The Camping Trip: A farce in three acts, produced by Cherryton Drama club.
Alternate title: Up and down again: the Tarot Play.
Primaries (major arcana):
Louis, a Red Deer of some renown: The dramatic lead.
Card: the Tower
Legosi, a Grey Wolf of some strength: The accidental actor.
Card: the Hermit
Haru, a White Rabbit of some spirit: the invisible presence.
Card: the Lovers
Tem, an Alpaca of some importance: the pivot on whom the entire plot turns.
Card: The Hanged man.
Bill, a Bengal tiger of some size: The shadow archetype, but to whom?
Card: The Fool
Other players (Suit cards):
Aoba, an eagle, a stalwart companion, the knight of wands.
Kai, a Mongoose, somewhat resentful in nature, The five of swords
Els: a female angora goat of good nature. The queen of cups.
Dom: A peacock of good and sunny nature, the club's somewhat flamboyant Propmaster. The queen of wands
Jack: a golden retriever, a good boy, stalwart friend, and comedic artisan. Legosi's best friend a room-mate. The two of cups.
Durham, Miguno, Collot, Voss: likewise comedic artisans, Legosi's room-mates and canines (and one hyena).
Sheila: A female Leopard, choreographer, and sometimes Tarot reader
Voice from the helicopter: a unseen presence (drama clubs with limited special effect budgets can use a spotlight and PA system for this role)
Other drama club members: the choir.
Instruction to players: all text in italics is internal monologue and to be presented as soliloquy. Italic Bold indicates lines where added emphasis is required.
Prologue. The tarot card Judgement: Rebirth, Inner-calling, Absolution, Karma, Causality, Second chance.
Legosi keeled at Tem's monument.
Months on from his death they'd not fixed the door. Everyone filed in and out of the lecture auditorium through the other side-door, when they had to use the room, which no one wanted to. It took twice as long to get everyone seated.
Longer. Everyone took some time to stare morbidly at that spot, just to one side of the big projector screen. Rumour was, that was the spot he'd died. Although of course the police and crime scene cleaning crews had removed any trace before students were allowed anywhere near it, but still everyone knew.
I should have brought flowers, Haru could have lent me some. He realised: the school had cleared away most of the offerings students had left once the glut of flowers from that first week started to rot: all the flowers, water bottles, toys, incense, candy, the little things people gave. The school wants us to forget. They're embarrassed by this, so they just want us to forget him, sweep him into the trash like the dead roses. No one talks about the attack anymore. No one talks about Tem. No one brings flowers anymore, Except Louis.
Legoshi wrinkled his brows. He was still pissed off with Louis for refusing to help rescue Haru… but he still respected the deer, and he was worried. He's been missing since that day he thought, checking this school paper. Since that fight with me. I hope he didn't do anything stupid, like go to the black-market after me: I nearly got killed by those thugs, and I'm a wolf.
No one talks about that, either. They say he's missing, but no one looks. What's wrong with people? Thought Legosi, sadly. Why does no one help out? Why are we so quick to turn on each other, and and so slow to pull together?
I guess that why we need a Beastar. He thought. Why we need that righteous strength.
He curled a hand into a fist, growling slightly. Damn you Louis, how dare you go missing at a time like this? What's wrong with you? Don't to remember what happens without you? What a difference you can make?
Don't you remember the Drama Club Camping Trip?
He glanced up. Tem's photo stared back, cheerful and hopeful and young. Forever young. Thought Legosi with a sudden shock of sadness, even after all this time. You'll never age, never get a new haircut, or change your wardrobe. Never not look like that school photo, with the slight goofy grin that you were embarrassed by but that Els thought was cute. You'll never get to date her or marry or have a family.
And no one cares. He thought sadly. No one cares but me and Louis. And he's missing.
Legosi sighed, and lowered his head, closing his eyes.
"I'm sorry I…." he paused, thinking. Words were not his strength. "I'm getting stronger now, for Haru. Being the beast she needs, to protect her in this unfair world. I… I have come to think that was why I was born a wolf. I'm… I'm sorry I wasn't there for you, too." He said, eyes shut. He wanted to cry, but the tears would not come. No one cries for him anymore, not even me. "I'm sorry I didn't get stronger sooner. Didn't get better faster. I'm sorry, friend. I'm sorry I wasn't here for you, that night." He said, looking up at the ruined door.
"Sorry I wasn't there for you, like I was when we became friends… On that camping trip." He said, taking a filthy and blood-stained school tie, and laying it before the photo of the alpaca with the sad smile.
Act one, the ascent (Birth)
Act one, Scene one: At the Drama club The ace of wands: Birth, Commencement, Creativity, Inventiveness, New Beginnings. If the card is drawn reversed: an ominous omen
Legosi stumbled. "Oh! Apologies!" he said, grabbing Jack for support with one hand, the exterior corner of the drama building with the other. "I'm so sorry I… I didn't see you there!" he said, ears shooting up and pupils tiny with embarrassment. He hated being this tall. He felt awkward and gangly and ungainly, and all those other words that made it sound like you were made entirely out of knees. It's so unfair: I was the same height as Jack until we were thirteen, and the past few years I've shot up to almost twice his height. Couldn't we split the difference and get two normal sized canines? He thought, as he felt a small woolly body bounce off his shins. I stoop, I know, hunched over, it… it makes me look like even more of a weirdo but it's better than banging my head on doorways. And I wish, I wish I wouldn't keep crashing into people because I'm looking over them and don't spot them when they're late and running for class!
"Why don't you watch were you're- oh Legosi. It's you." Said Tem, rubbing his shoulder, and smiling ruefully. "Sorry, I didn't recognise you for a second. Are you on your way to Drama club?"
You didn't…. I'm the only grey wolf in drama club. I'm nearly 2 meters tall and keep knocking over props with this stupid brush-tail when I turn around. How could you not recognise me? I'm a freak.
"Oh… I'm sorry. Drama club I…. I didn't think there was a meeting today." Said Legosi, awkwardly. "I… I thought there wasn't one until next week?" he asked, careful to stay polite. I don't want to scare smaller animals unintentionally. I can do that easily. He thought, eyes moving downwards, sadly. Just look at his shoes until he goes away, that way you can't scare anyone.
"It's not a practice; it's the annual team-building exercise. Camping trip: are you signing up?"
Annual team building exercise? I've been here nearly four year, counting the middle school drama club, and I didn't know we even had one. It… it must be actors only or something. He rubbed his shoulder, nervously. "I… err… I don't think so. Sorry."
"Oh... okay well see you around then I guess." Said Tem, waving him goodbye. "I…" Tem caught sight of Els, just coming out of the drama practice room, and a stupid grin flashed across his face. "I've got to run, see you around. Hey Els, are you sighing up for the camping trip?" he yelled, jogging off.
Jack looked up. "You used to like camping, back at middle school." He said, examining the camping sign-up sheet pinned to the wall. "We were in that hiking club together."
"That was back at middle school. Besides, it's an actor thing. I don't want to intrude."
"It doesn't say that anywhere on the poster." Pointed out Jack. "You should go, you need to fit in better with the drama club: you've been it forever and hardly any of them know your name."
"I know all their names!" protested Legosi. "Every one!"
"That's not what I said. You let them walk all over you. You' be less gloomy and lifeless all the time if you did something other than lift heavy objects for them and stare from the lighting gallery. You could borrow Collot's sleeping bag and skiing clothes, it's your size, near enough."
"I like lifting heavy objects and staring gloomily from the lighting gallery. I'm good at it. And Collot's sleeping bag probably has more of his hair stuck to the inside of it than stuck to him!"
"Free insulation. You'll need it, if you're going up Seinen mountain, it'll be cold, even this late in spring."
"I'm not going up-"
"You need to stick up for yourself more!" insisted Jack. "It hurts me to see my big best friend beaten down like this!"
"I'm not beaten down I just… look I like being beaten down. I like helping the club without making a show of it. It's okay in the shadows, I feel safe there." said Legosi, rubbing his arm and fidgeting distractedly "It's the light I feel unsafe in I-"
A few meters away, Tem caught up with Els, flanked by two of her female friends under a spreading cherry tree. "Hey… I mean, Hi Els, er, Erusu-san are… erm.." he swallowed, nervously. He wasn't good at talking to girls. "Are you going on the camping trip this year? They say Seinen mountain is very beautiful this time of year, and err… we are alpacas, a mountain species too, like angora goats. It would be nice for the both of us to breathe some properly thin air for once." He said, grinning nervously.
Els looked from him, to Legosi, and then back "Yes, I'm already signed up… Tem, were you bullying that poor wolf?"
"I… What? He's a wolf? How could I bully a wolf, he's huge, he'd beat me up, or eat me or something!" said Tem, jokingly. Els glared.
"Tem harsh words can hurt just as much as fists or teeth! I'm ashamed of you! Since you got that audition for a good role your head's gotten so big! Look at the poor wolf, he looks so sad."
"I… it's Legosi, he always looks sad!"
"Tem," said Els, taking the sign-up sheet and clipboard from Dom with a nod. "I'm going on the trip with my friends, and that doesn't include bullies or herbivores who are cruel to carnivores, or the other way round. The Drama Club is meant to be a place famed for it's good will, friendship and co-operation between all species. If you want to spend any time with me you'll need to show that you're a good person and haven't become a jerk since you got that role!" she said.
"I… I'm not a jerk and I'm not prejudiced against any species, I have lots of carnivore friends like…." He looked around Pointing.
Tracking shot following his finger, to his internal monologue.
Like… shot pans over Legosi and Jake arguing, Erm… maybe not… or.. pans over Bill, laughing with Aoba and several big cats, punching each other on the shoulders hard and passing around a magazine, *definitely* not. Pans to Kai reading off who got which roles after audition and glaring at him an marching over, pointing and yelling: "Hey asshole, did you steal my role? I'll kick your ass for this, fluffbutt!"
Tem pointed back at Legosi. "Like my good friend Legosi!" He said, grinning nervously at Els and leaning away from Kai's accusing glare.
"Legosi." She said flatly. Arms crossed. "That Legosi?"
"Yes! We go way back, old friends! I know everything about him"
"What's his blood type?" asked one of El's friends, mockingly.
"…. Wolf?" guessed Tem. "But look, we weren't quarrelling, we were just, just messing around, joking like we always do!"
"Uh-huh?" said Els, disbelieving. Behind her, Louis came out of the shade of the practice room and tapped Dom on the shoulder. "How are things going?"
"Not well, Louis-senpai. The school won't provide the loan of the mini-busses, or chaperones for the trip, unless we can guarantee a certain minimum number of attendees. We're still two short, sir."
"On the last day of sign-ups? I see." Said Louis. Damn, I hadn't realised how small the club had become since the last graduation. This could be a problem, we gain athletics grants by carrying out at least one wilderness trip per year… he thought.
"Sign yourself up. If you can't find anyone by the end of the day, ask the entire art department, explain the seriousness of the situation to them, and see if anyone will sign up. I'll arrange equipment for them if they lack it, I'll buy if if I have to."
"Yes Louis-senpai." Said Dom, nodding, and signed his name. Tem heard this, and took the sign-up sheet.
"Ahh, as it so happens…" He said, looking from Els to Louis. "I was just talking to my close friend in the art department, and he said he'd consider going, Louis-senpai!" said Tem, pointing with the pencil.
"Oh?" said Louis, glancing over. Oh, the wolf. I've seen him about. What was his name again? "He's in the drama club?"
"Nearly two years now, in the senior branch, the affiliate middle school club before that." Said Dom. "Good worker, one of my best." He said, as Tem hurried over with the sign-up sheet, followed closely by Els and her friends.
"Props?" Hazarded Louis, looking him up and down. He's big. How have I never noticed him before?
I… I always notice large carnivores. He thought right leg twitching, foot to hip.
"Lighting, Louis-senpai. Our main gaffer and grip."
"Lighting? Up in the gallery? So he's strong, good with electronics, with a good head for heights?" Louis mused.
"Very, to all questions."
"Oh really?" asked Louis, eyes narrowing on Legosi and Tem "Good, go to the Defence Forces Cadets and borrow one of their long-range two way radios, we have the permission from the School Principle… and it looks like we just found our radio operator."
"Hai, Louis-senpai!" said Dom, bobbing his head.
"Hey, Legosi!" called Tem, jogging over. "Legosi!"
Oh no, what now? Thought Legosi, groaning internally. Did I do something wrong? What is it now?
"Oh, hi Tem. How… how are things?" asked Legosi awkwardly as Tem and three other herbivores arrived. What did I do wrong now? We just spoke, and we're not friends. Friendly, yes: you were always polite to me unlike most of the actors, but I don't know you!
Jack, stop grinning I can feel it! He thought, shooting his friend a pleading glance. Jack just smiled, and took a half step back, into the background.
Traitor! He thought. Leaving a helpless wolf at the mercy of a mob of wild alpaca! "Can… can I help you with anything?" asked Legosi
"Well, I don't want to bug you but seeing as we're old friends... would you mind signing up for the trip? We're still one short!" he said, brandishing the clipboard eagerly.
"I….errr!" cut to Legosis's face, close up. Panicking cartoon wolf running in circles behind his head Crap? One short? But… I don't want to go on this trip! I don't know any of you well enough to want to spend a weekend stuck on a hillside with you! I had weekend plans: we were going to hold down Collot so Voss could give him his ringworm medicine! They can't do it without me because he's too big and fights back. It wasn't much of a weekend plan, but it was something! Why do these alpacas and goats suddenly want me around? They want to take me in to the woods with no explanation? This is how cults start! Weird sex-cults!
"I err… I'm sorry. I would like to, but… I have to help my room-mates with something." he said, lamely.
"I can cover that for you, if you like." Said Jack, helpfully.
Traitor! I thought retrievers were meant to be loyal? "How?" hissed Legosi out the corner of his mouth. Jack shrugged. "I'll just cover it in peanut-butter."
"That never works!" protested Legosi.
"Works on you." said Jack. "You know they don't make reverence-Recces that are crunchy in the centre and peanut on the outside, right?"
"I…. errr…" protested Legosi. "I'm not an actor, I'm only Art Department." He said, unfolding his hands apologetically to Tem, careful to keep his movements slow, and non-threatening.
"Oh That? Don't worry about that: yes it's traditionally been an actor's retreat, but it is the Drama Club trip, open to all Club members. Dom is coming, and he's Art Department!" said Tem, handing over the sign-up sheet, and smiling. Legosi took it cautiously, looked at it and went to hand it back.
"Well, erm. I don't know…"
"What's the mater, Tem?" asked Els. "Does you old friend not want to spend time with you?"
"No, no he's fine, right?" said Tem, holding out a hand. "Right?" he asked, eyes pleading. Come on, I know we were never friends but we were always friendly, help a fellow male out! I want her to talk to me!"
"What's the matter, Legosi, help him out: I thought you liked helping the drama club without making a fuss or getting in the spotlight?" Said Jack, jokingly. "Help a fellow mammal out."
Close up of both Tem and Legosi grimacing desperately, Tem looking on pleadingly and Legosi sweating bullets, ears back, eyes wide, muzzle screwed up in fear, as they gingerly shake on it. Legosi sighed, grimaced and reluctantly signed the paper. And I thought all these years the peer pressure would be drugs or meat, not weird camping trips. Drugs sound like more fun, thought Legosi, miserably. Meat less risky.
Tem beamed with relief. "Oh, thank you friend!" He said, taking his hands and shaking eagerly, as Els and her friends walked off. Tem watched her go, and grinned stupidly like the happiest guy in the world, slapping Legosi on the arm "Dōmo arigatō, Legosi-kun! I owe you one! And don't worry-" he said as cherry blossom fell around them like mountain snow "-you won't regret this one bit, I can tell!"
Act one, Scene two: Room 701 The six of swords, the boatman: a doomed endeavour, or conversely, moving out of troubled waters. Also indicates responsibility for others.
Establishing shot of Legosi's old and battered laptop: large number of tabs open in chrome, in Japanese. Camera cuts from headline to headline, with subtitled translations. "Seven die in mountaineering accident, one critical" "Deadly peak claims more lives" "Frostbite claims helicopter crash survivor" and "The Home Islands' own Dyatlov Pass? The mystery of Seinen mountain."
Pull back shot to Legosi, ears back, eyes wide, open mouthed.
"So… why is it called Seinen mountain again?" he asked, licking his lips nervously, half turning over his shoulder to speak.
"Because it's a peak for young people: young men used to climb it to prove their bravery and determination, to prove their manliness and coming of age." Said Jack, grappling with Collot's right arm on the floor to one side of Legosi. Durham had the sheepdog's other arm, Miguno was pinning his legs, and Legosi sitting cross-legged on his chest facing forwards while Voss tried, and failed, to force feed Collot a peanut coated pill. The Big sheepdog was not cooperating in their efforts. "You'd take a rock from the monastery half way up, at the bottom of The Buddha's stair, all the way through the pass and over the high stair to the peak, and lay it on the small shrine there."
"Then you get seven years good luck, right?" asked Voss. "or am I con- I said open wide! Confusing it with a different shrine?"
"That's the one over by the bay, if you carry seashells to it from the opposite coast. For this you get guaranteed to meet your true love when you come down, right?" Said Legosi.
"No, that's if you bathe alone at the hidden spring." Said Durham
"I thought that was- Kick me again and I'll bite you! We're trying to help, damn it! I thought that was if you leave an offering at the twisted tree in the monastery garden? The one that marks the two lovers' grave?" said Miguno, wrestling the sheepdog's feet. "The refection in the spring relevels the face of your true love if you bathe there alone and under a full moon, entirely different thing."
"You should try that, Legosi, get a nice girlfriend." Said Voss, trying to pry Collot's mouth open with a ruler. "Tickle him everyone! If he laughs I can get the pill in!"
"Yeah, but he'd just see the full moon and fall in love with it, typical wolf!" Joked Miguno, before letting out a brief hyena laugh.
"And what, fall in love with the moon rabbit?" asked Voss, grinning. "I mean that would be just his stupid luck, a wolf and a rabbit and A-ha!" yelled Voss with victory, sliding the pill into Collot's mouth when he opened his mouth to bark laughter. The tiny fox leapt on the big sheepdog's muzzle, wrapping both arms wound it and wresting it shut. "Swallow! Swallow! I'm sorry it tastes bad but it's for you own good my friend!"
"I bet he says that to all the ladies." Muttered Miguno. "So what do you get for putting the rock at the top of the mountain?"
"I'm not sure you get anything," said Jack. "I think it's just supposed to be an act of merit on its own. To show you can brave the harshness of nature but still respect its fierce spirit."
"Sounds lame, I want prophetic ghost reflections, at the very least." Said Miguno.
"Then you need to bathe in the hidden spring." Said Durham.
"Or at least bathe." Joked Jack.
"Hey, I came back from my jog to find we're doing this now and not at the weekend: I'm not going to shower then wrestle the walking carpet and get covered in his hair right after I'm all cleaned up. That's just foolish. Besides I'm fighting stinky sheepdog feet, and his and Legosi's butts are in my face: no matter how sweaty I might be, I'm not then grossest thing down here. Screw the mountain, this, this is braving the harshness of nature right here!"
"Brave the harshness of nature?" said Legosi, looking at the map of their planed ascent. It was a fairly standard tourist two day hike: drive about a third of the way up the mountain, park up, hike to the old monastery, and then farther up Buddha's stair to the wildness park beneath the pass. The pass was not open to hikers in the winter due to the risk, and it was often blocked by snow anyway, but in good weather you could then hike further up, thought the pass, and up the high stair to the old shrine at the peak. A hike back down to the wilderness park, camp there overnight, and then back down past the monastery to the car park. You could complete the trial in two days, with one night's camping, although they planned an extra night camping as a bonding exercise, leaving Friday and returning to campus late on Sunday. Louis's notes indicated that they would make camp below that pass, and the climb to the top would be attempted the next day, and only in perfect weather, by only the fittest members of the party, while the rest made camp below the pass and had a nature walk. The lower half of the trial was said to be one of the most beautiful in the region, and was ranked as very low to low risk by the National Mountaineers and Hikers Federation, suitable for amateur hikers and general tourist use.
The top half was… not.
"Oh, yes. Before they carved out the high star, or had modern climbing and lightweight camping equipment, it was a very dangerous and brave thing to do. Only the heroic and young could ever look off the top Seinen mountain." Said Jack.
"Why?" asked Durham. Jack shrugged.
"There's no trees up there, beyond the pass. No shelter, and snow even in summer. If you get caught there overnight without modern lightweight tents and proper insulation, you die of exposure. And it's a half day from the pass to the peak, and the same down again. If you're slow and don't make it back to the forest before nightfall, it could be death."
"It… it looks like it still is for some people." Said Legosi, quietly, narrowing his eyes and reading. What a terribly sad place. I feel… Sad. Sad for all those who have perished in such a lonely way.
And just a little bit frightened for myself.
"I… don't have to go all the way to the top, do I?" he asked.
Jake shrugged. "You're the radio-operator, so I guess you have to in case something goes wrong and they need to call for help. It's safe to do so with proper tents and modern winter sleeping bags; there's even a small emergency camp site beyond the pass now. People climb it in winter now, sleep above the pass intentionally, for the extra challenge."
"And die doing so. Ten, in the last decade. I… I'm not an experienced climber."
"But you're a good hiker." Said Voss, pinching Collot's snout and tickling his throat "Strong too. Besides, that's barely one per year, out of thousands of visitors. And it's just a hike, There's no actual climbing involved and - Hah!"
Collot swallowed, loudly, and then gasped for breath. "Okay, okay you win, I took the pill, I took the pill! Let me up already you pack of assholes! You are the worst friends!"
Jack, Voss and Durham crowed round his head to look, but didn't let up the pressure on his limbs as they did so. Voss gave a strict examination, even sticking his head right in the big dog's mouth.
"Compliance check! Okay, let's see here, left cheek, clear, right cheek clear, tonsils look good and… move your tongue please, big guy. Move your tongue please! Move your tongue! He's faking it! It's under his tongue!" yelled the fox, pulling his head back.
Collot let out a whimpering howl "Worst friends! The worst! I'll give you all ringworm before I swallow that thing! See if I don't, I'll do it, I'll- Uggg Gah!"
"No actual climbing doesn't mean no actual danger." Protested Legosi, leaning down and causally forcing Collot's mouth shut with one hand, eyes still on his computer. He didn't even think about it. Collot is one of the few mammals big enough I can be myself around him and not worry about scaring him or hurting him by accident. We're pretty evenly matched. These guys, these guys here, are pretty much the only guys I can be myself around and not look like a freak.
"There could still be serious risk. It's avalanche season, after all." He said, reaching up with his other hand and taking his water bottle from his backpack, which he'd left on his bed, and handed it to Voss as they all tried to keep Collot pinned to the floor.
"You worry too much," said Voss, pouring water over, around and, on rare occasions, into Collot's mouth as he tried to wiggle out of it and turn his head away from Legosi's grip. "You're almost the size of that mountain: if I was a big as you, I'd not be scared of anything."
"I'm not scared for myself." Muttered Legosi. "Well, not just myself. But there will be many smaller animals on the trip, most of them herbivores. I worry for them." He said, reading over the articles and studying the map, before absent-mildly giving Collot's chest a weighty thump. Unprepared for that, the sheepdog swallowed water in surprise, and then begun to cough.
"Ahhh, Legosi seriously? Oh, I can feel that going down! Uggg! And after I lent you my sleeping bag!"
Legos smiled faintly, and stood up off his chest as the others leapt back, giving them room. Laptop in one hand, he offered the other to the big sheepdog to help him up.
"Now that I know you have ringworm I'm not sure you letting me borrow that is a good thing or not."
"Managed ringworm!" Collot protested. "Almost all gone now!" he said, getting up.
"Only thanks to us." Said Jack. "You could say 'You're welcome.'"
"Harrumph, not likely. I'm just waiting until Legosi catches it and then I get to sit on his chest."
"Hum? Oh… I'd just eat the pills. I don't mind it so much when things in life are bitter." The wolf said, laying his laptop on the bed, sitting down next to it, and getting he heavy two-way radio out from his bag and laying it out on the bed, the operators manual PDF up on the screen.
"Hey, you want to celebrate getting that pill into Collot with a quick game of Frisbee before dinner?" asked Voss, from his perch on Collot's head, as the others started to file away.
"Hum? Oh, no. I need to learn how to do this." Perfectly he thought. I need to learn how to do this perfectly. Other people's safely is depending on me, so I can't afford to screw this up.
"Legosi, it does you credit that you're trying hard, but the pipsqueak is right." Rumbled Collot, picking up the Frisbee eagerly. "The trip's not for days, you have time to practice latter, and no-one has died on that mountain in years. How much practice do you need?"
"In two years." said Legosi. "The last death was two years ago, not all that long. And of the ten deaths in ten years, eight of them happened on the same day, about this time of year when the spring-melt hits. You… you guys go have fun. I'll see you at dinner."
Jack looked from Legosi, to the others, and made a decision. "You go, I'll catch you up." He said to the others, sitting cross-legged on the bed opposite the wolf, as the rest of the 701 canines filed out, joking about.
Legos glanced up from his work, and raised an eyebrow.
"You need someone to quiz you on radio operation? Maybe wake you early, we could take a jog and hit the climbing wall in the gym before class tomorrow?" asked the retriever.
Legosi considered this, and then nodded, seriously, glad one friend understood his need to be slow and careful and solemn, and didn't expect an answer for why he needed to be like that.
"Hai, arigatō." He said, nodding, before going back to his equipment.
Someone has to be serious about this trip.
Act one, Scene three: The gardening shed The eight of cups, the traveler: where one is in a good situation where there is much promise and much to offer, but chooses to set out for the unknown. Restlessness, wanderlust, overlooking the good we already possess, in the hopes of finding something else.
I'm here again. thought Haru in the cold forest, so beautiful, but so alone.
It's like frost: the beautiful patterns of it you get, delicate on grass or growing on a windowpane on a crisp winter morning. They swirl, and grow, like a living thing, and have such a delicate, brittle beauty, sharp and harsh and fragile all at the same time.
And when you try to give love to it, try to see into it properly and learn its true nature, it melts away, under your breath. Your heat, your warmth, you love destroys it, even as you try to understand it.
What a cruel love, this forest. But is it cruel to me, or I to it, this forest of mine? She thought.
Haru gasped, narrowing her eyes, and made a nose in her throat. Her hands were on his antlers. His proud, hard antlers, bare as trees in winter. A cold forest, but one of such beauty.
There! She shuddered, and nuzzled into his shoulder gasping, smelling him, rich and woody, the faint spice of his cologne and fur lightly damped with sweat, before pulling back, satisfied. His breathing was strong but steady on her face, his movements calm and collected, his eyes… sad. Always sad.
There was a brief inhalation, and a pause, Louis fixing her with the deep, liquid, unknowable eyes she loved. He held the moment, tilting his antlers back slightly and arching his back, like a yoga pose, eyes fixed on hers, the sun shining around his antlers like a halo.
My monarch of the glen… dammit Louis! How are you this composed? You're the only person I've ever met who can manage to orgasm elegantly! She thought looking up at him, hands on his antlers, partly angry with him, partly impressed. He was the best lover she'd ever had, that was true, but there was something frustrating about his cold, clinical perfection. A gap between them she couldn't cross, even during sex. A loneliness... but is it mine, or his?
He smiled at her, before kissing her on her throat, under her chin in the way that only he did, and only after sex, like a signature, before moving back from her. She wasn't letting him get away that easily, so she pulled on his antlers, forcing his head down. He smiled faintly and accepted this, letting her put his head on her chest. She cradled his head, hugging it to her breast, enjoying the warmth. Let me have this, Louis. Let me have this moment. She though eyes closed, desperate and tight
Let yourself have this moment. Just be, Louis. Just be. There are no expectations on you here. Just be yourself for one moment. Here and now, I'm not small and weak, and you're not under any expectations. We can just lie like this for a moment as our true selves, and let that moment stretch to an-
Louis kissed her under the throat, and sat upon the bed
-an eternity. She thought, annoyed, opening one eye. Great… he's up.
"Thank you, Haru, I needed this. The organisation of this trip is becoming problematic." He said, looking around. He spotted his clothes, neatly folded, and reached for his underwear. "Is there anything you need? For the gardening club?"
Oh no, not so fast. She thought. "Hey!" she said, grabbing his tail. "Less with the gardening club, why are you even going on this stupid trip? Stay here with me! You'll have more fun, I promise."
"And get more exercise, no doubt." He said, with a half-smile, bushing her hand off so he could get the waist-band of his briefs past her. "No, I have to go. It's expected."
Expected. Though Haru, part sad, part frustrated. If there was ever a word I hate and dread, it's you saying what's "expected" of you Louis.
Expected he can't be seen without his antlers, even though it's natural for deer to shed them once a year. Expected that he never shows his fear or pain. Expected that he's above such petty things as a normal teenage romance.
Expected that he'll marry well, and continue his bloodline.
"And here it was I thought you were head of the Drama club, not the Hiking club. What is it, do you need to give a dramatic soliloquy at the top of the mountain?" she said, striking a melodramatic pose, wrist to fore head, before clutching at a pillow. "Heroically carry a wounded climber down the mountain?" she said cradling the pillow mockingly "Bravely sacrifice yourself to save the other hikers?" she said, mock swooning.
"Don't joke. It's not a trivial hike, the mountains can be dangerous this time of year." He said, part muffled thought a towel and he dried off his tousled facial fur, draping it over it over his shoulders briefly, before patting her thigh affectionately and standing up and starting to dry off his arms, chest muscles moving smooth as oil under taunt wet fur. "Ten animals have died there in the past decade. Eight in one avalanche only a few years ago."
She knelt on the bed, hands before her, head down ears dropped, still clutching the pillow.
"So serious." She muttered sadly. I hadn't thought it was that dangerous. She worried.
"Someone has to be serious about this trip." Said Louis, pacing. "Last time we attempted this, when I was a junior, we had seniors we were also all experienced hikers or climbers. They've all graduated now, only Aoba and I are experienced mountain hikers. Bill has some indoor rock-wall experience and is a passable skier, but I don't know the rest as well as I should. I'm considering not going beyond the pass at all, despite our tradition of aiming for the peak."
"Aren't most of the animals who sighed up mountain creatures? Goats, Ibex, alpaca, an eagle, a tiger?"
"Most." He said, both an admission and a reproach. "We had to take some Art Department to make up the numbers. Dom's apparently a good hiker, for a peacock, but has no mountain experience, just backpacking. And I don't even know the wolf's name…"
"So serious. Well, if you're not going to the top, what's the point in even hiking up a mountain?" she said, tossing her pillow at him as he sat on the bed, pulling on his pants. He gave her a half smile at that, but she could tell he was distracted. I can still feel his heat on that pillow, and already it's back up, that gap between us. That chasm. That void I can't reach across.
"If you're not going to climb the damn thing, just have a hike in the woods around the city! Kagi park, that way I can take the train out to see you! I can hide in the bushes and surprise you!" she said, jumping on his back, joking, hugging at him. "I can wait until you jog past, all tall and rugged, a handsome adventurer, and I could jump out at you, drag you into the wilderness and have my wicked way with you!" she joked, but there was a desperation under her words.
I… I don't want to lose you. Not before I've had a chance to know you, to cross that gap Louis!
Louis smiled, took her under the chin with one hand, gently, and turned her face to his. She stood on the bed, on tip toes, and he was still a head taller than her, not counting antlers. So tall, so proud so… distant. So sad.
She paused, staring deep into his eyes. He narrowed, and then closed them, kissing her gently on the lips before pulling back.
"No." he said.
"Oh come on, I was only joking I-"
He said, turning away, and reaching for his shirt. He spoke calmly, in almost an undertone as he dressed, like he always did, buttoning up without looking at her
"No, we have to have a wilderness hike for the club to qualify for certain athletics grants, you know how it I trying to keep a club funded and running."
She sat on the bed, and sighed. "I know that."
"Then you understand the responsibility laid on me. I tried to convince the School Principe to call off the hike when I realised how few skilled mountaineers we had, but it's too late to make alterative arrangements." He said, half turning back to her, tying his tie.
"I'm under a lot of pressure from the school board for this to be a success, you understand?"
How I hate that tie. She thought. Always neat, always straight, perfect Windsor knot, sliver tie pin with family crest. How I loathe it. It makes him into this: the perfect student, the political animal, the next Beastar; Louis-Senpai.
Screw Louis-Senpai, and screw the Beastar! I want my bleeding bambi, vulnerable, antlerless and hiding from their gaze just like I met him! How dare that adult world take him from me so young! You don't deserve him, and you don't understand how much it costs him to be what you need!
She watching him for a moment, fixing him in her mind as she always did when he left. Beautiful, haughty, proud, perfect.
But not hers. Not even his own. He belongs to them, to that damn tie. You're a person, Louis, not a legacy your father paid for, act like it sometimes.
She sighed, waved a paw, dismissively, tired. "I understand. Stay safe. Don't fall of a cliff, or anything stupid. And don't fall in love with some mountain spirit, I'll be pissed off if I hear you've been sharing a sleeping bag with some Drama Club groupie."
Louis laughed, and tousled her head fur, between her ears, like a child. I wish he wouldn't do that.
"Unlikely. We have chaperones, and I'll be at the front, pace setting for the other males: they're not my type. I'll bring you back something nice, maybe some Alpine edelweiss or something." He said, pronouncing the foreign words carefully. "For your garden."
She waved him away, and collapsed back on the bed, as he stepped out and slid the door closed behind him.
Don't she thought. It doesn't fare well outside its environment. On its mountain, high and cold and lonely, it's the strongest thing in the world. She though, watching Louis walk away again. Take it down here and put it in front of everyone in this place, it withers and slowly dies. And all they say as they're killing it, is how beautiful it is.
It deserves better, Louis.
Act one, Scene four: ascending the mountain The ace of swords: decision, clearness in thought, decisiveness.
Establishing shot of Louis's hands picking up a smooth rock from a mountain stream, old monastery building reflected in the water.
Louis stands, close up on his face contemplating his rock calmly, the peak of the mountain haloed by his antlers: pink and smoky blue in the dawn light and drifting haze, beautiful, perfect, cold, unreachable.
Cut to a wider shot of the other students relaxing by the stream, cooking breakfast over camp-fires, generally enjoying the peace and harmony of nature.
"This is pretty good, isn't it?" asked Tem, feet soaking in the stream. He sat in the centre of a broad grassy bank, Els next to him on one side, Legosi and Dom on the other. Legosi, to his own surprise, nodded. Despite his reservations, the weekend had, so far been… nice. Despite my fears, I'm not yet abducted by an alpaca cult or dead on a mountain-side this is… nice. He glanced sideways. I don't know why, but Tem's made a real effort to be nice to me these past few days, and I don't know why… but I don't mind. I'm sure he has some ulterior motive for this, trying to impress someone, or prove he's not afraid of large carnivores perhaps, but he's not hurting me. I… I don't mind being used so much, so long as it's for a good cause. That's all adults do, anyway.
This has been… nice. He had been very afraid it would be awkward, particularly with his borrowed and hand-me-down sleeping bag and cold weather kit, and being one of only two Art department animals there, but it has worked out for the best: there were so few Art Department people, and every task had required teamwork, that it hadn't been logistically possible for anyone to exclude him or Dom, and the two of them couldn't form a clique on their own, so the Dancers and Actors had just accepted them. All the tents were either three man or five man tents, except Louis who had a small one person tent, in deference to his station, so he'd camped with Tem, Dom, Bill and Aoba, and things had been good natured. It also helped that everyone was so tired after their hike that they slept well, without any fighting or pranks. Tem, he suspected, would have preferred to bunk with Els, and Bill had his eyes on a few of the female cats, but the chaperones wouldn't allow it.
I'm surprised they allow mixed carnivore-herbivore tents. They usually put similar animals together, that why my dorm room is all canines. Well, canines and one hyena. This is the first time I've really spent much time interacting with herbivores. Tem seems okay. More interested in Els than in the trip, but I can't blame him.
"Ahh, no. I've never skied cross contrary, but I'd like to some-day. I will someday, soon! I Like being in the mountains, it seems… right for an alpaca. Or a goat, I suppose, we're not that different as species" Said Tem eagerly, eyes fixed on Els, smile half brave, half nervous. "Do… do you ski Erusu-san?"
"Oh yes, I went to Appi Kogen with my family last year…"
"Dom." Said a voice. The peacock stood up and ducked a formal bow
Louis waved a hand, dismissing the formality, walking out from the shallows, pebble in hand, eyes fixed on the mountain top. "What's the weather forecast for today? If we're going to make an attempt on the peak we should head off now, to maximise daylight."
"Uhh, let me check." He said, pulling out his phone
Louis nodded, and then glanced down at Legosi. "Wolf, you should carry out a radio check every morning! It is a serious responsibility and important to group safety. Please exercise vigilance in this duty. "
"Oh… erm. Of course Louis-Senpai." Said Legosi, flushing with embarrassment and standing, shoulders hunched.
"He, he already has, Louis." Said Dom, looking up from his phone "Twice."
"He… he carried out a check before we went to bed as well, Louis-Senpai." said Tem, standing respectfully. "Contacted the AV club back at school and some local ham operators as well as testing the emergency frequencies, both civil and military."
"He's been practicing since we issued him the kit last week." Added Dom. Legosi groaned internally, looking and Louis's feet rather than addressing him.
No... I' rather Louis thought I was negligent than some sort of obsessive Otaku! Everyone already thinks I'm weird without the most popular guy in school spreading it.
"…I see." said Louis looking Legosi up and down. Tech-otaku, or just diligent in his duties. And why is he staring as my feet? Why won't he look at my face?
"And you let me criticize you, rather than correct me yourself, wolf?" He asked, looking the wolf up and down and trying to ignore the twinge in his foot. Why is he not standing up for himself? He's a wolf… I don't trust this. It's the carnivores who try to hide away you have to look out for.
"Oh … Um…"Said Legosi, thinking. Think! Think of something to say Legosi! "I didn't want to cause a fuss. It's no hardship for me to check it again, if… if you like." he said, glancing up for a moment to look apologetic at Louis before looking back at his feet again. Why is he wearing socks in the water?
Louis followed his eye, and glanced down, before glancing back up, and just for a moment Legosi thought he saw some complex mix of fear anger and shame, but it was gone in an instant.
How presumptuous. Stare all you like, dog. Carnivores have marked me before, I won't let them trouble me again. Thought the deer.
"I-" started Louis in anger.
"Near perfect conditions." Said Dom checking the weather app on his phone, oblivious of the tension that flared and then just as suddenly disappeared. "Satellite imagery and radar is still tracking that big storm cell over the ocean, but it's predicted to make landfall well to the south of here, Louis-Senpai. No predicted precipitation, conditions around three degrees Celsius at that altitude in daylight, so neither freezing, nor problems relating to snow-melt. It suggests only a 2% chance the storm cell with move in to hit us, leaving us with 98% chance of perfect conditions!" Said Dom, looking up eagerly.
Wide angle shot showing Louis glaring at a confused and started looking Legosi, as Dom beams happily between them, Dom's reaction gradually changing to confused as he picks up the vibe. Close up on eyes, Louis Narrow with suspicion, Legosi wide with shock and embarrassment, sweating profusely, Dom confused, cautions, Tem startled by the sudden change in tone, wide eyed, single bead of sweat.
"Good." said Louis, suddenly, breaking the tone, walking back to his tent "Thank you for your dutiful acts. Now, pack up. We move in twenty minutes." He said, ducking under the flap. Once inside, he knelt, suspiciously glanced out of the tent flap to check he wasn't being observed, and then striped off his wet sock, glancing at the number 4 on the sole of his foot. Damn, did the wolf notice I was wearing socks? If he becomes suspicious as to why…
I'll have to conspicuously let him see me bare-foot: he won't see the number right on the bottom of my sole, and if he sees my feet are otherwise normal, he may lose interest.
Why was he staring? Thought Louis, drying off his feet and pulling on fresh socks and hiking boots Is he somehow connected to the black-market, or just afraid to meet my eye? Neither bodes well. He thought, pulling a vicuña-wool turtle-neck and silk-lined-goose-down stuffed parka over his wicking layers. Look on the bright side, he might just be a weirdo with a foot fetish. That would be an unexpected irony. He thought, snorting bitterly. Enough foolishness, time to go.
"Do… do you think Louis is all right?" asked Legosi, as he and Tem packed up one side of their tent, and Aoba and Bill the other.
"Why do you ask?" asked Tem.
Legosi shrugged "He was wearing socks while walking by the river bank. I just wondered if he had a verruca or something." said Legosi shrugging. "It's not important."
Bill laughed. "Ha, the mighty Louis brought down by so unsightly a condition? I doubt it. I imagine his father pays someone else to catch such ailments for him!"
"He sure seemed pissed off when you noticed though." said Tem, spooling up a guide-rope. He then shrugged. "Maybe he's blistered a foot hiking and doesn't want to show weakness in front of us. It's probably something minor like that, Legosi."
"Hum, most probably... I just wondered, was all." Said the wolf, packing his things away carefully. Don't overthink things, Legosi. You always do that.
He sighed. "This is a big tent, how are we taking it with us?"
"Why would be a better question, It'll just slow us down." said Bill kicking it contemptuously. "It's dead weight." He glanced over at Legosi and then his eyes flicked to Dom in the background, sorting out the camera equipment. "It's not the only thing."
Legosi didn't rise to it, but he did clench his hand into a fist, hidden from Bill under the spool of guy-rope.
Bill's been okay with me… ish, but he makes jokes about Dom too often, and too harshly. How Dom lives his life, or what his preferences are is none of Bill's concern. He looked at Bill. He's not a bully, not quite, because everyone else holds him in check. But only because we hold him in check.
"We're taking the tent because if we get stuck up there overnight without one, we'll all be dead weight without it, emphasis of dead." said Tem.
"He's right Bill." Said Aoba, calmly. "It's a dangerous mountain to over-night on. We don't want to get stuck up there, we'd either freeze or starve."
"You wouldn't. You're a bird, you could just fly down." Said Bill
Aoba shook his head. "No. firstly, no license: I'm good for a student flyer, but I'm still learning, and you don't want to learn half way down a half kilometre drop. Secondly, the mountain sits astride two air currents, one warm and wet flowing up from the sea, one cold and dry flowing down from the higher mountains inland. Where they mix you get a huge vortex" he said, taking a tent peg and putting it between his palms, then taking one palm and rubbing it up, the other moving down and making the tent peg slowly rotate between them. "It just spins all the air around and around, even in good weather. The jagged terrain splits that main spiral into many smaller, fiercer vortexes, and smashes them up against the rocks. Experienced flyers avoid it, and the currents are strong enough to take even helicopters and light aircraft when the wind blows from the west. Didn't you read the information board at the monastery? The old monks called it moreu, from the old Ainu. It means 'the whirlpool' or 'the spiral'. The Military uses it to prepare Airborne units for combat drops, but only the lower slopes, in good weather, and they have their own name for it."
"What?" asked Legosi.
"The blender." said Aoba, clicking his beak.
"Nice." Said Tem, sarcastically. "So yeah Bill, we get stuck, and we all freeze or starve."
Bill laughed. "Oh I don't know I'm sure I'd find something to eat…" he said letting his eye wander towards Tem and Dom. "And find myself the materials for nice warm little alpaca coat, or maybe something more glamorous…"
"That… that's not funny!" said Legosi
"Don't respond, Legosi, it just encourages him." Said Tem, coolly focusing on his work and sarcastically ignoring Bill "He's only doing it for attention. Like all cats if you ignore him he soon gets bored and Ow! Don't pinch me, asshole!"
Bill laughed "Just checking there's some meat in there and you're not all wool end-to-end."
"Ass." Muttered Tem, rubbing at his tenderly as Bill walked off, laughing at his own joke. "Why is he like that?" he asked Aoba. Aoba shrugged, but took over Bill's portion of the work.
"He could take it more seriously." Muttered Tem.
"Or at least be less melodramatic about it all." Said Legosi, helping Tem pack his things.
That made Tem smile, ruefully, and look up, slightly confused "You're in the wrong club for that, Legosi."
"Dom, line the club up." Said Louis, stepping out of his tent and tossing a large Bergen backpack containing his affects to the floor. "Once you have, ask for volunteers for the ascent to the peak. Don't accept any that are inexperienced or physically unfit."
Louis nodded, and begun to take down his tent with efficient, practiced movements. After a moment he became aware of a presence at his shoulder, and glace sideways.
"We're done taking our tent apart, Louis-Senpai!" said Tem, cheerfully standing there, clutching the straps on his backpack eagerly, Legosi a pace behind. "Do you require assistance?"
Louis glanced from Tem, to the strange wolf, once.
"No." he said, turning back to his work. "Help Dom get the others organised."
"Hai, Louis-Senpai! Come on Legosi!" said Tem, eagerly jogging ahead. "Let's see if any of the girls are going to try for the peak with us!"
"I…" Girls? Legosi's face contorted into a panicked rictus, brow sweating. "Hey, wait up! No one said anything about girls, Tem. I don't even know how to speak to girls!" he yelled, running after the alpaca.
Tem jogged up to Els and her friends, grinning. " Erusu-san! Erusu-san, will you… er.. that is… would you consider…" Sweat beaded the Alpacas brow. Crap! I don't know how to talk to girls either! Why is this so difficult? Is she staring at me? Why is her friend glaring like that? Do I have food on my shirt? Why is my wool so messy today? It was fine a moment ago! "I mean, would you perhaps be agreeable to… er…"
Close up on Tem's eyes, panicked, as a 2D cartoon alpaca cowers in the background.
"Er… er…" Say something, anything!
"Legosi has a question he wanted to ask you!" said Tem, ginning a terrified rictus, and Kicking the wolf in the ankle as he arrived.
"I do?!" asked Legosi. Tem kicks him again, Legosi catches on. "Oh… right I do." He said, looking up as in thought for a moment. "Louis asked us to see who wanted to make an attempt on the peak…" he glanced down at the alpaca. Tem smiled and nodded, desperately making A 'keep going' gesture behind his back.
"So what Tem is a in fact asking you is…" said Legosi
"Will you climb the peak with me?" asked Tem. "Er… by which I mean with us, the advanced hiking team? Not me specifically. I mean, I'll be there, sure just… just…" panicked grin intensifies.
"Just it's more or a team effort, you know?"
Els looked down shyly, also sweating nervously, as her friends giggled with embarrassment. She's just as awkward as Tem thought Legosi. How does Tem not see it?
Els blushed, and looked at Tem's shoes, before looking back up.
"Thank you, that would be very nice. They say the view is very beautiful this time of year, Tem. Don says he's going to photograph the top, to see if he could capture that beauty."
"I… beautiful." muttered Tem, staring back at her wide-eyed. I… I think my brain just broke. Thought Tem.
Legosi clearly agreed, taking Tem by the shoulders and gently steering him away before he could embarrass himself. "Well, that's all we needed to check… er, for Louis. Arigatō Erusu-san!" said Legosi, waving as he walked Tem away.
"Are you okay?" he asked quietly, as he walked Tem around.
"She… she said yes." Muttered Tem "Ah, she said yes, and it's all thanks to you, Legosi!" yelled Tem suddenly punching the air. "She said yes! You, you my friend are a good luck charm! She said yes!"
"Oh… er... it was nothing. I didn't even do anything." protested Legosi. "Just stood there, really."
"But you were there! I… this is a great day, by friend! Me and Els are climbing up the peak together!" said Tem, smiling and looking up at Legosi. "Me… Me and Els are climbing up the peak together."
Close up on Tem's horrified face.
"Ahhh! Els and I are climbing up the mountain together!? What a disaster! I don't know how to talk to girls, what will I say?Legosi, what shall I do? She'll think I'm weird!"
"I… I don't know, I don't know how to talk to girls either! I am weird, how can I help?"
"Oh. Oh no. I'm doomed." Muttered Tem.
Legosi shrugged, and steered Tem into line, with the others. If you could call it a line: not many of the drama club regulars were interested in the cold and challenging advanced hike, some preferring, particularly the female ones, to admire the view as Louis bent over to take down his tent, giggling at playing some some of card game.
"So, the Magus is the first card?" asked a student, as Shelia the leopard held up a highly decorated playing card, showing a wise looking deer in strange clothing, one hand raised to the heavens, one pointed to the earth.
"Yes, and no. The Fool has no number, so some think it should be counted as the first card in the deck, before the Magus. I suppose it depends on your philosophy: is the world ordered and wise, or does it start and end with chaos? Which has pre-eminence? Who's the story about, the wise one or the fool?"
"Come on, she's had her turn!" protested a student "Can you read my future now? I want to see who my true love is!"
"That's not how it works." Objected Sheila, laying out the cards. "Besides, no matter how many times I do it for you, it's not going to say Louis."
"Aww, you're no fun!"
"What are you doing?" asked Legosi, looking over.
"Tarot. Want to see your future, Legosi?" asked Sheila
The big wolf considered this, glancing at his massive, clawed hands, turning them over. Do you really think your fate has anything kind in it for you Legosi? Anything good in your future?
"No. No thank you. I'd… I'd rather it be a surprise." He said, hiding his hand behind his back, embarrassed.
"Oh! Do me!" said Tem "Will I find love? And if so, what the heck do I do then!? Help me!"
"Let's find out." Said Shelia, shuffling and laying out the first card.
Close up on the clean, cool grass as a card is dealt: Death, the Reaper, drawn to resemble Adler. Cut to shot of everyone being round in a circle to look, Tem front and centre, teeth clenched, clearly terrified. Legosi leans over his shoulder to look, eyes half closed as is his habit.
"Oh… that, that doesn't look good." He said to Tem.
"No, no that's a common mistake: Death in the Tarot could mean bodily death, or it could mean the death of one phase of your life and the start of another. It's not a bad first card." Said Shelia.
"Oh." Said Legosi, glancing own and giving Tem's shoulder a gentle re-assuring squeeze. "See, don't worry."
"I… I wasn't worried." said Tem, trying to laugh it off. "Not one bit. Next card!"
Everyone huddles around again, watching, as the next card is laid.
Death. Sheila frowns and lays another card, and then another. All four are Death.
"I… this is really weird." Said Sheila, scratching her head. "Something's wrong: there's only supposed to be one of each card in the deck."
"Ah, see, you suck at this!" yelled one of the female students. "Look, if you can't tell which of us will end up with Louis-senpai, just read his future so we know that way!"
"No, its terribly bad luck to do a reading for someone without their knowledge or permission."
"Oh, don't be a wuss, it's not hard, you just ask a question, lay out a bunch of cards and then flip them over." said the student, snatching the the deck. "Like this, what does Louis-senpai's immediate future hold for him?"
"No!" objected Sheila, knocking the deck out of her hands. "That's so rude!" she said, as unnoticed by her, a splash of cards land face-down, just as the question is asked.
"Uggg, fine, this is stupid. Why are we even lining up here?"
"Louis is going to ask who wants to go on the harder hike." Legosi told them.
"And get all sweaty climbing up a freezing cold death-mountain? No thanks, I'm going on the nature walk."
Several of the students agreed.
"Don't be so cowardly. We're going. Right Legosi?" said Tem.
"Wait, you're going?" asked Kai, still angry that he came second in the audition to Tem . "You?" asked the mongoose, looking him up and down, arms folded. "Little bean-sprout pipsqueak Tem is going with the big-boys? As if."
"Less of the pipsqueak, in the exact same height as you." Said Tem, standing up and bushing off his clothes, haughtily "And besides, I'm an alpaca, asshole: as a proper mountain species, I'd do it in no time, whereas a lowland mongoose would probably collapse and need rescue before they got half way!"
"Ah! You think you're so smart because you did a little better in audition, wool-face? I was raised by hyenas, you dolt, animals with stamina for days! I could make that climb, and I bet I could get to the top before you!"
"Is that a challenge?" asked Tem, one hand on the strap of his backpack, staring the mongoose down coolly."
"You bet it is, fluffbutt!" yelled Kai. Tem grinned, and held out a hand. Kai shook it eagerly. "I'm going to break you, alpaca, I'll leave you in the dust!"
"We'll see." Said Tem, grinning.
"I… is it a good idea to make a competition of this?" asked Legosi, once Kai had left. "It's tough enough as it is, without extra drama."
"Don't worry." said Tem, popping the top of a bottle of pre-mixed sweetened green tea, sipping, and then offering the bottle to Legosi, who politely declined. "It will all be all right. We've got Louis's leadership and the world's strongest radio operator, what could go wrong?"
"Line up." Said Louis. Walking down the line, inspecting the group. "The drama club team-building hike is an old and respected tradition, a chance to make new bonds of friendship within the club, and view and meditate on nature's sublime power for artistic inspiration." He said. "Carried out every year for over fifty years of the club's history, and once again I am proud to be here and a part of it. Are you?"
"Hai, Louis-senpai!" chorused the club.
"And every year, while most of the group take part in a nature walk and improvisation acting session in the woods, here on the lower slopes, it is our tradition to take any hikers skilled and determined enough, on an assent of the peak to lay stones on the top as a gesture of our deep respect of the mountain and it's fierce spirit! This is not required, and there is no official extra academic merit for doing this thing: it is done for its own sake, if that doesn't make sense to you, or if you're not an experienced and determined hiker who will take this seriously, do not step forward." He said, before stopping in front to the line, and tuning to face them, striking a fierce pose.
"But if you are, step-forwards, and be counted!"
He glanced up and down the line, as animals moved Bill, Aoba, the wolf: those I expected.
Tem, Dom and Kai, those I did not. he thought. Well, Tem is an alpaca, I should have expected he'd be keen. Dom has not shamed himself in any task I've asked of him: despite appearances, he's very capable, organised and understands the limits of his body, not over pressing himself. Plus he wants photos to inspire his scenery paintings. Kai… is he even a good hiker? Louis cursed himself I don't know. I don't know any of them as well as I should!
He glanced sideways. Shelia and a few of the female members had also stepped forwards, about the same number as the males, plus the adult chaperone, and other than Shelia herself, and maybe Els, he wasn't confident in any of them.
I need to cut the numbers: twelve is too many for one instructor to manage on such a tough hike over tight mountain paths without experienced guides. This trip is a mistake! Damn the school board for laying this on me!
Quite suddenly, the chaperone groaned, clutched their mouth, and ran for the nearest set of bushes. Louis looked on with surprise, but several of the female students groaned, as if they were expecting this. He glanced over to Shelia.
"Food poisoning, they've been like this all night." She said. There was some groaned complaints from the students.
"Gross, that's so nasty, do you think that-"
"Show some sympathy, they look really sick, how would you like it if-"
"I told you those ramen looked spoiled-"
"Enough!" Yelled Louis. "Silence, show some respect for a school faculty member! Cease this shameful display" he shouted, nostrils flaring angrily. "Shelia, they have been like this all night?"
"Hum. I see. Unfortunately, school regulations are clear on this point!" he said, raising his voice. "Co-ed activates outside of the school campus may only take part with an adult chaperone present. I'm sorry. Shelia, if female club members still want a more challenging hike, take them to the old waterfall and hot springs." He said, pointing into the woods "Run them thought the river nymph scheme from last year's spring play, it should be a good spot for that. I'll take the male volunteers up to the peak without the female hikers."
"What?!" yelped Tem, before realising he'd spoken, and covering his muzzle with both hands.
Louis glared. "Something the matter Tem? Did you have other plans for today, when you volunteered for this hike?"
"I…. no Louis-senpai! No other plans!"
"That's what I thought. Okay, there are seven of us, so grab two three-man tents, Bill, Aoba, you're the strongest, take those, and one solo tent, I'll take my own. Dom, take the photographic equipment. Legosi already has the radio, and seeing as Tem doesn't' have any plans for the day he can go to the the camp supplies and take enough emergency rations for everyone."
"Hah, suck it, wool-face!" said Kai, pointing.
"Thank you for volunteering to take the water and camp stove, Kai." said Louis, with a glare.
"I… aww, but they're really heavy! That's unfair!"
"Consider it a valuable lesson in speaking out of turn." Said Louis. "Check your gear, everyone, and then let's go, we're wasting daylight. And don't forget your rocks." He said, brandishing his as he walked away.
"Oh boy, the waterfall springs!" said a female student, rushing past Tem as he started into the middle distance with a horrified expression. "And with no chaperone? Do you think we can go swimming, Sheila?"
"Sure, why not?"
"I… I forgot my swim-suit." Said Els, shyly. One of her friends giggled.
"Oh, it's just us girls, who needs swimsuits?"
"Tem!" yelled Louis, in the distance. "Rations! You don't want to be stuck up there without them!"
Tem stared, from Els and the girls rapidly departing in the direction of the springs, to the boys heading off towards the bleak and cold looking mountain, and clutched at his head. "Ahhhh! Why am I climbing this stupid mountain again? I've made a horrible mistake!"
"It… it could be worse." said Legosi, lifting a large rock out of the water, and then passing a smaller one, dripping and cold, to Tem. "At least you're with friends."
"Move it, tampon-face!" said Kai, shoving Tem with his elbow as he staggered past under the weight of cooking gear and the huge rock he'd grabbed in a fit of machismo. "You're stranding between me and my victory over you!"
Tem looked to Legosi, eyes wide, mouth open, ears back. Legosi shrugged. They set off, Tem grumbling all the way.
Behind them, Shelia picked up her cards, Turing them over curiously. The two of swords, The fool, the knight of swords, the five of wands, the three, eight, nine and ten of swords, the ten of wands, and then a cluster over here, the tower, the hermit and the hanged man, all arranged in a triangle. How strange. She thought. There are two cards overlying each other to one side of the triangle, equidistant between the tower and the hermit: the lovers, and the queen of coins, a symbol for a woman wise beyond her years, but that's off to one side, distant. There, in the centre off the triangle, central to it all, what the whole thing is rotating around. A pivot. She turned it over.
Act one, Scene five: the peak The two of swords: indecision, confusion, conflict, tension below the surface
"Aw, I can't believe I'm going up this mountain all alone!" complained Tem, carefully walking up the narrow mountain path, hands on shoulder-straps, eyes on the feet of the animal in front on him, Dom as it happened: Louis had put the two most experienced hikers at the front, Him, then Aoba. The weaker hikers he'd put in the middle to keep them safe, Kai, Dom, Tem. Legosi followed, and then Bill, the physically strongest at the back to help anyone who fell behind. It also meant that there was a physical barrier between Tem and Kai, and it also stopped Bill from bullying Dom, which Legosi didn't think was accidental.
It also puts a lot of space between Louis and any Predator larger than him. Thought Legosi. I wonder it that's intentional of not? Louis seems confident and quiet and calm, as always… But for some reason, I don't think he likes me. He glanced backwards, eyes narrow. And he's a fool if he thinks he can take Bill out from the main group and not have him show-off or act out.
"You… you're not alone, Tem." Asked Legosi, careful to be non-threatening, leaning in lower and speaking softly, as he had to when dealing with herbivores.
"Errr, sure, sure Legosi. Right. But I mean… I was hoping for more animals to come along, It's such a great trip." He said, tired, sweaty, panting slightly and staggering on the rough ground under the weight of his pack, sending twinges all up his legs and chafing his shoulders. "I'm so glad I'm here, I just wish all my friends were here!"
"Hah!" said Bill, behind him. "Are you sure it's not a specific friend you're missing, Tem?" leering at the alpaca.
"I… I don't know what you're talking about." Said Tem, nervously. The big wolf is right behind me. He realised, sweating. Close enough to smell my fear, they can do that. Now would be a very bad time for him to work out I only invited him to get close to Els.
"Still, you're right." Said Bill, twisting the knife. "Things would be more fun with a larger, more varied group, what a pity that the chaperone was unwell. I know it's called Seinen mountain and not Josei mountain, but this hike could be far more pleasant with some feminine company, Dom not included."
"Less of that." called Louis. "Focus on walking, not talking, this is dangerous terrain." He said, gesturing to their left. The path, called the High Stair, hugged the side of the mountain, switch-backing many times. On their right, there was a solid mass of blue-grey stone, with occasional patches of white snow and tiny, hardy wildflowers. To their left… nothing. A drop of over a hundred meters before you'd hit the previous stretch of the Stair, and then a greater drop to the snow-fields above the mountain pass.
"Right boss!" called Bill, before lowering his tone to keep it too quiet for Louis to hear. "Hum: Louis is just upset that there's someone prettier than him on this trip. That peacock has no business being here, it's and camping trip, not a camp trip. This used to be an actors retreat, no reason for limp-wristed Art Department to be along. Oh, No offense Legosi. Forgot you were here." He said, leaning in by the wolfs ear and whispering.
"But that's what you like, isn't it? For everyone to forget you're here? Live peacefully in the background, eh? That's no way for a predator to live if you ask me, but each to his own, and you are so very good at it. Funny you chose to come on this trip, eh? Unusually forward of you. Now, did someone perhaps encourage you? Peer pressure's a terrible thing, especially when there's an ulterior motive."
"Right Tem?" he asked, grinning. Kai laughed at that.
"What… what are they talking about?" asked Legosi.
"I… er, well." Said Tem, sweating profusely. Oh no!
Kai, snorted. "Oh come on, wake up and smell the Pheromones, Legosi." Said the Mongoose, struggling with his giant rock. "Tem's got a massive crush on Els and only invited you on the trip as a way to talk to her."
Vertigo dolly-zoom effect on Tem's face and jarring sound cue, with his teeth clenched, wide eyed and ears back with fear, while over his shoulder Legosi is likewise in wide eyed, tiny pupiled with shock, action lines in background.
"Errr…" said Tem, freezing up. Oh no… Caught. He's going to eat me!
"I… I don't understand." Said Legosi. How would inviting me help him get a girl? I'm not a chick magnet. Am I? He thought, confused
"Ha, it's true." Said Bill, shoving Legosi slightly to get him to keep walking. He did, forcing Tem to move as well, like dominoes.
"Now, a sensible creature, like me, knows there's only one reason to be in the Drama Club, Art Department Kid: fame. You do it to get on that stage in front of everyone, and get your face out there. Get noticed, get popular. Louis understands this, hell, he's perfected it. Look at us." Said Bill, spreading his arms.
"Following our brave leader into the mighty wilderness, just so that Dom can get a photo of him atop the mountain for the school paper. The mighty Louis-senpai, head of the drama club, heir apparent to his father's fortune, honour student and sure to be the next Beastar. This isn't a school club, morons, it's his election campaign. He's using the drama Club as a political platform, and that's smart because that's the only good use for it.
"Now, I'm of the opinion that this is correct and proper, I'm going to get famous and popular because of this." He said, jerking a claw at himself. "But some of the… the less worldly members of the club actually buy into that myth that the drama club is a place for animals of all species to work together and build bonds of friendship and harmony. It's not: it's a contest, a struggle for dominance, like all life is.
"Els, Tem's intended squeeze, just so happens to be one of these creatures, looking for good faith and companionship. Tem's looking for companionship too, but of a more horizontal nature, and why not? I'm only here to attract a nice piece of feline ass, but when your intended is more in love with these high ideals of friendship than she is with you, sometime you need to adopt the odd lost puppy to impress her as to your good intent. Right Tem?
"And what could prove that you're all about that goodwill between species crap more than inviting that creepy wolf who no one else would. Am I right?"
"Am I right?!" asked Bill, louder, shoving Legosi so he stumbled forwards into Tem, almost tripping them both.
"Asshole!" yelled Legosi, rounding on Bill, fist clenched. "Don't screw around like that half way up a mountain, you almost had us all over the edge!"
"Oh, yeah. Right." he said, stoking his chin. "And we need both of you to live through this if Els is to get her much overdue deflowering, right?" he said, laughing. "Far be it for me to get in the way of Tem's little love scheme? You know getting her dunk's faster, right Tem? If you like I could do it for you if you lack the balls…"
"Take that back, asshole!" yelled Tem, also balling his fist. Bill laughed. "Make me, little wool-ball. You know that cats like to play with yarn, right? I wonder if the yarn likes it back…" he said, reaching out and making a joking clawing gesture at Tem .
To his surprise, Legosi stepped sideways, between him and Tem, shoulders squared, ears down, eyes narrowed.
"Out of my way, dog." Said Bill, reaching past.
"No." growled Legosi. "I-"
"What's going on back there!" yelled Louis, stood at a turn in the path above then, hands on shoulder straps of his pack, looking back, haloed in light. All four participants, Kai was watching transfixed, snapped out of it and realised where they were. They were bunched up as if about to fight, on a barely one-meter wide path, with a lethal drop to one side.
"Control yourselves, or I'll make you walk alternating predator-prey to stop you baring your fangs at each other! What a disgraceful display, Bill, and you, wolf, shake on it and make up, now! I won't have this in my Drama Club, let alone half way up a damn mountain!" Louis yelled, shrugging of his pack and walking a few paces closer to them. "Shake on it! Now!"
Bill and Legosi looked at each other, Legosi's expression slowly fading from anger, to shame, to contrition. He nodded. Bill just kept half-grinning, smugly.
Close up on hands held out, Bill first. Legosi reluctantly puts his huge hand out to shake Bill's. Bill takes it and of course tries to crush it with a strong handshake. Cut to Bill's face, suddenly looking shocked as Legosi not only shows no pain, but squeezes back. Cut to close up on Legosi's eyes narrowed, determined. Cut back to handshake, vibrating as both try to dominate the other.
Louis noticed, and sighed. "Cut that out, idiots. Get some water, everyone, and take a short break. I can see you're all tired and starting to act irrationally in the lower oxygen!" he shorted, disgusted with them, looking over, assessing them.
"Tem, undo your parka."
"Huh?" he said, turning back from watching the carnivore handshake with horrified fascination.
"You're sweating: I can see it from here. If you're perspiring like that then you have too many layers on: if your clothes get wet up here, the sweat will freeze if the temperature drops, and we have no way to dry them or warm you if that happens. Unzip the parka, you too Kai. Everyone change your socks for dry ones, if you have them: tie your wet ones to your pack-straps so they can dry; wet feet up here is a recipe for frostbite. Five minutes rest, then we move on to the peak."
With some grumbling, the group sat down cross-legged, and begun to struggle with bootlaces and grab water bottles and snacks.
Close up on Tem, nervous and unsure, as Legosi sits down next to him, back to the rock face, so large compared to Tem the camera has to pan back to get them both in shot.
"I… er… thank you. For dealing with Bill." Said Tem, fiddling with this bootlace nervously.
"Oh… er…. It's nothing. He was being a bully. Is…" Do you want to ask?" thought Legosi. "Is… is it true, what he said? You only asked me to come along to impress Els? Pretended to be my friend to impress her?" he said, fidgeting with a drink bottle, distracted
"Err… yes." Tem said, guilty and miserable. "I mean, not entirely…. But mostly, if I'm honest. Not so much impress as… as prove I wasn't a jerk, which I now realise makes me more of a jerk. I'm sorry, Legosi. I… I just wanted her to talk to me."
"I… I'm sorry, okay? But please, if you're going to beat me up over this, please do it back at the main camp, not up here!" Tem said, raising a palm nervously. "Or better yet at school, where we have nurses!"
"Oh I, I don't want to hurt you. It… it's okay. I kind of suspected you had some reason to bring me along." Confessed Legosi. "I just figured you were trying to convince someone you weren't afraid of a large predator, or or maybe scare off a bully by having me as a body-guard. I never figured it would be a girl, that's a new one."
"You… you suspected I was tricking you, and you came anyway?" asked Tem. Legosi nodded. "Why?" Asked Tem.
Legosi shrugged, playing with the bottle. "People use each other, that's just a fact. I don't mind it so much. I… you were nice to me, Tem. Always. Nice to Dom too, you've always been polite and respectful to the Art Department. You're not a bad guy, so I figured if I could help you out, even if I didn't know what it was I was helping with, I'd do it. Besides, I got a nice trip out of it."
"Er… so…" said Tem, staring. "You're not mad at me?"
Legosi made a face, muzzle wrinkling. "A little, but not so much as I am at Bill. You weren't hurting anyone, so I guess I have no cause to be angry. I'm not going to beat you up, if that's what you're worried about."
"Oh, well that's a relief I guess. I'm sorry, Legosi. I… I didn't mean to hurt you, I just wanted Els to notice me. Will you accept my apology?"
Legosi sipped at his drink, and nodded. "Yes, of course."
Tem beamed up at him, a little nervously, and extended his hand. "Friends? For real this time? Ah! Please don't squish my hand to mochi like Bills!"
Legosi smiles, and took the hand, careful not the hurt the alpaca. "Sure, friends."
Tem beamed. "Thank you. Kit-kat? Matcha favour?"
"Oh, thank you, but I'm allergic to chocolate."
"Oh, of course, I'm sorry I should have known. I… Are those your socks?" asked Tem, spotting Legosi changing to dry gym socks.
"I… yes. Why?" Oh god what's wrong with them! Thought Legosi Are there holes? Do they stink? Dog hair, it's Collot's damn hair again, isn't it?
"They're so thin! You must be freezing, here, take these." Said the alpaca, digging into his pack. "I know I have some more in here somewhere, I was using them as padding…"
"Oh, that's okay! I can't always get socks in my size, so I'm limited in what brands I can wear-"
"No, it's okay, my mom always sends me socks, but she doesn't know how to turn a heal properly so they're more like giant tubes. I could almost get my head in some of them: They won't fit me, but might do for you."
Legosi waved him away, frantically, embarrassed by a gift he couldn't repay "I, no that's okay I don't need- oh." These are soft. They might fit, too. He thought, as Tem handed him a balled up pair of tube socks. Too soft….
"These feel expensive; I couldn't take them from you Tem. What are these even made of? It doesn't even feel real."
"Alpaca wool. Don't worry, friend, I've got plenty to spare." He joked, tugging at the downy fuzz on his neck.
"I… Dōmo arigatō, Tem-kun. I don't deserve these."
"Hey, we're friends now! No sweat!" said the alpaca, grinning, and downing bottled tea. "Put them on before you freeze your giant toes off!"
Toes. Legos thought, snapping his eyes sideways. Louis was changing socks too, like the others. Legosi caught a glimpse of his feet. Looks normal. Maybe he isn't hiding anything and-
Legosi caught Louis's eye, and involuntary shuddered. Louis's eyes were half closed, hooded, watchful, calm… and staring at him with a coldness that dwarfed that of the thin air. A hostility he couldn't name, but instantly felt.
He… he let me see him. Why? What's his plan, what does this signify? What the hell is going on?
When did hiking become so emotionaly charged? I should have stayed at home with the guys and risked their ringworm! He thought
He turned back, and shuddered, pulling the socks on, before grabbing a snack. "Thank you. Egg sandwich?"
"Eww, no, thank you."
"Oh, okay." Said Legosi, sitting back and eating his snack, to distract himself, huge feet dangling over the edge of the drop. "That's… that's some view." He said, looking over the countryside, the single shimmering field of gold that was the sea in the distance, fluffy clouds and the city, barely a smudge along the coast
Tem nodded. It was.
Louis stood up, took a small measured sip from his canteen, and then nodded to Aoba.
"Right, we should head off, now, to make the peak before noon. "
"Hum?" said Aoba, staring into space over the mountain; head slightly raised, as if listening for something.
Louis paused; it wasn't like the big eagle to get distracted.
"Hey! Is anything the matter?" he asked.
Aoba looked over, and then shrugged, tuning his face back to the wind. "I'm not sure… Dom, do you feel that?"
"No, feel what?"
"The last lingering traces of heterosexually leaving?" joked Bill.
"Shut it!" yelled Louis. "Aoba, what is it?"
"Not sure. Dom, stand and close your eyes, do you feel anything?" asked the eagle. The Peafowl sighed, but then stood as requested and closed his eyes, waiting.
"No, I'm not sure what you're… oh. Oh! The air pressure! It just dropped like a stone!"
"Damn, you felt it too?" asked the eagle. "I had hoped I was imagining it. The weather's changing Louis."
"I… I can see clouds over the sea." Volunteered Tem.
"Oh, me too!" said Kai. "They look angry. Are they heading this way?"
Louis looked to Aoba, who shrugged, and turned to Dom, who looked at his phone.
"Errr, I have no signal. I'm not sure. Is that the storm front?"
"Could be." Said Legosi, standing up and shading his eyes with a hand. "There are nimbostratus clouds, with altostratus, cirrostratus, and cirrus forming above them, like a typical warm front hitting cold air and rising over it." He noticed the weird look he was getting. "I… I like the weather channel. I find it soothing."
"Nerd." Said Bill.
"Should… should we turn back?" asked Tem "That looks scary."
"Says the guy desperate to get back to his girlfriend." Said Bill. "How far are we from the peak? 15, 20 min's, tops? We should press on. Should still be back at the woods, below the pass, long before those clouds hit us. Tem can get back into his nice warm sleeping bag and pine over the fact he wants Els but only has us ugly bastards for company!"
"Shut it, stripe-ass!" yelled Tem.
"What should we do?" asked Dom "Do we go on, or turn back, Louis-senpai?"
Louis froze up Damn, if that's is the storm front, I don't want to be anywhere near here when it hits.
But if it's not… there is a lot of athletics grant funding and prestige riding on this trip, and we are only a quarter hour from the peak … 30 minutes there and back...
"We didn't come this far to give up. We press on." Said Louis, picking up his bag. "Roll out: I want us to do this last stage in record time."
"Hai, Louis- senpai!"
And let's pray I don't live to regret this. Thought Louis, heading off
Above him, the peak stood, waiting.
Act one, Scene six: The high stair The knight of swords, the berserker: conflict, tragedy, wrath, Impatience, Fanaticism, Blind addiction to action as opposed to thought. May also may indicate initiative and courage
Montage of stones being stacked, focus on rocks and hands, as each young man lays his stones on the ramshackle cairn on the bleak, beautiful mountain-top, a single wooden post rising proud from the centre, covered with pined prayer-scrolls brittleing in the cold and breaking in the wind. The light is flat, matte, bruise-purple as clouds press in in front of the sun. No sound but wind and ragged breath.
Single camera flash, tired looking group huddled in front of the cairn, in ill-fitting parkas, being buffeted by the wind. Legosi holding Tem and Kai as the wind keeps buffeting them, Louis front and centre, looking anything but happy, with everyone wearing school ties over their cold weather gear: an old traditional joke from the first school trip to climb here.
Long shot of the partly rapidly leaving, the word fleeing might be fitting, Louis waving the team down the path, hasty to get them away. Bill lingers for a selfie with the monument to lost climbers, by the side of the main cairn. Louis shouts at him, but his words are lost in a fog-horn blast of wind. Bill shrugs him off, waving dismissively, Louis bellows again, wind howls, low and mournful. Bill finally comes, but not before stumbeling and knocking over the monument's sign listing the names of the fallen when Louis isn't looking, before freezing guiltily and then quickly leaving himself.
Lightning flashes in the distance, too far for any thunder to be heard. Overhead crane-shot of the climbers fleeing the peak, hoods up against the wind, light so flat it's under-saturated, almost greyscale or sepia. Thunder finally sounds, low, sullen, rumbling, like a tin-sheet effect in a school play.
The group gathers together on a wide ledge, at the top of the high stair: the emergency camp site. Kai almost falls flat, the wind catching his huge bag, and Tem is clinging to Legosi's leg to stay upright.
"Louis!" yelled Aoba, getting within inches of the deer's face, and shouting to be heard. "We need to shed some kit! The weight of all this equipment is slowing us down. Look at poor Tem, that giant backpack is just acting like a sail!"
"And ditch all our survival equipment just as things get bad, are you insane!" yelled Bill. "Come on, let's just press on!"
"Not ditch: re-distribute!" yelled Aoba. "Break up the weight better: take what we don't need right now and leave it here weighed down with rocks, as a survival cache: make do with only one of the big tents, and break it up between Bill and me so we're carrying half the weight each, re-distribute Tem's rations and Kai's camp-gas, so we don't have all the food or all the fuel in one pack! If anything goes wrong we can come back here for the equipment, if not we'll move faster without it, and you know it!"
"And how long would it take to unpack and re-pack all the bags on the top of a damn mountain as the weather goes to hell around us!" yelled Bill. "An hour, forty minutes at best? We'd lose more time than we'd save, and that's assuming nothing blows away and gets lost. You want to see Dom Mary Poppins into the distance because the tent canvas catches the wind at the wrong time and turns into a fricking parachute!?"
"I hate to agree with him but he's right, we should have done that way earlier, we just don't have time now!" shouted Louis, unable to raise his hood due to his antlers. I should have done it earlier, damn it! He thought, cursing himself I'm making mistakes here, and now they're they're compounding. We can't stop now, only press on: if we look back we're lost. "Wolf, what's the situation on the radio?" he shouted.
Legosi, heavy two-way radio in front of him, clutched the ear-peace to his head, and desperately adjusted the dials with his other hand.
"Not good!" He admitted. "There's a very strong signal broadcasting on the military frequency, quite close to us, and its drowning out most of our signal: both the civilian and military distress channels are swamped with encrypted traffic, there must be a test going on or a military exercise or something! But I am getting the weather station, the main body of the storm-front has shifted, its heading right for us Louis-senpai!" he yelled "We've got about four hours before we're snowed-under!"
"Can we make it through the pass in that time?" Bleated Tem.
"Yeah, are we going to make it?" asked Kai, clearly terrified.
"If we're fast…" said Aoba. "We'd not make it back to the others, but we'd be below the tree-line and have good shelter, we could overnight safely there. "
"Damn! All right, pack it up! Let's get moving, Now!" yelled Louis. "Bill, and you, wolf boy! You're the two strongest, partner up with the smaller animals! Bill you take care of Kai, Wolf, you've got Tem. Make sure they don't fall. Aoba, look out for Dom, I'll bring up the rear! Move!"
Cut to the party making their way back down the High Stair. As they do, the wind eases off somewhat, but the ominous clouds on the horizon keep approaching.
Close up on Kai's terrified face, at the front of the group as Bill hurries him along, Tem and Legosi following.
"Oh gods oh gods oh gods… I'm going to die!" whispered Kai, panicking "I'm going to die! Why am I even doing this, I don't even get academic credit for this! Proving Tem wrong isn't worth dying for!"
"Hey move it short stuff!" yelled Bill, shoving him lightly to keep him moving faster down the narrow, winding path. "Don't bunch up, this bit of the path is fragile, it won't take the weight if we all stand in one spot!"
"Hey quit it, you're going to make me fall! Oh gods, Tem! This I all your fault! I shouldn't even be here!" Yelled Kai.
"Hey asshole, no one asked you to be here!" yelled Tem "If you weren't so keen to prove you're better than me, over some stupid audition you flubbed, you'd be on the nature walk!"
"I never flubbed that line, asswipe!"
"Oh, really? If I were to live without you, I'd be ever inconceivable, my love? It's clearly inconsolable, you stupid fricking mongoose!" yelled Tem.
"Guys, is this the best time and place for this!?" yelled Aoba. "This-" he had to reach out a hand, to steady Dom as he slipped. "This is difficult enough as it is!"
"Yeah, because we've got to look after three incompetent tiny climbers who shouldn't be here!" yelled Bill. "Two of which and the wolf are only here because the damn midget llama wanted to get his dick wet!"
"Hey!" yelled Tem.
"And speaking of the wolf, Legosi, if you're so interested in the weather channel and, you know, you're carrying the damn radio, would it have killed you check on the storm cell, I don't know, literally any point before the last minute, rather than spending all weekend bonding with your new boyfriend! God-dammit, I knew the reputation of the drama club before I joined, but is anyone in the art team heterosexual?"
"Knock it of Bill!" said Legosi. "Stop that, you asshole!"
"Knock it off all of you!" yelled Louis, from the back. "Now's not the time! And don't bunch up, this is a fragile path, spread your weight out!"
"Oh, that's a neat trick Legosi, you open your big mouth, and Dom and Tem's voice comes out! Why are you standing up for them? If they have something to say to me, let them have the balls to say it!" yelled Bill, turning to face Legosi. "Where do you get off, herbivore-lover? I'm carrying the tent so we don't all freeze, I'm leading the way, I'm practically carrying this damn mongoose, and you know why? Because I use my strength, not sulk in the background like a kicked puppy! Why is it when something needs doing, me and Aoba are the only two carnivores here, but when they need someone to play with the radio or stand up for some useless herbivore you're suddenly the biggest guy in the world!" He said, shoving Legosi, before truing down to Tem.
"Your friend's dead weight, and I'm not going to die up here just so some woolly little otaku can lose his virginity!" he said, shoving Tem back into Legosi's legs, tripping him. Legosi falls over, backwards, arms flailing, landing awkwardly on his backpack.
Crack! X-ray zoom-in on the backpack, showing the radio smash. Cut to faces: Bill, shocked and embarrassed, Louis angered, Legosi, horrified.
Legosi scrambled up into a crouch, taking of the pack and frantically rummaging through it It… it was an army surplus radio! Hardened to military specs! Tougher than an old Gameboy, It, it might be okay… It might it-
Legosi touched the cold, rough plasticized metal of the case, and felt it shift under his hand with the brittle rattle of dead electronics. It was built tough, but it wasn't designed to have 70-plus kilos of wolf dropped on it, it seemed.
"I… Legosi, is it okay?" asked Bill.
Close up on Legosi's balling fist, and wrinkling muzzle and he pulls back his lips, baring his teeth.
"Did, did you break it?" asked Bill.
Legosi shoots up, snarling, and swings at Bill. Bill catches the fist, looking shocked. Cut to Legosi's and Bill's legs, the sudden movement of their large bodes coming together traps Tem, forcing him to hurriedly step back, out the the way…. Right up to the edge of the drop. Close up on his right boot-heal, almost overhanging the edge, and a slight crack widens under his weight.
Circling camera movement, panning around Legosi and Bill locked together, with hands clenched over each other's shoulders, snarling and shoving, as lightning flashes in the distance. Music plays: Beastars OTS, track nine "the limits"
"Did I break it? You arrogant asshole! What are you doing shoving someone like that half way up a cliff!? Idiot! Someone needs to teach you a lesson Bill!"
"Oh, and is that someone going to be you, you pathetic mutt?!" Bill yelled, shoving back, forcing Tem to move this left foot out the way, getting even more pushed up against the edge. "I ought to bite your face off Legosi! You useless creepy little-"
A rock pinged of the back of Legosi's head, deflecting up and catching Bill in the nose. The sudden shock of it snapping them out of it. Bill looked up, over Legosi, awkwardly, Legosi's ears shot up, and he turned to look over his shoulder.
Thunder rolls. Louis stands at the back of the descending group, posed above them, second rock held in throwing posture, backlit by lightning.
"Stop this shameful display." He said, dangerously quietly, forcing everyone to shut up to hear him over the wind. "If you two want to kill each other, fine: I'll leave you here without any of our equipment and you can have the whole mountainside to work out who's the bigger predator; Get it out and see who's is bigger, get fully naked and fight rolling in the dirt like savage beasts, I don't care. But you're not endangering the rest of us over some stupid feud or jockeying for status! Understood? Behave like civilised animals until we get back or I will leave you to die up here, got it!?"
Legosi and Bill shared a look of guilt and shame, and Legosi nodded, head slumped. "Hai, Louis-senpai. My apologies for my behaviour."
Louis nodded, acknowledging the apology and then looked to Bill eyes narrowed.
"Well?" he asked, dangerously quiet.
Bill chickened out, eyes wide. "Oh… Just messing around Louis-san! My apologies for any problem caused!"
"Good, that's what I thought, kitty." Said Louis, lowing the rock, eyes narrow, "Now let's move out before you lot can cause any more problems!"
"Hai!" said Legosi, ashamed of himself. "I… I'm sorry." He said to the group at large, before turning to Bill, hand raised to shake. "No hard feelings? For real this time?" he said, taking a half step forwards, putting him, Tem and Bill all on the same narrow patch of path.
Bill snorted, eyes down, ears lowered. "Yeah wherever Legosi, you got off lucky. If Louis wasn't there to save your ass-"
"Don't bunch up!" yelled Louis, "Tem, move yourself to-"
There was a low rumble, and a patch of the edge of the path moved a little, forcing Legosi and Bill to grab the sheer rock-wall on the other side, hurriedly. Tem froze up, arms held loosely to each side for balance, clearly too terrified to move.
"Err…" He said, fixing Legosi with a wide eyed stare of panic. "Errr… no its fine, guys! I'm okay!" Tem said, waving the others futher away before their weight could break the path. "I just-"
The edge of the path vanished beneath his feet, and he was falling. It was so sudden he didn't even have time to scream.
Cut to Legosi's eyes.
There was no actual thought involved: Legosi flung himself flat on the path, reached out, and grabbed Tem's left arm as he fell. There was a violent snap as it arrested his fall, twisting his body round and slamming him into the jagged rock-face violently, leg first.
Close up on Tem's arm, as Legosi's claws dig into him to keep a grip, drawing blood. Close up on his leg as it catches in a mountain-side cleft. The sudden halt jerks the heavy back-pack on Tem's shoulder, snapping the left strap. The right one slides off his shoulder, and Tem flails for it, grabbing onto the falling bag with his right hand, then yelps in pain as the jolt swings him round.
"Tem!" shouted Don, trying to move forwards to help. Louis yelled and Aoba held him back. "No, give them room, the path is unstable enough as it is! Do you have him wolf?" asked Louis.
I really wish he'd learn my name. Thought Legosi. Now's not the time.
"I… His arm is slippery with blood, I think I cut him with my claws, and my hands are sweating!" yelled Legosi. He sifted his weigh, experimentally. Testing. "The path is very week, but doesn't seem to move under me! If I could just get to one knee, I could pull him up!"
"Ahhhh… my arm and leg really hurt!" Yelled Tem. "I can feel blood moving under my clothes, Louis-senpai." he glanced over his shoulder, looking down. "I… I still have the bag. If I could just swing it over a little, we could pull it up!"
"Screw the bag!" said Legosi. "You're slipping Tem! I need you to give me your other hand, I can't get a good grip! You need to let go!"
"No!" said Bill, kneeling, arms out to Tem pleading. "That's all our food! If he drops that, we're all screwed. Think of the group, Tem! I always believed in you pal!"
"If he falls we lose the food anyway, idiot!" said Aoba. "Tem, drop it, save yourself."
"I… I can make it, I just need to swing the bag up a little!" said Tem "I can do it!" he swung the bag up, Bill snatched at it, his claws grabbing at Tem's sleeping bag, mounted on the outside of the big Bergen. He got that, but only that: it came off the straps, and the main bag and Tem swing back like a pendulum, pulling him further out of Legosi's grip as it did.
"Tem, stop that, your hand is slipping; I can't hold you much longer!" Warned Legosi. "Drop the bag Tem, it doesn't matter, give me your other hand!"
"Screw you, wolf boy, I'm with the alpaca! Throw me the food!" yelled Bill lying flat on the path next to Legosi and stretching out, claws extended out to Tem. "Swing it over again and I can grab it, pal!"
"Quiet!" yelled Louis. "Tem, take your eyes off the bag, and look at me. Only at me."
"But… I can make it!" said Tem, teeth clenched, brow sweating.
"Silence. Do not question me now. Tem, look at my eyes, and only my eyes, that's an order, actor. Do it now." Said Louis, crouching by the edge of the path, a safe distance from Legosi, projecting calm and confidence with all the craft of a practised actor
Tem looked up, fear and hope fighting in his eyes.
Close up on Louis's eyes.
"Tem, if you fall, we lose all the rations. We lose your clothing, your sleeping bag, we lose it all. We lose you, which means one less set of eyes to keep watch, one less set of ears to listen for rescue, one less unit of body warmth to keep a tent from freezing. We lose your knowledge and skills and instincts as an alpaca, a native mountain creature. We're only a few hours from the pass, if we can make it past that we don't need the food: we'll all camp safe below the pass overnight, and be back with our friends in time for breakfast tomorrow, all right? So in fact, Tem, there is no survival scenario where that bag is worth more to the team than your life. Got it?" he said, calmly, soothingly. "Got it?"
"I… yes Louis senpai, but I'm so close-"
"Tem, this is an order: drop the bag; don't look down, don't watch it fall, don't look at the other's faces to see if they are disappointed or if they are glad, just keep looking at my eyes, and let it fall. On three.
Close up on Louis, cuts to Dom, hands-over-beak with tension, Aoba looking over Dom's shoulder, resigned.
"Two." Close up on Bill and Kai, watching horrified, Kai looking at Tem, hugging Tem's sleeping bag to himself, fearful, Bill watching the bag swing, desperate.
Cut to Legosi, straining to keep a hold on Tem, cuts back to close-up shot of eyes: Tem terrified and unsure, Louis sure and calm.
The bag drops, everyone follows it with their eyes except Louis and Tem, still staring at each other, and Legosi, eyes shut with concentration as he fights to keep his grip from slipping. The bag smashes on the path a hundred meters below, then spins as it bounces off, and then plummets down down and down until it disappears. A second later something too small to see smacks into the snow-field below them, making a large crater. The snow groans, shift, stops, then groans again. As the cast watch, an avalanche starts to roll across the snow-field, so very far below.
Louis nods at Tem. Tem nods back, and reaches up, giving Legosi his hand.
"I got you, I got you Tem!" said Legosi, pulling him up "Slow, slow!"
"I'll help, the quicker we get him up the quicker we get moving!" said Bill, leaning over and grabbing Legosi's shoulder, and yanking him upright.
Close up on Tem's leg, still caught in the cleft of the mountain, violently wrenched around as Bill pulls.
"Ahhhh! Asshole what did you do that for?" yelled Tem, as Legosi hauls him up to safely, grabbing him with both arms to keep him safe in a gesture that's not quite but mostly a hug. Tem hops around, one legged, the other bent at an uncomfortable angle. "
"My knee! You popped out my damn knee!"
Bill looks shocked, "I…errr."
Legosi checked. "I… don't think anything's broken, but it is dislocated… oh… and the sharp rocks cut his calf muscles pretty bad, there's dirt and stuff in the wound. He… he's bleeding, Louis."
Louis glared, angry. "Idiots, look what you've done I… there's a second rest area not too far up the path, head there and patch him up! Who has the first aid kit?" he asked.
There was an awkward pause.
"I… I did." Said Tem. "In my bag. But it's okay, I can still-"
He tried to straighten his leg out to put weight on it, and immediately fell, screaming. Only Legosi's quick hands stopped him falling again.
Vertigo dolly zoom onto Louis's face as he realises.
He can't walk. He can't walk!
Louis glanced over his shoulder, down towards the avalanche they'd started, and extrapolated it's direction. I've doomed us all. He thought, sweating.
"Bill! This is your mess, get Tem to the rest area, and clean him up. All of you follow, I'll meet you there!" he shouted. They nodded, and begun to move on. Bill went to pick up Tem, but the wolf wordlessly took him instead, carrying him easily as if he weighed nothing and pushing past Bill silently.
"Aoba." Said Louis, quietly, "Stay a moment." The eagle paused, but then nodded, and let to others move off up the path.
"Yes Louis?" he asked, once the others were out of earshot.
"Aoba, you're an eagle, you have better eyes than me. Did…did " Spit it out. The deer thought to himself. He lowered his voice further. "Did that avalanche we just started head in the direction of the pass?"
The eagle froze for a moment, eyes wide, and then nodded, calmly, and went and stood at the edge, next to Louis. They both stared for a moment.
"I… I can't see the pass." Aoba, after a long moment.
"We're still too far off?" asked Louis. Good, if that's true, the avalanche can't possibly travel that far.
"No, Louis: I'm looking right at where it should be, and all I can see is snow and piles of scree. It… it's gone. We buried it." Said Aoba.
There was a momentary pause as the two experienced hikers looked into each-other's eyes. Wordlessly, Aoba plucked a feather from his neck, and let it drop over the edge, testing the air. They both watched it. After only a few meters, it got pulled into a vortex and begun to spin like a top, caught in a death-spiral.
Louis looked on, watching it dance with mounting horror.
I'm stuck up a mountain with a wounded hiker and no radio and no food.
No he realised. I'm stuck up a mountain with no way down, a wounded hiker, no radio, no food …. And four hungry predators for company.
And this is before the storm hits.