The Last God
(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY

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Four hours later, Merle, Xaa, Var the blacksmith, W'mefa, and O'dmemet were staring at Tinker's calculations in their quarters. They had just spent an hour translating Tinker's symbols and notes into their own language, and another three hours examining it. Var just scratched his head. "Forgive me, Lady Merle, my lords, but I simply don't understand the mathematics here - it's a bit beyond me," he rumbled.

"Me, too. I can tell you what all the numbers are, but I can't tell you what all this math means," added Merle.

"Well, as far as I can see, he's using a series of formulas to calculate the arc of the bullet beyond the range of the courtyard - that's how he knew how far the bullet would drop over the full range of the weapon. Here," Xaa said, pointing, "is where he derived the formula for the trajectory, using the measurements he made through all those targets. What interests me isn't that, though - it's that his numbers here show he had very little lateral drift. That would make the gun quite accurate, with a range of about 200 of his paces - about twice that of a bow, and three times the effective range the gun originally had," Xaa said.

"Incredible. But how does it work?" W'mefa wondered aloud.

Merle suddenly had an inspiration. "I think I know. Can you get me one of the little balls the gun shoots?" Merle asked, and Xaa nodded, then stood from the table. In a few moments, he came back, and sat down again, giving Merle a lead bullet. "Okay, here's one of the balls from the gun," Merle said, placing the ball on the low table. It rolled a bit, and Merle picked it up, then tucked extra papers they'd been using for figuring out Tinker's calculations beneath a corner of the table to level it. "There. Now: We've all run, or ridden a bird fast. You can feel the wind in your face and blowing your whiskers when you do. Well, imagine for a moment this little ball, traveling through the air. It's movement is like the pull of gravity, holding it down to the table. The wind is the table itself, holding it away from the floor. If the wind hits it perfectly even and level in the direction of it's travel, it doesn't veer off course. But, since nothing is perfect..." Merle said, pulling the paper out from beneath the table leg. The ball quietly rolled off to the side, and Merle snatched it up before it rolled off the table. "The wind of it's flight through the air blows it off course from the target," Merle said.

Xaa nodded, then translated what Merle had said.

W'mefa nodded. "Ah, I see. For similar reasons, we fletch our arrows. The wind of the arrow's flight through the air catches the fletchings, holding it straight and true in it's flight."

Merle then produced a small object from one of her pockets - a top. It was a small piece of wood, rounded smooth, with a point at one end and a small handle at the other. After leveling the table again, Merle looked up to the questioning gaze of the others. "Well, me mustie! Me bring in case me bored on trip. Musties play lots," Merle said in the mus language, feeling embarrassed.

"No need to be embarrassed, Lady Merle. Everyone here knows what you did at my smithy, and how you planned on fooling the Little One by pretending to be bored and playing. Your people may play, but that doesn't mean they don't think," Var said, and the other three nodded, smiling.

"Okay," Merle said, and flicked the top expertly. It spun on the center of the level table, following a slow circle on the smooth surface. "We know the grooves he carved make the bullet spin as it travels through the air. Like this top," Merle said, then tugged the paper from beneath the table, as she'd done with the ball. The top wobbled, but then righted itself, and stayed spinning in nearly the same place it had been. "The spin tends to keep it from being blown off course."

Xaa's eyes lit up, and he nodded, then translated what Merle had said. Merle waited quietly, picking up the top again and putting it back into her pocket.

"Astounding. How did he think of it?" O'dmemet asked.

"I don't know. Maybe it's something he knows that's been passed down for eight hundred years. Maybe it's something new they intended on giving us musties, if anything more dangerous than bears ever came to the Wild Woods. There is still a lot about them I don't understand," Merle replied.

W'mefa nodded after Xaa finished translating. "I see. Var, Can you duplicate this technique?"

"Yes, my lord - perhaps not with his skill, but practice will improve on that. I'll need a separate smithy built, however, or the Little One will discover what I am doing," Var replied.

"And that, unfortunately, will have to wait until after the cats finish their raid - in perhaps another three days," O'dmemet said with a sigh.

"The scouts haven't reported them at our western storehouses yet?" Xaa asked.

'Yes - they are already searching for food and finding none. Some of our outlying farmhouses are already ablaze, according to reports I received this morning," O'dmemet replied.

"Well, what the Little One has done with that gun is marvelous, of course, but it doesn't really help us much. As soon as the powder we captured runs out, the weapon is useless - we still don't know how to make powder of our own," W'mefa said.

"I agree. Merle, is there any way you can convince him to make powder for us?" Xaa asked.

"I can try. If you want, we can bring him in here and talk to him about it. After he's eaten is usually a good time to ask him for something," Merle replied.

"Let's put all these papers away, first. I don't think letting him see them would be wise," Xaa replied, grinning, and translated for W'mefa and O'dmemet, who chuckled.

Half an hour later, a smiling Tinker was led in by Merle, and took a seat at the small table. "Okay, Merle - what do they want?"

"Well, they can't make the powder used in those guns, Tinker. They don't know how. When what little they have runs out, your gun will be useless," Merle replied.

Tinker sniggered behind a paw, looking at Xaa. "What is it, Tinker?" Merle asked.

Tinker leaned in and whispered in Merle's ear very quietly. "What, something else I know that he doesn't? Hee!"

Merle suppressed the urge to slap Tinker, and instead smiled at him. "Yes, Tinker. You're so smart - only you know how to make the powder they need. They simply don't know how. That's why I like you, Tinker. You're so smart. Can you teach them how to do it?"

Tinker sat back and thought for a moment, then shook his head. "No, I'm afraid not. That's part of our secret lore. I could make it for them, but I can't teach them how to make it."

"He's saying no, that it's more of his damnable secrets, but he will make it for us," Xaa rumbled, smiling at Tinker as he translated for W'mefa and O'dmemet.

"Damn. Ah! Wait. Our chemist has been working on this for years, but what we've produced is worthless - not enough explosive force. We know we're missing something, but we don't know what. The Little One won't be able to make it without telling us what he needs us to bring to him. If we knew the components, our chemist could experiment to figure out the ratios. Tell him that we'll be happy to have him make some more for us, if he'll only tell us what we need to bring him," W'mefa said.

"Tinker, Lord W'mefa says that having you make it would be fine. What do they need to bring you?"

Tinker thought about it. Finally, he shrugged. "I guess it's alright to tell them what I'd need. I don't think they could figure it out without my help, anyway."

"No, of course not, Tinker. You're so smart," Merle replied, batting her eyes at him.

Tinker grinned and puffed out his chest importantly. "Well, first we'll need sulphur. Do they know what that is? It's yellow and smells bad when you burn it. You can smell it in the powder, a bit."

Xaa nodded. "Tell him we know what sulphur is."

"They know what that is. Go on, Tinker," Merle said, smiling sweetly.

"Okay. We'll, they'll need charcoal - as pure as they can get it."

"We use willow ash, powdered fine. We know about charcoal," W'mefa replied after Xaa had translated. Tinker saw W'mefa's nod and continued on.

"Okay. The last thing they need is Saltpeter. Do they know what that is?"

"Tinker, I don't know what that is, myself. How can I translate it?" Merle asked.

"Umm... It's a white crystalline powder. Nitrate of potassium. Sometimes found in the soil, other times found in caves," Tinker replied.

"We've no idea what he's talking about," Xaa explained.

"They don't know, Tinker. Can you describe it better?" Merle asked.

Tinker shrugged. "Not really - you either know what it is or you don't. There was plenty of it in the dirt in that cave we stayed in up in the mountains. I noticed it when I was hungry and bored and poking around with a spoon, digging in the dirt. I was looking to see if there were any tasty roots or grubs or anything there. There wasn't - just a layer of saltpeter."

Merle suppressed her reaction and smiled at Tinker. Xaa just sighed. "Merle, tell Tinker not to worry about making powder, then. We'll just have to get by with what we capture from the cats."

W'mefa looked at Xaa. "Why? What is it? What's the third component we're missing?"

"I've no idea what it's called, old friend - it doesn't have a name in our language, apparently. And unfortunately, the only source of it anywhere near that Tinker knows of is in a cave on Grah'nahdo mountain." Xaa explained.

'Damn. Damn, damn damn!" W'mefa growled.

"What is it?" Tinker squeaked, startled.

"Tinker, that cave is on the other side of lands controlled by the T'Chang clan - they'd have to be able to retake Xaa's old lands before they would be able to get to the cave again and start hauling out all that dirt," Merle replied with a sigh.

"Oh, okay. Well, if they find any other saltpeter, tell them to let me know. I'll whip them up some powder for that gun I made. For now, I think I'll get to work on another idea I had. You'll like this one, Merle. I think you'll be really impressed," Tinker said, puffing his chest out and grinning, then rising to his feet and scampering out of the room.

After Tinker left, O'dmemet looked up. "Then there's no choice. Somehow, someway, D'Larith T'Chang, the leader of the T'Chang clan, must die, and all Xaa's lands must be liberated."

"Indeed - but how? Granted, they're down to two thousand warriors. We, unfortunately, only have five hundred. How can it be done? In three years, we haven't come close. There were too many of them to begin with three years ago, and there's even less of us now than there were then," W'mefa asked.

Xaa leaned back, stroking his whiskers, thinking.

Merle sighed. It seemed hopeless. She could tell by W'mefa's and O'dmemet's expression that they thought so, too.

"O'dmemet, I'll need six strong servants and a bird-drawn cart loaded with fresh meat ready to go at the main gate in one hour," Xaa said, then stood, bowed and walked out of the room.

"Wh-what?" O'dmemet stammered when he'd managed to recover.

"Trust him, son. He's our best strategist. If he has a plan, it's going to be a good one. Now get to work," W'mefa said, grinning broadly.

"Yes, father," O'dmemet replied, grinning in return and scrambling to his feet. He bowed quickly, then dashed out the door.

Merle grinned. "Lord W'mefa must be very proud have Xaa for vassal," she said.

W'mefa shook his head. "He's not my vassal, Lady Merle. That's something I have never asked of him, and he has never asked of me. Even though he has nothing left, no lands, no castle, no vassals of his own, nothing, I'd never ask him to become my vassal."

"Why not?" Merle asked.

"Because he will kneel to no one, Lady Merle. He will be my closest friend, my most cherished ally, and my most trusted advisor, but he will never kneel and swear fealty to me or any other being on Oerth, in heaven, or in hell," W'mefa said, standing and holding out his paw for Merle. "It is a point of honor with him, and I respect that."

Merle nodded, then took W'mefa's paw, pulling herself to her feet, and followed him out of the room in silence.

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