The Cost of Emotion
Katrina brushed a few strands of hair out of her face. The light of the full moon accentuated her pale skin and long, black hair. She had her back to a tree as she surveyed her surroundings. Broad trees blocked her field of vision. There was minimal underbrush but as it was the end of fall, plenty of detritus was on the ground. To an observer, this would appear to be a hindrance, for it would allow her chasers to see and hear where she had gone. However, Katrina was not an outside observer and knew how much of an advantage this gave her.
The trees surrounding her had branches high above the ground. Despite the height, many of said branches were sturdy and could probably hold her weight. A snap alerted her to a small red fox staring at her. Katrina tipped her head toward the animal in acknowledgement and proceeded to climb the tree at her back. She climbed with the ease that only comes from years of dedicated practice. As soon as she reached the lowest branch of her tree, she climbed across it and jumped to the next tree. Katrina climbed one branch higher for every new tree she was in. Eventually, she reached the highest branch of the tallest tree.
The girl used this high position to find where her chasers were. She could see the dark uniforms halfway to where she was. Glancing down, she let out a soft sigh of relief. If she hadn't changed out of her former uniform, the GPS chip embedded in the fabric would have given away her position. A loud shriek gave away the position of a circling hawk. Upon closer inspection, Katrina realized there was a camera strapped to the bird, which could only mean one thing: her own best friend was after her. For a split-second, she doubted herself. All Katrina had wanted was the truth. It was one of the few constants of the world. The truth was solid. Unchangeable.
There would be no going back if she did this. No chance for forgiveness. If they caught her, she would face death. If not, there was no telling what would happen. But if she went back now, her old allies would welcome her. Suspiciously, yes, but she'd be safe. Katrina looked down to the group rushing toward her, then back up to the hawk. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and made her choice. "Tell your master to meet me on the Edge, he'll know which one." Katrina whispered this so softly, she couldn't hear herself above a sudden gale of wind.
The hawk, however, circled once more before flying down to the trackers. Without a second glance, Katrina began her descent, no longer caring whether or not if anyone saw her. She felt lighter than ever before, her options no longer weighing her down. She laughed. Those who heard it fought tears. Although it was laughter, it held pain and sorrow and bitterness. It was the laugh of someone who had lost all that mattered. It was the epitome of despair and desperation. As she laughed, Katrina began to cry. She wished she could stop, but her choice had been made, and following through with it was the only real option left.
Katrina reached the ground quickly. Once there, she ran. She ran as fast and as hard as she could. She wouldn't make things easy for her chasers, oh no. They'd never find her by conventional means. Katrina took the first opportunity to double back. She twisted and turned her path to the point where not even a fox, the most skilled of all animals at evasiveness, could match its complexity. She stopped when she reached the edge of the forest. You wouldn't realize it was at first glance, the way the trees gradually became more and more distant from each other.
A fast-paced river was ahead of her. The forest behind. Halfway between the two was a small tree. Despite its youth, it was dying. Katrina could remember planting it with her friend only two years prior. The two had felt that a marker should be placed to show where the river and the forest crossed paths. The place where both environments existed yet didn't exist at the same time. The crack in-between. The Edge. He was already there. The hawk sat on one of the lower branches, indifferent to the loud, roaring river and the silent, peaceful forest.
"Katrina." He stated her name quietly, but she felt the force behind the word.
"Venatus." She responded yet more quietly, but no less dangerously. "I'm surprised that you had this much trouble catching me. You're the best hunter in the garrison."
"I was tracking someone born and raised in the wilderness. Forgive me if my tracking isn't as good as your cowardice." His words cut her, but she wouldn't be swayed.
"If I'm a coward for doing what I believe to be right, I never should have joined you." Katrina looked in sorrow at Venatus. His dark face was nearly blank, but she could see tears welling up in his eyes. "Do you think what they're doing is for the best? Sure it saves lives, but for how long? The longer you lie, the angrier and more violent the world will be when they realize the truth."
"The world won't find out. For once in the entirety of history, everyone is at peace! Why can't you let that be?! Why couldn't you let it be? We were friends, weren't we? Couldn't you have let it be, for me…?" Venatus' anger dissipated into quiet sobs as he slid to his knees. Katrina slowly approached and knelt in front of him.
"Should peace be at the cost of a person's individuality? Individuality gives us art and music. It gives us freedom, love, and yes, conflict, but without it, we are the same person mere clones of a single original. So no, I couldn't let it be." Katrina felt another tear slide down her cheek. "I'm going to spread the truth. You should join me. Prove that you aren't just another copy. Be worth something." She stood up and offered out her hand.
Venatus looked at her hand and slowly reached up to grab it. Katrina laughed once more, but this time, it was a laugh of joy, of relief, of happiness. She pulled him onto his feet, and they chased each other, the moonshadows flickering about them. Katrina backed up to the edge of the river and faced him, arms spread back, a bright grin on her face, tinkling laughter on her lips. A second later, an earsplitting crack rang out. Venatus turned in horror to see Katrina fall into the water, her face quickly disappearing beneath the black, fast moving water.
Venatus was soon surrounded by uniformed personnel. They were all pointing their weapons at him. Waiting in silence. He knew what they were waiting for. His next words would decide his fate. If he sided with her, death would be swift. If he was against her, he would be just another face in the military. Although he didn't know it, he was faced with the same dilemma Katrina had faced earlier that night. Venatus looked at the moon, the water, and the dancing moonshadows. He remembered the feeling of safety his comrades had given him. Venatus looked up at the stars and the endless abyss in which they and he existed. He gave them his choice.