The Once-Ler is stretched out beneath the shade of a truffula tree, plucking absently at his guitar. The day is quiet, or as quiet as it ever gets in the valley, and, if he's being honest, he's bored.
"Sssoooooo," He says, pulling a long chord of sharps as he draws the word out, glancing at his the companion seated beside him in the grass, "You know, you never told me about your famiy
The Lorax is silent from his usual place curled up in the grass. For a moment it seems like he hasn't heard the other forest guardian, but then he rolls over so his back is to the younger one,
"Don't have a family, in case ya didn't notice."
"You do so." The Once-Ler replies, pausing in his guitar strumming to frown at his old friend's turned back, "You've mentioned them before. In passing. It's not fair, you know everything about me but the only thing I know about you is that you're an obnoxious furry bean with a god complex."
And he yanks hotly on the strings of his guitar, picking out a quick beat before dropping back into something slower and lazier.
The Lorax lets out a huff at this, his breath sending his mustache fluttering for a moment. "I am a God, in case ya didn't notice," he grumbles. "And there ain't much of a story t' tell. Your attention span ain't long enough for it."
"If there isn't much of a story, how is my attention span not long enough?" The Once-Ler asks cheekily. When he doesn't receive an answer, he lets out a snort and flops back against the truffula tree.
After a moment of strumming on his guitar, he looks around again, "If you tell me your story, I promise to do all my work on time exactly like I'm supposed to."
"You're really serious about this, ain't ya?" The Lorax says with a snort. He then lets out a sigh and sits up, cracking his small excuse for a neck as he does so. "All right, fine. But you'd better hold t' your end of the deal."
I actually had a pretty big one. Ages ago, back when t' Earth was still young. There were loads of us critters like me, I guess. We never really had a name, we never needed one
we were just guardians, I guess. There were loads of us and loads of different colors too. Pink, orange, yellow, you name it. Tons of us, all pretty darn furry and loads of attitude and it was our job t' take care of this valley. We watched over all of nature, really, but this valley was special. It was ours."
"So you guys all guarded this valley? You were all guardians of the same place?" The Once-Ler asks, genuinely curious, "Sounds kind of crowded, all of you crammed inooh, were you a hive mind?"
"What? No!" The Lorax sputters, "Where would ya get an idea like that!? And technically we weren't all guardians, no we were all connected with the valley and made it work, but there was always one who was the main guardians. Y'know, spoke for the trees, made t' seasons come in, stuff like that. My father was the one before me, and his father before him."
"Your dad?" The Once-Ler mutters and his hand automatically came up to brush the rim of his fedora before his fingertips drop back to the strings of his guitar. There is a strange expression on his face but he, being the Once-Ler, quickly covered it up with a wide-eyed gasp,
"So does this make you, like, super powerful furry royalty or something?"
"Are you just determined t' make everythin' sound stupid?" The Lorax admonishes. "No, I'm not furry royalty, that's somethin' else entirely. I guess technically we were that for the guardians, but
it wasn't like that." He lets out a sigh and scratches his head, looking to the sky.
we got the role because it fit us, I guess. Because we earned it or had it thrust upon us. There's different reasons for becoming head guardian, it's kind of a case by case basis," the Lorax shrugs. "We do become rulers of the valley though an' my father was the best at it. He was the embodiment of the sun around here, pretty much
. it was somethin' else. I wish you coulda met him, you woulda liked him. He was a real prankster, actually, you probably would've gotten along."
The Once-Ler is still fiddling with his guitar but it's more occasionally plucking at the strings than actually playing something. His attention is focused on the Lorax.
what happened to all of them? Where'd they all go? Did they leave and go to other forests?"
The Lorax falls silent for a moment. There is a sort of tension on the wind now, something heavy and awful on the edge, something that feels out of place amongst the sunny skies and billowing grass.
" The creatures trails off, swallows. He then lets out a sigh. "Guess ya had to know eventually," he mutters as he adjusts himself on the grass. He takes a deep breath.
You know people used t' pay us tributes, right? Like
we were of the land and people would come to us. They would give us food, objects, you name it prayers for a good harvest, prayers t' heal their sick children, worship. To us we were simply us, but to humanity, we were Gods. We lived in harmony with them, all in cycle
y'know, like nature does." Here he pauses, gaze flicking to the sky.
.Except one day they decided man didn't need Gods anymore."
The young guardian leaning against the tree has let his hands fall still across his precious guitar and when he speaks, it's in the low tone that says he knows that something, somewhere along the line, went wrong,
The Lorax is quiet for a time.
nature goes in cycles. We had a few years where things were less than good we tried, we really did, but there had come t' be so many people t' support. We gave 'em so much that after a few years we had t' give less. So we did
and when we tried t' explain, they wouldn't hear it. Which makes sense, I guess you can explain logistics all ya want, it's nothing when someone can't put bread on the table."
"So the humans became angry
and they started taking without asking. They plundered the valley beyond what they should have, over-harvested, they took everything. And then when that wasn't enough, they started taking us." He swallows here, brow furrowing.
"Have ya ever watched someone take down a God? It's easier than you'd think. We're strong, but well
we're small, ain't we? We're small and nobody would fight back. My father said not to. Nature's job ain't to fight back. It follows its cycles, it is what it is. There's good and then there's bad, and when there's bad
ya just have to deal. Fighting back just makes it worse, or at least that's what he said. So it was a slaughter, really." Again he pauses, small paws clenching into fists.
I didn't like that. I didn't like it at all."
The Once-Ler feels like this a moment where he's supposed to say something but all he can do is stare. He swallows past the swelling lump in his throat, tries once again to say something, and once again finds that he can't.
The guitar in his lap feels like a dead weight, the strap across his back like a punishing chain. The sunlight in the valley doesn't seem so cheery anymore.
" He chokes on the words, clears his throat, "What did you do?"
There is a soft, bitter laugh. "What d'ya think I did, Beanpole? I broke the rules. I fought back."
"You're a forest guardian now, you know what we're capable of. We have all the destructive force of nature on our side the thing is, we choose not to use it. I used it." The Lorax grimaces.
it was bad. It was real bad. I was just
I don't even remember it, really. I remember being angry, so impossibly angry. I was so mad, and it was like I ripped t' skies open all by myself. The Earth got mad with me, it swallowed people. We destroyed everything
no, I destroyed everything."
"There wasn't anything left, once I was done. No people. No trees. Nothing. Just a wasteland, that's all we had in the end." The Lorax finally stops, gazing out at the rolling hills. He is silent for a moment, simply remembering.
There was a long silence there wherein the Once-Ler simply stares, his eyes wide and his mouth open slightly. Then he blinks and seems to curl in on himself, drawing his long legs towards his chest and curling his fingers around his guitar like it's a safety blanket.
His brow furrows, eyebrows tightening together into something that's not anger, more like frustration and the sting of old wounds being picked open,
"Then how can you
how can you yell at me for the things I do? For the things I did? You were just as bad." His voice is only a few steps above a whisper and he shakes his head, "You destroyed everything too and
and what? Did your family just abandon you like you abandoned
like when you left? Is that it?"
The Lorax scowls, eyes narrowing dangerously. He holds it back through, takes a deep breath.
we needed t' fix the valley. So we did
and there was only one way to do it." He murmurs. "It took life energy, an impossible amount of life energy t' fix everything so we they gave it to the valley. My family sacrificed everything to bring it all back and there wasn't anything I could do about it."
"So they did
and now I'm the only one left." The creature lets out a sigh he hadn't realized he'd been holding in. "The position of forest guardian is really only supposed t' last for a thousand years. I've been here for over a millenia as punishment, I guess. Destroy t' valley, get stuck alone watchin' over it. Forever."
"And don't give me that," he adds, his tone coming out in a growl as he looks to the Once-Ler. "Why'd I yell at ya? Why do ya think, genius!? Yeah, you made the exact same mistake I made I was hoping you wouldn't! Why do ya think I didn't try to stop ya? I could have!"
He sits there for a moment, simply fuming, then relaxes visibly. "
.My father once told me it's natures job to watch. Humanity wanted the land for itself and like you once said, it's about survival of the fittest. It was our
it's my duty to simply watch. Not interfere. So that's what I did I learned my lesson, and I didn't interfere." Those green eyes seek out the Once-Ler's.
"You're right. I did screw up in fact, I screwed up worse than you did, kiddo. There's your answer why I yelled at you you're the next one. You're the only person nature's chosen since me, and no one was here t' help me learn the ropes like you've got."
"I did screw up. That's why you need to be better."
The Once-Ler can only stare.
He's suddenly feeling incredibly small in a universe that thrust this responsibility at him without first consulting his conscious and morals. What the Lorax had just told him is swirling around in his head, tangled up and bouncing off of one another. Until something settles deftly into place and a cold bolt of horror shoots through his belly.
" He stutters, eyes widening as he stares at his mentor, "When you say that your family gave theirtheir life force to bring the valley
every time I cut down a tree did I
was that your
He balked, unable to finish his own thought, the very idea of it churning his insides.
The Lorax eyes him for a moment. "Did ya think the guardians bein' the same color as truffula tufts was a coincidence, kiddo?" He then shakes his head.
"Relax, they're made of stronger stuff than that. Ya didn't kill the valley, just put it to sleep. They came back
they exist in everything, not jus' the trees. It was bad, but
well, what's past is past, isn't it?"
The Lorax rolls his eyes. "I already told ya I forgave ya, didn't I? Stop that, this doesn't change anything." He does, however, pause, eyes narrowing a bit.
"I was serious about what I said earlier though I've been here a long time. Too long. I didn't have anyone t' teach me anything, I had t' play it all by ear. That's why I'm tough on you somebody has t' be better than me, and you're more than capable. So don't go acting like I'm pickin' on you, there's a reason for it."
"Now stop making this all about yourself, jeez."
The Once-Ler remains curled around himself for a moment and then, abruptly, he unfolds, swings his guitar around behind his back, and reaches across the grass to scoop the Lorax up into his long arms and give him a hug.
The Lorax lets out a yelp and tries to shove the Once-Ler away. "Oi, oi, get offa me! I didn't ask for your pity, jeez!" After a few seconds, however, he does finally relax, leaning a bit into the hug.
I didn't ask for your pity,"