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  1. Chapter 45. Phoenix Webber's POV We had to relearn how to walk. How to fight. How to hunt. How to see. We had to relearn how to live. The day we had woken from our pseudo-coma, we had been made incredibly aware that we were different. The injuries our body has sustained were nasty, and our dominant hand would forever weaken us. The spiders... my sister, and WX had done everything they could to save the hand, but I could tell there would be little use. The bones healed nicely, but everything else... everything inside, had been destroyed. We could curl our fingers, but not enough to make a fist, and independent finger movement was completely out of the question. Our depth perception was awful. During those first few days, after WX had brought us to the frog ponds and we had gotten a good, long look at the bloody injury slashed across our face, we immediately knew that our life as a fighter was coming to a close. With only one working eye, obstacles that were once minor inconveniences became major problems. And then there was Wilson. WX had explained the entire situation to us; something had taken Wilson's body and used it as a tool to hurt us. After two failures to end our life, it had given up. But every single time... “Webber?” Immediately, we found our body flying into a defensive position: fur bristling, fangs bared, and body curled to defend our stomach and neck. Wilson stood above us, his gray eyes turning into the smallest of frowns before he looked away. “Um... it's been awhile since you were out of camp... WX wanted me to ask you if you wanted to go hunting with us.” “Hunting?” Despite Wilson's presence, our whiskers angled forward and a surge of hope flooded our system. “We can hunt with you guys again?” “Well...” He shifted on his feet, staring down at the dirt. He never met our gaze anymore. Somehow, that hurt almost as much as everything else. “Um... I guess... you can try...? But... uh... I think it would be best...” Our shoulders fell. Of course... they wouldn't trust us to mess up a hunting trip. Even though summer, and the hunting troubles that came with it, had passed, we still couldn't be trusted for something like that. “Oh... of course.” Instinctively, we noticed that our good hand had reached up and was scratching around the scar across our eye. We forced our hands to fold together instead, not willing to remind ourself of the injury. “WILSON, WE CANNOT STAY HERE ALL DAY. ARE YOU COMING OR NOT?” WX's voice startled us. We turned slightly to see that the robot had come up from our blind side. When he saw that the scientist had been talking to us, his face creased into a deep frown for just a moment. “WILL YOU BE JOINING US, TOO?” What would be the point of us joining them? We would just be sitting on the sidelines again, watching them provide for us. Our stomach growled slightly, and we began scratching at the scar again. “...maybe we could... go on a walk... instead...” I mumbled. We wanted to be out of camp, but we didn't want to be coddled any longer. Maybe some fresh air away from any others would do us good. We tried to ignore Wilson and WX's shared gaze. There was something in both of their expressions that we really didn't want to see. Wilson's... pain, guilt. WX's... anger, fury. “Will you... um... be alright on your own...?” Wilson's eyes flickered to our injuries then back to the ground. “Don't do anything... urm... don't hurt yourself, alright?” “We'll... we'll be fine. You don't have to worry about us every moment that you aren't watching us, you know.” “DO NOT BE RIDICULOUS,” WX scoffed. “YOU MAY HAVE HEALED, BUT EVEN YOU KNOW THAT YOUR CURRENT STATUS IS UNDESIREABLE. YOU ARE STILL AT SEVERE RISK, EVEN IF YOUR WOUNDS HAVE CLOSED UP AND YOUR STRENGTH HAS RETURNED. WE ARE RIGHT TO WORRY.” Our teeth bared at the robot in fury. His words stung so deeply that we instinctively acted in anger, a deep growl rising from our chest. “Even half blind and lame we're stronger than both of you!” I snapped. We didn't want to see their expressions. We knew what their eyes would say. And so, before they could react, we flipped around and ran away, as fast as we could. We ran until we tired, which was much faster than we were comfortable with, then found a decent tree to lean against and buried our face. We took several deep breaths, trying to refill our lungs. Our claws reached upward again and began to scratch at the scar across our eye. We stared down at our damaged hand, closing the fingers as tightly as we could in an attempt to see if it was any stronger than the day before. It wasn't. We frowned, then used our good hand to close the fingers together. They felt stiff and tight, even when they weren't doing the work of closing. “What do you think, Webber?” I asked. “You're in this predicament as much as I am. What should we do?” “I'm surprised you would ask me.” “There's no one else I can ask,” I replied wryly. “You at least... understand.” The spider was silent for a long moment. “Well... it is true that our current condition is very disheartening. You should have killed the scientist.” An image blasted in my head. Fighting back. Ripping Wilson's throat out before he had the chance to injure us. I hissed, covering my head with my hands and shaking ever so slightly. “I couldn't,” I whispered. “Even if I could've... look at us now. We couldn't harm a rabbit.” There was a soft growl. “You're right! Because you keep letting those worthless creatures tell you that you couldn't do anything! What is wrong with you!? You have turned soft, Tyler. Pathetic. You never let injuries stop you before. You were so determined to live that you overtook the mind of a creature that tried to eat you. Where is that child!?” “You're... being surprisingly encouraging.” “I refuse to suffer in the way you are determined to make us suffer. You have to prove to yourself that you are still strong.” “You don't understand!” I snapped. “I'm left-handed, Webber! We can't even hold a weapon with my left hand anymore!” “You have two hands.” “Our eye is destroyed.” “You have another eye that works.” “That's not the point!” How could I get through this if even my own split personality didn't understand!? I took several deep breaths. “When a spider gets injured... when a spider loses a leg or loses an eye, they have seven others to fall back on. I've only ever had two eyes and two hands. You know that I can't use your legs, not like hands anyway, or your other eyes. I can't fight anymore.” “Because you keep telling yourself that you can't fight. If you can't use your left hand, then use your right. If you can't see out of your right eye, then use your left.” I looked up, whiskers twitching as I sensed something big nearby. “Are you going to live the rest of your life believing that you're just easy prey!?” I slowly got to my feet, smelling the air deeply. “No.” “....What are you doing?” “Exactly what you said. I'm proving that I can still fight.” There was a foul smell in the air. It was heavy, musky, almost sour. “Tyler, think about this. You can't go from being a deadweight for weeks to fighting a Giant. This is suicide! I... I can't let you do this.” “You can't stop me!” “I certainly can!” Against my will, I threw myself onto the ground, teeth grinding painfully against each other and claws digging into the dirt. “W-We-bber!!” I roared. “Get out... of my... head!” In a flash of rage at my other half, I reached up and dug the claws of my good hand deep into the skin of my cheek. I tore away at the fur, leaving a profusely bleeding wound in its place. “You c-an't con-trol me! You n-ever could!” With that, I tore another chunk of flesh from my arm. “I'm tired of being treated... like I don't know anything! I'm tired... of being a spider! I'm tired of hearing you!” “Tyler, Tyler, calm down! You're hurting us-” “I'm going to get rid of you if I have to tear you away!” “Tyler, please-” I could hear him gasping in pain. I couldn't feel it. All I could feel was his weakening presence, his desperate pleas- Arms grabbed me, pulling my arms away from myself and holding them together. Just as I reared my fangs to attack, someone started shushing me and pulled me closer. “I'm tired of being useless!” I struggled from the person's grasp, but they held me tighter. They were surprisingly muscular, the only thing that really keyed me in to... I didn't know this person. That was what finally forced me to relax. As the grip on me loosened, I struggled free and flipped to face the newcomer... And found myself incapable of speech. It was a human. Another human, another survivor. She had charcoal black hair pushed out of her face by a tied red headband. She wore torn overalls covered with dirt and grime, which also covered parts of her face and hands. A moment later, I realized she was staring at me just as intensely as I was staring at her. “...Who... who are you?” I asked. Webber had fallen silent. Before she could answer, the ground trembled beneath us. I felt my heart sink into my chest as the sour smell washed over us. “Watch out, kiddo!” The woman grabbed our arm and started pulling us along, away from where the beast was. Immediately, we felt a growl rise in our throat and we yanked away from her before she could take us too far. “What are you doing? That beast can and will eat you!” “Wouldn't be the first time.” “Seriously, kid, listen, it's too dangerous around here. I promise I'm not going to hurt you. I'm... ha, I'm too thankful to see other living beings here to even think about hurting you. But that thing? That thing will kill both of us without a second thought!” “No! We're not running. We set out to prove them wrong and we're going to do that!” With a twinge of regret, we added: “if you want to run, then do it. We don't need you anyway.” “...They? Are there others?” Her hopeful question was cut off as the Bearger made itself shown. Its gazed passed over the woman without issue, but those beady black eyes locked onto us with a sort of pure rage that we wondered if we had done something to it before. “Kid... kid, listen. Back away slowly, don't make eye contact. It will just pass on by-” “The name's Webber,” I informed her with a slight growl. “And we don't intent to let it pass by.” “Grrr, fine. But I hope you have a good idea of what you're doing...” We don't. We didn't have anything on us... no weapons, no tools, not even Popsicle. How did we intend to kill it? “What's your plan?” We didn't have a plan. It roared at us, yellowed teeth stained with faint red juice. Our fur began to prickle. It took another step forward and... We ran. The woman let out an indignant shout as we left her behind, but we could hear her footsteps faintly behind us a moment later. Further back, the Bearger was giving chase. Branches whipped at our face, tearing scratches through our fur and causing out remaining eye to water painfully. Without our depth perception, we couldn't even run. We couldn't get away. We just doomed ourself and this innocent fellow survivor to death. Then, we realized something. Our whiskers were twitching furiously, vibrating almost, as water began to block our sight completely. We could feel the wind brushing against the tips of them, cutting suddenly and reappearing with the flashes of trees. And we could sense the thickness of the ground below. Our light footsteps passed over the ground with ease and without even the slightest of creaks. The woman wasn't far behind, and we could sense the ground groaning slightly under her feet. The world was falling apart from the inside, and we had just stumbled across one of the weakest areas of the ground. We skidded to a halt, and the woman ended up running into us unceremoniously. “You can't stop to catch a breath! Come on!” “Wait,” I responded. The Bearger's huge size meant that it was having more trouble getting through the undergrowth than we had. It had resorted to swiping at thick foliage and tearing through the smaller trees in order to reach us. We could see the moment it realized that it had been lead into a trap. One foot hit the thin ground, and the earth groaned in pain. Its momentum carried it into the next step, and then a third. By the fourth, the ground was beginning to crumble at its feet. It let out an enraged roar, lunging forward, but its massive body was tipping backwards as it attempted so. And then, it was swallowed up by the darkness of the cave, its white fur blurring into nothingness as it fell down... down... down... “The bigger they are, the harder they fall,” I said calmly, staring into the abyss as the woman's gaze stayed blankly on us. … “How long have you been here?” Nighttime had fallen, and we were back at the woman's camp. She had nothing compared to us, just a firepit and some strange contraptions that she brought no attention to. She had to speak loud enough to overtake the sounds of the crackling fire that we sat beside. We gnawed hungrily at a cooked rabbit as we thought of how to answer. It was a year now, wasn't it? It didn't feel that long. “A year... about.” It took her many moments to process what she heard. “A... year...? How...? How have you been here that long...?” She suddenly seemed to look at us through a completely different lens... one of mutual respect other than a careful protectiveness. “I see... did the Bearger give you those wounds? It couldn't have, could it?” She motioned towards the healed gash across our tightly closed eye and the various, still-bleeding wounds we had inflicted on ourself earlier. “No.” She said nothing, seemingly waiting for us to continue. How much did she want us to say? How much did we want to say? I wondered, and realized... we wanted to tell her everything. We needed someone to talk to, to understand... “No... our, um- our campmate...” We started scratching at the scar again. “There was an incident... he wasn't himself...” “Hey, hey, I understand. If it's too painful to talk about, you don't have to talk about it. Go ahead and unload whatever you want on me, but don't force yourself...” “Mmm...” “Come on... anything?” “We're not a full human.” What better place to start at than the beginning. “I can see that. I chose not to question.” How could she be so casual!? “We were eaten by a spider. We live as one, now.” “That explains the 'we' talk.” We growled. “Why can't you just react like a normal person? Scream, run away, or whatever you do. Don't patronize me.” “Hey, don't act like I'm patronizing you. Listening to you is not the same as patronizing you.” Change the subject. “How did you get here?” She sighed. “The same way I'm assuming everyone did... a promise of something you lost.” That piqued our interest. “Something you lost?” “My sister. I haven't seen her since the San Francisco Earthquake, back in 1906.” She scratched at her head, under her headband. “I haven't stopped in my research attempting to find her since the day she disappeared with that no-good rat of a man...” We had no idea what she was talking about, but nodded anyway. This felt... nice. Talking to someone we had never spoken to before. And despite our confusion and frustration that she wasn't reacting to us like most people did... it was nice. “I thought... I thought I saw her. But the next thing I know, I'm waking up here...” “How long have you been here?” How long have you been alone? Are there other survivors? “...a week, I think... tell me about the others.” “What?” “You mentioned others, and a campmate. Are they friendly?” Her gaze shifted to the scar across our eye, but she look away quickly. Why couldn't we figure out how to answer that question? There had been so much strife between all of us that we couldn't even confidently tell her that they were good people. Look at how much WX has helped us... without him, we would probably be dead right now. “...You can say that.” She frowned slightly. “Are you wanting to join us?” “Are you kidding? I'd kill to be part of a team again! As long as you and your group are okay with that...” We looked up at the sky. It wasn't quite dawn yet, but the sky was beginning to brighten up. “You can meet them... it's your choice if you want to stay with us.” We finished the meat we were eating and wiped our mouth. “You never told us your name.” “Oh jeez, you're right. We're both getting ahead of ourselves, aren't we?” She grinned. “My name's Winona. I've been looking for my sister, Charlie.”
  2. Hey, it's not a requirement to read! I'm glad you have been, but don't worry yourself if you can't/don't want to ^^ Well, gotta be devoted to work on such a long fanfiction! Haha!
  3. Chapter 44. Outcast She stood alone in a room filled with orbs. Her dress slid on the floor behind her as she walked, her bare feet making small patters against the marble, her delicate hands reaching out to brush against the glowing orbs that surrounded her. This was a place that only very particular... demons, she supposed, could enter. At this moment in time, only Charlie and her lesser half could slip into this world-between-worlds and read the source code of the world. Her face creased in the smallest of frowns as she turned her eyes to the edges of the room. The edges were beginning to unravel, almost like threads that had been tugged at far too much. Things weren't looking good. She normally had some control over events that transpired in the Constant, but humans were beyond her power. She could only watch helplessly as they wandered around for a few months before dying of starvation or falling prey to one of the many massive hound packs. So... she tried to stay away from meddling in their affairs, even if it wasn't always possible. Her other half, however, was not the kind to stay out of things. She let out a small, pained sigh. Together, her and Nightmare had brought the scientist back from death, a small victory in what eventually became a tragedy. Her hand rested on an orb, voices coming to her ears as she did so. “Then, I thought that feeding you to the spiders would be enough! After all, your sister perished exactly as planned with no intervention. But then you refused!” “I thought you could finally do it,” Charlie whispered. She paced forward slightly in order to move to another orb. The boy was still alive, and she had a feeling that this would not be his end, but the agony he suffered was enough to tear at her heart. The robot hadn't left his side for days, nor had his arachnid companions. Nightmare had done this, and she wasn't too stupid to know that. She just... couldn't do anything about it. But this latest attempt... Nightmare had been very angered by it's failure. Perhaps it knew that she had stopped anything worse from happening... perhaps it knew that she was trying to help them. Charlie finally made her way to the far side of the room, where some of the orbs had been caught in the unraveling seams. In there, her eyes grazed over bloodstained memories that she preferred to forget. The horrifying murder of a prime ape's innocent mate at Nightmare's hand, the rejection of his daughter followed by the quick degradation of his sanity. Charlie hadn't been able to save any of them, and she had tried so hard. What made her think she could save these survivors? Her heart twisted in her chest. It was days like this that made her wish that her sister was here. She always knew what to do and how to do it... if anyone could save them, it would be her. Charlie growled to herself, shaking her head. As she did so, she heard an earthshattering crash. Immediately, her mind pulsed with an event that had been erased from everyone's memories but their own: the Prime Ape princess attacking her father and leaving him for dead. If any event had to be forgotten, at least it was one better erased. Nightmare swooped in like a furious tsunami. Nightmare was a curious beast, always taking the appearance of whatever unfortunate soul had the burden of carrying it. In its current form, it looked much like Charlie herself, except if Charlie had been crafted out of red smoke and black shadows. Its eyes were blank, and fire burned at its hands as it glared down at the shattered remains of an orb. “Nightmare,” she greeted coldly. The beast didn't look up for a long moment, its shoulders heaving with... rage? Probably rage. When it did look up, it took all of Charlie's strength not to flinch. “How. Did. He. Hold back?” The demon snarled, enunciating every single syllable as if Charlie wouldn't be able to understand it otherwise. She struggled to push back the relief and glee that was threatening to cover her face. One person holding back Nightmare was nothing: the beast was something created by the world, tied to the world, and stronger than anything else in it. It could easily overcome anyone, especially a weak scientist with an even weaker will. But if, say, Charlie assisted said scientist in fighting the demon back... Nightmare was not able to complete its task. “I do not know,” she lied smoothly. It was easy for Charlie to lie, now. Her entire existence had become one smooth lie. Nightmare roared, and another orb fell victim to its rage. This time, it was an event that no one even remembered anyway: a warrior saving a mute, and both immediately falling dead afterwards. At least Nightmare wasn't trying to actively cripple the timeline. “He is pathetic!” Nightmare snarled. “No one! He should not have had the strength!” Charlie remained silent. It was best not to interfere with it when it was like this. “I will end that spider if it is the last thing I do.” Unnaturally long claws gripped an orb and held it in such a tight grasp that Charlie could see small cracks forming in it. “Why are you so set on killing Webber?” Those furious eyes landed on Charlie. She managed to hold her ground. “You are not stupid,” it said slowly, furiously. “You know who he is.” “The next Nightmare Captor,” she responded. “Maxwell's Heir. Of course.” It wasn't exactly a secret. Any creature could sense the sheer power of the aura he gave off, something that any Nightmare Captor needed above all else. He was going to be perfect. Perhaps the one to finally save this world. “You speak as if it is a trivial manner!” Nightmare shook with rage. The orb cracked further. “To speak such a way about the Master's usurper... I dare call that treason.” “Relax,” Charlie said breezily. “All will work out in the end. It always has.” She waved her arm towards the crumbling edges. Somewhere out there were faded, grayed out orbs, ones that had existed for longer than Charlie. It was enough to know that this wasn't the world's first timeline, nor would it be its last. And every time they failed. So why!?... What can I do to stop this disgusting cycle? She closed her eyes and thought... then thought some more. She tried so desperately to dig up old memories, but none came. Nobody would ever have that gift... the knowledge that they had lived through this a thousand times before. Even Charlie, one who could read the world's source code, could not conjure memories of events that had yet to happen. But maybe... maybe she could stop those events from happening again. She paused, then turned. Surely... no. Charlie knew she had the same power as Maxwell... to bring people into this domain. But she couldn't subject another innocent to this Hell. Especially not someone like her sister. But... she felt like she had to. Winona was the only person that Charlie could think of that would be able to fix this. She could fix anything... As Nightmare realized it had lost her attention, it let out yet another roar of rage and smashed the orb it was holding against the ground. It immediately shattered into a million pieces, shards of memories flying out in all directions. A random memory, one of a pair of twins playing in the snow, was lost to the pieces. … WX-78's POV I didn't see Wilson again for many days. It was a fact that I knew should be more prominent on my mind, but I forced it to the back of my mind every time it came up. During those days, I never strayed from Webber's side. His condition was so volatile that I did not dare risk it. After the first attack, he had been badly wounded, but nothing so terrible that good care couldn't solve. This time, however... it was impossible to tell whether we should've been more focused on his hand or his eye. Matters were only made worse by the speech barrier between me and the spiders, and the ice hound's many attempts to 'help'. Eventually, I gave up shooing the dog away: after all, its cold fur would do good for the raging fever that Webber had developed. The spiders made quick work of trying to save the hand, with many long hours spent cleaning and binding it once more. The initial stab wound had indeed been worsened, but Wilson had clearly done something more to it until I was tempted to remove it entirely. The spiders had disagreed with this notion, after I had finally gotten the intention across to them. The eye... there was no way to save it, even if we wanted to. That was the one thing I had completely entrusted them with, simply because I wasn't sure I could mentally go through with it: removing what was left. It was better to do that than to hurt him more trying to save it. Even then, if we had been able to save the eye itself, there was no way he would've been able to see from it ever again. It was completely ruined. Occasionally, I noticed him stirring slightly, usually marked by small whimpers and flexing claws. When the spiders weren't there, or when they were asleep, I would attempt to sooth him back to sleep. My voice was loud and robotic, not one for lullabies, but it usually seemed to do the trick. There was improvement, but it was slow. I knew he healed faster than Wilson or I did, but it was still many days before he actually seemed to have lucid moments. Surprisingly enough, I didn't find myself annoyed about becoming the boy's caretaker. It was almost... calming. I saw his good eye open slightly, and the whiskers on his face twitched slightly. He winced back against the sunlight, but a moment later, he had a focused and steady gaze on me. I tried to ignore the thick silk patch across the remnants of his lost eye. “YOU ARE AWAKE,” I observed. The dangling depths dweller- her name was Erika, wasn't it?- snapped awake and growled at him, waking her companion up as well. Webber hissed something back, his shaky voice obvious even in a different language. Finally, he looked back at me, his remaining eye round and... scared. “We're awake...” he said softly. His voice was hoarse and ragged, clearly showing its lack of usage. “WX... what... what happened...? Why can't we...” His good hand made its way towards the patch across his face, touching it gently as if trying to figure out what it was. Immediately, Erika snapped at him and I got to my feet. Webber snarled back at her, his fur bristling with agitation as his claws came out and he tried to tear the patch away. I jumped forward and grabbed his hand, pulling it away. “DO NOT TOUCH IT.” He snarled again, in the spider's language, and struggled against me. A wave of annoyance flooded my systems. Even coming out of what was essentially a coma, he was still going to fight with us every step of the way? I vaguely considered knocking him out again, but that risked doing even more damage. “YOU ARE INJURED.” Clearly. “THAT IS THERE TO KEEP OUT INFECTION.” Erika let out a spidery sigh and looked at me. As she did, I had a feeling that I knew what she was thinking. Just let him do it. He needs to find out one way or another. I released his hand, and he immediately went back to tearing the patch off of his face. I could start to see the ugly wound across his face before the eye was visible. I found myself looking away. I couldn't stand to look at it. “Why can't we see!?” He cried. It felt like a stab straight into my chest. I finally turned back to him, trying to avert my gaze from the massive wound. It was hard not to stare, though; even after the rigorous cleaning the spiders had done, it was crusted with blood and pus, and squeezed tightly shut. I slowly paced up to him and offered my hand. “I THINK YOU NEED TO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF.” He stared up at me, his good eye wide and confused. Finally, he took my offered hand and allowed me to pull him up. The second I released his hand, he crumpled to the ground and tried to catch himself with his marred hand. Immediately, he snarled in pain and fell sideways, clutching his injured hand. “Can't stand,” he muttered. “Sorry...” Erika hissed at him, and he shook his head, hissing back. I desperately wished that I could understand what they were saying, but he did look back up at me, his face creased with pain. I felt like he really needed to see the wound in order to understand the severity of it, and it wasn't like it was the worst idea to clean it again, so I crouched down and picked the boy up in my arms, surprised again at how small and light he was. He let out a small yelp of shock, likely at the chill of my arms, but he didn't struggle. I wasn't sure how long he would be able to stay awake: he was still gravely injured and it was surprising that he was this lucid. And so, I tried my best to keep conversation with him, hoping it would be enough to keep him from drifting off again... even if the discussion wasn't one I wanted to have. “HOW ARE YOU FEELING?” He let out a small growl. “...not well.” I tried to think of something else to say, but he got to it first. “WX... what happened to Wilson?” What was I supposed to say to that? What was he even asking? What happened to the Wilson we knew? Why did Wilson snap? Where was he now? Well... it would be easiest to answer the last question. “I HAVE NOT SEEN HIM FOR MANY DAYS.” Webber nodded slowly, visibly relaxing. He's afraid of Wilson. His gaze snapped to the side and his whiskers began to twitch again. “The frog ponds...?” He asked softly. “IT IS CLOSER THAN THE OCEAN.” His good eye turned down. “We nearly died, didn't we...?” At least that was an easier question to answer. “YES.” “...did Wilson do this to us?” Another easy question. “YES.” He fell silent for a moment. His claws twitched slightly, and I saw him reach up to scratch around his injured eye. I pulled his hand away from it before he could do any more damage to the injury. “WX?” “MMM?” “...was Wilson telling the truth?” I scoffed. “WHATEVER HE SAID, I PROMISE YOU IT WAS A LIE.” “He said that nobody would ever want us,” he said softly. His voice was shaky, as if he was on the verge of tears. “He said that... that all that ever mattered was escaping. He said that our p-parents abandoned us... knowing who we were...” He choked on his words, a sob forming in his throat. “He said that no human or spider could ever want us.” As he spoke, a frown grew deeper and deeper on my face. It sounded like Wilson, or whatever was possessing him, knew exactly what to say to hurt Webber. He had done more damage than I could see. “WELL.” I said after a long moment. “I SUPPOSE IT IS A GOOD THING I AM NEITHER HUMAN NOR SPIDER.” His gaze shot up, but I did not grace him with a look. Once I knew that we were safe from any of the massive frogs that populated the area, I lowered myself to my knees and placed him onto the ground. He immediately dragged himself onto his hands and knees and scrambled to peer into the reflection. I watched as his expression seemed to shift between a million different emotions. A claw reached up and touched the edge of the wound, then tracing the length of it. I could see the moment that he understood: his eye was gone, and he was never going to recover completely. He stared down at himself for a long, long moment. I stood beside him silently, allowing him to grasp the reality of his situation. When he finally looked away, it was to use his fangs to tear away at the bandaging on his hand. “WEBBER...” He ignored me, tearing away at bloody silk until he was able to fully see the state of his hand. It had healed since I last saw it, but I could already tell that it would never heal well. Unlike his eye, it would still be usable... just not as much. “We're lame,” he whispered after a moment. “Nono... nonono...” he slowly shifted back, decidedly facing away from the reflection in the lake in order to rest his pitiful gaze on me, as if I could do something. “Lame... lame creatures die...” he whimpered. When I had been injured severely enough to impact any of my senses, it had been a rather easy fix. Wilson knew robotics almost as well as he knew medicine, and he had been able to repair me fairly well. I still had some trouble from time to time, enough for me to realize that my hearing was not on par with what it used to be, but I had never suffered maiming of this extreme. His dominant hand was borderline useless and his eye had been destroyed. Whatever the future had in store for us, Webber would never lead the charge again. “LAME CREATURES MAY DIE, BUT THAT IS EXACTLY WHY HUMANS CREATED SOCIETY.” I shrugged, trying to brush off my own horror at the realization. “YOU CANNOT POSSIBLY BE MORE OF A BURDEN THAN YOU ALREADY WERE.” I thought it was a pretty comforting sentiment, but apparently Webber didn't think so as he immediately burst into tears. I considered my options- honestly, saying nothing and letting him cry it out was probably the best option- but before I could act on any ideas I spotted movement. Immediately, I angled myself in front of the boy and stared down the figure that was hesitantly approaching us. Wilson looked... pretty terrible, if I had to be honest. His gray eyes were empty, his shoulder tightly wrapped in grass-woven bandages and his broken arm hung from a sling around his neck. He kept his gaze cautiously down, but when he looked up, I could see the emotions sparking in his eyes. I didn't care. “I HAD HOPED THAT THAT HAD KILLED YOU,” I sneered. He winced, and looked back down at his hands. “ESPECIALLY AFTER HAVING NOT SEEN YOU FACE FOR SO MANY DAYS.” “I had to... prove to myself that I was safe,” he whispered, wringing his hands together. I stumbled slightly as I felt Webber grasp me from behind, shaking. His fur was bristling, and his claws were digging into the metal of my back to the best of their ability. “Nightmare is gone,” he said. “It's angry... so angry... but I can't do what it wants me to do.” He looked up again, tears glittering in his gaze. I scoffed. I hadn't even realized humans could cry this much. “Even when it is controlling me... I can't kill Webber.” “YOU MAY AS WELL HAVE,” I snapped. I hadn't brought a weapon with me, but I knew very well that I could easily defeat Wilson in a fist fight. In just a week, Wilson had gone from the one person Webber could trust above all else to his greatest fear. “GIVE ME ONE REASON WHY I SHOULD NOT END YOU RIGHT NOW.” I expected Webber to say something, to come to Wilson's defense again, but he didn't. He only let out the smallest of whimpers. “I wouldn't blame you,” he said, finally meeting my gaze. “I deserve anything... everything... for what Nightmare made me do. But... you know that it wasn't me. You know...! And it's gone, WX. I failed. I don't know what it will do next, but I promise that it will not be through me.” He exposed his hands. His fingers were rubbed raw to the point of bleeding. I said nothing. I trusted him last time, and he drugged me. “Webber, please...” Wilson turned to the boy, but as he did, his shaking became more intense and he bared his fangs. Wilson took a step back, his eyes wide. He had lost Webber's trust, and I didn't think he would ever be able to get it back. “YOU DESERVE WORSE THAN DEATH. IF I COULD DELIVER SUCH A PUNISHMENT, I WOULD.” I thought for a moment, then added: “BUT I BELIEVE THE WORST PUNISHMENT THAT YOU CAN FACE IS HAVING TO DEAL WITH THE CONSEQUENCES OF YOUR ACTIONS.” I took a small step forward. “HAVING TO SPEND EVERY DAY WATCHING THE CHILD WHO TRUSTED YOU SO MUCH SHY AWAY FROM YOUR PRESENCE. SPENDING EVERY WAKING MOMENT HAVING YOUR EYES TURN TOWARDS THE BLOODSTAINED WOUND YOU MARKED ACROSS HIS FACE, OR WATCHING AS HIS AIM MISSES BY A MILE BECAUSE YOU DESTROYED HIS STRENGTHS.” The more I spoke, the more tears appeared in the scientist's eyes. He didn't deny it: he knew what he deserved. “YOU DESERVE TO SUFFER, BY WATCHING YOUR HANDIWORK AT PLAY. BY KNOWING WHAT YOU DID, AND HAVING TO SEE IT EVERY SINGLE DAY.” Webber released me as I spoke, falling to the ground with a dull thump as he did so. I turned to look at him only to see agony scrawled across his face. This was a different type of agony than the pain he must have been experiencing from his wounds, though. “I really am worthless,” he whispered, his voice so soft that I could barely hear it. Ah... so my words had been what had hurt him. I suppose I had lied for long enough at this point. “COME ON,” I growled at Wilson, who startled at my voice. If we made him leave, he would die. And death was too much of a release for him to deserve it. Wilson hesitated, looking between me and Webber. I could see the pain in his gaze, but I had no proof that it was emotional pain. I had done a lot to him to keep Webber safe, but he would recover. I bent down to pick the boy up again, but he flashed his fangs at me and dragged himself to his hand and knees, his injured hand held tightly to his chest. I felt a strange ache in my chest as I watched him struggle to stand on his own, but he was fragile and weak, especially after just having come out of a coma, and couldn't keep his balance for even a second. I didn't try to catch him. It was important for him to fall to understand. He would be able to stand, eventually, but he needed to learn sooner rather than later that he was going to have limits now, and he couldn't push them. “WEBBER,” I finally said after I had decided that he had tried and failed enough. Any more and he would hurt himself. “Please,” he whispered softly. I couldn't stop staring at that eye. I had never seen him look so… his age. “Please, we can’t- if we can’t even stand- what’s the p-point of us being ar-round.” His voice was a low whimper, and there were tears welling up in his eye. “EVERYONE GETS INJURED,” I said matter-of-factly. “YOU ARE NOT EXEMPT, CLEARLY. THERE IS AN OBVIOUS RECOVERY PERIOD. ONE THAT REQUIRES THAT YOU RELAX AND DO NOT STRESS YOUR BODY ANY FURTHER.” The entire time, I found my gaze drifting back to Wilson, who I was sure I had never seen so still. I didn’t think that he had realized the amount of injuries the boy had sustained. “LET ME CARRY YOU, AND YOU CAN CONTINUE TO BE STUBBORN WHEN WE GET BACK TO BASE.” His entire body shivered, and he stared at the ground for a much longer time than necessary, but he finally looked back up at me and nodded a single, small time. That was all I needed anyway. Carefully, I picked him up once more, careful to keep my grip away from any of the injuries he sustained. I could feel the tension in his muscles, the aggravation that he was holding back, but he wasn’t stupid. Stubborn and frustration, yes, but not stupid. He knew very well that his body was too fragile to carry him right now. I didn’t look back to see if Wilson was still with us. I couldn’t care less. He could decide to turn around and jump off of the cliffs for all I cared at that moment. However, after a few moments I heard the soft sounds of his footfalls behind me, trailing after us. I still had no doubt in my mind that Wilson had been possessed by something. His outburst the day before, the full-body, heaving sobs that he had let out after he understood what he had done, was enough to prove that to me. But… he let it happen. If Wilson could let something like this happen, he didn’t deserve our trust. Webber whimpered slightly as my grip on him tightened, but I paid him no attention. Wilson deserved nothing. No, he deserved worse than nothing. He deserved to be pinned by his hand and tortured in the same way he had tortured Webber. But then… I forced my limbs to relax. Wilson was my last priority. Once Webber was stable, healthy, then I would give him what he deserved. “We’re lame. Lame creatures die.” What was the point in trying to save Webber? His words, although harsh, were completely true. It was the simple concept of Survival of the Fittest. The weakest, the slowest, the more injured, would always die. Webber would never get better. I knew this, Wilson knew this, and Webber surely knew this. His injuries would always cripple him and hold him back. Until one day… he would finally fall prey to the world, and something told me there would be no greater deity to bring him back like it did Wilson.
  4. Chapter 43. Among Us Wilson's POV I awoke to what was probably the worst pain I have ever felt in my life. My head was pounding in an intense migraine, and without looking I could tell that my nose was swollen and crusted with blood. When I attempted to drag myself to my hands and feet, a lightning bolt of pain shot through my arm and I found myself collapsing. Unable to do much else, I let out a low groan. I was alone and someplace I had never seen before. The hard, cold ground beneath me only drastically increased the ache that I felt all over. The pain seemed to radiate deep into my chest, so much so that even my heart and lungs felt torn to shreds. Using my good arm, I slowly pulled myself back up, using some sort of circular wooden machine to get my balance again. After I was standing, I dared to look at my injured arm, only looking away quickly a moment later as a wave of dizziness passed over me. My fingers were cold to the touch, but that was the least of my worries. The entire arm was swollen painfully and beginning to turn purple. What... happened to me? It took me a few moments before I decided that I was going to be able to stand with support. Even then, my head swam and the world tipped around me. I leaned up against the machine again, holding my head and trying to keep from passing out. “OH, SO NOW YOU ARE AWAKE.” The voice caught me so off guard that I jumped, but something hard and sharp brushed against my neck as I did so. I opened my eyes again to see a spear held up to my throat, barely an inch away. “What's the big idea!?” I cried, attempting to swipe the weapon away before realizing that it was my injured arm that tried to complete the action. I cradled it to my chest, hissing in pain. “I SHOULD BE ASKING YOU.” WX thrust the weapon even closer to me. Now, the sharp edge was digging into my chin, forcing my head upward with the only other option being impaled. My voice pitched with fear: “What did you do to me?” I cried. “Where did you take me!?” WX's hold on the weapon faltered a bit, but a moment later he shot the weapon forward, slicing what likely was a formidable gash across my cheek. I cried out in shock. “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!” He hissed. His limbs were stiff with anger, and even a deaf person would've heard the way his voice shook with unrestrained rage. “I SHOULD KILL YOU RIGHT NOW. YOU ARE LUCKY HE'S STICKING UP FOR YOU.” “I don't know what you're talking about!” My voice broke into what could only be described as a squeak. “Clearly there's some misunderstanding.” “CLEARLY THERE ISN'T.” He motioned to my broken arm. “You did this to me?” My fear was beginning to be replaced with anger. How dare WX injure me like this? And where was-? I felt my heart drop into the pit of my stomach. “What did you do to Webber?” The blow was immediate. One second, the spear was at my throat, the next I was reeling back with a fresh gush of blood from my already likely broken nose. I could feel myself shaking with agony now, waves of pain staining my senses until I could barely concentrate on WX in front of me. It was all I could do to stay upright, even with all of my weight on the wooden machine. A second later, another punch to the gut followed it. This was the one that sent me sprawling onto the ground, coughing heavily. I held my good arm around my stomach, trying to keep from retching from the sudden trauma. Before I could recover, a cold hand grabbed the collar of my shirt and yanked me up until our faces were less than an inch away from each other. “I COULD KEEP GOING,” he hissed. “YOU DESERVE WHATEVER I DO TO YOU HERE. YOUR ACTIONS WILL FOLLOW YOU TO THE GRAVE.” “I-I don't understand,” I sputtered. My actions? It appeared to me like I was the one being assaulted! WX let out a yell of frustration before throwing me back on to the ground. A moment later, his foot planted into my chest and held me there. He was far from pressing all of his weight into me, but I could already feel my ribs groaning under the pressure. “YOU WILL TELL ME,” he snarled. He leaned forward until my breaths were nothing more than sharp gasps. “WHO. YOU. CONTACTED.” “I-I can't- I can't.” I tried desperately to push his foot off of me. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't breathe. He let out a hiss of disgust, but the pressure suddenly left. I shot up and coughed loudly, swallowing as much air as I could. “I didn't- nobody-” His eyes were pits of rage, and his fists were clenching and relaxing as if he was holding back. “YOU'RE FEIGNING STUPIDITY.” “Where's Webber!?” I cried. He had done something, hadn't he? And now, I was next? “...FINE.” Immediately, WX grabbed my injured arm in a death grip and yanked me up. I choked out a sob, shaking in pain once more. He scoffed, but released it and instead grabbed the same shoulder. I had no hope of getting free from him, even if I wanted to. His fingers dug into my flesh, and I was sure that that spot was going to be bleeding soon as well. With no other option but coming with him, I chewed on my lip and stumbled along. … Before we even got back to base, I heard unfamiliar noises. Hissing. Spiders. I glanced at WX, who was deliberately keep his gaze straight ahead. I opened my mouth to ask, or to guess, but the sight of camp left my mouth half-open with nothing coming out of it. There were a couple of spiders there, a species that must have been completely different from whatever Webber was. One of them, the one who seemed to be snapping orders to the other, was a fluffy white one. As soon as its strangely pink eyes landed on me, its teeth bared in a snarl. Its companion immediately turned as well, this one dark blue in color with fur that looked as if it had been pulled through thorns. Before I could have both of them at my throat, though, WX sharply snapped at them and they both turned back to... Webber. “LOOK AT HIM,” WX snarled at me. “LOOK AT YOUR HANDYWORK. ARE YOU PROUD OF YOURSELF FOR NEARLY KILLING A CHILD? ONE THAT TRUSTED YOU WITH HIS LIFE?” I opened my mouth to respond, but he interrupted me before I could. His hand wrapped around the back of my neck and he forced my closer, and forced my face in the direction of the injured boy. “ARE YOU PROUD OF YOURSELF!?” His voice had risen to a yell. As he said this, he threw me aside again. His fists were clenched and shaking furiously. “GO AHEAD AND FINISH THE JOB! I DARE YOU.” WX was shorter than me, yes, but he seemed to tower over me in that very moment. “You're... saying I did that to him?” My voice was so tiny I would've been surprised if he heard it. He raised his fist again as if to strike me once more, but even as I was flinching away the white spider was snarling at him, and he dropped it. “GO AWAY, IF YOU KNOW WHAT IS GOOD FOR YOU.” “Let me help!” I exclaimed shakily. “I promise! I didn't do that to him! I wouldn't hurt anyone like that. Especially not... especially not Webber.” “YOU ARE LUCKY THAT YOU ARE MY SECOND PRIORITY,” he snapped. He turned his back to me in order to crouch in front of Webber. The dark blue spider, a spitter, if I could remember correctly, was wrapping layers of silk around the boy's hand, but blood was soaking through it faster than it could work. The white one, which I believed was called a dangling depths dweller was nervously pacing back and forth, looking very much like it was mumbling to itself. “IT TOOK US HOURS TO STABILIZE HIM,” WX said, his voice strangely soft. Maybe the outburst had taken it all out of him. “AND WE STILL CAN'T GET HIS HAND TO STOP BLEEDING.” He fell silent for a moment, staring down. “WHY DID YOU DO IT? I JUST... I CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT. WILSON, WHAT WAS YOUR PLAN?” “WX,” I pleaded. “I swear, I don't know who did his. I wouldn't- I couldn't-” the thought of doing something like that to any child, let alone Webber, destroyed me inside. I finally managed to catch his gaze, attempting to pour as much emotion I could into my expression. “I would never hurt Webber.” “THEN TAKE A LOOK AT HIS WOUNDS YOURSELF!” He snapped. “TELL ME THAT IS NOT THE CUT OF YOUR BLADE. THE CUT OF YOUR KNIFE.” “You have to believe me, please...” I saw his fist clench again, and he closed his eyes tightly. When he spoke, his voice was cold. “WHATEVER HAPPENS TO HIM, YOU WILL FOLLOW THE SAME FATE.” The meaning was obvious: if Webber didn't survive, neither would I. “IF YOU DON'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR ARM, IT WILL NEVER HEAL PROPERLY.” He turned his gaze away from me again. He wanted me to leave him alone. I nodded slowly, staring at the ground. The past day... it was nothing but fog. Was it true that I had done something like this? If that's true... I'll never forgive myself. I surveyed the camp, trying to ignore how ravaged it appeared. There must have really been a struggle if WX had allowed such a mess without cleaning it up. As I turned around, though, I heard a small scuffle, and a spiderlike snarl followed by a tiny voice seemingly repeating the same thing. “...Wilson?” Webber's eyes had flickered open, although they were glazed with pain and I wasn't even sure if he was looking at me. I tried to take a step towards him, but WX's gaze immediately snapped to me, and the two spiders bristled. Instead, I crouched down a few feet away from him. “Wilson...!” His voice rose in relief and joy, but when he tried to move, the white spider immediately growled at him. He hissed something back at it, and it stepped back, its gaze weary. “It's... you're back...!” His voice was weak and rough, as was the purr that followed. I couldn't help but wince. If I had done something like this to him, then why would be acting like this? WX seemed to have the same question. “HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN ALREADY THAT YOU ARE LIKE THIS BECAUSE OF HIM!?” He snapped. When Webber tried to move again, the robot grabbed his shoulder and held him in place. “YOU NEARLY DIED AT HIS HAND!” Webber's eyes unfocused, and his smile dropped slightly. He shook his head. “It... couldn't be... not him...” He trusts me, relief washed over me, so intensely that I nearly fell over. WX and the spiders both seemed pretty convinced that I had hurt Webber, but the boy himself still trusted me. I looked down at my hands. There was blood on them. The blank on my memory... had I actually done something to Webber? I couldn't have... I couldn't... I wouldn't... I reached out my hand to him, but before he could take it, the white spider got between us again, hissing. I drew back with a frown on my face, then turned my gaze back to Webber. He seemed to have fallen back out of consciousness. Good. Well, not good. If he couldn't stay conscious, that probably meant he was very nastily hurt, but at least he was getting rest. I could see a wound on his neck that had been patched up with silk, and another across his face that had stopped bleeding without it. What really concerned me was his hand. A substantial pile of bloody silk lay strewn around the dark blue spider, but it had only now just managed to staunch the bleeding. Trying to ignore the pain in my belly, I glanced at WX. “...Who are the spiders?” “FRIENDS OF HIS,” the robot replied. “THEY HEALED HIM WELL THE LAST TIME HE GOT INJURED.” I caught a side-glare from him, but tried to ignore it. “I WAS NEARLY EVISCERATED BY THE BEASTS UNTIL THEY REALIZED I WAS TRYING TO HELP HIM.” “I didn't expect to see cave spiders up here.” “THEY DID NOT WANT TO BE UP HERE.” He left the conversation at that. An awkward silence fell over us. I could feel the barely restrained anger emanating from my robotic companion, but he didn't seem to make any moves towards me. I moved to scratch my head, but winced painfully as I remembered the arm. Well, okay, he probably did enough to me to keep me occupied for awhile. I turned away from the boy, turning to the items scattered all over camp. That was... probably going to be a pain to clean up. I shrugged very slightly before settling down to fashion a sling for my arm and fasten something to help my nose heal properly. After several minutes, WX came up beside me. His face was a deep frown, but I couldn't tell if it was directed at me or the situation. “...HE SHOULD BE FINE,” the robot said heavily. “NO THANKS TO YOU.” “WX...” even I was surprised at the tightness of my voice. I moved my good arm to rub my eyes, and was surprised to feel an irritating wetness there. “...what happened? It's... it's all just a blur. I-” My gaze, unwillingly, shifted back to the injured boy. The spitter was now asleep a few feet away from Webber, whereas the dangling depths dweller was pacing back and forth in front of him, twitching. “I never would've hurt him.” Several tears followed the words and I looked down, focused on the hand that wasn't bound up in a sling. I clenched my fist and squeezed my eyes shut for a moment before looking back at WX. “Please... you have to believe me. Especially now... I wouldn't have hurt him when we had no more bond than a common goal.” I choked on my words. Was I a monster? I denied it, I refused to believe it, but I could recognize the look of my own knife wounds. Nobody else could have done that. “The bond we share... that we all share... it's so much deeper than that. Please...! I couldn't- I could never-” I couldn't say anything else. It was taking all of my effort to breathe, let alone speak. Some part of my mind was chastising my weakness: you are a grown man! Men don't cry, let alone sob! But I couldn't help it. The idea, the very implication of what had happened to Webber: what I had done to Webber. I did not expect any comfort from the robot, and did not receive any. He simply stared at me, his gaze turned into a deep, wordless frown. I didn't give myself time to fully recover. I was still gasping for breath between sobs when words started pouring out of my mouth. “I- I had a terrible nightmare and it wanted me to do something terrible but I couldn't- I couldn't...! But no matter how hard I fought it, it was w-winning and now it's u-using me and I don't know how to free myself. I never wanted to hurt Webber. I never wanted to hurt you! When I woke up I was so c-confused but the longer I see him and the longer I think about it I can't- I can't deny it. But I can't control it! Whatever it is it's inside of me and it's so, so angry and I can't get it out and I don't know what to do. It's all just darkness and fog and now Webber is on death's door and I wasn't even around to help him...” “THE MORE YOU SPEAK, THE MORE YOU EMBARRASS YOURSELF.” He didn't sound as hostile as I expected. It was all but a confession of guilt. He was silent for a moment before standing, still refusing to acknowledge my whimpering cries and shaking sobs. “POSSESSION- I WILL ADMIT THAT IT CROSSED MY MIND. YOU HAVE CONVINCED ME, WILSON. WHAT YOU HAVE NOT DONE IS SAID HOW YOU ARE GOING TO FIX IT.” I placed a hand on my chest, blinking away tears. I could feel something inside of my heart. It... I felt so cold. “I don't know,” I whispered. The first, and admittedly only, idea that came to mind was to kill me again. There was something that the monster... Nightmare... had said. That they wanted Webber to make up for losing me. I had offered myself then, but the idea of offering my life to WX was enough to force the darkness in my heart to twist, and the ice radiated out to my fingertips. I knew that, if I told him now, that killing me would fix this, he would. It was abundantly clear, in that moment, that WX constantly chastised me for trying to protect Webber, but when it came down to it, WX would defend Webber until the last spark of life left his robotic form. Webber may have viewed me in a more... parental sense, but WX was the true protector of the boy now. When WX didn't say anything, I could feel myself shaking again. I was already tired of shaking and cowering away, but I couldn't stop it. “WX, please, I really don't know...” He shook his head, never taking that eyeless gaze away from me. “HE TRUSTS YOU,” he said after a long, long moment. “HE KNEW THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG. I SUSPECT THAT IF THIS PASSES WITHOUT ANY MORE PROBLEMS... HE WILL FORGET IT EVER HAPPENED.” I winced. His hand sure wouldn't. “HOWEVER... I CANNOT SAY THAT THE SAME MERCY WOULD BE GRANTED IF THIS HAPPENS AGAIN.” I nodded ever so slightly. I sniffled and rubbed my eyes. “I don't even deserve the second chance.” “IF IT WERE UP TO ME, YOU WOULD BE DEAD.” He frowned for a moment, wringing his hands together. “...I GRIEVED FOR YOU, WILSON. IT WAS HARDLY A WEEK THAT YOU WERE GONE, BUT I STILL RETURNED TO THAT BATTLEGROUND SO MANY TIMES.” His gaze turned serious. “BUT I WILL NOT SPARE YOU IF IT COMES DOWN TO A FIGHT.” “I know.” He nodded, just once, before returning to his watchful vigil. I sighed. Something was eating away at me, and I couldn't stop it. Maybe... maybe it would be better if I left them. Went as far as I possibly could and just give myself up to the wilderness. Maybe, if they had my soul, they would leave Webber alone. But right now... I couldn't bare the idea. I couldn't be alone, not again. And so, instead, I sighed and turned to the fire. WX was probably getting hungry, if he wasn't already, and Webber would certainly need something to eat once he woke up properly. That was probably the best thing I could do right now, even if it would be harder with a broken arm. I didn't even notice as my hand idly slipped a white-skinned vegetable into the food. … Webber's POV We found ourselves on a knife's edge between sleep and wakefulness. The sleep was light enough for us to hear some of the conversations around us, but we weren't able to stay awake for longer than a few moments at a time. The first time we had opened our eyes, we were somewhere dark. The air had been heavy and thick with the scent of mildew, and it had made breathing even more difficult than it was before. Cold arms had been holding us, carrying us... The next time, we were back on the surface, and a duo of spiders looked on. One, I didn't recognize, but the other had struck me so deep that I couldn't help but murmur her name in surprise. Erika had said something to us, using a name we had never expected to hear from her, but we had slipped back into darkness only a second later. The third time, Wilson's gray eyes had been focused on us. He turned away for only a moment until we managed to say his name aloud, first in a spiderlike hiss and secondly in English. It had been him, as he really was. His eyes were torn, his entire body shaking intensely with either fear, pain, or grief. It was that moment that we knew that the person who had attacked us wasn't him. The fourth time, we were completely encased in darkness. We were slightly more awake this time, awake enough to notice the thin blood crusted across our face, the silk that had been gently wrapped around our neck, and the significantly thicker and stiffer bandages around our hand. Our hand... Pinned against a machine, listening to Wilson's mad ravings. We instinctively shivered and tried to cower, but we couldn't. The fact that we were completely swallowed by darkness had not quite occurred to us yet, nor did the uncomfortable sensation of being slung over someone's shoulder. Immediately, we sucked in a breath of air and struggled, but before we could even try to move, we were thrown roughly onto the cold, hard ground. The impact sent shockwaves through our body, choking another whimper from deep within us. Wilson- whatever, whoever was doing this to him- was going to finish the job WX had interrupted the night before. Where's WX? Our mind cried, immediately shying away from what we figured was the most obvious answer. He was letting this happen. We tried to cry out, to yell for help, but we nearly choked on a swathe of something... some sort of fabric? Silk? That had been formed into a gag. We tried to ignore the spike of panic, forcing ourselves to think of one thing at a time. Get rid of the gag. That wouldn't be hard. The material seemed surprisingly flimsy and our fangs seemed to be able to cut through it just fine. Unfortunately, he seemed to notice that we were awake. “Surprising,” Wilson muttered. “I would've thought you would've been out for much longer. Hmm... perhaps I need to adjust the dose next time.” A final, solid twist of our jaw, and the binding fell apart. We took a few gasping breaths, trying to prepare ourselves for whatever was coming next. The last time, it had been out of a sheer unwillingness to harm Wilson to stop us from fighting back. This time, we physically couldn't. We tried to say something, to try to get through to him, but before we could, his fist crashed into the broken wooden machine. “Why do you have to be so useless!?” He shouted, gritting his teeth. The change was so abrupt, so similar to last night, that we immediately began to shake. We tried to move backwards, but the machine was to our back and our bandaged hand didn't allow for much use. Even the slightest touch of it against the ground sent pulsing waves of agony all through our arm. “Even when you're only purpose is to die, you can't even do that!” His gray eyes snapped towards where we were. “The Master would be disappointed in me if I let anything be half-done. And I'm not taking another chance with you.” His fists clenched again as he pressed them both into the wood, his glare never leaving me. “I was told to kill you all those years ago, before you were consumed. The only reason I didn't was because of the potential I saw in you. Clearly, that potential was nothing more than to be a pain in my neck!” I couldn't move. I so desperately needed to, to get away, to find help, whether it be from WX or from the spiders, but I couldn't move. All of my limbs, spider or otherwise, were locked in place, and it was all I could do to stare at him and take what he was saying. “Then, I thought that feeding you to the spiders would be enough. After all, your sister perished exactly as planned with no intervention. But then you refused!” His hand whipped out and held my throat, pinning me against the ground with nothing but his weight. I had fought WX before, and Wilson's weight was nothing compared to that, but it was nothing I could shake off at my peak, let alone injured and drugged. Last time, he had a noose around my neck which troubled my breathing, but this was more extreme. I couldn't breathe at all. I tried desperately to suck in breaths, but nothing could get through. Panic forced my heart to pound, which in turned made my body beg for more oxygen. It finally seemed like one of my sporadic movements landed a hit on his gut, which he immediately recoiled from, enough for me to be freed from his hold. I tried to call out again, but air was rasping against my throat so hard that all I could manage was a low hiss of air. His hand gripped my scruff, not quite freezing me in place but it was a grip that I couldn't afford to have. Before I could struggle out of it, the hand was around my throat again, this time before I was promptly slammed against the wooden machine. The dawn light was glowing behind him now, casing a heavy shade over his face. It highlighted his clearly broken arm and how he ignored it in favor of having a better grip on me. Erika was so close and I never got to know her as my sister again- Holding me tightly with one hand, his other hand had pulled out a knife, which glinted in the early sun. He ran his thumb across the dull side, his eyes flickering between different parts of my face, considering where to cut, where to dissect me like an animal. I hope WX will be okay and that he's able to be freed- The sharp end of the knife rested, almost gently, directly above one of my accessory eyes. I grabbed at him, pushed at him, struggled as hard as I could, but he never once even reacted like I was moving. His voice was so low that I could barely recognize it as his own. “Even if they save you now, you will never be able to fend for yourself again.” I hope- The knife was pressed down, slicing open skin and obliterating the useless eye as it went. I hope- My body felt the wound before my mind caught up. The hand on my throat meant I couldn't scream, but my vision immediately began to get swallowed up by black and red, and my legs kicked out on reflex. I hope Wilson gets better. The knife passed cleanly, effortlessly, through my eye. Immediately, fluid followed behind. Blood and tears poured down and soaked my cheek, but the knife cut down until the eye was completely split in half. Then, and only then, did Wilson withdraw to gaze upon his handiwork. The second he dropped me, I felt my body heave in a retch. I barely registered as the scientist took a step back. Even after I had lost everything I had in my stomach, I couldn't stop shaking. I collapsed sideways, desperately trying to look up at Wilson through the spots in my vision. The hands were gone but I still couldn't breath and I couldn't see anything out of my right eye and I was alone and- and- and- His head snapped to the side, a look of shock passing over his gaze before being quickly swallowed by anger. He discarded his knife in favor of his morning star and immediately pressed the weapon into my injured hand. “Take one more step and he loses it!” He roared. Everything was pulsing in and out of existence. My mind lamely murmured: looks like WX is here... But it wasn't him. In fact, I was able to make out a blur of blue fur and the snarl of a hound puppy. Popsicle, no! I couldn't help him, though. I couldn't move if I wanted to, and it had nothing to do with the mace slowly grinding the bones of my injured hand. I couldn't feel it at all- it was as if every nerve in my body was in full-blown panic mode, desperately trying to recover from the loss of an eye. The pressure on my hand lifted, just as the ice hound lunged towards the scientist. We had taken out dozens of hounds, both individually and together. One tiny puppy would be no match for him. As Wilson was raising his weapon for a single, quick killing blow, he suddenly stiffened, his eyes widening in shock. Another moment later and he pitched to the side. WX stood behind him, blinking intensely. He still had one hand up and a knife in his other hand. I wanted to say something, to acknowledge the rescue, but nothing would come out. I was drifting again, but this time I let myself. I sensed more than saw the robot crouch beside me, murmuring something surprisingly quiet. A moment later, he continued to speak, though this time, it was in a warmer voice. He... He was singing. He was singing a lullaby. I knew I was safe, in that moment. It was a lullaby I hadn't heard since I was small, one that had always calmed me down from the worst of fits and always put me at ease even with the worst of stress. And so... I let my body relax and let my remaining eye drift close into a hazy, miserable sleep.
  5. Chapter 41. Someone Else WX-78's POV While the others slept, I busied myself by searching the entirety of Wilson's book, curious as to what it was he had been so desperately writing in it before brushing it off like it was nothing. There had been a look in his eye when he was writing it; his eyes had been wild and his expression tense, like he was someone forcing his hand to write. It was most likely nothing of importance, I knew, maybe a drawing of something he had remembered, but I had nothing better to do. I sat by the firelight, alternating between searching through the book at staring at my companions. I knew very well that Webber had sort of adopted himself as Wilson's; he was terrible at pretending. Yet, I didn't expect the sort of raw emotion in his eyes when Wilson had returned to us unscathed. Unscathed... there had to be something more behind that. Maybe I could find something in the book about that, but I doubted it. One of us would've found it by now if that was the truth. And so, I didn't keep my hopes up. At first, my page turning had been slow, my eyes grazing over each word written by an unknown hand, but the longer I read, the quicker I began to turn the pages. Charcoal wasn't a precise written tool by any means, and I figured it would be easy to see. I had just reached the section where each of the survivors were listed when I stopped, staring at Wilson's page. Written in thick, heavily marked charcoal, two words had been written over and over again. Someone else. Someone else. Someone else. Someone else. Someone else. … Webber was the first to wake up. I could tell because he was stirring more than usual and he would occasionally blink up at Wilson to see if he had woken up yet, but he seemed perfectly content to lay there, and he may have drifted off again. I honestly didn't care less. The words Wilson had wrote were turning over in my head. Someone else... what is he talking about? Someone else had been there with him? Someone else killed him? Someone else what!? Why be so cryptic! As the sun was just beginning to graze the treetops, I was struck by something. It was a similar feeling to what I had directly before Wilson returned to us. I looked up to see something standing over the scientist. If I had breath to lose, I was certain that I would have. My limbs felt held in place, and I found the idea of sleep paralysis running through my mind despite me not having sleep nor a mind to be tricked. I couldn't rightly describe it as anything other than a mass of shadows. A large portion of its body was wound around Wilson, while its claws gripped his head in order to stay upright. As fast as it had appeared, the sensation went away, and Wilson was waking up as well. He yawned and stretched, then spared a few moments to stare at Webber before hesitantly reaching around to scratch around his whiskers. When he caught me staring at him, his eyes narrowed. “WHAT DID YOU JUST DO?” “What are you talking about?” He hostility in his eyes immediately cleared, and his voice tinged with confusion. “It's too early for this, WX. At least let me wake up first.” He seemed totally normal. He blinked several times and rubbed his eyes. “It's beautiful, isn't it? Being dead for a few days really makes you stop and think about how beautiful nature is. Like, when was the last time you just appreciated what it felt like to have the sun on your skin?” As if to emphasis his point, he stretched out his arms and sighed blissfully. I frowned at him. “What? Why are you looking at me like that?” He tipped his head at me. “What did I do this time? I should probably be able to guess with you at this point, but I'm lost.” I shook my head. I couldn't explain it, and I didn't know what it even was. Wilson shrugged and nudged Webber until he was able to stand. “What are we doing today? There's not really much for us to do until the Bearger comes back...” he shivered. “Although, I'm not looking forward to facing off against that again. I'm just excited for when we get to leave.” I hummed, but said nothing. I knew something was wrong, but I couldn't say what. I knew that there were strange hallucinations here, but none of those hallucinations directly interacted with any of us. That shadow was hovering over Wilson, was curled around Wilson. “Mmm... can we not work today?” Webber asked, his voice still slurred with sleep. I felt a twinge of annoyance in my chest. Wilson was glad that the boy was becoming more comfortable around us, comfortable enough to act like himself, but it frustrated me to no end. He was a survivalist first and a child second, there was no room for error, youth, or weakness, and certainly no time for play. Wilson gave him a pitying look, a look that meant I want to let you be a child but I can't let you be a child. I huffed. “Well, I like that idea a lot... it would be nice to relax after what we all went through with the Dragonfly... but we can't really take a break. Not with another battle like that on the horizon.” He shook his head very slightly, earning a disappointed growl from the boy. “YOU KNOW HE IS RIGHT,” I snapped. “OUR DAY-TO-DAY SURVIVAL IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN FUN AND GAMES.” Webber sighed. “We know. What are we going to be doing today, then?” “WE ARE LOW ON MOST THINGS. I WAS UNABLE TO KEEP UP OUR STOCKS WHILE YOU WERE MOPING AND WILSON WAS... INDISPOSED OF.” I wasn't going to admit that the only reason I fell so far behind was because I couldn't stop returning to the scene of the battle, beating myself up and cursing myself for not being fast enough to save Wilson. It didn't matter now, and I certainly wasn't going to bring it up to make it matter. Webber brightened, if only slightly. “Foraging... we can do that.” He just didn't want to fight. Funny. Webber is the last one I expected to get cold feet. “What are we lowest on?” Wilson asked, the question directed at me. I thought for a moment. “FOOD, PROBABLY. AND FIREWOOD.” “Firewood,” Webber immediately said. His whiskers were twitching slightly, and his brow was furrowed. I saw Wilson give the boy a strange look. “YOU CANNOT FORGO KILLING FOREVER,” I warned him. “KILLING IS NECESSARY FOR OUR SURVIVAL.” “WX, you wouldn't mind hunting, would you?” Wilson asked hopefully. “Why don't you bring Popsicle and Pyrite?” A deep frown appeared on my face, I knew, but I couldn't stop it. Pyrite... the name they had given the Dragonfly hatchling. What a perfect name, I had remarked. Fool's gold, for a bunch of fools. Since her hatching the day before, she had done absolutely nothing but sleep. Occasionally she would wake up in order to find something to set on fire and eat, but that was the most we had seen from her. Popsicle had apparently given himself the title of Protector of the Stupid Bug, and he refused to move from her side or even let us get too close. I mentally cursed at myself for thinking of the creatures as anything other than that- creatures, that would one day undoubtedly become our food, if I could find a good time when both of the others' backs were turned. I suddenly noticed that I was receiving just as harsh of a glare from the ice hound puppy. Did it understand Wilson, and hate the arrangement as much as I did? Of course not, I scoffed. A dog is no human; it can't even feel if it wanted to. “YOU CAN'T PROTECT HIM,” I said instead, glancing deliberately down at Webber. “HUNTING IS IN HIS NATURE.” “I can do what I like with him,” Wilson snapped. “The last time I checked, you weren't the one that all but adopted him.” “Stop talking over me!” Webber barked. He pushed away from Wilson to stand between us, his fur standing on end. “I'm still here, you know! A spider takes a break for a few days and suddenly everyone pretends like he was never there in the first place! If you have something to say about us, you say it to us!” He shifted his narrowed gaze from me to Wilson and back. I couldn't help but let out the smallest sigh of relief. Good... he does still have a bite, even against Wilson. But then I almost shivered. Me? I? A spider? Who is talking to us right now? The spider? “We don't want to hunt, but we will if we have to, because that's survival. However, when there's three of us, all perfectly capable of hunting, we don't see why we would have to in the first place. Tame us all you want, but the facts will always come back to we are just as capable as either of you. There is nothing to protect.” “Yes there is!” Wilson cried. “I've seen it now! We saw it yesterday!” “Yesterday was an exception,” Webber protested, but I almost see the flush of embarrassment on his black-furred cheeks. “A moment of weakness does not make us weak.” Wilson caught my gaze and I was surprised to see frustration in his. However, I could understand. Just when we think he's figured out, he does something like this. Finally, the scientist let out a deep, exhausted sigh. “Would you still prefer to collect firewood?” Webber nodded. “But that doesn't mean we can't hunt!” He added hastily with a small glare at me. I glowered back instinctively. “Then you and I can go do that while WX can hunt.” I opened my mouth, ready to protest. Webber was the best at hunting, and Wilson knew it. His speed was unmatched between us. In fact, I would even argue that I was the worst. Wilson's trying to get him comfortable. But why? Wilson seemed to catch my expression and he waved it off. “Any of your shortcomings can easily be made up by Popsicle.” “THEN WHY THE INSECT?” I decided to say, which took a great deal of self-restraint. Shortcomings!? My mind roared. “To protect you if you're out too long. We don't want another attack now, do we?” He asked, tapping his ear. I covered the bolt that had been severed by the Night Monster and gave him the nastiest glare I could manage. “Come on, Webber.” “WHAT IF YOU TWO ARE OUT TOO LONG?” I demanded, but I earned no response. Great, that left me in a conundrum. Either do what Wilson told me to- infuriating- or let ourselves starve. And, unfortunately, I couldn't really let that happen. I motioned at the dog aggressively and started walking away without even checking to see if it was following me. Knowing the bug, it would follow right behind him. … As I walked, I was able to think. Particularly, about Wilson and Webber. I knew that my mind was better occupied with other things, but I felt like I needed to figure them out. Something had happened with Wilson. Something that I couldn't quite answer, but something that could prove quite troublesome in the future at best, deadly at worst. It hadn't happened immediately after his reawakening; he seemed just fine the day before when he came back to us. Webber had seemed to immediately cling on him yesterday, but today, he seemed a bit off as well. Not off as in something happened to him, but he was clearly on edge about something. Did he sense what happened with Wilson? I carefully turned over a few theories in my head. The obvious answer was that Wilson was not who came back to us. That was the idea I wanted to stick with, particularly so we could kill him and get the situation over with, but something told me it wouldn't be that simple. Besides, the person yesterday had certainly been Wilson, which means that the exchange would've happened some time between last night and this morning. But that wouldn't really make sense, either. What could want to pretend to be Wilson and why? I would think Maxwell, but he seemed to have no interest in directly causing our deaths and was far more amused by the idea of us running around like headless chickens. Plus, why Wilson? If he was an imposter, then he would lose his brain, which was the only thing that actually made him useful. But that didn't mean... Suddenly, it felt like a block of pure lead had dropped in my non-existent stomach. No, that was impossible, right? Surely Wilson wasn't being possessed by something? The more I thought about it, the more terrified I became. There was a reason he wanted me to be separated from them. He's going to do something to Webber. The knowledge hit me like a brick and I came to a full stop. Despite myself, I could feel waves of terror pulsing through my circuits. One of them gone, I could deal with. If Wilson had to be eliminated or if Webber was killed, I would be able to get by just fine. But if Webber was killed and all that I was left with was a possessed Wilson... “COME ON, DOG!” I snapped. Immediately, Popsicle froze and stared at me. Pyrite bumped into him with a little trill, and a puff of steam appeared between them. “IF YOU CARE AT ALL ABOUT YOUR OWNER, YOU BOTH WILL FOLLOW ME.” Without checking- I didn't need to- I turned on my heel and sprinted as fast in the direction that they had gone. I don't know what's going to happen tonight, but I'm going to stop it. I'm coming. Chapter 42. Turning Point Webber's POV We followed Wilson, although confusion was starting to tinge our senses. We had long since left any forested area behind, and we were now walking through grassland. However, we still followed him, certain that he at least had a purpose for bringing us out there. We jogged to catch up to him. “Wilson... um... what are we doing out here?” We noticed that he pursed his lips and let out a low hum, but he didn't actually respond. His face was creased in an unrecognizable expression. What did that even mean? Did we do something to anger him? A wave of frustration flooded over us. Why couldn't he just tell us? Finally fed up, we dug our feet into the ground and refused to move. Wilson almost immediately noticed that we were no longer following him and turned around, a scowl planted on his face. “What are you doing?” “You won't tell us why we went out here.” “To get wood,” he said as if we were the dumbest child he had ever encountered. It took all of our strength not to flinch back. “If... if this is about yesterday, then you can just say that. We were emotional and transparent. That's not how we usually are. If you want to... pretend it never happened, then you can. You can go back to seeing me as the dumb, incompetent child you think we are.” “This has nothing to do with yesterday,” Wilson snapped. “Then what is the deal?” “You'll know when we get there.” “Get where!?” We knew that our voice was pitching with frustration, but he wasn't giving any answers. Wilson only looked away. “It isn't far now.” Our whiskers twitched. We knew we could take him if he attacked us. It would be that hard- a sharp gasp escaped our throat as a length of something scratchy and thick wrapped around our throat and tightened. Immediately, terror washed away all of our senses, but we quickly realized that we could still breathe, albeit a bit uncomfortably. Wilson held the other end of the rope, glaring down at us while holding it high above his head. Our claws brushed over the knot he had formed. A noose... “Where did you get this?” I hissed, afraid now of him tightening it. We hadn't seen it at all on the way here... he must have had it hidden, but already knotted. “Doesn't matter. Now you have to follow me.” He pulled on the rope meaningfully, and it tightened ever so slightly in response. The smallest of whimpers escaped our throat. Whatever Wilson had planned for us, we had walked right into his trap and with no backup. We stumbled after him, a quicker pace now that he knew he couldn't lose us. We were unable to contain another whimper and we barely managed to swallow back the tears threatening to rise in our eyes. He had planned this all along, a voice whispered in the back of our head, but whether it was my own petrified conscience or Webber himself, I couldn't tell. The ground started to become wetter, as if this particular area had experienced recent rainfall, but the trees around were completely dry. Awful, gurgling sounds came to our attention, as well as what sounded like distant growls or grumbles, and not from any spiders. We gripped the rope around our neck with all of our claws stretched out, trying to worry away at the material, but it didn't even look frayed no matter how much we clawed at it. This was much stronger than any ropes any of us had woven to get simple jobs done. This was a rope designed for something else. Soon, the ground changed abruptly again to a hard, surprisingly clean marble. Wilson's shoes clicked against the flooring like a deadly clock, counting down to our inevitable maiming or worse. Our footsteps were much softer in comparison, both shoeless and muted by coarse fur, but to us, they were far too loud. Our heart was struggled to climb out of our throat and run, but somehow, it stayed put. In the very center of the marble was what looked like a destroyed machine. It was made out of wood, but carved so finely that the wood it was built around would be fit for the dinner table of a king. The mud itself seemed to fear the machine, keeping a wide berth around it and creating a large spot of completely clean tile. The nearness to the machine immediately put us on edge, and we once again began to struggle. This time, Wilson didn't even seem to notice the extra burden of our movements. He made his way straight for the machine and placed a hand on it, before withdrawing a long, perfectly carved knife made out of flint and wood. It was such a well-made weapon that, if we didn't know any better, we would've expected it to have come from Maxwell's calloused hands themselves. He twirled the knife in his hand for a long moment before looking at us with a murderous glint. There was something deeply off about him now. His eyes, once gray and kind and caring, were now as hard as stone and betrayed nothing but his intent to use that knife on us. His body movements, his posture, it was all different. His grip on the rope loosened very slightly, something we tried to take advantage of, but a quick twist in order to make a break for it tore it free from his hand and opened it up to his foot. He immediately stomped on the end, yanking us backward and tightening the rope even further. Now, we were struggling to breath. It pinched the skin around our throat and tore at the skin there, as well as obstructing our windpipe and forcing us to take small, quick breaths. “What's going on?” I cried. I was able to notice that the spidery growl had completely fled it, leaving nothing but my own small, scared voice behind. “After much deliberation, I have decided to accept a deal with someone,” Wilson said. He ran his finger along the back of the knife, never taking his cold eyes away from us. “A deal that scores the freedom of two of us. A deal that involves the sacrifice of the third.” “Sacrifice?” I whimpered. It was the best I could manage. He intended to sacrifice me? To who? Why? What happened to Wilson?! Tears welled up in my eyes again, and I swallowed several times to keep them back. “Wilson... papa...” “Shut it!” He snapped. “I hate to hear you beg.” “I'm not begging, I just wanna know what happened to Wilson!” I could barely register anything other than the pure, fierce heartbreak that was ravaging my insides. I could see his shoulders rising, but whether defensively or offensively, I couldn't tell, nor did I care to. “The Wilson you thought you knew never existed!” He barked, his voice sharp and angry. “It has taken me a long time to gain your trust enough to bring you here. I mean, really, have you looked at yourself? No self-respecting creature would dare call you their own, human and spider alike.” My heart was torn to shreds. I could barely breathe, but now it wasn't even just because of the rope. I could feel my chest heaving with sobs that I only barely managed to swallow back before they could fall down my cheek. “No wonder someone as young as you is out here. Your parents must have thrown you out as soon as they saw you.” I couldn't help it now. It was all I could do to cover my eyes to hide the first tears that wetted my fur. “All that matters to me- all that ever mattered to me- is escaping. I want to leave this godforsaken land behind, and all of its creatures.” I almost didn't register the way his eyes narrowed at me as he said that- he was referring to me. “Saving WX is a bonus, one that I didn't expect.” He waved his hand as if it was a trivial subject. “But I always knew you would be useful to keep around. Useful to keep around and to soften so much that he can barely stand up for himself, even when he's being actively attacked.” He was right. If I was who I was when we first met- was that almost a year ago?- I would have easily torn out of my restraints and fled as far as I could, probably taking Wilson's life with me. Now, I wasn't even sure my legs could hold me up long enough to stand, let alone to fight or run. And not Wilson. Especially not Wilson. “Th-this isn't y-you,” I sputtered, choking back another fresh wave of tears. “Wilson wouldn't d-do this! You're lying!” He finally seemed to notice the change in my voice, or something of the like, because his mouth turned upwards in a sneer. “Even Webber abandoned you. I guess that means I'm talking to no one but Tyler, aren't I?” “D-Don't use that n-name.” My voice was so small, yet it took all of my energy to speak. The sheer amount of effort it was taking to not fall apart before his very eyes was killing me far faster than any wound could. “Why not? Does it bring back too many painful memories?” He jeered. “Wilson... Wilson can use that name. Not you...” He let out a frustrated roar and lashed out with the knife. Immediately, a line of fire seared across my face, just barely missing one of my eyes. Against my will, a cry of pain erupted from my chest and I fell back. I felt Wilson's weight shift away from the rope, but before I could even attempt to stand he grabbed the loop that was around my neck and pulled at it, pulling me up with it. Now, our faces were only inches apart. The person I was looking at... there was no way it was Wilson. This was not the same person that had let me call him my father only a day before. “Please,” I whispered. He let out a sort of scoff before dragging me towards the machine. My muscles locked with terror. Even if I had the energy to run, I just couldn't... But then his head turned, as if he had heard something. The second his gaze left mine, I struggled free and tried to run, but before I could even get my footing I was being dragged back. This time, Wilson's eyes were alight with fire. “How dare you!?” He snarled. “There will be no escape!” To punctuate his words, the knife came back at me, but it didn't go for my face. Instead, white-hot agony seared through my entire arm as he pinned me by my hand. My first thought was that it was a stab wound, that there was no way it was any worse, but when I finally managed to tear my gaze away from him, I could see that the knife had been thrust straight through my hand and out the other side before burying solidly in the wood. I was completely pinned in place. The terror I felt previously exploded into utter panic. I gripped the handle of the knife and struggled to pull it free, but my already-diminished strength was quickly failing me. Blood pulsed out of the wound, hard and fast to the pounding of my heart. A moment later, a blade was biting into my neck, smoothly sliding through skin and sinew until blood poured from it as furiously as from my hand. A keen, wailing sound developed in my throat, but I couldn't do anything else. My awareness shifted to the fact that Wilson had vanished only long enough before it was slammed back into the pain. I had felt pain before- quite often, in fact. But there was nothing, absolutely nothing, that could possibly compare to this. I gasped desperately for air, the noose around my neck preventing me from getting more than the smallest breath at a time. My vision was quickly turning black, but whether I was going to pass out from blood loss or from my inability to breathe was both unknown and unimportant. I couldn't pass out. There was a lot of things that shouldn't happen, that would only make this worse, but I prayed to any force looking down on me to keep me awake. I heard voices, but I didn't know who they belonged to. Raised, angry voices, belonging to people that I should recognize. Unfortunately, whoever had come had come far too late. I didn't need to be a medical expert to know I was only seconds away from going into full-blown shock. I was going to die here, far from my family and alone. I had to stay awake. I couldn't let myself fall into shock, I couldn't pass out. The thoughts paced in my mind in a sluggish circle, so different from the speed of my racing heart and aching lungs. Those thoughts, the ones attempting to prevent this very thing, followed me as my vision went black, and my muscles fell limp. … WX-78's POV I knew immediately that I was too late. Popsicle, despite being a puppy, was called a hound for a reason, and was easily able to find the trail of his owner. However, it was much slower moving than I would have liked. Pyrite slowed us down as well, since it took half of my effort to keep her from setting anything on fire. Literally anything could be happening right now. For all I knew, Webber was perfectly fine and all of this was just my mind finally snapping under the pressure. Yet somewhere, deep inside, I knew that my presence would mean life or death to the boy. I heard them before I found them. Well... more like I heard Webber. It wasn't until I was closer that I was able to hear Wilson's low, angry, and quick speaking, but what I had heard from Webber was a kind of pain I had never inflicted nor seen inflicted on him. It was a cry of pain, but overflowing with so much heartbreak it would be impossible for even the most callous of individuals to ignore. “WILSON!” I called out, unable to keep the rage out of my voice. A moment passed before there was another pained cry, though this one was more of a screech. It carried despite the muddy bog and bore directly into my chest. I closed my fists around my spear, which may or may not have been hastily crafted into a halberd at some point, and pushed through the mud until I was able to find solid ground. That solid ground happened to be marble. For me, that meant it was completely impossible for any kind of sneak attack. A human would cause a ruckus walking on such well-kept tile, someone of my composition and weight would be deafening. Which is why I wasn't surprised to see Wilson already waiting for me in the center. There was a large wooden object that he was next to, but my eyes immediately skipped over it in favor of staring at the boy who had been pinned against it. I had to physically tear my gaze away from him in order to rest it on Wilson. The scientist had been staring steadily at me as if gauging my reaction. Upon seeing what must have been the most raw, unfiltered rage he had ever seen, I saw his eyes narrow. Fine. He wasn't going to back down. At least I wouldn't feel bad about killing him again. “Make your choice now, WX,” Wilson said before I could even get close to him. He flashed a weapon at me, and it surprised me to realize that it was the top half of his morning star that had been destroyed when we fought the dragonfly. Except now, it looked much closer to a mace in size. There was no way he snuck that out of camp. Because he didn't, my mind supplied glumly. Because it was waiting here for him. “CHOICE?” I was deeply surprised by how tight my voice was. I almost saw the scientist falter under the sound of it. It took me a moment to control it, before attempting to speak again. “YOU ARE RIGHT. THERE WAS A CHOICE. AND YOU MADE THE WRONG ONE.” He brandished the weapon again, although this time in a more battle-ready stance rather than just showing that he had it. “A choice to free us both,” he snapped. “You never heard what the plan was, WX. It was going to end with us finally free to go home.” “AND HOW WAS IT GOING TO END WITH WEBBER?” He shrugged and motioned at the wooden machine. “The way it's ending now.” That did it. Before I could even think out my next action, my spear was colliding with his morning star. I could immediately tell that his weapon was the stronger of the two, if not the heavier, but the opposite was true for us. Disarming him was easier than it should have been, though that should have been a given since his weapon was far from properly weighed for something of its current size. It was designed to be held as a long weapon, and shortening the handle did not make an equally competent but shorter weapon. No longer than a few seconds after engaging him, he was at the mercy of my halberd. He bared his teeth at me as if he were some sort of animal. “Do it then. Kill me.” “Don't.” The voice was so tiny that I would not have noticed it if it weren't for the complete silence otherwise. I turned my head in disbelief, meeting Webber's gaze. His white eyes were completely glazed over with pain, and I could see him wheezing from here, but he was staring at Wilson. “Don't- kill him. Not him...” I stared at Webber for only half a second before sensing Wilson's movement again. I grabbed his fist as it came and used it to push him back, if only slightly. “I WILL NOT KILL YOU. NOT YET. I WILL KILL YOU WHEN HE SAYS SO.” Wilson's eyes narrowed, but before he could say anything or retort at all, my other fist came down hard and fast on his elbow, bending it the wrong way with a definite crack! of snapping bone. I could immediately see surprise and agony wash over his expression, but as soon as I dropped his arm, my aim was for his face. The second my punch landed, he crumpled. Blood welled up under his nose, and I could see his chest rising and falling with his breaths, but he was completely incapacitated... for now. Which gave me time to turn my attention to Webber. He was slipping in and out of consciousness, but I couldn't help but feel relieved that it didn't seem as if he had gone into shock. Yet. I crouched down to his level, examining his face. His fur was damp with sweat and his chest was moving rapidly up and down, but I could hear him wheezing loudly. There was a rope around his neck, tied much like a noose, that was painted red with the amount of blood pooling from his neck. Luckily, it seemed Wilson had not cut his carotid artery given it was a steady flow rather than a hissing stream of blood. The worst of it was definitely what had happened to his hand. It was his left hand, which I knew by experience was his dominant one. He was slumped against the wooden machine awkwardly, the pinned hand held high above his head. At least it's above his heart, I thought. That will slow the blood flow a bit. I glance behind me to make sure Wilson was still unconscious before turning all of my attention to the knife. I couldn't imagine the strength it had taken to stab the knife straight through. “SORRY,” I murmured before taking a hold of the grip of the weapon. I braced myself for a moment, then yanked it free with all of my strength. Webber let out another heartrending cry as he crumpled under the weight of his own body. I caught him before he could hit the ground. He was a complete deadweight in my arms, his fur unnaturally warm with a fever already setting in. I hesitated for a long moment, simply staring helplessly at the unconscious boy in my arms. I may have stopped any immediate threat, but the truth was, there was still a very real chance of dying if I didn't staunch the blood flow and keep the wounds clean. I stood, still holding Webber in my arms, and stared at Wilson. Webber hadn't wanted me to kill him, and he was in no condition for me to ignore his wishes. And yet, this was so deliberate, so precise, that it terrified me. Had something really possessed Wilson? How were we going to get him back, if so? Webber let out the smallest of whimpers, which forced my attention back to him. Wilson could wait until later. The first thing I had to do was staunch the blood flow. We didn't have anything for a wound like this. Grass, maybe, but that would definitely cause infection to set in... There had been someone who had helped Webber before. Someone who had bound and healed his wound without question, and had done it so efficiently it had barely scarred. “HOLD ON, WEBBER,” I murmured. “WE'RE GOING TO FIND ERIKA.”
  6. Chapter 40: Nightmare Wilson's POV Trying to fall into sleep was an odd feeling for me. True, my death has lasted all but a few days, but I hadn't had to sleep a single time during that... I thought. I wasn't sure. I didn't remember much about being dead, but the things I did remember I didn't want to talk about. I was always cold. I was always empty. I remembered feeling lost, being a soul without a body, and heartbroken. My entire life, I hoped to die for a good cause. I hoped that I would go out with a bang, accomplishing something great. But... I didn't want to die so young. It was so sudden that I didn't even understand it myself. WX's voice still ringed in my ears, the very last thing I heard in those last moments. “DODGE!” I didn't know why I didn't. I remember being totally paralyzed, watching her flame-wreathed claws descend. I had blocked, but not ran, and wood does not hold up against fire. Seconds after I had been hit, I was still aware. I didn't hear anything, and I couldn't feel anything, but I was still able to see. Maybe I had died on impact and those few moments were before my spirit was taken. (I didn't like to believe this, however. Despite the clear evidence supporting otherwise, I couldn't come up with any plausible answer as to what a soul was. I had always been a firm believer of nothing after death. Humans were nothing more than a series of electrical signals in their brain, nothing that could be held in a supposed ball of pure energy. I stood by this idea for my entire life, which is another reason why the sensation of being dead caught me off guard so badly). I remembered looking down and seeing... myself. But it didn't look like me. The Dragonfly's attack had borderline eviscerated my body, and blood from the gaping holes pumped onto the sand for only a few seconds before slowing to a trickle. I knew that was the moment my heart had stopped beating. And yet, I had been aware enough to see my friends' reactions. I had seen Webber tapping into some force beyond my knowledge in order to kill the Dragonfly in a single, devastating move. And... it terrified me. He had appeared feral like that once before, when we were fighting the Goose, but this wasn't him at all. His eyes were different, hatred and malice glowing in the white orbs where passion and determination usually rested. He was different. And I was there when WX had buried me, the robot collapsing beside the grave afterward and hanging his head in pain. I knew this is something he would never share with me or Webber, which is why I never brought it up to him. But most importantly, the one thing that really stuck with me, was Webber's reaction. He had written in the mud, referring to himself as my son. Things seemed to swell up in my memory as I watched him write this, until I found myself silently crying. It was after that event that things became... fuzzy at best. I remembered some sort of red beast, and I remembered chains around my wrists, but nothing else. Words bounced emptily in my mind, making little sense to me without the context. The only one that really stood out to me was five. Finally finding sleep was a blessing. Webber had been particularly clingy to me, but I found I didn't mind. It seemed as if I was seeing a different side, the side opposite of that that had come out during the fight with the Dragonfly. That day, he was not a battle-scarred warrior or a child trying to pretend that he was much older than he really was; he was just a little kid. He was a lost, scared little boy, who wanted nothing more than someplace to call home and someone to call family. The fact that I had been that family to him was still baffling. My mind was still reeling from the entire scene. When we had begun to settle in for bed, Webber had wasted no time in coming up to me and falling asleep in a ball with his head on my lap. I mindlessly scratched around his whiskers in my own attempts to sleep. When I opened my eyes again, it was completely black. Immediately, terror swamped my system as warnings about the darkness crowded in. I glanced down at my hands, however, to find that I could see them perfectly fine. A quick glance over the rest of myself revealed the same thing. It wasn't dark, I was just in a black void. When I took an uneasy step back, my feet splashed as if I was standing in an inch of water. “There you are.” I let out a yelp of fear at the voice. I felt as if I had heard it before, but I couldn't figure out where. The memory felt distant. “Don't be afraid,” the voice purred softly. I felt a claw gently run over my chin, not sharp enough to cut it but enough to force my chin upward. Eyes met mine, glowing red without any corporeal form for them to cling to. My breath immediately caught in my throat, and I found myself instinctively shaking. “You are doing well in your quest,” it continued. “I watched you defeat the Dragonfly.” “Who are you?” I managed. The question took the rest of the breath from my lungs and moisture from my mouth. It was quiet for a long, long moment. The silence lasted for so long that I thought it had left. However, finally, a whisper sounded in my ear. “Nightmare,” it said. “You may call me... Nightmare.” “Nightmare,” I repeated. 'Nightmare' chuckled at the shaking of my voice. “Why are you still afraid? You now know my name. We are no longer strangers, are we?” “I can't see you,” I said hoarsely. “Many cannot.” I took another step back as the eyes blinked at me. “What do you want from me?” “Blood for blood, scientist. If you have not guessed already, I was the one given the job of bringing you back.” “Y-You?” I stuttered. “Of course. I am the only creature in this world capable of such powerful magic, after all.” I nodded slowly, trying to make sense of my sluggish thoughts. “I see...” “However, doing so has upset a delicate balance. This world is always on the very edge of destruction, you see. One mishap, one wrong step, and the world would unravel. Therefore, in order to keep this balance, the trade must be completed.” “...okay.” I tried to think of what this creature, a creature apparently capable of great enough power to bring someone back from the dead, could possibly want from me. Its voice dropped, as if its words held a great weight. “I revived you before They could consume your soul, the unfortunate end for many of the world's victims. However, you were here just long enough for Them to get a taste of your soul, and now they demand a sacrifice to satiate their hunger.” My hands began to tingle. I looked down and saw an ugly black fluid clinging to the tips of my fingers and crawling up my hand. I cried out again and tried to shake it off, but the fluid held fast. “They want a powerful soul. They want... a soul so strong it is closer to two souls, that have long since been fused together by time and circumstance. To make up for losing the soul of the Gentleman Scientist, they want the soul of the Indigestible.” I heard that name before. It was a title, one that I knew well. When the name of its owner finally came to my mind, I felt the blood drain out of my face. “Webber,” I whispered. “I am too weak right now to stave their hunger. You must complete the deal, Scientist.” “I never agreed to that!” I cried. “I-I can't do that! I-I have to refuse.” Nightmare's entire mood seemed to change. The eyes narrowed and two sharp rows of teeth appeared bared in a snarl. I tried to step back, but hundreds of cold, slimy bodies were beginning to press in and forced me to face their master. When it spoke, its voice turned the blood in my veins to ice. “You are not allowed to refuse. They demand a soul greater than the one they lost, and that is the only one.” “No!” I shouted. I tried to ignore the way that my voice pitched with terror. “If the price for me being brought back is Webber's life, then just take me again.” “That is not an option.” The black fluid was almost at my elbows now, and I could feel my vision pressing at the edges. “You will bring us the soul of the Indigestible!” It roared. “No!” I could almost feel the eyes of the beast staring through my soul. It felt like those eyes were stripping away everything and reading me from the inside. After a long moment, in where I could feel my heart progressively getting close to pounding out of my chest, Nightmare seemed to relax slightly. “Fine. I know what you truly want, and I will give it to you if you provide this. You want freedom. I am a generous creature, and I can do this for you. You mission to defeat the beasts that call themselves the Giants will be completely forgotten. I will free you and your robotic companion without the need for the trophies of the Giants.” The black muck had reached my shoulders and was now beginning to gather on my chest. I opened my mouth, but I wasn't sure what to say. I did desperately want to escape, but... “Can I call you papa?” I had to say no. “I can't,” I choked. “Yes you can,” Nightmare purred. “I am promising you everything you want. Without this, the world will fall into pieces.” Falling asleep in a ball beside me, purring. “I would rather let the world fall apart,” I growled. It felt like cold tendrils were trying to crawl through my veins. The colder I became, the more I began to see from Nightmare's side. “I can see the gears turning in your mind. What are you thinking?” I shook my head. “I don't...” “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.” The liquid had reached my face now, quickly covering my mouth and crawling towards my eyes. Some part of my mind, the emotional part, was screaming at me to continue to deny, to scream and shout and attack the demon for even suggesting such a thing. However... there was something else that bit at the back of my mind, as if there was some greater force beginning to control the words coming from my mouth. “Okay,” I whispered in the last few seconds before it completely took over my vision. “I'll do it.”
  7. Chapter 39: Bonds Webber's POV There was a fire in the pit of our gut. It felt purely as if someone had taken our very soul and tore it in two. We felt like we wanted to scream in agony, but we couldn't. Had the book done this to us? What happened to WX? Was he okay? Pulling out of sleep was one of the hardest things we had ever done. It felt like we were fighting an uphill battle just for control of our own waking self. The struggle was enough that when we finally managed to open our eyes, our vision was still painfully blurry. We sucked in several deep breaths and rubbed our eyes furiously. Slowly, we were able to drag ourselves to our knees. It felt like there was a heavy weight on our back. We were dazed, the world was tipping around us, even though we were still on the ground. “Webber?” We couldn't even correctly recognize the voice. It could've been anyone, likely WX, but there was something about it that immediately brought tears to our eyes. We swallowed them back and looked up. “Webber!” The voice was now dripping with relief. We stared up at the person in front of us, our throat raw. A hand rested on our head and another wrapped around our back. “What happened?” Our voice was small, so small we almost expected him to be unable to hear it. However, he smiled at us. “No, we- we didn't... we can't die... we were supposed to avenge you...” “...Webber...?” “I'm sorry, papa.” “Wake up, you're speaking nonsense.” He shook our shoulders, and we shook our head at him. “No, no, I don't wanna wake up. We can't stop thinking about how badly we failed you during the battle against the Dragonfly. We were supposed to be a team and get out together, but you-you...” We bit furiously at our tongue, struggling to keep tears from flowing. “She killed you and we didn't stop her in time and- and- and-” “Please, calm down, I'm really here, Webber. Please, it's okay, I promise.” He pulled us into a hug, running a hand through the fur in the back of our head. We instinctively pressed our face into his shoulder, shaking like a leaf. “I'm sorry, Wilson,” I whimpered. “WEBBER? WHAT ARE YOU...-” A distinctly robotic voice broke through our conversation. WX was pulling himself off of the ground. At first, his words were directed at us, but his voice abruptly stopped when his eyeless gaze landed on the scientist. His mouth hung open for a long moment, and he scrambled to a standing position to take a step closer. “...WILSON?” His voice pitched in confusion. He looked up and down, clearly taking in every detail of their supposedly fallen friend. Wilson slowly peeled us away from him and took a step towards WX. He wrung his hands together and stared at them for a long moment. “I... I want to explain. I really do... but I don't know.” WX shook his head, his mouth still hanging open. “WE WATCHED YOU DIE. WE- I BURIED YOUR BODY.” Wilson smiled and wiped a forming tear away from his eyes. “I know you did.” We growled to ourself. “N-No, don't do this to me. Do anything you want, Webber, but please, not this... this is torture.” We covered our eyes, our breaths ragged. Wilson offered us a hand, and we took it. His hand was warm, almost unnaturally so. “Webber,” his voice was thick with emotion. “I really am here right now. I don't know what happened.” He looked into the distance, staring at something beyond their range of vision. “I... I remember fighting the Dragonfly with you guys. I remember seeing her claws coming down, and then... darkness. I think there was someone else... I...” His eyes suddenly glazed over, as if he was thinking of something terrifying. “Where's my book?” He demanded, his voice changing on a dime. Our gaze snapped back up to him, but he seemed deeply distracted. “I-I need to write something down.” WX, his confusion having not dropped in the slightest, pulled the dark book from his bag and extended his arms for Wilson to see it. Wilson said nothing, only snatched it hastily and ripped a piece of charcoal from the fire. We felt our whiskers twitching in confusion, but my emotions were everything but confusion. In fact, I couldn't care less about how he came back, only that he was really here right now and he wasn't dead and- “What!? No! I- this can't be- but- fate-” Wilson was writing furiously in the book, his gray eyes narrowed and the charcoal making sharp and almost violent strokes across a page. Hesitantly, we edged closer. What could be more important than the fact that he was alive? After he finished writing whatever it was he was writing, he crushed the piece of charcoal into dust and he stared at whatever words he had written with a sort of ferocious intensity. When he saw us looking at him, he clamped the book closed before we could see what he had written inside. “It doesn't matter,” he growled to himself, shaking his head. We could see thick bands of bruises on his wrists, as if something heavy had once been attached to them. A moment later, though, he seemed to snap out of it. He blinked several times as if to clear something, then looked at us again. His eyes immediately softened. “I'm sorry,” he said. “I'm just... I'm trying to process everything.” We smiled sadly, and blinked up at him. “I don't care,” I said softly. Before he could open his mouth to ask, we wrapped our arms around him. We felt safe, safer than we had felt in so many years. Wilson didn't even seem to mind it. Actually, he seemed to embrace it, bending down to hold us like a child again. A soft purr rose in our throat as we rested our head on his shoulder. “I was so scared,” I whimpered. “I... I thought I had lost you forever...” Wilson was silent for a long moment, his gray eyes desperately pained but also so, so hopeful, as if he was finally getting to see a side of us that he had never seen before. We wanted to be strong. We wanted to be independent and dependable. But more than that, we wanted a family again. “Can...” I began, but cut myself off. No, that was stupid. We were nothing but a scientific anomaly to him, nothing else. We were teammates, not family, and we had to remember that. But at the same time, the look Wilson was giving us was so familiar and so proud that the question desperately bubbled up in our chest again. “Can... what?” We looked down at the ground, then at WX, who was still standing several feet away. His mouth had finally closed, but the confusion in his gaze hadn't lightened up any. When we finally looked at him again, it took everything from us to keep from crying. “Crying is weak we are not weak we are strong and we always have to be strong-” “Can I call you papa?” I asked in a tiny voice. I almost expected him not to respond, or to abruptly drop us or anything of the like. It was such a weird question, such an uncomfortable question, one that nobody could agree to- “Webber...” his voice faltered. We felt ourself begin to shake again, and we grasped onto his shirt desperately. “It's been so long since we've been wanted and- and we kept telling ourself that our family was gone and we didn't need them anymore but- but-” it was hard to speak. We could barely get the words to form in our mind, let alone speak them aloud. “You're not my papa and I know you're not but we just- we want-” “Webber.” Wilson's voice was more firm this time, but it had taken on a note that was so familiar it ached. There were tears running down his cheeks, and he rubbed them away with his wrist as he gently placed us back on the ground. He stayed crouching however, to stay face-to-face with us. “You can call me whatever you want to.” We let out a cry of pure happiness and hugged him again, even more furiously this time. The purr in our throat had become much louder all of a sudden, but we didn't try to hide the obviously spider trait. Everything from the past several years of our lives: my consumption, the rejection from my family, the years of starvation and living on our own, it didn't matter. All of it led to here and now and we had the best friend in the world and the best father a child could ask for and he was alive and real and right here. “What, I'm not a good enough friend?” “WILSON,” WX broke the silence. He crossed his arms and narrowed his 'eyes' at the scientist. Wilson hesitated for a long moment, then let us go in order to face Wilson. We let out a small whimper, but he turned his head to look at us for a quick second as if to promise that he wasn't going anywhere. “THIS IS VERY TOUCHING, BUT YOU HAVE NOT EXPLAINED A SINGLE THING.” The robot spread his arms out as if waiting. “YOU DIED, AND CAME BACK TO LIFE. AND YOU MADE ME DEAL WITH WEBBER THE ENTIRE TIME.” Wilson looked at the ground and shrugged helplessly. “I told you, I don't know. I don't know if they stripped my memories or...” “IT DOES NOT MATTER IF IT IS DISJOINTED, WHAT ALL DO YOU REMEMBER?” He sighed impatiently. “I said this already. I don't remember anything. I remember getting killed... and I remember that I was in someplace dark. But I don't remember anything else.” We walked up to Wilson and pressed against his leg, purring. He startled, but upon seeing it was us, he rested a hand on our head and scratched around our whiskers. WX frowned. “WHY DID YOU NEED THAT BOOK?” “I remembered something,” he snapped. “I thought it was important, but it's not. Just nonsense.” He kicked the dirt. “But all that matters is that I'm back, right?” “YOU ARE THE SCIENTIST. YOU SHOULD BE THE ONE TRYING TO FIGURE THIS OUT.” “I tried to, I really did, but the truth is, I can't really figure out anything about this world. I mean, come on, I just adopted a literal spider-human hybrid, I think that's a bit weirder to me than coming back to life.” We let out a small laugh. Wilson was right. It didn't matter how he came back, only that he was with us now. A sharp cracking noise stole our attention away. We perked up and turned our head, trying to find the source of it. Near the fire, the loot from the Dragonfly's hoard had been haphazardly thrown on the ground. One of the objects, one that we had vaguely noticed immediately after her defeat but never paid attention to, had developed a long, sharp split across one side. Popsicle, who had somehow remained sleeping during the entire ordeal, seemed to snap into alertness at the sound as well. The ice hound had primarily remained by our side after the fight with the Dragonfly, but we could tell that our emotions were simply too strong for the pup to be able to handle. He had been spending most of his time sleeping lazily under a tree, trying to absorb as much of the coolness of the shade as possible. This was the most alert we had seen him in awhile. Instead of breaking away from Wilson, we tugged on his shirt and pointed towards the object. He tipped his head at us, then at the object. “Is that an egg?” WX shrugged. “DON'T KNOW. IT WAS THE LEAST OF MY WORRIES THESE PAST FEW DAYS. I UNDERSTAND YOU FORGOT A LOT OF THINGS, BUT SURELY YOU DIDN'T FORGET THAT PART WHERE YOU DIED AND WEBBER NEARLY BURNED TO DEATH, RIGHT?” “I'm not being judgmental,” Wilson protested. “It was just a question.” Popsicle was the first to trudge over to the object. Almost immediately, his tongue lolled out from the heat and soft steam began to rise from his fur. However, he simply sat next to it and then stared at us, as if we were supposed to do something. We turned our gaze to Wilson, who hesitated for a long moment before pacing towards the egg himself. We heard WX let out an audible groan, but he followed us anyway as we gathered around. Wilson was the one to step up to the egg fully, placing his hand on it for just a second before abruptly snatching it back to his chest. “Holy mother of Science that's hot!” He shouted. He furiously shook his hand while watching the egg with a weary eye. We heard WX prepare his weapon. We didn't know what kind of creature would come out of this egg; it could be literally anything. Popsicle let out a short bark at Chester, who growled in response. The other creature seemed to care less, as usual, and was lounging on the edges of camp. Popsicle whimpered before turning his attention back. “It's okay, little fella,” Wilson encouraged, holding out a hand but no longer attempting to touch it. As if on cue, another long crack split the surface of the shell. Popsicle leaped to his feet and his tail began wagging in excitement and puppylike wonder. After a long, tense moment of silence, the egg seemed to split in two, and a tiny, bug-eyed little creature tumbled out alongside the contents of its egg, which appeared much more like a tight bubble of lava around the creature rather than a proper albumen. This was only reinforced by the fact that it did not fall away from the creature, and instead remained around it like a protective shield. The creature itself was tiny, about the size of our hand, and primarily black, with a body like a plump worm and a single, sharp tooth poking from its mouth. We took a hesitant step back, an unsure frown settling on our face. “When danger is afoot, then that's where my job comes in.” “What is that?” “Did this come from the Dragonfly?” Wilson asked WX, who nodded. “Then... um... I guess it's a Dragonfly larvae. Or lavae, haha. But gosh it's tiny...” “YOU KNOW MY STANCE, AND I KNOW YOU WILL IGNORE ME.” “WX, calm down,” Wilson said with a scowl. “Don't you see how small it is? I highly doubt that we will ever see the day that this little thing even becomes our size, let alone a fully-grown Dragonfly.” It let out a small buzz, blinking its big coal-black eyes at Wilson expectantly. “Is it a boy or a girl?” We asked after a moment. Wilson shrugged. “It's harder to tell with lizards. I might be totally wrong, but it feels more feminine to me.” It buzzed again, this time stretching its tiny body. It yawned- possibly?- and as it did, the sharp tooth in its mouth fell off and plopped onto the ground in front if it. We immediately recognized it as the kind of tooth that baby birds used to break out of their shells, but Wilson's eyes widened as he set eyes on it and he immediately grabbed it. “The- the Dragonfly's tooth!” He cried in ecstasy. “Really?!” A bubble of excitement lit in our chest. Wilson lowered it to let us see, and our eyes widened. “It is!” WX inched closer as well. “WE DID NOT FAIL AFTER ALL,” he mumbled. “WHAT ABOUT THE CREATURE?” We looked back down at it. It appeared to have fallen asleep, the brightly glowing bubble around it melting away in a puddle around it. We crouched down, a fondness immediately growing in our chest. Popsicle seemed equally fond, his tail thumping against the ground as he looked up at us with his tongue lolling out. Wilson looked at WX. “Don't tell me you're scared of her.” WX scoffed, almost offended. “I AM NOT SCARED OF IT. I AM JUST WANTING YOU TO REALIZE THAT THIS IS AN INFANTILE DRAGONFLY, THAT, MIND YOU, WOULD BE JUST AS LIKELY TO ATTEMPT TO KILL YOU AS ITS MOTHER.” “You always say that you don't want them, but you know we're gonna keep them anyway,” Wilson pointed out. He palmed the tooth, his gray eyes glittering, then crouched down to examine her closer. He put a hand on our shoulder and we found ourself purring again. “She's a hatchling,and she's so tiny that there's no way that she'll ever grow to that size in our lifetimes.” “MAYBE NOT YOURS,” WX mumbled. “She's asleep right now, so we can figure everything else out later.” Wilson straightened up and gave WX and I a huge grin. “We did it. We have the tooth.” “Does that mean she was also just a mum protecting her baby?” I asked after a long moment. We had defeated two giants, and neither seemed to give us much enjoyment. Both were nothing more than mothers. We shook our head. “We have to take care of her baby for her.” WX grumbled beneath his breath, but he knew that he was outnumbered yet again. We had many good days and even more bad days in this world, but it was pretty safe to say that this took the cake as the best day so far. Someone, whether they be from above or below, had brought Wilson back to us, and there was a new, tiny creature under our protection. Most of all, though, our heart felt so full that we weren't entirely certain we could express it properly. Our spider was mostly keeping his mouth shut and was allowing us to enjoy these moments, and for the first time since we were five years old, we felt like we had family again. We closed our eyes and felt the purr rise in our throat. Being a spider, it was rough and ragged, and almost sounded more like a growl, but the look in Wilson's eyes suggested that he knew exactly what it was. And that was all that mattered.
  8. 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?
  9. 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.
  10. 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^
  11. 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.”
  12. 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.”
  13. 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.
  14. 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.”
  15. 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.”