They stared back at him in shock. “But...”
“Go. Go on without me.”
“But the creature...” Tarei spoke up, taking a step back down towards him in the darkness.
“I can deal with the creature. I have been for years.” Frail looked downward at his tattered shoes. “Someone has to stay here and deal with it anyway.”
“But you'll be trapped here again!” Daro shouted from the top of the rope ladder. “Just come on! We'll find a way to get you out!”
“I'll be fine. Just go on without me.”
“But...” Tarei stood staring at him at the foot of the ladder. “I...”
“Go,” Frail repeated softly, staring straight at her with those incredibly green eyes of his. “I'll be fine.”
She ran to him, and before he could stop her, she embraced him, crying. “I don't want to go without you.”
He smiled, just a little, and slowly hugged her back. “I know. Shh, shh. Listen.” She was still for a moment. “I've been down here so long now. I know what it is to be alone, trust me. But I can't go back. I couldn't adapt again. I can never live among light and noise. And... As much as I'd like to be with you, I know you could never live down here. And I could never live up there. This is all I know.” He was crying too now. “I can't go with you. I'm sorry.”
They stood, crying in each others arms for a moment, before the creature's roar sounded behind them. Frail released her in an instant. “Go! I'll lead it off!”
“But...” She stood reaching after him as he ran towards the noise. “Frail!”
“Sis, get up here!” Daro shouted from the top of the ladder. “Now!”
The second roar was all she needed. She glanced back once more as she ran for the ladder, only to see Frail's pale form dodging the huge claws as he danced it away. The ladder swayed wildly beneath her feet as she climbed. She had almost reached the top when it jerked sharply to the right, and she almost fell. A tearing sound came from below, and she glanced down to see the creature's claws removing the bottom half of the ladder. Daro pulled her over the edge, and they stared down for a moment. The ladder had been cut off over 20 feet up the cliff. There was no way for Frail to follow them now.
But apparently there was a way for the creature to follow, for the earth shattering crunch of it's claws embedding themselves in the wall to climb shook them to their bones. Frail's voice could be heard, shouting at the creature, trying to get it's attention. He would save them.
Someday, she would come back to save him.
Another roar from the creature. They took off running. The two stumbled blindly towards the white light where their rescuers had disappeared, and burst into the sunlight, out of the humble looking mouth of the cave into which they had disappeared almost a month ago.
For a moment, they were blind. Rustling all around them alerted them to someone.
And once the world faded back into color, their parents embraced them. At last, they were home.
But someday, they'd go back. This much they knew.