Grave Awakening

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Snake Charmer

Goshu’s cart was never moved. It still sat in the same place as it did when Rylo popped the question on her, still in the middle of the market with its covering still applied and its latched back still up. Her horse, thankfully, had been moved, which still made no sense to Nick. How could this world be so alien yet still have horses like Earth? At least they seemed to be only one breed; Nick only ever saw paint horses. They were stabled down near the fields for most of the day, but Nick still believed that forcing them to stay in one place was the last thing they wanted after traveling and being impromptu canaries in the cage at nights.

What did he know, though? He worked with them one day and had them shrieking so loud that a small militia came running, armed to the teeth. Funny part is he didn’t even do anything; he just stood there at the entry as Rylo tried his best to explain everything by pointing at certain parts of the animal and what the tool was used for. He already knew most of it, had a fling with a crazy horsegirl for a couple months before she decided to go back to her equine soulmate but he managed to pick up a good bit of the trade, so he highly doubted the hoof pick was meant for the tail or its hide. But, again, what did he know? One of the poor things died of a heart attack from his very presence, and that was why he was never allowed back in the stable nor even work the closest field to it.

Which, speaking of, he was on field duty today. Simple, quaint, laboriously relaxing fieldwork. Rylo was tasked to the mine today, and Goshu was fishing. Normally, all three would be tasked to the same area, but people started to go missing not too long ago. Up to seven, seemingly taken over night without a single trace. It was as if they simply disappeared, but, as expected, word started to pass.

They first started to blame Nick, but that was quickly squelched. He had been there so long, after all, and shown that he had no more ill intent so long as they were willing to cooperate with him, so he had no reason to kill them. Not outright. Even then, he had proven to be rather... messy. He was to the point with how he handled things, and shown some nobility by at least looking you in the eyes before you died, not the craven, cowardly way that these people had gone. He had standards, too.

So, then, what could be happening? The rooms the victims were in had no sign of foul play, as was repeated over and over among themselves, and they couldn’t simply leave at that time. Even the task of reaching the cavern’s opening, up the stairs, would take all their energy, and they would pass out in a place where the sun doesn’t immediately reach them, so they would be found come morning.

Except for a couple, that is.

It turned out traders, though still very much like their kin, had a bit more resilience when it came to the changing to night. Probably an adaption from their life on the road, they could stay up almost half the night if they so chose before needing to pass out and even longer if it was a full moon. Nick started paying that a bit more attention, as well, watching the cycles of the big blue pearl. It turned out it took a few more days a week for the moon to cycle through one of its faces, which meant a month took closer to thirty-six days instead of the twenty-eight or so back home. This, actually, eased a bit of the weight of how absurd it was for Rylo to pop the question after only eighteen weeks because, though that would be roughly three months back home, it would be equivalent to half a year within the same parameters... A bit of the weight. Not all of it.

Then again, these were simpler times, with simpler goals. Life was as fleeting as one’s fancy, so he could understand if this was the cultural norm for them. He knew people have home whom settled in less time for far more egregious reasons, but Nick had other issues he wished he could bring up to Rylo. In private. For starters, what about his brother? He wasn’t sure if Rylo was paying it any mind, but Nick noticed that him and Goshu often spoke, at long intervals as she and Rylo did and do. They were, also, arguably more compatible, both being travelers and traders, used to working people, weaving tales, lies. And even then, would Rylo really think she would be happy living as a house wife, truly, After the life she worked to have?

The whole thing reeked, worse than the smell that was carried downwind into the field that day. The wind had finally brought it to them, greeted by the others groans as it closed upon them, that sickening, slightly delightful scent that made one remiss about sweets for some ungodly reasons. It only started a little bit over a week back, with none of them certain of its origin. They tossed out all the snake they caught, the fish they netted, but the smell still lingered. Nick, meanwhile, kept his head down and breathed through his teeth, continuing to work the fields, striking the soil with his hoe, indulging in its soft padding and squelches as he dug it in and pulled and ripped it asunder for the fresh seed to be placed.

The worst of the smell, after all, was on the top of the mound. The cooks started to use a rather odorous herb to cover it up as they worked, but even then they still found themselves gagging at times when the wind did shift and pulled the herbs away. The traders that arrived that week didn’t stay as long as they normally did nor did their customers blame nor complain about it, but at night it was truly heinous, left to sit and coalesce and congeal on everything like a rotting rime that, come morning, spelled death for those that were first up the stairs, wrapping them in its miasma and cursing them with that pungent odor for the rest of the day.

They are reaching their breaking point, Nick thought, humming away as he continued to till the fields, listening to their voices, to their arguing, rising, growing bitter, resentful, loathsome. At a much faster rate than the day before. Come tomorrow...

He smirked, and continued to toil away the hours until, at last, the dinner chime called. What was normally met with sighs of relieve was instead answered with groans and grumbles of true despair, their steps a dirge to dance to as Nick followed from behind- and, though he wasn’t anywhere near them, the horses in the stable started to bray and scream.

With the scents so strong, Nick could barely taste the food. So he was able to eat the vegetables without a single issue. The flavor of the steak was never the problem, but it was the fish sticks that suffered. He could no longer taste their soft, fleshy bits that reminded himself so much of home. He still ate in his little nook by the entry to the mound, but the others had retreated inside, into their rooms, leaving him and the cooks cleaning the kitchen alone –shame; he had hoped he was fully alone, but no.

“Oi!” One of the cooks called to him... A first over the last couple days. Normally they simply left him be, murmured among themselves about him, but today Naiyala decided to speak up. She was a decent enough lizard person, though he was still blind to any real differences with their races. The only thing he could really pick out on her, though, was that she had the tips of her horns decorated with three colored gems on each. “We’ve been meaning to ask you, but do you really not have a problem with that smell?”

“I do,” he answered, crunching into a fish stick, “but at some point my nose will go blind to it. Why not stay in it until it has fully accepted it?”

“‘Nose will go blind’? As in you won’t be able to see with your nose?”

“No. It’s a saying where I am from. What it means is I won’t be able to smell it anymore.”

“Like we did with your scent?”

“And I did with all of yours.” He ate his last fish stick, stood, and walked up to the kitchen. He passed her to the trough, washing his plate and utensil, but he heard... then felt her move behind. “Yes?”

“You never brought that up before, but what did we smell like? To you?”

He huffed, turning around, and leaned on the sink, trying to add some distance from her.

“That’s rather rude to ask. You brought it up first, so tell me what I smelled like then I will tell you.”

She chuckled, and he fought the urge to sneer... and possibly gag as the tufts on her arms started to rise.

“It’s hard to explain. It was a strong smell, but not like this horrid one that has befallen us as of late. It was not rancid or anything, but very... very...”

“Musky?”

“I do not know that word, but... moose key... huh. That actually fits. The very sound actually tastes like what it did.”

“Tastes?”

“Yes. It was that strong.”

“And I suppose I owe you an answer, huh?”

“Would only be fair. It is what you said you would do.”

“And I am many things, but one thing I am most certain about is that I am a man of my word.”

“A... man? What’s man?”

“A dex of my word.”

“Ah! So you are a dex. None of us were really certain... Does that mean you have a styr?”

“Not for the last couple of years- er, last half a decade, I suppose.”

“Years? Decade?”

“Yarros, and... do you even have a number system? You must, but I never learned nor heard it.”

She giggled, making his stomach roil as he saw those tufts turn a bit pink, fluttering a little as she raised her arm and held up one finger.

“Osu,” she said, then said the others as she held up to eight. “Nees. Gare. Ilo. Firde. Sevor. Sek. Odun.”

“Great, but what’s nees more than oden?”

She giggled again, and he saw a bit of warmth in her dark orange cheeks.

“You picked it up so quick. Then again, you learned our language fast too, didn’t you?”

“For the most part.”

“Your kind must be very smart and quick to adapt.”

“... For the most part. So...”

“Nees more than oden is Dahn.”

“Thank you. In that case, a decade is a dahn.”

She cocked her head. “You’ve been without a solrasht for dahn yarro?”

“Let me ask a question before I answer that... What in the hell is a solrasht?”

“If I may ask, then: what is hell?”

“A place of unending torment and pain where there is no escape... or used to explain something very similar... or used to add an unnecessary addition to a question to add a bit of exaggeration. In other words how I used it? Completely pointless.”

“You really are an odd o-”

“Naiyala,” another cut in, this one known as Sur Felo. He looked to be an older of the race, his horns a bit weathered, showing cracks and chips, while his hair was starting to turn black. “The kitchen is done. I would recommend you start heading in.”

“Of course. Thank you, Sur.”

He nodded to her, then left with the others to the mound... but not before shooting Nick a dirty look. Rather, not a dirty look but... concern? For whom? Was he concerned about her for mingling with him or with him for even considering it –which he wasn’t. At all. He simply got caught up in this conversation and couldn’t find an easy way out of it.

Thankfully, though, Sur just gave him one.

“Well, you heard him,” Nick said, stretching- and groaning as his back popped like a row of firecrackers. “God, I’ve been needing that... Haven’t had a bed to lay in for longest time. That’s when it usually gets release.”

“You don’t share it with Rylo? Goshu?”

“No? Why would I?”

“So you sleep against the wall? I thought Rylo said you were being treated well in his care!”

“I mean... as well as a killer can be?”

“Killer?”

“You don’t know what that means?”

“Oh! No. I understand, but... Are you talking about that string of deaths from a few dosts ago?”

“If by ‘string’ you mean the one I cruelly stabbed in the throat and twisted so that it got into his esophagus so he either died of blood loss, brain death, or drowning, while his two lackeys were struck through the skull, then yes.”

She cleared her throat. “Well, that answers my Nesond question... We Reylon follow a simple principle: Live the day you are in and move on from the ones that came before. Nobody still harbors anything towards you for that. We must move on and work towards a brighter tomorrow full of understanding... Unless you are saying Rylo does hold ill-”

“No! No... That man doesn’t seem to have a single mean bone in his body. Aside, you know, that day I killed his kin and he knocked me out, but, again, he could have done so much m-”

“The sun is almost gone! Come. You can stay with me tonight. I wish to talk with you more come morning, if you do not mind.”

“I suppose not.”

She giggled, hurrying down the steps as Nick followed behind. He still hummed, if only to keep his retching at bay. Not from the smell that followed him down, no, but from the one she was exuding and would keep emanating all night in her basket. Her room was not that different from Rylo’s, but it at least had some decoration. It had more of the stones she had hung from her horns, seemingly plastered at random across the clay walls, but he didn’t have much time to scrutinize them further before he was goaded into the basket with her. She nuzzled against his chest, out as soon as the sun completely disappeared from the horizon... and was dead to the world before the moon fully rose over it.

Nick didn’t really mind sharing a room with her. His secret was true even in here or any room he would go to, so it all came down to how well could he act... Apparently, he was still very good at looking like he gave a single care.

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