The thunderous sonor of grenades still echoed deep within Caesar’s ears. It shakes him on the inside, the sheer immensity of it --yet the grey-greens of the iron-wrought facility bursting into vehement orange and yellow wasn't the image that continued to burn into the back of his mind. There is something that chills him more, a much quieter scene, more personal, something of which only he was an audience to.
He will never forget the sound of when the Colonel shot himself.
The episode plays out in a sequence of separate noises and images in his head, sparse and deadening. Red, trembling eyes glistening with tears of anguish and self-disgust peered out at him, begging for Caesar to end his life --deliver him from the pitiful misfortune he had succumbed to. Caesar readied himself for the moment he had been waiting for --the sole chance for vengeance, for retribution, lay in the mere curling of his fingertips. He could feel the entire room fall silent as the man's final breaths drew nearer and nearer. How could he possibly stumble back in an opportunity like this?
But when the Colonel grasps his hand weakly with his own, urging him with mournful desperation to shoot--Caesar knows he can't do it. Not like this. He would gain no peace from killing a man who wanted to die. If Caesar had to kill him, it would have to be when they stood as equals. Now the Colonel lay like a wounded beast --helpless and choking on its own blood. So he drops his arm before he makes a mistake he knows he would later regret.
Being far more fastidious in his own beliefs than Caesar, the Colonel doesn't wait long before he raises the gun to his own head and blasts through it --spraying the wall opposite of him with a shower of red. The gun hits the floor with a hard clatter as it slips through the man's now placid fingers. Caesar leaves the room, but not before he catches a glimpse of the Colonel’s dead eyes --glassy and artificial. It is haunting in the way all deaths are.
In that instant, his horse skids on a rough patch of snow and he winces from the still fresh wound in his torso--as faintly as he can, he doesn't want to draw unnecessary attention to himself. He and his comrades, old and new, still had a long way to go before reaching their destination. Looking around, he breathes a shallow sigh of relief when no one seems to have noticed his slight show of pain.
Almost no one. When he's sure that all the other apes are focused on the road, Maurice turns to Caesar and faintly signs towards him:
“Where are you hurt?”
Caesar shakes his head and waves him off --making the orangutan grunt gruffly and jostle his horse alongside his --not too roughly, Nova is asleep.
“No lying,” He signed, more anxious this time. “-show me or I make everyone stop,”
He sighs and makes sure that no one else is looking and lifts his arm hesitantly, revealing the gaping hole --the size of a golf ball, in his side where he had wrenched out the arrow in crude haste. The blood is still damp and pours steadily from his wound despite the icy weather, looking far from healed.
Maurice glares at him with disapproval.
“Why hiding wound? You need help --now,”
Before he can stop him, Maurice falls back to meet with Bad Ape and gestures to him to catch up to Caesar. Upon arrival, he looks him up and down, but doesn't see anything wrong and feels confused.
“Something happened?” He asks with his shaky voice. “-you okay?”
Bad Ape’s eyes widen in alarm when he is shown the wound and Caesar clamps a hand over his mouth before he bemoans another one of his Oh nooos that would inevitably alert the entire tribe and cause a panic. He brings his mouth to Bad Ape’s ear.
“Quiet.” He hissed, making sure no one else heard them. Then in a lower, more hesitant voice. “-can you fix it?”
He nods eagerly, eyes brightening. Caesar uncovers his mouth.
“Bad Ape went to vet sometimes!” He chattered excitedly. “-saw how to fix these. Need to stop somewhere for fixing,”
“Will a cave do? There seems to be one coming up ahead,”
“Cave good!” Bad Ape nods again. “-lots of rocks --good for making fire,”
Caesar grimaces slightly when the resulting image enters his mind, but he nods back at him --it's the fastest way to tend to it and stave off infection --not to mention, they were devoid of any practical medical supplies whatsoever.
So he tells Bad Ape to persuade Maurice to tell the rest of the group that they would be taking a brief reprieve in a nearby cave to at least rest, if they couldn't find any food at the moment. Then, while everyone else was asleep, Caesar would get his wound tended. No one except the three of them, and maybe Rocket, would find out about it. A leader could not show any signs of weakness --especially not at a time like this. Caesar couldn't allow any more casualties. They needed to keep up the morale.
Arriving at the mouth of the cave, Caesar motions for Rocket and Bad Ape to go in and make sure it's unoccupied. After a few minutes of laboured coaxing and Maurice finally threatening to rip his beanie in half, Bad Ape tentatively slips off his horse. He reaches into his vest pocket and clicks on a penlight, offering it to the other. Rocket grunts in approval and grips it in his fist, heading off with Bad Ape falling a few steps behind. The slightly stouter ape had a much sturdier build --it seemed wiser to let him lead the way, in the case a strapping grizzly threw itself in their path. He even walked with a heavier step, no doubt from the several pounds of muscle on his frame.
The cold beam of white-blue light bounced off the coarse, corrugated cave walls littered in fist-sized potholes, casting long, sharp shadows against every little bump of rock. It's fearfully quiet, that even when Bad Ape occasionally nudges a few tiny rocks with his feet, their skidding and clattering against the ground echoes like scattered marbles against ceramic tile.
The elongated shadows of the apes made them look almost human-like --Bad Ape most of all, because he wore human clothing. It made Rocket bristle from the scalding memory he had of humans --how their stupid, clumsy brashness had cost him a family member --but he keeps it to himself. He still trusts Caesar, and Caesar says that not all humans are bad. So he brushes it off, if not a bit reluctantly and keeps his eyes on the lookout for any predators.
When they've walked undisturbed for quite some time, they hear the distant roar of heavy water and Bad Ape suddenly runs happily towards the noise --he'd never noticed it while they'd been trekking in the freezing cold, but he was dreadfully thirsty. He crouches to the edge of the rushing streams and dips his cupped hands down --drinking by the scoopful. Shivering fiercely when the initial iciness shoots down his throat, he soon gets used to it and eagerly quenches his thirst. Rocket joined him momentarily and drank his own fill.
Turning to the leaner ape, he signs:
“Go back to Caesar now?”
Bad Ape nods and they make their way back to the rest of the tribe.
Once everyone is settled inside, Caesar sends out a few of his most able-bodied members to gather enough firewood to last the night. They return with armfuls of branches and brush --caked deep in snow and ice. Bad Ape has a lighter in his vest pocket but it's still hours of dead smoke before a single spark catches alight. By the time a healthy fire is going, it may have well been early morning. Caesar could tell that everyone was exhausted. So he tells them to get some rest while he and Maurice and a few others took shifts on the night watch --it was still very dark out.
Moving to a deeper, more secluded part of the cave, Caesar walks with a hand over his side, stepping lightly --trying not to tear the wound deeper. Once he's sure he's out of earshot from the rest of his apes, he tells Bad Ape that he's ready. Maurice and Rocket stand back and watch the process with a sharp eye, prepared to help in case anything went wrong.
Taking a damp piece of wood, Bad Ape places it in Caesar’s hand, telling him to use it when he begins.
“Cauterize --very, very painful,” He warned nervously. Then he turns to face the other two apes “-hold him still when I say,”
When Bad Ape takes out his lighter again, he checks his pockets for any small items he could use for the procedure. Coming up short, he turns to Maurice, apologetically.
“Piece of metal?”
The orangutan nods and just the slightest bit reluctantly, hands over a shiny silver chunk --broken off of Nova’s name plate. It had been a pretty piece of metal.
When the tip is well heated --but not to the point of glowing red or white, Caesar takes in a deep breath and lies down, biting the piece of wood between his teeth and tightened his hands into fists. Bad Ape give the nod and Maurice holds down his arms while Rocket restrains his legs. The skinny ape sighs again and wants to say more --he had a habit of blabbering away when he was very, very nervous.
"Very slow process,” He informs Caesar earnestly, a bit of fear still flickering in his eyes. “-too much heat too long --kill healthy tissue. I do one-two second interval. Until wound seal,”
He nods and closes his eyes. When he feels the heat sear his bare, tender skin for the first time, the pain is unimaginable --Caesar has to bite down his tongue until he tastes blood to keep from howling out as the hot iron hisses fiercely against him. He feels sick when he smells the stench of burnt hair and flesh. The pressure over his arms and legs gets stronger and Maurice murmurs for him to endure for just a little while longer. He lets out a sharp exhale when the excruciating metal leaves the surface of his skin --the cold stung like knives for several moments before it gradually numbed down.
The second time is even worse. Caesar can almost feel the cells on his skin fusing into a crusted mass and when he finally decides to open his eyes he sees that the wound is slowly closing from ridges of melted dermis glued together but so far it was only about less than an eighth sealed shut. He closes his eyes again and tries to imagine a calm, faraway place --but all he can see is angry red.
By the fifth time, Caesar sees Koba hovering over him, perched on a rock at the opposite wall watching him with fascination. The room is cast in an orange glow that seems to bloom from the base of the cave. The ape points to Caesar’s wound and smirks.
“Human work,” He sneers.
Caesar shakes his head.
“An ape is helping me,”
“No,” Koba hissed, grinning wider. “-look again,”
The ape turns his head and sure enough, a large hulking man is bent over him, with a sparse ginger beard peppered with grey and cold blue eyes filled with contempt. There's a giant cigar pinched between his crooked yellow teeth --was that three front teeth--?--and he takes it out with his chunky fingers --nails caked in dried dirt and blood. Dense patches of red-orange hairs covered the backs of his hands to the edge of his forearms. It was as if he was some terrifying form of human-ape hybrid.
The man laughs and it rumbles like a mountain collapsing into jagged earth.
He presses the burning end of the stick into Caesar's skin and roars with sick amusement --loud enough to drown out the ape who is now screaming and pleading for him to stop.
When the man finally finished, Koba jumps down from his place and saunters over. There seems to be a softer look in his eye now. But it's hard to tell. The room has darkened and Caesar is still trembling from the pain.
“See? Human work,” He murmurs into his ear. “-run. Before kill Caesar,”
But he can't run. He looks down and his arms and legs are locked tight by massive iron shackles weighed down by a seemingly endless pile of chains. Caesar looks at his feet and sees they are blurring in and out of existence --sometimes reemerging as ape feet, at other times, human ones. His eyes shift to his hands --the same aberration is happening.
He's about to scream again when he feels a warm, familiar hand on his wrist and the comforting smell of someone he knows.
Will looks at him with bright, glistening eyes. He smooths the hair on his arm, trying to calm him down.
“Caesar --look at me. Hey. It's okay,” His voice was gentle, but firm. “-we’re going home soon. I promise,”
Then the room slowly darkens and before Caesar can reply, Will is gone.
When Caesar wakes up again, he's back with the rest of the group and the fire is merely a smattering of glowing embers now. Everyone is asleep except for Maurice sitting across from him, whose face brightens upon seeing him awake.
“Feeling okay?” He signs empathetically.
Caesar looks down and sees that his wound has been completely sealed. There doesn't appear to be any swelling or redness --he seems to have evaded infection, much to his relief. Bad Ape had done a good job. He would find a way to thank him later.
“You passed out. Halfway through,” Maurice continued, a bit concerned. “-see anything strange?”
Caesar casts his eyes to the dying fire. He nods, after a while.
“Saw Koba again,” He replied, signing so as not to wake anyone up. “-also saw my father,”
“Your father?” Maurice’s eyes widen.
“Human father,” Caesar signed. Then, with a slower, heavier motion. “-never knew my real one,”
A silence hangs between them and then Caesar looks out towards the entrance of the cave --and it's a blurred motion of white, a furious blizzard that doesn't look like it will let up for hours. Maybe they will have to stay another day. They had enough firewood. But they would need to find food soon.
Maurice sees a strange look in Caesar's eyes --a quiet melancholic glimmer, that is gone after he blinks a few times. But it worries him still.
The ape meets his gaze and says nothing, but his eyes reveal otherwise. So Maurice waits patiently. The embers are going out, one by one.
When the fire has smoldered, Caesar sighs.
“Will --my human father,” He said in a quiet, hesitant voice. “-he said we were going home,”
Maurice chuckles softly and Caesar believes he can almost see his friendly smile in the darkness.
His deep, warm voice is comforting and reminds Caesar of the faint glowing lights of San Francisco, a long, long time ago. Somewhere among those lights sat his old house, he could almost see it --the scattered spheres of light in that kitchen, almost smell the red blanket he had been wrapped in when he'd first arrived to his new family.
“We are going home,” Maurice murmured gently. “-soon,”