Cedar reflects on the events in her life as she expends the last cartridges for her weapon. She’d made every one of them count and not a single one of the valuable implements was wasted, just as she had been taught. It’s ironic how she is still not able to recall important details from her youth. She has learned much about the world in her lifetime and yet the avenues on which these lessons were learned remain inexplicably inaccessible to her. She simply cannot remember much of what happened to her in the past. The more she focuses on filling those gaps, the more obscure they become. It has been like this for quite some time. It’s as though parts of her past have been concealed away, producing an incomplete picture of herself.
She takes a deep breath to ease her mind. She had made a promise to die well and without fear ...but to whom did she make that promise?
A rueful smile crosses her lips when the weapon goes silent after the last cartridge is spent. Her companion’s weapon has also slowed its near-perfect rate of kills. His distressed gasps for air replace the din of fighting. A stillness settles over the forest floor as insects mill about somehow communicating their next moves. The big predator had retreated slightly into the forest after being wounded. It is still there. She can see it observing them from a distance. She can also sense another thing nearby – the same follower she had noticed earlier while driving.
“Come out and help, coward!” Cedar silently projects her frustration into the wilderness.
She then draws closer to the injured man and is about to speak when she hears his anguished voice mumbling some sort of phrase in repetition. She listens to him for a few seconds before expressing gently but confidently, “We fought well together. Let us die well together.”
The man stops his repetitive speech then shakes his head and speaks a single word, “…ieh”. Then, gathering strength from some hidden reserve, he stands and faces her, “IEH!!”
He places his hand on her shoulder, then moves to lightly crown her head with his open hand. He speaks some unknown words to her. She cannot comprehend his speech, but she understands his intent nonetheless. The insects have regrouped and have started advancing. The big predator has likewise started moving again. Placing his hand again on her shoulder, he applies what remaining strength he possesses and nudges her away, toward the direction they had originally started to move in their bid to escape. Something like a dream flashes in her mind. It is very similar to her inner place but in this instance, she is cognizant and aware.
Cedar’s friend believes he will die whether or not the fight is won. He has chosen to die standing up rather than lying down. But Cedar is still able to live. With his help, she can outrun the predators to safety. It is certain. But to do so she must leave him behind, “…zero hesitation, Cedar!“
The voice from her past emerges along with the briefest glimpse of a face her mind has forbidden her to see. A wave of clashing emotions washes over her. The person who spoke those words is the same as the owner of the face she had envisioned. Just the glimpse alone is enough to invoke deeply repressed animus. Her quiet village life has been carefully constructed and passively enforced. She grits her teeth to suppress an urge to give in to a burning torrent of anger and sadness. It cannot end this way. She must learn more.
Something akin to instinct takes over. But before it does, she hears her companion roaring into his final battle; leaving her contemplating in conflicted awe whether he has become the manifestation of Bravery or of Defiance.
She acts without thinking, first scooping the bag of supplies from the ground, then running faster than she has ever run before.