The thoughts of the Rootak Matriarch, stunned at these events, kept inexplicably returning to one thing the apparition of Droon had said:
"In Vandalia, he will soar above the rest and then return to reclaim this land for his kin"
It dawned on her that he HAD returned, in some inexplicable way. That was the only possible explanation for her earlier confusion - her detection of
the child in the group seeking the child - yet knowing the child was safe in her daughter's care. She had to find out if Droon had been truthful - the
child had returned to reclaim this land for his "kin". More worrisome to her was the potential for who he considered to be his "kin" - the Rootak who
raised him, or the hairless pink Others he had been born to.
She left the cave, entering the cold darkness once again, with a purpose. Her daughter's mate was out there somewhere, already, watching the Others,
and would have to be informed as to the strange fate of his mate and the child of her heart.
He would not be pleased, of that she was certain.
Tibbs sat at the fire, tinkering with the little blue bauble. "It's discharged again. Not so bad as last time, but it hasn't the power left to send US
to the destination. The quartz crystal mitigated the discharge, but not enough. There isn't enough left" he pronounced.
nenothtu grunted. "You fixed it before, you can do it again. I just wish you'd get on with the fixin', Tibbs. This ain't comfortable camping."
Tibbs replied "I can only..." and trailed off. He had looked up, and there stood Death in their midst. "Company" he said.
Death said, with a humorless smile "Good evening. Fine bit of work you've done at my behest, nenothtu."
Nenothtu replied equally humorlessly, and perhaps with just a bit more rancor, "I ain't done you no favors today, ain't got no idea what you're
talking about. Do you just show up at random to annoy me now?"
Death replied "Oh, but you HAVE done my bidding this evening! When you shot the Rootak. He had a choice to make, and would have made the wrong one,
but thankfully you took that choice out his hands and put it into mine."
His annoyance rising, neno replied "Rootak? What the hell is a 'Rootak'? All I've shot this evening was some jackass over there" indicating the rise
the Rootak had been on with his chin "an' that was a man. Jus' seen his head and shoulders hiding in the brush on the skyline watchin' us, and figured
that anyone out on a night like this jus' watchin' folk had to be up to no good or crazy - which is about as bad and less predictable. I fixed his
problem is all. Go see fer yerself he's a-layin' right over yonder" and indicated the rise again.
Death laughed, a dry, raspy humorless laugh. "I take it you've not checked on him yourself, then. There's nothing - and no one - there, nenothtu."
Death was enjoying this a bit too much, and neno didn't like him trying to take the upper hand.
"Sure there is. I shot 'im myself, an' he dropped like a pole-axed steer. The wolves run off at the sound of the shot, so I'm sure they didn't eat
him. He's gotta be there still yet" and he stood to prove it to himself. Walking the considerable distance to the spot through the woods, nenothtu
arrived to find.... nothing, just as Death had said.
Well, not exactly 'nothing'. The snow in that area had been torn up to a considerable degree. Looking the area over, neno said "Hmm. Clear miss I
reckon. He got away. Makes no never mind to me, long as he's not spyin' on us anymore. Big fella, too, from the looks of this tore up patch." going to
examine the trail leading in to the site, he remarked "just as I thought. Crazy fella. See there?" neno said, pointing out the incoming tracks to
Death then continuing "Barefoot. Ain't nobody but a crazy man gonna traipse through this mess barefooted. BIG fella, from the size of them tracks, but
altogether human. Lookit that foot print".
Uncharacteristically, Death snickered. "Where's his trail OUT, since you 'scared him off'?" He was enjoying this more than he'd thought he would.
Perplexed, neno could find no outgoing trail. "That don't make no sense. He's either here or he ain't and if he ain't, he had to leave." and they
started back to the camp. Death spoke, and said "Oh, you killed him alright. That put him in MY baliwick. Yes, you were doing MY work, nenothtu."
"How's that YOUR work? He was a-spyin' on US, not you. I didn't do JACK fer you, I did it fer us. Good job, too - wherever he went, he ain't here to
bother us no more." he concluded.
Airily, Death waved a hand to emphasize his next words "Oh, I 'moved him on' for you... or for ME... either way, it's a benefit to both. As you're so
fond of saying, it wasn't 'his time' to die. Teamwork, mate. That's what it's all about. Teamwork."
Neno was getting annoyed, for the umpteenth time dealing with this shade. "Stop talkin' in riddles. Say what ye mean, and mean what ye say. What the
dev... what the heck are you talkin' 'bout?"
They had nearly arrived back at the camp. Death replied "What you killed here was a 'Rootak', a male. You know them as 'bigfeet', but they call
themselves 'Rootak' ".
Nenothtu snorted "Ain't no such thing. I recall the stories, but they was just to keep the kids scared and in line. Ain't no sech critter" he
"You didn't let me finish" Death chided. "No, it was a Rootak, alright. That one was mate to a young female who had recently bore a child, but we're
not to that part of the tale yet" Death was relishing this, and working it for what he could. He wanted to produce maximum shock in this upstart.
"Anyhow, that particular Rootak had... has
an important mission in life. Two hundred sixty one years from now, he saves the life of a child...
human child, not a Rootak child at all."
"Yeah, well, Yay fer him. No skin off MY ass, though, nor yours."
Death's 'laugh' at that was nearly a gurgling cough. "Oh, it could've been... it could've been. Continuing on, that child eventually saves MY life, so
you've done me a favor here by helping me send this Rootak on. Oh, don't worry about him in the least. He's fine now... er then
even though you
just parted his hair for him. Ever wonder WHY I dropped you out here AFTER the child was born rather than before? I mean. really, what difference
could a few minutes make when you're crossing time anyhow? And your 'death' in Tombstone. How did you get back there without the bullet hole that sent
you away? No, where and when our young Rootak friend is, he's as whole as ever he was, alive and well."
Neno was getting AWFULLY tired of this seemingly endless tale of twisting paths and said "Well great for ya. I'll send my bill. Now git the hell outta
here, we got work to do." and that was the end of that, for nenothtu.
Not so for Death, he wasn't finished yet. "You see, my dear killing machine, he protects that child because it's so dear to his mate. They adopted the
child after losing one of their own."
"How touching. Just jerks tears right outta my eyes" nenothtu observed dryly.
Now it was time for Death to deliver his five-fingered death punch to neno, and he savored the moment. "That adopted child is the child of Silo."
Neno exploded. "Yer a lyin' sumbidge! I saw with my own eyes..." he stopped himself, looked sideways at the others and amended with a weak "That
young-un ain't with us no more. You done took him." and he glared at Death, realizing this monster had taken Silo's child that he had been charged to
protect. The only thing keeping him from a repeat of the pounding he had previously delivered to Death was his own philosophy that it must have been
the child's time, or Death couldn't have done it.
Death savored the moment. "Oh yes, it WAS er, I mean IS Silo's child he protects. The one the wolves ate? That was the child he lost, the one Silo's
child replaced." at the mention of wolves eating a child, Tibbs blanched. Death continued, loving every minute of it. "Silo's child is among the
Rootak now, this instant, alive and well."
Nenothtu snatched up his rifle and grimly said "Not fer long" and started to step out into the darkness. Death's gurgling laugh stopped him.
"A search will do you no good. They're all 260 years in the future now, safe from your interference." Death said.
"TIBBS GIT THAT GADGET FIXED" nenothtu bellowed. "We got a young-un to rescue".
Death decided it was time for the next punch. "Don't you want to know WHERE to go as well as WHEN?" He asked with a sickening sweetness.
Neno had had enough. He levelled the lever action at Deaths head and said "You'd best get to talkin' straight fer a change".
Death giggled. He actually giggled, just like a schoolgirl. "Or what? You're going to 'kill' Death? Quite a trick, that. You'd be the hero of the
universe if you could do that" and then Death leaned in somewhat and said simply "but you can't. You can no more kill Death than you can liquify
water." he said with a certain smugness.
Re-evaluating on the fly, neno flipped the rifle in the air and caught it by the barrel, cocking it back like a ball bat. "Eh, mebbe not, but I can
sure as hell HURT you plenty! We both know that now, don't we?"
Death leaned back and took a step back out of range, and said simply "Vandalia". He absolutely loved the look of confusion that took over nenothtu's
"Vandalia? 260 years from now? That would be..." and after a quick calculation concluded "'bout the time I came into the world. Had any sech thing
occurred, I'd have heard the stories. Yer a scroggin' liar, and yer done now!" and he stepped forward like a batter coming up to the plate.
Death forestalled the swing by saying "That's right, my murderous little buddy. That child is YOU!" Nenothtu's eyes widened at that, but he arrested
"Baloney! I was raised by Frank and Kate Carpenter, not any 'Rootak' or 'bigfoot' or whatever you want to call it." He hesitated, unsure of himself
now, and Death was loving it.
"Oh no, nenothtu. You know as well as I do that the key word there is 'raised'. You KNOW that Frank found you wandering in the woods as a small child
and that couple took you in as one of their own when no one could ever find your real parents. You KNOW your own history from that point, and
including it. Now you know a bit MORE of it" Death said smugly.
Nenothtu abruptly sat down, the rifle across his lap. "Can't be. It's too twisted. Yer makin' all this up to play with me." he mumbled. In all the
turmoil, no one had noticed the Rootak Matriarch approaching the camp. She had been observing and listening. She chose this instant to rise to her
full height of around 8 feet, gaining the attention of those gathered.
Tibbs was the first to respond, and nearly in hysterics screamed "Shoot it, nenothtu! SHOOOOOT IT!"
neno, frozen in place, said out of the side of his mouth "Lookit the size of that thing, Tibbs! Iffen I shoot it and just piss it off, it'll eat every
damned one of us! I ain't shootin' that thing fer nothin'!"
"Why not?" Death cackled "You've already shot one!"
"Shaddup" neno told Death in no uncertain terms "YOU I've got no qualms about wearin' out!" He felt the same odd sensation he'd felt before, of
fingers tapping at his skull, and then a voice produced itself within his head.
"He speaks truth, warrior. You ARE the child. I am as confused as you, but it's so." She said no more, and nothing out loud. She merely stood and
watched, to see what the child now grown would do to reclaim the land for the Rootak.
After a pregnant pause to assimilate all this, neno said "I want outta here. I wanna be somewhere I can think and poke holes in this theory, and get
Silo's baby back for her."
Death then delivered the final blow. "You CAN'T. If you remove that baby from where it is now, YOU will not be, not as you are now... and of course if
you are not, you cannot remove the baby from where it is now. Lovely in it's circular logic, isn't it? You can affect the futures of others, but not
your own. Ironic, no? If you retrieve that baby, you will not be. You will not have destroyed the Ophiuchi dreadnought. You will not have been able to
protect the Babe of Bethlehem. You will not have been able to kill McLaury and save me. You will not BE as you now are - 'you' will be a baby in
Silo's arms, and none of the rest will have ever happened - including your rescue of Silo's baby - yourself. You have run up against a wall not of
improbability, nenothtu, but one of impossibility." he sat back to let that sink in, before continuing.
Death then leaned forward again, and said in a venom dripping voice "Now you have a choice to make. Tell Silo you've failed to retrieve her baby, or
tell her it died. Either way, you're going to break your mother's heart. She'll no doubt hate you for that." and here he grinned, nearly as wide as
one of BIAD's 'manic' smiles and said "and the best part is, I get to watch it all. I get to see 'The Neno' brought low." Then he leaned back and
laughed, long and hearty.
During the pause, as nenothtu sat there pale and shaken, and all the others were trying to wrap their heads around this revelation. the Rootak
Matriarch spoke, right out loud, in a peculiarly accented English. "I have seen you, and can see that you ARE. It is enough for now. Do what you must,
destiny awaits and cannot be changed. I go now. maybe I see you again, my grandson." and without a further word turned and melted into the
After a pause of several minutes, during which nenothtu considered it all, he finally stood up. "Ain't nothing to be done here now, regardless of
whether it's true or not." Then he fixed a baleful glare on Death. "I ain't playin' yer silly-assed game, but if you want to see whether I do or not,
you'll have to get us out of here and back to the Yydryl, so's I can report to Silo." He leaned in towards Death and said in a growl "And if you
get us back there right now, I'm gonna commence to tenderizing you again. Yer choice is no choice at all."
Death laughed a nervous laugh, but said "But of course! Consider it done, my friend! YOUR choice isn't much of a choice, either, and you WILL play
this game out, one way or another!"
Neno raised a fist and cocked it back, then said "I ain't yer frie...." as the flash took them all away.
edit on 2011/2/17 by nenothtu because: (no reason given)