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  1. 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.
  2. 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^
  3. 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.”
  4. 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.”
  5. 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.
  6. 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.”
  7. 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.”
  8. Chapter 31: Summer Jobs WX-78's POV Night drew to a close far too quickly. In what felt like a matter of minutes, the world had shed its dark skin and, instead, taken on a new blistering heat. It had been warm before, yes, but this was an entirely new meaning of hot. Summer and its fiery champion had come at last. The fire had been kept low in the night in anticipation of the day. Chester and Popsicle lay just in the range of the firelight, their bodies pressed together. It appeared as if Chester had finally accepted that its choice was either to befriend the hound or burn to death, and it had made the logical choice. We had tried to rouse the two pets to take them hunting before the summer got any worse, but Popsicle had barely budged, instead only whimpering at the attempt, and Chester had refused to leave the cold shield of Popsicle's fur. I kept to the front of the group this time. Wilson was just a few steps behind me, fanning himself with his hands, while Webber took up the rear, his fur damp with sweat. Small droplets of water formed on my forehead and down my body, throwing up tiny sparks in their wake. It wasn't sweat, exactly, but rather condensation. Automatons malfunction a lot quicker than organics in extreme weather, and because of that, it was a necessity to have a built-in cooling system that ran more efficiently than that of an organic's. I wiped the condensation from my forehead with one hand while adjusting my grip on my spear with the other. “ALL OF THE INTELLIGENT LIFE WILL BE HIDDEN AWAY IN THE SHADE,” I said to neither in particular. Wilson only grunted in response, and Webber grumbled something under his breath. I sighed. “WHICH SPEAKS VOLUMES FOR US, I SUPPOSE.” “This is fruitless,” Wilson panted, grabbing my arm to stop me. The second his hand made contact with my arm, he let out a small gasp. “Ahh! You're so cold!” He leaned forward slightly as if to try to press his cheek against my hand, and I snatched it away before he could, giving him a very well-deserved glare. “Blah blah blah, something about us being inferior, all hail the robot, can we go home now?” Webber complained. “We can't just wipe our sweat off like you two can.” Nerves were already tightly strung with the heat. Being out in said heat while all the food was relaxing and snoozing away in their comfortable burrows was doing nothing to help anyone's mood. Always so fragile, I thought with an inward sigh. “IT IS NOT MY FAULT THAT YOU ARE NOT BUILT TO DEAL WITH A LITTLE BIT OF HEAT. IF YOU ARE SO DETERMINED TO GO BACK, NOBODY IS STOPPING YOU. I AM USED TO PULLING THIS TEAM'S WEIGHT.” “Pulling this t- oh we're too tired to argue. Going back to base sounds fantastic.” Webber's whiskers were drooping. “All in favor of going back to base, say I. I. Perfect. We're going back.” Wilson gave me a peculiar look, but before I could confront him, he turned to follow the boy, leaving me alone. Now that there weren't two sweaty and whiny bags of meat holding me back, I was actually able to continue on by myself. I paused, watching them go, before glancing back up at the sky. This is going to be a long summer. … It had been many, many hours. At any other time of the year, the sun would be setting, but it still hung high in the sky. The heat was so powerful that I could see it wavering off the ground. Dazedly, I collapsed under the shade of a tree, trying to get out of the heat. I was entirely coated in water now, leaving a slightly damp trail wherever I went. I needed to find food. Badly. We had neglected our food stores for so long in favor of training. There was no way that we could survive the summer on what we currently had. Hadn't the sun just been in the sky? I turned my gaze back towards the now-darkening sky, then brought my knees to my chest. I just needed to rest for a bit. I could start going home once daytime came back. Daytime... my mind echoed forlornly, thinking about the broad stretch of savanna to go through. I can do it. It is just a simple walk through a grassland. I prepared myself to sit out for the night, allowing my mind to drift like it did every time everyone was asleep. I didn't set up a fire. I don't even know why it never occurred to me that it was something that I still had to do. I was well aware of the dangers of the dark. The second that sun disappeared and the moon began rising, I knew I was in trouble. I snapped back to awareness at the sound of crunching feet. I said nothing, merely preferring to listen. The footsteps paused for a second as if considering something. They started again, slowly at first, but then faster and faster until I instinctively found myself ducking and rolling away. Hot, dry air blasted my face as something made contact with the tree that I had been sheltering beneath. My dazed panic and inability to see left me at a great disadvantage to whatever this dark-stalking beast was. I heard a faint scoff that sounded almost... feminine? I didn't have enough time to ponder, because it was rushing at me again. I forced myself to my feet, trying to determine where it was so I could dodge again, but I was far slower than my assailant. Pain blossomed through my body as it made contact. I could hear the tell-tale shink! Of splitting metal and a faint clinging as something rolled away. I grasped the side of my head, and another hit landed on my arm, finally sending me down to the ground. No, no, no, this is not where my life ends. I was vulnerable, but if I could just survive until dawn. The nights were so, so short, I could make it... I rolled onto my stomach just as dust blasted against my side. I couldn't stand up on time, and I knew it, which led to me merely crawling away from it as fast as I could. A ghastly wail of frustration pierced the air. I couldn't outpace it, no matter how hard I tried. As it approached one last time, I rolled onto my back and kicked out. Surprisingly enough, my blow connected with something cold and slimy. A rush of air hit my face, followed by the soft thump of something hitting the ground. I had the upper hand for just a second. I scrambled to my feet and ran faster than I had ever run before. I ran as far as I could in the pitch darkness until I finally tripped over something. I hit the ground hard. I refused to die. This was no place or reason to die. If I was going to die, it was not going to be in this way. Then, I noticed I was able to see the ground beneath me. My gaze shot up to the sky above. I felt like I could've cried, seeing the darkness of nighttime begin to lift. I had survived the night. I managed to drag myself into a walk once more. There was a dead tree trunk, the closest thing to me that wasn't just open plain. I pressed my back against the rotten bark and allowed my legs to slide out from under me. My right arm, the one that had been hit, showed visible signs of damage. My hand had a deep, long slice through it that nearly cut it in half. A few more moments of assessing myself both internally and externally showed that the bolt on the left side of my head had been completely severed, and with that damage came a weakened ability to hear. But I was alive. I just really needed to get home before anything else happened. I was not looking forward to the trip, but if I stayed out here just one more night, the creature in the dark was not going to spare me again. I left the tree trunk behind, beginning the long, arduous trek back to the base. … Wilson's POV “How did you even manage to do this to yourself?” I asked, shocked, as I looked over the extensive damage WX-78 had sustained while away. I furrowed my brow in concern as I tried to reach forward and he winced away. “THAT DOES NOT MATTER. AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT TOUCH ME, IT WILL HEAL.” “You may be able to heal just as much as one of us 'lousy organics', WX, but that won't stop you from possibly losing all feeling in your arm if you let it go unchecked.” “KEEP YOUR FLESHY HANDS TO YOURSELF, SCIENTIST,” he hissed. I let out a small sigh, dropping my hands back to my side. "At least just let me look at your ear bolt." I tried to give him a reassuring smile, knowing very well that he was only acting tough. I could only imagine the pain he must've been in if the injuries and his expression had anything to say about it. If he can even feel pain- I cut off the thought before it could get very far. “I promise, I won't do anything else without your permission first.” I saw his gaze flicker to where Webber was sitting. The young boy was too focused on gutting a single, scrawny rabbit that had been plucked from the plains to care about the state his rival was in. His expression was unreadable. “He's not even paying attention, WX. Besides, look how many times he's gotten injured himself.” WX hesitated for a long moment, then nodded slightly. I smiled again, then leaned forward to get a closer look at his injuries. The bolt had been cut clean off, and without a single jagged edge, I realized as I ran my finger over the slice. He flinched as I did so, and I drew back. "Does it hurt? Is there anything else affected?" “...MY HEARING ABILITIES HAVE BEEN SEVERELY IMPAIRED.” “I see...” I reached towards his injured arm, which he had been partially cradling up until then. I gave a quick look up to make sure he didn't protest. When he said nothing, I began to examine the damage as gently and efficiently as I could. “I might be able to repair the damage on the outside, but I'd... I'd have to open you up if I'm to give you back full control over your arm and hearing.” He was silent for a long moment. I could tell that he was tense, but whether it was still from the attack or not was beyond me. Finally, he gave a small, short nod. “I WILL NEED TO BE AT MY FULL ABILITY IF WE ARE TO SUCCEED IN THE UPCOMING BATTLES.” He looked away. “DO WHAT YOU NEED.” “I'll be careful, I promise. I won't do anything that could possibly be of any harm to you.” I pulled up my bag and rummaged through it until I found a piece of flint with a small enough tip to fit into the screws of WX's body. “...I promise I won't hurt you.” “JUST GET IT OVER WITH, SCIENTIST.” I took a deep breath, fiddling with the flint for a moment. "Alright, in we go." I fitted the tip of the stone into the first screw and began to work methodically. … Many hours passed before I was able to relax again. Sweat dripped from my forehead from the sun coupled with the nonstop work. My work was not useless, though. WX rolled his shoulders and moved his arm to make sure it was working correctly again. "I AM IMPRESSED." “Everything's working fine?” “EVERYTHING APPEARS TO BE AT OPTIMAL PERFORMANCE AGAIN.” He hesitated, then added. “...THANK YOU.” “All in a day's work,” I responded with a smile. “Although I'd better not see you getting injured like that again.” “I DO NOT INTEND TO.” “Now... it's been a long day. I need to sleep, especially after working my brain like that.” I wiped my forehead. “I can't wait until summer's over and we can sleep properly again.” WX nodded again. “IT WILL TRULY BE A GREAT SIGHT.” He looked towards the sky. “YOUR FLESHLING MIND NEEDS REST. WE CAN CONTINUE WORKING ONCE YOU WAKE UP.” “That sounds like a good plan... goodnight, WX.” "...GOODNIGHT, WILSON."
  9. For the sake of this story, I will not say who it is. I will drop information occasionally in chapters, but I don't think I'll ever say exactly who it is Chapter 30: The Rising Storm Wilson's POV Parry, parry, dodge, stab. Duck, dodge, stab. The moves were sunk into my head, becoming almost second nature to me and allowing for my mind to be running numbers and schemes. The sun beat down, hot and furious. Summer couldn't be far away at all, now. It hadn't rained for the past several days, causing the air to start tasting of hot dust and ash. On the one hand, we had been very diligent in preparing for most of the seasons, if you were to leave out the hiccups that arose here and there. On the other hand, as the days got hotter, it became harder for us to want to go out. It wasn't warm enough yet to start causing real problems, but it definitely was hot enough to cause me and Webber to be incredibly sleepy at any given moment. My momentary distraction was enough to give Webber the upper hand in our match. He jabbed me in the stomach with the butt of his spear, just hard enough to cause me to stumble and fall on my rump. His eyes lit up with pleasure as he saw that he won, but they turned dark a moment after and he looked away, his whiskers twitching. "Training is great, and all, but isn't it sort of useless if we're going against something fifty times our size?" He asked after a moment. "It's going to be so hot, and the Dragonfly is going to be so strong..." “WE HAVE ELIMINATED THE Goose,” WX pointed out. He was being the smartest of us as he was standing under the shade of a tree, his arms crossed and his ever-present scowl carved into his features. “WHAT WOULD MAKE DESTROYING THE DRAGONFLY ANY DIFFERENT?” He opened his mouth to respond, but cringed away, pressing a finger to his temple. “The Dragonfly is the master of fire,” I explained, pressing the head of my spear into the ground and leaning against it. “Heat and flames and lava and pretty much everything else that is horrible.” I grinned. "But, in case you have not met our group, we are pretty awesome at surviving. And we're a great team! If anyone can take out this beast, it's going to be us!" "You've seen the book." Webber's voice had taken on a slightly rougher tinge as if he was thinking about something completely different. "Other people were once here. The four Giants are still alive. We got lucky on the Goose, but... what makes us think that we'd be able to kill four monsters that no other group has been able to take out one of?" WX bobbed his head slightly in a 'he-has-a-point' fashion. "Have you met us?" I retorted. "Stop being so down in the dumps, guys. We've already beaten one of them! That's further than anyone else has gotten! Clearly, that means we're the best. Don't argue because it's true." Webber dug a little hole in the ground with his foot, looking troubled. “Look, Wilson, we've been thinking... maybe we should just give up while we're ahead. This hasn't been too tough on us. Maybe we should just give up trying to go home and try to... make a living where we are?” There was a moment where I found myself struggling to figure out how to respond. “What would be the point of any of this if we weren't trying to get home?” I asked, baffled by his question. Webber looked ashamed, refusing to meet my gaze. "Making a new home?" He asked, gingerly. I opened my mouth but found myself turning to WX instead. "What do you think about this?" “I HAVE NO PERSONAL CONNECTIONS TO OUR WORLD,” he mused, rapping his fingers against the dirt. Before I could argue anything otherwise, though, he raised a hand in my direction. “HOWEVER, THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I AM COMFORTABLE WITH THE IDEA OF LIVING WITH YOU TWO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. IT WOULD GIVE OUR HOST QUITE A BIT OF PLEASURE.” “Webber, don't you have anyone you want to see again?” He was silent for a long moment before slowly shaking his head. “No family, no friends, nothing?” He shook his head again. “Even if we weren't an only child... we have no memory of siblings or parents. Besides, no one would want to see us like this.” He spread his arms. “THEN IT IS A GOOD THING THAT I CARE VERY LITTLE FOR YOUR EMOTIONS.” Popsicle, as if noticing his owner's pain, drowsily rose to his paws and pressed himself against Webber's legs. The boy scratched around Popsicle's ears, which in turn caused the ice hound's tail to pound against the ground happily. “No, you're right. It's a dumb idea.” “That's not what I was sa-” “IT REALLY IS.” I glared at WX, who only shrugged. I shook my head slightly, then attempted to meet Webber's gaze. "I was an only child," I said gingerly. He lifted his head slightly. "Raised by parents who wanted me to accomplish more than I could, or even cared to. I had As in every science and math class I took while flunking every single history and literature class. They wanted me to be a doctor or a mathematician. I wanted to be an inventor." I looked away, acutely aware of WX's judging gaze burning into my face. “How did that lead you here?” Webber asked, his voice muffled as if he didn't quite care to know the answer. I smiled slightly, trying to hide the discomfort that I felt stemming from the question. The scar on my palm seemed to burn. “We all make stupid decisions when we're desperate.” A long, painful moment of silence passed. “I HAVE FEW MEMORIES OF LIFE BEFORE THIS.” Webber and I both glanced at WX as he spoke. He was gazing into the sky through the trees, one arm grasping on to another as if he were uncomfortable. “BLANKNESS AND JUDGEMENT.” “And loneliness,” Webber added solemnly. He rested his chin on his knees, closing his eyes for a long moment. I gave a small nod, and WX sighed heavily. “AND LONELINESS.” "But what's in the past doesn't matter anymore." I shook my head fiercely, trying to bring myself back to the present. "I only brought that up because I don't want you thinking that we would leave you behind." I knelt in front of Webber, resting on hand on his cheek in an attempt to comfort him. I stood once more, facing WX. "Once we are free, we'll all stay together in a safer world. I can bring you to my lonely little home out in the woods, and we can act like a family. A very dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless." I could see something glinting in WX's empty gaze, but he looked away and shifted his feet before I could tell what it was. His hands shook very slightly. “I DO NOT ASSOCIATE WITH INFERIORS OUTSIDE OF WHEN IT IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.” “It's dumb to think we could be more than any of us are.” Webber gripped a rock and threw it at a tree. “Your world isn't like our world, Wilson. You were shocked to see someone like us. When-... if we ever get out of here... nobody will be okay with our presences. It's a nice thought, but nobody would let someone like us or WX live free lives. Either way, we're slaves to someone else.” “Webber, you're only seven... it's unfair for you to think that you wouldn't be accepted anywhere. You have such a long life ahead of you...” “Two corrections. We would have had such a long life if we hadn't ended up in the situation, and we are eight, Wilson.” He shifted slightly. “Our birthday is towards the middle of spring.” I felt my heart constrict. I didn't have any idea when Webber's birthday was, nor that it had already come and gone. He hadn't let on even the tiniest hint. “THE TRUTH IS, WILSON,” WX cut in. “BEING FREED FROM THIS WORLD WOULD ONLY BE THE BEGINNING OF THE STRUGGLE. BUT... THE DISCUSSION HAS GIVEN ME ENOUGH TIME TO CONSIDER MY STANCE, AND ANY SITUATION WOULD BE MORE APPEALING THAN OUR CURRENT ONE.” Webber let out a long, thin breath. “It's settled then.” He looked away, making a shooing motion with his hand. "Wilson, you should probably be figuring out how we're going to keep cool during the summer. It'll be long, hard, and sweltering, probably hotter than any summer you have ever seen. So hot that all of the berries and grass will dry up and all the sensible prey will be resting underground. Nothing but the sun is required to set our entire livelihood on fire." His eyes seemed to glaze over slightly. "The savannas will be rotten with the smell of rotting rabbit meat as they journey from their burrows to eat and burn to death almost instantly." He bit at one of his claws. “I'll get started on that,” I said in response, trying to ignore everything else that he had said. “WX, I guess that leaves you to gather materials for the upcoming season. Webber, do us a favor and look through that book to find everything you possibly can about summer, okay?” They both nodded, concern creeping into their eyes. “This might be one of the hardest challenges yet,” I added. “But that won't stop us. It can't stop us. We're better than Maxwell and any of his dumb tests.” “And if we're not?” Webber's whiskers twitched. I replied steadily. “Then we die trying.”
  10. Chapter 29: Voices WX-78's POV Outwardly, I considered myself only a few things. The strongest, the best fighter, and generally the most important of the group. I worked hard to maintain my facade for very good reasons, as that facade was who I had become after so many years of pretending. But inwardly, I was many things that none of them would ever connect with someone like myself. I was frequently more afraid than I would let on, and more concerned for the others that I stayed with. I feared their hatred, I feared my Creator. I feared being alone. It was a bug in my system. A mere glitch in my code that had been one of the many reasons why I had been cast out from my origins. Despite that, it had grown and developed over time, yet it had never honestly woken up until I had found myself alone during the winter. It had consumed me. The voices that every A.I. regularly heard had woken up as well. They were not as much voices as how anyone else would think of them, but more the awareness of conscience other than my own. A sort of awareness of something controlling me that was beyond my own will- something built into my code to obey and serve my Creator no matter the cost to myself. The mindset had long since been nigh eliminated, but the awareness of it once being there is perhaps what made it such a horrid thing to think about. These were thoughts that I had worked my entire life to ignore and toss away. Unfortunately, it wasn't so easy for a robot to ignore the very thing that created them. When stripped to their most essential parts, a robot was nothing compared to a human being: a robot could be taken apart and put together the exact way. They could be recreated and reformed and remolded as many times as their creator wished. They were thousands of lines of numbers and words and symbols placed into a metallic husk and forced to emulate life to the best of their abilities. Life was unique. Once life was taken away from a body, it could never be brought back. They had thoughts placed into their heads from years of learning and experience rather than by some outside force that they had no control over. Their systems were complicated and unique, and their minds were never the same. One thing connected people like them and automatons like myself, though. We are both run by electricity. Among my vast knowledge base, awareness of human anatomy could be found, and I could draw the similarities. Nerves worked much like wires- they exchanged electrical impulses. They were the basis of everything that could learn and think, just as wires to any electronic. Who decided that wires and nerves should be considered two different things? These were the kind of thoughts that I could have on my own terms. That, perhaps, is what made me so different, and made my Creator hate me so. I could learn and think beyond complicated tests and puzzles. I was able to think about how I had been abused and despised. I was able to think about... how much I hated there. How much I hated her and how much I hated being the way I was. She wanted to fix me. I was a technological anomaly, and she was aware. She wanted me to retain my character, but to be twisted in a way that would benefit her. These voices served only to remind me of myself and what I used to be. I didn't ever want to follow her plan, but that marked yet another thing that made organic life superior. See, automatons have no control over 'what they want' or 'who they want to be.' They are created to serve, to obey, to carry out. That had manifested into differing personalities- less like the enigmatic Multiple Personality Disorder and more like Bipolar Disorder. I fought with myself daily- I wanted to be one way, and my code pushed me another. It was a struggle that I had lost such a long time ago that I had all but forgotten about it. Until recently. It was so desperately stupid of me to admit it, but as the days got longer and the nights got shorter, and summer crept up on us like a sly predator, I found myself struggling against it again. I wanted to be different, but I couldn't be. I wanted to be able to care for Wilson and Webber like they seemed to care for me. Their uniqueness fascinated me in a very similar way to how Webber and I fascinated Wilson. And yet... I couldn't. I was physically and mentally unable to go against my code. That's all I was though, wasn't it? A code. I wasn't even myself. By all technicality, I was nothing more than trillions of lines of code. I couldn't let on my struggle, though. No, I was far too proud for that. I was too proud to admit that I was not as callous as I acted. They could figure it out on their own time- and if they didn't, clearly that meant that they didn't care enough about me to pay attention to what was left unsaid. Or, perhaps, they were too busy struggling with their own inner demons. Wilson hid his well, quite well, in fact. They were buried so deeply and so tightly that it was hard for him even to remember. But I was awake when they were not. I heard the names they whispered in their dreams. I knew there was so much more going on in their heads than they let on- especially Wilson. I had come close on many occasions to spilling everything to my companions, but no time ever seemed right. Not that they ever told me what they were struggling through. It was as if we all had some sort of unspoken agreement to not speak of anything that revealed who we really were. Footsteps crunched beside me, causing me to look up from the fire that I had been staring at for what must have been hours now. Webber now stood beside me, his eyes drooping slightly with tiredness but looking determined all the same. “...thank you. For looking for us earlier, I mean.” He dropped his gaze, looking acutely embarrassed to be expressing thanks to someone like me. I looked back towards the fire. “IT WAS AS I SAID. THE HOUND WOULD NOT STOP BARKING.” “Yeah, well... it still means a lot to us. To me, I guess.” He chewed slightly at one of his claws. “It's just... I dunno. Sometimes these thoughts just become... overwhelming. And I want to just make them stop but I know if I do...” his voice broke off, suddenly taking on a whole new note of pain. I didn't look at him, but I felt my face turning to a slight frown. “WHY ARE YOU TELLING ME THIS?” He can sense that you have something in common... came that slight twinge in the back of my mind, which was quickly squashed to the best of my abilities. There was a pause. “You see us as more than a child.” I couldn't help but let out a snort of laughter. “I SEE YOU AS A MEATY ORGANIC AS WELL.” “Wilson sees us both as nothing more than failed experiments. You know this.” Failed experiment... failed experiment... failed experiment... “WILSON IS ALSO A BRAINLESS FOOL.” “Do you see us as a failed experiment?” Webber's voice was tentative, unsure. He sounded like he didn't want to know the answer. “YOU ARE STILL ALIVE, ARE YOU NOT?” I turned to stoke the fire, trying to derail the conversation before it could truly get started. “We don't see you as a failed experiment.” I froze, letting the stick I held slowly fall into the fire before clenching my fists and closing my eyes. “WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT YOUR OPINIONS? YOU FLESHBAGS KNOW NOTHING.” “Maybe not.” He looked away, twiddling his fingers for a moment. “Um... thank you again for looking for us earlier today. We're going to go back to sleep.” Before I could respond, he had already turned away and was trying to get comfortable to sleep again. “I GUESS YOU'RE ALRIGHT.” Webber turned his back towards me and rested his head. “FOR A FLESHLING.” When no response came, I leaned back until I was looking up at the sky, still twinkling with bright stars and a moon that gave off no light. It was strange how skies so foreign could be so similar to Earth's. The silence was broken by his voice once more. “Are we friends?” Friends? Friends? No no no, an automaton, being a friend, with an organic? In no way, shape, or form was that acceptable. And yet... it was something I had never considered anyone before. A friend. Someone who would be there for me when I needed support. Someone who would be happy to have me around. Someone who I could get along with and would accept me for myself and not think of me as just a science experiment... “NO.” I saw his shoulders slump, just a little, but I told myself it was from him still trying to get comfortable. “WE ARE NOT.”
  11. Chapter 28: Thoughts Become Actions Webber's POV Our camp was flooded. The rain was pounding against the branches above, roaring somehow even louder than the thunder. It had been going on for several days now, driving us uphill from our home. WX was very frustrated with it. Well, 'frustrated' was sort of an understatement. In fact, he was quite angry with it. Given his weakness to it, he was rendered practically useless by it. We had spent a great deal of time with the puppy, Popsicle. He didn't get along at all with Chester. In fact, they seemed to hate each other. Every time the ice hound neared Chester, Chester's fur would rise, and he would, surprisingly, start to snarl. Popsicle had simply stared at him and tipped his head in confusion but had eventually slunk back to us. We loved having Popsicle around. Once he had broken out of his shell, he became a very good companion. He was playful and sweet and absolutely adored having his belly rubbed, all the things that Chester typically hated. And most of all, he was ours. We had had pets before. Mainly, we remembered our mother having a pet catcoon, but he hated us. Plus, we never were a fan of catcoons. No, Popsicle... this was the pet we always wanted. The ice hound puppy lazily cleaned his paw, his blue fur sparkling with water droplets. He loved playing in the water, and he already proved to be a good hunter. He left came early one morning and returned with a rabbit. It was a bit of a messy kill, but we couldn't blame him. We were surprised that he left and came back. That's when we realized that he really was ours. Due to the intensity of the rain, we had enough time to tie together enough flowers to make him his own personal collar. Today, however, there was something else on our mind. “I highly doubt this is the first flood those cave spiders have ever seen,” Wilson pointed out, his arms crossed. His hair was wet, but surprisingly, it was still standing in his signature style, albeit a bit messier. “They'll be perfectly fine.” “We don't know that,” I grumbled, picking at the ground. We were desperately worried about the group of spiders, even though it occurred to us that we really shouldn't be. They had practically kept us as a prisoner for two days for little reason, but we still couldn't get feeling out of our head. That feeling of recognizing the dangling depth dweller, Erika. We shook our head, sighing. We wouldn't get any answers sitting in the rain. Besides, it was probably more important to worry about the state of our camp. “We do have everything we need from camp, right?” “I made sure to get the egg shard,” he responded distractedly as if not realizing that this was the third time we had asked this question. “And the book.” He retrieved it from his bag, easily the only dry thing we had. “I found my new favorite line in it. On the page about hounds, it says 'Beware at all costs'. Strange to think that this is talking about the same thing as Popsicle.” The hound's ears perked up as he heard his name, and he looked up from his paw grooming. It was sometimes hard to realize that the puppy would soon grow to be one of the most feared creatures in the world. “WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY IT SHOULD NOT BE HERE,” WX spoke up. “WE SHOULD HAVE KILLED IT WHEN WE HAD THE CHANCE.” “You probably shouldn't be threatening our pet when you can't even move three inches without turning into a Winter's Feast tree.” A moment passed before WX let out a burst of garbled static. Laughter, we supposed. “YOU CANNOT EVEN PROCESS THE CORRECT NAME FOR A HOLIDAY.” We puffed out our cheeks but chose not to correct him. If he was too stupid to know that that was the correct name, then he would always be too stupid. We were jarred from our thoughts by the cold muzzle of Popsicle nuzzling our arm for affection. We felt a small smile grow on our face as we scratched behind the hound's ears. We felt a twinge in the back of our head, causing us to wince. Popsicle let out a slight whine as if concerned. That familiar voice in the back of our head whispered: “Flowers will grow and rain will fall So raise your head and stand up tall As spring is here and winter's gone So let the flowers flower on” We recognized the tune. It was a simple nursery rhyme- one that we remembered well. In fact... It was the nursery rhyme that mum used to sing to me when it was raining. How do you know that? “Obvious reasons.” Why did you just sing it? "Because I'm getting awfully tired of hearing your brain work in circles. I figured a familiar tune would kick-start your old memories. I see it partially worked. Think harder, please. For my benefit." Why can't you just tell me what this is about? “It is much more fun this way. And more satisfying in the long run.” I remember... there was someone else, wasn't there? There was... there was that girl that I keep having flashes of memories of. Who was she? Is that why the name 'Erika' is so familiar to me? Did I use to know an 'Erika'? “Keep going.” She... she was my friend, wasn't she? I remember... we racked our memory for any further images of that amber-eyed girl. She was with me in a lot of my memories, but they're so fuzzy now... everything is so fuzzy after... There was another image in our head, but this one was clearer than those washed-out memories. An image of... an image of us. Blood dripping from our whiskers, wires scattered at our feet. Satisfaction. Satisfaction glowing in our eyes. Why are you showing me this? “I find it rather important. Almost as important as all of those memories you keep failing to dig up.” What is it? “A future. Would you like a better look?” Wait- no no no! Too late. We could see ourself brandishing our claws in the glowing full moon, darkness weaving around us. We could see our chest heaving with laughter, our eyes closed in bliss. We could see WX lying on the ground, motionless. We were happy. We were happy. “He's gone! He's finally gone!” This isn't what we want!! “I'm untouchable!!!” We whispered, softly. “That isn't what we want...” “You're so sure? I can see it in your mind, human. How angry you get at them. They look at you like you're weak. Like you're just a little kid without his mommy. “They look at you like you're a freak. “They look at you like you're a monster. “They look at you like you are pathetic, useless, helpless. “Why wouldn't you want to prove that they are wrong? Why would you not take any chance you can to prove that you are the strongest?” Because... “Because that's not who we are!” We drew the looks of Wilson and WX. One looked startled and confused, the other... concerned? “What are you talking about?” Wilson asked tipping his head slightly. WX said nothing, missing the perfect opportunity to make some snide comment. We raised a hand to our head, grimacing painfully. “Nothing! Leave us alone!” I shouted, turning on our heel and fleeing into the rain. “Wait! Webber!” We heard Wilson calling from behind, but we ignored him. Lightning flash from above us, skipping across the cloud-heavy sky. Mud clung to our fur and slowed us down, but we kept going until we reached camp. Then, we fell into the neck-deep water, letting it cover our head. We couldn't stand being near someone our other half was so sure we would want to kill some day. We didn't... we couldn't... But something about the image nagged at our mind. Some part of us wouldn't be devastated if he died, but at our hands? We couldn't. We couldn't kill either of them. Did that make us weak? A coward? We looked up at the sky, shimmering strangely through the water above. What if we died? Would they care? Would they mourn us? Would they miss us? We looked gazed into the water around us, wondering what would happen if we lay down and closed our eyes and slept in it. How different the world would be. We turned, slowly wading towards higher ground when a bolt charged from the ground. Our vision blackened as we fell, water rushing quickly over our face once more. Our body refused to cooperate. We could do nothing more than simply stare at the sky, separated from us by the sheet of water. What if we washed up on shore the next morning? What if they found us and realized what had happened? What if... … We heard barking. Our eyes shot open, bubbles flying from our mouth and nose as teeth grabbed our scruff. Startled out of our stupor, we found our legs flying out and kicking to a standing position. Our head broke the surface, coming face-to-face with Popsicle. The little ice hound was paddling furiously to stay afloat, his eyes dull with exhaustion but his tongue lolling out of his mouth happily. We felt air rushing into our lungs, and our arms wrapped around the hound in the tightest hug we could manage without hurting him. What were we thinking? We held Popsicle, the water causing him to be much lighter and easy enough for even our wasted muscles to carry. He seemed more than happy with himself, his little tail wagging and smacking the water behind us. “Webber!” We heard Wilson exclaim. He was up ahead, still on high enough ground for the water to only be to his knees. Upon seeing us and the hound pup, he waded into the deeper water, meeting us halfway. Without hesitation, he pulled us close in a suffocating hug. Popsicle shook free to stand on dry land, shaking his blue fur out. “What were you doing?” He shouted as he released us. His eyes flared with anger, but we could tell it was only because he was fiercely stressed, “You could've drowned out there!!” “YOU FOUND HIM?” WX was still on dry land, but 'dry' was used lightly. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, but he wasn't any less waterlogged for it. He barely seemed to notice the sparks flying off of him, though. He stopped at the edge of the water, looking out over us. “Popsicle found him.” “GOOD. IT IS DANGEROUS FOR ANY OF US TO BE OUT.” We looked at WX, shock washing over our system. “You... you both came to make sure we were okay?” Wilson blinked. “Of course. We're a team.” “A team...” I echoed. “THE HOUND WOULD NOT STOP BARKING.” We smiled, a small laugh bubbling from our chest. “He's a good boy...” “Let's get back to our makeshift camp and get dried off, okay? And don't do that again.” “We won't,” I promised softly, nearly dizzy in relief that Wilson was carrying us as we left the water behind. “We... I promise.”
  12. Chapter 27: The Hunting Party Shatter's POV “Kyra!” The female ice hound glanced up, fur sticking up along her back. That was my mother. She was the strongest hound in the whole pack. Or so, that's what I had been told several times over by almost all of the bigger hounds I knew. She looked worried, deeply worried as if something horrible had happened. She told me the story of how she and my father had joined the Varg's pack. They were once a pair of hunting hounds owned by a walrus by the name of Mactusk. After a particularly harsh winter followed by a summer far too hot to make up on the lost hunting, and they had been given up. They had traveled together for a while until Varg's pack found them hunting a beefalo together. They had joined in hopes of providing the best life possible for them and their future pups. While my father had passed before I was even born, though, I carried his spirit in my name. I was proud to carry this name. I was still small, but I was growing quickly. Soon, I knew, I would be big enough to join my first dangerous hunting party. I didn't realize how soon it was. Varg was incredibly massive and incredibly terrifying. His eyes were white and beady, and today they were flaring with either excitement or anger or both. “Shatter did very well in his first hunting assignment,” Varg began. Momma dipped her head, looking... worried? “He did.” “Shatter, are you interested in joining another hunting party? This one will be much more dangerous, but should you succeed, you will be hailed a hero.” Kyra looked as if she were about to speak, but she clamped her jaw shut and glanced at me instead. “...This is your choice, pup. You're old enough to have a name, and you are old enough to make your own decisions.” “Your mother is right, young hound.” Varg's eyes glimmered. “Will you join the party against the survivors?” "Will I!?" I exclaimed, quivering with excitement. "O-Of course!" I hesitated, then broke into a bow as I had seen the other pups before I do to address their leader. "I-It would be an honor to serve you!" “Kyra, I expect that you would like to go with Shatter,” Varg continued, and the female hound dipped her head in agreement. “And... Ebony, Coal, Midnight, Ash...” The mighty beast lowered his head in thought. “Pitch.” The five black hounds barked to show their acknowledgment and lined up in front of Varg. My mother gently nudged me from behind, encouraging me to join them. I did, but slowly. Kyra joined them, and I stood beside her. Varg paced down the line, sniffing each of us in turn. He stopped at me, his beady eyes freezing me in my spot. “You're young, but you're strong. I've seen the way you can hunt and fight, and I trust in your ability to do this.” A huge paw touched the top of my head. “You have your father's strength.” He turned back to the pack. “These hounds will return victorious over the intruders of our hunting land!” Yelps and bellows of triumph echoed over the group. I felt my chest puff with pride. This is my pack. I'm going to fight for my pack! “You will leave immediately,” Varg rumbled. “Good luck. The faith of the pack follows you.” The other hounds pounded the ground and barked, including my mother. I found myself deflating slightly, seeing the passion and strength in all of their shoulders and backs. It was rather obvious that I was the odd one out, but before I could say anything to mom, they were moving. Kyra naturally took the lead, and I was awed by the muscles rolling under her fur. I had never realized how strong my mother was. We will do this! My mother is the biggest, strongest hound in the whole pack! I will make you proud! Apologies for the shortness of this one. There wasn't really much to say for this. This next chapter will definitely be longer
  13. Chapter 26: Pop! Goes the Ice Hound Wilson's POV I couldn't help but tap my foot expectantly as Webber walked towards me with his head down. While WX had returned to camp the same day he had left, the spider had been gone for two days. WX had held the information of his whereabouts over my head for his own amusement, which I wasn't surprised about. It didn't make me any less worried about him, though. It's a dangerous world. It's not safe for any of us to be out alone. “Well? Where were you?” “Um... dying...” the spider mumbled. “Probably?” I raised my eyebrow at him. “We weren't in danger,” he said quickly. “We-uh- were with other spiders. We fell through the hill with WX and got a nasty injury on our chest.” “HE HAD A CRUSH ON ONE OF THEM,” WX added with a sneer. “Did not!” Webber growled, but I cut him off before another argument could surface. “Alright, alright, don't even start. Webber, I really don't like that you were out that long without telling me where you were.” I crossed my arms. Despite the fact that he acted independently, he was still a young child, and he still had to learn rules and discipline. His jaw dropped in anger. “What were we supposed to tell you? They literally would not let us leave!” Webber stomped his foot, puffing his cheeks out and his whiskers twitching. “You've survived a lot worse than a gash to the chest,” I pointed out. “We've been here for less than a year and you've probably already broken half of the bones in your body. Surely you could've left any time you wanted to, even if they didn't let you.” “Why are you treating us like a child?” Webber fumed. “We've survived by ourself for years before!” “Because you are a child, Webber!” "Well, you're not our pa! You have no right to tell us what to do! If we want to spend some time with our own kind, then let us!" “I may not be your father, but you should be glad about that! If I was your father, I would've washed your mouth out with soap by now!” “We'd love to see you try!” “WILSON,” WX spoke up, startling me out of my glare-off with the spider boy. “YOU KNOW AS WELL AS I DO THAT IT WOULD BE USELESS TO KEEP A LEASH ON HIM. IF HE WANTS TO KILL HIMSELF, LET HIM.” I pinched the bridge of my nose, letting out a long sigh. “You're right, WX. I just worry about both of you, alright? We need each other. Webber, I'm sorry I yelled at you. I was- grr, I was really worried about you! WX wouldn't tell me where you were! I seriously thought you were dead!” Webber's shoulders relaxed slightly, and he lowered his head again. “...it's okay. We just... really... we are independent. You know that, right?” I sighed once more and shook my head. You aren't! None of us are! Why don't you understand that! “Go get something to eat.” “Yes, Wilson.” He turned and scampered off, leaving me alone with WX. I turned to the robot with an incredulous expression. “He doesn't get it.” “HE IS YOUNG,” WX replied, surprising me with the touch of fondness in the comment. “HE WILL LEARN.” The robot shook his head. “IT HAS BEEN GETTING WARM. SUMMER IS COMING.” “I'm aware. I'm not looking forward to it...” I shook my head fiercely. “But it doesn't matter! We've survived this long! At this point, our exquisite master may as well give us the key out.” I cracked my knuckles, choosing not to read WX's expression. I didn't need to see his doubt. “I know the book says that the Dragonfly is the strongest of all of the Giants, but I call bologna. It's stupid to have the hardest enemy be the second one we fight.” “...I SUPPOSE. WHILE YOUR OPTIMISM IS SICKENING I CANNOT HELP BUT WONDER IF THAT IS WHAT HAS GOTTEN YOU THIS FAR.” “Wow! We missed the taste of rabbit!” Webber exclaimed, rejoining us. His hands were covered with red juice that he was contently licking off. “Slurper may be good but it will never beat the peaty taste of a goo-” “Hush,” I cut him off, aggressively motioning my hand towards him to stop. He paused with his hand in mid-air. “...do you hear that?” Whiskers twitching, Webber closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. “Hounds. Seven of them. Coming from...” he paused, then pointed in the direction of the savanna. “Over there.” He looked baffled for a moment. “We... there's a tinge that we can't quite make out...” I hoisted my morning star over my shoulder, watching carefully in the direction that Webber had pointed. I was surprised by how much I trusted the boy's sense of hearing and smell, but there wasn't time to really think about it. Webber gripped his knife closely to his chest while WX chose not to take a weapon. The robot's heavy weight allowed for him to give rather heavy blows as well, and his hands obviously did not break down like a weapon would, so he had been using his fists more and more as of late. For a long moment, there was only the faint sound of the wind and mine and Webber's breathing, along with the very, very faint churning of metallic parts working together. Then, the first hound broke through the tree line. Webber growled deep in his throat, his muscles bunching, but I was too shocked to respond for the longest moment. That's a huge hound! And it's BLUE! Why is it BLUE? Behind it were five black hounds, tailed by another blue one, this one substantially smaller. Is that a puppy? I felt a tinge of guilt. We have to fight a puppy? Maxwell, how cold can you get?? I didn't have enough time to feel too bad though, because the front runner had reached us. Teeth like icicles gleamed in the sun as it lunged for my chest. Readying myself, I swung my morning star in a wide arc and hit the side of its face with a sickening crack! It went flying but managed to land on its paws anyway, its furry chest heaving. Fire blazed in its hungry gaze, but I could see something more. Are... are they sentient? No, don't be stupid, Wilson. Animals are animals. They can't think or care any more than a rock can. Before I could renew my attack, the second blue hound latched onto my ankle, causing me to collapse. Its fur was as cold as snow, and despite its small size, it was rather heavy. I hit the ground heavily, losing my weapon in the process in favor of trying to pry it off. It let out an excited yelp as it realized that it had the upper hand, and clamped onto my hand. It tossed its head back and forth, growling, and I couldn't help but feel dizzy with relief that it was just a puppy. If it had been a fully grown hound, it could've easily taken my whole arm off. I could still feel its jagged teeth digging into my skin though, and the blood pooling around its teeth told me enough about the state of my hand. Then, it released me with a howl. I blinked rapidly, my racing mind taking a second to recover from the attack, but I was just in time to see why it had stopped. WX stood over the bloody body of the largest hound. The rest of the hounds lay, lifeless, on the ground around them, and I realized that he and Webber had taken all of them out in the time it took for me to nearly get nibbled to death by a puppy. Its blue fur was so stained in its own blood that it was hard to make out what color it was anymore. The puppy had released me in favor of nudging and whining at the hound's body. My stomach lurched in horror of the realization, and I turned to see the exact expression over Webber's face. His jaw dropped and he looked absolutely devastated. If he was anyone else, I would've expected to see the boy crying. “You killed its momma!” Webber cried, glaring accusingly at WX. “IT'S 'MOMMA' WAS TRYING TO KILL US!” WX snapped back, glaring at the puppy with disdain. “AND SO WAS THIS STUPID CREATURE.” He brought his arm back as if to finish off the hound pup, but Webber caught the robot's hand before he could. WX gave him a nasty look. “Don't kill it! It's- it's just a baby!” “OH?” WX sounded incredibly amused. “SHOULD I PICK IT UP AND KISS IT AND MAKE IT ALL BETTER?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. Webber looked at me with a pained expression. “Wilson, we can't kill it!” “It's just an animal, Webber. It's not like they have feelings any more than a rock or insect does.” Hurt flared in his eyes, and he looked sharply away. I was confused. Did I offend him or something? "Is that all we are, then?!" He exploded, snapping his gaze back towards me. His fur bristled and his whiskers were twitching like crazy. "Are we just an emotionless insect, Wilson?” GAH how do you make it SO EASY TO FORGET WHAT YOU ARE? “That's- that's not what I meant and you know it!” His fur flattened a little, but he didn't look any less upset. He just looked... he looks sad... he looks so sad. “Webber.” I tried to make my voice as gentle as possible. I rested my hand on the boy's shoulder. “What else could we do with a hound? They're born and bred to kill. Just because this one is smaller doesn't mean it's any less capable of killing.” “Spiders are too. We're also born to kill, and you still let us stay around. Why couldn't we make an exception for this puppy?” I gave WX a 'please-help-me-look'. “DO NOT LOOK AT ME LIKE THAT, SCIENTIST. THIS IS YOUR MESS TO CLEAN UP.” I sighed. “Webber, we couldn't care for another pet. We already have Chester, and he eats enough for four animals.” I attempted to lighten the mood. As if to solidify my comment, the little orange beast let out a bark from his spot by the fire. Webber said nothing, only breaking away from me and slowly nearing the hound. As he did, the puppy shied away, but Webber was able to gently touch the top of its head. It almost seemed to melt into the touch, closing its eyes and turning its cheek for Webber's claws to stroke. Webber closed his eyes, then stood up, his gaze burning with determination. “Okay, if we can't appeal to your emotional side, then think about it logically. We'll have a sentry to keep watch at night while we sleep. Hounds may not attack us as often or badly if they risk hurting one of their own kind. We could train this puppy to hunt, Wilson. It's obviously built to withstand the cold, and you remember how horrible the winter was with hunting.” I rubbed my temples, trying to force myself to say no, but he was making legitimate points. “...you'll be responsible for training and feeding it?” Webber perked up. “O-of course!” WX scowled. “Fine. If you want to keep it, it's yours. But if that hound takes one step out of line, we're going to have to get rid of it.” “Really, Wilson?” Webber sounded more childlike than I ever heard him sound. “Oh thank you thank you thank you!!” He barreled towards me and hugged me as fiercely as he could. I let out a nervous laugh and patted his head, unsure of what else to do. Webber seemed to notice how impulsive the action was and he broke away almost immediately, blushing fiercely in embarrassment beneath his fur. “Um... yes, very... very smart to agree... it would be stupid not to...” he hiccuped, choosing to stroke the hound pup without looking back at me. I smiled. Oh, Webber, you don't have to act big and tough all the time. You're allowed to act like your age. “YOU'RE SERIOUS, WILSON?” “Hey, you didn't protest so I figured the decision was up to me.” “IT IS A KILLING MACHINE! IT IS DESIGNED TO WANT TO KILL US.” “So are you, and yet we keep you around,” I responded cheekily. “What have you always wanted to name a pet?” I asked Webber as he grew bolder in petting the newest addition to the group. “Popsicle!” The spider boy responded without any hesitation. “He feels like a little popsicle, you know? His fur is all cold.” I smiled, surprising myself at how the boy's excitement bled into me. "...Popsicle. All right." This hound was still small, but something was telling me that he wouldn't stay that way for long. If the size of his mother was anything to say by it, he would be very strong. Maybe this was actually a good idea. Maybe this was a stroke of luck, that we are taking in this hound. Maybe Popsicle is going to give us the edge we need.
  14. Actually, Erika is on the cover too, I should mention. Look at the girl <3 And yes I believe Webber can befriend spiders in the caves? I haven't survived long enough as Webber to know but I'm going off of what the wiki says
  15. Chapter 25: Erika Webber's POV "One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand..." Our face was buried in the darkly colored bark of an old pine tree. Our breath was hot and moist on our fur. "Twenty-one thousand... twenty-one one thousand... twenty-two one thousand..." The thrill of the hunt was boiling in our blood. Our claws twitched with excitement. "Forty-eight one thousand... forty-nine one thousand... fifty! Ready or not, here we come!" We leaped away from the tree, our eyes closed tightly as we breathed heavily in, then out. Our whiskers twitched with concentration. Then, finally, we sucked in a breath that brought us the scent of our target. Turning on our heel, we took a final moment to determine where the scent was coming from before dropping to all fours and running. The fresh spring air blasted us in the face and we weaved around obstacles with nary a thought. We threw up mud and dirt in our wake. We broke into the desert, the hot sand feeling nice against our chilly, damp feet. Buzzard cawed overhead as we kept low to the ground. We could see him now, sitting in the sand just over a ridge. The sun glinted brightly off of him. He seemed deeply lost in thought. We licked out chops and slunk closer, whiskers twitching intensely. Closer... closer... closer... Then, we were leaping, crashing into WX-78 as hard as our inertia would allow, bowling him over. He let out a shout of indignation, twisting and burying his foot deep into our ribs. We bared our teeth. “Scared ya', didn't we?” WX grunted with annoyance. He pushed us off and brushed the sand off of himself. “I COULD NOT POSSIBLY BE SCARED BY YOU.” “Yup! We scared you!” The desert was quickly drying the water that had gathered on our fur. “Whatcha doing out here?” “GETTING AWAY FROM YOU.” The robot frowned deeply and crossed his arms. “WHAT ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO BE DOING?” “Wilson told us to explore a bit,” I explained. “SINCE WHEN DO YOU FOLLOW ORDERS?” WX huffed. “When there's nothing else to do and we planned on exploring anyway.” We shook the sand off of ourself. “And, to be fair, we aren't following orders! We're following you!” "WELL, YOU CAN FOLLOW THIS!” The robot picked up a stick and threw it. We stared at it for a long moment, then back at him. “Really?” He threw his arms in the air in frustration. “DON'T YOU HAVE SOMEBODY ELSE TO ANNOY?” “Nope! Come on! Let's explore!” WX crossed his arms and growled. “FINE.” He turned angrily away, marching past. We grinned, counting it as a victory, and followed. Much of the walk was spent in silence, which eventually devolved into awkwardness. He seemed upset about something, but we couldn't be bothered to care. We were jogged out of our thoughts by the sound of a low, distant rumble. WX paused, looking confused. “It's an earthquake,” I informed him. “Just underground. It shouldn't bother us.” Turns out, the world didn't like it when you claimed that it did something harmless. Despite the many times we had fought, it was easy to forget how heavy the robot actually was. We were cresting a hill when we saw WX stumble slightly in the corner of our vision. Then, the ground crumbled away beneath him. He let out a short exclamation of surprise, quickly cut off by the thick darkness below. “WX!” I cried, lunging forward to grab his hand. Of course, a seven-year-old trying to hold up a robot that was easily over a ton didn't work very well, and it only succeeded in sending us both into the hole. The darkness swallowed us both, but it wasn't until we hit the bottom that everything went dark. … Blackness. Shadows. We opened our eyes groggily to see nothing but a tiny beam of light above our heads. We slowly rolled over, groaning at the ache reverberating through our whole body. “WX?” I croaked, before instantly dissolving into a fit of coughs. “WX, are you okay?” We managed to drag ourself to our knees, waiting for our eyes to adjust. "I'M HERE," came the rough voice as WX dragged himself closer to the light. He looked worse for wear but otherwise fine. “Any idea where we are?” WX's eyeless gaze slowly drifted down. “YOU'RE BLEEDING.” We touched our chest, only to bring our hand away soaked in blood. “...guess we are.” We flicked our hand, tiny droplets scattering the ground. “That doesn't matter right now. We're just glad that both of us are alright. We need to get out of here.” A hiss drifted from the shadows, announcing the arrival of someone new. A spider. WX stiffened as if startled, but we found a tiny spark of hope. "Hello?" I hissed in his language. “Who are you? Can you help us leave?” Two red eyes slowly neared. “What are you?” The spider spat back as it finally made itself shown. It was completely white sans its bright red eyes. It moved carefully and precisely. Its mouth was twisted in a snarl. “You aren't one of us.” It hit, but we didn't let it show. “Is there a problem with that?” “Surface spiders aren't welcome here.” The spider snarled. It slowly stalked closer to WX, who appeared to be readying himself to attack. “Nor is your kind.” “Hold on, WX.” We waved him off. “We just want to leave.” It turned to the ceiling and let out a long, loud hiss. Thousands of eyes opened in unison. We slowly stepped back until we backed into WX. “BACK AWAY YOU PESTS!” The robot shouted. We can take out... maybe twenty together? But that's way more than twenty... We quickly assessed our options. We couldn't run or else risk angering the monster of the dark... “Don't touch them!” We snapped our gaze upward as one of the spiders broke away from the legions, shoving the leader angrily. This one's eyes were closer to pink than red, and her voice was distinctly feminine. “Father, they did not mean to intrude! They fell from the surface! Just let them go!” There was something... familiar... about her? A girl with sparkling amber eyes, grabbing my hand and jumping up and down with glee. Gleeful laughter pierced my ears. The leader shifted his gaze carefully across both of us, before resting them on the newcomer. “Erika, this is not your place,” he growled. “You have no right to interrupt me.” “I do, when you're about to kill two innocent victims of M-” she cut herself off. “Him. Besides, look at him! He's injured! They both are!” “WHAT ARE THEY SAYING?” WX growled softly. “Debating our life or death,” I replied grimly. “Ignore my father,” 'Erika' sighed, flicking one of her front legs. “You're welcome here! Come with me! Let's fix you up!” “Erika, you may be my daughter but you are not in charge here.” “He's kind of a killjoy at times.” Erika winked. “We can fix up that wound, but... that.... what is that?” “Someone we're stuck with for the rest of our lives,” I replied with a grin. Startling ourself, we reached up and touched the edge of our grin. …Why are we... smiling? “He pretends to hate me, but we're absolute best friends.” “O... kay? He's going to have to stay here. My voice isn't loud enough to tell the entire colony to stay away.” She turned and beckoned us. "...WX, would you mind staying here for a while? We shouldn't be long." A knowing look passed over his face and twisted into a sneer. “OH, I UNDERSTAND. YOU WANT SOME PRIVACY.” We tipped our head in confusion. “ALL RIGHT. GO HAVE FUN. BUT NOT TOO MUCH FUN.” “...what?” We would've protested more, but our wound was really starting to bite. “You know what? Nevermind...” The leading spider was grumbling angrily, but Erika ignored him. She bounded into the darkness, but we hesitated, unconsciously shifting closer to WX. “ “We... can't go into the darkness. The mo-” “She won't touch you here,” Erika cut us off. “There's- actually, I think it'd be cooler to let you see yourself!” We looked into the darkness, feeling as if we were directly staring down the monster of the dark herself. ...we trust her. I don't know why, but we do. “Alright. Lead the way. We'll... be back soon, WX. Don't get too lonely.” Before the robot could even respond, Erika eagerly pushed us into the dark, her grumbling father following behind. … We could understand now why Erika was unconcerned about the monster of the dark. The darkness only lasted for a short time before red light suddenly flooded the area. We took a disoriented step back as spots danced in our vision. Erika looked amused. “Yeah, a lot of outsiders react that way.” “Didn't your father say that no outsiders were allowed here?” “He's all bark and no bite,” Erika said dismissively. The rest of the spider army had gone to do other activities, but that didn't stop the occasional skitter of spider claws behind us. No matter what we felt or thought, we would never be alone in these caves. “Slinger! Come over here! We've got a wound that needs tending to. Slinger is our medic,” Erika explained. “He can speak twenty-four languages, including everything from tallbird to hound.” “Yes, Erika!” Another snow-white spider dropped from the ceiling, nearly right in front of our feet. We yelped then quickly brushed ourself off in an attempt to keep our composure. Erika let out a giggle. “Oh boy, that's a pretty bad wound. How are you walking right now? Hey Slasher, come look at this guy!” “Yeah, boss! That's a pretty bad one. You should probably do something about it.” We glanced uncomfortably at the ceiling. How many spiders were hiding up there, out of sight, watching our every move? “Alright, alright, let's get you fixed up! Come with me, come with me!” We followed him, slower this time. Was it wrong to choose to go with the spiders? Were we about to get eaten alive? Spiders weren't strangers to cannibalism- we remember with a sickening twist in our stomach... the bitter, rotten taste of spider meat sitting in our otherwise empty belly like a lead ball...- and they definitely were not strangers to trapping each other and group-attacking them. Uh oh. We're about to get eaten by our own kind. Eat your hearts out, spiders! You're gonna get a huge surprise once you get past the tough, outer, chewy layer! “This might sting a little,” Slinger stated, before quickly and efficiently binding the wound on our chest with silk. We decided not to think about where the silk came from. However the method, soon, the weak blood flow was staunched, and Slinger stepped back to examine his work. “There! All nice and clean!” We gently touched the makeshift bandage. “...thank you.” “No problem, weird-looking spider! Come on, Slasher!” “Of course, boss!” After they left, we were left along with Erika. Well, Erika and the four thousand spiders watching our every move. “So... um... could you show us to the surface now?” Erika laughed. “With that wound? Of course not.” Yup, we're definitely going to become this spider's lunch. We've lived for seven years. That's a... well, not 'long' but it was a life I guess. “Just get some rest, and you'll be better in no time! Good night, er...” “Webber.” But the name didn't sound right and there was an intense want to say something different but there was nothing different to say. “Webber. Huh. You've probably already heard my name a hundred times, but it's Erika.” Snow battering my face as the winter chill turned my nose red. Snow condensed into a ball colliding with the back of my head. We turned away, trying to drive away the half-formed and fuzzy memories. “Goodnight Erika,” I murmured, curling up on the silk beneath and closing our eyes. “When was the last time I slept on silk? Oh, it's been so, so long! I've missed it. I'm surprised that she is still alive, I will not deny. After... you know.” What?? What are you talking about?? “...nevermind.” A small chuckle resonated in the back of our head. “You'll find out soon enough.” … Slinger hummed and hurmed at the gash we received from the fall. The 'dangling depth dweller', as Erika had explained them to be called, clapped his front legs together. “You should be able to return to the surface today!” We perked up, our eyes widening. “Really?” While only two days had passed, it was hard not to have gotten sick of the never-ending darkness. We only knew how much time had gone by because of Erika. “Erika! It's time for our guest to leave,” Slinger called into the darkness. His cry was almost instantly answered by the pink-eyed dangling depth dweller. She looked almost... sad? Nostalgic? “Already? Yes, yes, you have your friends on the surface to tend to.” She tapped on the floor, then forcibly brightened. “Well, I guess this is goodbye until you and your friend fall down here again!” “Until then,” I responded with a smile. We hesitated, then added: “will you be the one to show us the way out?” “Of course.” Her expression softened, but she shook her body as if to scatter thoughts. “Come on! The Nightmare Lights won't stay lit forever. We only have a short amount of time.” The white spider turned and scurried away, but her rush shocked us. There's something off about her. I'm not the only one that feels it...
  16. Sort of. It's basically a society where they tend to worship their leader in that sort of way. Sorry I didn't really make that clearer
  17. Chapter 24: Guilt WX-78's POV The sky was stained pink and red and orange with the rise of the sun. All night, while the others slept, I had watched the sky. Sometimes, counting the stars, but most often just letting my mind wander. Wilson had seemed happy, but also uncomfortable, at the fact that we had killed the Goose, but I couldn't tell what Webber felt. Every time I had looked at him there had been a different expression on his face. Grief one time, glee another, shock, then fear, then guilt, then excitement. I hated to think about it, but I had felt truly overjoyed at seeing the beast fall. Some part of me that I was trying desperately (and more often than not failing) to salvage hated it simply for being a living, breathing creature. So what if it had a nest to take care of? If we had let those moslings live, they would've grown up to be just as much trouble as their mother. Another part of me, that was decidedly my own thoughts, so take that Wilson, wondered if I should be more sad about it. However, even if I tried, I couldn't muster any guilt for it. The beast had deserved to die. It was more trouble than it was worth. If we had not killed it, it would've killed us. It was simply the circle of life. The new day reminded me that I was, in fact, existing. I shook my head, only slightly, before turning my gaze disdainfully to the other two of my group. They were still asleep, of course. Weak. But the thought wasn't as scornful as it usually was. Of course, they were going to be exhausted. It was not their fault. It was the fault of their weak, fleshy and far too easy to harm bodies. What if one of us had died in that battle? Could the other two make it out without them? If I had died, could they make it without my brute strength? Could Wilson and I make it without Webber's... whatever he contributed to the group? Of course, I mentally added. I could make it by myself. But was that entirely true? All of us had suffered painfully for our arrogance in the winter. Stop. Stop doubting yourself. That was a single case. An unlucky one, at that. The rising sun caught the fragment of the Goose's egg, glinting like a tiny sun. Wilson had been clutching it to his chest when he had fallen asleep, but his grip had, by now, loosened enough to where it fell onto the dirt beside him. I hesitated, then slowly began to inch closer to them. I had not touched it since Wilson had retrieved in, primarily due to my lack of caring about it beforehand. I retrieved it, studying it closely and holding it up into the light. To my surprise, it was not just a solid color. Small fragments of something black and green glittered in the pale blue surface, looking quite like distant stars in the midnight sky. I frowned, just a little. There were so few stars in this world, even on the clearest of nights. Where did I see that...? Instinctively, I looked up at the brightening sky. There were many things that the old sky held that this one didn't. For one, I had a very faint, vague memory of clouds that appeared in light fluffs. Here, the sky was either clear and sunny or mostly covered in thick, foreboding gray clouds. Sometimes, it was hard for me to realize that I had only been built in the past four or five years and that the time to form new memories was short. We had not even been in this world for an incredibly long time, but already my memories of our home world were beginning to fade. I looked back to the other two members of my group. Wilson never talked about a family or friends, yet he seemed to fancy escape just as much as I did. He never really spoke of how he got here; He tended to focus on what was happening and what needed to be done at the current moment. Webber was an enigma. The way he threw himself into the brunt of the action, always eager to strike the first blow, to spill first blood, was oftentimes useful for our gain. Yet, he almost never spoke of freedom. It was easy for me to forget how young he was, despite the fact that he was the smallest of all of us. He was a magnet for trouble, of course, the most likely to shatter his legs or get pushed into the ocean in the middle of winter or literally any other stupid thing, but he also didn't show the same passion that Wilson and I shared to escape. A soft, almost-but-not-quite barking sound jogged me from my thoughts. My gaze rested on Chester, the sentient pumpkin-creature had idly hopped up to me, and now it panted expectantly like I was the most likely candidate to give it a rub or a pat. I stared at it with disdain. I had my misgivings about keeping the little creature, but truthfully enough it was fairly easy to ignore, or even forget about. In fact, the only times I ever really saw it was when it had bounced out of the shadows to rest by the fire. Despite the fact that we held the item that summoned it, it rarely showed up. Good. It had better stay that way. I didn't plan on giving it the pet that it obviously wanted. I looked up at the rising sun, letting out a quiet, static sigh. My team would be waking soon. I stopped. My team? Did I think of them like that now? Sure, I greatly appreciated their help at times, not that I would ever tell them, but did we truly work as a team? I had always pictured a team working like cogs in a machine, linking and moving and humming and working together, all the time, to make something greater. We fought, we argued- we were nothing alike. We even let our arrogance split us apart at one of the roughest times of the year. Despite this, we had killed the Goose. Despite all of our pettiness and grudges, we had set that all aside in the heat of battle. I closed my eyes, leaning my head back and letting the sound of the early morning birds chirping and squawking as they flew down to the ground and searched for seeds to eat. … Intermission: Kyra's Pack Kyra and Shatter padded side-by-side in the back of a hunting party. Her pup bounded beside her, his little pink tongue hanging out from the side of his mouth. "Where're we goin', mamma?" The newly named ice hound chirped in question, looking up cheerfully at Kyra's face. She gave him an affectionate lick on the side of his face. He was growing big, but he was still as eager as a tiny puppy. This would be his very first hunting mission- it wasn't anything dangerous, Varg would never send a warrior-in-training on a mission that could take his or her life before they were fully grown, just an expedition out to the rabbit holes, but she still worried deeply for him and his safety. Shatter- the original Shatter- had died before the survivors had become prevalent to the pack. Sometimes, Kyra had heard Varg mention that this was a shame for multiple reasons, not just because an expectant mother had lost her mate, but also because if anyone could take on a group of survivors and win, it was Shatter. She knew very well that this is what his plans were for her pup. This was merely a trial run. If he did well here, then Varg would know he was almost old enough for a proper hunting party. She wasn't sure if Varg would wait until he was at least fully grown before sending him against the survivors. He wouldn't be that inane, she hoped. Sending a small pup against the survivors? Not even Varg would expect that to work well. Her nose twitched as she caught the powerful scent of rabbit meat. Sizzle, the fire hound pup, hung back for a moment to walk beside Shatter. “Are you excited for your first hunting mission?” Her voice was kind and soft, easily the gentler of the siblings. Then again, compared to the ever-rowdy Ebony, perhaps that wasn't a hard title to gain. “Am I ever!” Shatter exclaimed, hopping between his feet. His icy blue fur was practically glowing in the sunlight, as were his wide, silver eyes. “Hush,” Hailstorm hissed. The ice hound was leading the party, his fur brushed out slightly as the smell of meat washed over them all. “Take your positions. I want each of you to lead your prey into Shatter's paws. The success of this hunt will determine young Shatter's place in the rankings.” “What about me, sir?” Kyra stepped forward, beside her pup. Shatter was quivering with excitement, his paws eagerly kneading the ground in anticipation. “Take his back,” Hailstorm instructed. “We can't fail a hunt just to train a pup. Try to catch any rabbits that he misses. Alright, pack, positions!” He let out a short, quiet bark, and at once, the entire party split into different directions. Shatter flattened his body to the ground, whining excitedly. She could see black and blue shapes moving among the grass. A singular red-tinted one slunk beside a black-furred hound as Sizzle followed \her own instructions. There were few rabbits still about due to the season, but a small handful of them had dug free of their burrows to store more food to last the spring. They moved as one, a full force rather than its separate parts. When they broke free of their carefully created circle, they all ran together, quickly eliminating all escape routes that could possibly be used by their prey. Shatter worked surprisingly well considering his young age. He was fast on his feet as the first rabbit plowed its way to him. Kyra held her breath as he leaped, pinning down the rabbit solidly and biting its scruff, growling. Another rabbit swerved past him and straight into Kyra's jaws. He released the rabbit he had and clamped his teeth around its neck. “That's all!” A sturdy, female hound shouted. She had a dead rabbit at her feet. “Excellent job!” Hailstorm called. “Varg will be pleased!” Shatter dropped onto his haunches, his tongue sticking out of his mouth. “Did I do good, momma?” He chirped. His mouth was stained with blood from his kills, and his teeth were partially showing from his half-open mouth. Kyra took a step back, her brow creasing with worry. Shatter's excitement faded as he saw her reaction. “Did I do something wrong?” “N-no,” she stammered. He's a hunter at heart. He is just like his father. Varg's... Varg's going to... send him out... "No, pup, you did fantastically." Her words caught in her throat. Oh Varg, I'm begging you! Please don't send him against the survivors! I couldn't live with myself if something happened to him!
  18. Chapter 23: Bloodshed Wilson's POV Scared would typically be the last thing I would describe my emotions, standing face-to-face with a seven-year-old that I had just fought a fifty-foot-tall Goose monster with. In fact, I was pretty sure that had I thought about it before this whole mess started, I would've thought I was going insane. I wiped the sweat off of my forehead, partially formed from stress and partially from just overworking myself, and took a step back. I was shaking, I realized, probably from the fact that my friends and I had just taken on a fifty-foot-tall Goose monster and won. I had intensely mixed feelings of Oh my God did we just do that?! And We could've died and WE BEAT ONE OF THE GIANTS HOLY MOTHER OF SCIENCE. WX seemed to be satisfied with himself, crossing his arms with none of the energy or fear or guilt that I was sure Webber and I shared. This battle did something to Webber. I couldn't tell exactly what it was, and I couldn't be sure of what it was I was seeing, but I knew one thing for sure. There had been something else fighting with him. It wasn't something I had seen or something I heard, it was something that I just acknowledged and felt. It was something that was far beyond the forces of science to be able to comprehend. It wasn't good, it wasn't benign. There was something it wanted. The first person to break the silence was the boy himself. He shook his entire body- not unlike a cat- and looked up to meet my eyes. “She wasn't evil,” he said at length. His voice was small and timid, more like the little boy he truly was instead of the fierce facade he managed. “Did you see the way she looked at her nest? She just wanted to protect her babies...” He was echoing my own thoughts. I turned the shell over in my hands, feeling the unnaturally smooth surface brushing against the scrapes I had earned on my hands after using them to keep myself falling face-first into the dirt. Sure, to my little group, we had perfectly good reasons to be killing her, but did she realize this? I was gathering my thoughts to give him a reply, but WX was the first to jump into the conversation. Apparently, a more WX-like fashion to replying to someone was to walk up behind him and backhand him heartily. “ANIMALS ARE STUPID,” he huffed. “IT PROBABLY DID NOT EVEN REALIZE IT WAS FIGHTING SOMETHING. THEY DO NOT HAVE ANY SORT OF THOUGHT PROCESS.” “No, not it. Her.” I bent down, feeling the carefully created nest that the egg had been protected in. With her great size, how long had it taken her to construct this? It was so small... especially to be housing such a monstrous creature. “And, to be fair, WX, that way of thinking could be easily said both ways. Have you ever thought your own thoughts, or have you just always followed the thoughts programmed into you by a human?” Did he turn his head, only slightly, to glance at Webber as I asked that? “IN MY DEFENSE, I WAS HAND-CREATED BY THE MOST POWERFUL DIETY TO EXIST.” He tipped his head arrogantly. “YOU SHOULD FEEL BLESSED TO BE IN MY PRESENCE.” I felt a smile try to force its way onto my lips, but the back of my mind still rambled about how the robot could possibly function. I felt my fingers twitch, wishing nothing more than to have a pencil and paper right now. Could WX feel anything other than what he was programmed to feel? Was there any way for me ever to figure this out? I shook my head. Focus, Wilson! I turned away from WX and clapped a single time, pushing my worries about morality and personal ethics and everything in between to the back of my mind. I let the smile that came with knowing that we had just taken the first step to our freedom crack through. “Do you understand what this means? We're a fifth of the way done with this, guys!” “I CANNOT WAIT TO BE DONE WITH DEALING WITH THE LIKES OF YOU.” I was about ninety-nine percent sure that he was just saying stuff to act big and tough. However, I decided not to bring this up to him, in favor of keeping the bones in my lower jaw intact. Webber gave the shard in our hand a dubious glance. "Are you sure that's good enough?" His 'whiskers' were twitching, but I couldn't tell if it was nervousness, amusement, or fear. His voice lowered. "Are you sure we don't have to do that again?" He sounded distant, his gaze glazing over and his claws curling again. A shiver ran down my spine. I had never seen him more spider than human, but that look in his eyes when he stabbed the Goose in the nest, the blood staining his black fur... “IS OUR PLAN TO STAND HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT AND WAIT FOR THE NIGHT MONSTER TO CATCH US?” WX scoffed, holding out his arms, indicating the powerful glow coming from his body from the lightning that had struck him. I felt a pang of jealousy- when was I going to show up with awesome powers that rip someone's throat open or bash a mosling's head in with a single swing- but then I instantly felt fear spawning from these thoughts. Where had that come from? “I CAN ONLY STAY THIS WAY FOR SO LONG, YOU KNOW.” "Right," I forced myself to say between my thoughts and worries. I had time to worry later when Webber was asleep and WX was in his nightly trance that he seemed to force himself into despite his inability to sleep. Now was the time for optimism. I hoisted the morning star over my shoulder, decidedly not nearly falling back due to the weight, and held the shell closely to my chest, trying not to crack it any further. "Safety first. Come on, Webber." I waited for him to break himself out of whatever state of half-consciousness he was in and follow me. He matched my steps, looking quite like he wanted to say something, but also looking too nervous to say whatever was on his mind. It was so weird. As soon as I saw our base appear between the thickly placed trees, I was hit with a powerful surge of exhaustion. It felt like we had only been fighting the Goose for an hour at most, but apparently, it had been the entirety of the day. I chose to ignore this in favor of collapsing on the ground next to the unlit fire. I was way too tired to want to light it. I heard WX let out an audible groan of annoyance before starting to do so himself. By the time his system overcharge had worn off, the fire was large enough to chase away the monsters in the night. Take that Mom, Dad came those thoughts that I suppressed so hard. The thoughts that I buried beneath observations and theories and concerns during the day- they always came back out at night. Right on that borderline edge between awake and asleep, just a couple of them would leak through. I told you I could be strong. I told you I wasn't useless. … I was running through a maze. How long had I been wandering through this twisting and turning labyrinth? I couldn't remember. High walls surrounded me on all sides, threatening to trap me forever in stone and marble. My eyes were dazzled by a flash of light in front of me- a bright, dancing orange light, that threw orange spots in my vision until I got used to the lightning. The fire was burning on top of two pillars, with no rhyme nor reason as to how they continued to burn. I puzzled over this phenomenon, frowning at these pillars until my eyes hurt. Which is probably why it took me so long to see the creature that was standing just on the edge of the shadows cast by the fire. I recognized it- the tall, slim figure that had sent me and my group on the quest to kill the giants in the first place. It was still cloaked in shadows, probably the reason why it was standing in the darkness instead of the light just paces in front of it. I was kind of afraid of what it would look like in the light anyway. “One down, scientist. Four more to go,” it said in that weird, warping voice of its. It rose its clawed hand, tiny black flames that gave off no light flickering at their tips. With the slightest flick of its wrist, one of these flames sputtered out. I stepped forward, shivering at the unnatural way my shoes clicked against the floor, and it continued speaking. “Your next fight will be the hardest." It gave me a scrutinizing glance as if it didn't quite believe I was cut out to be fighting. "But I assume you already know this.” I took a deep breath. “Summer. The Dragonfly. Two tons of pure muscles and scales and fire. With claws that can impale even the strongest of hides.” “It's a shame the fight has to be so soon. If it were just the two of you, you could easily last long enough to fight it after you've had more experience. You two are strong, but I know one of you... who isn't.” It shook its head, making a clicking noise with its tongue. “Keep your eyes peeled, scientist. Not everything here is as it seems...” I was thrown out of the dream rather violently. Cold sweat dotted my face and back, but the heat from the fire and the soon-to-be-rising sun was already beginning to dispel the fear I had felt in facing that creature. Why did I fear it so much? It didn't seem particularly evil in any fashion, and it certainly had done nothing but helped us so far. But there was something I couldn't shake off. Some underlying fear of it that made me cautious of its mere existence. It was hard to explain, but just being near it felt like I was standing near a tear in the fabric of space-time, something that should not- and should never- exist. I should probably be waking up now anyway, I thought blandly. But I barely got any sleep... I glanced quickly at Webber, who was only a foot or two away from me, curled into his typical ball and snoring softly. He didn't seem like he was going to wake up soon anyway... Shrugging my shoulders, I let myself fall back asleep.
  19. Chapter 22: Duck Duck Goose Webber's POV The sky was clear for the first time in days, thankfully enough. The constant rain was, in all honesty, driving us insane. The rain brought one good thing though- perfect opportunities to mess with WX as he was rendered practically useless by it unless he was struck by lightning, an occurrence that had happened only once that we knew of, that being when he and Wilson had gone out hunting. We were all together now, trekking through the slightly less familiar forests outside of our typical pathways and places of interest. We lagged behind the other two, our whiskers twitching with concentration as we listened and scented for any change in the air. We were learning the ins and outs of this new world, no longer were any of us left completely victim to its twists and turns. A new, fresher breeze brought a new scent to our nose, and we paused, growling softly to tell the others to do the same. It was faintly similar to the smell of vultures or crows, but with a musky tang we couldn't recognize. Wilson saw our confused look and looked around. "What's wrong?" “Dunno... we smell something we're not familiar with.” A thought came to us. “Maybe it's the Goose? Should we follow it?” “What do you two think?” WX shrugged. “THAT IS OUR FINAL GOAL, IS IT NOT?” “We're ready for a fight.” We rolled our shoulders. This would be our first step to killing the giants. This is what we had been preparing for since the fateful encounter telling us what we had to do. “We've been ready for a fight.” No more sitting and watching and waiting. "Alright, lead the way then." Wilson nodded to us, and we obliged, taking the head and following the scent of the Goose. There was the sensation of tingling in the air that grew more intense as the scent grew stronger, like lightning arriving on the horizon. The cover of the forest broke out into the frog-infested grassland, but almost the entire valley was haunted by the shadow of a larger being. We could see her, standing on the crest of the hill. The sun was behind her at this point, making her form nothing but a mere silhouette. Wilson brought in a sharp gasp of air and WX took a step back. She was bigger than we could've imagined. “Alright, here's the plan.” Wilson seemed to snap out of his stupor and lowered his voice. “There's three of us and one of her. She has strength and size over us, but we have numbers and speed. We need to disorient her, make sure she can't hit any of us.” He nodded at WX. “You're the heaviest hitter of any of us, and you can take the most hits. Think you can try to bring her down? If you focus enough on her legs she'll have to fall, and then we can get to her neck and head.” The robot nodded, focusing on the titanic shape on the hill. “Webber, you're the fastest. Try to keep her attention away from WX, and try to hit and dodge as much as you can. WX might be able to tank her, but you're fast enough to kite her. Got it?” “Sounds easy enough.” We cracked our knuckles. Our blood was boiling like it hadn't for years- the readiness for battle that we had not felt since forcing ourself to act more civilized. It felt... good. Addicting, almost. Our senses felt heightened, and we could almost smell the warm salt of the blood running through the massive creature's body. It took us a long moment to realize we were panting, and our face had been twisted into a snarl. It took us a moment even longer to realize that Wilson was giving us a concerned look, but we waved him off before he could say anything. He didn't need to know about this craving for battle, one of the few primitives things left from our other half. Wilson looked unconvinced, but he apparently chose not to protest. Instead, he merely motioned for WX and me to flank the monster. Slightly grateful, but refusing to admit it, we dropped onto a quadrupedal stance to approach it near-silently. The Goose was milling around peacefully, hopping around in useless circles as if patrolling- or maybe, she's just too stupid to have any idea of what she's doing. Her bulk made the very earth shake, and we could see glimpses of reflected metal as WX was understandably tossed slightly out of his shelter, probably tripping from the vibrations. We, however, were unaffected, easily keeping steady even as the world shook around us. Her head turned to the side. She had seen something. Her body turned as if she were looking at something behind her, and, as if we shared the same mind, we both slunk out of our cover. We could see the egg now, huge and gray with lightning sparking from it. She honked in surprise as we reached her first, brandishing our weapon. We leaped and channeled all of our power into thrusting it into her leg. The smooth black skin split and her honk turned to rage. She kicked us away, the spear still embedded firmly in her skin, then raised her injured leg to stomp us into the ground. WX got there first. His own spear held firmly in his grip, he was at our side in an instant, pressing the flat end of the spear into the ground with the sharp end sticking up. The inertia of her stomp was too great for her to stop in time, before impaling her own foot on the weapon. WX let out a grunt of satisfaction as she reared back. Both spears fell to the ground, and the blood flow from both had already been staunched. She paused for a moment as if unsure as to which of her pesky targets to hit first. Her gaze landed on us, perhaps realizing that we were smaller and therefore had less defense against an attack. Satisfaction filled our chest as we figured that she probably suspected that we were just any child or easily smashable spider. The Goose let out what we assumed to be a battle cry, her wings flashing out as pure and primal rage twisted her beak into a snarl. She dipped her long neck down and bucked with her horns. For the most part, she missed, but the air from the force of the attack still swept us off of our feet. Her muscles rippled under the feathers of her body as she tried yet again to crush us into the ground. We saved ourself this time, rolling out of the way of her attack while grabbing our weapon as we did so. WX had his weapon now, as well. He looked frustrated, but he attacked again nonetheless. His spear buried into the flesh just above her foot, deep enough that the sharpened end protruded from the opposite side of her leg. She didn't seem to notice, her gaze transfixed on us. She reared back again, but this time her battle cry was caught off by someone else's. "Go for the eyes!" Wilson shouted, his gray eyes alight with a fire we had never seen from the docile scientist before. In his grasp was not a spear, but instead, a weapon we were hardly familiar with- a glowing blue morning star. He heaved the weapon up, looking slightly strained, and swung at the same place that WX's spear was still embedded in. There was true anger in her honk now. We won't be able to do anything to her as long as we're only able to reach her legs. Luckily for them, we know what we're doing. Her attention temporarily focused on Wilson and WX, we disappeared into one of the many trees surrounding the Goose's nest. We scooted up the tree like a squirrel and stuck our head out of the newly growing leaves. The scent of springtime growth was almost enough to override the overpowering smell of bird meat, so powerful it was nearly dizzying. Shaking our head vigorously, we reached the top of the tree and looked out. She had not seemed to notice our absence, too busy with focusing on Wilson and WX to care that we had disappeared. She wasn't very close, but it was close enough. Bunching our muscles, and taking a deep breath, we unsheathed our claws and lunged at her. Her eyes caught ours in mid-air. A single, high-pitched noise erupted from her throat. We were unable to dodge as she flicked her head to the side and knocked us out of the air, her horns hit our rib cage hard enough that we could almost swear that we heard something crack. For a split moment, we were almost certain that we were going to black out. It was terrifying, being flung through the air like a ragdoll. Perhaps this was the reason we managed to stay conscious. Awareness spread through our limbs suddenly, and we managed to roll in mid-air to land neatly on all fours again. We were still intact. But the failed attempt at a better fighting angle hadn't done anything to relax our mood. Letting out a snarl that rumbled deep in our chest and throat, we grabbed our weapon once more and rejoined the fight. “Let me fight.” No. You won't be careful enough to avoid collateral damage. “I've always been a better fighter than you.” I don't trust you. Stop distracting me. We shook our head furiously, trying to clear the webs from our thoughts. We were moving again before we even realized it, throwing up clots of dirt as our claws dug into the ground, with our spear being held in our mouth. We pushed past WX, who was viciously stabbing whatever he could reach of her, anger and determination burning in his eyeless gaze, and took a flying leap. Our claws pricked into the Goose's skin, allowing us to climb up her body almost as easily as we had climbed the tree. She shook her whole body, probably trying to shake us off, but we clung to her feathers like a burr. "Webber! Are you stupid?!" Wilson shouted from the ground. We, naturally, completely ignored him. We shifted our spear to our hand, clinging on with all other limbs, and stabbed the sharpened end into her neck. Warm blood bathed our claws, the smell of salt and sweetness overwhelming all other senses. It awakened a primal instinct in our mind, the pure feeling of power and approaching death sending us just inches away from falling into a pit of never-ending rage and bloodlust. The beast gave a massive shudder, abruptly halting our descent into the blood-driven insanity. She contorted her neck almost unnaturally and threw us off with her beak. Too dazed by our outburst to do anything else, we hit the ground heavily on our side. All of the air in our lungs was lost, but we were pretty sure we weren't hurt that badly. The ground heaved again as the Goose collapsed, blood pumping from her neck wound. We took a startled step back, blinking several times to clear it. Where did that feeling come from? And there was the Goose, still bleeding into the dirt... our claws shook slightly. Had we done that? WX, however, didn't seem to be affected by it at all. The second the monster hit the ground, he was moving, his spear poised to strike. There was a sharp sense of guilt, almost enough to force us to call him off, but even if we were to do so, by the time we decided it, he was already sinking the sharp end into her long neck. The sound erupting from the beast tore heartstrings as if she was truly in pure agony, but WX's grim expression stayed firm as he twisted the weapon, before yanking it out of the wound. Her body quivered as if trying to recover, but that didn't mean that it would help. There was too much blood- one of us, either WX or I, had punctured the artery that ran through her neck. She let out another soft honk, her eyes- were they always brown, or had we just never paid attention before?- drifting to the nest that she had fought so hard to protect. The egg had cracked at the top, but there was no way the moslings could survive without their mother for long. We had won. But it didn't feel like we did. Had this enormous giant only been protecting its nest? Was there really no other reason for killing it, than for our own escape? What made our survival more important than this bird's? Without a word, we inched closer to the Goose. Her breaths were short and shallow, but we knew there was no way she would get up again. This is wrong. She shouldn't be left to slowly die again. We raised our own weapon, our entire upper body shaking, and we thrust it into the spot right where her neck met her beak. The beast sighed and disappeared into the ground. We didn't feel like puzzling over this fact, simply because there were other things on our mind. You're going soft, feeling pity for the things you're supposed to kill. What's next, crying over a rabbit? We got to one knee, closing our eyes and letting out a long sigh. However, we were shaken back into the present world by the touch of a hand on our shoulder. We glanced up, meeting Wilson's worried gray gaze. “Are you okay? That was a pretty bad fall.” “HE HAS SURVIVED WORSE,” WX mused, sounding to be the only of us that was not shaken. He simply bent down, touching one of the pools of blood and examining the red substance on his finger, before making his way closer to the egg. “HOW ARE WE TO GO ABOUT THIS?” Wilson took a few steps forward as if planning to stand beside WX, but we stopped him, simply pointing at the widening cracks in the egg. "We're not done." At first glance, the moslings looked kind of cute. The first one poked its head out of the very top, its entire body was covered in ruffled feathers, sticking out oddly like they had been rubbed furiously with a balloon. Their beaks were bluish in color, and their eyes were huge and innocent. The first one hopped out, making an odd caterwauling noise as if searching for its mother. It turned its head the other way to look at us from its other eye. In the corner of our eyes, we saw WX get once more into his battle stance, and Wilson's brow furrowed in concentration and worry. The mosling inched its way closer to us, still making that odd honking sound. It must've taken a second to realize it, but it was finally beginning to realize that something was off- that something was missing. And of course, it realized almost instantly that these strange intruders near its nest were the cause of this odd occurrence. It flung its wings out almost threateningly, its feathers bushing out until it appeared twice its size. The light of the now-setting sun caught on its yellow feathers, bathing them in a reddish color- like it's soaked in blood. Three more of its siblings tumbled out, and the egg shattered into pieces. Electricity fizzed in the air, so heavy that we could hear the static building in the world around us. Wilson's hair turned slightly more insane than usual, and we could feel our own fur bush out in response. Then, without warning, without a cloud in the sky or a raindrop in the air, lightning cracked through the sky. WX turned his own gaze upwards, and we could see the faint glimmer of hunger glowing in his eyeless sockets, like a craving that needed satisfied. The wind whipped up around us, and all at once, as if on command, all four goslings lunged at us. Lightning struck again, hitting the ground just a couple feet away from us. We took a second to be glad that WX and Wilson would be too busy focusing on the fight to jest at our awkwardly standing fur. We were certain that we looked faintly similar to a deranged, lopsided catcoon. The first mosling landed on us- light and surprisingly soft to the touch despite the crackle of energy that fizzed between us, and its beak instantly clamped around our throat. We could feel the teeth lining the beak of the creature, hidden from sight, but harmful all the same. Instincts kicked in the second we felt those teeth graze against the sensitive tendons in our throat, and we dropped into a roll. There were a muffled cracking noise and a squawk of protest. Snorting with satisfaction, our claws slid out and impaled the mosling's fragile body, earning a much louder screech of pain as they tore through its skin. Tearing the bird away from our throat we threw it to the ground. This time, the scent of blood and the feeling of ripping flesh startled us slightly, almost making us feel sick. We shook our head furiously, unable to drive the thoughts away, and pounced back onto the mosling we had thrown. Just as we were about to make a killing blow, something landed on our back. It wasn't heavy, but its talons were sharp enough to drive the breath from our lungs. Lightning cracked again. This time, however, it was accompanied by the mosling on our back being torn away with surprising strength. Still pinning our opponent into the ground, we looked up just in time to see the target of the lightning strike. WX wasted no time in stabbing the mosling from the head down, driving it straight into the ground beneath it, before raising his weapon and kicking it off. Whether or not it was dead yet, he raised one foot and stomped it into the ground with a sickening crack. The electricity that sparked in the air took a solid form on his frame, tiny bolts of lightning like static flashes jumped between his limbs as he raised his head once more, flipping his spear around and cracking the second mosling across the head. Wilson didn't quite have his adversary under control. It was the biggest of the four, striking at him before dancing away in a mesmerizing pattern, like a ballad dancer getting all of its moves just right. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he swung out with his morning star, but the bird simply danced and dodged around the futile attacks to hit it. Growling deep in our throat, we wrapped our claws around the neck of the mosling, for just half a second feeling the fragility of the bones in its body, before snapping its neck with a quick flick of our wrist. We left this one to rot, barreling towards the beast that Wilson was fighting and hitting it from behind. Unlike the first we fought, this one was able to throw us off easily, but at least it threw off the careful and graceful movements it had been using to torment Wilson. WX was at our side as well, reaching our aid in only two bounds, and ditching his spear in favor of brute strength. In almost perfect synchronization, Wilson swung his weapon in a wide arc, cracking the mosling in the side of the face; WX put all the power of his own strength plus the overcharge from the lightning strike behind a final blow, and our claws dug into creature's throat. It didn't even have time to lash out. It was a quick, but certainly not bloodless, death. We ripped our claws away, taking several stumbling steps back. We were panting again, shaking very slightly at the tips of our whiskers. Wilson and WX stepped away from the fallen mosling as well, the latter looking for all the world like he wanted to punch it again, just to be sure. The sun had fallen by now, but the light of dusk was not totally gone just yet. Wilson walked numbly towards the destroyed nest, lifting up a sizable chunk of the egg that was about the size of our head. He turned back to us, seeming too out of breath to say anything, holding the eggshell out questioningly. His gaze swept over us, and he took an alarmed step back, fear flashing in his eyes before he shook it off. He's afraid of us? How intriguing. I wonder why... It wasn't until we turned away that we realized our claws were fully unsheathed, digging deeply into our palm, making blood drip... drip... drip... onto the ground beneath us.
  20. Chapter 19: Nightmares and Daydreams WX-78's POV There was ice beginning to form on the tip of my spear and in between my fingers. The hot, dry smell of the desert conflicted terribly with the icy temperature everywhere else, disallowing for any definite strategy for keeping a comfortable warmth. I snorted with impatience. Any time, now! A loud rustling from the undergrowth somewhere near me alerted me that someone else had gotten tired of waiting as well. Webber broke out into the desert, claws gleaming and teeth bared as he lunged for the blue creature who, up until now, had been peacefully munching away. It let out a startled bleat, hopping away. Webber drew back, growling just loud enough for my sensors to pick up. He looked back, caught my eye, and nodded once. I nodded back. Arguments and petty rivalries could be set aside for survival, surely. Keeping low to the ground, he made a wide circle, disappearing to my vision. The goat looked up again, looking in fear of Webber's direction, before bleating again, louder this time, and fleeing straight towards me. As soon as it was within range, I broke from my own cover and swung my weapon in a wide arc, cracking the beast against the side of its head. It pitched sideways, obviously dazed, and I raised my weapon again, preparing to stab it in its neck. Before I could bring it down, something shoved me aside roughly, and when I looked up again, Webber was on top of the creature, his knife buried deep in its throat. It started thrashing, but he held on, and eventually, its struggle subsided. Only then did he release it and back away, looking pleased with himself. Annoyance welled up in my chest. “WHAT WAS THAT FOR? THAT WAS GOING TO BE MY KILL.” He smiled in a way that was just asking to be punched. “You weren't quick enough,” he replied calmly. “And it wouldn't stay dazed for long.” He wiped his claws off on his fur before meeting my gaze again defiantly. With a glimmer in his eye, he added, “In a few years, you might be able to be half as fast with a kill as we are.” I tried to think of something to say in response, but he cut me off before I could. “Brr! It's too cold to just be standing around arguing! Let's get this back to camp, shall we? Wilson will think we've frozen to death.” “YOU SAY AS THOUGH IT WOULD BE A BAD THING,” I grumbled, but had to grudgingly admit he had a point. I pushed past him before he could even attempt to grab the slain animal and grabbed it by one of its twisted horns. Despite the chill, it felt slightly warm beneath my grasp. I gave him a glare, expecting him to protest, but he had already turned away and was walking calmly back to camp. Annoyed, I followed him. Imagine having to follow the lead of a scrawny half-bred fleshling! My mind scoffed. Oh, how far I've fallen. About halfway through the forest, I dared to look up and squint through the trees. The sky was beginning to turn darker, and with it, even harsher frosts. Webber dropped behind to match my pace, tracing my gaze to the sky. “It won't be long until spring,” he commented distractedly. “The air tastes less like ice, more like melted water.” He sniffed. “Smells too much like wet dog, if you ask us.” “I WAS NOT PLANNING TO.” He pointed at the sun, ignoring me. “The days have been getting longer. I don't think you'll like spring very much. It's very rainy. Summer will be even worse." He shivered. "The sun will be so hot, the trees won't help to protect us from the heat very much. And the days will be so long, and the nights so short, we won't even be able to rely on using the coolness of nighttime to do anything." I glanced sharply at him. “YOU KNOW THIS HOW?” “We've still been having dreams, you know,” he went on. “We think Wilson has been too. Nightmares are getting to both of us.” He finally looked at me, frowning slightly. “But we can never remember them when we wake up. What about you? Any strange dreams lately?” “IF I DID, I WOULD NOT TELL YOU,” I snapped. “Yes. Weird...” He shook his head. Something caught my eye before I could reply. I turned to look at it, but it was gone. “TAKE THE CREATURE BACK TO THE CAMP AND MAKE SURE POOR WILSON DOES NOT GET SCARED. I WANT TO CHECK SOMETHING.” “Also known as you're tired of being in our presence.” Webber snickered. “Alright, we get it, you're too amazing and superior. Have fun freezing to death out there while we're nice and cozy and warm by the fire.” There was a teasing note in his voice as he grabbed the goat from my grasp, but I remained silent and refused to reply. I hadn't been able to get a good look at it, but it felt important somehow. I waited until he disappeared from sight before changing course and heading towards where I saw the glint of blue light. The snowbirds flew into the sky with a loud flutter of wings as they officially recognized the coming of dusk. A few braver birds tentatively flew down again to peck at the seeds still littering the ground, but otherwise, it turned almost entirely silent. I won't be long. I listened intently to the area around me- I wasn't going to be caught off guard, not again. There was no way I was going to let another... fleshbag... rescue me again. It was humiliating the first time. It wouldn't happen again. Eventually, the forest broke open into an almost unnaturally round clearing. The first stars were beginning to appear in the darker part of the horizon. In the center of the clearing, a ring of green mushrooms had sprouted, reaching for the sky's last remaining light, but that was far from the most interesting thing I saw. The middle of the mushrooms harbored a smooth, white-streaked gray rock, just high enough to reach my knees I assumed, despite it being just too far away to tell exactly, and perched on said rock was a person. A real person, not a skeleton, not some weird and random creature, facing away from me. I found myself pausing, trying to figure out what to feel. Should I feel excited to see another living person here? Should I attack him- he could be a threat. But instead, I did the one thing I didn't want to do. I did nothing. I just sort of watched him. He wore a brown leather tunic and a tan undershirt, even though surely the clothing wasn't thick or covering enough to protect him from the temperature or anything else for that matter. He had a mess of short brown hair on his head, and by far, the most interesting part about him was the sword. It hung at his side, glowing brightly and shedding blue light on the frost-covered ground and the figure himself, sharp and pristine. He stiffened, and then he turned to face me. His eyes. They were glowing. All of the instances of glowing eyes in the past hit me hard, but his weren't amber. They were blue- the same blue as his blade. I quickly looked for something to say, but before I could, the air seemed to shift and suddenly, the clearing, the mushroom ring, and the man were all gone. I was left alone, deep in the heart of the forest, with nothing but traces of sunlight to guide me. I stumbled backward, nearly tripping over myself, before turning and running as fast as I could home. I could not make sense of what I had seen, but there was a sense of dread deep in my chest. Something told me that this vision, tonight, was the hint of something terrible to come. And we would all be helpless to stop it. Chapter 20: Winter Wrap-Up Wilson's POV “He'll never be able to do it! What are you going to do about it, huh Wildumb?” “That's not even a creative insult!” A splash of cold snow, instantly numbing any skin it got into contact to. “Fight back, you weakling!” “How? With his tiny little chicken arms?” Laughter. A chilly wind ran through my hair, jostling me from the deepness of my thoughts. The sun had not yet to rise, but something felt different. Something about.. the air. Uncertainly, with a hint of fear and concern, I found myself looking at my immediate area, trying to figure out exactly where it was coming from. “Do you feel that, WX?” I called to the robot, half-aware as always during this time of day. He snapped from his own thoughts and turned his eyeless gaze to me. “FEEL WHAT?” “That crackling tension in the air...” There was a pause, machinery humming softly against the silent black night before replying. “IT IS ELECTRICAL,” he said thoughtfully. “AND YET, NATURAL AT THE SAME TIME. PERHAPS LIGHTNING, OR A STORM.” Thundersnow? That might be an interesting sight, although I'm not particularly fond encountering it now. “I HOPE IT IS NOT,” he ended, nestling a bit more into the bark of the tree he leaned against. “BUT THE KID SPOKE OF SPRING'S ARRIVAL. MAYBE HE'S ACTUALLY CORRECT ABOUT SOMETHING FOR ONCE IN HIS LIFE.” His gaze shifted slightly to the kid in question, bundled into one of the weirdest sleeping positions I had ever seen. He looked more like a heap of black fur than a person. “It's been winter for what feels like way too long. I hope spring is soon.” The robot said nothing, probably thinking about rain by the expression on his face. The sky was beginning to turn paler, milky fingers of light stretching across the nearly black expanse. I stood, stretching, and brushed myself off. “I guess it doesn't matter. As long as we're able to get to that Goose before Spring's end.” “YOU SPEAK OF KILLING THE GIANTS, YET YOU DARED NOT TO HUNT THE DEERCLOPS?” WX pointed out, standing as well. “That was... different.” I grimaced. The last thing I wanted, to be honest, was to fight the Deerclops. It was infinitely more terrifying than the Bearger and, according to the book, much more powerful. Fighting the Goose first for her precious down feathers would probably be the smartest course of action. I chose to ignore that after Spring and the Goose was Summer and the Dragonfly. I preferred not to think about fighting the Dragonfly. Finally, a ray of light hit me in the face, bringing with it a wind that was far from bitter. I looked around, eyeing the trees around me and watching in wonder as the snow clinging to their branches all Winter began to drip off of their needles. I nearly exclaimed in excitement, but I was abruptly cut off by a rather ungraceful sound of annoyance as a cascade of droplets showered WX, sneaking into his frame and causing sparks to explode from him. He looked frustrated already. Not to help matters any, the water also woke up someone that would make him even more frustrated. He stretched and yawned, blinking up at the sky with a loud sniff. “Oi, smells like Spring. Is it Spring?” Webber glanced at WX, a sly smirk coming to his face. “You probably deserve that.” He was returned with an intense glare, as though the robot was daring him to continue. “You know, I'm rather hungry,” I intervened before they could start yet another fight. “Maybe we can go to the rabbit holes and get something to eat. Would you be alright with cleaning the animals if we hunt them, Webber?” The spider boy shrugged as he stood, stretching once more. “Of course. Would hate to see one of you puke because we refuse to.” I beckoned for WX to follow me, in hopes that it would distract him from the argument. It partially did, given that he still shot a few glares behind him, but credit where credit is due, he followed without verbal protest. The sun had fully risen by the time we reached the savanna. The air was lighter and fresher than I ever remembered seeing it, and the distant birch forest disappeared into a sea of green. WX scanned the area before huffing. “THEY HAVE HIDDEN AWAY FOR BREEDING SEASON,” he said with a scowl, pacing to the nearest collapsed set and peering inside of it. He kicked the mound of earth at the entrance and turned to face me. “WHAT BRIGHT IDEA DO YOU HAVE NOW, SCIENTIST?” “I'm thinking, I'm thinking.” I waved him away. It would really suck not being able to stock up on rabbit meat before Summer arrived, but it could prove useful as a catalyst to exploring new food sources... “Perhaps we could try the desert again?” I suggested, but he was already shaking his head. “LET THE GOATS REPRODUCE. THE LAST THING WE WOULD WANT IS TO DESTROY THEIR HERD COMPLETELY.” “Well, what bright ideas do you have?” He pointed to the birch forest on the other side of the savanna with his spear. “NUTS, BERRIES, PIGS. ALL WOULD MAKE A SUSTAINABLE SOURCE OF FOOD.” “Pigs?” I grimaced at the thought of eating a pig. Surely they would have touch and stringy meat, and the thought of eating something that was able to produce cognitive thought patterns enough to at least speak in broken English... “ARE YOU AFRAID TO FIGHT THEM?” “I'm afraid to eat them. It feels... wrong to.” He scoffed. “THEY ARE JUST ANIMALS, WILSON. DESIGNED TO BE SLAUGHTERED AND EATEN.” “Well, I'm not going to. I don't care what you eat but I'll stick to things that don't talk to me, thank you.” He made a face eerily similar to one rolling their eyes. “FINE. I SUPPOSE WE CAN KILL A COUPLE OF BUZZARDS AT LEAST SO WE HAVE SOMETHING WITH SUSTENANCE.” He hoisted his spear over his shoulder. Most of the walk to the desert was in silence, except for a low grumbling noise slowly growing louder and closer. And the rain started to pour. WX tried so hard not to react to it, that it was almost comical. His facial expressions voiced his unspoken frustration and anger as sparks flew from him. The suffocating heat of the desert washed over us as we broke out into the wide, sandy expanse. Almost instantly, he held out his arm as a signal to stop, and pointed ahead with his other hand. “THE VOLT GOATS ARE ENRAGED.” “What? Are you kidding me?” I pushed slightly past him and looked towards the herd myself. Several of them looked rabid- their blue fur was spiked up erratically and their eyes glowed with hatred. Lastly, their mouths were contorted into snarls as they apparently confronted some unknown enemy. I took an alarmed step backward. “I BLAME THE KID,” he decided aloud. I snorted with amusement and glanced at him in the corner of my eye. “Why?” I laughed. He shrugged. “NEED TO BLAME SOMEONE. ALRIGHT. THROW DOWN THE BAIT AND LET'S DO SOMETHING PRODUCTIVE. UNLESS, OF COURSE, YOU DO NOT WANT TO, AND YOU WOULD PREFER TO STAND HERE UNTIL YOU BECOME PART OF THE DESERT. EITHER IS FINE WITH ME.” I elbowed him. “Shut up you love us.” I dug through my bag and tossed a stale morsel that most likely belonged to a rabbit at one point onto the ground and waited for the vultures to take the bait. … We got home just as the sun was setting. We both dragged two limp corpses behind us, the birds' muddy feathers making small furrows in the ground as we walked. It was still raining, except now it was accompanied by periodic flashes of lightning. WX's steps were beginning to falter, as though the rain was beginning to get to him. “Are you okay?” I asked as I paused for him to catch up for the fourth time. “I AM FINE. JUST NEED TO GET DRY,” his words sounded a bit slurred as well. I frowned in concern, but he waved it away. “I WILL BE OKAY WHEN IT STOPS RAINING.” “Alright... just maki-” My words were cut off as a particularly loud lighting flash sent me tumbling to my feet, muddying my clothes and ripping the flesh of the birds I held. It looked like lightning had struck right next to me... Slightly in panic, I looked up to make sure WX was alright, but he seemed unharmed. In fact, he was standing much taller than he was previously, examining his hands curiously as tiny bolts of lightning jumped across his frame. He was glowing. “Are you alright!?” “SYSTEM OVERLOAD...” he replied softly. “I NEVER EXPECTED THIS TO HAVE MADE IT INTO MY DESIGN.” He clenched and released his fists, as though testing them out. “I AM MORE THAN ALRIGHT.” He took a shaky step forward, as though trying to get his bearings again. “Were you struck??” “IT APPEARS SO.” I shakily got to my feet and rested my hand on his shoulder. I could feel his entire body buzzing. “How does it feel?” “INVIGORATING,” he said simply. “LIKE I COULD OUTRUN DEATH.” I took a step back again, nodding. “That may come in useful.” And as if to echo my words, in the far distance, echoing through the pines, I heard the faintest noise- a loud and angry honk. I looked in the direction of it, glaring into the woods. Who knows if any of us have any other undiscovered powers or abilities. We're only getting stronger by the day. Come at us, Goose. We're ready for you. Chapter 21. Shatter “Watch me, pup, I will show you how we hunt.” Kyra stretched luxuriously, showing off her rippling muscles as she watched her little pup hop up to her. He was growing muscular, just like his father, and she felt a hint of pride. She nodded to a fallen tree trunk that lay on the forest floor just ahead, resting slightly above the ground on a rock. His eyes followed her gaze and he tipped his head. “Are we gonna hunt a tree, Mommy?” He bared his tiny teeth- clean and sharp. “Imma show my teeth and scare it into submission. Graa!” He lunged at it, but she gently reached forward and nipped his scruff before he could. “Now, be patient, pup,” she purred. “Hunting is not all about scaring your prey. You must be quick and painless in killing them.” “Why though, Mommy?” He worked his paws in the earth. “The food isn't hounds. Why do we have to be nice to it?” “Because all living creatures are like us, little one. We just want to survive. Now, pay attention to me.” Kyra narrowed her eyes, envisioning the tree trunk as the dusty pale coat of a beefalo, before charging at full speed. Her bulk tore away at fronds and brambles until she reached it. Instead of launching herself at it, she feinted to the side and slipped under the trunk, pressing her spine against it and freeing it from its perch. It fell with a thump, and before it had time to settled she was on top of it, her teeth ripping away at bark where the beast's neck would be. Finally, she released it, panting with elation as she dipped her head to her little pup. “Now, what did you see me do?” But he wasn't watching anymore. His huge eyes were traced on a butterfly, fluttering around his nose before landing on it. He sneezed, and looked back at Kyra innocently. Despite herself, she wasn't able to be mad at him. She padded towards him and nuzzled his neck fur. Oh, Shatter, I can't send him out to battle. Varg wants him ready by mid-Spring and... I don't think I have it in my heart to. She licked his cheek, and turned back to their encampment. “Come on, little one, let's get you something to eat.” Like all hounds in the pack currently, her pup had the slightest hint of fat in his cheeks and flanks, but that was alright. They could hunt as much as they liked until Summer, in which the fire hounds would take over as it became too hot for any other hound to bear. She wasn't worried, though. Her friend, Rose, would likely make sure there was enough for all of the pups to have their share. “Mommy?” Her puppy spoke up behind her, and she slowed down to let him catch up. “Yes, little one?” He paused, clawing at the ground before continuing. “What happened to my Daddy?” He asked finally, looking genuinely curious. Instantly, she felt the pang of grief fresh in her chest. “What do you know about your father?” She asked gently. “I know he was a big and strong hound!” He said happily. “And he was sweet and loved by everyone. But... what happened to him?” Fire lit in his eyes, something that surprised Kyra and scared her even a little bit. “Did the mean Survivors get him! I'll kill all of them!” Her steps faltered a little bit, almost terrified of her own puppy. The pack is corrupting his mind... she realized suddenly, but she shook her head to drive the treacherous thought away. The thought had been appearing a lot more recently, and she couldn't help but wonder if there was a better life for him. No. The pack brings safety, and food, and shade in the Summer. Nothing can be better than that. “It wasn't the Survivors,” she corrected him gently. “It was a beefalo.” She remembered the scene clearly now, running with the wind in their fur and joy in their steps. Shatter and Kyra running side-by-side, their fur brushing as their muscles stretched and folded to the same rhythm. She had loved her mate with all of her heart, and even though she spent countless nights wondering and thinking and crying, she could never figure out what went wrong- why that time was what brought the mighty hound down. It was well before her pup was born, she didn't even know that she was carrying pups at the time, but even though there had been whispers spread about her mate disappearing just before she found out she was carrying pups, she knew that they were their's. And now, the rest of the pack couldn't deny it either. No other hound had such a bulky and powerful build. She lowered her head, breathing in the chilly sent of her precious son. She loved him. She loved him with all of her heart. The pack would expect the same of him that they came to expect of Shatter. He's too tiny... he's so small... please, don't make him attack entire herds of beefalo, please don't think he can do as much as his father could. Please... I can't lose another pup. “Don't we eat the beefalo, though, Mommy?” His sweet, innocent voice brought her back from her thoughts. “How did the beefalo-” “I don't know,” she cut him off, just wanting to not be reminded again of how her mate fell. “But, what I do know,” she continued before he could be deflated by her dismissive tone. “Is that there's something very special I must discuss with Varg when we get back.” … “Shatter, hmm?” Varg mused, lifting his mighty head from the pool of which he drank. “A powerful name for a powerful pup, Kyra. But it would bear a weight that he might not be able to handle- do you really think he will grow up to be as strong as his father?” His beady eyes met Kyra's, thoughtfully. “Do you think it would discourage him, knowing he might not be able to fill the footsteps his name would set out for him?” She lifted her chin slightly. “I am very sure, my Alpha.” Varg shook his head slightly. “If you are certain, then the ceremony shall take place immediately. It's about time he's gotten a proper name.” He shook himself off before raising his head. “It is time for a pack meeting!” He barked, his voice low and smooth. Kyra stood by his side proudly, but then felt that pang of pain return. Shatter should have been on his other side. “There is a pup who has grown into his name. Pup of Kyra and Shatter, stand forward.” She saw the confusion across the face of her puppy as he stumbled out of the den after Sizzle and Ebony. He yawned, then scampered to stand at Varg's feet. Varg nodded to Kyra. “Go on.” She took a step forward. “Before Shatter and I came to this pack, all we knew was hunting and an owner who cared nothing for us. We were nothing but a tool for his survival, and we got only the scraps of what we hunted. But neither of us could have expected to find such amount of love in this pack and more importantly, in each other. Shatter, if you can hear me now, I want you to know that I still love you, and I wish you were here to stand beside us now.” She dipped her head. “But I have thought long and hard on this, and I realize that you are not fully gone, but you live on in our son. Which is why I request our leader to pass on your name to our pup.” “Kyra's request is a humble one,” Varg rumbled. “And I accept. From this moment on, this nameless pup shall no longer be nameless. In its place, I pass you the name of Shatter, so that your father's legacy shall not go unremembered.” She could see the shock and excitement flashing over the newly named Shatter's face, as though he couldn't believe that he had a name now. He didn't move or speak, but finally, he broke away and buried his face in Kyra's chest, laughing and crying at the same time. She touched her nose to his head. “You earned it, little one.”
  21. Me: Oh, Klei uploaded a new video. Cool. *clicks on link* *EXPLOSION OF NEW CONTENT* Seriously though, you have no idea how happy I am to see this. Don't Starve/Don't Starve Together still stands as my all time favorite game, and now that y'all are adding stuff that gives entirely new goals I can finally get the inspiration to play it again!
  22. Thank you very much! ^-^ Honestly, the hound side-thing is something I've been wanting to do for awhile but I never got around to doing it in the original script. I'm glad you guys like it
  23. Intermission: Kyra's Pack It was a beautiful day to Kyra. The trees were completely stripped of their leaves, letting the winter sky show through the branches clearly. Snow lay in drifts or blankets all across the clearing. She smelled food nearby, but her belly was full from the morning hunt and the entire pack was in a state of relaxed harmony. The ice hound rested her powerful jaw against the ground, her tail waving gently back and forth as she kept a watchful eye on her pup. The pup- who was currently unnamed due to being too young to receive a name- was playing with two slightly older pups, Sizzle and Ebony. He showed no resentment to the older hounds for having names while he didn't yet. Even though they were older, he was bigger. Kyra couldn't help but see the compact muscles forming under his thick blue fur and the broadness of his shoulders as he shoved Sizzle off of him and growled playfully at her. Besides Kyra, her friend and the mother of Sizzle and Ebony was cleaning her paw. Rose paused long enough to watch the three pups at play for a few seconds before returning to cleaning her fiery red paw. “He's going to be a strong hunter,” Rose praised, motioning towards Kyra's pup with her nose. “He's already bigger than my litter. He'll probably be bigger than you before he's fully grown.” "He'll be just like his father," Kyra murmured, stretching before settling into a sitting position. She was leaner than the pup, built for speed like many female hounds instead of strength like males. Still, though. Females tended to be a bit bigger, and the fact that Rose's prediction about her pup being bigger than her when he grew up was probably true was a bit startling to her at first. Rose gently lowered her paw, frowning at Kyra with concern in her eyes. “Do you still think about him?” She asked softly. “Of course.” Ebony reared up against Sizzle, swinging her paws at her sister in hopes to get her nose. In retaliation, Kyra's pup butted Ebony in the flank and pinned her to the ground. Ebony struggled for a moment to get him off before Sizzle crashed into him and they all collapsed into a furry pile of hound- Sizzle a fire hound, Ebony a non-elemental, and her pup an ice hound. “I think about him all the time... my pup will bear his name when he gets older.” “Shatter?” Rose looked thoughtfully at the unnamed pup before nodding. “It'll suit him fine...” She looked at Kyra for a moment, her eyes wide with pity, before licking her ear. “I... I just don't want to lose him too.” Kyra looked at her paws. “Do you suppose he remembers his sister?” “I doubt it,” Rose said heavily. “He was less than a day old when...” her voice faded off. “Kyra, it'll be alright. He'll be a powerful hunter and fighter. If he gets strong enough, he might even be able to take on Varg!” The two she-hounds turned their attention to the leader of the pack, the mighty, brown-furred brute they called Varg, who had stopped near the pups to watch their game. Kyra felt sick to her stomach at the mere thought of her tiny puppy, the last connection she had with Shatter, taking on Varg. Shatter was a third Varg's size... even if my pup gets as big as his father he'll be no match for him... “Oh Kyra,” Rose sighed. “I was exaggerating. I don't think he has an ambitious bone in his body. Even if he did end up challenging Varg, Varg wouldn't hurt him enough to kill him.” “I just... I don't want to lose him like I lost his father.” “Shatter died bravely,” Kyra's friend said sternly. Suddenly, Varg raised his huge head, his ears twisting to face forward. A duo of female ice hounds, the best scouts for this weather, leaped out from the undergrowth, their fur bristling. Even if you didn't know them, it was obvious they were littermates. They had identically pointed ears and rounded eyes, although one was smaller than the other- the runt of that litter. “Varg!” The larger one, Crystal, panted. “Important news!” The brown beast abandoned the pups, who had broken apart from their tussle to watch the exchange with wide, curious eyes, and slowly padded towards the sisters. Kyra's pup almost instinctively bounded over to his mother. He reared onto his haunches and pawed at Kyra's belly. She licked him on the head and lowered herself onto her side. The pup squeaked with happiness and he pummeled her belly with his wide, strong paws. Varg was now standing over the two scout-hounds, his breaths appearing as clouds of steam in the frosty air. “You smell like salt,” he growled. The smaller sister, Frostbite, cowered slightly, but Crystal met his gaze boldly. “We saw the Deerclops,” she explained. “And we followed it to make sure it stayed out of our territory. “It was chasing the survivors!” Frostbite exclaimed, her voice high-pitched with fear. “It drove them off a cliff!” “Sir, it is safe to assume that the survivors are no longer the survivors.” Crystal looked amused about the situation. “There. That's one of your problems solved,” Rose commented to Kyra. “That's what they needed and deserved for killing part of our pack.” Rose fell silent for a moment, and Kyra remembered that her mate was also killed- but he was stabbed by one of the previous groups of survivors. “You don't have to worry about Varg sending mini-Shatter out on the battlefield against them.” Even though there was a teasing note in the fire hound's voice, Kyra was visibly relieved. Varg stopped trying to appear intimidating. “Are you sure they're dead?” Varg grumbled. "They took a plunge off of a thirty hound-length cliff into the water only an ice hound can survive. There's no way they could have survived it," Crystal promised with absolute certainty. Varg nodded and turned. “Kyra!” He barked, so loudly the she-hound jumped. “Uh-oh,” Rose murmured. Now he made his way to stand over Kyra and her pup, examining the latter with sharp eyes. “Kyra, how old is your pup now?” "Two months," Kyra responded, frowning. She knew very well that a nursing hound was nearly third-in-command in the pack, and that he wouldn't dare to lay a claw on her. “How long until he's old enough to be weaned?” Varg pressed. “Another month.” Kyra frowned. He wants me back on hunting. He wants to get my pup to start hunting. She flinched as she imagined the tiny pup against an entire beefalo herd. She gingerly licked him again on the head, and he looked up at her with big, trusting puppy eyes. She wrapped her entire body around him as Varg walked away, dragging his heavy paws. He won't have to do that if I have any say. Nothing will ever happen to my pup. No one will ever touch him. She rested her muzzle on his furry forehead. No one.
  24. XD I was shooting for a more adorable side of Webber and I'm glad it worked out at least a little. I'm thinking the next chapter will be a forum exclusive, so yay! Privileges! XP
  25. Chapter 18: Eye Can See For Miles and Miles Webber's POV The bitter cold of winter seemed far away now. The muffled chirps of snowy blue birds that lived in the barren landscape were the only thing that broken the uncomfortable silence. Well, that and the sound of the fire crackling nearby. It was strange how much the sound came as a relief to us. It didn't even occur to us before that we didn't have any hope to hear it again. Gradually, our senses returned, and we became acutely aware of how, despite the heat that was heavy in our fur, there was an underlying chill we could not shake off. We stretched, uncurling from the ball we didn't know we had curled into. Wilson, disturbed by the movement, glanced down at us and smiled. We instantly felt our cheeks flush with embarrassment, but the fact that we had essentially cuddled up to him all night for warmth was not brought up at all. A moment of silence passed before he turned back to the fire. We stifled a sneeze and blinked up at him, even though he wasn't looking at us anymore. Finally, we couldn't hold it in anymore and sneezed anyway, a small and childish sound which definitely did not help our pride in this situation at all. “You just can't keep yourself out of trouble, can you?” Wilson chuckled. “I've never know anyone more prone to the elements than you are.” We looked away, burning with shame. “It's... not hypothermia, right?” He shrugged. “I'm pretty sure you just got a cold. Which isn't surprising, considering you were soaking wet in the middle of winter away from the sun for who-knows-how-long. What did you even do to get so wet? Take a swim?” “That's... closer to the truth than you'd probably think,” I admitted ruefully. He quickly gave us an alarmed look. “We were pushed,” I added quickly, not wanting to seem even stupider than we already did. “by a shadow.” Should've left that out... Instead of laughing or making fun of us for believing a shadow could do such a thing, a deep frown replaced his smile. He opened his mouth to say something when one of the frozen bushes crackled and WX pushed his way out of the undergrowth, wearing a similar stern expression. “WE WEREN'T FOLLOWED,” he said. He looked a bit worse for wear but considering the circumstances, it could've have ended much worse. For any of us. Wilson nodded, his gaze remote for a moment before clearing. “I saw a shadow,” he murmured after a moment. WX scoffed as he sat beside the fire. “It wasn't an ordinary shadow though. It...” he took a deep breath. “It talked to me.” WX perked up at this, as did we. “WHAT DID IT SAY?” WX pressed warily. Wilson looked back at the fire. “It's... probably nothing. Just imagining stuff...” An uncomfortable silence settled over us. We took a deep breath- making a sniffing sound due to congestion from the cold- and sat up a little straighter, bringing our knees to our face and resting our chin on them. “I saw my spider,” I said after a minute. Two shocked gazes turned on us, and we shrank in our own fur. WX tore his gaze away and concentrated on the fire as though some secret message was written in it. “I... I SAW MY CREATOR,” he murmured in a tired tone. We were almost certain we didn't imagine the quiver in his voice. “Okay, wow, I thought my vision was the craziest. What are you talking about, seeing your spider? Like, the one that supposedly ate you?” We nodded miserably. “I ASSUME THIS MEANS WE ALL SAW THE SAME THING, EXCEPT BEING HAUNTED BY OUR WORST NIGHTMARES,” WX said breezily. How horrible must that be? Being afraid of your only parent? We couldn't... we couldn't bear to hate our parents... “That was what he told me,” I confirmed. “The... seeing the same thing part...” “So is that what we're supposed to do? Kill the abomination that is the Bearger?” Wilson tipped his head. “The Bearger? No, we saw...” our voice faltered. “the tooth of the Dragonfly and the horn of the Ancient Guardian...” There was a pause, before WX added his own. “EGG OF THE Goose AND EYE OF THE DEERCLOPS.” Wilson groaned and put his head in his hands. “Are you serious??? We have to kill all five???” “We couldn't even take on the Deerclops...” We hunched our shoulders sadly. “Guess that means we're stuck here...” “Don't be that way! We can do this!” Wilson looked from us to WX, then back again. His determined expression fell slightly. “Guys?” “IT'S A SUICIDE MISSION,” WX pointed out. “It's not something we have to do right now.” Wilson protested. “We all just got done with a pretty big scare.... but we gotta know if we're going to try or not.” “Why would we? It's suicide either way.” “Maybe? But at least if we go for this it's suicide with a purpose.” “I WOULDN'T MIND NOT HAVING TO ENDURE ONE OF THESE STUPID WINTERS AGAIN,” WX murmured thoughtfully. He motioned towards us. “HE PROBABLY WON'T EVEN LAST UNTIL THE END OF THIS ONE.” We scowled, and judging by the look on Wilson's face, he agreed with WX. “We're stronger than you think we are.” “TREE GUARD, INSANITY, NEARLY FREEZING TO DEATH...” “Alright, alright, we get it. But we're still alive, aren't we?” “BECAUSE WE'RE PULLING YOUR WEIGHT. DIDN'T YOUR TIME ALONE TEACH YOU THAT?” A spark of tension shot between us as we bunched our muscles, preparing to finish his beating. “That's enough!” Wilson snapped. “The last thing we need is for you guys to fight again or science forbid break us apart again.” We growled softly but sat back again, our claws itching to wipe that smug grin off of WX's face. Wilson pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. “So are we going to do this or not? Do you guys want to take our chances against the world or do you guys want to take out these beasts?” There was a pause as we considered the options. “I think we should go for the giants.” “I THINK YOU'RE BOTH NUTS,” WX grumbled. Wilson looked between us and sighed again. “I have to be the tiebreaker, don't I? Alright.” He flipped his book over- which he had previously beside him- and flipped through its pages. He stopped on the Goose. “Since we've already run into the Deerclops this winter, I don't think we will again. This is our best bet for the first giant. We need to separate her from her nest before we fight her.” “IT'S THE EGG WE NEED,” WX pointed out. “Yeah, but I don't want to fight her and the moslings at the same time.” He paused as though waiting for another question to be asked, but when none was he nodded once and went on: “She's the spring giant, but it's fairly easy to find the remnants of her nest during the other seasons.” He snapped the book shut and stood again, tucking it away under his arm. “So let's go find that nest.” “...now?” “Now.” We growled softly as we forced ourself to stand. Now us and Wilson stood over WX, who leaned back and made a motion that looked oddly like he'd be rolling his eyes if he had any. “NEITHER OF YOU WILL EVER UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH I HATE YOU,” he muttered as he stood up as well. “Great!” Wilson exclaimed as though WX hadn't said anything. “All three of us! Back together again! Beating the elements and soon to be beating the giants!” He turned on his heel and hummed quietly as he marched towards the savanna. We smiled, angling our face downward so they couldn't see or hear as we hummed along to the familiar tune. The blizzard had died sometime before we woke up again, but the snowdrifts left over from it were well over our head. Where it wasn't a snowdrift, it went about as high as our knees. We dropped behind a little, due to being the smallest of the group, but we took it to our advantage. As soon as we knew we were out of their peripheral vision, we slowly grabbed a handful of the snow, which crunched and compacted satisfyingly under our grip. We spent a few more seconds rolling it in our hands a few times before throwing it at Wilson and diving beneath the snow before he could catch us, hyper-aware that our black fur would stand out against the snow like a sore thumb but for once not caring. Wilson jumped at the impact of the snowball and turned quickly as though expecting something terrible to be there. “Webber!” He exclaimed, sounding actually a bit shocked. We peeked over our little hiding place only to get hit in the forehead with a similar snowball. We fell back dramatically, trying hide our laughter under a fit of sneezing. “Has anyone ever told you that you sneeze like a kitten!?” He teased. “We'll show you who sneezes like a kitten!” We lunged forward and threw a handful of loose snow over his head. He quickly stepped back and sneezed as well due to the snowflakes. “ENOUGH FOOLING AROUND,” WX, who had stopped to watch the miniature snowball fight, said sternly. “WE HAVE ACTUAL WORK TO DO.” Wilson simply looked at him for a second before throwing the snowball he had prepared at him. WX backed away a little, trying to brush the sticky snow off of his chest. It's amazing how something as little as snow can make us feel... myself again... We playfully tackled the robot, not any real force behind the action but enough to send him down. Anger flashed in his eyeless gaze and he kicked us away, driving the air from our lungs as he kicked our stomach to send us off of him. We hit the ground on our side, not actually getting hurt but getting the breath knocked out instead. We looked up, our eyes wide with shock at the sudden change of atmosphere. His 'eyes' were wide too as he shakily forced himself to his feet again. “DON'T. DO. THAT.” He growled. We looked down and nodded, not wanting to get into a fight after feeling like a child like that again. Beneath us was a smudge of blood. We took a sharp breath and jumped back. Did he actually hurt us??? It wasn't on our fur though, and we weren't hurt as far as we could tell... Wilson frowned and made his way through the snow to look at it. He hesitated, then carefully dug around it. Our heart began to slow as his digging revealed that it was not blood, but it was the color of blood. He pulled the object away from the snow and brushed remaining flakes off of it, turning it over in his hands a few times. “What... is this thing?” “SMART. FIND A WEIRD THING IN THE SNOW AND PICK IT UP. THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT BEING OUT HERE THIS LONG TAUGHT US,” WX huffed, his arms crossed. It appeared to be a small bone with tiny horns coming out of the red bulb on top. The red bulb rested on a patch of brownish fur. He shrugged and made a motion to throw it away. The bulb suddenly parted in half to reveal an eye. “YOU IDIOT!” WX shouted before he seemed to be able to stop himself. At the same time, Wilson threw it as hard as he could. All three of us held our breath, paralyzed in fear of what Wilson may or may not have summoned. We're gonna die, aren't we? We quickly glanced to the side as footsteps crunched in the snow. We were the first to hear it due to our superior hearing, but soon they turned too. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. The creature made itself shown. Our first reaction was fear, but it was quickly shoved down. It bounced above the snow, its orange skin standing out against the snow just as bad as our fur did. Two white horns protruded out of its head, and four, sturdy, red legs were keeping its body just below the snow's top. There was a moment of awkward silence as we tried to figure out if we had to be scared of this creature or not. It was still as well, a pink tongue rolling out of its mouth as it panted like a dog. It licked its chops, looking around (although it could barely be considered that due to its apparent lack of eyes) before stopping, facing the bone. It bounced over to it and picked it up in its mouth, before bounding to Wilson's feet and dropping it. “Is it... hostile?” Wilson seemed lost for words as he picked up the eye bone. “I... I think it's a friend...” “Have you seen it in your book?” “I... have no idea...” More silence. “Can.... can we keep it? We've always wanted a dog.” “NO!” “I... don't see why not if it's not hostile...” “ARE YOU BOTH IDIOTS?” “Probably,” I snickered, bending over the creature and patting its head. It panted with joy and licked our hand. “Don't worry,” Wilson scoffed. “I'll make sure he's not some sort of vicious creature. Just in case, though, don't get too attached to him, Webber.” “We won't!” I lied as the creature tackled us in into the snow. A spark of warmth lit in our chest. It's been a long time since we've been able to laugh like this. We sighed happily, hugging the creature we just met. It's been a long time...