A/N: Perxio, yes indeed that 'I'm so lonely' was a reference! Although I didn't realize it at first. But then I did, and I decided it was kind of appropriate.
Amethyst, thanks! So this RPG that you and Faithers are writing, is it Ice Age, or something different? I always like a good sad story.
Alteng: Are you thinking too much? Well, I think you're thinking more than I am, in that I can't really confirm or refute any of your theories, all of which are rather interesting and quite possible. I wish I had a better handle on our hero's mental state, but sadly, this is not the case. It's kind of a problem of mine. I can say, however, that yeah, you're right about the Speaker being a symbol of guilt. If he'd stopped Tacet, his father wouldn't have had to kill the Speaker, thus making exile and the resulting deaths unnecessary.
I seriously considered doing the next chapter about the present, like you said, but ultimately I decided to finish the dredgings. I thought it would break any flow there might be if I pulled the story away from the middle of his memories. But this is the last flashback chapter, I swear! And my, but a Buck beanie without the dagger? I can't say I approve of that, poor Buck…
Spaz-Kun, Lo siento para las lágrimas! Muchas gracias para la inspiración, sus comentarios son maravillosos. I always wonder over the intelligence of creating sad stories about 'kid' movies. Everything is so very different and OOC and completely not in the same tone as the original work… Y así, soy muy feliz que lo quiere, en vez de fruncir a toda la angst y la tristeza.
Cabbage_Merchant, your name makes me wish I had a cabbage. Bah. As for Diego and Crash, I'm very sorry to say that I decided to finish the memory-chapters first. But yes, believe me. our hero is pretty excited for them to bust him out too.
Lina-Shan: Por favor no se discúlpe! Comprendo que la mayoría de las personas en la tiene otro vive para vivir. Y gracias, muchas gracias para sus comentarios!
Ch. 19: Dredgings: Requiem
He rose from a stupor with the morning light. The rest of the night had passed quickly once he'd become still, and he'd fallen into another numb trance. His awareness now rekindled, he took a moment to marvel at his surroundings; it became apparent, now, that this place was an underground world, a hollow in the earth, with a ceiling of ice and a perpetual tropical climate.
He dismissed the impossibility of this scenario. Obviously, the giant creatures plodding around in the clearing before him were a testament that this place was stable enough to support even the most gargantuan forms of life.
And my, but he was hungry. And thirsty. And sore. And sad –
He pulled a curtain between 'sore' and 'sad'. Sadness was behind him. Sadness was waiting for him to turn around so it could arrest his vision and yank him down and drown him.
He very carefully danced around that thought. Hungry, thirsty, sore. Someone else was sad. Not him, though. Time to climb down from this tree. Careful of his hind paw and listening for any strange noises , he descended the trunk and lowered himself to the ground. The shadows were still deep and slanting, dew had set everything all aglitter, and the air was crisp and undisturbed.
This, he thought, was the kind of peace that lies in wait for you to let your guard down. Then it steps on your head.
He narrowed his eyes, looking right and left.
Wasn't he supposed to be looking for something? Yes, yes, someone named Wellspring. Oh, Wellspring. Sadness tapped on his shoulder as he thought about the name. He knew who she was, he did, she was his –
Just someone. Someone he was looking for. It was quite important that he find her, for whatever reason. Whatever reason. His mind repeated 'whatever reason' desperately, trying to escape that spiraling sensation that was grabbing at him. Part of him smiled nervously and said,
Thought I left you up there. And the other part said,
You idiot, stop smiling! Don't you remember anything?
I hope not. Now, aren't you thirsty?
That smiling, forgetful part of him did seem to be onto something. The other part shut up for the moment, or was otherwise rendered mute. He turned to the jungle and slipped between the leaves, pausing and listening and creeping. Tripping, because his foot was quite stiff, and frightening up some truly dreadful insects, the likes of which could have eaten him in two bites, had they wanted to. He narrowly avoided being sighted by a large, scaly, club-tailed creature, and the route he took to avoid that encounter brought him straight to a river. This solved his thirst problem, and the little fish (with surprisingly sharp ear-ripping teeth) he managed to splash out of the water solved his hunger problem, and the icy waters very temporarily numbed his whole body, dumbing down the pain in his foot and his ear.
Throughout the rest of the day he teetered precariously on the razor's edge of what lay before him and what lay behind. He wanted so badly to disappear into the jungle and just live there, to learn from it and let it take over his mind and become part of it. But then, leaving behind what had happened seemed like a sacrilege, not to mention doing so was proving to be nearly impossible. As hard as he trained his mind to veer away from those thoughts, it would always, always, always return, like a moth to a flame. His greatest fear was that he would become engulfed.
Of course, he would lie himself out of believing that one. His greatest fear, he'd say, was whatever it was that would make that terrible, echoing roar. It must be the biggest, meanest monster that this world held.
The first day was a struggle, in every sense of the word. With his surroundings, with his body, with his mind. The day after that was no better, nor was the next one. With each passing sundown, the bubble of doubt would grow bigger and he'd have to think it back to a reasonable size once the sun had risen and cast its fingers through the icy ceiling of his home. Sleep was one of his biggest demons, and almost without fail it would send him back into the raw memories that he was trying so hard to bury. Instead of sleep he would try to fall into a mindless trance and let the night slip by like that, but he didn't have much control over what his body and mind decided to do when they were tired.
But time was on his side. Days passed, and weeks passed, and the jungle hadn't killed him yet. Neither had he fallen to his death in that big, smelly abyss, or been incinerated by the great lava flow, or eaten by the giant, toothy monsters that liked to dwell there with their newborns. His nightmares tried desperately to drag him back to who he was but he began to tell himself that they weren't based off of memories, that they weren't chips of his past, and that perhaps they were all another kind of fable, trying to terrify him into learning about awareness and loss and control.
Instead he learned about survival. Which dinosaurs wanted to eat him and which ones just wanted to stare curiously. Which ones not to ride, which ones were good for fast transit. Whose prints were whose. Where all the fish were. Where all the flying monsters dwelt. Which plants were useable, edible, medicinal, and which plants were carnivorous. How to escape attackers and where to hide at night and what to think about when his mind would start to wander too close to the flame.
He took to walking with his back straight and leaping at his prey from the front. He did not sneak out of habit. Sometimes he planned things meticulously and sometimes he went flying into situations in full improvisational mode, but being careful became second nature to him.
Lots of time passed. He didn't count the days. He counted the number of young tyrannosaurus rexes and how many feet of vines he needed to create a proper rope. He talked to the stegosauruses, who always gave him a glazed stare, and he talked to the pineapples, who always regarded him as if he weren't good enough for them. He hoped that someday he'd be able to impress the pineapples. But he didn't count the days, and he didn't talk to himself about what had happened.
Days since when? What did he think had happened? He'd always been here, hadn't he? Ever since he was a wee kit?
He was a bit taller now. He was almost four times as tall as those stuffy pineapples. Their imperious stares were no longer quite as effective. The currents in the river had a harder time grabbing hold of him and he needed to weave his ropes thicker to hold his weight. Now he could run and climb faster and take more risks.
Like checking out that big, mysterious cave that he'd been eyeballing for a while.
He didn't think he was going to find anything particularly amazing in there, but it was, after all, a big, mysterious cave. It really was about time to find out what was in it. Maybe it would turn out to be the shelter of whatever was always making that loud roar. So far he'd been doing his best to avoid the beast, but his curiosity quickly seemed to be getting the better of him.
What better time for his curiosity to get the better of him than a dark, foggy night? A night like that was better used traipsing around in caves than trying to get a bit of mind rest. Fog always put him on edge if he wasn't occupying himself with something.
Sniffing, eyes narrowed, he edged along the rock face and peered into the dark cavern. Something definitely lived in there. It smelled of rancid meat and stale air and soda springs, and maybe a hint of slow-roasted oyster in pine-nut sauce, although he suspected that last bit may have been his imagination, for the simple fact that nobody in their right mind would ever slow-roast an oyster and then cover it in pine-nut sauce, of all the vile things. Also, he was willing to bet his life on the fact that he was the only thing down here that knew how to cook.
Task at hand. Focus now.
He took a step in, eyes straining through the dark. On second thought, why was he doing this in the dark? His nocturnal sight was beginning to kick in as he crept further into the cave, but still all he could make out were shadowy blobs. The cave seemed to slant upwards, in an almost sharp manner, and it was much bigger than he'd expected… usually caves petered off to a point or turned into skinny, annoying, winding tunnels that made him a bit claustrophobic.
No, this was a full-blown cavern. Given, there was a small tunnel near the back, 'small' meaning large enough to admit a flexible allosaurus. But quite obviously, something larger than an allosaurus was the habitant of this cave. He ran a paw over the dirt and dust on the ground, just barely making out the prints of the giant dino who lived here. He'd seen the prints before, in the jungle. They never ceased to amaze him. And was that a… Yes, that was a pile of bones over there. Big bones. Leg bones. This thing had dragged the leg of a long-neck back in here to eat it. That took strength.
The ceiling was scraped clean of stalactites above the cavern, broken debris littering the edges. He paused and stared up there, knowing that its back had to be able to reach up that high. This thing was huge. It was huge, and the wind had started to pick up. It whooshed past the entrance to the cave, creating an eerie dirge and making him wonder if the beast wouldn't be returning soon-like to get out of the bad weather.
Speaking of bad weather, was that rain out there? He supposed it must be. Rain down here meant that the humidity and heat had reached breaking point, and what a breaking point this one would be, if the weather of the past few days were any indication. Which it most certainly was. This was going to be one wet, windy night. He walked further into the cave, wondering what was through that tunnel in the back. Probably led off to somewhere he didn't care to know about. But who knew, maybe it led off to another land, further underground, full of talking rocks and such.
It was a bit eerie, walking straight up the slanted den of the monster. He had to keep himself from breaking out into a sprint. Usually he wouldn't be so spooked but the atmosphere was thick enough to taste. It tasted like danger, which was something like iron and compost and sumac blossoms and very dusty dead things.
Perhaps that thing shoved into that pit in the wall was contributing. It looked like a very dusty dead thing to him. Curiosity piqued and wondering what kind of crazy animal would enter a cave like this (besides himself), he marched up to it.
"Eh," he said, squinting. Funny. It was furry. Not many furry things down here. Awful dusty, it was. Brushing at the old hide, it occurred to him that this thing had been nearly mummified. With the upward slant of the cave and the tunnel that likely led somewhere else, all the draft and moisture would simply pass this little crevice by, leaving the dead thing to sit there and not do too much besides become exceptionally dehydrated. What a small bundle of bones curled up in there. Why in the world had it come in here to die, of all places?
The dust brushed away, the fur was still quite soft. He absentmindedly let his paw rest over the body, wondering at the texture of the pelt, trying to make out a color in the dim light. It was too dark to be sure, but there were definitely two tones there, and definitely a few faded spots –
His heart skipped. Could it?... No, no, no. No.
No way. What was he even afraid of? He gave himself a reassuring smirk and reached out for the tip of its tail, which had been hiding the poor creature's head in its last moments. See, he said to himself, and flipped the tail away. Nothing to be-
The face arrested his vision and thoughts and muscles and he couldn't think or move. His mind spun its wheels and gained no purchase and she was staring straight at him with her empty eyes, fine teeth picking up the lightning and throwing it back in his face accusationally. He let out a forceful exhalation of the breath he had been holding and dropped the tail, ears ringing. Backing away. Denying everything the sight was trying to dredge up from the depths of his mind.
It wasn't going to work. His precious, fragile framework was crumbling, and the very knowledge that she was in here was never going to leave him now.
Run! he told himself, and he turned and stumbled and caught himself and ran as if her stare would set him afire, ran back out to the storm. He hit the wall of rain and turned right, running along the rocky outcrop, towards the jungle and the trees and away from that thing, lightning ripping the skies in half above him, low clouds roiling angrily, and thunder, thunder, thunder pounding the ground…
That was not thunder.
He skidded to a stop and turned, back scraping the rock.
That big mass there, not twenty bounds away, most certainly hadn't been there before. The shock of what he'd just seen somehow faded into the mist, replaced by the terror that he'd just been taken off-guard and was being chased by a giant dinosaur.
Then it opened its eye, and he realized that the mass that he could see was only the head of the beast. Ruby eye pinning him to the wall. He tried to take it in and instead it seemed to take him in, its ultimate judgment seeming like the fiery steps of hell, burning away at his soul and reducing him to the bones of survival, whatever it would take for him to live again. If this is what he was up against, if this great beast was the ultimate enemy, if it was his personal demon that he could throw all his anger and grief and despair at, and if he could just defeat it -
The monster dealt the first blow, and its glowing red eye was the last thing that the weasel's right one would ever see…
Everything after that was pretty much genuine, certified, properly-preserved, filed-away history. As good as it was going to get with him, anyways. Knocked out the tooth, made the knife, and launched himself into an all-consuming escapade to defeat the great white beast and in doing so beat down the upwelling of feelings he knew he'd never be able to control. Not that he was aware of it at the time. After he'd gone blasting through Rudy's mouth, he'd had a re-rebirth, of sorts. Started anew yet again, but no teetering on the edge of madness this time. Breaking out of the monster's teeth had been akin to wildly casting himself off the edge of sanityland into the abyss of deep, irrevocable, howling insanity.
Where he had been quite happy, until Rudy had… had gone and done whatever he'd done. Gotten sick, or old, or something else ridiculous. Stopped fighting back.
Now he understood why it had made him so upset. His restless, listless, subtle fear of what was happening. That creeping feeling that had followed him up through the cave and back to the surface world.
Now he understood his anger towards all this confounding, cold, frozen whiteness. His inability to comprehend something that held no meaning at all but to which he pinned all meaning he'd ever struggled with.
Now he understood why he was trapped in a cage made of bone, over a rug made of weasel-pelts, in the home of someone who had also suffered through a terrible loss but hadn't been lucky enough to be a child lost in the jungle at night when it had happened.
The weasel's eye shone dully in the flicker of the little fire and he breathed. He felt so old. He'd never been down that deep in the recesses of his mind before, and he had definitely just touched the very bottom of it. His memories were all finally reawakened and reexperienced and that meant another death. Who he had been had once again died in the wake of another rebirth.
Now he found himself here. All his ugly history and all the legacy that he'd unconsciously carried had plopped him down here in this cage and now he once again had not the slightest clue as to what to do. He hoped that a keen sense of when to think and when to act would help him out of this one but he had the sneaking suspicion that there would be no miraculous rebirth if his next death involved being the subject of the mad human's wrath.
A/N: I assure you, we are now back in the present.