The Hero

"Dusk is beginning to fall, we should find a place to camp for the night soon,” I said. The Northern mountains are rumored to hold all manner of terrifying creatures, and I don't want to find out if they're true. Ava and I are riding towards the mountains, each on our horses named Buttercup and Orion, respectively. I figure we've got maybe an hour until the last light, just long enough to make it to the base of the mountains and find a cave to build a fire in. It's been blisteringly cold today, and as we go further north the temperature change is getting harsh. Ava and I have been on the road for a little over 3 days now, returning from the trip we took to the eastern shore, visiting what we were told are sure to be the most beautiful sunrises across all the kingdoms. Having now seen them, I can confirm.

“What do you know about the mountain pass? I've never taken it before”, Ava asked me.

“Well I only traveled it once, when I was just a kid, but if I remember correctly we just follow this path for another day or so up and over the mountains, and we should cut our usual travel time in half."

“How steep is it?, Do you think Buttercup will manage?" she asked, patting the side of her horse. "Oh, I’m sure it won't be too bad, lots of switchbacks on the way up, and thanks to the glaciers on the tops, we can stop for plenty of water breaks at a stream.”

I added “And as for tonight, There should be a couple of caves just at the base of the mountains,” I said, pointing straight ahead, where the shadows of the trees stretched long towards the Northern mountains.

The mountains in front of us were beginning to tower over us, taking up almost my entire field of vision as we neared the base. With their jagged peaks and steep ascent, it looks as if these mountains were placed here as a wall by the forces of nature, a warning sign to stop, before starting a journey into the potentially treacherous Northern kingdom. The trees around us grew sparser, and we began a slight ascent just as the sun left the horizon. We stayed quiet after that, keeping our eyes peeled for a place we could sleep for the evening, with the mountainside rushing up to us.

“Oh look!" I exclaimed.

“You can see the caves. Just straight ahead and to the left of the path!”

Ava scanned where I was looking with her intense blue eyes. I could tell the moment she spotted them because her whole face lit up with excitement. Relief flashed on her face because after last night, when we slept tied to trees, neither of us wanted to make that a repeat.   As we reached the caves, we stepped off our steeds and walked into the nearest cave to make sure it was empty. " I think it's all clear Ava” I hollered from the back of the cave, which was now getting dark. “Should I get some wood for a fire?” I asked. "Honestly Atlas, I’m so tired I’m surprised that I'm not asleep already, why don't we call it a night and tuck ourselves in the back, just in case," she replied. 

"Yeah that sounds good to me, I’ll just go feed and tie up Orion and Buttercup, why don’t you go ahead and get comfortable.” I grabbed some apples from our satchels and began walking outside while Ava headed towards the back of the cave. Feeding each of the horses, I gave them each a few extra today because tomorrow was going to be tough. After they had their fill, I began tying them to one of the few nearby trees. I was finishing tying Buttercup up when I heard Ava scream.

“ATLAS, HELLL..." - As her scream got cut off.

My head jerked up and I immediately got into a full sprint into the cave, which was much harder to see in than it was just a couple of minutes ago. My heart was racing, pumping faster than I knew it could, I was terrified thinking what might be attacking Ava, and I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to kill them if it meant saving Ava from harm.

I quickly got to where I saw Ava setting up our stuff just a few minutes ago, and it was empty.

I looked around urgently.

Where could she have gone?

After frantically searching around for far too long, I found a hole in the floor, tucked around the dark corner. YES. This has to be where Ava was taken, I take a look inside, but see nothing but darkness, and I can't hear a thing either. Right as I am about to rashly jump inside, I stop for a second. "What if I go down there and I merely end up getting myself killed as well?", “What if she's screaming right now for me to stay up here and keep myself alive, and I only make things worse?” and, “What about Buttercup?". Ava would be devastated if her horse wasn't kept safe. But if I don't go at least try to save her, I would never be able to live with myself. The guilt would destroy me from the inside out. I have to at least try, right?

I should think about this rationally, three possible circumstances could come out of this decision. Either I leave the cave(1), don't try to save her, and one of the 2 of us dies, or I go and try to save her, most likely getting myself killed as well as her(2). Or, miracle strikes, and we both escape with our lives(3). 

On principle, I have to save her. It is the only clear moral move. 

But does me risking my life to attempt to save hers mean that I think my life has less worth than hers does? 

Does abandoning ship mean that I think my life has more? Will playing the hero cost me my life?

If I do nothing, someone dies. If I do something, there is a much greater chance that both of us die than that we escape okay. Logically, If I value human life equally, I should leave. I go about considering the possibility of leaving and running away with our horses. I can't breathe, I am pacing through the cave, and decide to make my way outside to the horses. After the commotion, the two of them are on full alert. I can see the worry in their eyes. These horses want Ava to be okay as much as I do. There is no way I can leave her behind.

Ava might already be dead for all I know. I have wasted precious minutes trying to come up with a solution. Any longer and the chances of there being an Ava left to save are even smaller. If I abandon the cave, one of us will live.

Except that that's not entirely true.

Because if I leave here now, with the knowledge that she was probably put through agony until her last moments and I didn't at least try to save her from any of that pain, how could I live with myself? 

Imagining how leaving would play out, I don't think I could live like that for very long, I doubt I would live long enough to see my home for the last time.

My future guilt has somehow decided for me and brought my chances of survival to near zero. "I guess my survival instincts aren't very good" I whispered with a grim chuckle. I quickly untied the ropes that the horses were tied to and, knife in hand, I walked back inside the cave. 

I took a deep breath as I reached the hole, took a look inside, and jumped.

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