Important notice to rights owners: I respect and enjoy these worlds. If you object to any of my work within a world you legally control, please contact me and I will remove it.
First, if you haven’t already read the comic Digger, this will not make any sense to you.
Second, if you’re partway through it, this will obviously be a gigantic spoiler.
Anyway, it’s a wonderful multi-year epic of a comic, and well worth reading…the story starts here. Don’t plan on finishing it in one sitting: it took years to write. A chapter a day is about right.
I love Digger—but the ending doesn’t ring true for me. In my opinion, it leaves a lot of events and emotional tension unresolved.
So I wrote one myself. Be warned: it’s emotionally intense.
My intention is absolutely not to disrespect Ursula’s wonderful work: it’s to show what her characters, as they live in my own mind, would have done.
by J. Stanton
“You could do it.”
Boneclaw Mother shook her head. “There’s not much I can do for Skin Painter anymore.”
“Blood and shale!” Digger exploded. “You sacrificed Ed once already because you were afraid to lose some of your power. Are you going to do it again?”
There was a long, silent moment.
“But…” She slumped. “You don’t understand, Digger. We ate his name. He doesn’t even exist anymore!”
Digger set her jaw. “If this is how hyenas are, I’m not a hyena.”
A terrible understanding slowly dawned on Boneclaw Mother’s face.
“No. I’m not a hyena, I’m not your daughter, and Skull Ridges’ family can go whistle down a mineshaft.”
Boneclaw growled and extended her claws, rising with surprising fluidity from her chair.
Digger folded her arms and kept going. “After Skull Ridges’ feast. Was all that crying just an act you put on, to make Owl Caller think you cared?”
Boneclaw Mother froze. Her jaw dropped slowly open.
“If there’s something else you never told me, I need to know. Right now.”
Eyes downcast, bony frame slumped, Boneclaw Mother slowly shook her head, whispering “No,” in a voice suddenly grown old and papery. “No.”
And for the first time, Digger saw a very old woman, blind and in great pain.
“I cannot do this, daughter.” She was nearly pleading.
Digger exploded again. “How long are you going to carry it, then? Are you going to die with your guilt on your shoulders? Ed’s DEAD!”
And there it was, she thought, between them. Poor, wise, gentle Ed. First he sacrificed himself to save his daughter’s life, and then he sacrificed himself again to…she wasn’t even sure what, anymore. To kill an already-dead god? It had all seemed so important beforehand, and now she couldn’t think of a single reason why she should have cared. No one else seemed to even notice that they had saved the world from a monstrous evil, or thought they had…just a few blind acolytes who could sleep a little better for lack of an irritating noise that didn’t even exist, except to them.
Boneclaw Mother stood crumpled in on herself, swaying back and forth, keening in a thin, breathless voice like an animal whose back is broken.
The door slammed open, shaking dust from the rafters…and Grim Eyes rushed through the doorway, brandishing her spear. “EARTH RAT! What did you do to my mother?” she growled, neatly pinning Digger against the wall with the point. “Mother, should I kill it?”
Boneclaw Mother inhaled, slowly drew herself up to her full height, and smiled painfully. “No, daughter. Don’t kill her.”
She exhaled, and a smirk slowly elevated her muzzle.
“In fact,” she said, “I believe your strange sister has something to tell you. Something very important.” And she gave Digger a long, meaningful look, all her power collected within herself, as if nothing at all had happened.
Grim Eyes poked Digger, the point of her spear digging into her chest. “Talk.”
“You have to do it!” Digger protested. “It won’t work if I do it.”
Boneclaw Mother’s smirk grew into a big, toothy grin. “It’s your story…daughter. Besides,” and her grin instantly vanished, “I wasn’t there.”
“Wasn’t where?” Grim Eyes demanded.
“I’ll tell you if you put the spear down,” Digger said, eyes fixed on the point at her chest, breathing shallowly.
Boneclaw Mother nodded at Grim Eyes, who slowly and suspiciously lowered her spear.
Digger took a deep breath. “I’m no good at telling stories.”
Boneclaw Mother smiled. “Yet it’s yours to tell.”
“Is this about what happened underground?” Grim Eyes asked. “And what happened to you, Mother? Are you okay?”
“No. I’m an old woman dying very slowly and in great pain,” Boneclaw Mother replied blandly.
Grim Eyes and Digger shared a look.
“I saw that,” said Boneclaw Mother.
She’s incredible, Digger thought. If I hadn’t seen her lose it before, I wouldn’t have thought she’d ever be less than two steps ahead of everyone, me included.
There was a long pause.
Well, this tunnel isn’t going to dig itself, Digger thought. “How much do you know about what happened, Grim Eyes?”
“You went down that magic tunnel to kill He-Is, and the demon that kept him alive.” She paused, and Digger nodded. “And you must have done it, because both Boneclaw Mother and the statue said so when you were still underground. I didn’t believe them, but then you came back, the tunnel disappeared, and Jhalm and all his warrior-monks went away.”
Digger shook her head. “Not exactly.”
Grim Eyes said nothing, waiting for Digger to continue. She’s got no fear of silence, Digger thought. “Well, He-Is is dead, and so is the demon. But I didn’t kill them.” I’m afraid to go on, she thought, but I can’t read Grim Eyes’ impassive face.
She blew out a deep breath. “Ed killed them. He came to the temple because Jhalm and the monks were trying to drag him back to your village, and when I went down into the tunnel, he insisted on going with me. I tried to stop him, but he wouldn’t hear of it.”
Grim Eyes is not giving me any help here, she thought. Either that, or she’s as dense as Boneclaw Mother says she is. It’s like speaking to two statues.
“Anyway, the lizards led us to the cave where He-Is’ heart was. The demon tried to tempt him. Offered him revenge, power, everything. But Ed wouldn’t listen.” At that, Digger’s voice started to crack. “All I did was fight off the cold servants. Ed broke the chain that bound the heart. He fell with the heart, and he…” She was choking up, barely able to speak. “He died with the heart, and took the demon with him. AND YOU DIDN’T EVEN NOTICE!” she yelled. “Ed killed himself to save all of us, and no one notices or cares!” And with that, Digger broke down entirely, lost in her own guilt and pain.
Grim Eyes gave her a puzzled look. “He must have been a brave warrior. But who was Ed?”
“Ed was the Eaten,” Boneclaw Mother said simply.
There was a long, tense silence…
…finally broken by Grim Eyes’ spear dropping to the floor.
She looked questioningly at Digger. “He killed the God Beneath?”
Digger nodded, once.
“And his demon?”
Digger nodded, again. “The demon offered him his name back. He wouldn’t take it.”
Grim Eyes put her hands on Digger’s shoulders and fixed her with an intense stare. “He refused…his name? Speak truth, earth rat, or I bite your head off.” Her eyes were wild, feral, and she was breathing heavily through her open mouth.
“Yes!” Digger exclaimed, fearing for her life. “He was breaking the chain while I fought the cold servants, and the demon offered him everything. ‘Stop,’ it said, ‘I can give you back your name!'”
“And what did he say, earth rat? What did he say?”
“‘Has a name,’ he said. ‘Name is Ed!’ And then he broke the chain, and he fell with the heart, and he died.”
A very strange expression dawned on Grim Eyes’ face. At first Digger couldn’t read it, but then she realized Grim Eyes was laughing and crying at the same time. And then she hugged Digger fiercely, shaking and sobbing on her shoulder.
She already knows? Digger mouthed at Boneclaw Mother, forgetting she was blind.
Boneclaw Mother answered anyway. “Of course she knows, Little Mother of Earthquakes. We are not many, and we have no secrets. Only things left unspoken.”