Act Three: Resolution (Re-birth)
Act three, Scene one: Sacrifice (outside the camp) The ten of swords, the corpse: the end on the pain brought by the nine of swords, one way or another.
Close up on Legosi's feet crunching in the snow, slightly unsteady, as if carrying a great weight, as fine powdered snow blows and swirls around his ankles, sharp as cut glass. Light is low, flat, blue-grey, just past sunset. Sound cues: the crunching of snow, keening of wind, and ragged breath.
Close up on Legosi's snout, mouth part open, fangs just barely visible, breath hanging on the air. Single tear rolls down his snout and into shot, before freezing.
Close up on Tem's face, looking up as Legosi walks, Tem in a bridal carry: feverish, sweating, afraid, but looking up at the sky, determined.
Long shot of Legosi carrying Tem, walking down the mountain path, framed to look like the 1931 Frankenstein film, the scene were the peasant Ludwig is carrying the drowned body of his daughter and looking off into the distance, shell-shocked.
Tem shivers, and raises his head slightly, pulling himself up with one hand and curling up into a more foetal position, nuzzling into Legosi's shoulder for warmth. Blinking, he looks around.
"Here, this is close enough. P-put me down, Legosi: my leg is killing me after that journey."
Legosi grunted, not trusting himself to talk without crying or sound husky from tears, and carefully lowered Tem to the ground, trying to support his leg so not to hurt him. Tem held on to Legosi, arms looped around his neck like a toddler as Legosi lowered him to the floor. Legosi staggered as he did so, putting out a paw to the cliff wall to hold himself steady. As he did, his boot knocked off a bit of snow of the path, and it falls, plummeting own into darkness. They are there: the spot where they made friends, the spot were Tem fell, and Legosi caught him.
The beginning and end of our friendship. Thought Legosi, feeling sick. The spot where I befriended him, the spot where I saved him…
The spot where I'm going to help kill him.
It's all about this he realised. Whatever happens, now or later, the rest of my life will spin around one thing: death, Tem's death and others, and what that means for me as a carnivore. I'm not ready, I've put this off for nearly 17 years, and I'm still not ready. Here it is. End of the line, exit stage left.
"I… er… are you comfortable?" asked Legosi, leaning in to adjust Tem's sleeping bag, mouth dry: it had been far easier to just carry him in it, and while killing him seemed bad enough, letting him freeze on the way own seemed just plain cruel. He sat to Tem's right, so he could reach the wounded right leg, when the time came.
"As-as I can be, thanks." Said Tem, nervously. "I-I want to say thank you, Legosi. For… for doing this."
"Oh, er… that's okay. I…" What do I say? "I'm sorry Tem. For all of this. If I was… was only more careful… if I'd caught you before you'd fallen, or if I'd pulled you up without twisting your leg…"
"Legosi… if you hadn't been here, I'd have fallen right down and already be dead: I'd have never got to record that goodbye to my parents and friends and Els, and we'd have lost the pack and me, so Bill would probably be eating Louis as we speak. I… I'm feeling a lot of things right now, but blame towards you isn't one of them." He winced, and shifted. "Nor are my fingers, now I mention it: why did I bring suck good socks, but such cheap gloves? I'm such a dummy!"
"Here." Said Legosi, kneeling down over Tem, and clutching the alpacas small hands in his huge ones. "Give yourself a second to warm up." Said the wolf, before sitting down next to Tem, and taking his hands again. "L-let's not rush this." Said Legosi, reluctant to contemplate what they were here to do, and what it meant. "Take your time, get comfortable, t-try to relax." I wish I could.
Tem nodded, wiped a tear away and then smiled weakly. "S-Sure. Sure… well here we are." Said Tem. He nervously peered over the edge of the cliff, leaning forwards a little. "S-sure is a long way down: you can't even see that avalanche we caused any more; it's just all white from the new snow. I… I was hoping you could see the city from here. I wanted to look at the school again. J-just one more time." He said, staring forward: the storm-wall was only a few kilometres away at this point; a great grey wall of nothing coming at them in the growing dark, occasionally lit up from within by lighting, casting that flat purple light snow-clouds often did.
"A-at least you can see the stars." Said Legosi, nervously.
Tem looked up. "That's true." He said, "I guess that's something." He shivered: teeth chattering, trying and failing to hold back tears.
Legosi swallowed nervously, and put one arm around Tem to comfort him.
"W-we don't have to do this, you know. We could…well… Err.."
"What?" asked Tem, laughing nervously. "Go back to the camp and let Bill shovel me to death, like Ash in the Evil Dead? No thanks. We're here, now, I'm comfortable. Let's… let's do it here."
"I… we… we could try and fix your leg again!" said Legosi, clutching at straws "Clean it out again with antiseptic wipes, or… or… we could try and… er… amputate it? That way… that way we might stop the infection, and Bill would have …er, something to eat!"
Tem actually laughed properly at that. "Yes, he would: me. Come on Legosi: we have no medical equipment, no surgical skills, and our only tools are some pen-knives and a shovel. What are you going to do? Chew my leg off at the waist and somehow not have me bleed to death or die of shock? When I'm already this weak? Every medical thing we've tried so far has just hurt me more, do you really think ripping my leg off at the hip is a good idea? We have no anaesthetics or antiseptics other than a little whiskey, we barely managed to stop me bleeding out after we nicked a vein, let alone an artery, and we have nothing that could cut bone cleanly other than Doms six centimetre victorinox saw-blade. That would take all day, so you'd either have to snap my femur with a shovel, or bite through it. It's a nice idea, but let's face it: that's not not murdering me; that's just murdering me with extra steps. Extra, terrifying, traumatic, agonising steps. Hack my leg off while I'm conscious, with no pain meds? No thanks. Just kill me and get it over with."
"No…. No I guess… I guess just wanted to think there was something we could do." Said Legosi sadly, ears and eyes down. "I… I feel like we're trapped here, Tem, like there's nothing we can do. It's terrifying!"
"Yes… yes it is." Said Tem, before looking up. "But there is one thing we can do: we can do it right." He said, sniffing, and taking a moment to lean in and hug Legosi.
"I… I'm going to miss you, Legosi-kun!"
"I… I know." Muttered Legosi, screwing his eyes shut and hugging back. Tem laughed.
"Asshole, did you just Han solo me? You have to say it back, idiot!"
"I… I'll miss you, Tem-kun!"
Tem nodded, crying into Legosi's shoulder and squeezing him, before pulling back.
"Okay… okay. Let's do this thing before I chicken out! Do you have the scissors?"
Legosi nodded, not wanting to think about it. "F-From the sewing kit? Yes. Oh, and I brought some water, too." He noticed Tem cock his head to one side, confused.
"You… you were so thirsty before, after losing just a little bit of blood so I thought, well, I don't want you to die thirsty, that's just cruel…"
"Oh. Oh, good thinking. I wouldn't… shit. How come you're the one who has thought this through better than I have? Thank you. And the bag, you can carry it?"
Legosi swallowed nervously, and then nodded, not trusting himself to speak: that was the other reason they'd brought Tem's sleeping bag: to transport the body back to camp.
"Yes, if not I can drag it. You… you don't weigh all that much, and snow makes it easy to slide stuff along."
"Perfect, I was worried. But be careful: D-don't fall." Joked Tem, tying to smile "I'm the one who's meant to die here, remember?" Legosi tried to smile back, weakly, before swallowing nervously.
"I-I'll be careful –don't worry about me."
Tem nodded, nervously. "I- arigatō Legosi. I'm sorry, I'm shaking like I'm trying to ask Els to the school dance, and you don't look much better!" he stuttered, nervous smile. "L-let's do it now, before we both chicken out."
Legosi swallowed, and then nodded, reluctantly.
"Hai." He said, Tem nodded back, and unzipped the sleeping bag, and shuffled over a little towards Legosi so he wasn't sitting on it, before handing Legosi the bag.
Tem grunted, struggling to get his parka unzipped with cold fingers. Legosi had to help him: Tem still intended to give his clothes to Kai as a parting gift, to help keep him warm when the storm stuck again, at least the outer layers. Legosi put it in his backpack. He then shed a wool jumper leaving him in a damp bamboo-fibre wicking layer that smoked in the cold air, and then tried to remove his largely ruined and bloodstained salopettes, but got suck trying to undo the shoulder straps and belt.
"I—damn. Little help?"
Legosi swallowed nervously, and then nodded and went into help, trying not to either knock Tem towards the edge, or jolt his leg too much. "Sure, rest it on some snow, though, to catch the… the blood."
"I- damn. I'm sorry this is awkward." Apologised Tem, trying to get his ripped pant-legs to stop catching on stuff where it had matted to his fur. "If you'd had told me at the start of this tip that it would end with me sneaking off with a classmate who'd take my clothes off, well, I'd not have believed it, and if I had, this isn't how I'd have imagined it!" he joked, nervously.
Legosi didn't know what to say to that. He was too nervous and depressed to laugh at that, but felt any other response would be wrong. The worst thing is, that's not a bad analogy: one way or another this is a loss of innocence. Finally after much nervous cussing from Tem, they managed to get his ruined pants off, leaving his leg-wound there, wrapped just in handkerchiefs and neck-ties, naked to the sky. Exposed. Vulnerable.
There. Right there! You can smell the blood Legosi… Smell the fear… thought…. thought…
Legosi frowned. Whose thoughts were those? Thought the wolf. That… that wasn't me, was it?
Tem winced, clutching at his leg, teeth clenched.
"Damn, my muscles are all stiff in this cold! Hurts like a bastard! Quick, Legosi, pass the scissors. No, wait, let get this propped up on some snow first like you said. We… we may as well soak up the blood with something rather that make a mess. Waste not want not, am I right? Can you help me lift it? It feels really stiff…" He said, opening up the improvised bandage to look.
The sight and smell of the wound hit Legosi like a wall.
It… it's worse than it was before. Legosi thought. It's red, swollen, angry. No puss, but its's hanging open and the flesh is inflamed and pulling back, I can see his muscles… I can smell…the blood…
There. There. There. There. There. It's right there Legosi… right there, and you're so hungry…
Wait, what? Thought Legosi, swallowing nervously, suddenly finding his mouth full of saliva. I… I'm not ready for this! This, is is too much! I…I'm sad for him, I'm afraid for him, I don't want to see him die, he's my friend, and I don't want to hurt him, and that wound looks gross, it smells gross there's blood and stuff…
So… so much blood, just below the surface. Why? Why is part of me... hungry?!
Legosi shuddered, fur rising and standing on end, back arching teeth clenched, shivering, and forced it down. It was hard, so hard, but with years of practice, he forced it down. I… I haven't felt like that before. That was stronger than before. Stronger than when I was helping sew him up. Stronger than I'm used to. I'm okay, I'm okay I'm okay. You're okay, Legosi, you're not Bill, you're not doing this for the food, you're not doing this for yourself, you're doing it to help Tem, your friend, focus on that.
Legosi swallowed, looked up, fearful. Did Tem see that? Did he see me crack?
Tem was looking right at him, clearly frightened, and for a second Legosi felt his stomach drop, thinking he was caught, but Tem just winced, and looked away.
"Oh, that is way more gross than I remember. How did you sew this up? I don't even want to look at it, and it's my leg. I-I don't blame you for wincing. You… you're not going to hurl are, you? You were swallowing like you were."
"Er… no… no I'm good." Focus on his face, his voice, he's a friend… not… not... oh god why does the smell of his blood smell good? "I'm good." Said Legosi, not sure which of them he was trying to convince. He squeezed Tem's hand, briefly. "I… I'm okay. I'm here for you, Tem-kun!"
You're here to feed. Admit it.
Shut up! Thought Legosi, sweating despite the cold.
Tem nodded, winching. "Ugg, well it's not going to get any prettier the longer we wait, pass the scissors, please."
Close upon Legosi's hand, holding the scissors clenched in a fist, blades down like a dagger, and shaking.
He'd going to die anyway, he wants to die and be eaten, to save his friends, so what's the harm in doing it yourself? He's right there, so defenceless. Just one bite.
No, wait, it's Tem, he's my friend, I'm doing this to help him!
Yes. Help him. His going to die anyway: put him out of his misery…
Close up on Legosi's neck, fur rising, faint movement of muscles: arm twitching, muzzle wrinkling, teeth exposed.
Why should you take Bills scraps? Let Him and Aoba take the best food first? Even Kai out-carnivore's you in behaviour. Aren't you a carnivore too? Don't you deserve this? Bills a tiger, he has faster reflexes than you, but when Tem fell, you caught him: Bill let you claim him, let you care for him , let you take responsibly for him: he's your prey. Go first, be top dog, eat your fill and let them have the scraps….
"Legosi? Earth to Legosi, did you bring the scissors? If so, give it to me. Let me have it, Legosi. Let me have it…"
Let him have it…
Legosi looked up to Tem, eyes wild, hand's shaking….
And slowly, carefully, trembling, handed Tem the scissors.
"Of… of course, Tem. I'm here for you." And not for myself. he added, in defiance of whatever that voice in his head was
Coward. You need to deal with this one day, Legosi. The longer you repress this, the stronger I become…
Legosi ignored it. Breathing deep, and forcing it down. "I… I'm sorry. I'm really scared, Tem. Here."
"You're scared? I'm worried I'm going to piss myself! Er… on that note is… is it true when people die they… er… you know?" Tem hesitated, scissors in hand. "If… if I make a mess, could you clean me up once I'm dead? I… I know this probably sounds vain and dumb, but I don't want to look stupid once I'm dead. It'd be embarrassing. Make one of Kai's snowballs, or something."
"Oh… yeah sure, I'll use the snow to clean you up." Who exactly is going to clean me up is another matter. What was that? I… It must be altitude sickness. I need to get my head checked. What was that voice? Those thoughts?
Tem nodded, wincing, holding the scissors to the knot tying off his vein. "I… My hands are shaking, Legosi."
Legosi winced, swallowed, and then leaned in, putting a hand to Tem's calf. Gods, that's hot. He's really sick. "Here, I- I'll steady it for you. Hold still. Okay, can you see it?"
"I… No. Can you move the scissors for me? Just put the tip in there for me and… and I'll do the rest." Tem said, opening the scissors just a little, and wrapping both hands around the handle, ready to clamp down and cut.
This… this is more involved than I wanted to be. Thought Legosi, swallowing nervously. He nodded, too nervous to speak, and moved the blade for Tem, resting it so the scissors were right over the knot, bracketing it. One move and he's cut through… I better brace myself, I don't want to either panic or, have… whatever that hunger was… come back when Tem really starts bleeding.
"I… you're there, Tem."
"I Know, I can feel it…. Oh gods… oh this is it…. Okay. Okay." Tem closed his eyes, and took several deep breaths, clenching his teeth and inflating his cheeks each time he blew out, trying to steel himself. "This, this is actually it Tem, be brave!" Tem said to himself, Tears in corners of eyes, every muscle tense. "On three… One, two, three… Go!"
Close up on both Tem and Legosi as they wince and look away. After a second, Legosi frowns, and looks back at the leg.
"Did… did you do it?"
"Errr… No. I… I seem to have chickened out." Said Tem, eyes still closed. "L-Let's try that again. Big boy breaths, and one two three….. three…. Threeeeee."
Tem's hands were shaking uncontrollably at this point, and he dropped the scissors on the snow packed under his leg, and swore.
"I… dammit, I can't do it!" he yelled, cursing himself and crying openly, more angry than sad, eyes wide and shining blue-grey in the post-dusk. "What is this bullshit? I thought herbivores were meant to have an instinct that when there was no escape from death they just... just end the pain? The whole throw yourself at the lions mouth stick? Why am I apparently defective? Weak? This sucks!"
"I… Oh gods, I'm such a coward." Said Tem.
Tem felt a hand take his. He looked up.
"You… you're not a coward. You… you just need a little help doing difficult things. A little help doing the right thing I… I think we all do at times. I… er… I'm here for you, Tem. You're not weak, you're…. brave. But no one said being brave was easy."
"I…" Tem looked up, teas in eyes. "I'm not brave, Legosi, I'm shit scared, can you…" he handed Legosi the scissors. "Can you do it for me? I'm not afraid to sacrifice, but I… I just can't!"
"I…"Legosi swallowed, sweating. " Tem, I'll be here for you as a friend, even help if I have to, but that…. that crosses a line I…" Legosi swallowed again. "I'm not killing you, Tem. If I do, I'm no better than Bill or Aoba, taking control away from you. I… I can't."
"I…. let's do it together." said Tem, blinking back tears. "How's that? One side of the scissors each, okay? That way we can both claim afterwards that the other one moved and we just kept our own hand still, a-and if I don't die t-then it mean were both bigger scardy-cats than Bill." Joked Tem, teeth chattering. "C-come on, before I freeze to death and save us the trouble!"
Legosi nodded, and offered the scissors to Tem. He took one handle, Legosi took the other, and re-positioned the blades over the knot.
"Okay, Tem-san. That… that works. On three?"
Tem shivered, and nodded. "One." He said maintaining pleading eye contact with Legosi, not looking at the scissors or his leg at all.
Legosi stared back, into his eyes: his frightened, soft eyes. I don't want to be part of this, but neither does he. Loss of life, Loss of innocence. I'm so sorry. I... I'm going to miss you, Tem-kun
"Two." He started.
Tem cut the knot. Legosi heard the snip and felt warm blood hit his hand.
"I… what!?" yelled Legosi, looking down.
"I'm sorry! I'm sorry: I was worried I was going to chicken out again so I went early; I figured it was like popping the knee back in, and if we waited until three it would stress me out and I'd tense up! I-I didn't mean to go so prematurely!" said Tem, instinctively clamping a hand to the wound to try and stem the flow, as blood pumped through his fingers, slowly darkening first wool and then snow.
Legosi smelt the blood, and braced himself…
It didn't come. Whatever it was, it was binding its time. Or sated perhaps, now that he's taken part in bloodshed. He felt… himself: emotionally drained, but himself. Strangely calm.
Tem lifted a hand, slick shining with red blood, and turned it this way and that, regarding it with intense but fascinated horror, then looked up at Legosi, and frowned, curious. "H-how long will this take, do you know?"
"I… I don't know, but it a vein and not an artery: several minutes, at least." Said Legosi, gently laying Tem's coat over the top half on him, keeping it out of the spreading blood with care. "Here." He said, taking Tem's right hand with his left and holding it. "It's okay, I'm here for you. It… its' okay."
Tem nodded, and leaned back so he was resting his back on the rock wall next to Legosi, then slumped and lent his head on the big wolf's arm, and looked up.
"I… thank you. Let… let's just watch the stars for a bit, then, and let it happen. And thank you, Legosi-kun, for letting me do it like this, so I'm not alone."
Legosi, swallowed, nervously, feeling Tem's warmth along his side, trying to ignore the smell of the blood, the way it was soaking into the snow. "Er, that's okay. I'm here. Let me know if you need the water, or anything."
Tem sniffed, and nodded, but didn't take his eyes of the stars.
"Thank you. I-I didn't even think about water. I'm so unprepared… I didn't think about what my body would do once… once… Oh boy, I really hope I don't piss myself once I'm dead." he said, trying to make a joke out of it, nervously.
Legosi grunted, and swallowed nervously. "Y-you should have gone before we left camp."
"Didn't think of it. I-I thought about what to say, how to act, how to be brave: but not the logistics of the act. Never was good at that. I-I'd make a poor stage hand!" he joked. He glanced down at his leg, bleeding slowly, and winced and looked away, up at the stars again.
"Y-you planed ahead, Legosi, even the snow to catch the blood. I didn't. It was my death, and I didn't plan. Why don't we plan, why don't we talk about death? I mean, people in general? We don't talk about death, or predation, or any of that stuff. B-But death happens to everyone, even the strongest carnivores."
Legosi stuttered. "Err… it's scary, Tem."
"So? Talking to girls is scary, and we talk about that all the time! Losing your virginity is scary, and we talk about that, have you heard the talk in the locker room? Sex is scary, w-what if you do something wrong? But that's all we talk about in high school. Relationships, who's dating who, who kissed who, who's crushing on who, who's screwing who. Why not death? It happens to everyone in the end.
"I came here hoping to get a step closer to dating Els, but I just ended up getting a step closer to this. To death. Like every step you take, I guess." He said, shuddering and squeezing Legosi's hand, eyes closing as he winced. "It… it happens to everyone, and it's sad but… it's just a stage of life, like the rest, and it can be done right, with control and dignity, no regrets, no loose ends, sometimes. If you're lucky. Why don't we talk about it? Why don't we plan ahead?"
"I… I don't know Tem. I don't." said Legosi "I… if it helps, I think most of us are pretty bad about talking about relationships, too. I… I don't think people are good at saying what they feel." I want to be here as your friend, but I really really want to eat you, and I didn't know I'd feel so strongly about it until it happened. Y-you'd be terrified of me if you saw the thoughts in my head, Tem.
"I-I think people have trouble being honest because, because people are complicated: they're not one thing" said Legosi "They're many, light and dark and all sorts, all mixed up. I… a lot of the time I don't know what my feelings are, so how could I be honest with others, if I'm not honest with myself? If no-one is? I think people don't talk about these things, not because it's sex or death that's scary: its letting people in that is; letting them see the real you, and have then judge it. You know? Their gaze? Like that play we did last year?"
"Which one?" muttered Tem, his face glowing pale, words slurring.
"I… I don't remember. The French one, three primaries, one extra. One set, closed waiting room. Where you played the valet, and Louis played Garcin?"
Tem smiled weakly "Huis Clos" He said, in French. "No exit…'Hell is other people' " he quoted "I… I don't think that's true." He squeezed Legosi's hand. "Not if it's the right people. I think, when you get down to it, people are pretty decent they- they just sometimes need to be reminded that, Legosi. People are… are… are"
Tem spasmed, and fell suddenly, the thin air and lack of blood hitting him all at once. He slummed over sideways onto Legosi's lap, shaking, eyes wide, hand clenching the wolf's tight, flopping like a fish.
Reeking of fear, and pain and blood blood blood blood
Sound cue. Beastars Soundtrack: track three cannibalism
It hit like a wall. All of it, red and eager.
It wasn't gone, Legosi realised it wasn't sated: it was just waiting. For this, for now.
He's not even wrong. Thought the voice. That's the funny bit, he's not wrong. But that's not the point: decent or not, people are people; they have needs, and sometimes those needs can't be met without hurting others.
Legosi panicked, Holding Tem's hand in his left and applying pressure to the wound with his right trying to… trying to…
To do what? To save him? He came here to die, that's the point! It was his choice: he even cut the knot himself; the simple answer to the complex question. Alexander would be proud.
Eat. Feed. It's what you want. It's what he wanted, why else would he ask for you? It doesn't matter what it means, just do it. You know you want to.
"No." whispered Legosi. "N-not like this. I… I don't want it to be like this!"
Yes: you do. Just admit that to yourself, and cut the knot. Be simple. Be straight-forward. Be a wolf.
"He, He's my friend!" he yelled, eyes screwed shut, the big wolf shaking as violently as the small alpaca.
He's food. He's prey. And if he is your friend, he's in pain, just look at him: you can smell it.
How long are you going to let him flop like a fish? Are you really going to let him spasm rolling on that wounded leg, in agony? Let him soil himself like he feared? Every moment you wait hurts him… and I know it hurts you, too.
It's right there, it's so easy, and you have his permission. Do it.
After all: after all the lies, and pretending you're not who you are, the hiding and skulking, living in Bill and Louis's shadow, the living in bad faith, do you really think you're any better than this? You? You?!
No, No I'm not. Realised Legosi.
Legosi opens his eyes. They are red. Cut to shots from different angles, showing his hackles raised, fur standing on end, long shot on his moth opening, lips pulled back, long, slim, powerful muzzle, teeth sharp, stings of drool linking upper and lower fangs.
He leans in, mouth open, framed to look like a shot from Nosferatu. Thunder rolls, lighting lights the scene. His laws slide over Tem's throat, gently, almost like a kiss. Tem raises a hand to Legosi's snout, as if to try and push him away, but he's too weak.
Let see what some real scissors can do. Though Legosi One… Two…
Tem took his hand on Legosi's muzzle, and stoked it along the soft fur of his nose, from tip to eyes. Petting him. Legosi suddenly realised that Tem wasn't fighting back: he was trying to comfort him.
"I-Im so sorry! I-im so sorry!" whispered Tem, looking up at the stars as he petted Legosi, and wept openly. "I-I'm so sorry Legosi, I'm sorry!"
That's snapped Legosi right out of it.
W-what am I doing?
He went to loosen his jaws, pulling back, but as he did, Tem squeezed his hand tighter. Now that he was lying down, his legs elevated by the pile of snow, Tem was more coherent.
"I-I'm not afraid Legosi, j-just do it. I'm not afraid." Stuttered Tem.
The violins from cannibalism cross fade into Beastars Special Soundtrack track 17 Hug or eat
"I- I am Tem." Whispered Legosi. "I'm afraid."
"D-don't be. I'm okay. F-finish it your way, whatever way that is."
Right or wrong, I choose this, an act of free will.
Legosi's hesitated, looking down at Tem, into his eyes and then nodded, moving towards his throat again, hunched over him, like a predator guarding it prey from scavengers as Tem lay there in a rapidly speeding pool of blood…
Legosi rolled up Tem's coat so it wouldn't get bloody, and slipped it under Tem's head like a pillow before laying down over him, his lower jaw resting across Tem so they were throat to throat, looking over each other's shoulders, sheltering him from the wind with his body. Hugging him to keep him warm.
The wind howled, lightening flashed, the storm approached, and Tem and Legosi cried quietly into each other's fur, waiting for the end.
Act three, Scene two: Louis's soliloquy (The high stair) The ten of wands, the Burden: Challenges, Intense pressure, Oppression, Overcommitment
Breathing calmly, Louis made it to the peak for the second time on that trip, and looked around.
Not much of a view this time. He thought, looking around as the eye of the storm closed in on him. He did not think to look to the stars.
He noticed that the smaller cairn, with its memorial to those who'd died on the mountain, had somehow been knocked over. Must have been the wind. He thought, kneeling. Carefully, he re-stacked the stones and put the sign back up. I should have brought more stones. He realised. At this stage we should consider adding our names to that list.
Hesitantly, he reached for his Leatherman in its sheath, and took out the folding blade, and got to work, carving two symbols on the wooden post of the sign, before re-sheathing the knife.
Close up on sign テム, Temu
"It… it should not have fallen on you, Tem-san. This was my responsibility, my fault and…. I just didn't do it right. I'm sorry." He said, closing his eyes. "You… you deserved much better from me."
They all did. He thought.
"What's the point of my being here if I can't save one innocent life? I'm supposed to be a future Beastar, future leader, to change the world. How can I change the world, if I can't even control what happens around me?" he said.
Louis didn't get up after he finished carving the name, but remained kneeling in front of it, face screwing up as he thought.
"Ever since those cages, I've wanted control. When you're born into a loathsome situation like that, isn't it only natural and right to never want to be so helpless again? To not be trapped any more, where your life could be taken away without warning?"
The wind blew, sending a flurry of gritty snow into his face. He closed his eyes and winced.
"What a joke. What a bad joke: I've just moved out into a bigger cage. I'm still bound to the will of others, living for them and not myself. I'm still a herbivore, with a fragile, weak body. I'm still trapped by circumstances beyond me. I could still be killed at any moment, by Bill, by the wolf, by cold, by hunger, by a patch of slippery snow on my walk down. Nothing's changed! I still have to live in the shadow of death! They're going to eat Tem, right there in the next tent! I'm going to hear them eating someone I couldn't protect, again! Why? I shouldn't have that happen in my life, no one should! So why does it keep happening to me? Why? Why?
"Father, you lifted my up from that place, saved me, took me out of the cage … and then just thrust me into a bigger one! I was meant to be your heir, your successor, to make the world a better place, make the changes you couldn't, but I just can't do it! I'm too weak, I'm too stupid, I'm just a deer, for god's sakes! We live to get eaten, that's just a fact! Why, why did you save me, out of all the children there, if I can't make good on your dreams? You saved me, tested me, raised me up on high, into the light, and what for? So I can just die under the name you gave me rather than the number they gave me? Why did you put this burden on me? It's too much!
"I…. I cant do it. I'm not strong enough." He said, weeping. "Why, father? Why have you forsaken me? I can't save them from themselves. Tem is still a weak herbivore, easily injured, only good for food once he is, The others, Bill Kai, the wolf, even Aoba, my good friend, are still carnivores who'll feed on us if they can! They'll eat me and Dom too, if they have to, and then just turn on each other… I… I offered myself to them, this is my flesh, eat it… and they talked me out of it! And like a coward I let them! I didn't even get the chance to sacrifice myself, just to sacrifice my dignity, and that hurts more than their teeth ever could. I love you… but I hate you too father, for putting me in this world, where the only ways out are with pain and humiliation. If you couldn't stop me from sinking back into that stinking cage, then why did you show me the light? That just makes it harder to bear when I have to return to the darkness: number four, huddled in his tent, listening to the predators feed on the ones I couldn't save.
"And for what? They're not going to survive anyway: if they somehow get out of this, it'll just be something else some other time: illness, accident, the slow rot of age… there's no escape except for death!
"Why would you take me out of that cage, when there was no escape other than death, no final destination that was any different than the one in the cage? Why would you put me here to suffer and die?
"I… I tried so hard, I was good, I became strong, I led, I inspired others, I was everything you taught me to be, and in the end, it didn't matter. I tried so hard, and for what? I bore your name, your ideals, you damn family crest, and here I am: dying on a hillside with the rest of them. All that struggle, all that effort, all the things I didn't do because I was too focused on my goals: all the time I could have spent making real friends, or being openly in a relationship with Haru… I worked so hard at being this thing, Louis-senpai, the next Beastar, that I never had time to be anything else: never had time to be a teenager, a person, to be me. And for what?"
Louis lowered his head, eyes closed, scowling.
"It's pointless, all of it: the world is a dark, chaotic, godless place. It's that cage I can never escape, it's that room full of predictors where the knife to my throat is my only out, and I was a fool to think otherwise. And I tried so hard to change it, it's comical. I we all did, all we do… We carried these dumb rocks to the top of this mountain, and for what? Karma? Ghosts who will reveal your true love? All we got are blisters and a cold, lonely death!" yelled Louis, standing up and grabbing the rock he'd brought off the top of the cairn, and throwing it down the mountain, angrily.
"See that, you see that, father? That's life; you bust a gut to bring a rock to the top of a mountain, and it rolls back down. So what now? Keep doing it? You want me to go and fetch it again? Because I will! Why not? Every other burden I've carried: love, expectation, duty, hope, they've all been just as pointless as that rock! You call this living? It's Sisyphean! Just the same burdens again and again and again, and it never ends!
"I…. I can't do this anymore." He said, falling to his knees. "I… I can't face this. It's too much. I'm tried. I'm broken. I want to go back to my cage, now, please. At least there I didn't have this delusion of hope. No one expected anything of me. It's bad enough being meat: it's worse being meat that thinks."
The wind howled. No one answered.
Of course no one answered. Louis thought. Who would? You're just screaming into the void. Literally: there must be a two-hundred meter drop there, and another thousand meters of rolling down scree and rock before you'd hit the snowfields around the pass.
Maybe you'd land right by Tem's bag with the food and medical supplies. That would be quite the joke, wouldn't it? He thought, standing, wiping tears from his eyes, and walking to the very edge, the precipice.
Acceleration due to gravity of 9.8 meters per second, per second. That's … about a 6.4 second fall for 200 meters. It would probably feel longer. You'd be going…. 62 meters per second, if you didn't hit terminal velocity first. That's over 200 kilometres per hour, 220? 225? 60 kilogram body, that's… let's see… 117,600 joules. Thought Louis, doing the maths. A stick of dynamite is about one mega-joule, so you'd make a crater about the size of a tenth of a stick. He thought, stepping up so his toes were overhanging the edge. Quite the mess. I wonder how far my antlers would bounce?
Still, it's that or Bill with a shovel or, worse, living with what you've done to Tem. You're in the place, Louis. The red room: thrust into that place full of carnivores by dad, and just given a knife to escape with.
Louis closed his eyes, and took a deep breath.
"I'm sorry Haru, for all of it. I tried to hide in the garden because I was afraid to let the world see me bloodied and beaten, and now there's nowhere left to hide my shame. I…. I will miss you." He said, wiping away a tear as the wind rose around him with a whir, and the annoying light flashed at him.
That… that is very annoying. Could I not have one moment here? I'm busy! Thought Louis, frowning and glancing sideways, blinking back tears. What is it, distracting me at a time like this? The lighting crew are going over the top with all the gobo: they need to tone down the effects. He thought, turning his back to the void and staring, annoyed, at the tail-lights of the helicopter moving over the snow-field behind him.
Louis stared blankly, too cold and tired and stressed to feel or think. If anything, his brain was just performing background tasks now he was disturbed from composing his goodbye to Haru, and had lost his track. After a moment he realised he was trying to identify what he was looking at.
I… I sat the military entrance exam last year, Aoba too. Not out of any intention to join: passing it at officer grade just looks good on a resume. That… that camouflage pattern and icons. A Mitsubishi UH-60J, ground defence force, 15th battalion, No. 15 Helicopter Wing. Search and rescue.
Whilst he'd been looking over the way that he'd come up the mountain: the high stair, the official hiking trail, behind him there was a whole mess of bolder-felids, snow fields and jagged crevasse-filled areas. He'd paid it no head: it wasn't on the official trial and you'd have to be insane to set foot on it, unless you had a death wish or were trying to prove something macho. And yet, there was a helicopter, Military search and rescue, with its back to him, moving away from the main trial, and sweeping the bolder-fields with a searchlight, and no doubt with forward facing infra-red too.
It clearly hadn't seen him, or passed the rest area where the others were hiding, and to make things worse it was moving away, rapidly.
He looked down, scanning. There were no safe paths there, but if he ran at the proper angle, to the official emergency camp site and away from the high star and the cliff and further into the mountain range, then down the steep slopes of scree and snow, and somehow didn't fall and break his neck, he might, might just be able to head it off and flag it down.
The only problem was, it was completely imposable: it was a lethally dangerous route, at night, with a storm coming in, and it would mean running down 30 degree slopes and dodging crevasses and boulders for a nearly two kilometre flat sprint. You'd need Bill's reflexes, the wolf's stamina, Aoba's eyesight, and Kai's stubbornness to even think about it. It was not something a fragile deer could possibly hope to do. In fact, tying was probably suicide.
Well, luckily I've got about thirteen years' experience in putting suicide off indefinitely. Thought Louis, as he took of, well, like a startled deer.
He took his phone out and begun to spam the camera function as he ran, sending the flash crazy to maximise the copter's chance of spotting him, and to let him see obstacles as they loomed out of the dark. He ran across the camp site, vaulted a low fence, and was immediately fighting to stay on his feet as he ran down loose scree, battling to stop his feet moving faster that his body, which would send him tumbling. Dodging rocks, jumping crevasses, sweat stinging his eyes, feet jarred with every jump, lungs burning. This was, without a doubt, the single most physically challenging thing he'd ever done, pushing his herbivore's body past breaking point: he could feel he was injuring himself. He shouldn't be the one to do this, it should have been Bill, or Aoba, or Legosi: someone stronger. It shouldn't have fallen on him. It wasn't a fair burden to bear.
And yet he ran, smiling in spite of himself.
This is not a fair or just burden to bear. It's unfair, and cruel, frankly ridiculous, in an already ridiculous and unjust universe: pointless, cruel, absurd.
Well, if someone has to bear the weight of that, it should be me. Absurd of not, it's my weight to bear, and I will learn to find joy in it. Make meaning out of my suffering, like I always have: find a reason to do something other than end my life.
After all, a cruel and meaningless universe is no excuse to mope around like a wuss and leave your friends in the shit. Though Louis, grinning grimly. Hell isn't other people: hell is me, and I'm all out of patience.
He ran, every breath an act of rebellion against cruel fate.
Act three, Scene three: Cold reading (outside the camp) the card Death: either physical or the death of one thing and the start of another.
He wasn't sure what he was doing. He didn't know if he would catch the helicopter, and if he did,he didn't have a plan for what to do next. It wasn't that he had no plan, but only part of one. This wasn't improvisation, but it was close. Hopefully the helicopter crew had a plan, and he could just adapt his to theirs.
Cold reading he thought. I there is a script: I just don't know it yet.
Panting, sweating, cussing as he ran, tripped, scrambled upright and ran again, Louis almost made it to the edge of the bolder-field before the helicopter did.
"No! no no no no NO!" he screamed, as it switched off its searchlight and begun to bank and pull away upwards. "No you don't you bastard!" he screamed, flashing his phone camera at it repeatedly on that red-eye reduction burst. "Don't you dare, asshole, don't you dare! Don't you dare! NO! I ran so far, are you kidding me?!" He screamed falling to his knees. After a moment he closed his eyes, smiling grimly and letting out a single snort of laughter at this, ridiculous as it was. "Fine. Go. Fly off: my father's company helped build the parts of those, they have a terrible failure rate, you assholes!" he yelled, in an uncharacteristic fit of rage, jumping up and throwing his phone at the retreating vehicle.
His phone landed in the snow with a phutt. It flashed one last time, reflecting of the snow.
The helicopter searchlight flashed back on, stabbing the night. It aimed at the phone briefly, and the copter turned on the spot, the lights searching for a moment before the forward facing infra-reds came into alignment, and the light instantly zoomed to Louis, lighting him up like he was on a stage.
He ran, then jerked an arm up, to shield his eyes as the helicopter moved to hover right over him and a loudspeaker blared into life.
"Soldier, what are you doing out of uniform!"
"I… what?" yelled Louis. "I'm a civilian, we're a party of trapped hikers and-"
The side doors of the copter slid open, and there was a plop noise. Louis looked down. Someone had thrown an earphones and speaker headset at him, linked to a military short-range radio by a wire.
"You think we can hear you? We're in a damn helicopter, idiot! I can't hear myself think. Put the C2 set on, and start explaining. Where'd you get the fancy clothes, and where's the rest of your fire-team?"
"I- fire team?" asked Louis, putting on the headset with some difficulty over his antlers. "I'm a civilian; we're a party of trapped hikers, a school group! We need rescue and-"
"School group? What the hell is a school group doing in our area of operations? Wait, are you that damn art club that's on the news? Chess club? Go club?"
"Theatre club, but yes. We're in desperate need of evacuation, we have a wounded-"
"You're in a military area of operations, and we're under orders. We'll radio your position to the civilians, but we've got less than an hour to complete our mission and land before the storm hits us again: remove yourself from this area and wait for rescue from civilian forces. "
"You- you're not going to help us?" stuttered Louis, shocked, feeling gut punched. "Wait if you're not looking for us, why are you even here? Who are you looking for?"
"Classified: and who even says we're looking for someone?"
"I.." You need to get him to listen to you, Louis, or we're going to die. But How?
Acting: that's all you can do. Put on a good performance. Plus you sat the officers entrance exam, you know more than he thinks you do. Use it.
"T-that's a Mitsubishi UH-60J, the search and rescue variant, not a 60JA utility variant, and you're ground forces, not naval or coast guard, so you're not out of the local base. You can't have flown through the storm wall, so you must have been in the area and taken off into the eye of the storm when it moved over you and gave you a few hours of clear weather. You're the 15th? Western army group? Long way from home: you're here for a reason."
"I- damn it, how could you know that?"
"I did the military aptitude test last year." He said. Aptitude test…. He thought, realising.
"I know why you're here!" he yelled. "It's spring, half way up the most challenging mountain in this prefecture, and you're looking for a fire team who don't have radios and may be out of standard uniform: this is Special Forces selection, isn't it? You're sent wannabe Special Forces into the hills with no equipment to hunt them down as a test of their escape and evasion, but then the storm changed direction, and now you've got lost soldiers scattered up here and freezing to death! That's why the civilian and military channels are jammed up, you've got a major rescue operation under way!"
"I- who the hell are you kid?"
"Just a young person with a phone. We all have them. No signal, but if we were all found dead, with photographic evidence on our bodies that the army could have helped but didn't…"
"Don't try me, boy. Just hunker down and wait out the storm: we'll be back for you when it passes and-"
There was a pause, the voice in the helicopter clearly talking to someone else.
"I see. You're Oguma's whelp, aren't you?"
"That doesn't matter." Said Louis. I may as well look modest, If I act like a spoiled brat he may leave. He knows who I am: that's threat enough. "What matters is we have a dying hiker, a leg injury, infected and tracking towards his heart, possibly a blood infection. An alpaca, called Tem. He has a family, and needs immediate medivac."
"Medivac? Son, we can't even use the winch in this weather: we're not even here to evacuate the solders; if we find them, we're just here to drop them supplies and note their positons for later."
"That's all we need too, food and anti-biotics he… he's back at camp, with four carnivores who haven't eaten in almost three days, including a Bengal tiger. I… even we deal with his illness, I don't know how long he'll last without food."
"Tiger? I see." Said the helicopter.
There was a long pause.
"We can't drop off the supplies earmarked for this mission to civilians: we need to save them for the troops, if we find them-"
"No! That's not good enough, he'll die, they'll eat him, they already made a pact on it, dammit!" he said, making a fist. "You can't do this, you monste-"
Louis looked down. He picked up a large, transparent plastic bag, like a rubbish sack.
In it was a full first aid kit, and three olive-drab ration packs.
"Let me finish, you little brat: We can't drop off the supplies earmarked for this mission, those are our lunches: me, the pilot and co-pilot. Combat Rations, type one, megafauna size, carnivore slash omnivore, with cold weather supplement pack. Over 5,000 calories each, and one of the two med-kits in the helicopter for good measure. Now, where are your friends? If we don't find the missing troops, well, no point carrying this extra weight back to base, may as well drop it off somewhere, understand?"
"I… yes. The large cleft they use as a rest stop, three quarters of the way up the High stair?"
"Large dihedral? Right by the path, shelter on three sides, sort of bowl-like base?"
"Yeah, I know it. We'll swing by if the troops don't need this food: maybe those navy punks have found them already. Kid, don't fuck with the morphine in the kit: no matter how much pain someone's in it's not worth accidentally killing them if you don't know what you're doing. But there's also Fusidic acid cream and some broad-spectrum antibiotics in the kit. Two capsules as soon as you see your friend, to get the levels of it in his blood up high enough to start working, and then one every eight hours after that until they're gone. Its powerful stuff, so I'll screw up his digestion a bit, but better than than becoming someone else's digestive problem. Am I right?"
"Yes but… but what now?" asked Louis. "It's only a little food, it'll last a day or so. What then? What… what If I fail them? What I'm not a good enough leader to get them through this?" he asked, nervously.
"Not good enough? Who's the guy that's out there, when the rest of them are in their tents? You're a go club, right?"
"Wherever. But you play go?"
"Then use Kiai: show some balls, a little more aggression, assuming it doesn't go against your nature as a deer?"
Louis smiled. "It doesn't."
"Didn't look like it. And hell, if that fails, just act tougher than you are; should be easy for theatre club. You'll do fine, got it? You look like you've got hart, if you'll pardon the pun. What? What's with the look? Did I sound cool?" asked the helicopter guy."
"Yes. Understood! Thank you sir!" said Louis, smiling a little despite himself.
"Don't call me sir, I work for a living!" said the voice. "Oh, one more thing…"
Something else landed at Louis's feet, punching through the snow, like it was made of denser stuff than the bag.
Louis knelt and brushed off the snow, showing a large tan leather strap… what the… is that a shotgun-shell? In a loop in a shoulder-strap, like in the moves?
Louis pulled on the strap, filled with what looked like more oversized shotgun shells, and then there it was, in his hands: a flare-pistol. Gingerly, he snapped it open: it was loaded.
"To make sure we can find you again: a little better than flashing a camera at us, yeah? But be careful with it: at close range that thing's basically lethal. Only fire it in the air, don't point it at anything you want to keep. Understood?"
"Understood: thank you!" said Louis, squinting, trying to see his rescuer, past the blinding light. Something in the silhouette was familiar. "Wait. Are… are you a tiger?"
"Wouldn't you like to know? Now get back to your friends, brat." Said the voice, as the helicopter rose into the distance "If they've already started making pacts on who's going to eat who, I'd get back before they could act them out, if I were you. Good luck!"
Louis froze up when he heard that. I…. oh god, Tem: I've left you alone with them
Louis turned, and started to scramble back up the slopes of scree and boulders, towards the trial, bag of supplies in hand, flare gun slung over his shoulders.
Lightning flashed. The storm-wall drew closer.
Panting and sweating, dragging himself slightly where he'd rolled over a bolder and bruised his ribs, Louis made it back to the official emergency camp site at the top of the high stair, hands on burning thighs, breath ragged, body shaking as he tried to recover his stamina. I… I'm at peak physical fitness, for a stag, but that… that was too much. He thought, trying to work out a stitch. My body is built for long walks, and short sprints if need be, not two-thousand meters of parkour, racing against military hardware.
He managed, eventually, to unscrew the top of his canteen with shaking hands, and take a sip.
Don't kill yourself Louis: you need to get this food back to camp before someone eats Tem, but to do that you need to get back to camp without having a heart attack or falling off the cliff-path. Take a second to catch your breath, the air here is thinner than you're used to, and you don't want-
Lightening flashed, lighting up the High Stair for a moment.
-to start hallucinating. He thought, rubbing his eyes with one hand, and then pinching the bridge of his nose.
Great: it's happed, you're seeing things; there are not two figures on the stair near our camp. That would be crazy-
Vertigo dolly-zoom on the cliff-path: Tem clearly lying in bloodied snow, Legosi, jaws wrapped around his throat as Tem struggles. Diagonal spit-screen showing Louis's reaction on other side of screen: dolly zoom on him focusing in on his horrified eyes.
No! No, I thought Bill would be the threat! I trusted you! I shared a bed with you, dammit! You-
Tem! There might still be time!
Louis ran, heart pounding, breath ragged, tears in eyes.
Establishing shot of the camp: Aoba, Kai, Bill and Dom gathered at the entrance to the cleft in their parkas, peering out.
"So you don't know were any of them are?" asked Kai, standing in the entrance. "Any of them?"
"Hey, I didn't see Legosi and Tem leave, and Louis looked like he had some shit on his mind…" started Aoba.
"So you just let him go?" protested Bill. "Why, was he heading to the school shop for gum? We're up a freaking mountain, asshole, and you let our leader and half the party wander off just before a storm hits?! Moron!"
"Bill, that's a lot of judgmental noises coming from the guy who broke the radio and helped knock Tem off a cliff." Said Aoba. He then sighed. "But you have a point: I shouldn't have let Louis go. I thought he just needed a moment to compose his thoughts, but… he's been gone a long time, and what he said… he… he might not be back, now I think of it. And I have no idea where Tem and Legosi have gone, I hope they didn't do anything dumb, but I… I think we're on our own now."
There was an ominous pause.
"Errr." said Kai. "But Tem's gone, and so is Louis-sempai, so… what are we going to eat?" he asked.
All four glace at Bill, then Dom. Dom notices.
"Shit." Dom said, putting his hands on his hips and sighing, as if put upon. "Can we at least play janken to choose?" he asked more annoyed than frightened, raising a hand.
The others looked to each-other and shrugged, rising hands as if about to rock-paper-scissors. Dom counted down.
"Isse no se! Go!"
Everyone picks scissors except for Dom, who goes paper.
"Awww, crap!" exulted the peafowl, frowning. "Listen, guys-"
"Hey, we did that fair and square!" said Bill.
"It… it shouldn't happen, but I can't see any other way." Said Aoba, lowering his head, sadly.
"A-And it's not like we have any other food-" said Kai "So-"
"Kai, catch!" yelled Louis, sprinting past on the path and throwing the plastic bag of rations. Kai turned when he heard Louis and got nailed right in the face, falling over backwards in the snow.
"I… what?" asked Aoba, kneeling and picking up a spilled ration pack. "How… how does he do that?!"
The wind howled, lightening flashed, the storm approached, and Tem and Legosi cried quietly into each other's fur, waiting for the en-
Tem paused, and frowned. "L-Legosi-kun do you hear something?" he asked, shivering, teeth chattering, pale.
Legosi, His face pointing down, crying into Tem's shoulder , pulled back a moment to look at Tem as he spoke.
"Hum? Er… Like what?" he asked, kneeling. "Over the storm, I didn't hea-"
Louis caught him in the back with a flying two-footed kick.
Dramatic long shot of Legosi rolling spinning down the mountain path, he rolls to a halt just centimetres from going off the edge to his left. Louis picks himself up, and stands fist-clenched over Tem, who is partly stripped and lying in a heap of blood-stained snow. Lightning flashes behind Louis.
"Asshole! Leave him alone!" yelled Louis, before running in to punch Legosi as he gets up.
What? I didn't do anything I -Oof! Thought Legosi, as Louis's fist connected with his jaw.
Legosi staggered back, holding his mouth, right hand out to keep touching the cliff-wall to his right so he didn't fall over the gap to his left. He lifted his hand to look at it, to check if he was bleeding and-
Oh no. He was covered in blood where he'd been lying over Tem to protect him from the cold. He went to speak, but he couldn't he needed to spit first. He spat red. I… I bit my tongue. I was kneeling over Tem's body, I'm covered with blood, and because of that punch I also now have blood-stained mouth as well.
This, this probably doesn't look good.
He quickly raised both of his hands.
"I Louis-senpai I can explain."
Louis swing at him again. Legosi caught the fist, but Louis swivelled quickly and kicked him in the shin, almost tripping him. He wavered uncertainty, tottering on the edge of the drop. This was not a safe spot to have a fight, as him and Bill had proved. If he's not careful he's going to knock us both over the side!
"Asshole! I left you with Tem and you try to eat him? I trusted you!" yelled Louis fist balled and swinging. He was crying, Legosi realised, and shaking, beyond enraged.
Legosi got a hand up and caught the punch easily enough, but it transferred enough momentum to the right side of his body to spin him on the slick snow, and he had to let go of Louis and grab the cliff wall to his right again to stop himself from falling, his claws cutting into the stone.
I'm so much stronger than him it's not even funny, but we're on a meter wide, unstable, downward-sloping path covered in snow, and he has the high ground: all he has to do is keep swinging and sooner or later one of us with over-balance and go off!
"Stop it, you idiot, you'll knock us both off!" Legosi yelled, reluctant to swing back at Louis when one good hit could send him flying off the cliff. "Tem's okay this- this was his ide-"
Louis hit him again, right on the snout, sending him reeling. The deer was beyond reason: in his mind, he could just see the wolf kneeling over Tem, again and again and again. He was dimly aware that the wolf was speaking, and also of some survival instinct screaming at him to be more careful on the cliff, but he couldn't hear what they were saying: he was back in that place; the red room, the room with the fireplace, thrust in by his father, the elevator closing behind him. He was the knife, and no matter if it killed him he wasn't letting the carnivores win. He couldn't even picture Tem's face: in his mind, Tem had become every Herbivore he' ever know in his childhood. Every last one at the market, in those cages, the ones he couldn't save.
A dozen years of survivors guilt, nearly two decades of hating and fearing the weak body I was trapped in from birth, of being so careful to use the right words, the right walk, wear the right clothes to just try for a second to give the impression I was stronger than this birth, and this bastard still eats someone right under my nose?
NOT. THIS. TIME!
"Asshole, if you want him you've got to go through me!" screamed Louis, frantic, wild eyed, body pumping out herbivore stress hormones and adrenaline, all mixing with the smell of Tem's blood and hitting Legosi in waves. Louis screamed, punching, the flurry forcing the wolf to one knee, head bowed and Louis punching him in the head again, and again and again and-
Legosi caught the hand, and this time he didn't let go.
Close up on Legosi, bruised, nose and mouth bleeding, his blood mixing with Tem's, raising his head and growling, hackles raised, fur fluffing up aggressively as he opens his eyes. They are red.
Beastars soundtrack, track six: Devour this.
Split screen to Louis as his expression changes from blind rage, to wide eyed shock, as some switch inside his brain flicks from "Fight" to "Flight."
Oh. Thought Louis, mouth dry and metallic.
Legosi pushed of the ground with his huge feet, rising from his crouch and jumping at Louis, taking him with both arms round the waist like a ruby tackle. Instantly the two teens were grappling in the blood stained snow, Louis's head bouncing of Tem's legs making the alpaca scream as his peers grappled. Legosi was on top, pinning Louis to the ground and dragging himself up on Louis clothes towards the deer's face like he's trying to pull him into an embrace. Louis panicked, and tried to force the wolf back with his hands, but the wolf had nearly twenty kilos on him, and as well as being heaver, had longer arms and was far, far stronger. Louis got a hand round Legosi's throat, but the wolf just reached out and grabbed the deer by his, his longer arms pushing Louis back and forcing him to let go, Legosi crawling up Louis's body as the deer kicked and and struggled, choking and gasping. Legosi pulled himself up level with Louis's face, pinning him and wrapping legs around him, the deer looking up, eyes wide with fascinated horror was the Wolf pulled back his lips to show fangs, red and dripping, drool cascading down as the wolf opened his jaws in feral grin, hot breath on Louis's face, close enough to kiss.
Split screen of Louis and Legosi, both eyes wide and staring into each other's faces, Louis scrabbling with his right hand, knuckles bruised and bloody, trying to reach a rock to defend himself. Shot of them from the side, Louis's head haloed by his antlers as Legosi rears back, jaws wide, ready to strike and-
And Tem grabs hold of Both of Louis's anthers, pulls himself up into a sitting position with them, and head-butts Legosi.
"Knock it of the both of you!" he yelled. "You two are going to get yourselves killed, and it's not your time for that, you selfish assholes!" he glanced up and noticed the stunned look on Legosi's face as he blinked, eyes white again, letting go of Louis clutching at the bridge of his nose with both hands. With one hand still on Louis's crown of thorns, Tem reached forward and presented an arm to Legosi. "Hey, if you're going to bite anything, bite me, that's the plan, remember?"
Legosi shook his head, clearing his mind. What was that?
"I-" he started, meaning to apologise.
Crunch! He didn't even see Louis swing the rock. He felt himself slip sideways, head spinning, when Tem grabbed him with the already outreached hand and pushed, so he fell over backwards onto the path and not to his left and over the edge of the cliff.
Legosi rolled backwards, and then flung out an arm, grabbing on the the cliff-wall to the right to steady himself.
That's it. He thought. Tem's right: Either Louis is going to kill me, or kill himself by falling of the cliff. I need to knock him out before he does that or before I lose control of my instincts again. I need to finish this before someone gets hurt he thought, staring to rise form his crouch and-
Legosi looked up.
Shot of Louis sanding between Tem and Legosi, panting, blooded: flare gun levelled at Legosi, aimed right at his chest. Lightning flashes, directly between Louis antlers, illuminating him. His eyes are narrow, determined.
Legosi froze in place. Panting, Louis spoke, shifting both hands on the gun.
"I… I trusted you. I thought you were one of the good ones. The way you saved Tem when he fell, the help you gave. Why? What were you doing? Just claiming him as your own?" asked Louis, hands shaking.
He noticed the guilty look that flashed across Legosi's face. "What? Hit a nerve there, wolf? You act like our friends, allies, but when the stakes are down, do you so quickly abandon your morals? I… I can't trust you, I can't trust any of you. I can't trust anyone. You're too dangerous to be allowed to live. I'm sorry." he said, thumbing the safety off and checking the hammer was cocked with his thumb, eyes still on Legosi's.
"But I'm not letting you take this alpaca. And to think, I… I let you into my tent!" Louis shouted, suddenly angry, branding the pistol in shaking hands "I trusted you to watch my back, and this is how you re-"
Tem tripped him, kicking him the the ankle with one foot and wrapping the other around the front of Louis's foot, and it worked precisely because, at that moment in time, Louis didn't have anyone watching his back. Louis fell to one knee, his leg ten centimetres from the edge of the path, firing the flare a good two meters wide of Legosi and a meter low, into the side of the cliff below the path. The impact of Louis falling to one knee broke the path under him, and with both hands on the gun, he fell sideways, unable to grab anything to stabilise himself, and he was falling, doing his best Hans Gruber pose. 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.
Close up on Legosi's hand, grabbing Louis's as he falls. Split screen on their eyes Louis shocked and surprised, Legosi pleading.
Louis nods, slowly, and lets the gun drop, dangling on its shoulder strap. He takes Legosi's other hand with his, and Legosi pulls him up onto the path.
Louis paused for a moment, he and Legosi kneeling opposite each-other, both panting, Louis looking at Legosi, open mouthed, too tired and confused to know what to think.
After a moment, when the tension became unbearable, Legosi spoke, if only to break the silence.
"I… I… you want to watch that spot." He panted. "That's right where Tem fell. A-after four years of perfect performance, you picked a hell of a time to forget you blocking, Louis-senpai."
"I- I think I owe you an apology." Said Louis, after some time.
A blood-coloured snowball hit him in the face.
"Him?" said Tem, shivering. "I-I was having a nice tranquil death until you blundered in Louis-senpai! Do… you have to upstage me in literally everything?" he asked, with a week grin, leg still leaking.
Louis saw this and scrambled up "Tem, we- we've got to get that wound closed what on earth did…" He pause, noticing the neatly removed Bandages, and the pair of scissors, lying in the snow.
"… Did you do?" he asked, turning to Legosi, confused. Tem chuckled, weakly, breath little more than a gasp.
"I- didn't want Bill to hit me in the head with a shovel. It seemed... cold." He said, shivering. "This—this way I have some control. Legosi came to comfort me, as I was trying to tell you before you went all Hajime No Ippo on his ass."
"Tem I… Legosi, quick!" said Louis, "Get his leg sealed up, we can still save him!"
"For what? Bill's breakfast?" muttered Tem. "Just let me die already. I'm cold, and tired, and need a drink of water. Let it end. Please."
"I… you know my name?" asked Legosi, hurrying over and kneeling in the snow next to Tem, dribbling some water from his canteen into the Alpaca's mouth as Louis tired and failed to re-bind the wound.
"Yes. How could I not? It's what everyone else calls you: I … I just didn't want to acknowledge you." He said, taking out this Leatherman and unfolding the sleek grey titanium, before pinching Tem's vein closed with the main pliers.
"if… if I acknowledged that I was stuck in this situation with you, where I had to rely on a complete stranger to survive, even in my own bed, that… that made it too real for me to cope with. I… I apologise. For everything."
"Oh, err… that's okay." Said Legosi "I'm… I'm sorry I stole Tem away from camp so he could kill himself. In hindsight, I see how that could have looked really bad you… you did the right thing, trying to protect him like that."
"No he didn't" muttered Tem, shivering. "Get off my leg with those damn pinchers, that's hurts. Just let me bleed out, okay? I want to die on my own terms."
"Tem, I found a military helicopter, they dropped food and medicine, that's why I came to find you. You don't need to sacrifice yourself." Said Louis, holding the Leatherman tight and Tem tried to brush him off. "Legosi, help me with this: he's lost a lot a blood, I'm not sure how much more he can lose and still live."
"Hai Louis senpai… Tem, stop fighting us!" said Legosi.
"Helicopter? I… I don't believe you." Said Tem, crying. "You're… you're just trying to give me false hope. Stop it, I want to do it this way!"
"I- there was helicopter, dammit!" said Louis, as Tem leaned in and tried to pull the Leatherman out.
"I don't believe you! D-don't do that, don't give me false hope. There was no helicopter! Why would there be? That's just lazy writing, I don't believe it!"
"And what? I made the flare gun out of snow, did I?" yelled Louis, sarcastically.
Tem paused, his face a picture.
"Well don't just sit there, fix my leg up!" Tem said, shivering. "Honestly guys, shake a tail, I might die!" he said, unravelling the coat he was using as a pillow and pulling it on to keep warm.
"I… dammit, do you have you're sewing kit?" asked Louis, to Legosi. "Mine's back at camp."
"Mine too. Let me see, ah." He said, glancing up. "Tem, unzip- that coat again, please, I need to get your tie." He said "Good thing we put it on for your video. Here." He said, knotting the much abused necktie in place one final time "That should do as a tourniquet until we get back to camp, but we should keep up pressure on the Leatherman as we go. If I carry him, can you hold his leg and keep up the pressure on the pliers?" Legosi asked Louis.
"I can hold it shut myself." Said Tem. "I-if that helps. Here let me get a grip- damn, it's all slippery. I guess I spilt more blood than I thought."
"Over a litre, by the looks of it." Said Louis, annoyed. "And after all the effort we went to to bind you up. I- do you know how many of our limited calories you must have burnt making all that blood?"
"Well excuse me." Muttered Tem. "If that's the main issue here we could re-claim the calories by getting Bill to just lick the blood of the floor. Look, we even made a nice alpaca flavoured snow-cone for him!"
"I… actually he's already been eating the snow you bled on last time: I think he's pretty desperate for food." Confessed Louis. Tem made a series of terrified and disgusted faces, before settling on annoyed.
"Wow. Keep it classy, Bill." He muttered.
"You can talk. Whatever possessed you to do this, Tem?" asked Louis, moving onto bandaging and handing over the grips of the pliers to Tem, who shrugged, and ran his spare hand thought his hair, nervously.
"Honestly? I… I just figured if anyone was going to kill me, I wanted it to be a friend. I… I was afraid to die alone, hell, scratch that: I was afraid to die and be eaten, and I figured the best way around that was to do it myself, with my own hands, and have some control is… is that crazy?" he asked. Legosi shrugged, working on the bandages, but the question gave Louis pause for thought.
Louis thought back, as he often did, to his adoptive father pushing him into that room, blade in his hand. That room full of death, predators to every side. He could still feel it, still smell it. Still remember the feeling of fear, yes, but also anger, the desire to fight. The knowledge that there there was only one way they didn't win.
If I took control myself, blade to my own throat. He remembered
Yes, Tem, I understand when deaths seems imminent, that any choice you can make about how it happens is a comfort, the last expression of your will as a living being... even if that choice is only which teeth do the deed.
Between no control, and a little. The difference between being a victim, and a consensual victim.
I understand, more than you could know.
"All right." Said Louis "I understand. Although I'm a little disappointed in your sense of taste: you could do better than that wolf; it's not who I'd pick in your place." Joked Louis, helping Tem up into a sitting position.
"Id…ufff I'd rather you be disappointed in my taste than one of the carnivores." Muttered Tem "So... it's true? The helicopter, I mean? I… I'm not going to get eaten? I get to live?" he asked, voice shaking. "I-I get to live?"
"I… I don't know." said Louis, honestly. "I don't know if the helicopter will be back with more food, what the weather will be. The storm will still hit us, and we have no guarantees who's going to make it out of that, or in what shape we'll be in but… yes: for now, you get to live. You get to live and weather the storm with us, whatever that brings."
Tem nodded, sniffed back a tear, and then suddenly, unexpectedly stood up hugged both Louis and Legosi, one hand around each, crying.
"I get to live! Ahahahahaha! Not today, reaper, I get to live! Tem gets to live hehehe… he…" he said, trailing off awkwardly as he realised, look of embarrassed horror on his face
"I- er… I should have put my pants back on before the group hug, right?"
"Um, yes." said Legosi, scrabbling to keep a hold on the pliers where Tem had unintentionally let go of them, as Louis tried to help, turning his head slightly to avoid getting alpaca-crotch thrust in his face as Tem stood.
"L-lets go back to camp." Suggested Legosi, picking up Tem and putting him back in his sleeping bag.
"I-I don't know about you to, but I'm really looking forward to trying army food." Joked the wolf, turning to put the spilled blood behind him.
Act three, Scene four: The last supper (The large tent) The king of swords: clear leadership, zeal, strength, the tyrant
Establishing shot of Tem's leg: wound covered in and obscured by antibiotic cream, being sewn with proper sterile thread and a curved medical needle by Dom as it rests, clean and white-furred, on a nest of bandages. Sound cue: the hiss of a butane stove, and low level conversation and laughter as the boys do the only sensible thing: make tea, and relax in the big tent.
Legosi hands Tem a mug of steaming hot tea, as the group joked and laughed about their good luck with the helicopter and everything else than had happened.
"You seriously ran down that bolder field near the peak?" asked Aoba, Impressed. "That… that takes some nerve, Louis-senpai."
"Heh, you think that takes nerve, you should have seen him fight Legosi." Said Tem, taking his tea with a nod of thanks, head propped up on Legosi's backpack.
"He came down and saw us, miss-interpreted what was happing and bam, went in. No hesitation it… it was some thing." Said Tem, sipping. "He must have really thought Legosi's was about to eat me!"
I was. Thought Legosi, guilty. Until you snapped me out of it. He glanced up at Louis, whose face was unreadable.
They'd have liked to gloss over what had happened, especially the fight, but that just wasn't possible: Louis and Legosi both had injures that couldn't be explained by a fall or accident, Louis's knuckles and Legosi's lip in particular. It was also hard to explain Tem's blood loss, so they'd opted for selective honesty: Tem had tried to end his life with Legosi's help, Louis had seen this and misinterpreted, punched Legosi, Legosi defended himself, they then worked out their mistake. The end. No need to mention fangs, flare-guns, or people getting thrown of cliffs. Just a little misunderstanding.
A little misunderstanding that could have easily ended in three deaths. Legosi thought. That… that was too close.
Or was it? He mused: when they had got their stories straight before coming back to camp, Legosi was surprised to find he, Tem and Louis all remembered the fight completely differently: Tem, on his back and low on blood, genuinely remembered it as a small scuffle until the point a flare gun came out of no-where, and seemed unaware of how close Louis and Legosi came to killing each other, and both Louis and Legosi remembered themselves as being on the losing side until Tem intervened, each frightened by the other's intensity.
And our own: Louis says he doesn't remember feeling in control of himself, and nor do I. Thought Legosi, with a shiver. If Tem hadn't been there to stop us, or if Louis hadn't been there to tell us about the helicopter and save Tem, or if I hadn't been there to catch him… how can the three of us be endangering each other lives, and saving them all at the same time?
He glanced up. Louis was watching the room, calmly. He was not looking at Legosi, but despite that, Legosi could feel Louis's interest in him, watching out of the corner of his eye, all the time. He knows my name, and he saw, maybe, a glimpse of the real me, both the good and bad. He'll ignore me in front of the others, like he always used to: act like nothing happed, to keep up the charade, keep them calm, play it cool… but something's changed.
And I saw him, as well. The strength and fury under that calm facade. The passion to protect another, or advance his goal, and the cold uncompromising will that backs it. The mask slipped, for both of us.
There's no going back. He realised. Something has changed: we might act normal and ignore each other when we go back to school, but we'll both be watching, out of the corner of our eyes. He's not just a popular rich kid; he's a leader, ruthless, silk hiding steal. And I'm not just the lighting guy at drama club I'm… something else, something raw, and he knows.
And one day, we'll have to confront that for real. One day, Tem won't be there to make us put the masks back on.
I wonder what we'll see, on that day?
Kai's laughter and nudge brought him back to reality.
"Did you really let Louis-senpai hit you in the face?" asked Kai, joking. "A big wolf like you?"
"Oh… errr…" he flashed back to looming over Louis, fangs bared, fully willing to kill.
"Well... It's against the law to bare your fangs at a herbivore, and, well, we were on the cliff I… I didn't want to do a Bill and swing at him and knock him off." He finished, weakly.
"So you let him beat you?" asked Kai, seemly very amused by this. "Ha! House-plant-Legosi strikes again. You don 't need a medic, you need a nice gardener to look after you!"
"Can we not have do a Bill enter the lexicon, please?" said Bill, chewing distractedly on his claws, and glancing at the ration packs every few seconds. "It was an accident, it could happen to anyone. Dom, get that mangy Alpaca-leg out of the way so we've got some space to cook!" he joked. But there was a fear under the humour. A real fear.
"I'm sorry, the what?" said Tem. "I'll have you know my leg has, ow- has never looked better."
"It would look a lot better if you hadn't taken my good scissors to it." Muttered Dom. Tem grinned.
"Well I couldn't find your murder-pills so -ow! Don't hit me!" protested Tem, as Dom clipped him round the ear.
"I'll hit you when you deserve it! This is the third time I've had to fix this leg of yours! Honestly Tem, you don't treat you costumes half this rough…. Uggg how dare you? Running off like that into the night, you had me worried sick!" said the peafowl, leaning in to berate Tem more effectively.
"Oh. Sorry mother, won't do it again." Joked Tem, leaning back.
"Huh! You all wish your mothers treated you this good!" said Dom, finishing the bandaging and passing the now very disgusting neck-tie tourniquet to Legosi who unthinkingly pocketed it.
"Right, that's it. He's done." said Dom, washing his hands with a little squirt of sanitiser from his fanny pack. "He's dosed up on every antibiotic known to science, and bandaged as well as he's ever going to be, and I for one am done with it!"
"Sweet, let's get the food out then!" said Kai.
"Yes, lets!" agreed Bill, eagerly leaning in.
"Hey, don't shove me, you ass…. Okay, let's get this out on to a tray… nice!" Declared Kai, unpacking the combat ration. "Combat ration type one: three thermo-stabilized retort pouches for each meal; Plain rice, Curried Pilaf rice with chopped vegetable and soy sausage, and best of all, boiled soy burger patty in gravy, with a paper serving-tray. Huh, nice gusset on the bags. Oh, and the cold weather supplement pack: extra electrolyte dinks: two packs of Pocari Sweat and two coffee with four sugar per ration, one instant ramen per ration, one freeze dried miso paste, ginger hard candies, some black black, for when you can't make coffee, peanuts, a kit-kat, and two protein bars per ration. Oh, and a spork, wet-wipes and some paper napkins each, flame-less ration heater and some esbit cubes too. Not bad. And we have three of them How… how should we distribute this?" Kai asked the group.
"Why don't you play Jaken for it?" asked Dom, sourly. Aoba, Kai and Bill looked down, guilty.
Some in joke I'm not getting thought Louis, frowning. What did I miss while I was away?
Everyone looks so tired and hungry, and it's not just Bill, they're all on edge. They are more desperate for food than I thought… time to show a little Kiai
"No: Bill, Aoba and Legosi are the priorities here. There are three rations, and three of them. They eat first; we'll finish off any leftovers." said Louis, calmly.
"I… I only get one?" asked Bill, affronted, hugging one of the two un-opened packs to him. "That's less food that I'd have got if we ate Tem, no offence Tem. I haven't eaten in days, I need more!" he said reaching for the other.
"None of us have, and yet once again you're the only on complaining. You get one." Said Louis, calmly. "Kai, Dom and I don't even get one each. I'm allocating you a full pack because you're suffering the most, and you're the biggest break risk, be grateful. Don't get greedy." said Louis, laying his backpack across his legs, an unzipping it, apparently to get out his canteen. "Here, Kai, you'll need water to activate the flameless heater."
"That's not good enough Louis dammit! We need food!" said Bill, slamming his fists into his crossed legs as he sat opposite Louis. "I'm the only one complaining because the rest are afraid to say it, but you ignored us! You got enough medicine for Tem, but barely enough food for one meal! Me and Aoba are close to death here, Kai and Legosi too, and you only focus on him, your fellow herbivore! You don't seem to realise-" he growled.
Louis moved his hand, and there was a slight click. Most of the group was distracted by Kai trying to get the heater working, But Legosi and Aoba looked over, ready to break up a fight.
The flare gun. He didn't tell anyone he has it. Only me and Tem know. Thought Legosi looking over: the way Louis had positioned his bag hid his right hand from the room. Well, hid his hand from everyone other than Bill. Legosi glanced over. Bill had gone very, very still, staring at Louis's bag with wide eyed horror.
"Errr. Maybe you're right: now that you think about it, I'm not all that hungry." Said Bill, very slowly and carefully putting the second ration bag back down. Louis, however, barely seemed to notice the act of contrition, or how much it cost Bill.
"Filled up on snow?" asked Louis, big eyes narrowed. Legosi shuddered, remembering those eyes aimed at him, and moved into to defuse the situation.
"Actually, Louis-senpai, Bill has a point: that's not the best way to divide the rations." He said, moving calmly and opening the packs, and starting to lay out the contents in neat piles. He spoke as he worked, keeping his voice calm and diffusing the tension and everyone watched him work… everyone except Louis and Bill, who maintained their taught stand-off. I need to stop them before they kill each other: those two are each far too similar to realise that what they don't like in the other is a reflection of themselves. Fierce, prideful, brave but ego-centric, and utterly willing to kill to feed his friends…. And that's just the deer.
He swallowed, nervously, and begun to lay out the food like… well like someone's life depended on it.
"Here, listen. Bill, Aoba and Kai are obligate carnivores: they can eat the rice, but it will just be filling them up, they can't digest it properly; they may as well be eating snow at that point. So… if Bill gets two of the three soy-burgers, four of the six protein bars, and some miso, that's enough protein and fat and hot fluids to fill him. If Aoba takes the last burger and a protein bar and some miso, Kai a protein bar and some miso, and I take four of the six rice because I'm almost an omnivore: canids can eat most anything if they have to… that gives you and Dom a rice each, and the instant ramen can be for Tem, as he's lost a lot of blood and needs water and salt and rapid-release carbs to replenish himself. We…we can share out the candy and peanuts as needs be. That way the bulk of the protein goes to the three obligate carnivores who need it, but… but everyone gets enough hot food to feel full and sleep well."
He looked around the tent, tense and fraught, Louis still aiming his hidden flare-gun at Bill. "Does… does that sound good?" Legosi asked Looking at Louis.
"I don't know: does it Bill?" asked Louis.
"I… yeah, yeah smart move!" said Bill, swallowing nervously. "I… I agree. No more trouble from me!"
Louis maintained his glare a moment longer, and then relaxed, slowly, his hand re-emerging from behind the bag like Amaterasu from her cave. Bill un-tensed his muscles, claws subconsciously retracting.
And just like that it was all friendly again.
Food can have that effect. Thought Legosi, his mouth watering as Kai steamed the rations and handed round peanuts. Who'd have thought some basic rations could lift everyone's mood so much? He mused, chewing on a peanut eagerly.
"So, how long before the storm hits?" asked Tem, also swallowing a nut.
"Not long: I checked with the radio-rig Legosi built. Weather report puts it hitting our positon in between now, and an hour from now." Said Aoba, chewing on a protein bar. "So we better boil as much water as we can now: we won't be able to use the stove with the tent flaps closed."
"Th-that doesn't give the helicopter long to get back to us." Said Kai, nervously. "What if the storm hits us before they get more supplies to us? I… I don't think this meal will last us another two days snowed into our tents."
"We'll deal with that when it happens." Said Louis, a little forcefully.
"I hope the 'copter finds us." Said Tem, glancing nervously up from his tea, eyes flicking to Bill for just a moment. "I… I don't particularly want to find out what happens if we run out of food for real, not now that I've got my hopes up."
"It won't come to that." said Louis, firmly. "Now… now that we have proper medical treatment for you and you're no longer at risk of death there, well, there's no rational reason why you should be the one to sacrifice yourself any more, is there?"
Aoba, Kai and Dom looked up from their cooking. Even Bill seemed surprised.
I'm not. realised Legosi. I'm starting to realise how much Louis invests into the idea of Louis: the image. I don't doubt he'd sacrifice himself to the idea of himself: in fact, I think he does it every day.
It's who else he'd toss on that heap that concerns me.
"That… that might be a little hard when you're in the other tent." Said Aoba, because there was no polite way to say 'we'll probably eat whoever's closest if it comes to it.'
"Quite right: splitting into two tents was a bad idea: it's going to be far too cold for that if the storm really does hit harder the second time. This is a three person tent, designed for three sleeping bags side by side: if we're two to a bag, we can have six lined up in the same space, and the seventh, Bill, laying across out legs sideways. That should keep everyone far warmer, and means we don't need to split our limited supplies between two tents. Plus if Bill feels the need to snack on anyone in the night, I'll be right here."
Knowing you have the flare gun, that statement could be read in two very different ways. Thought Legosi, glancing over. Louis glanced back, and he caught his eye, for just a moment, unreadable. It also means that there won't, at any point for the rest of the trip, be just the two of us alone together.
That could be a good thing, or a bad: the feelings that came out when we clashed over Tem… I don't know if brushing that under the rug will work. We're both clearly very good at repressing the parts of ourselves we find troubling, but I think like Tem's leg, some things, unless you deal with them properly right away and air them out, they can just fester.
Still, not necessarily my problem. Though Legosi. I could be over-thinking this, reading meaning into Louis's actions that he never intended: perhaps he's just uncomfortable to spend time with you after you almost ate him, which is fair. Hell, he could just be trying to avoid more acute embarrassment. Don't dwell Legosi: If we can just get back to school, maybe you'll get lucky. Maybe we'll never have to deal with it. I'm good at lurking in the background and avoiding drama, so long as we never have a catalyst to deal with each other again…
The flameless ration heater made a little pop sound and vented some steam, snapping him back to reality.
"-I mean to be honest, Louis-senpai, it sure would be over-dramatic for you to sacrifice yourself at this point. I mean, if I saw it in a play, I'd say it was too clichéd." Said Dom.
"Yeah, like, 'he had two weeks to retirement'or 'check out a picture of my new wife' moment. It would be too much!" joked Bill. "Don't tell me you've got a girl waiting for you or something, senpai!"
"I-" Louis paused. "No, nothing like that." said Louis, playing with his engagement ring distractedly, and thinking of Haru. Aoba glanced up, but said nothing.
"Life isn't always that melodramatic." Said the big eagle, to Bill, trying to calm the room, which was getting almost giddy at the prospect of food.
"No, but sometimes it is." Said Louis, quietly, looking to Legosi. The wolf glanced up, and made eye contact, and there was a strange understanding there, for a second.
"I"- Louis opened his mouth to say something important, as the tent canvas behind him lit up, and the noise broke.
"Is that the helicopter!?" asked Kai, jumping up to the sound of whirring rotors, breaking the moment. Louis closed his mouth, and turned away from Legosi, standing up: whatever chance there was, lost.
"Yes, quickly, everyone out! Kai, Dom, lay out the spare tent canvas in the centre of the area, right under the narrow gap at the top of the cleft: give then a target to aim for when they drop supplies. Bill, Aoba, you help me get the supplies under cover as soon as they land, we won't have much time. Tem, you-"
"I'll keep an eye on the food, make sure we don't burn what we've already started cooking." Replied the Alpaca, grinning weakly, as the copter's search-light lit up the world. "So the last-act rescue came. Literal Deus ex Machina: a big machine lowering salvation from the top of the fly-loft onto the stage. Looks like neither of us get to sacrifice bravely, Louis-senpai."
"Not right now, but give me time, things can always go wrong before the curtain call." Said Louis, hurrying out. "Wolf…. Legosi. Look after Tem, would you? I need to deal with this." He said, putting on the c2 headset and booting up the small radio the helicopter crew had thrown him. He paused in the doorway to the tent for a moment, hesitating, as if about to say something to them, but then pushed on out, into the spotlight, into the role he had to play.
Exhausted, Tem slumped down, grin fading.
"B-Bet you 50 yen that Louis carries me down the last stage of the mountain, so the papers have something good to photograph. A hero for this story: it won't be us, Legosi-kun."
"Er…. Bet you 100 yen he doesn't at first, but the papers force him to, because they know it will double their sales." Said Legosi.
Tem snorted, venting a little steam from the Flameless ration heater. "Yeah, that seems about right. Er… thank you, Legosi: for being willing to help me make that sacrifice, and for being there to undo it as well. Thank you for the downs as well as the ups." He said, handing Legosi a retort pouch of steamed rice.
"You…. you're welcome Tem. Thank you for inviting me on this trip. It was a nice gesture. Please never do that again." he said, taking the rice, and holding out his tea-mug to toast.
"To… to rescue." He said.
Tem grinned, and clinked mugs with him.
Act three, Scene five: Redemption (The path down the mountain) The Seven of Wands, standing tall on the mountain: defending footing gained, the ability to cultivate the struggles at hand into a stronger position, He who stands alone against a multitude, but perseveres. Those who alone maintain the fight and are not beaten.
Long, over the shoulder shot of Louis walking down the High stair, back towards the pass, on a clear, cold, sunny day, the sky clean in the way you only get after a big storm. Camera stays fixed in position as Aoba walks past, then Dom, then Legosi, Tem sitting on his backpack and getting a piggy-back down the mountain, and then Kai and Bill. Sound cues of crunching snow and relieved, tension-bursting laughter and banter.
"No, seriously, what's the first thing you're going to do when you get back?" asked Kai, head part turned to talk at Bill. "I'm going to eat a burger and sleep for three days, in my own bed!"
"Ha, I'm going to capitalise on my new fame as a heroic mountain adventurer and tap every bit of feline ass in the school!" said Bill, striking a pose. "I'll be in bed for three days, but I won't be alone Kai! Hey Aoba, what are you doing when you get back?"
"Hot shower! Something I thoroughly recommend you do before you try to leverage your story into romance, if only for your girlfriends' sakes! As an eagle I barely have a sense of smell, and after nearly a week stuck up here without showers, I'm glad of that for once!"
"Try sharing a bag with someone who won't stop farting." Yelled Kai.
"Hey, those anti-biotics did a number on my gut!" protested Tem. "Try sharing a sleeping bag with someone who won't stop twitching!"
"Ha! Kai's probably twitching because that's the longest he's gone without masturbation since he hit puberty!" joked Bill.
"H-hey, no fair!" said Kai, blushing. "I wasn't even the horneist person in that bag: amazingly, given he shouldn't have enough blood left to operate it, Tem has the worst morning wood in the world."
"Rather that than the worst morning breath in the wold, Kai. Maybe you should celebrate getting back to school by re-uniting with your mouthwash." Joked Tem. "Louis-senpai! What will you do when we get back home?" he called, cheekily.
"Meet with the club principle, the head-master, and Fire and Rescue to sort out the nightmare of paperwork this will have caused, most likely." He said, phlegmatically. "Although I'm with Aoba and Kai on shower and sleep, in that order." And then maybe a nice walk to clear my mind. The gardening club, perhaps… "Dom? What about you?"
"Oh… er… probably call my parents. They're probably worried about me. We… we don't talk much, but this could be a good chance to re-connect, Louis-senpai."
"What will you do when we get back, Legosi-kun?" asked Tem, looking down
"Err…" I'm not hungry, we ate pretty well on those army rations. I'm not in a romantic relationship with anyone. I don't have any parents… sure, I will shower and sleep, but is that what I'm looking forwards to?
What do I ever look forwards to?
"Not sure. W-what will you do, Tem-kun?" he asked, to buy time.
Tem paused, staring ahead into the mountains contentedly for a moment, considering this.
He shrugged. "Live." He said, simply. "I-i've come far too close to death for my liking, and it's made me realise all that I would miss. I'd try to live more of my life, Legosi."
"Oh… that… that's a good answer." Legosi said.
"Although I'm also with Aoba on the hot shower idea: between the bleeding and fever sweats, my wool feels crunchy: that can't be attractive."
"It's not." Pointed out Kai, helpfully. Tem laughed.
"So… does this new found lust for live mean you'll be telling Els your feelings?" asked Bill, grinning. "There's still time to join me in the hero of the hour gets laid club."
"Err!" said Tem, suddenly terrified. "I mean, she's probably worried enough about me and very stressed, so maybe now's not the best time…"
There was general consternation at this point.
"Coward!" yelled Kai.
"You'll regret it if you don't, and miss your chance." said Aoba.
"- I mean she'll jump right out of those clothes and onto your-" said Bill, before, perhaps thankfully, Dom cut him off.
"And after you made her such a nice video? That was very, very sweet." Pointed out the peacock. "I cried, truly."
"You cried at the end of 'stand by me doraemon'!" joked Bill.
"So did you." Pointed out Aoba. Tem, however, contorted into a horrified rictus, teeth clenched, eyes wide.
"The Video! I forgot all about it! Dom, Legosi, delete that, now! Everyone, delete your copies! I… I can't let anyone see that! It'd be super embarrassing!"
"What, but we worked so hard on it!" Said Dom. "It was good!"
"It… it was really quite powerful, Tem. I… I would want to keep it, if it was me." Said Legosi.
"I worked so hard on your make-up! You can't delete it!" protested Kai.
"You should keep it, to remember." Said Legosi, quietly.
"No way! It-Its just so cringy if I'm not actually dead!" Protested Tem. "Delete it, please I'm begging you. N-no one show Els! That, that could actually kill me!"
"Okay, you sure you don't want me to save a copy for next year's hiking trip?" asked Bill, jokingly. "You know, in case you fall off another mountain?"
"I somehow doubt there will be a hiking trip next year." Said Louis. "Or at least, certainly not up a mountain, not after this."
"Good." Said Tem "Could for one suggest that next year, we do something less cursed? Like, I don't know, an actual play? Because I can't help but feel any play would be less jinxed than this trip! Mother Courage and her depressing Children, a season of Mikhail Bulgakov performed to a mixed audience of the school socialist club and some local skin heads, all armed with big sticks, Macbeth… oh don't gasp Dom, I'm not calling it the Scottish play, that's silly! Rebel Without a Cause performed on the actual smoking wreckage of James Dean's Little Bastard! Gloomy Sunday: the musical! The King In Yellow! Hell, even that Adler play that's supposed to curse anyone who has the lead role! Anything is less cursed than this!"
Louis smiled, wanly. "A play would be good. And don't knock Bulgakov or Alder, I'm a fan." He said, pulling ahead a little, hoping to get a good look at the blocked pass as the reached it. "Legosi: I'm going to call in on the C2 set, if we're in range of the rescue team at the pass. Please check the civilian channels for me."
"Hai, Louis senpai." He said, putting in an ear-phone, and turning on his mobile to check the news radio. "You, you should still tell Els how you feel." Said Legosi, quietly, so only Tem would hear. "Even if we do delete the video, you should tell her."
"I… the timing just doesn't feel right just now. But don't worry I will! I will!" said Tem, unconvincingly. "Y-You didn't say what you're going to do when we get back, Legosi!" Tem said, changing the subject.
Legosi shrugged, jolting Tem slightly. "I don't know. I never do." he said, honestly "I'll just go with it, and see what happens, like I always do." He said, tuning his radio "Life's going to happen to you no matter what you plan, so I just let it, and try to stay positive through it all. I… ah!"
"Louis-senpai! The news is in! The military announced that they found their lost recruits! A… a helicopter that had diverted to give aid to a different set of stranded hikers took an unconventional route back to base after that, and spotted them in a cave! They're… they're all okay! No serious casualties! The news said that that military is now turning it's full attention to the stranded school group… that's us!"
Louis, on his own radio turned, and gave a thumbs up, still talking to someone on his line "No, we're still some distance above the pass, and I can confirm no one else is near it. By all means use explosives to clear it. Yes, I'll fire a flare once it's clear to confirm when we're coming down into your area of operations, we are currently clear, I repeat, I can confirm we are currently clear." He said, as through the clear spring air a pair of fighter-bombers suddenly roared past, hugging the mountain-side and down the valley: one dipping its wings as it spotted them. They were then out of sight again, the heavy crump of multiple detonations roaring out from the valley, the snow in the pass fountaining up in geysers of steam and debris, followed a moment later by an impressive fireworks display and fountains of red and white sparks that leapt around, melting the snow.
"Thermite?" asked Aoba. "Well, that's one way to clear it I guess."
Louis grinned. "Take a short break, everyone. Have something to eat and catch your breath. We'll give the firework display some time to die down, then move on." He said, unsheathing his flare gun, and firing off a shot to indicate they were ready to begin their final descent: one hand raised to the sky, shooting light, the other at his side, pointed to the earth. The pose stuck Legosi as familiar, and it took him a moment to think where from.
Shelia's Tarot cards. The magus, also known as the wizard, or something the mountebank: the false wizard. Sometimes a trickster, sometimes an honest hero, depending on who you ask. First of the major arcana, first card of the deck.
Or is the fool the first card? Who's story is this? The wise brave hero, or the the moron who blunders thought it, cat at his heals, always about to tumble off that cliff, and saved by chance? Is this a scripted play, or improv? He thought
And if there is a fool, who is it?
"Tem." He said, looking over the view. "Tell Els how you feel, as soon as you can. This view here, the mountain and the fire, it's the most beautiful I've ever seen, and soon it will be gone, and never be back. Moments fade. In this world, you never know if you'll get that one chance again. Tell her."
"D-Don't worry, Legosi!" said Tem, hands rested on the top of Legois's head, looking into the distance, smiling. "As soon as the timing is right, I'll tell her. I won't forget what I learned here. I'm alive, and I'm going to enjoy it! I'll do it the first good chance I get, but not just now. Let's enjoy this moment, our rescue!" he said grinning, before on a whim punching the air in a victory pose.
"Hah, not today death! You here that? Tem made it! I'm alive!" he shouted, gleefully, as the camera zooms in on him and the music swells, Smiling face centre frame "I'm alive!"
Hard cut to Tem's school photo, at this monument, by the broken auditorium door, shot framed on his face in exactly the same way, music abruptly cut off, before it's time.
Cut to overhead shot of Lugosi laying the blood-stained tourniquet necktie at the monument, Dutch angle to show discomfort.
Epilogue, The tarot card Justice: Equity, rightness, probity, triumph of the deserving side in law
Side shot of Legosi kneeling at Tem's monument. Cut to a closer angle of him, then to a facial close up, face in profile, looking down, eyes closed.
No one cries for you anymore, Tem. Not even me. I'm sorry, I tried.
"No… no trying isn't good enough. I might not agree with Louis on all things, but he's right to have that drive he does, the fearful will to do what advances his goals I… I think I'm beginning to understand that, how he makes strength out of weakness, and what that costs him, inside."
Legosi clenched a fist, then let it go.
"But not me. I'm not him. I'm more like him that I'd like to admit, but I'm not him. That's not my path. I don't need to make weakness into strength, I need to make strength into strength: to learn to control it, use it properly, harness it! To tame the beast inside me, and use it to protect Haru, and the others I care about; Jack, my room-mates, Aoba, Dom, Kai, the whole club, even Louis if he is willing to mean me half way.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry I didn't realise that earlier. Didn't discover why I was born a wolf in time to save you. I… I'm still new at this, and not very good, but I will learn.
"I didn't become strong enough in time to save you , I don't cry for you, even though I wanted to. I didn't save you, and I can't mourn you, and I wasn't there to stop you dying afraid and alone, with no control over it.
"But there is one thing I can do for you, Tem-kun." He said, standing up, and glancing at the smashed door, the physical mark Tem's passing had left on the fabric of the school. He cocked his head on one side, looking, really looking.
Shoulder charge, not a kick: that would take a lot of not just strength, but weight also. A big body, or a very long run up... you could estimate height and weight as well, and which shoulder was used could give a clue as to left or right handed.
Someone ate you Tem, and odds are, that someone is still in the school. Living like nothing happed, getting away with it.
His fists curled. I've been too distracted with my own life, to mixed up with Louis and Haru and the Shishigumi all that shit.
Enough of that: There's someone out here who ate a classmate, and until I find who, Haru and the others will never be truly safe.
And Tem's ghost can't rest.
I lied, Tem, I didn't delete the video. I still remember. "My time on this stage may be brief, my time as the central player even shorter, but through the lives I have touched, I hope to live on, despite my tragic death. Even if I meet a miserable and fearful end, so long as my friends remember me, something of my spirit lives.
"May it drive them forwards."
Time to go to work.