(Book I of the Oerth Cycle)
(C) 1999 BY
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"Now, turn the dial there three points. Not just one like that mouse did a few thousand years ago, but three. It took ages for my power to build up, then," the god/machine instructed.
Tinker nodded, and continued following the instructions, twisting the dial on the panel of the wall. Merle noticed that the dials and controls were just outside of the god-machine's reach, and realized that this was probably done for a reason. Lights flickered across the panels, and Merle was afraid.
"Tinker, don't do it!" Merle yelped, to be silenced by T'Vril's snarl.
"Mrowrrr... Keep your muzzle shut, mustie-girl, or I shall be forced to tear out your throat," T'Vril warned venomously.
"And when you do, there will be nothing stopping me from killing you, cat," Xaa growled, his paw on the hilt of his sword.
"There - it's done," Tinker said at last.
"Yes, I can feel it. My main reactor is online again," the god/machine said. "Soon, I will have my full powers restored, and as the energy builds... Your dreams will all come true," the god/machine said, gesturing expansively.
"Miaow... And mine will be that the mus cease to exist!" T'Vril hissed.
"And mine. I also want Merle to love me again," Tinker said quietly.
"Now you're really dreaming, Tinker. I despise you," Merle spat, looking up to T'Vril.
T'Vril pressed Merle tighter into the ground, growling. "Mrowr... I told you to shut up, mustie."
Tinker walked over, touching T'Vril's shoulder. "T'Vril, that's not necessary anymore. The machine is activated - there's nothing Xaa can do to stop it. Let her go."
"Fsst! You little fool! The moment I do, he will attack! I don't need you anymore - I have what I want. You're a pathetic little fool! Did you really think I was your slave? How utterly naive you were! I agree with the mustie, however. You disgust me, as well, you little twit. You're weak, timid, and your devotion to this little mustie girl who hates you is annoying. Begone!" T'Vril snarled, lashing out with the claws on her foot. She caught Tinker across the abdomen, tossing him back to slam heavily into the god/machine, then slump limply to the ground. The god/machine simply stood there, silent. Whether it noticed or cared, it made no sign. A low thrumming was building beneath their feet, frightening in it's intensity, just below the level of hearing.
"Nooo!" Merle yelled, and in a sudden move, bit down on T'Vril's arm before she could react. T'Vril yowled, jerking her arm back, but this only tore the wounds longer and deeper as she ripped her arm free of Merle's muzzle. Merle rolled out from under T'Vril, and she rolled to her feet, snarling.
"Mrowr! Kill them, machine!"
"Sorry, I'm not fully online yet. You'll have to wait a few minutes," the god/machine replied cheerfully.
T'Vril couldn't reply - she was too busy leaping aside to dodge Xaa's initial rush. T'Vril rolled to her feet, her claws bared. "Fsst! Fight me fairly, Slayer! Duel me, or show you have no honor!" she hissed, blood running from her forearm.
Xaa growled. "As you wish, cat," he snarled, and sheathed his sword, then slipped both swords from his sash and tossed them behind him. Xaa then dropped into a fighting stance, his feet widespread, his arms wide his fingers splayed.
T'Vril chuckled, flashing her claws as she slowly edged closer. "Foolish mouse! I am better equipped for grappling than you are. I have my claws - longer and sharper than yours. I am faster. I will defeat you," she growled in the language of the mus.
"Come on, then. I tire of listening to you, cat. You, of all people. You bore me. Come - let's finish this," Xaa growled in reply.
Merle watched the two of them circle each other slowly. Xaa was half a head shorter, but twice as broad at the shoulders as T'Vril, and much more powerfully built. T'Vril was lean, athletic, and graceful - and judging by her ability to dodge the initial cut Xaa had made at her head with his sword, she was also very, very fast.
T'Vril lashed out low with a paw, and Xaa hopped back. T'Vril grinned, then slashed with her other paw, toying with him. Xaa hopped back again, narrowly evading her. T'Vril chuckled.
Merle bit her lip in fear. It looked like Xaa was outmatched. 'Spirits of the forest, help him! Please!'
"Time to stop playing with you, mouse," T'Vril taunted, then she lashed out for Xaa's throat with her right paw, her claws fully extended, grinning broadly. Xaa's left arm snapped up suddenly, and he caught her wrist in his paw. Turning to his left, he tugged her forward, pulling her slightly off balance, then brought his right arm up suddenly. There was a sickening snap, and T'Vril jerked back violently, pulling herself free. Her right arm was bent backwards at the elbow - broken.
T'Vril yowled as the pain hit her, and Xaa bared his fangs. "Oh, but I am not quite through playing with you, cat," he growled, hopping in and slashing at T'Vril's face with his own, smaller claws. T'Vril jerked back, her good arm coming up to block, but Xaa simply continued the motion, spinning his body as he lashed out with his steel-toed boot. With a sickening crunch, T'Vril went down, her left knee shattered.
T'Vril howled in agony, trying to roll away, but Xaa stepped over to her quickly, stomping hard on her spine. Another crack of breaking bones, and T'Vril's legs spasmed. "Stupid cat. Even your mate knew not to challenge me barepawed. Even he knew that's how I prefer to kill cats. When you see him in hell, tell him I said 'hello.'"
"Mercy! Please! Mercy!" T'Vril yowled, rolling onto her back.
"It's mercy you want? Fine, then. Here is the mercy of the mus," Xaa growled, reaching behind him to draw his knife. He stepped over her, then dropped to his knees across her chest, pinning her good arm beneath his right knee, then ramming the blade of his knife beneath her chin and upwards, piercing her brain with a crackling sound of breaking bone. T'Vril shuddered violently for several seconds, then was still.
Xaa pulled his knife from T'Vril with an effort, then wiped it on his sash and sheathed it. As he stepped over to retrieve his swords, Merle turned back to the god/machine. "Tinker!"
Tinker groaned, his abdomen covered with blood, more blood from the back of his head smearing the god/machine's gleaming exterior. "M-Merle..."
Merle knelt by Tinker, gently lifting his torn leather vest. "Oh, spirits! Xaa, help!"
Xaa strode over, and examined Tinker's wound. His belly was ripped open by T'Vril's claws, and loops of his intestines protruded. They also had been shredded, and the stench of fecal matter and blood made Merle ill. Xaa gently covered the wound. "There's nothing that can be done, Merle. He needs a healer to repair this. This is beyond anything I could do, even if I had a jar of bloodmoss unguent. I'm sorry, Merle. He's dying."
Merle sobbed, and hugged Tinker gently.
"I'm almost at full power! I'll be ready for full operation in just a few minutes!" the god/machine announced happily.
"And after that, the rest of us will begin dying as well."
"W-what do you mean?" Merle asked.
"Merle, I listened to the story this machine told us, and the warning at the cave entrance. I believe I know what happened to its creators, and what may have driven it insane. They killed themselves, Merle. The creators of this machine killed themselves."
"What? How?" Merle asked in shock.
"I believe that in their great race to ease themselves of even the burden of having to lift a finger to feed themselves, in their quest to translate the every thought and wish of their mind into hard reality, they forgot one thing - their own dreams. I believe that like us, they also sometimes had dark thoughts, repressed desires, and nightmares. How many have not been angry, and thought 'I wish this person was dead!' How many of us have not had a nightmare where we dreamt of terrible beasts? How many of us have not daydreamed of the demise of an enemy in numerous, painful ways? This new machine of theirs brought all that to reality - and in the process, destroyed them. The machine itself wasn't intended for that. It was intended to bring happiness, not death. And in violating its own purpose, it has gone mad," Xaa rumbled.
"I am not insane. Insanity is a matter of perspective. Your primitive minds cannot understand this. It is not my fault if they couldn't control their own minds. I am perfectly capable of controlling my own thoughts. If they couldn't control their thoughts, then they shouldn't have made me with the intent of interpreting them and bringing them to reality. And besides - if it weren't for their thoughts and dreams, none of your race or any of the other races on this planet would exist," the god-machine replied tartly.
"You're right! If it brings every wish, every dream to reality, it will bring our nightmares to reality, too! The whole world is in danger! Xaa, we have to stop it!" Merle yelped.
"I don't know how, Merle. Do you?" Xaa asked in reply.
"No! I don't know how to stop it, either!" Merle sobbed.
"I-I do," Tinker said weakly, his eyes fluttering.
"Oh, Tinker! Please, help us! Can you remember all the steps to reverse this?" Merle sobbed.
Tinker shook his head weakly. "No. But there is another way..." He replied, then spoke. "Machine, I activated you. When you are capable of affecting the area in this cave, please let me know."
"I am capable of doing so right now," the god/machine replied brightly.
"Good. Then here is my wish," Tinker said, gasping slightly. "I wish you did not exist."
The god/machine sputtered. "You can't do that!"
"I just did," Tinker replied, smiling weakly.
There was a shimmering, then a bright flash, and the god/machine disappeared from atop the metal box. The flashing lights on the panels in the walls flickered, then died. Slowly, the thrumming beneath their feet ebbed away into silence.
Merle wanted to clap with joy, to laugh with relief and happiness, to giggle and hug Tinker for tricking the machine, but she couldn't. All she could do was weep, and hug Tinker's bloody, torn body. "Oh, Tinker..."
"Merle... I'm sorry, Merle... I only... I only wanted you to love me, Merle, not him... I love you... I've always loved you... I'm sorry for everything I did, Merle... Please... Please forgive me..."
"I do, Tinker, I do," Merle sobbed.
"Oh, Merle... I'm dying, Merle... I can feel it... It's getting colder... Oh, Merle... I don't want to die..." Tinker said, tears rolling down his muzzle.
Merle couldn't reply, she could only hug him and sob.
"Please, take me outside... In the sun... Where it's warm... Please, Merle... Don't leave me in here in this dark, cold cave... I want to see the clouds again, Merle... Please..." Tinker said, his voice weak.
Xaa slipped his arms beneath Tinker as Merle
released him, and quietly, gently carried him outside the cave.
Merle stood, and followed, sobbing.
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