Another dawn. This one, though, seemed brighter than normal, more serene. The clay room warmed faster and the basket was comfier –mostly because Nick had majority leg room. Naiyala tucked her legs back, but still held on for warmth. When everything goes as planned, it’ll be the last night for it, so he let her indulge when he decided to settle back into it. The night went smoother than expected, so he indulged in a nap; he might not need sleep, but doesn’t mean he didn’t have to.
Everything was in place now, his secret already well known. It was slipped the day before, for all to readily see, so it’s not really a secret anymore, he supposed. The doors? Little more than “wooden” gates, the kind one saw in stereotypical movies about the 50′s and 60′s in an American suburb. Just like those, they didn’t have a real lock. Unlike those, these were squeezed incredibly tight and seemingly needed a lot of force to open and would be noticeable if one tried.
But therein lies the problem and solution. You don’t need to open the door normally.
Thanks to that haggard oaf from yesterday, the door was easier to open than ever before, the clay softened by more... rugged hands. He was able to loosen it around the “hinges” easier than around the latch on the opposite side and it was even less conspicuous –though that didn’t seem to matter; he had worked that door the night before, its maiden desecration, and not one batted an eye to the soft scratches around the latch. He might have gotten better since his time in Rylo’s room, but these were meant to be more perceptive creatures.
He has been enjoying his nightly outings. All by himself, no one to gossip or look after, soaking in the moonlight and ambiance; there was no feeling like it. Even back on Earth, when he lived at home, he would go out for these walks. Morgantown was a waste, it never slept, but in a podunk little place like Accident? He might as well have been one with nature... and the dead. It was a sobering experience, reminding him of how small, how insignificant he was, that everyone was, and no matter how much he tried or anybody tried, at night, in the dark, you were but another corpse, shambling on in its embrace. It didn’t matter your status or intelligence or ties; you were another walking dead man, your light waiting to be snuffed out.
But this was how he learned that traders had adapted. He walked the road at nights. Not too far since he had to hurry home before sunrise, but he would walk them long enough to see where traders would stop, whether coming into town or leaving. During these times, he was thankful for his loafers; those things were silent on the stone when he wanted. The main problem was the horses, which could smell him if he wasn’t careful. Thankfully, he never had to get that close to hear them grumbling; sound traveled far on the empty plains. He could hear, as clear as day, how they couldn’t sleep in the back of their wagons, and how they tossed and made it groan and spent easily an hour adjusting before the cold finally got to them. Others were a bit more... zealous, wanting to push to be closer to town come morning, but they all boiled down to the same conclusion. They stayed up longer than their city counterparts.
As was stated, though, he never had to get close to them nor did he have the chance to go that far before he had to return. However, for what he must do he didn’t need to go further than the mound most nights, and to the rivers for those that didn’t go as smooth. That was when he was starting, though, learning, refining his technique, but he still remembered how his blood ran hot for those first few, how time was his enemy rather than his asset. And, though he stayed there far too long for his liking, he considered it a boon. He knew exactly which to go a-
“Nick,” Naiyala whined, shoving his shoulder. “Wake up... I want to go eat.”
“Then go eat,” he grumbled. “I’ll catch up l...”
He caught himself, his mind catching up, remembering what day it was. Any fatigue that might have leeched into him as he rested was gone in a quick leap, landing on his feet. He spun, heading towards the door, Naiyala whining about him showing such zeal so early, but how could he not? It was the big day after all. The others groaned around, echoed in that hallowed cavern, but there was yet another missing from the chorus, another added to the long list of those still unaccounted.
Then there was also the smell.
It might have been bad the last few days, but today it had reached a point of true necrophage. It had become so putrid that the air had a haze, a thick, greasy brown aura that seemed to hang over the entire mound. No amount of wind could quell it; however, it aided in its spread, rolling down the hillsides, with the strongest being from-
“Lonsu’s great fangs,” Rylo exclaimed, rushing from behind Nick. As did several others.
“Oh. Hey. Morning. Didn’t hear you,” Nick mumbled, bored, fighting the urge to titter and smile as they all gathered around Goshu’s cart. It was still on the mound, set in between the kitchen and market. However, unlike the nights before, the top was folded back and the latch was open, revealing to all, at last, where the missing villagers were. Turned out they were never missing; they never even left home. The heat did wonders to them too, all little more than a mass of congealed goo, bone, and viscera. Save for the latest one, old Vorsen added to the very top of the pile. His pale blue eyes were glassed over, now more mist and fog than ever before, while his neck was stained and crusted over with his blue blood, where a singular, solid stroke was carved across it. His own tunic was used to soak it up as he bled out, the light brown stained to a muddy green.
Goshu was the last to arrive, yawning and grumbling... silenced as she felt then saw all eyes were on her.
“W-what?” She managed to say, and went a ghastly green, noticing what was in her cart. She repeated the question, but she turned pale as Rylo picked a knife up from the opened latch. It was one of the blades she brought to town, one of the ones she hand-forged back in Olshao, a tool she would be most familiar with. Nick had learned quite a bit in his time at the village, including a few travel... and weapon customs. For starters, only the owner of a cart is allowed to move, peruse, or open it. The second? Unless a weapon is given, no one was allowed to use it except the original owner. So, as she began to plea her case, Nick already knew it would be an uphill battle for her, already so many in disbelief, but he needed to add the nail to coffin.
“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about all of this, Rylo,” Nick interjected as she stammered her argument. Of course, he, also, knew there would be plenty of skepticism aimed his way, but he wasn’t arguing against himself. Only basic, empirical observations. “I thought to bring this up a while back, but then things got messy. Especially with Naiyala showing such interest –no hurt meant, Naiya... I was going to question if you really think this was the best life to live with her. She was meant to be a trader; she wouldn’t be happy staying in one place. She wanted to wander, so, though she said yes, I always thought there would be some annoyance or anger under it... Then there was how she spoke with your brother-”
“I am going to stop you there,” Nosu interrupted. “We were simply talking about old trips, reminding ourselves of the love of the road. There was nothing else involved in that.”
“... Which only adds to her want to return to it, though. By any means necessary, apparently,” Nick finished, and tried his best to have pity in his eyes as he looked upon Goshu. “I could understand that kind of want. Goodness knows I would love to leave this city at last, as Rylo and I talked about before he popped his question on you, but then he told me you two would be stuck here a yarro. Which meant I was, also, stuck here a yarro... I have to thank Naiya, I suppose. If it wasn’t for her, I would have probably cracked today, but it seems you beat me to the punch.”
“But... Bu- I d-”
“She’s a trader, after all,” one mumbled.
“She would be in bed after all of us,” another stated.
“But surely this is all a huge misunderstanding,” Rylo said, turning to Goshu. His arms were raised, both them and his eyes begging, pleading for it to be... but how she broke down crying, as her personality had shown she would, was enough to expose her guilt. Rylo collapsed to his knees, thick streams of tears flowing from his eyes, the light in them once so bright, so innocent... gone. “Goshu...”
“Rylo...” She croaked, reaching out to him. “I swear-”
“Ready a cart. You, Goshu, Nick, and I are all going to Ralai.”
“Rylo-” Goshu began again, but was hit by one of the others. Then another, and another as the mob tried to close on her.
“Murderer!” “Sinner!” “Monster!” “Outsider!” “Olshao Lonsu!” The crowd became a roar, almost chanting these words, but Naiyala and Nick managed to wade through and fend them off before they could do any real harm. She was battered, shaken, bloodied, but at least wholly in one piece. They dragged her down the mound, towards the stables, the horses screaming as Nick approached. There were other pressing matters, and Nosu had the cart ready and aimed down the path before they were even halfway through the fields. Rylo was in the back, gesturing them to hurry, and helped them get Goshu into it before Nick climbed in after... though he kept his arm raised, barring the way for Naiyala.
“No. It’s only the ilo of us.” He stated.
“Nick-” Naiyala began, tears shimmering in her own eyes.
“No. He’s right,” Nick interjected, and grabbed her hands, squeezing them tight. “We’ll meet again.”
She trembled under his grasp, and he could feel that she wanted to hold him, as well, but she relented, lowering them and backing up as Nosu cried out, slapping the reins. The horse screamed a few times, kicked and fought, but eventually gave in to its master’s wishes and started off at a run on the path. At long last, after what felt a century, Nick left that town, and was quickly becoming little more than a footnote as they traveled, in silence for the rest of the day. It was as if he was leaving all his troubles behind at last.
Well, not fully.
“That was quite the event,” Nick mumbled at l-
“It was you, wasn’t it?” Rylo cut in.
“... Yes. It was.” He no longer hid his smile, cocking his head back at the others. Rylo’s face was pure rage, reminding him of that one fellow back on Earth... what was his n- Ah! Chad! Yes. How could he forget? Goshu’s face was a fitting match for his sister’s, just as betrayed, surprised by it all.
“We trusted you,” Rylo said. “We thought you were getting better, becoming a better person... I put my life on the line for y-”
“Yes. You did.”
Goshu screamed, a body-shaking shriek as Nick plunged one of her knives through Rylo’s head. But only just; he wanted him shocked, not dead. Not yet, at least; he had a promise to keep. His limbs jerked, trying to reach out, but the adrenaline could only make him flail as Nick moved to Nosu next, cutting the back of his neck and severing the brain stem. Nosu’s body went limp, the horse running them off the field, where the reins ended up, and that ear-bleeding shriek was silenced to gurgles as Goshu got her turn, killed by the very items she made.
Nick held her over Rylo, let the blood rain on him until the very. Last. Drop... then discarded her over the side, into the tall grass, and knelt before Rylo. The road was bumpy now, but he managed to rest the knife in the hole he made, letting the bumps guide it ever downward.
“You know, you only have yourself to blame,” Nick said. “No good deed goes unpunished... Tell me: How do you think your gods will look upon you? You spared my life all that time ago, and are fully responsible for every single death... Farewell, my best buddy.”
He sank the knife completely, twisted, and pulled, ripping it out before he tossed the blade back into the wagon. He jumped over the side this time, rolling as the wagon kept on going, the horse shrieking as it was now manned by the rider of the damned... and now, after so long, Nick laughed. He laughed and laughed as he returned to the road, wiping his hands clean of this mess on the grass as he went, finally a free man once again. Allowed to roam... and he knew exactly where to go next. Nick had to give credit, though: He didn’t expect Rylo to figure it out... For that, he’s going to miss him, even if a little bit. He was at least smart enough to gleam that... but not smart enough to bring a weapon.