“I’ve lived upon the edge of chance for twenty years or more” – Del Rio’s Song, Imaginos album, Blue Oyster Cult
“Sometimes life ain’t easy,” Tristan said. He flipped the thin-bladed stiletto in his paw, extending it hilt-first to Skeeter. “Take it.”
The matte black hilt seemed darker than ever against the snowy white of Skeeter’s fur. He picked it up and held it, looking at the play of light along the gleaming blade. He hefted it, testing the feel.
“No real weight,” Tristan said, crossing his arms across his chest and leaning against the wall. “Couple dozen grams is all. Once you get used to it, you don’t even think about it being there, ’til you need it, and then it’s in your hand and you’re going to work.”
“You mean, you’ve…” Skeeter began, his words trailing off as he looked with new eyes at the device in his hand.
Lean of weight as Tristan had said, the blade was reinforced by a stiffening spire of steel down its length, lending it a triangular aspect. Much like the leopard who carried it, the weapon seemed purpose built for getting in and back out of a situation.
“Yeah.” The word was delivered with a straight face. There was no braggadocio, no need to inflate past deeds. It was the simple declaration of a lifelong warrior.
Skeeter held it back to Tristan, but the leopard shook his head. A thick claw protruded from his paw and tapped on the long blade.
“First time was on Hephaestus IV. Big rat. About my height, but wider and more muscled. He was guarding an ammunition depot. Took him in the ear. Straight through the head. Guy named Yuri was with me, and he took out the other guard.”
Skeeter swallowed and his gaze became a little glassy.
“If we didn’t get that depot, the rats would have kept shelling our guys. So our unit worked its way forward until we got close. Yuri and I went in at night, all quiet-like. Opened a door for the sappers and lit the sky.”
Tristan recovered the blade from Skeeter, spinning it in his fingers like a drummer at a concert. It vanished into a sheath a few seconds later.
“So like I was saying, sometimes life ain’t easy. You gotta take a chance. Step up and give it a shot. Hell, pup, I lived my life taking chances. One after another.”
“But what happens when you take the chance and it goes wrong?” Skeeter asked. Tristan chuckled, a deep sound akin to a growl.
“Shit happens, you know? Some gambles don’t pay off, but some do. I ain’t ever had anything major go wrong. Missing a toe, got a few scars, and a chunk of my tail is gone, but for two decades kicking rat ass that ain’t much of a price.”
The door opened, letting in a wave of heat that made Skeeter wince. He turned to see Diem step inside. The expression of warmth at seeing Skeeter turned into exasperation when he saw who the young fox was speaking to.
“Gara, pup,” he said, invoking the goddess with his usual casual manner. “You haven’t been listening to this old reprobate, have you?”
“I needed some advice.”
“I was helping him,” Tristan said.
Diem laughed aloud. He unslung his rifle and propped it against the wall, and then went to the refrigerator to pull a beer from its cool confines. “You were telling war stories again.”
“He asked about bravery. About fear. I answered.”
Diem cocked his head for a moment and then nodded. “True. You do have that covered,” he admitted. He spun the top from the bottle and upended it, downing half of it in one prodigious swallow.
“I’m not sure how much of it really applies, though,” Skeeter said. “I mean, I’m not going to war.”
“So what’s the situation?” Diem asked. Skeeter looked at the floor and fell silent. A glance up at Tristan revealed nothing as the other warrior shook his head.
“Somebody picking on you, pup?” Tristan asked.
“You tried to give him advice without knowing for what?” Diem asked. He took another drink of his beer. Setting the bottle on the top of a counter, he leaned backward to sit on the table. His foot drifted forward in a lazy kick that served only to get Skeeter’s attention. When the fox looked up, Diem grinned.
“It’s Miranda,” he guessed. Skeeter’s head jerked up and his eyes met Diem’s.
“Who’s Miranda?” Tristan asked.
Diem made a vague gesture of direction. “Little kitten from up the road a ways,” he answered. “The one you always see Skeeter here hanging around.”
Tristan threw his hands up and howled with laughter. Skeeter shot him a dirty look.
“It’s not funny!” the fox barked at him.
“Oh, no doubt!”
“What’s the situation?” Diem asked again, dropping down until he was close to Skeeter’s height.
“I want to ask her out,” Skeeter admitted.
“I take it back,” Tristan said, waving his hands. “Not funny at all.”
Diem glared at him for a second before realizing the veteran had blanched and was serious. He put a friendly paw on Skeeter’s shoulder.
“It sounds weird, but you were right. Tristan can tell you more about fear than most anyone here. He’s lived through shit that most of us only see in our nightmares.”
“This isn’t war, though!” Skeeter repeated.
“It’s worse, pup.”
Skeeter looked up, his ears perking. “What do you mean?”
“I can roll into a firefight any day of the week. Three possible outcomes: I get dead, I get hurt, or I come out clean. All I’m risking is my life. That ain’t shit compared to putting your heart on the line.”
“You’re not helping,” Diem said.
“Just telling him like I see it. Girls are a whole ‘nother thing.”
“He needs someone to tell him it will work out.”
“And what if it doesn’t?”
“It’s Miranda!” Diem yelled. “She’s head over heels for this little mook!”
Skeeter’s head snapped up once again, eyes widening. “She is?”
Diem reached out and picked up the winter fox by his shoulders, standing him on a chair so they were eye to eye. He leveled a gaze on the youth that had seen enemy troops run in terror.
“You tell her I said anything and I’ll plant my foot up your ass,” he warned. “Now you listen to me. You swallow that fear and go ask her.”
“But what if -”
In a blur of motion, Diem flicked a claw against Skeeter’s forehead. The dull thwack sound echoed in the room. As Skeeter rubbed at his forehead, Diem pointed at Tristan.
“Twenty years he’s danced with fate. He’s dumb and a bit of a dick, but he’s still here. Fear is all that’s holding you back. All you can say is ‘what if’. Well, what if she says ‘yes’, dumbass?”
“I would die.”
“So would I,” Tristan said, ignoring the dramatic tone Skeeter used. “If she says, ‘yes, dumbass’, I’ll die laughing.”
So today’s prompt was “fear”. I didn’t know where to start when it came right down to it. I knew I was probably going to run something in the anthro setting (I have really got to figure out a name for this…) but I didn’t know what to address. My background music gave me the quote at the top of the tale, and I rolled with it. The character of Tristan fell into place – a warrior who relies on his luck even more than his skill, and has done so for an incredible amount of time. I pictured the fear he might have experienced through his years, and then decided to twist it so that it was not the story of his fear that was the focal point. Making him a mentor seemed a good angle, but taking out the idea of him mentoring a younger soldier kept it fresh. Bringing my old friend Skeeter into the mix just added a touch of fun. Hope y’all liked it. Drop a note and let me know if you’re digging these stories.