Chapter 89: Holstâ€™s Confession
In WhichÂ the Fox Speaks the Words of Innocence and Broken Pride.
Chris: Holst brings a forearm across his forehead to pull the sweat away from his brow.Â The sun has set but their will to be free has pushed them past the sun’s ability for the day, but they were starting to lag.
Catamount: The low, rolling grasslands they have been fleeing through are flat enough to let them put quite a bit of distance between the refugees and Afrin but strenuous enough that even the seasoned Scorpions in the party are feeling exhaustion creep up. Some of the younger escapees have already fallen prey to it and are carried by some of the sturdier beasts.
Arrin: Soquan plods along side Jozra, one of the children perched on his shoulders while he carries the small kit from Afrin in a sling across his torso. He sends a weary grin her way. â€œShould be just a few more days to Kodan if we keep this pace up…â€
Chris: Holst tugs the foxmaid a bit and she keeps her weary pace up. His heart sinks a bit and he looks to Soq and Joz. â€œGuys… might be best if we pitched up camp soon. I don’t know how much longer these kiddos can take it.â€
Catamount: Zander, the unofficial leader of the group, has also fallen behind, his limp getting worse as the day wears on. He overhears Holst’s statement and nods in agreement. â€œThe elders are stumbling too. And I’ve been hearing bellies rumble.â€
Arrin: Soquan gives a short nod shifting his load just a little bit. â€œJust a few hours rest would sound wonderful. We could recharge before our mad dash to Kodan.â€
Chris: Holst turns to the both of them, a wry smile shows his fangs. â€œWell I’d suggest a place to set down, but this city-beast wouldn’t know a good place to camp if he was sleeping in it.â€
Catamount: Jozra chuckles and then waves Azrun over to the group. â€œHere we have a famous runnerâ€ She grins mischievously at the kit fox, â€œI think he should scout a place for us to camp.â€
Azrun quirks an eyebrow and then sticks his tongue out at Jozra. â€œYour just jealous because I always beat you in foot races.â€ With that he takes off at a jog up the road and is soon out of sight in the swiftly approaching full darkness.
The group continues to plod on and the twilight is mostly gone by the time Azrun returns. â€œFound a place just up the road and off the trail. It’s not perfect but it should do for a few hours.â€
Arrin: The otter nods at Azrun. â€œI suppose it’s that or nothing. A few hours will do everyone some good.â€
Chris: After pushing his sore muscles a bit more, Holst reaches what he figures would be the spot and half-collapses to the ground. The foxmaid allows a bit of a laugh while Holst is merely glad for her happiness at his expense.
Catamount: Azrun’s discovery is a dip in the landscape. Large enough to fit the entire group and then some; deep enough and far enough away from the trail that it cannot be easily seen from the trail.
The tired beasts settle down in relief. Some falling asleep where they land, others pulling out supplies for a meal. Jozra and Azrun disperse about the camp, warning the refugees not to light any fires.
Arrin: Tiredly, the otter picks out a spot for the night and heaves the kit off of his shoulders with a groan. He places her gently on the ground and sends her off with the others before sinking gratefully to the ground.
He looks down at the babe in the sling, who had, surprisingly enough, stayed quiet during their dash. The marten kit’s eyes flicker open, and blue eyes meet brown and an odd feeling swells in his chest.
A tiny paw reaches up, grasping at the shell around the otter’s neck, he smiles. â€œI suppose I better scrounge something up for you, eh kiddo?â€
Chris: Holst heaves to his feet, his instinct to keep a watchful eye over the proceedings winning over his tiredness. He pats the foxmaid on the shoulder. â€œGet some sleep yeah?â€ He walks over to Soq. â€œHow’d the babe fare?â€
Arrin: He gives the fox a grin. â€œHe’s fine, just a bit hungry for the moment. Probably needs a change too…â€
Catamount: Jozra finally meanders back over to the spot Holst and Soquan have claimed, bearing a few hunks of bread and cheese. It’s not much, but itâ€™s enough for the three of them. She sees the babe and winces. â€œI probably should have brought some more for the foxmaid too, huh?â€
Chris: Holst smiles and takes his portion, his mouth watering just at the sight of the morsels. â€œI’ll give mine to her.â€ He gives a bit of a chuckle, â€œI’m used to not eating all that much these days anyway.â€
Arrin: He waves off the ferret’s worry, although unable to speak with the bread in his mouth. He rummages though the bag he had been carrying along with his pack and produces a bottle. He gives it a slight wave in front of the ferret to show his point, and once he’s swallowed his mouthful, he proceeds to feed the kit.
Catamount: Jozra chuckles at the otter’s actions and takes a seat, taking a bite of her portion as well. After a moment she eyes Holstadt with a mixture of concern and curiosity. How to ask about his stay in Afrin’s ‘labor camps’?
Chris: Holst returns from giving the food to the fox maid, sitting down next to Joz and grinning along with her.
Arrin: Soquan, for the time being is content just to sit with his friends, happy to be in comfortable silence of both of their company.
Catamount: All too soon the food is gone. Zander hobbles by with Azrun at his heels. â€œAny of you willing to take a watch at some point? We only need a couple more volunteers.â€ The woodrat shoots Jozra a quick look that she reads as, “Not you.”
Chris: Holst merely nods.
Arrin: Soquan nods as well. â€œSure, if you need me.â€
Catamount: Zander nods and makes a little note on a piece of parchment he’s carrying. â€œAlright. We’ll send someone when it’s your turns, though we might get enough people for tonight.â€ He gives a preoccupied wave and hobbles off, Azrun trailing him and rolling his eyes in amusement.
Chris: Holst smiles broadly as the two are off.Â He turns to Joz. â€œI’m surprised you didn’t take a shift.â€
Arrin: He shoots Holst a look. â€œJoz hasn’t slept right for two nights now. Zander and I wouldn’t have let her.â€
Catamount: The ferret chuckles somewhat sheepishly. â€œYeah, I could use the rest. I’ll probably take a watch tomorrow night.â€
Chris: Holst shrugs. â€œI didn’t mean any disrespect, just curious.â€ He glances over to make sure the foxmaid is sleeping soundly.
Arrin: Soquan shifts the small babe in his arms. â€œWhy don’t you go get some shuteye Joz, maybe go catch up with Zander and Azrun?â€
Catamount: The ferret stretches and looks around their area. â€œSeems to me Zander and Azrun are pretty busy right now. This might be the better place to get some sleep.â€
Chris: Holst merely nods. Then, after a pause, sighs. â€œIt all happens so fast you don’t have time to question it… but now I wonder; what are we doing exactly?â€ He grins a bit at himself.
Arrin: The otter looks at Holst, â€œWhat do you mean? Like, where are we going?â€
Chris: Host nods again, halfheartedly. â€œI know the name, it’s just thatâ€¦ What’s our goal?â€ He sighs, â€œMaybe I’m just thinking too much.â€
Catamount: Jozra smiles slightly, though her eyes keep a seriousness. â€œWe need to get these people to safety first. After that…â€ The ferret is conflicted. She knows what she must do after that, but it’s another one of those Things she can’t tell to her friends.
Arrin: Soquan picks up the silence. â€œAfter that, the three of us will have a little talk and well see where we go from there.â€
Chris: Holst nods, satisfied. â€œI can accept that.â€
Catamount: â€œHolst…â€ Jozra hesitates, acutely aware of her own secrets, but she’s been curious about this for most of the day. â€œ…did you have that tattoo before?â€
Chris: Holstâ€™s eyes fall to the ground and then to his outstretched forearm, his tattoo visible even under the moonlight. â€œIt’s from long ago, I’ve just become accustomed to covering it up since it carries so much shame. But if I told you it represented some part of me left behind I would be lying.â€
Catamount: Jozra’s brow wrinkles in concern and curiosity, though she dares not pry any further, her own secrets clamoring for freedom.
Arrin: The otter remains silent during Holst’s explanation, and gives a slow nod at his explanation, not pressing further.
Chris: Holst sighs. â€œNormally I’d stop there, but…â€ He brings his eyes up to meet theirs hoping that they held some depth. â€œAfter what you’ve done for me, you deserve to know.â€
He pauses, fighting his urge to swallow the emotion; and then he broke free. â€œI was a hit man. Applied to me, that term meant I was a murderer willing to accept bribes.â€
â€œI never stopped to ask myself why. I was good at it, but more importantly, I simply didn’t care.â€
He prods his tattoo. â€œThis is a mark of that trade, but only the center part. The cross, heart and wings came later as I proved time and again how cold-blooded I was.â€
He stroked the wings. â€œI passed the final test as far as the syndicate knew, but inside was a different story. â€œ
â€œI wanted to prove to them that I was the best. All I had in my way was one final test. A foxmaid just like her…â€ His hollow eyes roamed over the maid in question to check her regular breathing.
â€œI choked the life out of her. She didn’t know why, the question begged in her eyes even as the life faded from them. I never asked myself until then, when she went limp in my paws.â€
â€œTo this day I ask myself and I remember her eyes.â€ He looks over at the unnamed foxmaid. â€œThey were just like hers. And when she looks at me maybe she finds comfort.Â Maybeâ€¦ I can say sorry.â€ His eyes sink again, worried that he might’ve lost the only friends heâ€™s ever had.
Catamount: Whatever judgment Jozra has been building up against Holst as he told his tale were quickly shattered as her mind’s eye reminded her of a snowy night filled with fire and screams. She reaches for Holst’s paw and clasps it, though she finds her voice somewhat hoarse when she speaks.
â€œIf redemption is what you’re seeking, this…â€ She gestures around the now mostly quiet camp as exhausted beasts try to regain strength for the next day. â€œThis is the best way to do it.â€ She smiles sadly at the fox.
Arrin: He nods in agreement with the ferret, clasping the fox’s shoulder in his paw, â€œJoz couldn’t have said it any better.â€
Chris: Holst nods grasping Joz’s paw tightly and patting Soq’s shoulder. He allows one tear to stain his cheek. â€œThat is the only tear I will ever allow.â€
He smiles at them both, relieved after the years of his guilt torturing him. He would care for this foxmaid’s life, his friends, and the hundreds of beasts around him. He would care.