Anaxis opened his eyes and saw the stars overhead. He heard the rushing of water, then felt its pull on his leg. He went to sit up, and a sharp, stabbing pain went up his back. He splashed back down into the water.
He struggled to sit up again, this time managing to make it all the way. He looked around; he was in a shallow rapids. The moons and stars were reflecting in the bubbling water, which ran around the bodies of several dead cannar splayed about the river around him.
Anaxis groaned as he stood up. He felt at the pain on his side, and realized he was still bleeding from a long, but not-too-deep laceration. The pain was so great that it overrode his sensation of feeling cold, until he stepped out of the rapids and was hit by the breeze.
He studied his surroundings for a while, shivering, the dead cannar and the twisty trees growing through the bushes, and then remembered how he must have gotten there. The Hunt gone awry. The stampede he had caused. Falling over the cliffside.
Anaxis searched around for Ancestor Peak, the landmark which was obvious from anywhere within a fair distance of Talx, but he couldn’t find it. He must have been very far away from home.
“Where am I?” he asked himself.
When he did, he heard the pained braying of one of the nearby cannar. Anaxis stumbled over to it along the banks of the river, and saw that the poor beast had broken all of its legs. Its wide eyes stared at him, begging for him to help. There was nothing he could do, though, and so Anaxis started away from the animal.
The cannar cried loudly as Anaxis left it. Anaxis stopped and looked back; he couldn’t let it suffer like it was. He couldn’t heal it either, thought it was probably beyond healing even from the village doctor. He had to put it out of its misery, somehow. The thought made Anaxis’s stomach turn.
He walked back over to the animal, who was trying to lift its head from the gurgling water. It would fail, inevitably, and start to choke until it could lift its head again.
Anaxis looked around for how he might save the animal its misery. His spear, which had been on his back, was long gone, lost when he was dragged across the valley floor in the stampede. There was a pile of rocks, though, which would probably do the trick. He hadn’t even had the nerve to spear one of the animals from afar, and now he had to bash it, from up-close. He tried not to think about it as he found the largest rock he could manage to pick up.
He seized it and lifted it over his head, and carried it over to the wailing cannar. He looked up to see the rock haloed by moonlight, then brought it down, as hard as he could. He missed the animal’s head, though, and struck his toe instead. He dropped the rock and screamed, his echo bouncing around the landscape and silencing the chirping of the cerxils.
“Shit!” he roared. “Shit, shit, shit, shit!” He staggered back onto the banks of the river and fell down.
He pulled his boot off, and saw that he had busted his toenail free from his toe. Blood was pouring out of the mangle, though not as much as he had imagined there to be before he took his boot off. He dipped his bloodied toe into the stream, cursing a new storm at the icy water flowing into the wound, then pulled his boot back on, painfully.
The poor cannar was still howling. Anaxis, now full of anger, splashed back through the water to the rock he had dropped, lifted it up again, and channeled his pain and rage into bringing it down straight onto the head of the wounded beast. He didn’t wait to see it he had been successful; he lifted it quickly up and brought it down again. There was a loud, cracking noise, and the animal stopped its twitching.
Anaxis didn’t lift the rock from the crushed head of the cannar. He lowered his face and whimpered as some tears flowed down it, then wiped them away with the back of his hand and staggered out of the river.
Looking up at the sky again, Anaxis found the Guide Star, at the end of Wran’s Arrow, and headed in its direction. The star had led his people home since before written records. He knew it would do the same for him, if he could manage the journey with his broken toe and the intensifying pain at his side. In all his forty-five years, he had never been in such poor physical shape. It hurt terribly, but at the same time, it was almost exciting. He was as far away from home as he had ever been, completely out of his element. But there were no bullies to contend with, no expectations from his family. They would be waiting when he got back, surely, and he would have to answer for the stampede he had caused. It would probably mean more harassment than he’d ever received. But for the moment, he was free, in his pain and solitude. He started to whistle as he limped over the rocks that turned to pebbles then back to desert sand.