Protect What Matters

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Back to the Edge

Three days had passed and I had one last chance to catch the horned rabbit. There was no way I was going to show up to the Edge empty handed. I was told that rabbit makes a tasty soup too which gave me that extra motivation I needed. That day I decided to wrap up my hands to make it easier when grabbing onto branches. I did my morning stretches, had a good breakfast, and was ready to get it done. On my way out I saw Myra leaving her house. Her hair was perfect that day. It flowed as if it wanted to run away with the wind whenever a gust came by. A wild and wavy golden brown that liked to sparkle in the beams of light shining between the leaves.

“Good morning Aerith!”

“Morning! Gathering today?”

“Actually I’m going out to train, my mom wants me to stay as a gatherer but I want to be out hunting with the guys. It looks really fun so I wanna try!”

“Cool! I need to go catch one of the horned rabbits today so wish me luck.”

“That’s going to be pretty tough. Well, if anyone can do it, you can. Break a leg!”

“Than-- wait what.”

“Oh, one of the elders said that people before the Shift used to say that instead of good luck. I’m not sure why but I think it means have more than good luck? Like extra luck!”

“Well thanks, I guess. If I break a leg I’m blaming you.”

She laughed and turned around to leave but stopped for a second, almost as if she wanted to say something. She kept walking until she disappeared into the trees leaving a silhouette for a moment before completely vanishing. Just being around her made me happy. I can’t explain why, I just was.

I started silently patrolling the outskirts of the town. I was careful to only step on the protruding roots or dirt to make sure I made no sound. If rabbit stew was to be had, silence was imperative. I can’t even count the amount of times in the past that I thought I heard one, then blew it by cracking a twig beneath my foot. I started to venture in the direction of the Edge. Only the boundary to the North was referred to as the Edge because we were aware of another people with a Protector in that direction. No one knew how close, but we assumed it was close just to be safe. Since no one ever wandered around out here, this was the prime spot to find a horned rabbit. There were plenty of other animals that preferred this area too. I noticed at the base of a tree that some leaves from a plant had been nibbled. It must have been somewhat recent because the leaves weren’t browning at the edge of where it was bitten yet. I found a perfect perch hanging a couple meters off the ground and kicked off the nearby trees flinging myself up to it. I closed my eyes and sat perfectly still, toes on the edge of the branch ready to pounce. I heard a gust of wind coming from the West. I waited until it rustled the leaves of the bushes around me. As it passed I heard a slight rustle of some leaves that sounded just a little different from the rest. It was about twenty meters to my North. I opened my eyes and saw the bush with the slightest bit of a horn popping out of the top of the bush. I took in four deep breaths, gripped the bark of the tree, and readied my legs to take off. It would mostly like flee North but I had to be ready for anything. I waited for another gust of wind to roll. I heard it coming from the West again. I took one last deep breath, waited until the leaves above my head started to rustle, and kicked off the branch with all of my strength. I hit the ground a couple meters in front of me and as soon as my foot hit the ground, the rabbit bolted towards the Edge. This time I had a smaller gap to close before running out of forest. It kept on straight for a couple seconds before it swerved right. I started to get flashbacks of the last time I almost had one. I tried kicking off the nearest tree the fling myself in its direction but didn’t get the best push. I started to trail a little farther behind now. There was no way I was letting this one get away. I focused on my breathing and put every last bit of energy in my body into my legs. The trees were whizzing past me faster than I’d ever seen them. I was closing the gap. There was maybe five meters between us. It took another sharp turn left but I saw it coming and preemptively jumped for a trunk. I pushed off with both of my feet denting the thin bark and flying in the direction of the rabbit. So as not to give any bias to which direction I’ll lunge, I started to wander left and right ever so slightly. I was in range. All I had to do was jump and hope. I saw a thick root about ten meters ahead. In that moment I decided to fake going left and use that root to bounce off to the right. Just as it approached the root, I moved left to try and push it to the right. As soon as my foot touched the root it tried to swerve right. I gripped the root with my foot and sprung towards it with both arms out. It was almost like time slowed down as my right hand moved for its left horn. I quickly clamped my hand down with a tight grip as my momentum took me into a tumble through the mud.

“Wow.”

As I got up and brushed myself off with my left hand I saw him standing on the other side of the creek. I raised my right hand high with the horned rabbit squirming to try and get free. I wore the biggest smile while Tairoh tried hard not to seem impressed.

“I told ya.” I said as I pulled out my knife to kill it.

As I slowly plunged the knife into its neck I whispered, “Thank you for the life you’ve given.”

“What was that?” Tairoh said confused.

“What was what?”

“You just whispered something to it.”

“Oh, it’s something the hunters say right before they kill their prey. It’s to let it know that it was nothing personal, just another animal trying to survive.”

“We aren’t animals though. And it can’t understand you anyways.”

“If you say anything with enough feeling, no matter what language you speak, they will be able to understand. Or at least that’s what Joren says.”

Tairoh almost seemed upset. I was a little confused but had to remind myself that his way of life is probably much different than ours.

“If I remember correctly, you said that I wasn’t going to catch it.”

“Would you like me to congratulate you?”

“No, your face says it all.”

“Are you not afraid of me?” Tairoh said seeming more confused than upset now.

“Should I be?”

“It would be safe to assume that since I’m not from your people, I’m a threat.”

“I guess that is the safe way of looking at it.”

“What if I attacked you right now, would anyone even know you were gone?”

“I could take ya myself, what are you? The Protector or something?”

“Not yet, but I will be.”

The moment Tairoh said that a little fire lit up inside me. I felt like I had someone to compete against now. Someone who might be equally qualified to take the role of Protector. I grinned wider than I had ever before.

“What’s with that face.”

“I’m gonna be the next Protector of my people. I guess we have one thing in common.”

“It’s a shame the Protector has to be someone as weak as you.”

“Wanna fight? I’ll prove to you I’m stronger.”

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew.”

“Kay mom...”

That comment brought a different color to Tairoh’s eyes.

“Alright then.”

At that moment his stance changed. Before Tairoh was cautiously casual but now his eyes widened and he stood his ground. I was overjoyed with the competition in front of me. I was so anxious to get going I dropped the rabbit and pounced over the creek straight for him. My left fist pointed straight towards his chest. Tairoh knew I was fast so I wanted to be quicker than he thought I was. I was so excited I wasn’t thinking ahead and went straight for the first blow. Right before my knuckles could impact his chest he dodged to his right while using the palm of his hand to guide my arm straight past him, staring straight into my eyes as I flew by tumbling into the dirt. For a moment I felt defeated but then I burst into laughter. He looked dumbfounded yet frightened by my reaction.

“The only thing funny about that was your attempt at punching me.”

“I’ve never fought anyone who could react to me before. This is good.”

I dove straight in for another shot towards his chest. This time I wasn’t blinding running in like I usually do with my classmates. I had to think about what was going to happen next. I planted my left foot and went in for a right jab. He used his palm again to guide my arm past him but this time I was ready with my left for a shot straight from my the side of my hip to the bottom of his chin that sent him flying onto his back. He got up and almost emanating with anger. He charged at me for the first time swinging his arm like a whip from above his head. His movements were almost fluid like. I’d never fought anyone like this before. I blocked his first swing with my arm but took nasty hit to the ribs. I stumbled back and realized he had no intention of stopping.

After the first couple of hits I got used to the way his arms moved. We exchanged four or five punches each trying to counter each others moves. He then took a strange stance facing to the left of me. I was too busy trying to figure out where his arms were swinging to realize his shin coming in to sweep my legs putting me sideways in mid air. I n that split second as I was falling, I realized what he was doing. His fist came down like a hammer to the side of my face sending me to eat the dirt at his feet. He quickly jumped back and readied his stance. I was so dizzy I couldn’t think straight. I didn’t want to get back up but I wanted to keep fighting. It hurt a lot but I was trying to ignore the pain for a chance to keep going. I hadn’t lost to someone my age in a fight since I first started training. I decided to lay out and catch my breath for a second. The excruciating pain of being slammed into the dirt as well as losing to this guy who barely knows me was rough but the exhilaration I felt facing someone I know I could eventually beat was amazing. I thought for a moment how I could have avoided it all by paying attention. Maybe if I had kept a close eye on his entire body he wouldn’t have gone for the sweep, or if I could have dodged that brutal blow to the face while I was in the air. I stopped realized it was hopeless to keep thinking about it and to just try again. As I laid there trying to catch my breath I started to laugh again. I couldn’t see Tairoh’s face but I knew he probably wasn’t a fan of me laughing again.

“Next time I’m gonna get that sweep on you and you’re gonna see how it feels to taste the dirt.”

I looked over to see a mixture of confusion and anger as well as hidden exhilaration on Tairoh’s face. His stance was still firm.

“Mind if I take a break for a second before we keep going?”

Tairoh’s face relaxed and he gave the slightest hint of a smile.

“As long as you put up more of a fight than last time.”

“You’re on.”

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