Nick didn’t think much of Goshu when he first “met” her. She wasn’t a trader but an apprentice to one, learning the trade from... a name he still wasn’t sure he could properly even butcher. Lour San Doskc- Doskcuc- Sand. His name, from henceforth, would be Sand. She traveled with Sand from the lofty city of Olshao, which, given the span it took him back and forth from then, was about a three-week trip. Sand was nice, and, unlike his name would portray, was a smooth talker. Even though he could not understand a lick that he said, even Nick felt moved by his speech and drawn to take his wares.
That’s when Nick learned it was a barter economy... and he had nothing to trade. Except his shoes, which Sand tried for but not even the devil could talk him out of them. He tried, though. He really did, but, thankfully, Rylo was in charge of most of the trades, which, once he had his bag of salted fish sticks, Nick was done with the lot of them. He went off to eat by the rivers and enjoy the sun after so long of nothing but rain.
Rylo, meanwhile, stayed with them, and Nick did not see him until near dusk. They returned to the room, and Nick had never seen Rylo so... content. His face was lax, almost blissful, before he even laid down, and was bombarding Nick with so many questions that he knew he was simply bouncing off him for his own satisfaction. He sighed as the sun sank over the horizon and fell asleep almost instant, finally still, saving that poor basket at last.
When the trader returned, so did Goshu. At that point, Nick was starting to understand the language, though not really speak it. Made it easier to play dumb when one was commenting to him that he was a freak and a wondrous slave to have around when he was doing his job, but it was the moments of Rylo’s heart-to-hearts that really made him sick. Especially as the time started to come up about the traders’ returns.
Once more, Rylo spent most of the day with Sand and Goshu, even after his wares were well and clearly cleaned out. Nick was on kitchen duty that day, being taught the masterful conduction of the blade into sinew and flesh, but he noted how the woman would fan her arms out when he leaned her way, how her tufts on her arms would start to rise. It might have been a trick of the eye, but he swore the white tips would turn a bit pink as their conversation kept going, while Rylo’s tufts would flare out. Again, the physical was evident, but the color was questionable since he hit far too many veins and enjoyed a blood facial one too many times to know.
Dusk came again, and he noticed Rylo and Goshu would sit together to eat their meal, still talking. How could such a simple species have so much to talk about? Were they discussing differences in dialect, culture? What about vegetables; she seemed to have the same reaction as Nick did when it came to those, but kept it down. The green shade her soft, brown cheeks gained was a small price to pay to save face, he supposed.
Rylo departed with something saccharine, given his tone, and retrieved him, both returning to the room where, once again, he assailed Nick with questions not meant to be answered. Not by him; Nosu could do that tomorrow. Nosu always arrived a day after, the traders usually leaving before sunset, but Sand and Goshu decided to stay the night this time. It turned out traders climbed into their wagon at night, under the covering, and slept until morning. The fabric, Nick found out when he laid a bit of snake steak on it, heated up fast and hot and, most importantly, retained it. That heat, also he surmised, served to deter any would-be predators, which answered all his curiosities in one lovely sizzle.
Another three weeks passed, and this time Goshu arrived on her own. Sand brought his own cart, but she was open for business since she “came of age” as the older trader put it. It was only really then did Nick pay any attention to Goshu, seeing her wares. Her stock wasn’t any different than Sand’s, yet Rylo was far more eager to do business with her. So Nick asked her. In their tongue.
The moment he dropped that bombshell the entire mound went silent. They all listened as he spoke, quite fluently, asking how was her stock any different, what sort of quality were the goods, were they treated differently because of her travels, and how did they differentiate from her master’s... This, alongside what he was, seemed all too much for dear old Goshu, and she fainted on the spot. Talk about a first impression.
That night, as Rylo closed the door, he thrust a finger into Nick’s chest, furious. Furious? Why?
“How long?” Rylo said, in their tongue of course. “How long have you been able?”
“Two weeks now,” he answered, with sincerity. He had been coaching himself at night, reflecting upon the day and how others talked. Some of it was still shaky, but he was at least able to hold a conversation with himself in it. Like any language, he simply needed to find the root of it and piece together how sentences were constructed; from there, it was simply making the right noises. “Understood for a bit longer.”
“Why didn’t you tell me!” He gasped, and Nick couldn’t help but smirk as his cheeks lit a bit. “How much could you understand?”
“Every single question you asked.”
“Why? Why didn’t you tell me! Why didn’t you say anything?” He groaned, pulling on his horns a little, and walked over to the glass. He looked out it a moment, taking several deep breaths before he uttered a wistful sigh and turned to Nick again. His face was stern, but his cheeks still held a bit of pink. “If you had, we could have started.”
“Towards the other cities, of course. Introduce you to the rest of the world.”
He huffed, smiling wide, and pumped his fist.
“Now that you can understand and talk with us, you can explain what you are and where you come from. That way, we can work towards a peace where you can share your tool marvels with the rest of us. You seem lacking of water labor, so we could offer that in return, aid in whatever you need underwater. From there, we can create ties and, ultimately, combine our forces against the horrid Dregsao.”
… Nick had never heard that last word before. There wasn’t even a word that was close to what that could mean from everything he had heard.
“Yes. The Dregsao, across the Lonsu’s Teeth.” Rylo pointed out the window, at the ashen mountains, face darkening as he looked upon those peerless peaks. “It’s coming that time again. They’ll be sending parties over them, ruining our trade lines and upsetting the circle of life in Bulath’s Rest.” He shook his head, and turned to Nick again, eyes begging for an answer before he even asked. “That small tool you had, that strange, black box; was that the strongest of your weapons or but a small defensive instrument?”
“My phone? Yeah, no, that wasn’t even a weapon. That was more a... well, an extension of myself. For the longest time, I couldn’t imagine living without my ph... oh crap. Has my account been being charged this entire time? How much money did those bastards steal!”
Rylo cocked his head. “Excuse me? You slipped into your native tongue, but it didn’t sound pleasant.”
“It wasn’t. I think I’ve been being stolen for the last three years since I died.”
“Since you... what?”
“Oh. Right. Now I can explain. Only one of my kind here. Why? No idea. Died from attack on heart back at home, woke up here after what seemed a three-year gap... Is any of this making sense to you.”
“To be honest: No.”
“Good, for none of it is making a lick of sense to me, as well. I have been giving it most of my mind since I arrived, but have not made a single sense of it all. It would be different if there were others like me here, that this was the life after that was expected, but, since being here, I have not seen hide nor hair of others. And these Dredge Sue don’t sound like me at all.”
“No. The Dregsao are nothing like you. Far taller, and lack any social graces. If I may be blunt, they are also hard to look at.”
“For you to say that in comparison they must be ugly.”
“In truth, you really don’t look much different from us. No horns and odd number on hands and you have those strange feet, wearing another’s skin like a deredu crass –which comes us back to main topic. What are you? Where do you come from?”
“Back home, I am known as a human.”
“Human. Hue, as in color, and man as in... how do you tell sex apart in your species? What are the words?”
“Ah, that is simple. I am dex, and the fairer of our species are the styr.”
“Huh. Well, back home, on Earth, my home, the kind of my species like me are known as male, with the colloquial being man. So it’s a combination of hue and man –which, to complicate things further, sometimes in tales they call all of humans ‘man’.”
“Your world sounds interesting already. The tools you have was only the start... What are the styr called?”
“We slap a fee at the beginning of male, thus making them female... Never gave it thought before, but that’s actually hilarious. Even at the root, we always thought women came at a cost.”
“I take it whimmen is the colloquial for the styr?”
“Yep. The many of them. For single, it’s woo and man. Woman.”
“Single? Many? So many variations.”
“We even have past, present, and future tense, though most conversations are in past tense.”
“Most interesting... That settles it. Come tomorrow, we shall begin taking the trip from town to town. You have much to teach us.”
“Wouldn’t you rather keep me here for now? Learn what I can now for the benefit of the ones here?”
“Word will return, as knowledge knows no bounds. You shall aid us in existing for a better tomorrow.”
“Only so much I can do, though. Your kind have not even developed metal yet.”
“That one... sort of hard to tell.” He rubbed his head, the top of it getting a bit scruffy... and happened to glance at his shoes. “Ah!”
Nick raised his leg and pressed his foot firm against the glass, pointing at the aglets and rings that held the strings on his shoe.
“Those. What the string is pushed through. Those are made of metal.”
Nick leaned close, blinking, but, as Nick suspected, wasn’t excited at simply seeing a few small rings and a refined tip to keep the laces from fraying.
“It’s not much, I admit,” Nick said, “but that is one example. Metal is stronger than wood, stronger than bone. Can stand so much more. Be used to make weapons, armor. Stone may be good, but, unlike stone, if you break metal it can be fixed. Jagged tip can be smelted and refined into smooth tip again.”
“And how do we come across metal?”
“From under, where you get stone. This place is lacking in area for it, it seems-”
“Which is why we need to head out, find a town that does-”
“And give them a one-up?”
“A one-up. Be better than you. Hold it over you.”
“These... are strange concepts. Why would anyone do such a thing? How would one do such a thing?”
Given his expression, though, and how... uncomfortable he looked, he wasn’t... How could anyone, let alone a species, be so naive? So innocent? They were still young, in terms of civilization, yet they never heard of survival of the fittest? Surely they must have fought over land or territory in the past. There was no way that an entire species managed to survive and evolve while... going against everything that survival dictated. The world was meant to be cruel and unforgiving, yet these things believe in each other so much that they don’t even consider holding anything over one another?
“A whole planet of...” He began, in Earth’s tongue, but stopped. There wasn’t a single group of people at home that could even come close to that sort of mentality. He was going to say hippies, but they were unbelievably hypocritical in that regard and would actually be an insult to what he had experienced with this race... Nick shook his head, and returned to their tongue. Just as the red sun departed over the horizon. “We will talk about this another time. Your rest is at hand.”
“So it seems... You never rest, do you? Does your kind need it?”
“Once upon a time.”
He scoffed, smirking, and yawned as he curled into his basket, leaving Nick to his secrets. Next morning, though and for the next few weeks, he would never be asked. Goshu decided to stay in town, gather supplies and take up all the time with Rylo, which lead to their sickening romance and courtship of him taking her out for walks and going off on trading trips until, finally, she said she wanted to settle in with him.
This didn’t sit well. For Rylo.
That night, Rylo confided in him, looking almost as disconcerted than when Nick brought up the survival mentality.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said, pacing back and forth before the window. Clouds floated along, lazily, soft rain still drizzling from them onto the spots they shadowed on the grasslands, leaving dark lines through it. “I adore her, but we have such plans.”
“Okay? Why not travel with styr?”
“It’s not that simple. Our kind, when one decides to settle, we must spend a yarro together. Neither can leave village; must spend every night and day working on same task and sharing same room.”
“So... what we have been doing.”
“That is different. You are outlander, thus not allowed a room of your own.”
“It’s what we agreed upon. Since you don’t need to rest, we didn’t think you would need one.”
“So it’s not a mean reason but a pragmatic- er, usable one.”
“So... when you and styr are in here?”
“It is not uncommon for many to share a room.”
“Yes, but... when you and styr... you know...”
“I’m not able to follow.”
“When you... do the deed...” Nick never thought once he would have to have the birds and bees talk with another species. He never thought he would have to have it in general, with anyone, but the fact he was talking to a species that he wasn’t even sure had a word for what they d- wait. There was hope with one, singular word. “When you guys fuck-”
“Ah! That. Why would that cause issue?”
Nick... didn’t have a response to that. He stood there, flabbergasted at the question, wondering, himself, why he had an issue- oh. Right. Because he was in a desert with no oasis in sight. Not only that, he never slept, so he would be quite knowing of everything they do.
That was his reason for despising Goshu. That was why he despised their relationship. For the most part, she seemed sweet if a bit meek. Unlike the others, she always tried to be nice to him, so there was that, but he did not need that sort of mental scarring... Thankfully, though, her meekness served him well. Even after all this time, they still haven’t done the deed, and Rylo was not bringing that up any time soon... He was too busy with his other plans.
But it was morning, and Rylo and his squeeze were stirring. Not fully awake yet, thankfully; if he had been one minute later his secret would have been exposed. For now, though, he played the silent sentinel well, but there was no way he was spending a year here. He now knew what he must do, and was working towards some baggage.
“Morning, sunshines,” he said, smiling, holding back his real reason well as the two rose. “What are we doing today?”