Paths

What is a path? Nothing but a choice made to go in one direction or the other. What happens if you choose the wrong direction?
(Last Sentence challenge, Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson)

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3. Chapter 2- Cornered Death

I screamed, Pain bursting around me. I was jerked forwards, losing my balance and falling from the horse, to land facedown on the ground. The claws of Pain around my head grew sharper and brighter. Bazta reigned in his horse, leaping down to help me.

This is… why I hired him… I thought deliriously. Why I’m working with him… he’s a good… good person. 

“I’m going to pull out the spear,” he told me. I barely heard him through a haze of pain. What had the spear hit? If it rendered my arm useless, I was going to kill someone. 

I wished I could lash out with my pain. Hurt someone. But I couldn’t see anyone. How had I been hit with a spear?

Hoofbeats played in the corner of my pain-drunken mind. No… not hoofbeats. That wasn’t right. They were too rhythmic. Ollyarchs then. They really didn’t want me escaping.

There were five of them, and they surrounded us, leveling spears at Bazta and I. One of those spears still stuck out of my shoulder. I could barely lift my head to look at them. Pain was blinding me. 

And suddenly, with Pain came a moment of blinding clarity. I knew what I needed to do.

“Bazta,” I hissed.

He looked down at me, and I saw the fear in his eyes. The garrison had taken his brother, and I knew he feared the same happening to him. But they wouldn’t take him. They’d just kill him. It was me they’d take. I’d be Suppressed. 

Fear began to materialize with the Pain. Suppression. It was what happened to other Empaths. Others… like me. I didn’t know exactly what Suppression was, but I knew what it would do to me. It would numb my emotions. Weaken them. I’d rather die first.

I forced myself to focus, but it wasn’t easy with both Pain and Fear.

“Pull out the spear,” I ordered, my voice barely audible.

“But-“

“Do it if you want to live!”

That got him to stiffen his resolve. He gripped the spear firmly, and yanked it out of my shoulder.

Pain blinded me a second time. I could feel blood pouring from my wound- a frightening amount of blood. But I didn’t care. And I didn’t dismiss the Pain. I held it like a precious gem. And then I pushed with it, lashing at the soldiers, not caring who I hit. I heard yells from them, and I knew I had done something right. Grim Determination rose in me, and I attacked a second time. I had to do this, or we were dead. I pushed myself up, which worsened my wound. But worsening the Pain just gave me more to attack with. I screamed, striking each of the soldiers in turn. Their mounts backed up, beady eyes watching me with predatory anger. 

Ollyarchs were an odd mix of bird and horse. They were both, and yet somehow neither. They had the strong, proud bearing of a horse, but a more birdlike complexion to them. The strange… stuff that covered them was neither fur nor feathers, but more a waxy approximation of them both- almost like candle wax. It’s face was a long horselike snout, but peaked into a beak. The back of their throats were lined with sharp teeth, to chew their food as they swallowed it. They had not two legs, not four, but rather three. Two long back legs, and a single front leg, tipped with a sharp, poisonous claw. One such claw hovered just an inch above my chest, and I stared at it, Fear growing stronger. 

You idiot! Fear is another of your emotions. Use it! With enough of it, I could run fast enough to outdistance even Ollyarchs. But… I couldn’t leave Bazta. 

Part of me knew that was ridiculous. If the Ollyarchs killed and ate him, I’d have time to run away. But he’d jumped off his horse to help me. Sure, he hadn’t done much, but he’d tried. I couldn’t leave him. That meant figuring out a way to keep these Ollyarchs from tearing us apart.

“Bazta… hold out the spear,” I hissed through a haze of Pain. 

“They’ll kill us.”

“No, they’ll kill us if we look weak.” I was forcing the words through my lips now. The world was coming through a curtain of interlocking claws. Pain was taking over my mind. I couldn’t go much longer like this. There was blood streaming from the wound still- too much of it. I might not make it. But Bazta could not die. “I’m not strong enough. I need you. I need you to be strong enough for the both of us. Please.”

He nodded slowly. I could see the fear in his eyes. How odd it was, to not be able to see another’s emotions. How convenient it must be for them. How easy it must be to lie. And yet, they’re so weak when placed against someone like me. How can they stand it? How can they live, knowing that if they faced someone like me, they’d die in an instant? What purpose is there?

But here Bazta stood, holding the spear out, and doing his best to look intimidating. He didn’t seem to care that he was totally outmatched. Five Ollyarchs could easily kill him, but he didn’t seem to care. He stood there, spear out, full of confidence. Was he glowing, or was that just my pain-drunken mind? 

“I’m going to lash out with Pain,” I murmured, my voice barely a whisper. “If that doesn’t scare them away… run.”

“But you-“

“If the Ollyarchs attack… then I won’t be able to make it out. Not like this. I’ve lost too much… too much blood.” The blood flow was slowing. Was I running out? How long would it take before this wound bled me dry? “The horses… might be fast enough.”

He nodded. “Do it now. Don’t talk. Don’t waste your energy.”

I nodded back, and then forced the pain at the Ollyarchs. Normally I would hold back when I attacked, but not here. Not now. I had to give this all I had. If we didn’t, I would die. Bazta would die. And this would be the end.

The Ollyarchs screamed in those strange warbling voices of theirs, retreating from us with high shrieks and cries of disarray. One stumbled and fell. The pain didn’t hit them as hard as it was hitting me- I had to spread it out across the five of them. They regrouped, and fled, their voices tuning together in a strange song. That song floated towards me, and I found my knees buckling. I didn’t even feel myself hit the ground. 

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