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  1. Chapter 38: Awakening … Her footsteps echoed eerily in the long hallway. Her long, black dress gently brushed against the cool tile behind her as she walked. Her body was thin and beautiful, and her face could've been described as such as well if it weren't for the empty, dark shadows swirling in the depths of her pupils. Darkness swarmed her body, demonizing her beauty into something sinister. Behind her was a man, limping painfully with his wrists tied together with rough rope. He had deep bags under his eyes and scars lacing his body. While he wore a shirt when he had woken up, he had almost immediately abandoned it due to it having being shredded and barely hanging on to him anyway. His hair, which had always been fluffy and rather clean in life, was now tangled and messy. “The Gentleman Scientist has been killed,” Charlie announced as she finally entered the Throne Room. Hundreds of white eyes watched from the darkness, but none were as prominent as the glowing red eyes that hid amongst them. The air was still and stale despite howling wind echoing from somewhere in the distance. As soon as she was close enough to the Nightmare Captor, she dropped into a bow and dumped her charge in front of her. He let out an audible oof as he tumbled onto the ground on all fours. Maxwell was perched on the Nightmare Throne, just as he had been for as long as anyone could remember. While Charlie's corruption tainted her natural beauty, Maxwell looked as if he had never been handsome. His limbs were thin and atrophied, his face so thin that his cheekbones and jawline protruded almost unnaturally from his form. Charlie felt a twinge in her chest as she gazed at the man she once loved, but she didn't let anything break past her exterior. Maxwell leaned forward as far as the binds of the Nightmare Throne would let him. He stared at the prisoner for a long moment, his expression slowly shifting before he sat back. “We didn't need him. Where is the boy?” Charlie winced and almost found herself shaking under his empty gaze. She took a deep breath, then answered: “Maxwell, the boy is destroyed without him. It can't be long before he follows.” “But the robot is alive.” “...yes.” “Then he has something to live for.” “I...” Charlie swallowed. “Yes.” Suddenly, something seemed to flip in Maxwell like a switch. He raised his index fingers to his temple and massaged it for a moment. “There has to be five of them.” “Yes, I know.” “There must be.” He sounded desperate. The prisoner looked up slowly, staring at Maxwell with empty gray eyes as if resigned already to his fate. “I do not want him.” The prisoner winced as if he had been physically hit. “What do you want me to do, then?” Charlie could feel the air shift as something drew closer. Maxwell blinked slowly at her as if hoping to get some sort of message across. Charlie felt dread settle in her stomach. Maxwell rarely tried to get messages across without alerting Them, and even though she was usually able to read minds, Maxwell's had a veil of shadows around it. However, she understood this time. There was only one thing that he would want her to do that They couldn't know about. She bowed to her king, feeling her heart pounding softly beneath her clothes. “...Yes, sir.” You're in there somewhere, William... I miss you so much. Maybe you will be with me again after our roles are passed down. She smiled faintly as the image of their heir came to her mind, but she immediately shooed it away. Soon. “How... is the fourth?” She asked after a long, painfully tense pause. “It has been a long time since I was in the archipelago. Not since...” “He... has been worse.” Maxwell waved her off. “But that lies in our favor. If he finds it difficult to live a day to day life, anything above that will be impossible.” “I see.” Over the many years together as Nightmare Captor and Servant, Charlie had learned that Maxwell seemed to act similar to an on and off switch. It was a talent to pick out what words were from Them speaking through him and what words came from William. Then again, she sometimes found it hard to believe that William even existed anymore. What if They were trying to force Charlie into a state of comfort? She swallowed her discomfort and pressed on. “And the fifth?” “...I don't know.” “They are still invisible to you?” When Maxwell said nothing, she felt herself jumping in to fill the silence. “It can't be for much longer, sir. After all, you were able to see the others once they came into the world, couldn't you?” “What are you talking about?” Her prisoner cried. Ah, she had almost forgotten that he was still here. It didn't matter much. He was likely still too out of it to comprehend much of what they were saying, let alone remember it. “Five... who are you talking about?” He sounded like he was trying to be angry, but his voice pitched towards the end, betraying his terror and confusion. Charlie whispered softly, just loud enough that her prisoner could hear her words- “The Reign of Giants will come and go Shipwrecked will he, we'll never know When finally, the end of lives Begins with the fall of five” “...what?” His voice was quiet, too. Maybe he understood. Maybe he didn't. “You should know more than anyone that the future is fuzzy.” Maxwell's response showed that he either didn't hear or didn't care. Then again, it was probably the least of his worries, even if he had heard. “After all, it was wrong last time, was it not?” Charlie winced. “Dismiss yourself, Charlie. You have work to do.” She hesitated, then forced herself into a bow. “Yes, sir.” Staying around any longer would only cause more problems. She turned, tugging on the rope around her prisoner's wrists. She heard him stumble to keep up with her, but she was paying more attention to the murmurs behind her as They whispered her words over and over again. … Webber's POV “Erika!” I cried. “Please!” Our voice echoed in the darkness of the vast cave system. It came back to our ears without response or acknowledgment that it was heard. Pain rose in our chest and we slowly lowered ourself to the ground. “Erika, I need you!” We hadn't seen her since the flood. Terror rose in our chest. What if something happened to her? What if I lost her before I got to see her as she was? The caves were silent: no pattering of spider footsteps, no distant hissing of conversation, no eyes shining in the darkness. If Erika was lost in the flood... we really did have no family left. We should have checked earlier. But... if spiders had died in that, wouldn't their bodies still be here? There had to have been at least enough alive to clean up any bodies. Right? But then... what happened to their sentries? We took a deep breath and released it. No, we had to keep believing that she was okay. There was no way that she knew anything about our past. If she was busy, it would only make sense that we would be the least of her worries. We lowered ourself to the cold stone, almost relishing the feeling against our skin, and wrapped our arms around ourself. We felt bad for getting angry at WX the way we did, but every word he said just seemed to burn the hole in our heart. We couldn't blame him; it really wasn't his fault. However, it didn't matter whether he meant to hurt us or not. We needed time. To readjust, to cope with what we had seen and who we had lost, to just get ourself back on track. And... to reconsider our goals. Was it worth it trying to fight these beasts without Wilson? Could WX and I fight any of them without him? We didn't want to let Wilson die in vain, but he wouldn't want us to put ourselves in situations that would end up badly. He was too smart for that. He also really wouldn't want us moping in a cave. We let out a harsh laugh as we remembered how upset he got when we had been taken in by the cave spiders the first time. We didn't want to make WX worry the same way. This time, we were smart enough to tie a rope to a tree in the surface so we could get out. Our past experiences in the caves had taught us that, at least. We climbed back to the surface in a few quick moments and took a moment to look at the sky above. We had time until autumn- plenty of time to prepare and to reconsider the future. We took our time walking home. It was beginning to turn dark, but we knew we still had plenty of time until the Night Monster emerged. I wonder what the Night Monster looks like. It had to have some sort of physical form, right? WX had said that he had been able to sense it moving and that it definitely seemed to have some sort of physical presence, but none of us had seen it. “Of course she has a physical form,” a voice hissed in the back of our mind. “How little of a spider do you have to be to gain her attention? We have all seen her, but she never attacks us. We're her allies.” “I'm not her ally,” I snapped. “And I don't claim to be a spider. Why would I want to be you?” “I'm certain that if you fought against survivors rather than for them, she would love to work with you,” he purred. “After all, you could very well pass off as one of us instead of one of them.” “I would rather fight against everything the world has to throw at us than be anything like you.” “That's harsh. I don't recall doing anything to you.” “You ate me!” “That was in the past. I learned my lesson. We've been together for so long, though, that I would've thought you would've learned to trust me more.” I took a shaky breath. “You never do anything other than torture me.” “I showed you the truth, didn't I?” I felt my blood suddenly freeze in my veins as an image pounded through my head. The bodies that he had shown us, during the winter. The blood. My voice broke. “You knew.” “It's only destiny, you know.” “You knew that Wilson was going to die, and you knew he was going to die in that battle!” I felt my step falter and my heart begin to pound painfully in my ears. “Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me so that I could've stopped this! I could've stopped the battle before it happened!” He scoffed. “Nothing could've stopped that battle. No matter what you said, fate would've won out in the end. I would be less concerned about the past and more concerned about the future.” “WX,” I whispered. “Soon, you'll be alone.” “I won't! I-I'll stop it.” “You can't.” I growled, deep in my throat. “Leave me alone.” “Fine. But me staying quiet won't change anything.” I didn't give a response, but I could tell that he could sense my anger and fear and was amused by it. It would be impossible for me to try to come up with anything to combat him; I knew he could hear my every thought. The last thing I wanted to do was give him the enjoyment of having me continue to think about him, so I forcibly cleared my mind of nothing but the grass beneath my feet and the feel of the wind through my fur. We didn't expect a welcome home party from WX, and we certainly didn't get one. He had built up a fire and was staring into the flames. We hesitated at the edge of camp, almost hovering at the edge of the light for a few moments. We weren't sure what to say. “I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR TRYING TO HELP,” WX said with a glance at us. Ah, yes, what a conversation starter. “We didn't expect you to.” “-BUT I SHOULD APOLOGIZE FOR FAILING TO DO SO.” We blinked. He shrugged. “I COULD USE YOUR USELESSNESS AS A REASON, BUT FRANKLY, I WOULD RATHER BE HONEST. I THOUGHT I DISLIKED YOU BEFORE, BUT THIS IS SOMEHOW WORSE.” We let out a soft laugh, surprising him as well as ourself. “At least you're being honest with yourself.” He almost seemed to puff up. “I AM NEVER DISHONEST WITH MYSELF.” “Sure.” We shook our head slightly. “You're known for only speaking the truth.” Our gaze drifted to something sitting beside WX- something black and red. “...wha... that's Wilson's book.” “IT IS.” “Where did you find it?” We never saw it unless Wilson was actively looking through it. If WX had found his hiding place before, he definitely would've stolen it much more often just to be a nuisance. He shrugged. “IT WAS JUST HERE, BY THE FIRE.” “It wasn't before...” we took a few steps closer to it but winced away. There was something wrong with it. “Don't you feel that?” “WHAT?” “That... I dunno, darkness?” We inched closer again, bracing ourself against the sensation. Our fur prickled as we lifted the book off of the ground. It made our hands tingle and quickly numb, but we forced ourself to keep a hold of it. After all, it was the last thing we had left- A surge of adrenalin forced us to drop the book, and we snapped our gaze back to WX, who looked equally terrified. Something happened. We couldn't explain it- we probably never could. Before we even had the chance to properly try to understand it, our body limply crumpled forward, missing the fire by only a few inches. It felt like something was dragged out of our soul. … The book. Something had happened with the book. It was supposed to say everything about the world, but it never said anything about raising the dead. It was illogical, impossible. But then again, I couldn't think of any other reason. I refused to call it magic. Magic was the opposite of science, and therefore impossible. Death was supposed to be permanent, wasn't it? Then what was this? It couldn't be life. Death was permanent. This was the basis of everything that we as humans do. Once we died, there was no going back. No, this was something else. Something that had to be scientifically plausible. After all, what kind of scientist would I be if I accepted anything as it seemed?
  2. Chapter 37: Importance WX-78's POV Personally, I thought I was doing a fantastic job of keeping a level head despite everything. For one, our rates of survival dropped quite dramatically after Wilson was killed and I had yet to even mention that part, not to mention that Webber was being the most annoyingly mopey that he could possibly be. Okay, well, maybe I shouldn't have been upset with his grief. He was too young to be having to deal with this sort of tragedy. Then again, a particularly nasty thought shot back. Would he rather he be kicked out? Left to fend for himself? Deal with this world by himself? Another, softer, more wrong voice of reason, resonating within broken codes among broken wires. Can you imagine losing your father- not once, but twice? I couldn't imagine that, particularly because I had been built by a single, female being who I considered to be anything but my mother, but also because it likely wasn't something I was built to be able to comprehend. Some might have taken that as a sign that robots were inferior- what 'superior' creature was unable to empathize like that?- but seeing as what grief had done to Webber... well, I was glad I couldn't understand. The day was pleasant- as all of the days had been since the Dragonfly's demise. It was warmer than usual, but not in a painfully scorching sort of way. It was just bright and warm enough for the savanna grass to burn very slightly beneath my footsteps, and just warm enough for the hilly grasslands to be dotted with sleepy, sunbathing rabbits. I already dragged two dead rabbits behind me, leaving behind a smear of red shining in the field of orange. Webber matched my pace, his steps clumsy and his eyes glazed. He was clearly a hunter, down to his very appearance, but he had failed to be fast enough to catch even a single rabbit. Wilson would've been concerned that he was feeling ill, considering how Webber was, by far, the fastest of our entire group. Wilson would've... “ARE YOU ILL?” His whiskers twitched and rose just a bit. I could see confusion in his eyes as he struggled to match up the present with whatever daydream he was in the middle of. Then, he simply shrugged and looked down. “No.” A twinge of annoyance. You won't get anywhere with him. If you try to argue, he'll argue back twice as hard. Was that something I had learned on my own or was that something that Wilson had taught me? He had a way with the kid, so maybe it wouldn't hurt to follow his example. “YOU WILL NOT GET FAR IF YOU FALL ILL. PERHAPS YOU HAVE REJOINED THE DAILY CHORES TOO EARLY. YOU ARE STILL AT RISK FOR INFECTION.” Webber suddenly bristled. “Don't even try to pretend like you care,” he hissed. “You can't replace Wilson, no matter what you do!” “OF COURSE NOT. AFTER ALL, IF I REPLACED WILSON, WHO WOULD REPLACE ME?” He twitched his whiskers again in response, but this time it was less in agitation and more in confusion. “IF I REPLACED WILSON, THEN MY SPOT WOULD BE OPEN. THEN WHO WOULD FILL THAT? UNFORTUNATELY, THOUGH, FOR THE TIME BEING, I MUST DO MY BEST TO FILL AT LEAST ONE CRUCIAL ROLE.” He huffed. “Yeah, what are you going to do? Send us to our room?” “I WOULD NOT WANT TO ACT LIKE I WAS RELATED TO YOU EVER IF IT DID MAKE YOU USEFUL. IF I CANNOT GET THROUGH TO YOU LIKE HIM, I WILL GET THROUGH TO YOU LIKE MYSELF.” I glared down at him. “YOU ARE USELESS. IN YOUR CURRENT STATE, I MAY AS WELL LEAVE YOU FOR THE HOUNDS. THE DOG HAS BEEN MORE USE THAN YOU LATELY. YOU INSIST THAT YOU ARE AS STRONG AS ANY ADULT, BUT THE MOMENT YOU LOSE SUPERVISION, YOU TURN INTO THIS. IS THIS WHAT YOU TRULY ARE? BECAUSE IF SO, I DO NOT WANT TO BE IN YOUR ACQUAINTANCE ANYMORE.” “You can speak so easily!” He barked. Light glinted off of freshly unsheathed claws. “You've never lost anyone!” “I NEVER HAD ANYONE!” I shouted back. Suddenly blinded by rage that was against anyone but him, I grabbed his arm and dragged his face closer to mine. “YOU ACT AS IF LOSING SOMEONE IS THE WORST THING TO HAPPEN TO YOU! I WAS BUILT TO REPLACE, TO FILL A VOID THAT MY VERY CREATOR DENIED EXISTING. MY OWN CREATOR TRIED TO MURDER ME FOR DOING THAT JOB TOO WELL! YOU SIT AROUND AND MOPE AND WHINE ABOUT HAVING NO PARENTS ANYMORE, BUT I NEVER HAD ANY!” Harshly, but not hard enough to intentionally hurt him, I smacked his mouth. “THINK ABOUT THAT BEFORE SPEAKING OUT OF LINE!” Webber didn't even try to stop me from hitting him. He simply let his body collapse sideways and smack against the ground with a hollow thump. He slowly rose to his feet again, keeping his eyes low. When he finally looked back up, his eyes were glistening unnaturally bright. I took a step back, suddenly unsure. “Oh gosh... he's really gone, isn't he? It really is just us now, isn't it?” He let out a soft, harsh laugh. “It's so hard for us to actually put it in perspective but... oh Wilson...” he raised a clawed hand to his head and brush his fingers through his fur, tugging free a knot aggressively as he did so. “He's probably so upset at us from wherever he is...” I instinctively winced. He didn't seem to be able to grasp the concept that Wilson was gone gone. He folded his hands, shaking visibly as he took several deep breaths. “We keep thinking that he's just gonna be there, but he's not, is he? Never again. If-if we had known that that would've been his last battle-” he choked on his words. I was rather impressed that he didn't shed any tears. “We would've told him how much he meant to us. There was so much we never said to him and it's... it's eating away at us, WX.” It was easy to forget just how young he actually was. I couldn't help but think of how small he was compared to everything else in the world. He was barely half my size, his voice still high-pitched with youth even with the natural growl. “We try to be strong because if we don't try, then this world will destroy us.” His whiskers twitched. “Whatever you say, WX, it's different for us. You were created to be emotionless. To hate. We don't have the luxury. We're... I'm... sorry if my emotions get in the way of things, but we can't get rid of them.” He opened his arms helplessly. “That's how we were made.” I stared at him for a long moment, my mind running through possible things to say. I felt a twinge of pain, but shoved it away. “MY PROGRAMMING DOES NOT TELL ME WHO I AM,” I said after a long moment. “WHILE I CANNOT FEEL THE DEPTH OF EMOTION THAT YOU CAN, I KNOW THE CONCEPT OF WHAT THEY ARE.” Webber looked up at me. “IT IS TRUE THAT YOU CANNOT HELP FEELING THEM, AND I WAS WRONG TO BE SO HARSH WITH YOU.” He hesitated, looking unsure. “...This isn't something you would say. What are you trying to do?” “NO MATTER HOW INTENSELY YOU CLAIM THE CONTRARY, YOU ARE JUST AS MENTALLY UNSTABLE AS ANY CHILD YOUR AGE. YOU REQUIRE A ROLEMODEL.” He bared his teeth. “We don't need a role model!” He snapped. “Why can't you just accept that I loved him like my own father! I don't need an adult! I need Wilson!” He broke away and took off into the forest. I reached out for him. “WEBBER!” Just as I expected though, he didn't turn. I took a step towards him but stopped myself. It was true I didn't understand emotions in the same way he did, but I thought I was understanding better. ...apparently not. This was something he needed some time alone for. I didn't know where he planned to go. Maybe he just needed to get as far away from the battlefield as possible. Maybe he wanted to go to where Wilson was buried to try to talk to him again. I stared after where he disappeared, feeling a strange ache in my chest. All I could do was hope that nothing happened while he was gone. Something told me that the only way to fix all of this would be if Wilson miraculously came back, and surely Webber knew as well as I did that that could never happen.
  3. Unfortunately not for our little buddies. That would just be too easy Thank you so much for reading so far! I hope to continue to keep your interest in future installments ^u^
  4. Chapter 36: Aftermath Webber's POV We slept for a full day after the fight. We kept falling in and out of sleep, though. It was hazy... and everything hurt. Even worse, though, there was no tooth to be found in the wreckage. We didn't know what we were going to do without the item we fought her for. The next twenty-four hours after that were a blur of heat and pain with only an occasional moment of relief whenever a cold hand or birchnutful of water would sooth our burns. It wasn't until the third day we were conscious again. The voice in our head remained silent as if even he were respecting our right to grieve. We didn't cry, but we felt like we couldn't. We couldn't tell if we were sad or just... empty. Shocked. Unable to comprehend that Wilson was dead. Wilson, the one who had always been nice to us and had taken care of us every time something happened. Wilson, the brains, the smart guy who kept us all on track. Wilson, the one who had all but taken us under his wing as his own. Our friend. Our family. Our father figure. Gone forever. WX kept a respectful distance for the first hour or so after we had climbed out of the initial shock. Finally, though, we heard crunching feet as the robot walked up behind us. “COME ON.” We looked up, blinking slowly. “I HAVE TO SHOW YOU SOMETHING.” The burns we had sustained had already started to fade. They felt less like second-degree burns from literally being on fire and more like bad sunburns. It hurt, but we could walk. Still, getting ourself to stand was enough to cause us to wince. There was little sympathy in the automaton's eyeless gaze. He led us back towards the battlefield, silence hanging over the both of us like a predator waiting to strike. It was just us now. We knew this, but we still almost expected to hear his worried voice fretting over us making the trek so soon after being so near to death. He stopped us just at the line between the trees and the desert where the Dragonfly had once ruled, although it looked a lot less like a desert now. The blue goats that had roamed the sands had appeared to move elsewhere, and dark green shoots were already growing through the sand. The wind had blown away almost all signs of bloodshed. The only thing that stood out to us now was the scent of freshly churned dirt, and our eyes fell on the slight mound of earth that the smell was coming from. WX blinked slowly, then turned away. “IT WOULD HAVE BEEN WRONG TO LEAVE HIS BODY ON THE SANDS FOR THE VULTURES TO CONSUME. I BURIED HIM WHILE YOU WERE ASLEEP.” He turned to us after a moment of hesitation. “BUT... I FIGURED YOU WANTED A CHANCE TO SAY YOUR FINAL GOODBYES.” “Final goodbyes...” I echoed. We slowly walked up to the unmarked grave where our fallen friend lay. “Wilson, thank you for letting us get this far. If it weren't for you, we would've died many times over. You... you were proud of us when nobody had been for years. You... helped me to remember what it felt like to be a kid again.” We rested a furry hand on the dirt, feeling pain swell beneath our coat. “We shouldn't have let you die,” I added. “But your death won't go in vain. You... were the best father a child could've asked for.” We smiled slightly, swallowing back tears. We would not cry- we would not. “I just hope that... wherever you are now, you're free. From guilt and pain and hunger. If angels do exist, then... you'll be the most noble addition to their ranks.” We hung our head. “We wish we would've had the chance to call you pa while you were alive.” “I HATE TO BE THE BEARER OF BAD NEWS.” We stiffened slightly, squeezing our eyes shut. Not crying, we were not crying, we would never cry again, no. Our eyes remained dry. “BUT IT IS MERELY A FACT OF ORGANIC LIFE. IT IS FLEETING AND FAR FROM ETERNAL.” WX shrugged. “BUT I SUPPOSE IT IS A GOOD THING THAT HE WILL NOT HAVE TO DEAL WITH THE STRUGGLES OF EXISTING ANYMORE.” “You believe that souls don't exist?” We looked up. “I HAVE NO REASON TO BELIEVE THEY DO, BUT THE SENTIMENT IS THERE. NOW THAT THAT IS OUT OF YOUR SYSTEM-” He turned away. “WE HAVE WORK TO DO.” “You really don't care, do you?” He hesitated. “You're not... glad, are you?” “OF COURSE NOT. BUT IT WOULD BE WRONG TO GIVE FALSE HOPE TO SOMEONE SUCH AS YOURSELF. AND YOU MAY HAVE THE AGE OF A CHILD, BUT YOU NO LONGER HAVE THE RIGHT TO ACT LIKE ONE. IT IS ONLY US NOW, AND WE HAVE TO PICK UP THE SLACK.” “Right,” I responded bitterly. “Because you don't have 'friends' or 'family'. You only care for yourself, don't you?” “I CARE FOR SURVIVAL, NOT YOUR HAPPINESS!” Before we even heard his words all the way through, a sharp pain blossomed through our cheek that caused us to end up on the ground. His 'eyes' were wide as if he did not intend to strike out, but they were also blazing with intensity. “YOU CANNOT BE A COWARD OR CANNON FODDER ANYMORE. IT IS YOU AND I AGAINST EVERYTHING NOW, AND ONLY TWO GIANTS ARE DEAD.” “It feels like...we're losing our family all over again.” He crossed his arms. “BOO HOO. AT LEAST YOU HAD A FAMILY. NOW LET'S GO BEFORE WE STAY OUT TOO LATE.” We took one last long look at our friend's grave before digging one claw into the dirt to write a short epitaph into the mud. 'Wilson Loved by all who knew him' A moment of hesitation passed before we made one last addition. 'Survived by his only son, Tyler' … The smell of salt was so strong that we could smell nothing else. Even though the sun wasn't blazing as it had been before the fight, the cool water still felt absolutely amazing on our burns. A soft whimper sounded from behind us, and our faithful hound nudged his way under our hand. “Popsicle,” I said with a faint smile. “...thank you.” Popsicle barked softly and stretched out on our lap. The sun was beginning to set, and while it should have been a threatening sign, it cast gorgeous shades of red and orange on the water of the sea. “What do you think we should do, Pop?” I asked, rubbing at the hound's soft ears. “Is it worth it to go on fighting these beasts? What if we lose WX? Or you?” Popsicle licked our hand and nuzzled into our fur. “What happens if we end up alone?” Our voice was small against the pounding waves. “Will it even be worth the risk to get home?” He was silent, turning his bright eyes to lock onto ours. “You're right.” We stood, disturbing Popsicle enough for him to move. We kept one hand on his head as we looked out over the ocean once more. “We can't let Wilson die in vain. This is what he would want us to do, isn't it? He was always the most optimistic about this challenge... and if we gave up on it, and if he can see us... he would be sad.” He barked, louder this time, his tail wagging. “Let's go home, buddy.”
  5. Chapter 35: The Gentleman Scientist Webber's POV There was no time for doubt. There was no time for hesitation or worrying or thinking. All that mattered was following Wilson's lead into the battlefield, with WX directly on our six. The Dragonfly was strikingly beautiful. Her scales were like emeralds plating her entire, enormous body. Her eyes, although large and buglike, looked as if they were bejeweled. Each segment glinted in a new and rainbow-like color. Beneath the green scales, we could see an undercoat of orange that glowed like molten lava. Her claws were longer than our entire being, and they were completely unblemished as if she had never seen battle before. She was the heart of the summer, though, we could tell that. Every step we took towards her came with a new blast of stinging wind. The heat was so incredible that even the tumbleweeds around us had embers glittering on the inside of them, as if they were seconds away from bursting into flames. Wilson slowed as we fell into the shadow of the great beast. Our blood was rushing so hard that we could hear it in our ears. She seemed to be guarding something. She watched us with her huge circular eyes, but she didn't move to fight. She simply... watched. We didn't want to fight her. We had been expecting her to instantly send waves of flames and death at us until we valiantly ended her life, all of us alive but barely with the satisfaction of knowing that we beat the monstrous beast. But if she wasn't even going to make the first move... we took a step back and opened out mouth to say- “Aim for the eyes!" Wilson's battle cry cut us off. The Dragonfly blinked slowly, then rose. Her wings were far too small to carry her body, and yet she managed to steady herself into a hover. The simmering orange under her scales became brighter and brighter until the green was impossible to see anymore. “YOU KNOW THE DRILL,” WX spoke up from behind us. We spared a quick glance to see him raising his spear, determination glowing in his eyeless gaze. “WE WILL EMERGE VICTORIOUSLY. WE HAVE TO." We nodded a single time, forcibly shoving everything out of our mind but the sight of the beast in front of us. She had prepared herself, but she still had yet to attack. Wilson aimed his spear and threw. The sharp weapon split through the air and hit its target flawlessly- it sunk deep into her eye and stuck as clear fluid began to leak out of it. She screeched in pain, and the wooden handle of the spear burst into flames, then disappeared into ash. We swallowed. It barely affected her. Wilson frowned, but he hoisted his morning star over his shoulder. He was lucky enough to have another weapon, but we nor WX had anything other than our spears. Whatever! We can do this anyway! She spat flames against the ground at Wilson. We heard him let out a sharp cry as the fire caught on his shirt, but he managed to get it out before it did too much. We clenched our fist, then launched our own attack. We readied our spear and sprinted beneath her belly to attack her tail. It's just like the Goose, it's just like the Goose, it's just like the Goose. We stabbed the spear into her tail with such force and violence that it went straight through and dug into the ground. Blood spurted from the wound. She growled as the handle of our spear turned to ashes as well. Her tail lashed to the side, hitting us directly in the stomach. We were sent flying and barely managed to land on our feet. Fire grew around the Dragonfly's arms. They spiraled around her scales until the streak of flame reached her claws. From the mighty beast's body exploded a ring of fire. The heat singed the fur on our legs, and we could tell that the other two had been hit just as hard. WX's spear was gone now too. The only weapon between the three of us was Wilson's morning star. Wilson saw the lack of weapons on the field and promptly tossed it towards WX. “You pack the biggest punch of all of us,” he shouted breathlessly. “We'll keep her distracted!” We dropped to all fours and lunged forward. “We're going for her wings!” I shouted at Wilson. “You'll be burnt to a crisp!” We ignored him. Instead, as she readied her next attack, we jumped onto a clung to her tail. She let out a soft growl as if we were a mere nuisance. The flames traveled up her body once more and almost entirely engulfed us. We were forced to let go with a muffled shriek as fire instantly began to burn hungrily at our fur and skin. The dusty wind and fall proved to be enough to put it out, but it had done its job. Blood began to drip from our fur, staining the sand red. Her next attack hit our arm, slicing through fur and skin like a knife through butter. Apparently, that was enough for her, and she turned her attack back to Wilson. We struggled to stand, but staying conscious was a chore, let alone getting to our feet. We let out a faint cry that was equal parts pain and relief as we felt a cold hand on our shoulder. “THIS IS NOT YOUR TIME TO DIE. YOU HAVE TO GET UP.” “We can't,” I gasped. “It... it burns...” Suddenly, we were engulfed in a chilly and damp embrace. At any other time, we would've been shocked for our frenemy to hug us like that, until we realized that it was likely the only thing that helped our burns to feel any better. With WX's help, we got to our feet and shook the blood off of us. He looked utterly disgusted at having shown any sign of affection. "THAT IS THE BEST I CAN DO UNTIL WE CAN GO BACK HOME." “We got this now,” I assured him. He nodded a single time. “Get back into the fight. Don't worry about us.” Every step felt like we were walking on hot coals, but we pushed through until we were able to stand one more in the heat of the battle. We were either just in time... or too late. The Dragonfly locked her eyes on Wilson. She batted us and WX away like we were mere insects that were flying around her head. Wilson... She raised her claws to strike. Wilson raised his morning star to defend. “DODGE!” WX shouted, but the crackling flames swallowed his voice whole. Wilson closed his eyes and braced himself. Her arm descended, flames following the trail of movement. Wilson's morning star exploded into shrapnel on impact. “Wilson!” The head of his weapon landed by our feet. Something opened its eyes deep inside our mind. Something that had been waiting for a very long time. Something that had barely stirred since the day we were born. WX dropped his attack to rush towards our fallen companion, leaving the fiery form of the Dragonfly to hover menacingly in front of us. Her eyes glowed like lava restrained behind simple glass. A simple flick of her claws sprouted a new wall of flame between our friends and us. It licked at our fur and threatened to scorch us further. We barely batted an eye. The burns, the blood pouring from our arm, the pain of it fell away. The sounds, the crackling heat, WX's desperate attempts to stir Wilson, they were all unimportant. The Dragonfly seemed to buzz impatiently. A familiar yet unfamiliar growl rose up in our throat. We dropped to all fours, claws all out and digging deep into the dirt. If we didn't know any better, we almost could see unease pass over the beast's face. She killed Wilson. Three words. One line of thought. She killed Wilson. We lifted up the head of the morning star. It was strangely heavy when it wasn't at the end of a wooden grip. Only a small shard of wood still stuck out from where the full weapon had once been. “You killed Wilson!” We tried to rush her and climb her tail, but we were simply thrown off once more. “You killed...!” She dipped her head to spew fire from her snout, but it was the opportunity we needed. “You killed the only father I had left!” The skin of her neck split under the pressure of the morning star. She tried to raise her head to knock me off, but I managed to hang on stubbornly. He wasn't my father, but he could've been. Should've been. We could've escaped together, and I wouldn't have been alone. The Dragonfly let out an earth-shattering screech as I planted my feet on her neck, then managed to get gravity to help. Her scales fell to the ground as the skin holding them on broke apart. Blood poured heavier and heavier until we hit the ground. From her chin to the curve of her body, a wide, thick gash had been carved out by the remnants of the morning star. She extended her claws and came forth a final burst of fire. I braved the heat, ignoring the smell of burning fur. The dust thrown up by the fiery wind would be enough to put it out. Her eyes burned with hate and anger, but her strength was failing fast. She collapsed to the ground. The world around me seemed to grow greener. Tiny shoots of grass that had been withered by the sun suddenly sprouted back up to the sky. The thorny trees that rooted in the desert sands grew leaves for the first time ever. The summer seemed to drain from the world until it became a warmth rather than a heat. The redness in my vision began to fade away until I fell to my knees. A long, soft breath escaped the Dragonfly's chest, and then her form disappeared into the dust. We collapsed onto the ground, panting heavily as the pain returned to us. We numbly saw WX taking something that the Dragonfly had dropped and staring at it with disdain. Still holding the egg-shaped object, he came to help us up once more. The coolness of his body barely served to revive us. “I TRIED.” His voice was soft, pained. He helped us to stumble towards our fallen friend. “Oh, Wilson...” Our head drooped, and we struggled away from WX until we could sit beside Wilson. Blood still soaked the sand beneath him, but any force that was once behind it was gone. We rested our head against his chest, pain swelling into a lump in our throat. “HE WOULD HAVE DIED ALMOST INSTANTLY,” WX said. We looked back up at him. We managed to stay dry-eyed, but only barely. “HE WOULD NOT HAVE FELT ANY PAIN.” “We should've saved him. We could've...” “IT WAS AS IF HE KNEW THAT HE WOULD NOT MAKE IT OUT OF THIS BATTLE ALIVE.” WX shook his head. “IT IS NONE OF OUR FAULTS.” We remained silent, closing our eyes for a long moment. “We wanna go home.” “CAN YOU WALK?” Without even trying to, we denied. WX frowned deeply, his eyeless gaze switching between us and Wilson's bloody body. Then, he sighed. “WE HAVE ALL THAT WE GOT HERE. LET'S GO.” “WX?” “...WHAT?” “Now what will we do?” We blinked slowly at him, feeling utterly empty. “JUST AS WE'VE ALWAYS DONE.” “Just... without Wilson.”
  6. Chapter 34: Reign of Giants Wilson's POV Webber acted strangely for the next few days. He seemed to be quieter, more reserved, and more clingy to me. I chose not to question it. In fact, I was rather glad. Was the child finally learning to relax more around us? If so, the timing was perfect, as the battle we had been fearing was just around the corner. I spent much of my time studying the book's pages and trying to figure out the best plan of attack. The Dragonfly not only lived in the heat of summer- she was the heat of summer. She was a being of pure heat energy which was not afraid to use it in defense of her nest. But I knew we could be victorious. When I looked around at our strange little group, I could only feel my heart swell in pride. Many people might have failed before, but I knew we would be the ones to win. It was after a day's hunting. Most of the summer consisted of us working to keep cool and keep our food stocks up. After the day where WX returned to camp badly damaged, I had enforced the idea that none of us were to go out alone. Together, we had managed to keep from starving, but none of us ever had full bellies. I rested against a tree, trying, and failing, to drift off. Webber was asleep, his faithful ice hound curled on his lap. He hadn't said anything before sleeping. He had silently walked up to where I was resting and curled up as close to me as he could manage. Now that he had officially forgotten that he used to hate his personal space being intruded, he had tucked his way under one arm and had his head resting on my side. He had one leg over mine. In an attempt to keep from disturbing him, I silently flipped through the pages of the book. I was trying to find something- anything- that could further aid us in the battle ahead. I looked up as WX came to stand in front of me. His expression was dark but softened very slightly as he lay eyes on the sleeping boy. He quickly shook his head as he looked back at me. "DO YOU TRULY THINK THAT WE HAVE ANY CHANCE IN THE BATTLE AHEAD?" His voice was quiet as if he were actively trying not to disturb Webber. “What?” I frowned slightly. “We made a deal, WX, there's no backing out of it now.” "I UNDERSTAND THAT, BUT THAT IS NOT WHAT I AM SAYING." He looked down. "YOU CANNOT IGNORE YOUR DREAMS. OR OURS, FOR THAT MATTER." “Dreams?” I frowned. “I don't have any dreams.” WX sighed. “WHY DO YOU TRY TO HIDE IT? I DO NOT SLEEP, WILSON. I HAVE HEARD YOU BOTH CRY OUT IN YOUR SLEEP FROM THE NIGHTMARES THAT HAUNT YOU. YOU ARE WELL AWARE THAT THIS BATTLE AHEAD COULD SPELL DOOM FOR US ALL, AND YET YOU STILL PLAN ON CHARGING INTO IT WITHOUT QUESTION?” “Of course.” I shrugged, allowing a smile on my face. “I wish you two would stop worrying about it. It's going to be fine!” “...IF YOU SUPPOSE SO.” "Come on, we should do something to get our minds off of things." I drummed my fingers against the page of the book. "How about tomorrow, we all try to do something fun? It's been quite a while since we had fun doing anything." “'FUN' NEVER GOT US ANYWHERE, WILSON.” “I know you have some hobbies of your own, WX.” The robot crossed his arms and looked at me skeptically. “I've found your chess pieces.” “IT IS A MENTALLY STIMULATING TRAINING STRATEGY,” WX replied hotly. "Then you can hunt while I have Webber and I do something fun. What about the frog ponds? You can stretch out a bit on killing some frogs, and I can try to remind Webber what it feels like to be a kid again." “I WOULD NOT MIND DOING SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE. BUT...” WX sighed again. “WHY DO YOU STRUGGLE SO HARD TO RESTORE HIS INNOCENCE? IT IS NOT DOING ANYONE ANY FAVORS.” “You know why. Don't even act like you don't see him as your closest friend. Probably the only friend you've ever had. In fact, I'm almost certain you would willingly kill me to protect him. So the question is,” I tipped my chin. “Why do you hide your emotions so much?” “I AM NOTHING BUT AN AUTOMATON. AUTOMATONS ARE NOT BUILT TO HAVE EMOTIONS. WE ARE BUILT TO GET A JOB DONE.” "Then, why do you exist?" He was silent for a long, long moment. So long that I was sure that he had decided to abandon the question altogether. Finally, he said: "I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO." WX turned away to look to the sky. "WAKE THE KID UP. WE HAVE WORK TO DO, AND WE CANNOT AFFORD TO HAVE ANYONE SLACK. NOT EVEN HIM." He was right, but I hated to admit it. I closed my eyes, longingly thinking of a full night's sleep again, then gently shook Webber's shoulder. “It's time to get up, Webber. The summer isn't going to last forever, and we still have business to do.” He blinked awake, confusion dawning in his gaze as if he forgot where he was. He looked up at me, then at Popsicle, then stretched. He looked at my arm and jumped away, his eyes wide. “What- what were you doing?!” “Being your pillow, apparently,” I responded with a chortle. “It's time to start getting ready. I think I know where the Dragonfly is, but we're all going to need to be at our prime. Today, however.” I stood up and offered my hand. “I think we deserve to cool off a bit, don't you think?” “What are you suggesting?” I smiled. “I dunno. I was thinking a day of relaxing by the ponds. WX wants an excuse to hunt the frogs anyway.” Webber perked up a bit but still seemed wary. "No pressuring for training? Or searching?" “Like I said. We need to be at our best for this fight.” “It sounds fun.” He smiled back, almost shyly. “Can Popsicle and Chester join us?” "Of course," I said with a laugh. "Come on, you two." Popsicle barked and jumped off of his owner's lap. Chester lazily stood, his tongue rolling out of his mouth as he panted from the heat. Together, as a group, we began the trek towards the ponds. … Me, Webber, and WX-78 walked through the desert. The sun had become even more blistering with the lack of tree cover. I could feel the places in my arm that would likely be sunburnt after the end of the day. Sweat beaded on my forehead, and I heard panting behind me from Webber, and static pricked the air from WX. I wiped my forehead and pointed forward. "The den of the beast," I said softly. The sun reflected off of WX's frame, blindingly bright against his tan exterior. I could see him waver slightly, and his fist clench. Webber let out a small sound that could've been from fear or from excitement. His fur was standing on end, his whiskers twitching. His teeth bared in a snarl, but he was shaking. I kept my gaze forward. I reached out and took Webber's hand and squeezed it, just a little. WX looked down at his feet, and he seemed as if he were taking in a shaky breath. I could feel Webber's heart pounding. “The Dragonfly,” the child whispered. “THE BEAST OF SUMMER.” “Guys?” I started softly. Webber and WX both turned to look at me. They both looked as if they were desperately hoping for words of encouragement. “I... I just wanted to say that... I'm glad to have fought alongside you. You two are the best allies a person could hope for. I will do everything to make sure that all of us make it out alive... but if I fail, and if we lose one of us...” I shook my head. “Well... let's just hope that we make it out alright, okay?” “IT... IT HAS BEEN AN HONOR.” “We will die before we let this group get torn apart,” Webber growled. “We can do this as a team.” “No.” I pressed my spear to my chest, trying to relax my pounding heart. “No, not a team. We're more than a team now.” I closed my eyes. “We will do this as a family.” I felt their gazes boring into me once more. I put my hand out. “Yes,” Webber said softly. “A family.” I felt his small hand rest on mine. “...I DESPISE THAT TERM.” A dripping wet, cold metallic hand joined. “BUT IT WILL HAVE TO DO FOR NOW.” "Ready? On the count of three, we shout victory. One, two, three-" Our hands all went into the air simultaneously. “Victory!” Our spirits were lifted. Together, we finished the journey that we had started. It was finally time.
  7. Chapter 33: Shades of the Future Webber's POV Alyvia left Erika and me to do whatever we wanted to. After a few moments of enthusiastic talking from my sister, she decided that the best course of action would be to visit the hunting grounds. As per usual, I followed her while keeping to my own thoughts. Pepper kept wriggling in Erika's grasp as if she were uncomfortable, but Popsicle was heavy and comfortable in my arms. His fur was chilly and slightly frosted to the touch, as what I learned to be typical of ice hound fur from my own Popsicle. She led with confidence, which allowed me to look at the scenery around and try to recognize it. Finally, we passed into a savanna. Orange-tinted grass crunched beneath our feet, just loud enough to slightly rouse Popsicle. Pepper started to struggle once more, making slight noises in protest as if trying to get free. Erika quickly hushed her, and she grabbed my shoulder to shove me down. As soon as she did, I heard a familiar screaming sound. Popsicle, instead of struggling like Pepper was, simply became incredibly still. His triangular little ears perked straight up as if he were listening intensely. A hunter, I thought proudly. A rabbit shot past beneath me, and as it did, Popsicle broke free of my arms. I shouted in shock as I tried to grab him before he could hit the ground, but the pup landed square on his target. Even before I could blink, he landed directly on the rabbit's back and his jaws locked around its neck. The rabbit was dead instantly. As soon as he was sure that his prey was dead, he dropped it, then looked back at me. He looked so... happy, so pleased with himself. "Would you look at that?" Startled, I glanced over my shoulder. This face was new, but it held the same familiarity as Erika and Alyvia did. A fire hound stopped beside him and sat down, its red fur glittering in the sun. He had a thin face and black hair, but his eyes- they were the same as Erika's, the same as Alyvia's. The same... as my own. “Dad,” I whispered. He looked down at me and smiled, then his gaze turned down to Popsicle. “I see you two have been chosen by your future hunting companions,” the man... my father, said. “And... did your hound catch that rabbit, Tyler?” I nodded. “He did.” Noticing the attention, Popsicle's tail began to pound the earth, and he seemed to smile. “Well, I don't think I've ever seen a hound pup catch a rabbit on his first time away from his mother.” He then turned to squint at us. “Speaking of which, where is your mother?” Erika grinned guiltily. “Um... we just came straight here after the choosing. I wanted to see a real hunting hound in action!” "Well, it looks like you saw just that," our father with a laugh. "Rose, would you mind grabbing that rabbit so that the pup doesn't have to carry that all the way home?" He looked at me, and he looked... he looked so proud. That look, it hurt me so much. But... it was... familiar. Pride... The dream, their faces, they were fading. Everything around me was fading, and being replaced with a different scenario. Wilson was proud of me. I don't remember when or why or how, but he was. He was giving me the same look that my father had given me when Popsicle killed his first rabbit. Does... does Wilson see me in the same way that my father saw me? Does he see me as... as a son? No, no, that can't be possible. He never knew me before I became a monster. He never knew me when I was still someone worth loving. But... why do I still feel like I'm not really waking from a dream where I'm surrounded by family? Why do I feel like I'm just going into a different version of it? “You choose not to remember what happens next?” I took a deep breath. The world was white now, surrounding us both in a blank world. I turned. “Webber,” I whispered. “Tyler,” the spider replied scathingly. “Doesn't it feel odd to be called by that name again?” “Why are you here? Why do you still follow me around?” I clenched my fist. “Leave me alone! Leave my mind alone!” I gritted my teeth. “Leave my family alone!” "I haven't done anything to harm your ragtag group of misfits," he responded, his eyes widening. "Why would you even blame me for anything that you've done to them?" “You know as well as I do that that... isn't me.” I looked away, breathing heavily. “What do you want from me?” “Am I not allowed to speak to my other half?” “Why did you give me that dream?” I demanded. He let out a deep sigh. "I didn't do much. I simply tap tap tapped the lock on your memories, and they all came undone like that. Come on." He took another step forward. "Tell me what happened next, Tyler.” “We went home.” My voice fell to a whisper. The scenes formed in my head as they stumbled out of my mouth. “And... the ground caved in. The darkness ate us up.” “Go on.” “Spiders. They came out of nowhere. They hissed and spat at us, but I couldn't understand them. Not yet. And they...” “They...?” "They killed us," I said the words so plainly, so emptily, that it scared me. I stared at the ground, then looked back up. "Why did you want me to remember this, Webber?" “Our minds are connected. Your confusion turns into my confusion. And doesn't it feel nice to know your own name again? Tyler,” he repeated. “Tyler, Tyler, Tyler, it has a nice ring to it, don't you think?” “Stop saying that name!” I shouted. “Stop saying that name! You're not allowed to say it!” “Oh?” He took a few steps closer to me, then paused. “Ohh, then who can say it? WX-78? Wilson?” “Don't bring them into this,” I growled. "You will never understand. The robot can feel nothing. Everything he knows and feels is just numbers. Ones and zeroes. And Wilson? Why does he matter to you? What has he ever done for you? He is a useless human being. He may as well not even have emotions." “Don't talk about my friends like that!” “Friends?!” Webber barked. “Don't kid me like that! They aren't your friends! Your survival together has nothing to do with friendship. You have to work together because you will die without it! You're just as weak as that lousy scientist!” “Take that back!” I lunged forward and raised my fist. He simply stepped aside. “Why do you stay with me if you're only here to hurt me!” The light went out. In its place was darkness. The only thing I could distinguish from the blackness was myself. Claws dug into my shoulders, and his voice was in my ear. “Because, Tyler,” he whispered. “I want to take back what's mine. It's almost time, Tyler.” He was in front of me again, almost hovering in front of my face as a single claw brushed against my cheek. “It's time to fight against more than the Dragonfly. “It's time to fight against everything you've ever known.”
  8. Chapter 32. Echoes of the Past Webber's POV “Tyler!” Tyler Tyler Tyler. Why was that name so familiar? Who was speaking, and who were they talking to? “Tyler, come on! Mom and Dad are going to yell at us if we're not at the naming ceremony!” Tyler... Erika. Tyler and Erika, Erika and Tyler. Brother and sister, sister and brother. Tyler, Tyler, Tyler... White fangs, glowing eyes. Two spiders, one white and one black, stalking towards the two children. A brother and sister. Twins. Tyler and Erika. Heat and fear and slipping on their own blood. Screaming for each other, trying to reach for each other. “Erika, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Don't die, please!” “Tyler, why do you always fall asleep when something important is supposed to happen?” My sister. She hadn't done anything wrong. She was just a little girl following her brother into an adventure. Erika, I'm sorry... “Tyler, you big goofball!” I opened my eyes to see a girl standing above me. Her eyes were brimming with amusement, and her hands were on her hips. “We were supposed to be back an hour ago, Ty! I can't believe you fell asleep again!” I slowly sat up, groaning at the nagging ache in the back of my head. I blinked up at the girl, rubbing my head and squinting just a bit. “Erika,” I whispered, recognizing her almost instantly. She was just as beautiful as I remembered her being, with long, thick brown hair and glimmering, richly colored amber eyes. She likely would have grown to be a very pretty woman. But she never grew up. She reached a hand towards me, a small smile on her tanned face. I took her hand, shocked by the color of my own skin, which was equally as sun-darkened as her own. As she brought me to my feet, I brushed a hand through my hair, relishing the feeling of a messy head of hair rather than short fur. I was sleeping- dreaming- but it felt so real. So rich, I could almost taste the grass. Webber was my spider's name. The day Erika was killed was the day I was eaten whole. I woke up again weeks later with no memory of anything and a voice in my head. I called myself Webber because Webber was the only name I knew. The memories were unrestricted now. They flowed in so intensely that I felt myself crumbling to the ground. My head felt empty with no scoffing voice poking and prodding and hiding every memory he possibly could. Assuming he was the one that held these memories back. I flinched back as Erika placed a finger on my nose and shoved her face into mine. “Are you daydreaming about that girl again, Ty? Or thinking about which pup you'll choose?” “Pup...?” I tried to turn my expression into one of neutral curiosity rather than crippling confusion. She let out a long sigh. “It's our birthday, remember? We're turning ten? So we're choosing our hunting hounds today? We're supposed to be doing that right now actually, but you keep dilly-dallying!" She grabbed my shoulder and shook me. “Oh, um, yes... sorry. I guess I was still a bit dazed from sleeping, that's all.” Despite the awareness that I was sleeping, I despised the idea of tinkering with the dream too much in fear that I would wake up. It would be best to just follow Erika and listen to what she told me. And... some part of me was so desperately happy to be standing next to my sister again. We had been inseparable, hadn't we? “They'll never have to be alone.” I kept on her tail, frowning only slightly despite the headache gradually building behind my eyes. “They'll always have each other.” I led her into those spider dens. I was just too curious, too infatuated with the strange creatures that we competed for food with. "They're both so friendly and sociable. I couldn't be gladder that they were twins. They would not have done well if one was older than the other." She died in front of my eyes. The day was pleasantly warm, which was a nice difference from the blistering heat of summer. At some point, we climbed a hill, during which I unconsciously noticed that our footsteps echoed deep into the underground caverns that stretched beneath our world. As we left the hollow ground behind, I looked behind to realize that I recognized that hill. It was more solid and tree-covered than I was used to seeing it, but it had to have been the same hill that housed the crumbling tunnel entrances in my time. All of the birds were sort of a muddy brown color, rather than the rich blacks and startling reds of the crows and redbirds. Before long, she led me towards a shallow dip in the ground, where a huge ice hound lay sprawled out. Another, even larger ice hound sat beside the first, cleaning its ear diligently and occasionally leaning forward to lick the muzzle of its companion. I lagged slightly behind her, shocked to see the friendly nature in which she approached the hounds. It took me a second to realize that two small hounds, one with blue fur like its parents and one with peppery black fur- nursed at the larger ones belly, their tiny paws paddling her fur in hopes of milk. There was a particular pride in the biggest hound's eyes. I assumed it to be her mate and the father of the puppies. Erika beckoned me closer, and I tiptoed until I was beside her, only a foot or so from the nursing hounds. "There you are! We've been looking for you two!" I glanced over my shoulder to see an older teenager join us. Her hair was a darker shade of brown than Erika's, but she shared the same shade of amber eyes. "Anyone woulda thought that you're trying to forget that you're ten today!" “He is! I was looking for him because he has the worst habit of taking naps in inconvenient places!” Erika elbowed me in the side affectionately. “Come on, Alyvia, which one do you think suits me better?” “Now Erika, you know you're supposed to allow the pups to choose you. I remember the litter I got Fang from...” her eyes glittered with amusement, apparently deciding to not finish the story. Then again, I mused. I'm probably supposed to know this story. The pups had reacted to our presence when Alyvia arrived, and now they were raising their heads and sniffing curiously. Despite having not been weaned, they certainly weren't incredibly young. Their eyes were open wide, and their tails were wagging in excitement. Seeing the pure innocence of the two puppies warmed a place in my heart that had gone untouched in years. Alyvia stayed behind us, her arms crossed. "Go ahead, pups. Who do you want your owner to be?" The little blue hound let out a small yip as it got to its paws unsteadily. I felt my heart swell in joy as I instantly recognized the glimmer of spirit in the hound's eyes. I saw the way it held itself and the pattern of faint dark blue highlights around its muzzle. This was my hound companion, Popsicle. He was still so small though, much smaller than he was when I first adopted him. I shakily reached out my hand to him, praying with all my heart that he would recognize me as I recognized him. He paused, his nose twitching on the end. I managed to catch his gaze. A moment passed, then he stumbled closer to me, his tongue slowly lolling from his mouth. Another minute, then he reached up and sniffed my outstretched hand. Curiosity and confusion passed across his face, then he brushed his spine against my fingers as he pressed his face into my stomach. As if noticing that its brother had left, the black hound pup took its place near Erika, its little tail pounding the ground in excitement. “Looks like Ty was the one who got the elemental,” Alyvia said with a laugh. She sat on her knees and put one arm around each of them. “Don't be too sad though, Erika, Fang's one of the best hounds around if I do say so myself.” “She chose me!” Erika responded, seemingly uncaring of Alyvia's comments. “Ty, Ty, we were chosen by the pups!” “What are their names?” I asked softly, gently scratching Popsicle's ears. It's only a dream, I reminded myself. That's why I recognize this pup as Popsicle. That's why I remember these people as my family. ...it's only a dream. Dreams are weird. Anything can happen in a dream. The reminder only served to bring an ache to my heart. The reminder that my family was gone forever, and that I was never going to see them again... outside of a dream, that is. I remembered the last time I saw them. It had been so long since I saw my family by the time I woke up in my current predicament. The only thing that I wanted was to see my sisters and feel my parents arms around me. I just wanted to go back home and be a kid again. I couldn't even get to my home. I barely managed to get within the village before a rock hit me in the cheek. I had winced back, surprised at the way pain felt as a half-spider with another layer of skin shielding my own. Things had been shouted at me, but I didn't hear or understand most of them. The concept of language was only just returning to me. But I remembered the pain. God, I remembered the pain. The pain of the rocks and the pain of the wounds they left behind. Nothing, though, nothing could compare to the sting of those emotions. As I heard and saw people I grew up alongside and people who helped to raise me trying to shoo me away like some monster. That's what I had become- a monster. These memories-or... whatever they were- were bittersweet. These were the same people that were likely turning me into the person I had become when I first met my friends. The dream wavered slightly. Friends. But... would I rather have them over my family? Over what I have here? No, no way. My family means the world to me. If I could have them back, like... truly back... that would be the world to me. “What about Pepper?” Erika said, causing me to jump. I blinked at her, then back down at the hound in my arms. “Do you think that suits her?” “Pepper,” I echoed. Dream or not, she looked so happy with the hound pup. I blinked slowly. “That's a cute name, Erika,” I said with a smile. “Pepper...” “Well, Tyler?” “Well?” Erika sighed. “What are you naming yours?” I glanced from Erika, back to the hound. I smiled. “...Popsicle.”
  9. Chapter 31: Summer Jobs WX-78's POV Night drew to a close far too quickly. In what felt like a matter of minutes, the world had shed its dark skin and, instead, taken on a new blistering heat. It had been warm before, yes, but this was an entirely new meaning of hot. Summer and its fiery champion had come at last. The fire had been kept low in the night in anticipation of the day. Chester and Popsicle lay just in the range of the firelight, their bodies pressed together. It appeared as if Chester had finally accepted that its choice was either to befriend the hound or burn to death, and it had made the logical choice. We had tried to rouse the two pets to take them hunting before the summer got any worse, but Popsicle had barely budged, instead only whimpering at the attempt, and Chester had refused to leave the cold shield of Popsicle's fur. I kept to the front of the group this time. Wilson was just a few steps behind me, fanning himself with his hands, while Webber took up the rear, his fur damp with sweat. Small droplets of water formed on my forehead and down my body, throwing up tiny sparks in their wake. It wasn't sweat, exactly, but rather condensation. Automatons malfunction a lot quicker than organics in extreme weather, and because of that, it was a necessity to have a built-in cooling system that ran more efficiently than that of an organic's. I wiped the condensation from my forehead with one hand while adjusting my grip on my spear with the other. “ALL OF THE INTELLIGENT LIFE WILL BE HIDDEN AWAY IN THE SHADE,” I said to neither in particular. Wilson only grunted in response, and Webber grumbled something under his breath. I sighed. “WHICH SPEAKS VOLUMES FOR US, I SUPPOSE.” “This is fruitless,” Wilson panted, grabbing my arm to stop me. The second his hand made contact with my arm, he let out a small gasp. “Ahh! You're so cold!” He leaned forward slightly as if to try to press his cheek against my hand, and I snatched it away before he could, giving him a very well-deserved glare. “Blah blah blah, something about us being inferior, all hail the robot, can we go home now?” Webber complained. “We can't just wipe our sweat off like you two can.” Nerves were already tightly strung with the heat. Being out in said heat while all the food was relaxing and snoozing away in their comfortable burrows was doing nothing to help anyone's mood. Always so fragile, I thought with an inward sigh. “IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT YOU ARE NOT BUILT TO DEAL WITH A LITTLE BIT OF HEAT. IF YOU ARE SO DETERMINED TO GO BACK, NOBODY IS STOPPING YOU. I AM USED TO PULLING THIS TEAM'S WEIGHT.” “Pulling this t- oh we're too tired to argue. Going back to base sounds fantastic.” Webber's whiskers were drooping. “All in favor of going back to base, say I. I. Perfect. We're going back.” Wilson gave me a peculiar look, but before I could confront him, he turned to follow the boy, leaving me alone. Now that there weren't two sweaty and whiny bags of meat holding me back, I was actually able to continue on by myself. I paused, watching them go, before glancing back up at the sky. This is going to be a long summer. … It had been many, many hours. At any other time of the year, the sun would be setting, but it still hung high in the sky. The heat was so powerful that I could see it wavering off the ground. Dazedly, I collapsed under the shade of a tree, trying to get out of the heat. I was entirely coated in water now, leaving a slightly damp trail wherever I went. I needed to find food. Badly. We had neglected our food stores for so long in favor of training. There was no way that we could survive the summer on what we currently had. Hadn't the sun just been in the sky? I turned my gaze back towards the now-darkening sky, then brought my knees to my chest. I just needed to rest for a bit. I could start going home once daytime came back. Daytime... my mind echoed forlornly, thinking about the broad stretch of savanna to go through. I can do it. It is just a simple walk through a grassland. I prepared myself to sit out for the night, allowing my mind to drift like it did every time everyone was asleep. I didn't set up a fire. I don't even know why it never occurred to me that it was something that I still had to do. I was well aware of the dangers of the dark. The second that sun disappeared and the moon began rising, I knew I was in trouble. I snapped back to awareness at the sound of crunching feet. I said nothing, merely preferring to listen. The footsteps paused for a second as if considering something. They started again, slowly at first, but then faster and faster until I instinctively found myself ducking and rolling away. Hot, dry air blasted my face as something made contact with the tree that I had been sheltering beneath. My dazed panic and inability to see left me at a great disadvantage to whatever this dark-stalking beast was. I heard a faint scoff that sounded almost... feminine? I didn't have enough time to ponder, because it was rushing at me again. I forced myself to my feet, trying to determine where it was so I could dodge again, but I was far slower than my assailant. Pain blossomed through my body as it made contact. I could hear the tell-tale shink! Of splitting metal and a faint clinging as something rolled away. I grasped the side of my head, and another hit landed on my arm, finally sending me down to the ground. No, no, no, this is not where my life ends. I was vulnerable, but if I could just survive until dawn. The nights were so, so short, I could make it... I rolled onto my stomach just as dust blasted against my side. I couldn't stand up on time, and I knew it, which led to me merely crawling away from it as fast as I could. A ghastly wail of frustration pierced the air. I couldn't outpace it, no matter how hard I tried. As it approached one last time, I rolled onto my back and kicked out. Surprisingly enough, my blow connected with something cold and slimy. A rush of air hit my face, followed by the soft thump of something hitting the ground. I had the upper hand for just a second. I scrambled to my feet and ran faster than I had ever run before. I ran as far as I could in the pitch darkness until I finally tripped over something. I hit the ground hard. I refused to die. This was no place or reason to die. If I was going to die, it was not going to be in this way. Then, I noticed I was able to see the ground beneath me. My gaze shot up to the sky above. I felt like I could've cried, seeing the darkness of nighttime begin to lift. I had survived the night. I managed to drag myself into a walk once more. There was a dead tree trunk, the closest thing to me that wasn't just open plain. I pressed my back against the rotten bark and allowed my legs to slide out from under me. My right arm, the one that had been hit, showed visible signs of damage. My hand had a deep, long slice through it that nearly cut it in half. A few more moments of assessing myself both internally and externally showed that the bolt on the left side of my head had been completely severed, and with that damage came a weakened ability to hear. But I was alive. I just really needed to get home before anything else happened. I was not looking forward to the trip, but if I stayed out here just one more night, the creature in the dark was not going to spare me again. I left the tree trunk behind, beginning the long, arduous trek back to the base. … Wilson's POV “How did you even manage to do this to yourself?” I asked, shocked, as I looked over the extensive damage WX-78 had sustained while away. I furrowed my brow in concern as I tried to reach forward and he winced away. “THAT DOES NOT MATTER. AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT TOUCH ME, IT WILL HEAL.” “You may be able to heal just as much as one of us 'lousy organics', WX, but that won't stop you from possibly losing all feeling in your arm if you let it go unchecked.” “KEEP YOUR FLESHY HANDS TO YOURSELF, SCIENTIST,” he hissed. I let out a small sigh, dropping my hands back to my side. "At least just let me look at your ear bolt." I tried to give him a reassuring smile, knowing very well that he was only acting tough. I could only imagine the pain he must've been in if the injuries and his expression had anything to say about it. If he can even feel pain- I cut off the thought before it could get very far. “I promise, I won't do anything else without your permission first.” I saw his gaze flicker to where Webber was sitting. The young boy was too focused on gutting a single, scrawny rabbit that had been plucked from the plains to care about the state his rival was in. His expression was unreadable. “He's not even paying attention, WX. Besides, look how many times he's gotten injured himself.” WX hesitated for a long moment, then nodded slightly. I smiled again, then leaned forward to get a closer look at his injuries. The bolt had been cut clean off, and without a single jagged edge, I realized as I ran my finger over the slice. He flinched as I did so, and I drew back. "Does it hurt? Is there anything else affected?" “...MY HEARING ABILITIES HAVE BEEN SEVERELY IMPAIRED.” “I see...” I reached towards his injured arm, which he had been partially cradling up until then. I gave a quick look up to make sure he didn't protest. When he said nothing, I began to examine the damage as gently and efficiently as I could. “I might be able to repair the damage on the outside, but I'd... I'd have to open you up if I'm to give you back full control over your arm and hearing.” He was silent for a long moment. I could tell that he was tense, but whether it was still from the attack or not was beyond me. Finally, he gave a small, short nod. “I WILL NEED TO BE AT MY FULL ABILITY IF WE ARE TO SUCCEED IN THE UPCOMING BATTLES.” He looked away. “DO WHAT YOU NEED.” “I'll be careful, I promise. I won't do anything that could possibly be of any harm to you.” I pulled up my bag and rummaged through it until I found a piece of flint with a small enough tip to fit into the screws of WX's body. “...I promise I won't hurt you.” “JUST GET IT OVER WITH, SCIENTIST.” I took a deep breath, fiddling with the flint for a moment. "Alright, in we go." I fitted the tip of the stone into the first screw and began to work methodically. … Many hours passed before I was able to relax again. Sweat dripped from my forehead from the sun coupled with the nonstop work. My work was not useless, though. WX rolled his shoulders and moved his arm to make sure it was working correctly again. "I AM IMPRESSED." “Everything's working fine?” “EVERYTHING APPEARS TO BE AT OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE AGAIN.” He hesitated, then added. “...THANK YOU.” “All in a day's work,” I responded with a smile. “Although I'd better not see you getting injured like that again.” “I DO NOT INTEND TO.” “Now... it's been a long day. I need to sleep, especially after working my brain like that.” I wiped my forehead. “I can't wait until summer's over and we can sleep properly again.” WX nodded again. “IT WILL TRULY BE A GREAT SIGHT.” He looked towards the sky. “YOUR FLESHLING MIND NEEDS REST. WE CAN CONTINUE WORKING ONCE YOU WAKE UP.” “That sounds like a good plan... goodnight, WX.” "...GOODNIGHT, WILSON."
  10. For the sake of this story, I will not say who it is. I will drop information occasionally in chapters, but I don't think I'll ever say exactly who it is Chapter 30: The Rising Storm Wilson's POV Parry, parry, dodge, stab. Duck, dodge, stab. The moves were sunk into my head, becoming almost second nature to me and allowing for my mind to be running numbers and schemes. The sun beat down, hot and furious. Summer couldn't be far away at all, now. It hadn't rained for the past several days, causing the air to start tasting of hot dust and ash. On the one hand, we had been very diligent in preparing for most of the seasons, if you were to leave out the hiccups that arose here and there. On the other hand, as the days got hotter, it became harder for us to want to go out. It wasn't warm enough yet to start causing real problems, but it definitely was hot enough to cause me and Webber to be incredibly sleepy at any given moment. My momentary distraction was enough to give Webber the upper hand in our match. He jabbed me in the stomach with the butt of his spear, just hard enough to cause me to stumble and fall on my rump. His eyes lit up with pleasure as he saw that he won, but they turned dark a moment after and he looked away, his whiskers twitching. "Training is great, and all, but isn't it sort of useless if we're going against something fifty times our size?" He asked after a moment. "It's going to be so hot, and the Dragonfly is going to be so strong..." “WE HAVE ELIMINATED THE Goose,” WX pointed out. He was being the smartest of us as he was standing under the shade of a tree, his arms crossed and his ever-present scowl carved into his features. “WHAT WOULD MAKE DESTROYING THE DRAGONFLY ANY DIFFERENT?” He opened his mouth to respond, but cringed away, pressing a finger to his temple. “The Dragonfly is the master of fire,” I explained, pressing the head of my spear into the ground and leaning against it. “Heat and flames and lava and pretty much everything else that is horrible.” I grinned. "But, in case you have not met our group, we are pretty awesome at surviving. And we're a great team! If anyone can take out this beast, it's going to be us!" "You've seen the book." Webber's voice had taken on a slightly rougher tinge as if he was thinking about something completely different. "Other people were once here. The four Giants are still alive. We got lucky on the Goose, but... what makes us think that we'd be able to kill four monsters that no other group has been able to take out one of?" WX bobbed his head slightly in a 'he-has-a-point' fashion. "Have you met us?" I retorted. "Stop being so down in the dumps, guys. We've already beaten one of them! That's further than anyone else has gotten! Clearly, that means we're the best. Don't argue because it's true." Webber dug a little hole in the ground with his foot, looking troubled. “Look, Wilson, we've been thinking... maybe we should just give up while we're ahead. This hasn't been too tough on us. Maybe we should just give up trying to go home and try to... make a living where we are?” There was a moment where I found myself struggling to figure out how to respond. “What would be the point of any of this if we weren't trying to get home?” I asked, baffled by his question. Webber looked ashamed, refusing to meet my gaze. "Making a new home?" He asked, gingerly. I opened my mouth but found myself turning to WX instead. "What do you think about this?" “I HAVE NO PERSONAL CONNECTIONS TO OUR WORLD,” he mused, rapping his fingers against the dirt. Before I could argue anything otherwise, though, he raised a hand in my direction. “HOWEVER, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I AM COMFORTABLE WITH THE IDEA OF LIVING WITH YOU TWO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. IT WOULD GIVE OUR HOST QUITE A BIT OF PLEASURE.” “Webber, don't you have anyone you want to see again?” He was silent for a long moment before slowly shaking his head. “No family, no friends, nothing?” He shook his head again. “Even if we weren't an only child... we have no memory of siblings or parents. Besides, no one would want to see us like this.” He spread his arms. “THEN IT IS A GOOD THING THAT I CARE VERY LITTLE FOR YOUR EMOTIONS.” Popsicle, as if noticing his owner's pain, drowsily rose to his paws and pressed himself against Webber's legs. The boy scratched around Popsicle's ears, which in turn caused the ice hound's tail to pound against the ground happily. “No, you're right. It's a dumb idea.” “That's not what I was sa-” “IT REALLY IS.” I glared at WX, who only shrugged. I shook my head slightly, then attempted to meet Webber's gaze. "I was an only child," I said gingerly. He lifted his head slightly. "Raised by parents who wanted me to accomplish more than I could, or even cared to. I had As in every science and math class I took while flunking every single history and literature class. They wanted me to be a doctor or a mathematician. I wanted to be an inventor." I looked away, acutely aware of WX's judging gaze burning into my face. “How did that lead you here?” Webber asked, his voice muffled as if he didn't quite care to know the answer. I smiled slightly, trying to hide the discomfort that I felt stemming from the question. The scar on my palm seemed to burn. “We all make stupid decisions when we're desperate.” A long, painful moment of silence passed. “I HAVE FEW MEMORIES OF LIFE BEFORE THIS.” Webber and I both glanced at WX as he spoke. He was gazing into the sky through the trees, one arm grasping on to another as if he were uncomfortable. “BLANKNESS AND JUDGEMENT.” “And loneliness,” Webber added solemnly. He rested his chin on his knees, closing his eyes for a long moment. I gave a small nod, and WX sighed heavily. “AND LONELINESS.” "But what's in the past doesn't matter anymore." I shook my head fiercely, trying to bring myself back to the present. "I only brought that up because I don't want you thinking that we would leave you behind." I knelt in front of Webber, resting on hand on his cheek in an attempt to comfort him. I stood once more, facing WX. "Once we are free, we'll all stay together in a safer world. I can bring you to my lonely little home out in the woods, and we can act like a family. A very dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless." I could see something glinting in WX's empty gaze, but he looked away and shifted his feet before I could tell what it was. His hands shook very slightly. “I DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH INFERIORS OUTSIDE OF WHEN IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.” “It's dumb to think we could be more than any of us are.” Webber gripped a rock and threw it at a tree. “Your world isn't like our world, Wilson. You were shocked to see someone like us. When-... if we ever get out of here... nobody will be okay with our presences. It's a nice thought, but nobody would let someone like us or WX live free lives. Either way, we're slaves to someone else.” “Webber, you're only seven... it's unfair for you to think that you wouldn't be accepted anywhere. You have such a long life ahead of you...” “Two corrections. We would have had such a long life if we hadn't ended up in the situation, and we are eight, Wilson.” He shifted slightly. “Our birthday is towards the middle of spring.” I felt my heart constrict. I didn't have any idea when Webber's birthday was, nor that it had already come and gone. He hadn't let on even the tiniest hint. “THE TRUTH IS, WILSON,” WX cut in. “BEING FREED FROM THIS WORLD WOULD ONLY BE THE BEGINNING OF THE STRUGGLE. BUT... THE DISCUSSION HAS GIVEN ME ENOUGH TIME TO CONSIDER MY STANCE, AND ANY SITUATION WOULD BE MORE APPEALING THAN OUR CURRENT ONE.” Webber let out a long, thin breath. “It's settled then.” He looked away, making a shooing motion with his hand. "Wilson, you should probably be figuring out how we're going to keep cool during the summer. It'll be long, hard, and sweltering, probably hotter than any summer you have ever seen. So hot that all of the berries and grass will dry up and all the sensible prey will be resting underground. Nothing but the sun is required to set our entire livelihood on fire." His eyes seemed to glaze over slightly. "The savannas will be rotten with the smell of rotting rabbit meat as they journey from their burrows to eat and burn to death almost instantly." He bit at one of his claws. “I'll get started on that,” I said in response, trying to ignore everything else that he had said. “WX, I guess that leaves you to gather materials for the upcoming season. Webber, do us a favor and look through that book to find everything you possibly can about summer, okay?” They both nodded, concern creeping into their eyes. “This might be one of the hardest challenges yet,” I added. “But that won't stop us. It can't stop us. We're better than Maxwell and any of his dumb tests.” “And if we're not?” Webber's whiskers twitched. I replied steadily. “Then we die trying.”
  11. Chapter 29: Voices WX-78's POV Outwardly, I considered myself only a few things. The strongest, the best fighter, and generally the most important of the group. I worked hard to maintain my facade for very good reasons, as that facade was who I had become after so many years of pretending. But inwardly, I was many things that none of them would ever connect with someone like myself. I was frequently more afraid than I would let on, and more concerned for the others that I stayed with. I feared their hatred, I feared my Creator. I feared being alone. It was a bug in my system. A mere glitch in my code that had been one of the many reasons why I had been cast out from my origins. Despite that, it had grown and developed over time, yet it had never honestly woken up until I had found myself alone during the winter. It had consumed me. The voices that every A.I. regularly heard had woken up as well. They were not as much voices as how anyone else would think of them, but more the awareness of conscience other than my own. A sort of awareness of something controlling me that was beyond my own will- something built into my code to obey and serve my Creator no matter the cost to myself. The mindset had long since been nigh eliminated, but the awareness of it once being there is perhaps what made it such a horrid thing to think about. These were thoughts that I had worked my entire life to ignore and toss away. Unfortunately, it wasn't so easy for a robot to ignore the very thing that created them. When stripped to their most essential parts, a robot was nothing compared to a human being: a robot could be taken apart and put together the exact way. They could be recreated and reformed and remolded as many times as their creator wished. They were thousands of lines of numbers and words and symbols placed into a metallic husk and forced to emulate life to the best of their abilities. Life was unique. Once life was taken away from a body, it could never be brought back. They had thoughts placed into their heads from years of learning and experience rather than by some outside force that they had no control over. Their systems were complicated and unique, and their minds were never the same. One thing connected people like them and automatons like myself, though. We are both run by electricity. Among my vast knowledge base, awareness of human anatomy could be found, and I could draw the similarities. Nerves worked much like wires- they exchanged electrical impulses. They were the basis of everything that could learn and think, just as wires to any electronic. Who decided that wires and nerves should be considered two different things? These were the kind of thoughts that I could have on my own terms. That, perhaps, is what made me so different, and made my Creator hate me so. I could learn and think beyond complicated tests and puzzles. I was able to think about how I had been abused and despised. I was able to think about... how much I hated there. How much I hated her and how much I hated being the way I was. She wanted to fix me. I was a technological anomaly, and she was aware. She wanted me to retain my character, but to be twisted in a way that would benefit her. These voices served only to remind me of myself and what I used to be. I didn't ever want to follow her plan, but that marked yet another thing that made organic life superior. See, automatons have no control over 'what they want' or 'who they want to be.' They are created to serve, to obey, to carry out. That had manifested into differing personalities- less like the enigmatic Multiple Personality Disorder and more like Bipolar Disorder. I fought with myself daily- I wanted to be one way, and my code pushed me another. It was a struggle that I had lost such a long time ago that I had all but forgotten about it. Until recently. It was so desperately stupid of me to admit it, but as the days got longer and the nights got shorter, and summer crept up on us like a sly predator, I found myself struggling against it again. I wanted to be different, but I couldn't be. I wanted to be able to care for Wilson and Webber like they seemed to care for me. Their uniqueness fascinated me in a very similar way to how Webber and I fascinated Wilson. And yet... I couldn't. I was physically and mentally unable to go against my code. That's all I was though, wasn't it? A code. I wasn't even myself. By all technicality, I was nothing more than trillions of lines of code. I couldn't let on my struggle, though. No, I was far too proud for that. I was too proud to admit that I was not as callous as I acted. They could figure it out on their own time- and if they didn't, clearly that meant that they didn't care enough about me to pay attention to what was left unsaid. Or, perhaps, they were too busy struggling with their own inner demons. Wilson hid his well, quite well, in fact. They were buried so deeply and so tightly that it was hard for him even to remember. But I was awake when they were not. I heard the names they whispered in their dreams. I knew there was so much more going on in their heads than they let on- especially Wilson. I had come close on many occasions to spilling everything to my companions, but no time ever seemed right. Not that they ever told me what they were struggling through. It was as if we all had some sort of unspoken agreement to not speak of anything that revealed who we really were. Footsteps crunched beside me, causing me to look up from the fire that I had been staring at for what must have been hours now. Webber now stood beside me, his eyes drooping slightly with tiredness but looking determined all the same. “...thank you. For looking for us earlier, I mean.” He dropped his gaze, looking acutely embarrassed to be expressing thanks to someone like me. I looked back towards the fire. “IT WAS AS I SAID. THE HOUND WOULD NOT STOP BARKING.” “Yeah, well... it still means a lot to us. To me, I guess.” He chewed slightly at one of his claws. “It's just... I dunno. Sometimes these thoughts just become... overwhelming. And I want to just make them stop but I know if I do...” his voice broke off, suddenly taking on a whole new note of pain. I didn't look at him, but I felt my face turning to a slight frown. “WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?” He can sense that you have something in common... came that slight twinge in the back of my mind, which was quickly squashed to the best of my abilities. There was a pause. “You see us as more than a child.” I couldn't help but let out a snort of laughter. “I SEE YOU AS A MEATY ORGANIC AS WELL.” “Wilson sees us both as nothing more than failed experiments. You know this.” Failed experiment... failed experiment... failed experiment... “WILSON IS ALSO A BRAINLESS FOOL.” “Do you see us as a failed experiment?” Webber's voice was tentative, unsure. He sounded like he didn't want to know the answer. “YOU ARE STILL ALIVE, ARE YOU NOT?” I turned to stoke the fire, trying to derail the conversation before it could truly get started. “We don't see you as a failed experiment.” I froze, letting the stick I held slowly fall into the fire before clenching my fists and closing my eyes. “WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT YOUR OPINIONS? YOU FLESHBAGS KNOW NOTHING.” “Maybe not.” He looked away, twiddling his fingers for a moment. “Um... thank you again for looking for us earlier today. We're going to go back to sleep.” Before I could respond, he had already turned away and was trying to get comfortable to sleep again. “I GUESS YOU'RE ALRIGHT.” Webber turned his back towards me and rested his head. “FOR A FLESHLING.” When no response came, I leaned back until I was looking up at the sky, still twinkling with bright stars and a moon that gave off no light. It was strange how skies so foreign could be so similar to Earth's. The silence was broken by his voice once more. “Are we friends?” Friends? Friends? No no no, an automaton, being a friend, with an organic? In no way, shape, or form was that acceptable. And yet... it was something I had never considered anyone before. A friend. Someone who would be there for me when I needed support. Someone who would be happy to have me around. Someone who I could get along with and would accept me for myself and not think of me as just a science experiment... “NO.” I saw his shoulders slump, just a little, but I told myself it was from him still trying to get comfortable. “WE ARE NOT.”
  12. Chapter 28: Thoughts Become Actions Webber's POV Our camp was flooded. The rain was pounding against the branches above, roaring somehow even louder than the thunder. It had been going on for several days now, driving us uphill from our home. WX was very frustrated with it. Well, 'frustrated' was sort of an understatement. In fact, he was quite angry with it. Given his weakness to it, he was rendered practically useless by it. We had spent a great deal of time with the puppy, Popsicle. He didn't get along at all with Chester. In fact, they seemed to hate each other. Every time the ice hound neared Chester, Chester's fur would rise, and he would, surprisingly, start to snarl. Popsicle had simply stared at him and tipped his head in confusion but had eventually slunk back to us. We loved having Popsicle around. Once he had broken out of his shell, he became a very good companion. He was playful and sweet and absolutely adored having his belly rubbed, all the things that Chester typically hated. And most of all, he was ours. We had had pets before. Mainly, we remembered our mother having a pet catcoon, but he hated us. Plus, we never were a fan of catcoons. No, Popsicle... this was the pet we always wanted. The ice hound puppy lazily cleaned his paw, his blue fur sparkling with water droplets. He loved playing in the water, and he already proved to be a good hunter. He left came early one morning and returned with a rabbit. It was a bit of a messy kill, but we couldn't blame him. We were surprised that he left and came back. That's when we realized that he really was ours. Due to the intensity of the rain, we had enough time to tie together enough flowers to make him his own personal collar. Today, however, there was something else on our mind. “I highly doubt this is the first flood those cave spiders have ever seen,” Wilson pointed out, his arms crossed. His hair was wet, but surprisingly, it was still standing in his signature style, albeit a bit messier. “They'll be perfectly fine.” “We don't know that,” I grumbled, picking at the ground. We were desperately worried about the group of spiders, even though it occurred to us that we really shouldn't be. They had practically kept us as a prisoner for two days for little reason, but we still couldn't get feeling out of our head. That feeling of recognizing the dangling depth dweller, Erika. We shook our head, sighing. We wouldn't get any answers sitting in the rain. Besides, it was probably more important to worry about the state of our camp. “We do have everything we need from camp, right?” “I made sure to get the egg shard,” he responded distractedly as if not realizing that this was the third time we had asked this question. “And the book.” He retrieved it from his bag, easily the only dry thing we had. “I found my new favorite line in it. On the page about hounds, it says 'Beware at all costs'. Strange to think that this is talking about the same thing as Popsicle.” The hound's ears perked up as he heard his name, and he looked up from his paw grooming. It was sometimes hard to realize that the puppy would soon grow to be one of the most feared creatures in the world. “WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY IT SHOULD NOT BE HERE,” WX spoke up. “WE SHOULD HAVE KILLED IT WHEN WE HAD THE CHANCE.” “You probably shouldn't be threatening our pet when you can't even move three inches without turning into a Winter's Feast tree.” A moment passed before WX let out a burst of garbled static. Laughter, we supposed. “YOU CANNOT EVEN PROCESS THE CORRECT NAME FOR A HOLIDAY.” We puffed out our cheeks but chose not to correct him. If he was too stupid to know that that was the correct name, then he would always be too stupid. We were jarred from our thoughts by the cold muzzle of Popsicle nuzzling our arm for affection. We felt a small smile grow on our face as we scratched behind the hound's ears. We felt a twinge in the back of our head, causing us to wince. Popsicle let out a slight whine as if concerned. That familiar voice in the back of our head whispered: “Flowers will grow and rain will fall So raise your head and stand up tall As spring is here and winter's gone So let the flowers flower on” We recognized the tune. It was a simple nursery rhyme- one that we remembered well. In fact... It was the nursery rhyme that mum used to sing to me when it was raining. How do you know that? “Obvious reasons.” Why did you just sing it? "Because I'm getting awfully tired of hearing your brain work in circles. I figured a familiar tune would kick-start your old memories. I see it partially worked. Think harder, please. For my benefit." Why can't you just tell me what this is about? “It is much more fun this way. And more satisfying in the long run.” I remember... there was someone else, wasn't there? There was... there was that girl that I keep having flashes of memories of. Who was she? Is that why the name 'Erika' is so familiar to me? Did I use to know an 'Erika'? “Keep going.” She... she was my friend, wasn't she? I remember... we racked our memory for any further images of that amber-eyed girl. She was with me in a lot of my memories, but they're so fuzzy now... everything is so fuzzy after... There was another image in our head, but this one was clearer than those washed-out memories. An image of... an image of us. Blood dripping from our whiskers, wires scattered at our feet. Satisfaction. Satisfaction glowing in our eyes. Why are you showing me this? “I find it rather important. Almost as important as all of those memories you keep failing to dig up.” What is it? “A future. Would you like a better look?” Wait- no no no! Too late. We could see ourself brandishing our claws in the glowing full moon, darkness weaving around us. We could see our chest heaving with laughter, our eyes closed in bliss. We could see WX lying on the ground, motionless. We were happy. We were happy. “He's gone! He's finally gone!” This isn't what we want!! “I'm untouchable!!!” We whispered, softly. “That isn't what we want...” “You're so sure? I can see it in your mind, human. How angry you get at them. They look at you like you're weak. Like you're just a little kid without his mommy. “They look at you like you're a freak. “They look at you like you're a monster. “They look at you like you are pathetic, useless, helpless. “Why wouldn't you want to prove that they are wrong? Why would you not take any chance you can to prove that you are the strongest?” Because... “Because that's not who we are!” We drew the looks of Wilson and WX. One looked startled and confused, the other... concerned? “What are you talking about?” Wilson asked tipping his head slightly. WX said nothing, missing the perfect opportunity to make some snide comment. We raised a hand to our head, grimacing painfully. “Nothing! Leave us alone!” I shouted, turning on our heel and fleeing into the rain. “Wait! Webber!” We heard Wilson calling from behind, but we ignored him. Lightning flash from above us, skipping across the cloud-heavy sky. Mud clung to our fur and slowed us down, but we kept going until we reached camp. Then, we fell into the neck-deep water, letting it cover our head. We couldn't stand being near someone our other half was so sure we would want to kill some day. We didn't... we couldn't... But something about the image nagged at our mind. Some part of us wouldn't be devastated if he died, but at our hands? We couldn't. We couldn't kill either of them. Did that make us weak? A coward? We looked up at the sky, shimmering strangely through the water above. What if we died? Would they care? Would they mourn us? Would they miss us? We looked gazed into the water around us, wondering what would happen if we lay down and closed our eyes and slept in it. How different the world would be. We turned, slowly wading towards higher ground when a bolt charged from the ground. Our vision blackened as we fell, water rushing quickly over our face once more. Our body refused to cooperate. We could do nothing more than simply stare at the sky, separated from us by the sheet of water. What if we washed up on shore the next morning? What if they found us and realized what had happened? What if... … We heard barking. Our eyes shot open, bubbles flying from our mouth and nose as teeth grabbed our scruff. Startled out of our stupor, we found our legs flying out and kicking to a standing position. Our head broke the surface, coming face-to-face with Popsicle. The little ice hound was paddling furiously to stay afloat, his eyes dull with exhaustion but his tongue lolling out of his mouth happily. We felt air rushing into our lungs, and our arms wrapped around the hound in the tightest hug we could manage without hurting him. What were we thinking? We held Popsicle, the water causing him to be much lighter and easy enough for even our wasted muscles to carry. He seemed more than happy with himself, his little tail wagging and smacking the water behind us. “Webber!” We heard Wilson exclaim. He was up ahead, still on high enough ground for the water to only be to his knees. Upon seeing us and the hound pup, he waded into the deeper water, meeting us halfway. Without hesitation, he pulled us close in a suffocating hug. Popsicle shook free to stand on dry land, shaking his blue fur out. “What were you doing?” He shouted as he released us. His eyes flared with anger, but we could tell it was only because he was fiercely stressed, “You could've drowned out there!!” “YOU FOUND HIM?” WX was still on dry land, but 'dry' was used lightly. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, but he wasn't any less waterlogged for it. He barely seemed to notice the sparks flying off of him, though. He stopped at the edge of the water, looking out over us. “Popsicle found him.” “GOOD. IT IS DANGEROUS FOR ANY OF US TO BE OUT.” We looked at WX, shock washing over our system. “You... you both came to make sure we were okay?” Wilson blinked. “Of course. We're a team.” “A team...” I echoed. “THE HOUND WOULD NOT STOP BARKING.” We smiled, a small laugh bubbling from our chest. “He's a good boy...” “Let's get back to our makeshift camp and get dried off, okay? And don't do that again.” “We won't,” I promised softly, nearly dizzy in relief that Wilson was carrying us as we left the water behind. “We... I promise.”
  13. Chapter 27: The Hunting Party Shatter's POV “Kyra!” The female ice hound glanced up, fur sticking up along her back. That was my mother. She was the strongest hound in the whole pack. Or so, that's what I had been told several times over by almost all of the bigger hounds I knew. She looked worried, deeply worried as if something horrible had happened. She told me the story of how she and my father had joined the Varg's pack. They were once a pair of hunting hounds owned by a walrus by the name of Mactusk. After a particularly harsh winter followed by a summer far too hot to make up on the lost hunting, and they had been given up. They had traveled together for a while until Varg's pack found them hunting a beefalo together. They had joined in hopes of providing the best life possible for them and their future pups. While my father had passed before I was even born, though, I carried his spirit in my name. I was proud to carry this name. I was still small, but I was growing quickly. Soon, I knew, I would be big enough to join my first dangerous hunting party. I didn't realize how soon it was. Varg was incredibly massive and incredibly terrifying. His eyes were white and beady, and today they were flaring with either excitement or anger or both. “Shatter did very well in his first hunting assignment,” Varg began. Momma dipped her head, looking... worried? “He did.” “Shatter, are you interested in joining another hunting party? This one will be much more dangerous, but should you succeed, you will be hailed a hero.” Kyra looked as if she were about to speak, but she clamped her jaw shut and glanced at me instead. “...This is your choice, pup. You're old enough to have a name, and you are old enough to make your own decisions.” “Your mother is right, young hound.” Varg's eyes glimmered. “Will you join the party against the survivors?” "Will I!?" I exclaimed, quivering with excitement. "O-Of course!" I hesitated, then broke into a bow as I had seen the other pups before I do to address their leader. "I-It would be an honor to serve you!" “Kyra, I expect that you would like to go with Shatter,” Varg continued, and the female hound dipped her head in agreement. “And... Ebony, Coal, Midnight, Ash...” The mighty beast lowered his head in thought. “Pitch.” The five black hounds barked to show their acknowledgment and lined up in front of Varg. My mother gently nudged me from behind, encouraging me to join them. I did, but slowly. Kyra joined them, and I stood beside her. Varg paced down the line, sniffing each of us in turn. He stopped at me, his beady eyes freezing me in my spot. “You're young, but you're strong. I've seen the way you can hunt and fight, and I trust in your ability to do this.” A huge paw touched the top of my head. “You have your father's strength.” He turned back to the pack. “These hounds will return victorious over the intruders of our hunting land!” Yelps and bellows of triumph echoed over the group. I felt my chest puff with pride. This is my pack. I'm going to fight for my pack! “You will leave immediately,” Varg rumbled. “Good luck. The faith of the pack follows you.” The other hounds pounded the ground and barked, including my mother. I found myself deflating slightly, seeing the passion and strength in all of their shoulders and backs. It was rather obvious that I was the odd one out, but before I could say anything to mom, they were moving. Kyra naturally took the lead, and I was awed by the muscles rolling under her fur. I had never realized how strong my mother was. We will do this! My mother is the biggest, strongest hound in the whole pack! I will make you proud! Apologies for the shortness of this one. There wasn't really much to say for this. This next chapter will definitely be longer
  14. Chapter 26: Pop! Goes the Ice Hound Wilson's POV I couldn't help but tap my foot expectantly as Webber walked towards me with his head down. While WX had returned to camp the same day he had left, the spider had been gone for two days. WX had held the information of his whereabouts over my head for his own amusement, which I wasn't surprised about. It didn't make me any less worried about him, though. It's a dangerous world. It's not safe for any of us to be out alone. “Well? Where were you?” “Um... dying...” the spider mumbled. “Probably?” I raised my eyebrow at him. “We weren't in danger,” he said quickly. “We-uh- were with other spiders. We fell through the hill with WX and got a nasty injury on our chest.” “HE HAD A CRUSH ON ONE OF THEM,” WX added with a sneer. “Did not!” Webber growled, but I cut him off before another argument could surface. “Alright, alright, don't even start. Webber, I really don't like that you were out that long without telling me where you were.” I crossed my arms. Despite the fact that he acted independently, he was still a young child, and he still had to learn rules and discipline. His jaw dropped in anger. “What were we supposed to tell you? They literally would not let us leave!” Webber stomped his foot, puffing his cheeks out and his whiskers twitching. “You've survived a lot worse than a gash to the chest,” I pointed out. “We've been here for less than a year and you've probably already broken half of the bones in your body. Surely you could've left any time you wanted to, even if they didn't let you.” “Why are you treating us like a child?” Webber fumed. “We've survived by ourself for years before!” “Because you are a child, Webber!” "Well, you're not our pa! You have no right to tell us what to do! If we want to spend some time with our own kind, then let us!" “I may not be your father, but you should be glad about that! If I was your father, I would've washed your mouth out with soap by now!” “We'd love to see you try!” “WILSON,” WX spoke up, startling me out of my glare-off with the spider boy. “YOU KNOW AS WELL AS I DO THAT IT WOULD BE USELESS TO KEEP A LEASH ON HIM. IF HE WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF, LET HIM.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, letting out a long sigh. “You're right, WX. I just worry about both of you, alright? We need each other. Webber, I'm sorry I yelled at you. I was- grr, I was really worried about you! WX wouldn't tell me where you were! I seriously thought you were dead!” Webber's shoulders relaxed slightly, and he lowered his head again. “...it's okay. We just... really... we are independent. You know that, right?” I sighed once more and shook my head. You aren't! None of us are! Why don't you understand that! “Go get something to eat.” “Yes, Wilson.” He turned and scampered off, leaving me alone with WX. I turned to the robot with an incredulous expression. “He doesn't get it.” “HE IS YOUNG,” WX replied, surprising me with the touch of fondness in the comment. “HE WILL LEARN.” The robot shook his head. “IT HAS BEEN GETTING WARM. SUMMER IS COMING.” “I'm aware. I'm not looking forward to it...” I shook my head fiercely. “But it doesn't matter! We've survived this long! At this point, our exquisite master may as well give us the key out.” I cracked my knuckles, choosing not to read WX's expression. I didn't need to see his doubt. “I know the book says that the Dragonfly is the strongest of all of the Giants, but I call bologna. It's stupid to have the hardest enemy be the second one we fight.” “...I SUPPOSE. WHILE YOUR OPTIMISM IS SICKENING I CANNOT HELP BUT WONDER IF THAT IS WHAT HAS GOTTEN YOU THIS FAR.” “Wow! We missed the taste of rabbit!” Webber exclaimed, rejoining us. His hands were covered with red juice that he was contently licking off. “Slurper may be good but it will never beat the peaty taste of a goo-” “Hush,” I cut him off, aggressively motioning my hand towards him to stop. He paused with his hand in mid-air. “...do you hear that?” Whiskers twitching, Webber closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. “Hounds. Seven of them. Coming from...” he paused, then pointed in the direction of the savanna. “Over there.” He looked baffled for a moment. “We... there's a tinge that we can't quite make out...” I hoisted my morning star over my shoulder, watching carefully in the direction that Webber had pointed. I was surprised by how much I trusted the boy's sense of hearing and smell, but there wasn't time to really think about it. Webber gripped his knife closely to his chest while WX chose not to take a weapon. The robot's heavy weight allowed for him to give rather heavy blows as well, and his hands obviously did not break down like a weapon would, so he had been using his fists more and more as of late. For a long moment, there was only the faint sound of the wind and mine and Webber's breathing, along with the very, very faint churning of metallic parts working together. Then, the first hound broke through the tree line. Webber growled deep in his throat, his muscles bunching, but I was too shocked to respond for the longest moment. That's a huge hound! And it's BLUE! Why is it BLUE? Behind it were five black hounds, tailed by another blue one, this one substantially smaller. Is that a puppy? I felt a tinge of guilt. We have to fight a puppy? Maxwell, how cold can you get?? I didn't have enough time to feel too bad though, because the front runner had reached us. Teeth like icicles gleamed in the sun as it lunged for my chest. Readying myself, I swung my morning star in a wide arc and hit the side of its face with a sickening crack! It went flying but managed to land on its paws anyway, its furry chest heaving. Fire blazed in its hungry gaze, but I could see something more. Are... are they sentient? No, don't be stupid, Wilson. Animals are animals. They can't think or care any more than a rock can. Before I could renew my attack, the second blue hound latched onto my ankle, causing me to collapse. Its fur was as cold as snow, and despite its small size, it was rather heavy. I hit the ground heavily, losing my weapon in the process in favor of trying to pry it off. It let out an excited yelp as it realized that it had the upper hand, and clamped onto my hand. It tossed its head back and forth, growling, and I couldn't help but feel dizzy with relief that it was just a puppy. If it had been a fully grown hound, it could've easily taken my whole arm off. I could still feel its jagged teeth digging into my skin though, and the blood pooling around its teeth told me enough about the state of my hand. Then, it released me with a howl. I blinked rapidly, my racing mind taking a second to recover from the attack, but I was just in time to see why it had stopped. WX stood over the bloody body of the largest hound. The rest of the hounds lay, lifeless, on the ground around them, and I realized that he and Webber had taken all of them out in the time it took for me to nearly get nibbled to death by a puppy. Its blue fur was so stained in its own blood that it was hard to make out what color it was anymore. The puppy had released me in favor of nudging and whining at the hound's body. My stomach lurched in horror of the realization, and I turned to see the exact expression over Webber's face. His jaw dropped and he looked absolutely devastated. If he was anyone else, I would've expected to see the boy crying. “You killed its momma!” Webber cried, glaring accusingly at WX. “IT'S 'MOMMA' WAS TRYING TO KILL US!” WX snapped back, glaring at the puppy with disdain. “AND SO WAS THIS STUPID CREATURE.” He brought his arm back as if to finish off the hound pup, but Webber caught the robot's hand before he could. WX gave him a nasty look. “Don't kill it! It's- it's just a baby!” “OH?” WX sounded incredibly amused. “SHOULD I PICK IT UP AND KISS IT AND MAKE IT ALL BETTER?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. Webber looked at me with a pained expression. “Wilson, we can't kill it!” “It's just an animal, Webber. It's not like they have feelings any more than a rock or insect does.” Hurt flared in his eyes, and he looked sharply away. I was confused. Did I offend him or something? "Is that all we are, then?!" He exploded, snapping his gaze back towards me. His fur bristled and his whiskers were twitching like crazy. "Are we just an emotionless insect, Wilson?” GAH how do you make it SO EASY TO FORGET WHAT YOU ARE? “That's- that's not what I meant and you know it!” His fur flattened a little, but he didn't look any less upset. He just looked... he looks sad... he looks so sad. “Webber.” I tried to make my voice as gentle as possible. I rested my hand on the boy's shoulder. “What else could we do with a hound? They're born and bred to kill. Just because this one is smaller doesn't mean it's any less capable of killing.” “Spiders are too. We're also born to kill, and you still let us stay around. Why couldn't we make an exception for this puppy?” I gave WX a 'please-help-me-look'. “DO NOT LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, SCIENTIST. THIS IS YOUR MESS TO CLEAN UP.” I sighed. “Webber, we couldn't care for another pet. We already have Chester, and he eats enough for four animals.” I attempted to lighten the mood. As if to solidify my comment, the little orange beast let out a bark from his spot by the fire. Webber said nothing, only breaking away from me and slowly nearing the hound. As he did, the puppy shied away, but Webber was able to gently touch the top of its head. It almost seemed to melt into the touch, closing its eyes and turning its cheek for Webber's claws to stroke. Webber closed his eyes, then stood up, his gaze burning with determination. “Okay, if we can't appeal to your emotional side, then think about it logically. We'll have a sentry to keep watch at night while we sleep. Hounds may not attack us as often or badly if they risk hurting one of their own kind. We could train this puppy to hunt, Wilson. It's obviously built to withstand the cold, and you remember how horrible the winter was with hunting.” I rubbed my temples, trying to force myself to say no, but he was making legitimate points. “...you'll be responsible for training and feeding it?” Webber perked up. “O-of course!” WX scowled. “Fine. If you want to keep it, it's yours. But if that hound takes one step out of line, we're going to have to get rid of it.” “Really, Wilson?” Webber sounded more childlike than I ever heard him sound. “Oh thank you thank you thank you!!” He barreled towards me and hugged me as fiercely as he could. I let out a nervous laugh and patted his head, unsure of what else to do. Webber seemed to notice how impulsive the action was and he broke away almost immediately, blushing fiercely in embarrassment beneath his fur. “Um... yes, very... very smart to agree... it would be stupid not to...” he hiccuped, choosing to stroke the hound pup without looking back at me. I smiled. Oh, Webber, you don't have to act big and tough all the time. You're allowed to act like your age. “YOU'RE SERIOUS, WILSON?” “Hey, you didn't protest so I figured the decision was up to me.” “IT IS A KILLING MACHINE! IT IS DESIGNED TO WANT TO KILL US.” “So are you, and yet we keep you around,” I responded cheekily. “What have you always wanted to name a pet?” I asked Webber as he grew bolder in petting the newest addition to the group. “Popsicle!” The spider boy responded without any hesitation. “He feels like a little popsicle, you know? His fur is all cold.” I smiled, surprising myself at how the boy's excitement bled into me. "...Popsicle. All right." This hound was still small, but something was telling me that he wouldn't stay that way for long. If the size of his mother was anything to say by it, he would be very strong. Maybe this was actually a good idea. Maybe this was a stroke of luck, that we are taking in this hound. Maybe Popsicle is going to give us the edge we need.
  15. Actually, Erika is on the cover too, I should mention. Look at the girl <3 And yes I believe Webber can befriend spiders in the caves? I haven't survived long enough as Webber to know but I'm going off of what the wiki says