It felt as if, no sooner than had they left, San found himself back in the caverns again. But he supposed it only felt like that; at the very least a full day and night had certainly passed, as it was no longer the day he had last come here, and in the intervening time, Seveth had had a turn. Perhaps it was only that the journey last time had felt long, and he was not really eager to return to this place, and with the same companion as last time to further drive home the repetition.
But the man who had hired him still wanted the reptile taken out for strolls, and so San found himself with his charge in tow once more.
The reptile did not seem to much mind that they walked in silence, so San felt no compulsion to make small talk, as he might have with a human companion.
That was some relief, at least. As of late the weight of pretending to be cheerful and talkative and harmless had begun to feel a little suffocating. It was strange how that worked; one would think the pretending, and only that, would have been easier than all the things he had been made to do before. And the things he had done had certainly been terrible. But it was the kind of thing that he had already grown used to, and after a while you stopped feeling anything, even if what you were doing was truly atrocious.
... He wondered how long it would take for him to get accustomed to what he was doing now. Not too long, he hoped. He was getting a little too old to have to cope with sudden, utter lifestyle changes, and yet he found himself at the foot of one once again, for some reason.
Fate loved to pull tricks on the unwary, he supposed. In that case he made a prime target, not that this knowledge brought him any joy.He would have been perfectly content if it had left him alone, and if he had never become...
... There was one good thing about his companion besides the fact that it was content not to be spoken to. Its sudden starts and stops forced San not to be alone with his thoughts, and he was savvy enough about his own mental state to be glad for this. The reptile made one such stop now, at the foot of one of the yawning caverns, and after some assessment, San decided that it was wide enough to accommodate them both. And he certainly didn't have a cavern picked out already, so this one was as good as any to him, if it was agreeable to the reptile.
He waited a moment longer, to see if the reptile would start at anything within the cavern mouth, and also to see if he could himself sense anything within. In they went then; San led the way, and with him pulling on the lead, the reptile followed behind not long after.
It used to be he had a great deal more discipline, but as of late it was harder and harder to keep his mind straight. He wondered if this was part of the effect of having... Seveth... present, as though the presence of someone much less organized and guarded in his mind could by proxy bleed into San himself. He certainly hoped that wasn't the case. He had no desire to become anything more like Seveth than he had to. It was not because San had any great love for his own self, but if he had to choose another person to become...
Suffice to say it certainly wouldn't have been a hedonistic layabout.
But then, if only it were so easy. There were times enough when San wished he could discard himself entirely, and sat with the bitter realization that it wasn't possible. As it turned out, even possessed, he had remained himself, after a fashion. Perhaps some of that was the work of Ichaival, but even so.
As they entered the tunnel, San took stock of the rock therein. This one seemed to be of a more natural make than the other one they had explored last time they were here. For one thing, it narrowed considerably almost right off the bat. There was still room enough for them to pass through, but it would be a tighter fit than the entrance had at first suggested. San glanced at the reptile, and wondered if he would be comfortable making his way through.
For the moment, at least, the reptile seemed calm. Perhaps it hadn’t yet noticed the problem. If that was the case, San wasn’t about to try and draw attention to the issue himself. After all, he had no desire to upset the creature before there was any reason to, and if the reptile itself didn’t mind the situation, then San could hardly complain. The tunnel was perfectly good for him, since he was the smaller of the two, though he could see a little from the light of the flashlight that there were going to be places where he would also have to stoop down.
But then, it wasn’t as though he thought spelunking was all going to be smooth sailing. In fact, the previous cavern that they had visited was really something of an anomaly if he thought about it. Who, or what, could have created such a uniform tunnel?
He didn’t know, but then he also didn’t know enough about the conditions of the area to make that kind of conjecture. The state of the mining and quarrying industry, the tools available to those who partook in it… And then, on the flip side, the creatures that lived here, their sizes and their digging habits. Any of those could have provided the answer, and he didn’t have any comprehensive knowledge of any of them.
If it was a creature that did it… he certainly hoped it would be the kind that could be reasoned with. Anything that large might not see the merit of talking things out with something as small as himself. But if he could avoid such an encounter, then of course San was hoping to do so. He wasn’t coming down here for any more dire a purpose than curiosity and the hopes of finding something good to take home with him.
It wasn’t worth risking his life down here for a few precious stones. Used as he was to the prospect of risking his life in a general sense as he was, San still didn’t wish to do it recklessly and to no purpose.
After all, he ought to be counting himself lucky for surviving this long. It wasn’t as though he truly had a death wish to speak of…
“Let’s go,” he said to the reptile, and tugged gently on the lead. The reptile didn’t budge, and stood perfectly still. San wondered if this was some silent form of protest, and tried again, a little more coaxingly this time. “Let’s go,” he said, in a gentler voice, and held out his hand in a gesture of entreaty.
Still the reptile would not budge. But it did stare at San’s hand, its beady eyed gaze fixing on the wiggling fingers.
For a moment the two stood across from each other, both staring. San wondered if the reptile had noticed the narrowness of the cavern after all, and was having second thoughts about its apparent choice of places to venture into.
And then a premonition - no, something he sensed instinctively. San retracted his hand just as the reptile lunged for it, jaws snapping closed where San’s fingers had been just a moment ago.
San… wasn’t shaken, but he was a little surprised. The action seemed unusually, unnecessarily savage. To think that the reptile would be so upset with him as to attempt to take off his entire hand… That bite had not been the joking sort of someone that was trying to pull their blows. If San hadn’t reacted so quickly, he there was a real possibility that he would have been several fingers short of what he had come in with.
Well, perhaps it wouldn’t have come quite to that point, but it would certainly have drawn blood or broken fingers. It occurred to him that he didn’t know whether the reptile did have sharp teeth, since it seldom opened its mouth and San hadn’t been looking too closely. But based on its diet, he assumed it probably did.
“Have I done something to upset you?” said San, frowning slightly. The reptile had reverted to its usual impassive self, however, and that stoic facade offered San no answers. He waited a while, to see if anything more would be forthcoming, but if he had any hopes for that, he found them disappointed. The reptile had no further wish to communicate.
At least it had not seen fit to lash out again. San knew that the reptile could bring a great deal of destruction to bear if it really wished to do so.
The club on the end of its tail was an obvious weapon, and San had occasion to see it swing sometimes, though never at a particular target. And the beast’s heavy bulk made its own kind of weapon, bolstered by a hide that was as tough as it was thick.
… The creatures here were almost all engineered by some sort of peculiar scientific organization, or so he had learned since he had arrived. Roku, too, was one such creature. It had been a difficult thing to swallow; the cat seemed so much his own creature that it was hard to think of him as something… engineered. But Roku had owned to the truth of it himself, though he had tempered that answer with the caveat that he had no recollection of such things. He had been born; and then he had been raised, the way many domesticated animals had been raised.
It was not as though he had been kept in some horrific hospitalized state for all his life, or whatever it had been that San had been imagining. And San had felt rather caught out then, for while he hadn't imagined exactly that, Roku's words hadn't exactly been far off the mark either.
Still, the fact that they had been brought to life via artificial, or at least controlled scientific means meant that they must have been created with some purpose in mind. What purpose could have led to the creation of something like Roku? The reptile was easier to guess, based on its armaments and its size. Most likely it had been created for combat purposes, and defensive ones in particular. From what he had observed of this one, they were not quick except over short distances, but a defender did not necessarily have to have good skills for pursuit.
A quick analysis of its defensive capabilities told San that this would be a difficult creature to assail, at least by his own standards, and if there were a great deal of them working in tandem to defend a perimeter, then that would have been quite the thing to contend with.
… There were ways around such things, of course. An aerial assault would have been difficult for these creatures to interfere with. But no tool was right for every job, so to speak, and these reptiles must certainly have had a niche to fill.
The reptile would not move, and as far as San could tell, it was clearly upset about something. But without a proper avenue of communication, it was impossible for San to ascertain what it was. He wasn’t yet familiar enough with this kind of reptile to accurately read its non verbal cues, having been raised almost entirely among humans.
San found that even the Mammalians and the like were sometimes a bit difficult to interpret, and those were other spoken races like himself. It was a deficiency, he supposed, caused by the racial homogeneity of his homeland.
They were, he found, at an impasse. But the reptile also did not budge when San made as if to head out of the caves. He was puzzled; the reptile had seemed much more cooperative the last time they had been out together, and he did not think so many things had changed since then. Was it upset with him for the absence? He had not thought them so attached as to warrant that, considering they had met only a few times before.
Perhaps it was frightened… But no, San dismissed that thought as soon as he had it. A frightened creature might have resorted to threats or flight by now, and this one had merely stayed where it was.