Prompt: luckless; you can turn back
I’ve wondered, in the past, if my unnatural lack of luck was some kind of punishment for past sins. This time, at least I knew it was true and I knew what I had done. Now I just had to survive long enough to fix it. The wolves put a serious kink in my plans, though.
They treed me while I hunted for something borderline edible. In what felt like interminable forests, there should have been plenty to eat and drink, right? Miona had been able to find more than enough for the five of us when we first passed through the forest. It hadn’t been delicious or anything–moss soups and roasted unidentifiable animals and green-skinned fruits–but it kept us going. When I got back to the forest alone, I assumed I could just find the same things. Of course, I had spent all those nights huddled by the fire, fulfilling my duties as team coward, and had no idea how or where Miona had found that food.
I sort of thought something was wrong when the forest went quiet. I don’t know how late I was in noticing that, though. By the time a flight of birds started up out of the underbrush in the direction of what I had reluctantly called “east,” I knew I had better do something. Unlike Miona’s foraging, I had watched Rewdan shinning up trees to scout out a path often enough. When I heard something, a quantity of somethings, moving toward me, the only thing I thought of was climbing. I promptly ended up in an isolated tree, separated from any others by a death-defying, arm-wrenching leap, barely tall enough to get me away from attacks.
The first gray hackles and black muzzles appeared in the closer shrubs and I was grateful. Wolves couldn’t climb trees. I was safe. Then they stepped into the open and the filtered light at the forest floor. The breastplates they wore identified them as Sarkej’s hounds, but I didn’t even need to see that. I knew when I saw their eyes, bloody amber and supernaturally hungry. Normal wolves might get bored or hungry and move on to more readily available prey. Not these. One would die of thirst, hunger, or exposure before it abandoned a target. With three of them, they could take turns watching me and hunting and I knew they would.
I had a knife, a few fire starters with a box of tender, and a dart gun with no poison. The last thing I wanted was to let them take me alive. I considered the logistics of cutting my own throat or wrists and just dying up a damn tree. I found it difficult to think of a better plan with three wolves pacing under me. That was when I saw one of them had an arrow lodged in its shoulder. It limped on that leg. The feather in the end shone silvered brown and blue–Lebriga’s colors. They had encountered the wolves before me. Had they been captured? Or had they driven the wolves off? If the wolves lived, they would report where the others were last seen. Reinforcements would be sent. And if they were already captured…
When Talbyt told us that we didn’t have to follow him, I was the only one who took the offered out. I was, I argued, doomed to die if I followed him. No one tried to stop me. I took that as confirmation that I existed as just another dead body waiting to happen. Everything up to and after that point suggested someone with power had it out for me. Possibly the whole world. Try to get through the forest, though, I started to realize that I had chosen my own miserable path. I had paved it with my cowardice and ignorance and stupidity. And now I was still going to die.
Death can make a coward out of a hero. It can also make a marginally less terrible coward out of a coward. If I had nothing but death awaiting me, I decided I might as well try my hand at heroism at least once before that. Thinking about Talbyt and Lebriga made me think of how they took out a mounted soldier with a flaming arrow. I might not be able to kill the wolves, but I might be able to keep them busy.
I unpacked my dart gun, glad I had not discarded it when I ran out of poison. I lined up a row of darts and twisted a few fragile shreds of tinder around the tip of each. I wouldn’t have much time, once the wolves realized what I had done. Three perfect hits, with untested flaming darts, on three moving targets. Oh, yeah, that did not require any luck.
I chanted “shut up” at myself as I took out the starter. Forget luck. Just do something.
Fur goes up like a torch and stinks to high heaven. I made three perfect hits. The wolves howled and thrashed and I hit the ground, well, not running, but scrambling. I ran hard in the direction of brighter light, hoping for some end to the forest. When that end turned out to be a waterfall and a jagged cliff face as far as I could see in either direction, I figured that was just my life. It still couldn’t get any worse and I had decided I would find the friends I had abandoned or die on the way.
So I jumped.