There is a lump in my throat that I cannot swallow around. My flesher? For some reason I did not associate Taunis with the fleshers. Moreover I had assumed that he pestered everyone. Boone made him sound like a ruthless vulture. I concede that I knew him the moment I heard his name; the bitter taste returned even now. Whatever my past with him, it is common knowledge to the few I had met so far. From the look of Reliant's skin crawling smile I decide not to clue them into my memory loss. I don't want to know what she would do to me if she found out. I rest my hands on my hips.
"I thought you would want to kill him yourself," Reliant went on, "Since he was responsible for what happened to your eye."
Shock flowers all over my body, but I bite down on my tong so it won't show on my face.
"When he tries to run, Tak will clip him. You can finish him off."
I nod. "Good," I say, monotone. Inwardly my mind is reeling. I can't kill anyone. I can't! My knife clings to my calf like a lead weight.
"How did you corner him?" I hear myself ask, unable to pry my eyes off of his leg.
"After your accident, Boone thought it was time to get rid of him once and for all. He's too dangerous to be ignored anymore. When we heard Tak's sister, Nails had been killed in the ambush, we offered our help. We've been on his heels for days and we aren't the only ones. Catching him in a mistake was only a matter of time."
Tak's bow whines in her fingers. Her face is solid, unmoving. She is focused on one thing and that is Taunis's death. I never want to be on the other end of that bow. There is no out witting that kind of drive.
"Make it easy on yourself," Reliant called, "You can't keep running, not with so many of us hunting you."
Taunis says nothing. His leg vanishes behind the tree trunk completely. Though he is lost to my eye, Tak slowly realigns her aim. When I do get my first real look at him he is so high up no arrow can touch him, no matter how true the shot. He staring down at us, calculating, I think. I can't see more than a head of gold hair and tightly hugging clothes that don't match our black armor.
"He's gonna jump," I say with alarm. Reliant and Tak don't seem to notice my inflection but they share my sentiment.
"Suicide," Reliant scoffs, "Why do they always commit suicide?"
His leap is epic in every sense of the word. It's a perfect swan dive. Tak doesn't bother wasting ammunition. He soars much farther than I thought possible of any human and disappears in the canopy.
"His trajectory is forty five degrees north by northwest," Tak says, I do not like the look on her face, "He probably landed in the marshes or just outside of them."
Reliant nods and starts walking that direction. I catch her arm.
"Let me," I say absently, "Boone's leg is injured badly. He needs help getting back to the Reds," I pray my usage of his word is correct, "See what you can do for him. I'll be with you when I'm sure Taunis is dead."
For a split second I am sure Reliant sees through me. Her fierce black eyes are like razors.
"I think we have some spare painkillers," she says after a moment and then shakes off my grasp. I watch them trek up the hill until they reach the top, then I start in the opposite direction. The marsh isn't hard to locate. I smell it long before I find it. There's little to no light. Brackish black water soaks the forest floor like it is a saturated sponge. I slop through mud up to my ankles; the stench of rotting wood and decaying meat makes my eyes water. There is nothing but softened dead plant life presided over by spiny mangroves for miles. I am thankful I didn't find this place in my search for water. I had been desperate enough to drink from these congealed pools without second thought. Who knows what bacteria here would have done to me.
I don't find Taunis so much as trip over his corpse. At the base of a gnarled, arthritic tree he is sprawled out awkwardly. His long legs intertwine with the ropy roots of the mangrove and greasy mud. I can't help but will down tears at the sight of him. Telling myself that he was a bad person does not change that fact that he was human. There are scrapes covering his sharp, angular face and hands. He must have tried to grab on to the branches on his descent. His brow is dark, but his hair, where it isn't caked in mud and dry blood, is yellow as the sun and pulled back into half a ponytail. The fringe of it, the part not tied up, is lank and plastered to his neck. He is dressed in a caramel colored leather chest plate that is molded to his torso. I know I have never seen such light weight padding before. I find it strange that he wears no boots or any kind of shoes. His feet are blackened by dirt and bound in dark nylon straps.
My fingers graze over his slick forehead. With no one around, I weep freely. Not just because Taunis's death is on my conscience, but because I am terrified; stricken to my core. Why is death and violence the answer to every question I ask? I don't want this, what did I do to deserve this hell? I convulse with sobs that sound more like a dying animal they should, even to my own ears. I just want to curl up and fall asleep, to die, anything to keep me from those monsters; those emotionless monsters that take life like it is a humorless game. I don't doubt for a second that if Boone found out I was not truly part of – whatever we are supposed to be – he would slaughter me where I stood.
Taunis groans and I scream.