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

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Xaa looked up as he heard Merle approach, and tossed the bundle of green leaves he had gathered onto the small fire beside him on the beach. "Good afternoon, love. What did you think of my work?" Xaa rumbled, sitting down on his favorite rock, a pillar of white smoke billowing up from the small fire a few yards away. A seagull called as it flapped by, high above the soft sounds of the surf.

"It was very nice. Is that what your markers look like?" Merle asked quietly, asking about the little wooden marker Xaa had left. It was a simple pole a little shorter than Merle was tall, carved into a four-sided column.

Xaa nodded. "Yes. I couldn't make it out of stone, so I used wood. It has his name on it, both in my characters and in the characters you showed me that his people use. I thought that placing it there, right in that little clearing he passed away in, would be best. In his last moments, he was happy there."

Merle sat next to Xaa, hugging him quietly. It had been three months, and she had long since stopped crying - but she still was very, very sad. Xaa wrapped his arms around her and hugged her back, and they sat there quietly for several minutes, nuzzling each other on the lonely beach in the warm summer sunshine.

Finally, Merle looked up. "I saw what you did with the cave. That was nice, too."

"Thank you - though I don't think I would have managed it without Tinker's tools. Once again, he saved the day - just as Byarl told his parents he would. With the help of Tinker's shovel and some careful digging, I managed to find where She-Who-Guards had laid down to die inside the cave, and buried her properly by the entrance. Sealing the cave was rather difficult, but I managed to finally tip the statues over, cover them and the entrance with stones, and the cover the stones with a layer of dirt. In a year, perhaps two, the grasses and vines will take root in it, and the cave will be sealed off forever," Xaa rumbled.

"I don't understand why the mus didn't do that themselves - I mean, why did they leave a guardian instead of just sealing it up?"

"I think that because in the end, the Last God was insane. We forgave him for that. Entombing him while he was still alive would have been like punishing him, and you don't punish someone you have forgiven," Xaa replied.

"Was he alive?" Merle asked.

"As alive as any machine can ever be - perhaps more so. He was the last legacy of his creators, their greatest achievement, and their greatest failure. He deserved some respect, despite the danger and his insanity. Now that he is gone, nothing more remains of them. There is none to tell their stories, none to sing their songs, no evidence they ever lived - it is as though they never were. No one shall ever know of their existence, Merle, and no one must ever know, or else they may unwittingly release the same danger Tinker died to save us from."

Merle nodded. "It's too bad, really. I sometimes wonder what they were like. I mean, I know they must have been terribly ugly, but still..," Merle said, then looked over her shoulder. "Why did you set up the house like that?"

Xaa glanced back, looking over the work he'd done. Behind them, the shelter he'd set up a few paces beyond the edge of the trees could easily be seen. Much of the excess silk from the airship's air-bag he had used to make an enormous canopy that shaded the front area of small living quarters he built. "Well, that's just the silk that was near the top of the bag over the little clearing I made after cutting the trees and pulling the stumps. All that part of the air-bag was somewhat scorched. The scorched material wasn't really useful for making clothes or rope, and we had far more than we ever might have needed, anyway, so I had thought you might appreciate a nice sun-shade. When I made it, I was thinking you could sit and watch the sea, or work on your own projects, or whatever."

"Well, yes, but it's huge! It must have taken you ages to put it up on those poles." Xaa nodded, and looked out over the sea. Merle looked back to him, and sighed. "I'm sorry I haven't been much help. This has just been so hard for me. You took care of everything, and I couldn't help you at all, I was just too upset. You buried Tinker and made his marker, you found She-Who-Guards and buried her, you sealed the cave, you made a little house for us to live in for the rest of our lives and it's so nice... Why, you even buried T'Vril. You thought of everything and did everything, and all I've been able to do is just sit by Tinker's grave and cry."

"It's alright, Merle. I understand," Xaa said, throwing an arm around Merle's shoulders and hugging her.

"No, it's not," Merle said, looking up at Xaa. "If we're going to be here for the rest of our lives, I should at least start trying to show you I'll make a good mate in three more years," Merle said, and suddenly grinned.

Xaa grinned back at Merle. "So, you still want to be my mate when you turn eighteen?"

"Of course!" Merle replied, then looked sad again. "What's the matter? Don't you want me as your mate?"

Xaa reached out and swept Merle into his arms, hugging her tight. "Of course I do, love. I've accepted that by the standards of your people, you are an adult. Even by my people's standards, your words and actions show you are not a child. But it's no longer necessary for you to work hard around here just to show me that," Xaa rumbled, nuzzling Merle lovingly.

"Oh!" Merle replied, hugging Xaa tight. "You mean you've changed your mind and because we'll be here all alone on this island forever and ever I don't have to wait three years?!" Merle yelped.

Xaa chuckled. "No, love. Because of that," Xaa said, and pointed.

Merle looked, following Xaa's pointing finger, gazing into the sky. "AN AIRSHIP!" she screamed, spotting the rounded, white form against the clouds.

"Indeed," Xaa replied, grinning.

"We have to signal it somehow!" Merle yelped, squirming out of Xaa's arms to jump up and down on the sand, waving her arms.

"I already am, love. They saw the sun-shade I built and turned this way to get a closer look about two hours ago. Since then, I've lit a signal fire and have been burning leaves to make a nice, white smoke cloud. Most of the winds near the ground appear to be blowing west today, so they're having to struggle to stay at an altitude where the winds aren't strong enough to blow them back out to sea, and use the steam engine to try to move the airship over to us. With luck, they'll be close enough to drop a rope in perhaps a quarter of an hour or so," Xaa explained.

"But-but why didn't you tell me?!"

"You said when you left this morning that you would be back before noon. I knew where you were going, and thought it would be best to concentrate on trying to get a signal-fire started than running off and getting you all excited over nothing. They may have to turn back if the winds shift, and try again another day," Xaa rumbled, and Merle turned to hug him as he sat there on his rock.

Merle was about to say something more, when the faint sound of a mus-roar in the distance stopped her. "Ahoy the beach! It is I, O'dmemet!"

Xaa grinned, then stood. Taking a deep breath, Xaa roared. "AHOY THE SHIP! IT IS I, XAA, AND LADY MERLE IS WITH ME! WHAT ARE YOU DOING SO FAR FROM HOME, O'DMEMET?!"

After a pause, O'dmemet's voice faintly came back. "My fiancee refuses to marry unless her father is there, so I am forced to bring your hoary old tail home!"

Merle burst out into giggles, and Xaa roared with laughter. Xaa lifted Merle off the sand, and hugged her tight to his chest, spinning her around as they laughed. It was over. They were finally going home.

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