and true again, and Stonecatcher rewarded Merle with a
happy thunk-rattle of success.
Merle clapped for a moment.
"You were right, Tinker, it is a little faster! Thank you so
much for this!"
welcome," he replied, pasting a smile on his face and trying
to conceal his nervousness at the deadly accuracy of Merle's
sling. He had to repress a shudder when Merle grinned at him, her
razor-sharp teeth gleaming in the afternoon sun.
covered her mouth, as was the custom of the musties around the
mice, but she could see it was too late. She kicked herself
mentally for the slip as she put Stonecatcher back into her pack
and shouldered it. All musties covered their smiles when around
the mice - to do otherwise made them very nervous.
"Come, Tinker - let's go find some gooseberries," she
said with a sigh. Tinker nodded, then smiled weakly, holding out
his paw. Merle took it, smiling with her other paw over her mouth
politely, and they walked off together into the shade of the
Two hours later, the sun was
approaching late afternoon, and Tinker held up a paw to call a
halt to the proceedings. Merle's sharp nose had ferreted out many
berries for Tinker to take home. There were none to spare,
however, for it Merle had been right - it was early in the
season for gooseberries. Merle sat down and sipped quietly at the
waterskin she kept in her pack, hoping to quiet her tummy's
rumblings with some water, at least.
"We make a great team for
berry-hunting, don't we, Merle?" Tinker asked, a big
mousie-grin on his face.
Merle nodded, smiling behind a
paw. "Yep! And with both of us keeping a watch out for
bears, it's much safer."
Tinker nodded, glancing about
nervously even at the mention of bears. The mice and musties only
had one major enemy in the Wild Woods - bears. They weren't
intelligent, but then again, they didn't need to be. Most of them
were black or dark brown in color, stood about twice as tall as a
mustie, and weighed many, many times more. The mice relied on the
musties for protection against bears. When the musties spotted
one in the vicinity, they hunted it down and killed it, in
accordance with their ancient treaty with the mice. The musties
would stalk a bear for days, then leap on it from ambush,
overwhelming them with numbers. Seven or eight male musties
ripping with their fangs and the sharp, wickedly curved knives
the mice made for them usually made short work of even the
largest adult bear. However, a lone mustie like Merle, even
paired with a timid little mouse like Tinker, was no match for
even a young bear. So, Merle and Tinker had been very careful
while searching for gooseberries.
Merle's tummy growled loudly, and
she spoke up again. "I'm sorry, Tinker, but I have to go.
I'm starving. I have to hunt before it gets dark, or I
won't get to eat tonight," she said, a small frown on her
Tinker nodded, struggling to keep
his distaste off his face. A hunting mustie was a fearful sight
to a mouse, and the thought of eating the flesh of a dumb rabbit
was very disgusting to them. "Here, Merle - mom won't
miss one gooseberry, and I'm sure Farrah has gathered
some, too," Tinker said, mentioning his sister as he reached
into the basket. "You can have it. That'll at least be
something to keep your tummy from growling while you..." he
said, and found he couldn't finish.
"Thanks, Tinker," Merle
replied, trying to control the look on her face and take the
gooseberry demurely from Tinker's outstretched paw. True to its
name, it was a berry about the size of a goose egg. Merle popped
it into her mouth and bit down deep, swallowing the sweet juices.
"Mmm... Delicious," she murmured, her mouth mostly full
of the delicious fruit. She chewed for a few moments, then
swallowed the gooseberry.
"Well, I have to be heading
back," Tinker commented, glancing at the sun.
"Shall I walk you back
home?" Merle asked, enjoying the thought of seeing the mouse
village again, if even only from a distance. The various
contraptions mice built were immensely fascinating to her.
Tinker's house in particular she found very fascinating. His
father had made a huge thing he called a 'Steam Engine'. When it
was running, it not only could warm the house in the winter, but
it also turned a large wheel attached to a series of belts and
axles that ran throughout the family workshop. More belts came
off each axle, and through a complicated series of universal
joints and spinning armatures they provided power to the various
devices that Tinker's family had in their house. This let
Tinker's dad use something he called a 'Power Drill' and a 'Power
Sander', and Tinker's mother had a strange device she called a
'Sewing Machine' hooked up to it that allowed her to do lighting
fast needlework. Other mice had made similar inventions that
fascinated Merle greatly.
"What, after the last time?
I don't think so. My mother would throw a fit. She probably
already will, since I'll come home with your scent on me so
strongly," Tinker replied, frowning.
Merle nodded sadly. It was true -
the last time she had visited the village of the mice, things
hadn't gone well. Merle had been so fascinated by all the
interesting gadgets and inventions, she'd run around the village
trying to get a close look at each, grinning broadly. This scared
all the mice very badly, and she was almost asked to leave by the
Village Mayor. If it hadn't been for the fact that Merle had been
invited to Tinker's house for dinner, she might have been
politely but firmly shown the way out of the village. Of course,
the dinner itself was also a disaster. Even though the musties
and the mice had been allies and friends since time immemorial,
Tinker's whole family been visibly nervous at having a carnivore
visit them. Worse, the only thing Tinker's mom served that Merle
could really eat was berries.
Merle sighed. "You're right,
Tinker. I'll see you later. Tell your momma I said hello,"
Tinker started to turn, then
stopped. Carefully putting the basket down and kneeling, he
reached out to Merle and hugged her carefully. "I'm sorry,
Merle. Sometimes I think you should have been born a mouse, too.
You're more like us than you are like the musties."
Merle hugged back and sighed.
"Sometimes I agree with you, Tinker," she replied
quietly. Then she giggled, and covered her smile as Tinker let
her go. "But I think if I was a mousie, your momma would
spank me for having a messy room."
Tinker grinned in reply, and
shook his head at Merle's ability to make a joke and laugh when
he knew she must be terribly sad and very hungry. 'I guess she
really is a mustie after all,' Tinker thought with a smile.
"No, momma would take one look at your messy room and just
faint," he replied, and they shared a laugh.
Suddenly, Merle's expression
shifted - she looked startled. "What is that?"
Tinker spun, his tail lashing in
fear, his eyes darting about. "What is what?!"
he asked fearfully, worried that the answer might involve bears.
replied, shushing Tinker.
Tinker listened, his pink ears
twitching nervously. At first, all he could hear was the
whispering of the breeze between the trees. Then, after a moment,
the errant breeze brought the sound to his ears. A sound unlike
anything he'd heard before. It was strange - like thunder, and
yet not. "What is that?" he asked, frightened.
Merle giggled. "That's what
I asked you, silly!" Merle hopped to her feet and
tugged at Tinker's paw. "Come on! Let's go
Tinker shook his head firmly.
"No. I have to get these gooseberries home to mom. Besides,
that sounds too much like an adventure. Nasty, scary,
uncomfortable things, adventures. Make you late for dinner -
maybe make you never come home at all. I can't imagine what you
musties see in them," Tinker replied with an air that Merle
easily recognized - it was the same one she'd seen when she met
exactly what his father would say if he was standing here,' Merle
thought to herself. Merle suppressed a sigh. When all was said
and done, her friend was still a mouse - and mice were
industrious and inventive and very bright, but they were not
brave, playful or adventurous. "Alright, Tinker. You go on
home to your momma and daddy, then. I'm going to go find
something for dinner," she said, then stood, brushed off her
dress, turned and walked away without another word. She could
hear Tinker shuffling his feet behind her, probably struggling
with finding something to say, but she didn't look back. She
didn't want him to see her tears.
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