"Yeah-buh-wha?" Ratchet gabbled. "But she's a…you're a…"
"Adopted, naturally. And before one of you says something like, 'That can't be true!" or "You're kidding!" I must regretfully say that it is true. It all started many years ago. You see, when I took up the reins of Guardian, I was very young, barely in my twenties. My wings had only just fledged enough for me to be considered an adult when my father and older brother died in an accident. By the ancient laws of inheritance, as the middle hatched child, I was in charge. To say I wasn't keen was an understatement. I would have been quite content to live my life in the temple. I was always the studious type, and the Guardianship calls for those of a more….adventurous nature. But I had no choice. I wasn't leading, I was being pushed. And I had inherited a mess.
"The more incarnations the Kaos Entity had, the more it learnt, and the more cunning it got. It was increasing the damage to the Balance, and getting harder to kill. There are approximately a hundred years years between incarnations, and we were spending most of them repairing the damage from the last one. There was little time for our other duties. We were running our selves ragged. Perhaps the exhaustion clouding our minds was the reason we allowed it.."
He broke off, taking a deep breath to steady himself before plunging on.
"Shipwrecks are common in this sector, but most of those who crash here usually die, no matter how fast we teleport. I had not thought up the 'Waifs and Strays' policy yet, so we used the Yakunzu birds to delete the memories of any survivors. So when a ship crashed a year after I had taken up the role, we moved fast in the hope of saving someone. It was a Lombax ship, carrying two passengers.The male died on impact. There was nothing we could do for him, but by some miracle, the female was unharmed. She was scared, grieving…and pregnant. We were thrilled her and the baby were alive and safe, but this made things more complicated. To have memories erased is a traumatic experience, and it would have harmed the unborn child. We could hardly kick her out and swear her to secrecy, either, not with a child on the way. In the end, we did the only decent thing. We offered to let her and her cub stay here for the rest of their lives, as long as they never left. She had nothing left for her out there in the galaxy, and her bond mate was gone. She accepted."
"Bond mate?" Ratchet said quizzically.
Jasmine nudged him into silence.
"I'll explain later. Shut up, I'm listening!"
"I like to think her time with us was happy." Drake continued. "I don't know. She never spoke much. Then, the child came, a tiny, white-furred female. Her mother named her Selene, then…she died. Simply faded like a blossom in the frost. She never was very strong. The cub was a different matter, however. Tough and healthy. We thought she was an albino, they're pretty common among Lombaxes. We couldn't check the eyes. Like kittens, Lombaxes are born with eyes and ears sealed. We could have dumped her in an orphanage, but instead we decided to raise her among us. She would never know any different, and she really was very cute. I would make excuses to help take care of her when ever I could. I found myself growing attached to her. This was a mistake. When she was six weeks old, her eyes opened. Black, from edge to edge. Our greatest enemy, wriggling, helpless, at our feet. As Guardian, it was my duty to…to kill her." There was silence, then her looked up, tears streaking down his scaled muzzle.
"You must understand, we are a peaceful race! We kill to eat, and even then, only what we need. To kill in anger, to waste a life…it is against everything we believe in, and is why the post of Guardian was formed, so that only one family would be tainted by blood. It was why I did not wish to take on the role. I knew that at some point, I would have to take a life, but I never expected it to be so soon, or so young. It would have been quick, a bite to the back of the neck and she wouldn't have felt a thing. I…I couldn't. I couldn't kill that child. She was so innocent, you could see it in her eyes! The Entity does not manifest immediately. She was just a baby.
"My second in command saw my inner turmoil, and volunteered to shoulder the burden. He couldn't either. None of us could. To take the life of a child…There is no greater sin. We all agreed that she would not die, but that left us with a new problem. What to do with her? I had been the one to fail in my duty, so the responsibility for her was mine. I…I chose to adopt her. I was young and naive. I hoped I could teach her to fought the entity within her." He smiled ruefully. "So much for that, hmm? You wouldn't believe it, looking at her now, but Selene was a perfectly normal child. There was no indication of the entity growing up. She did what all Lombax cubs do, running around, investigating everything and asking endless questions. My years raising her were some of the happiest of my life. I loved her like any father loves his child. I never cared about our different species. As far as I was concerned, she was my daughter.
"Yet, as she began to grow older, there were signs that all was not well, however much I wished other wise. When she was eight, she told me of a voice within her that told her to do 'bad things'. That was worrying, so I got one of the Yakunzu birds to give her lessons in mental protection. I hoped that would be it, and to my eternal regret, I left it at that. But my love blinded me. I didn't see the small cruelties she began to inflict, missed her naivety slowly turn to cunning. The others tried to warn me, but as the saying goes "There are none as blind as those who will not see." Then, she hit puberty, and I could ignore it no longer. The entity took her entirely. My child was gone. She lashed out at us, glorying in the death she caused. Once more, I had to do my duty…" It was amazing how much pain that reptilian face could hold.
"…And once more I failed…
"She was my daughter!" He cried. "I loved her, cared for her. Even when she was attacking us, all I could see was the little girl who played with fireflies and hid under my wing during thunderstorms! What father could kill his own child? In the end, it was one of the Yakunzu birds who stopped her, stunning her with a psychic strike. Her mental powers were undeveloped at this stage. I could not destroy her, so I made a decision that haunts me still. We took her down to the timeless caverns beneath the temple and chained her there, howling and raging in the darkness. And there we left her. For four thousand years.
Bound with steel chains, changeless, helpless, angry.
"I moved on, took a mate, raised a family of my own, but in the back of my mind there was always the knowledge that my greatest mistake dwelt beneath my feet. She had no effect on the Balance, as she was out of the flow of time, but still, I could not get it out of my mind. The others never mentioned it again, but I always wondered if they trusted me after that…
"Then, a few years ago, Dr Nefarious attacked the Great Clock, and the resulting time rifts even managed to effect here. There were rifts, areas of frozen time. It also triggered an earthquake. At the time, we didn't realise, but it had loosened her chains, and cracked open the roof of her cave. She pulled free. And escaped. She was weak, near blinded by the light she had not seen in millennia, but she still managed to kill six Zenithi and steal a ship from one of the 'waifs and strays'. We searched desperately, but could find no trace of her. The only leads we had were a number of strange murders and rumours of a takeover of one of the larger gangs in the Polaris Mafia by a shadowy figure no one saw. We enlisted you to help us and the rest you are familiar with."
He sighed, and covered his head with his wings, looking utterly miserable.
"So there you have it, my shameful little secret. If you choose to despise me for what I have done, I will not blame you in the slightest."
"We don't blame you, Drake."
He looked up, hardly daring to believe it.
"We don't blame you." Ratchet repeated. "There's no shame in mercy. You made a mistake, and you're trying to fix it. There's nothing wrong with that."
"He's right." said Jasmine. "We don't care about the history between you guys, what matters is stopping her. Though knowing more about her is going to be useful."
Clank gave Drake a friendly pat on the back.
"Thank you for telling us."
Drake nodded, tears still dripping off the end of his muzzle. He felt…better. As if the knowledge had been a poison brewing him inside for years that had finally been released.
"Then… then we must move forward. Time is short. You consult the book. I…I have some thinking to do."
He slipped away, smiling through his tears.