"No, Lisa, please! It was a dream. A nightmare. I couldn't help it!" Todd was shaking as he crawled across the crib toward Lisa. He felt a tear drip off his chin. "Please, Lisa, I'm so sorry. Don't make me go. Don't leave me." He reached an arm out and wrapped around her. She was trembling; Todd realized she must have relived the scene along with him as he recited it.
"All right," Lisa said, her voice choked. "All right, Todd, I believe you. I was just scared. Todd?"
"I'm so sorry, Lisa. Don't leave me." Todd buried his face in Lisa's shoulder, crying into her fur.
"Hey. Hey! Todd." Lisa lifted his chin and wiggled her paw in front of his face. The diamond threw off sparks of moonlight. "Still on. See?"
Todd wrapped both arms around her, laying his head in her lap. He took deep breaths, trying to recover. He didn't remember the last time he'd been that scared. Lisa pulled as much of him as she could into her lap, then took a plushie and propped it up behind her back. She rubbed his belly, soothing his puffy fur and whispering to him how much she loved him.
There were no more dreams that night.
A knocking at the door woke Todd. He turned in Lisa's lap and looked up at her sleeping face, lost in it for a moment before the sound repeated itself. He sat up, rubbing his muzzle. "Come in!"
The door opened and Brutus nearly leapt in, wearing a formal blue Rabbit robe. It was the first time Todd had seen him in a significant amount of clothing. He was tense, and a little wild-eyed. "Todd! Did you dream?" he asked.
"What?" Todd shook his head sleepily. "No, Brutus, I almost never dream." Yesterday, this would not have been a lie.
"You little fibber!" Lisa said, stirring and rubbing her eyes. Brutus turned to her.
"He did? He did dream? What was it, Todd? What did you see?"
"Hey!" Todd interrupted. "Yeah, I did have a dream. But it was personal, all right? And you're kind of freaking me out. What's going on?"
"Personal?" Brutus contracted his brow in thought. "You didn't see Ferrets? Or other Predators?"
"Brutus..." Todd said lowly, fully awake now, and realizing just how strange this was. "Please, s'cuse my French, but what the fuck? Yeah, it was personal. And no, the only Ferret I saw was me." His eyes flicked to the side. "Just... me."
The tall Rabbit sighed and looked confused. "OK... All right, then. I'm sorry, Lisa. Sorry, Todd. I'll see you later, all right?" He ducked back out through the door and shut it.
"What... was that?"
Lisa gave a worried look toward the door Brutus had just walked through. "I don't really know," she said. "Brutus can be a little odd sometimes."
"You're telling me." Todd patted the front of his diaper - soaked.
"He puts a lot of stock in the old Rabbit lore, you know? And sometimes that gives him... funny ideas. I think Geraden encourages him."
"It's weird though, don't you think?" Todd got up to a kneeling position in the crib, wincing at how low his diaper sagged, and started to undo the latches on the front bars. "He comes in here shouting about dreams right after I... you know."
"Yeah." Lisa shifted uncomfortably. "Hey, did you wet in your sleep?" She grinned. Todd blushed as he lowered the bars.
"I guess so. Getting used to it, maybe."
Lisa leaned forward and slapped his diaper, causing him to yelp. "C'mere," she said, grinning. "Change time."
"I'm sorry, Pops. I didn't mean to say it like that in front of Arvy."
"Elyssa, you would have offended me whether he was there or not." Geraden's tone was soft, despite his grave words. He sat on the cushion next to Elyssa, tucked away in the corner of the Gathering Hall, away from prying ears. "I thought we were past this kind of thinking. What does it matter that he's a Predator?"
"Normally, nothing, Pops. I understand that, all right? I'm not an idiot. But you're talking about making him a witness. That's a lot of trust."
"Do you trust Arvetis?" Geraden asked evenly.
"Of course I do. If it were him, I'd probably be all right with it." Elyssa sighed.
"You know how silly that is. You'd trust Arvetis - Arvetis, mind you - with the position, but not the person who can actually fill it?"
Elyssa arched an eyebrow. "It isn't silly. You trust Arvy. I grew up with him. He's more than proven himself."
"You and I know that. Most people don't. The fact that you grew up with him is a result of circumstance, and it could have easily been anyone. Even the person you're calling untrustworthy now."
"You're honestly going to talk to me about growing up with a Ferret?" Elyssa was almost growling. "Have some class, Pops."
"So that's it." Geraden gave a heavy sigh. "It isn't that he's a Predator; it's that he's a Ferret."
"Don't get high and mighty with me."
"You don't remember Lithe," Geraden said. Elyssa shut her mouth and gave him a baleful look. "I do. I loved Lithe and Thray. They were my children, and I buried them. Todd didn't kill them, Elyssa."
There was a long silence. "You're an asshole sometimes, Pops," Elyssa said eventually.
"Only when I have to be. I'm sorry, dear." He wrapped an arm around her. "And you know it's all moot, anyway. We're not giving him any responsibility he doesn't already have. If he's a witness, that's what he is, whether we call him one or not."
Todd ran his paw along the smooth stone of the corridor, cooling his finger pads. He was wearing just his diaper; the warmth of the Florida mid-afternoon was penetrating even these thick walls. Again, he felt the sense of hidden history buried under this ancient warren. He wondered why he hadn't ever heard of this place; surely it was a historical monument of some kind. They didn't build warrens like this anymore.
At the end of the corridor, Todd saw the familiar carved wooden doors. He was anxious. He felt like he was looking for something, but he didn't know what. He needed to see something - to touch and breathe it. He needed to not be here right now.
The weathered wood of the door caught his attention. He remembered what Brutus had said about it; this had been the main entrance to the warren, before the outside portion had been constructed. He felt a twinge at that - something that hinted at whatever he was looking for. He didn't go through the door, though. He knew, whatever it was, it wasn't in there. Instead, he turned down a side passage near the door.
Todd had never been down this corridor. He continued running his paw along the wall. If that door was the main entrance, then this used to be the outside wall of the warren. The stone did seem smoother. The corridor itself was just like any other in the warren - low, dim, and long. It ended in another wooden door, and the wall with Todd's paw on it had two grates in it, next to the floor. Todd passed to the far door, put his paw on the handle, and stopped.
Two grates? He turned around. They were about a foot high, and twelve feet apart from each other. Thick bars covered each of them, and behind them was darkness. They looked a lot like the basement windows of his childhood home, as seen from the street. Inside, they would be high on the ceiling of the basement, letting in sunlight and air.
Todd got on his paws and knees and peered in through one of them. Nothing but darkness - the dim light of the corridor's lamps was not enough to penetrate it. He could tell there was a large space underneath the grate, though. Apparently, his perception of the grates as basement windows had been correct.
He stood up and ran back towards Lisa's room, diaper crinkling. He didn't know why it was so important, but he had to know what was behind those grates. He pushed Lisa's door open. She was still dressing in the middle of the room, topless and diapered, sliding a shirt on over her head. Todd grinned, distracted for a moment.
"Todd?" Lisa said as she poked her nose up through the neck of the shirt. "What is it?"
"A flashlight!" Todd said, shaking his head. "Where can I get a flashlight around here?"
"Uh... why?" Lisa blinked.
"There's something I want to see. Do we have one?"
"Yeah... I think there's one in the kitchen, on top of the fridge. What's going on?"
"Come on!" Todd took off for the kitchen. Behind him, Lisa tugged the shirt down and followed.
Todd arrived back in the corridor before Lisa, holding the flashlight. He had practically been running. He knelt and shone the light through the bars of one grate, squinting to make out what he could. It wasn't much; the space beyond was large. He could faintly make out stone walls and a floor, rough and uneven. There were no mortar lines. The room was carved directly into the stone underneath Corwin Hall. There were no fixtures or pieces of furniture that he could see. He thought hard, trying to remember the details of his fading dream.
"Of course!" he said to himself, and shone the flashlight directly downward. Yes, there it was. The light glinted in uneven patches off rusty, stained bars. He couldn't see the entire cell with the narrow beam, but he had no doubt what the room was.
"What is it, slinkybutt?" Lisa said, yawning as she stepped next to him.
"Come here, take a look at this." He moved out of the way and let Lisa kneel and peer through the bars.
"Looks like a cellar or something. Storage."
"Yeah, insect spray." Lisa gave Todd an odd look at that. "Lisa, I had... more dreams last night. The one you heard was just the last. I think I dreamed about this place."
"Todd." Lisa pushed her whiskers forward. "You sound like Brutus."
"I know, it's crazy. But it feels right. I wonder how you get down?" Todd's feeling of discontent was not assuaged. If anything, he only felt his need to find something more.
"Well, there are some passages that go down to the old warren. I've never been; Geraden says it isn't safe down there anymore. I don't remember where they are." Despite her skepticism, Todd could tell Lisa was fascinated. "Are you going on one of your antique kicks again?" she asked.
Todd grinned. "Yeah, kind of. I think I'm going to explore a bit." He stood up and walked to the far door of the passage. Lisa followed, and he opened it.
A warm, moist breeze ruffled Todd's fur. He blinked, taking a few steps forward. He was outside, in some kind of yard. A light rain was falling, but he didn't mind it. He looked up at the sky, squinting in the diffuse sunlight, and laughed.
He forgot about the underground room for a moment. This. This is what he had needed. He realized he hadn't been outside in days; no wonder he was getting anxious. It was simple cabin fever. He inhaled through his nose, taking in the scents of wet grass and fresh air. He twitched his whiskers as raindrops fell on them.
"Hey!" Lisa called from the shelter of the doorway. "While you catch pneumonia, I'm gonna go get some breakfast. Meet me when you're done, ok? And try not to be quite so crazy."
Todd grinned. "I'll try!" Lisa shut the door, and he looked around the yard. He could hear traffic close by, but a row of tall trees about thirty feet in front of him blocked his view; if it weren't for the sounds, he could easily have been next to a thick forest. He turned and looked the other way down the grass.
Todd gasped. The yard was narrow, but very long - probably at least an acre. He realized Corwin Hall must own the rear lots of the entire city block, behind all the closed Rabbit shops. Trees lined the edges of the entire length. A tall granite statue stood in the center of the field - a Tiger. Sitting on the short stone wall around the statue, looking up at it, was Arvetis. His fur was drenched with rain.
Todd waved and walked over. Arvetis looked away from the statue and gave him a sheepish smile when he approached. "What are you doing out here?" Todd asked, speaking softly for some reason. He felt like he was in a library.
"Probably the same thing you are. Gets a little closed-in sometimes, doesn't it?"
"Yeah, sure does. It's insidious, too. I didn't even realize how long it had been since I'd seen the sky." Todd knelt down and ran a paw through the grass, then hiked himself up onto the stone wall with Arvetis, his diaper absorbing some of the cool rain. He realized that the Wolf was completely naked in his soaked fur, and stifled a laugh.
"I know," Arvetis said, turning his gaze back up to the Tiger statue and grinning. "There's nothing more pathetic-looking than a wet Canine. When I get claustrophobic, though, even a diaper is a little too closed-in for me."
"Wow, I wasn't that bad. How do you live here if you're claustrophobic?" Todd put his hand on the stone of the Tiger. It was still warm, presumably from before the rain had started.
"There are other benefits to being here, as I'm sure you've perceived." Arvetis followed Todd's example and put his paw on the statue as well.
"What is this place, Arvetis?" Todd turned and looked at Arvetis's face. His ratty, wet fur made his Contrition marks look jagged and savage, more like barely-dodged attacks than planned, ritual scarring.
"I need a little more context for that question," Arvetis said, looking back at Todd.
"Did it used to be Warkyn Warren?"
Arvetis looked away. He stared at the grass underneath Todd for a long moment. "So you did dream."
Todd considered denying it. After all, it wasn't that great a leap from "Warkyn" to "Corwin," and everybody knew the ruins of Phuto fortress were hidden somewhere in the swamps to the north, neglected and overgrown. He could claim he figured it out from the story. But something told him he wouldn't learn what he needed to know if he was dishonest. "Yeah, I suppose I did."
"Brutus will be upset that you lied to him."
"I'm sorry." Todd sounded like he meant it. "It was... a rough night. And this whole thing is so weird, you know? How could something affect my dreams?"
"What did you dream, if you don't mind me asking?" Arvetis stared at his paws in his lap.
"Well, it's sort of fading, now. I saw Elyssa, I think, but I don't remember what she was doing. I saw a carving. Mostly, though, I saw Arvetis Agathos. Guess it was inspired by the story."
Arvetis looked up sharply at Todd. "You saw him here? At Warkyn Warren?"
"Yeah. Geraden said they took him back here, right?" Todd didn't see why that made Arvetis so nervous.
"You might not be able to trust these dreams, Todd," Arvetis said, sliding off the stone wall.
"But I saw a place - a real place, here - that I'd never seen awake until this morning." Todd stayed on the stone - its warmth was comforting, even in the wet drizzle.
"We don't know yet what your dreams mean. That's why Brutus wanted to talk to you this morning."
"But you knew about them," Todd said.
"Yes, we did. Please, talk to Brutus. Tell him what you can remember of your dreams. The truth."
Todd sighed. "All right. I'll talk to Brutus."
Arvetis walked back to the rear entrance of Corwin Hall, gave a great, doggy shake, and went back inside. Todd looked up at the sky again, smiling into the falling rain. He felt good.