Disclaimer: I do not own the Underland Chronicles nor anything within.
"I knew it!"
Everyone immediately turned to Lizzie (for of course it was she who had figured the prophecy out), with mixed expressions on every face. Luxa, Ripred, and Gregor (who had actually lifted his head off his arms, though his eyes were rather red) all looked amused and slightly awed that she had known what was coming.
Mrs. Cormaci and Gregor's parents, however, looked completely confused. What did Lizzie know that Gregor, Luxa, and Ripred also seemed to know?
And Boots . . . really only wanted to know why her sister was shouting. It seemed inconsequential, so she went back to talking happily to herself in Crawler.
Lizzie ignored all the looks she'd been given and quickly passed the book the Ripred, who, at a glance from Grace, quickly started reading.
Gregor turned the sword at the last second, driving it into the stone wall of the cave with such force that the blade snapped off near the hilt and clattered to the floor. His teeth rattled at the impact.
Lizzie winced (still ignoring the looks being given to her by her parents and Mrs. Cormaci); that sounded painful.
He fell back from the cave. "Boots?" he said hoarsely.
"What?" Grace shouted.
She was quickly shushed and Ripred continued to read.
But he knew it wasn't Boots's voice.
"Then what . . . ?" Grace looked just as confused as Mrs. Cormaci, but her husband seemed to have figured it out.
There'd just been something in it that was so like how Boots had sounded when she was upset, the pitch, the distress, and the way she'd break that word into two long syllables. "Ma-maa!"
The chamber reeled around his head. Where was the Bane? What was that white furry thing a few yards away? Because it sure wasn't some ten-foot rat trying to attack him!
"Wait. Stop right there. You mean to tell me that this giant, bloodthirsty rat everyone's been talking about . . . is a baby?" Mrs. Cormaci asked, astounded. 
She was, of course, ignored, since no one had time to even consider her answer before Ripred was reading again.
Gregor forced himself forward and shone the flashlight into the cave. Huddled against the wall, shaking in fear, was a small, white rat. Suddenly it all made sense to him - why almost nothing was known about the Bane, why it had not taken over the rat kingdom, why it had not attacked him. It was only a baby!
And now, finally, Ripred paused in his reading, letting questions be asked.
Almost immediately, Luxa turned to Lizzie. "How did you figure it out?"
"You mean besides paying attention to all the hints you, Gregor and Ripred have been given?" Lizzie smiled. "The prophecy really helped me out."
"The prophecy?" Mrs. Cormaci asked. "But . . . the Underlanders have had that prophecy for decades. How could you just figure it out?"
"Well, first off the line, 'JUST A BARELY SPEAKING PUP'. Boots is not a pup, she's a baby."
"Yes, but Sandwich could have used pup to rhyme, or to show that rats would be prominent in this prophecy." Grace argued.
"That's true. Which is why I kept listening. Also the lines, 'DIE THE BABY, DIE HIS HEART,/DIE HIS MOST ESSENTIAL PART./DIE THE PEACE THAT RULES THE HOUR.'. This one was also tricky and not completely precise. But the wording could be taken to mean that were this baby to die, then Gregor's heart, his 'most essential part', too, would die. And if the Bane were to be killed, the humans would never have any chance at peaceful negotiations with the rats."
"Very good, Lizzie." Ripred smirked at Gregor, who was smiling proudly at his sister. "You see, Gregor? She pays far more attention than you do."
"Hey, you didn't know that the Bane was going to be a baby, either!" Gregor protested.
"But for Lizzie to figure this out so easily . . ." Luxa trailed off in awe. "This is truly amazing."
Still, it was the Bane. He was supposed to drain its light. His blade had broken off, leaving a jagged daggerlike weapon in his hand. It would be so easy to kill the creature in front of him. But . . . but . . .
But it sounded just like Boots!
"'Die the baby, die his heart,'. Oh, it all makes so much sense now!" Grace cried.
"Oh, geez. Oh, geez," Gregor said, and tossed aside what remained of his sword. He knelt down and reached out his hand to pat the thing. "It's okay. You're okay, baby."
"And to think that this cozy little scene will never happen again . . ." Ripred sighed mockingly. "Alas, what a shame!"
Luxa glared at the gnawer when Gregor flinched, but was glad to see that Gregor could at least attempt to smile at the joke.
The rat shuddered in terror and pressed back against the wall, wailing its head off. "Ma-maa! Ma-maa!"
"Shh! Shh! It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you," Gregor said soothingly "Ares!"
He shouldn't have shouted. He'd scared it again, and now it was sobbing.
Ares scampered out of the last curve and wobbled into the chamber. "What is it? Where is the Bane?"
"In here," Gregor said, gesturing to the cave. "And we've got a problem."
"What? What?" Ares had come in ready to fight to the death, and now he was completely disoriented. "What is the problem?"
"This is the problem," said Gregor. He leaned down and scooped up the baby rat in his arms. It weighed about as much as a full-grown cocker spaniel.
Lizzie suppressed the urge to coo at the mental image of the baby rat, since it seemed inappropriate.
One day it probably would be ten feet tall. But today, he could pick it up and rock it. He turned to show Ares.
"What is that? That is not the Bane!" said Ares.
"Actually, I think it is. Or at least, it's a baby Bane," said Gregor.
"I do not believe it! That is some decoy. Some trick of the gnawers to lure us into a trap so that they may destroy us!" said Ares.
"I wonder what would have happened if the rats did have two white rats?" Mrs. Cormaci pondered aloud.
Gregor shuddered at the idea of having to fight off two giant white rats.
"Perhaps, had that happened, one of them might have turned out . . . good?" Lizzie asked, hesitantly.
Everyone thought about what that might've been like until Ripred shrugged, said, "Well, there's no use wasting time over it, since it didn't happen", and continued to read.
"I don't think so. I mean, look at its coat. How many white rats have you ever seen?" asked Gregor.
"None. Save this," said Ares. "But perhaps it is not a rat! Perhaps it is a mouse they have captured and used to deceive us! I have seen white mice!"
Gregor examined the baby, but he was no rodent expert. He held it up for Ares to inspect. "You take a look. Is it a mouse?"
"No. It is most definitely a gnawer," said Ares.
"So, you think there are two white rats?" said Gregor.
"Yes. No. I do not know. Two white rats at one time, it is highly improbable. It must be the Bane. Ohhh. Oh, Overlander. What are you going to do with it?" said Ares.
"He's going to force the child on some poor, defenseless, kind-hearted person instead of taking care of the thing himself." Ripred frowned.
"I did? I was under the impression that I gave the baby to you, Ripred." Gregor grinned.
Ripred scowled when Lizzie giggled, and continued with the book.
"Well, I can't kill it, can I? I mean, it's just a baby!" said Gregor.
Luxa sighed ruefully. If only the Bane could have thought like that when he tried to kill off all the nibblers and all the humans.
"Aha! I doubt that argument will hold much water in Regalia!" said Ares. Gregor had never seen him off-balance. The bat was fluttering around the chamber, so agitated that he bumped into a wall.
"Hey, you bumped into something!" said Gregor. The bats never bumped into anything.
"Can you blame me? I am . . . we are . . . do you have any idea what you hold in your arms?" said Ares.
"The Bane, I guess," said Gregor.
Ripred snorted, "You guess?" He shook his head, amused, and went back to the book.
"Yes! Yes! The Bane! The scourge of the Underland! The creature who may well cause the extinction of fliers, humans, and countless others. What we do at this moment determines the fate of all who call the Underland home!" said Ares.
"Dun, dun, dun!" Mrs. Cormaci shouted, trying to raise the spirits. It didn't work.
"What am I supposed to do, Ares? Run my sword through its head?
Lizzie squeaked. 'How awful!'
Look at the thing!" The Bane wiggled out of his arms and ran for the tunnel. "Hey! Wait a minute! Hold on, you!"
Gregor chased the baby rat through the corkscrew curves and out of the tunnel. What he saw made his heart ache.
The little white rat was trying to curl up in the curve of Goldshard's neck. "Ma-maa," it whimpered. "Ma-maa." Getting no response, it pawed frantically at the dead rat's face. "Ma-maa!"
"Oh!" Lizzie's eyes filled with tears as she covered her face with her hands. It was just so . . . heart-rending.
He heard the rustle of Ares's wings behind him. "So, that's it. She was its mom. And when she said 'Don't' to me . . ." Gregor had to stop for a minute. "She was trying to say, 'Don't kill my baby.'"
"She must have been desperate to keep it from Snare. He would have taken the pup and raised it to do his bidding," Ares said quietly.
"What a wonderful father," Gregor grimaced. 
"Snare was his father?" Lizzie gasped. Even she could never have figured that out!
Ripred nodded, scowling at the memory of the deceptive gnawer. He'd never liked Snare.
Blood was staining the baby's white fur. Its cries were piteous. As if that wasn't enough to deal with, Ares's head whipped up.
"How many this time?" asked Gregor.
"You are catching on quickly," Luxa smiled.
"A dozen, at least," said Ares. "You must decide what to do, Overlander."
"A . . . dozen?" Lizzie gasped. "At least?"
Gregor bit his lip. He couldn't decide. Everything was happening too fast. He needed more time. "Okay, okay," he said. He bounded over and lifted the baby into his arms. "We're taking it with us."
"We are?" Ares said, as if the thought had never crossed his mind.
Mrs. Cormaci rolled her eyes, but said nothing.
"Yeah. Because I'm not going to kill it, and I'm not leaving it here for the other rats to use," said Gregor.
Ripred nodded approvingly.
Ares shook his head in a combination of exasperation and denial, but he offered his back.
Gregor grabbed his backpack in one hand, threw a leg over Ares, and settled the Bane in front of him. "Okay," he said. "Let's run like the river."
"I suggest flying like the wind in this situation," Ripred smirked.
Gregor rolled his eyes, not even bothering to answer the gnawer.
As Ares lifted into the air, a dozen rats galloped into the cone. They took in the dead bodies, the bat, the baby in Gregor's arms.
"Oh, no," Lizzie breathed.
"The Overlander has the Bane!" shouted one, and the whole pack went wild, howling, leaping into the air, slashing at the invaders with their claws.
"Hold on!" said Ares. Of the dozen tunnels that led out of the cone, about four were big enough for Ares to fly down. He dove for one, and they were off.
It was like the most horrifying theme park ride ever. Gregor hated those rides, but they were nothing compared to this spinning, jerking, flipping around in the dark, with only his flashlight beam, and insane live rats jumping out at him from every turn. Gregor clung to Ares with his legs and one hand while he kept the other arm wrapped around the baby.
At one point, when they were darting around a cave barely evading several sets of snapping teeth, Ares cried out, "Use your sword!"
"Yes, Gregor!" Ripred snickered. "Use the sword you so foolishly broke!"
Gregor crossed his arms and stuck his tongue out at the rat.
"I don't have it! It broke and I left it back in the cave!" said Gregor. He hated dumping this whole escape thing on Ares, but what could he do?
Ares twisted sideways and made it into a tunnel with the rats hot on his tail.
The baby rat had given up crying "Ma-maa!" and was now issuing a series if high-pitched alarm shrieks. "Eek! Eek! Eek!"
"That can't be good," Lizzie frowned. No doubt, every rat in those tunnels would be able to hear the infant.
"Make it stop, Overlander. Its voice carries great distances. Every rat in the maze can hear that the pup is threatened!" shouted Ares.
Gregor remembered how far Boots's cry carried - through doors, down hallways, you could even hear her on the elevator when you were coming up. It was like nature had designed her baby cry so it would travel.
Boots giggled, emitting a soft, "Eek!"
Must be the same with rats.
At first he tried to calm the Bane with his voice. It wasn't enough. It might have helped if they were sitting somewhere quietly on the ground, but it was useless here in this nightmare of motion. He tried stroking its back and head, but that didn't work, either. Gregor's human voice and touch and smell were just more scary unknown things to the rat. Finally he managed to get a hand into his backpack and pull out one of the candy bars. He ripped it open, broke off a piece, and stuck it into the baby's wailing mouth.
There was an "Eek!" of surprise, then a smacking sound, and the Bane was consumed by its first wonderful taste of chocolate.
"More!" It was so weird to hear the rat baby talking, but it was. "More!" it said again, just like Boots would have.
"Oh, so it can talk!" Mrs. Cormaci's eyes widened. Up until then she'd still been unsure, as all the Bane had said was "Ma-maa" and "Eek!".
Gregor popped another piece of chocolate into the little rat's mouth, and it was gobbled up. The Bane seemed to think better of him now that he had given it chocolate. It relaxed a little, back into his body, which made it easier to hold on to.
"You think we're almost out of here?" Gregor said as they swept out of a tunnel.
"See for yourself," said Ares.
Gregor shone his flashlight around the place they'd just entered. Lying on the floor were Goldshard, Snare, and the third rat.
"That would happen to you, Gregor," Luxa groaned. (Most unladylike)
"No! What are we doing back here?" he gasped.
"Perhaps you should try navigating!" said Ares. What with him insisting on taking the Bane, having no sword, and being pretty worthless in general at the moment, Gregor could tell the bat had lost patience with him.
"Okay, okay, I'm sorry," said Gregor.
"It is our scent, Overlander," said Ares. "They track us with such ease. I cannot lose them."
"Hey, I know!" said Gregor. "Maybe we can trick them!" He'd seen some movie once where a guy running from bloodhounds had fooled them.
"Blood . . . hounds?" Luxa asked, quite obviously confused.
"Oh, they're just a type of dog." Gregor told her.
'. . . Dog?'
"We need to confuse their noses." But with what?
Gregor ripped the bandage from his arm. It was soaked with blood and pus and ointment.
"Oh, good thinking, Gregor!" Lizzie praised her older brother.
"Fly around the cone, Ares! I need to touch the top of every tunnel."
Ares followed his instructions, if not his plan. "Why do we do this?"
Gregor held out the bandage and swiped it along the inside of every tunnel entrance as they passed it. "I'm just trying to spread our scent around."
They completed the full circle, hitting each tunnel opening. Gregor tossed the bandage up the last one.
"They come!" warned Ares.
"Get out! Get out now!" said Gregor.
Ares dipped into a tunnel they had not yet tried. After about thirty seconds, they could hear the rats reaching the cone. And they were confused. Different rats were calling for them to chase down different tunnels. A big argument broke out, and then the sound of fighting.
Ripred smirked, amused at how easily his fellow gnawers fell to fighting among one another.
It grew softer as they moved away, until Gregor could no longer hear it at all.
Grace sighed, calming a little.
Ares zigzagged down a tunnel, and this one opened out over a nice, wide, shallow stream.
"I must stop for a moment . . . I must drink . . ." Ares landed on the edge of the stream, panting. He dunked his face in the water, gulping it down.
Gregor got down and scooped up handfuls of water for himself and the Bane. The stream was not too deep, but the current was fairly strong and he didn't want the baby being swept away.
Ares raised his wet face. "I have only just thought of something," said Ares. "This stream. Where do you suppose it goes?"
"I don't know. A bigger stream. Maybe a river eventually, or -" Gregor caught Ares's drift. On his very first night in Regalia, when he'd tried to escape, he'd followed the water out of the palace. It had led to a river that had led to the Waterway. "It's sure worth a try."
Gregor hauled the Bane onto Ares's back, and they took off again.
It was not too promising for a while. The main thing about the stream was that it was long and it had as many twists and turns as the tunnels in the maze. Gregor could feel Ares's wings slowing; he was going to have to have a real rest soon. But to stop in the maze was certain death. The rats would catch up to them. Gregor had no sword. The baby would begin to cry again, and then they would -
"A river," Ares puffed out. "A river is at hand."
Grace sighed again, grateful that the bat had interrupted her son's thoughts.
In another minute, they followed the stream out of the tunnel and into a huge cavern. A river ran through it. They were out of the maze!
Ares flew up high above the water. There were stony cliffs along the sides.
"Any rats around?" asked Gregor.
"Just the one on my back," said Ares.
"You want to pull over and take a break?" said Gregor.
"In a short while. I want to put more distance between the gnawers and us. They will be coming, Overlander. We have the Bane," said Ares.
"Yeah, I bet they hate that." said Gregor. He petted the Bane's head. It was getting used to him now. It curled up against him and gave a big yawn. "You've had a pretty big day, huh, little guy?" It didn't take long for it to fall asleep.
"I almost feel bad for it," Lizzie whispered. "I mean, it's not his fault that he was born with white fur."
"No," Ripred acknowledged. "But it his fault for believing that his white fur entitled him to the entirety of the Underland."
They flew awhile in silence. Then Ares spoke in an odd voice. "Overlander, I think I know this place. I think we both do."
"What?" said Gregor. How could he possibly know where they were?
"Shine your light down," said Ares.
Gregor obeyed. There below them was the river, very wide now, and very strong. Hanging down from the high banks on either side of it were the remnants of a broken bridge.
"Oh," Luxa breathed, startled. Gregor had not told her of this.
"Oh," said Gregor. And the memory of that day flashed before his eyes. Running across the bridge, trying to go back for Boots, Ripred carrying him by his backpack as the bridge swung dizzyingly below, being smacked to the ground by Ripred's tail while the rat and Luxa and Henry and Gox had hacked away at the ropes that held the bridge and the pack of rats catching up to the cockroaches and his baby sister and - and -
It was the place where Tick had died.
Luxa took Gregor's hand in hers and squeezed it, comfortingly.
"You're right," said Gregor. "How did we end up here, do you think?"
"The Tankard, the Labyrinth, and what remains of this bridge are all in the rats' domain," said Ares. "At least now we have some sense of where we are."
The bat coasted in and landed on the riverbank across from where the bridge had been hacked off. "It will be safer on this side. The rats would have great difficulty swimming the river, which is, as we know, filled with flesh-eating fish."
Gregor climbed off Ares's back holding the Bane, who was snoring softly. They were at the mouth of a tunnel. He ran his flashlight beam over the surrounding rocks, remembering how they'd been filled with waiting rats on their first visit. Now the rocks were empty. "Anything in the tunnel?" he asked Ares.
The bat shook his head. "Not as far as I can tell. I believe we are safe for the moment. Overlander, I must rest."
He could see Ares's weary eyes starting to shut. "You go ahead and sleep. I'll keep watch," he said. "And, Ares? You were amazing back there."
"I was not bad," Ares agreed, and promptly fell asleep, his back to the tunnel wall.
Lizzie giggled a bit, but soon stopped, recalling the situation her brother was in.
Gregor trained his flashlight down the tunnel. If any intruders appeared, he would be ready. He sat cross-legged on the ground with the Bane on his lap. The baby stirred restlessly in its sleep, probably reliving the trauma of the last few hours. He patted its back to quiet it. The Bane's fur was stiff with its mother's dried blood.
The baby snuggled closer to him. It was so much like holding Boots. Boots. Why wasn't he crying about her? He had cried for a roach, in a cave just across the river there, but hadn't shed one tear for his sister. He remembered how Luxa had told him, in that same cave, that she hadn't cried since her parents died. It had been that bad. Maybe something like that was happening to Gregor.
Luxa squeezed Gregor's hand again, and lay her head on his shoulder.
His fingers traced the outline of one of the baby's soft ears.
So it turned out Sandwich had been right again. The rats had killed Boots, and he could not kill the Bane. Although, Gregor didn't think he could have killed the Bane even if Boots had survived. Or could he have? If he had thought that only one of them could live? He didn't know. But it didn't matter anymore.
"Now what?" he thought. "Now what?" He had to think clearly. He had to figure out what to do with the Bane.
He couldn't take it back to the rats' land. Goldshard had just lost her life trying to protect it from her fellow rats. If he showed up with it in Regalia, he bet the humans would decide to kill it. If they let it live, which seemed unlikely, the rats would definitely overrun the city trying to get it back. For a brief moment he wondered if he could take it back home with him, but he knew his mom wouldn't have any part in raising a ten-foot rat,
"Not. At. All." Grace agreed, glad her son hadn't brought the thing home.
especially when Boots had –
Okay, so what did that leave? Nothing, pretty much.
He looked out over the water.
This was such a sad place. Not just because of Tick, but because when he'd come through here on the first quest, he'd been in a party of ten, and of that ten, how many were still alive? He did the math in his head. Three. Only three. Tick had died here. Henry and Gox were lost when they rescued his father. Luxa, Aurora, Temp, and precious Boots drowned at the Tankard. The only ones left alive were he and Ares and Ripred.
"That is a rather depressing thought." Luxa grimaced.
Ripred. He was going to go crazy when he found out Gregor hadn't killed the Bane. He wanted the Bane dead. That's why he'd brought Twitchtip and tried to teach Gregor echolocation. But then Ripred hadn't known the Bane was a baby, either. Would that make any difference to the rat? Maybe, just maybe, it would.
Gregor glanced up at the large gnawer, but Ripred ignored him and continued to read.
Gregor felt a plan beginning to form in his head.
Ares awoke after about three hours, famished. He went down to the river and came back with a large fish, not one of the flesh-eating kind. The Bane awoke and wolfed down fish with the bat while Gregor scraped mold off a piece of cheese and finished the last of the bread.
While they ate, he bounced his plan off Ares. "Okay, I have an idea about what to do with the Bane."
"I am listening," said Ares.
"This tunnel, it leads back to Ripred's nest," said Gregor.
"Does it?" said Ares.
"Yeah, remember? Twitchtip said his nest was where we first met him. And we first met him at the other end of this tunnel," said Gregor.
"Oh, yes, after we had fought the spinners," said Ares.
"Right, so I say we go find Ripred and give him the Bane and let him deal with it," said Gregor.
"Oh, absolutely! Ripred will love this idea!" Ripred snorted.
Ares opened his mouth to object, but Gregor held up his hand. "Wait! Only tell me why we can't do it if you can come up with a better plan."
There was a very, very long pause. "I do not have a better plan, but this one has no possible good endings," said Ares.
"Probably not," said Gregor. "So, should we give it a try?"
"You are so very reckless sometimes, Gregor." Mrs. Cormaci admonished, shaking her head as she took the book from Ripred and began to read.
 Okay, yes. I know that everyone in that room most likely already knew that. Just like (with thanks to Eulaliaaaa) I knew that Gregor's dad and Mrs. Cormaci, at least, knew that he was a rager. I guess this story just has to be AU. We're kinda' pretending that Gregor never really told his family any of this, so the only people who'd know (in that room, that is) all this are Gregor, Luxa, and Ripred. I'm sorry if you don't agree with how that's turned out, it just sort of happened. It wasn't really planned.
 This will sound very weird and random, but as I wrote that, that 'Priceline, Negotiator' commercial song thingy played in my head. And now it's stuck in my head. Along with the line 'How do you solve a problem like Maria?' from The Sound of Music. And only that line.
 I considered making this conversation longer, but thought that it may be too boring for y'all.
 I just had to make Ripred say 'Alas!'. Can't you just see him doing that to make fun of someone/thing? XD
 Which is soo much more painful than heart-breaking. XD
 Did I remember that right? Snare was the Bane's father, right?
I'm so sorry. I don't want to bore you all with details but I have been very busy. I haven't really had the time, nor, much as I loathe to admit it, the motivation. Too many other new exciting things have come up that have caught my attention and held on fast. And I know that, since I haven't updated in a month, I shouldn't really be asking anything of y'all, but I would really appreciate it if y'all could review in descriptions of the personalities of Angelina and Larry, since they'll be joining the story soon and I want to keep them in character.
Random thingy (tell me if you agree)
Gregor = Katniss (for more than just the fact that they're the main characters)
Ripred = Haymitch (coincidentally two of my fav character from both books)
Lizzie = Prim/Rue (they're all so alike)
Luxa = Peeta/Gale (it seems as though she has the best qualities of both, and none of the bad)
Dad = Dad (both thought to be (or actually) dead)/Peeta (because they were both so messed up when they got home from the Underland and the Capitol, respectfully)
(tell me if you can think of any other similarities!)