Dang these last few chapters have been hard to write :/
Hope CH. 38 doesn't give me too much trouble (besides, I'm really looking forward to it ;) )
"What…do you mean…'you cannot'?" Caesar growled at Rocket, eyes unnaturally icy.
His friend couldn't maintain eye contact with him. With shredded hands still clasping his son in his arms, dozens of bleeding wounds across his back, and swollen ankles, Caesar knew what he must've looked like to the thin-haired chimp. However, the fury of his desperation to get back what was left of his family had erased any care for his image. Nothing else mattered.
Rocket lowered his eyes more, "We cannot leave right now, Caesar," he signed, trying but failing to hide his concerned look for his leader, "There are so many apes who need h…"
"I do not care!" Caesar dropped his head and tightened his arms around Cornelius, "I need…my son…I…"
Maurice unexpectedly grabbed his shoulder and pulled him around with a low growl, "You are not the only one who lost someone!"
Caesar was shocked still by the orangutan's unexpected break of character, his pull on his shoulder swiftly drawing him to the surface of reality like a hook. He blinked the haze of vengeful anger out of his eyes and truly looked at those around him.
Maurice was just as covered in blood as he had seen before, though now Caesar could see the great gash to the side of his cheek and swell of a broken hand. Rocket seemed to have missed the true fury of the attack physically, only gaining a few lacerations along his arms, though the way the rifle shook in his hands exposed the impact it had had on him mentally. Caesar could feel himself start to break again as he met Luca's face.
Where he had thought he saw an angry scowl, the gorilla now mirrored the image of what he had felt moments ago, the anguish of loss shredding through his tough exterior.
"L…Luca?" the gorilla forced himself to hold Caesar's eyes, his ragged breathing coming out in sob-like grunts. Caesar couldn't get himself to speak, the pressure of guilt tightening his throat, "Zuri?"
Luca's broken sob at the mention of his mate's name was enough to send Caesar sagging in shame. He glanced around them and felt his throat tighten more. Everywhere apes were mourning, falling and weeping upon those who they had lost or searching frantically through piles and piles of debris.
Maurice's hand fell to his shoulder again, the familiar comfort shining in his red-rimmed eyes, "I know you want to find Blue Eyes…we all do…but we must help those around us now. The apes need you, Caesar…you give them strength."
Caesar closed his eyes and sighed into slow nod. Maurice's words only echoed what his heart and mind had already concluded. If he had been anyone other than himself, he could've shut everything out, leaving nothing but the circle of his family in his heart. However, he had drawn a much larger circle around himself long ago, a circle that not only encompassed his friends, but all apes. He was their leader, their protector, their liberator. Leaving them alone in the wake of such tragedy was not an option for him. It never was.
There was an exchange of comforting smiles between him and his friend before the orangutan's smile faded. With a reassuring coo, he held out the arm with the broken hand and motioned with his eyes to the child in his arms. Caesar habitually pulled his son closer to his chest, but as Maurice's soothing eyes held his, he finally found the strength within himself to let go.
After he pressed his forehead to his son's one last time, he gently laid him into the crook of Maurice's arm. The orangutan brushed the hair of Cornelius' head back with his good hand, gave Caesar a supportive smile, and started to leave before pausing and motioning at Luca to return to his family. Luca hesitated at first, but after further insistence from Caesar, the gorilla finally bowed his head, assured he would return soon, and loped off.
Though the ties of his heart still pulled taught as he watched Maurice leave, Caesar cleared his face of the pain and turned his full attention to Rocket and those who followed him.
Within two hours, over three-hundred had been counted, with that number only rising as more time went by, for some were so severely injured that all that could be given to them was comfort. Caesar estimated at least four hundred would be lost before the day was done and these were only the apes they had found. Another two hundred or more were unaccounted for, though, suspiciously, most of those missing fell under a specific group.
His mind shifted as this number only grew, "Have we counted horses yet?" he asked Rocket suddenly.
Rocket laid down the log he had been looking under, eyes narrowed in confusion, "No…horses were far from the attack. Some inside the colony were killed but…"
"Do we know if Koko survived?"
Still confused, Rocket nodded.
Before more questions could be asked, Caesar hooted at the nearest ape. The young female chimp turned to the call and loped up to them quickly. "Lisa, go and tell Heston to count horses and return to me when he finishes," he ordered. She nodded, bowed with a raised hand, then loped off. Caesar turned back to his friend and raised an elbow, "Take me to Koko."
Rocket's eyebrows furrowed as he put one and one together, but acknowledged his leader's demand and helped him up. Caesar could sense the apprehension coming from his friend as they walked, and knowing very well his switch of attention back to his missing son went against the needs of the many, he made sure to give his friend assurance that he had not forgotten the more important matter at hand. "I want you to return here…" he soon said, then his eyes fell, the order he was about to say weighing heavy in his mind, "gather all apes who can move…we leave in the morning."
Rocket grunted questioningly, "But what about…"
"Soldiers…can return at any time…and many more apes will die…if they do. We must leave while we can. Apes…who cannot walk…we put on horses. We will stay in caves tonight… gain what strength we can…and leave…when sun rises tomorrow."
Sadly, Rocket saw the importance in what he said and nodded.
Though Caesar's anger spiked upon seeing that Koko had escaped unscathed, this quickly diminished as he watched her treat the apes who came to her. Even with her arthritic hands she still managed to clean wounds, move debris, and comfort those who had lost loved ones. She had three newly orphaned children around her when Rocket sat him in front of her.
It was as if she was reading his history through his eyes, for the second she looked up, her eyes seemed to grieve for him. "Koko is sorry," she said quietly, "Did Caesar lose all of family?"
His eyes fell and he shook his head, before he went hard again and looked up quickly.
Koko noticed the change in his eyes and shooed the three children away with a gentle motion to one of the other females. Her eyes creased in concern, "What is…"
"Blue Eyes is missing…and his friends," he was glad his voice didn't come out too harsh, Koko might be part of Aldo's group of apes, but he could never condone her for the actions of them.
Again, she read him well, "And Caesar believe Aldo take son, yes?"
He wrinkled his nose and turned his eyes away.
The ancient gorilla reached out and grabbed his hands. He didn't protest. She looked over them sadly then grabbed a handful of moss, dipped it in water, and started to clean them lightly, "Marcus come to Koko when bad humans arrive. Tell Koko to stay safe in cave until bad humans leave…and that apes will be safe soon," Caesar's eyes flew back up, he recognized the name. Marcus was Aldo's second in commend, the gorilla he had called for when they first met. Koko looked passed his angered eyes, dipped the moss, squeezed out the excess water, and continued, "Koko thinks Marcus take son and good humans…for what, Koko does not know," her eyes fell and her treatment of his hands stilled before the tears started, "Koko knows Aldo seem angry...but Aldo good ape…fights for apes…like Caesar. Aldo could not take son from father. Maybe Aldo see Marcus leave with son and good humans…try to get them back…but Koko worries that…"
Caesar turned his hands around and grabbed hers, smiling through the pain it sent through them, "We will find Aldo...I promise." Though his mistrust of Aldo had not diminished, for the circumstances of his disappearance and his relationship with Marcus were too suspicious to ignore, he knew Koko cared for the silverback like a son and knew this hollow hope would ease the pain in her heart.
She smiled stiffly and returned this same hope, "And Caesar will get son back," she made an x across her heart, "Koko promise."
Heston soon came up behind Caesar, followed closely by Maurice and Luca. The dark chimp was breathing hard, "No horses are missing, Caesar, but…"
Maurice calmed the hyperventilating chimp with a hand on his shoulder, "We have found many trails leading out of the colony. None have the footprints of the humans' feet, so we think they were carried out to keep from being followed."
Caesar lowered his head with a growl. Why would these apes run away with his son and his friends? Yes they could use them as ransom, but he did not hold any ape in his colony against their will, so what purpose did taking them serve? Hundreds of scenarios began running through his mind, shifting around until some of the details finally ran together into one focused image.
The pain in his chest suddenly twisted down into his stomach. Everything that was going on all boiled down to one thing, the fear that drove these apes to take his son, the destruction that had smothered hundreds in an instant, it all fell upon those who sent this fear and destruction…humans.
Though his teeth clenched at the thought, Caesar was slowly starting to realize a fact that he had tried for years to deny. "Bad humans will follow apes forever," Aldo had said, "Apes never be safe if bad humans live." These were words Caesar never wanted to admit. He had hoped the apes leaving would fix what animosities there were between them and the humans, but there always seemed to be a way for their species to return to killing each other. It would never stop.
Caesar's fluctuating emotions hardened to stone as he raised his eyes to the apes around him. "Apes who took my son go toward human colony…but have no horses…will travel slow. We will stay in caves tonight…then leave in the morning…follow path which leads that direction...and find them," he stood, pain in his ankles ignored, "Then…we will gather all apes who can fight…and return to city." Green eyes grew wide and narrow around him and he stood taller, "The humans have shown…that no matter how far we run…they will find us. So we will no longer run. As of now…we are at war."
And it has begun.
Sorry it took so long, it's been a little hectic down here in Texas.
Till next time ;)