The Long Retreat No. 48

In another future, he slipped down a hill and hit his head on a rock. In another, a sudden wind caught in the branches of a dead tree, which toppled and landed across his shoulders. The snap of his back echoed in his head for a moment, before that future, too, ended in darkness.

He would have blinked, if he could. None of those should have happened. He was a diviner. Sudden surprises were neither sudden nor surprising to him—he was too attuned to the flow of time for that, living more in the next ten heartbeats than the instant called now. A suspicion took him, and he teased apart the whirling columns of dust. If he went north, he saw his death in ways he expected—fighting impossible odds by choice, backed into a corner by inaction, standing and fighting to allow the others to escape. These were deaths that, finally, he could no longer dodge, deaths at the end of a long chain of decisions and consequences, any link of which he might easily snap. Yet, if he went any other direction, the possibilities ended with random, fatal happenstance.

He gritted his metaphorical teeth and countenanced a few situations where he left his little band of survivors to fend for themselves. He could cover twice as much ground without them, and he found that he could escape to the east or the west. The happenstance faded, and once again he saw himself dying as he expected he might.

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