Ralai... Aside the thicket under its window, Nick was suffering from dreadful deja vu. The fields, the stables, the market and kitchen were all exactly the bloody same. He couldn’t see the window as he approached, but he could see the cascade of color it made on a forest in its shadow. From how he arrived, though, he could see they had a lake, which it had a river continuing north somewhere down into that forest. He could only hope that one didn’t have the launcher scorps, or ever have to deal with it. Ralai, also, had a mine, located at a fork in the road that was off to the south, opposite to the way to the town.
He marched down the path, humming a tune he long forgot the artist for but still knew quite a bit from their repertoire. If only he could, he would curse them for plaguing his mind with such poppy, thrashy tunes that made him remember the late 90′s. However, since he couldn’t, he simply had to live and learn and plot his escape from this city. Really, he had no idea why he, himself, remembered these tunes; they came from Her favorite hobby. He always thought they were a waste, whereas she already had a full job in the business by the time she graduated... Ever so often, back at home, he wondered how She was doing, actually, truly wondered, but he didn’t have to look far. One quick look in a popular streaming site and She was often showing how She coded, talking nerdy the entire time. More than once he thought about shooting her message, especially with how many times She was flirted with... but it was always Her answer that made him stop and turn off the app:
“I tell you guys all the time. He’ll back back. Someday.”
… Did they have a burial for him? Nick never gave it any thought before, given that it was a morbid idea. Why not go there, though, since his mind was already trying to put him in a bad mood. Let’s go full-tilt, and question if they bothered to bury him at a- of course they did. He was “Christian”, after all, as were his mom, dad, and sister. Did she come back for it, along with Tyrone? He missed him; made the best burritos this side of the border and could sing like a lark while doing it. Nick always made fun of him for it, but he would always have the last laugh as he sneaked in some ghost pepper-pickled habeneros into his. All the other guys would say how much a puss he was for getting that hot and bothered over a few “jalopenos”... He never did complain, though. That’s how he found out he loved hot food. BUT... he had one thing on Tyrone: he was the far better dancer. “A shame to his shade,” he called it, that he couldn’t outdo a honky ghost of a cracker like him.
Why did he have to stop calling or texting? Nick knew he and Val couldn’t stay around, but the least he could do was keep in touch. Life got so much more... dull without him around... If he had to give him a label, there was no doubt that Tyrone was his best bud. Shit, Nick gave Val his blessing to date him because he knew how great a guy he was, and this was how he repaid him? Both of them? Going to his funeral would be the least they could do... would She go, though? If that were the case, what state would She have been in?
“Damn them all,” he grumbled, craning his head back as he welcomed the rain on his face that clear, sunny day. Yeah. It’s going to be one of those days.
He laid his arm over his eyes, keeping the rain from hitting them too hard, but somehow it still got under it and rolled down his cheeks. This was what happened when he couldn’t keep his eye on a tangible prize. Ye olde floodgates would open and he’d be swarmed by his regrets over exactly one person... and the one promise he couldn’t keep. Guess it took a brush with creatures that would even make the old hunter of the large reptilians and preserver of all nature say to kill them all with fire to make his old noodle do a bit of jogging and clean-up. Where was this release back during the monsoon; that would have been at least a good reason for his face to be as drowned as it was.
Then again, this was opportune, as well.
He lowered his arm at last with a shuddering sigh. His head was the next, finally acknowledging the crowd that gathered. They had started to follow since the fields, but reached a head once he was up in the market. He didn’t exactly get the same warm welcome as he did back in Leyshun, but the spears were still there. Just in their eyes now... and a bit blunted.
“People of Ralai,” he began, voice cracking, aching, burdened with such sadness and guilt. Truly impeccable timing for those memories to surface; his brain was a tactical genius. “I am Nick, from Earth, another world other than this one, and I wish I was here under happier circumstance. I truly do, but the world- life is not a happy place for me. I was meant to arrive here with Rylo and Nosu of Leyshun, as well as Goshu of Olshao, but not only did Goshu hide a knife and try to attack us while on our way, but we were happened upon by a dregshao marauding party.”
This elicited a few gasps and started a stream of questions, but all were silenced as he drew another, raggedy, shaking breath, ready to continue his tale.
“As far as I know, I was the only one to make it out alive. I do not think it was mere luck, either, but, as you people have shown, sheer curiosity at what I was. It gave them pause in their attack on my person, so I was able to get away mostly unscathed... I have been traveling for the past ten days, nonstop, and only stopped to tell my story to traders that came along, as well as beg and plead for food and water. So, what I ask of you good people is that I may quench my thirst and sate my hunger before I continue my tales... That is my humblest of requests.”
There was an old saying back on Earth, one that Nick knew pertained to fisherman but never had any interest to fish so he never really learned what it meant. All he knew is there was a hook, the line, and something called a sinker. In truth, he thought it sounded very self-explanatory but he was proven wrong before. In any case, that phrase applied beautifully. They were more than happy to lead him to a table, get him a skin or five of water and all the... food...
He looked down at the pale shell, knowing all too well what creature it came from, but it seemed cooking the scorpions had an effect akin to boiling a crab or lobster. Instead of turning it red, though, it gave the chitin an almost opalescent sheen, a gloss that shown in many colors while the main seemed to be a chrome or platinum. Its smell, though; he wasn’t exactly sure how to place it. At first, it hit the nose like boiling chicken, but then it smoothed out to a... raspberry tartness? It was the underlying scent that really threw everything off, and that was the unmistakable smell of bacon as it fried.
Nick picked at it with his fork, too afraid to use the knife in case he punctured it too much and it squirted, but he was surprised to find it was almost like a soft-boiled egg. He could press it a good bit, but the shell would hold, simply pushing inward. After a few presses, he gave it a twisting, actually digging the prongs in, and it seemed the separation just made the entirety melt away, flopping apart as it raced downward to the plate it sat on, revealing the soft, flaky, fish-like meat inside.
Nick pondered how else he could put off eating it, but the only other options on his plate were the vegetables of death and despair... and what he could only assume was a roasted owl. It was plucked clean, and he had enough of a view of the bottom to see it was gutted proper, but there was something in him that just... couldn’t... make him want to eat owl. The strix was one of his favorite animals, specifically the tawny, so seeing it in that state took any appetite he truly had. He had to eat something, though. It was one of the conditions he placed, and it was a sign of respect. As much as he didn’t want to, he had to kick up the act. If only a bit longer.
So, he finally sunk his fork into the flaky meat. It parted with ease, as if it was truly fish, like whiting or cod, and brought it to his lips. With one, last gasp, he finally accepted the morsel... and was surprised. The flavor was more like bacon than anything else, but he was off with the raspberry. As it hit his tongue, it defused and reminded him more of strawberry or mango, adding to the underlying buttery texture. The second bite he accepted graciously, and it wasn’t long before that shell was plucked clean.
He sank back into the chair he sat on –an actual chair, not the stone slabs with fur covering them back in Leyshun. He patted his belly, drinking a skin of water as the eyes around pressed hard, waiting for him to fulfill his end of the bargain. The question, though, was where to start- actually, he knew exactly where to start.
“How much do you know about me?” He said. “Did any of the traders tell of me?”
“No. Not a one,” a female answered. “We heard there was someone not of Dregsao or Reylon, but that is the all we knew.”
That was all he needed to know. He already stated he was from Earth, which was another planet, so it was as simple as explaining what Earth was, where it was located, and the solar system it originated in. From there, it was explaining the long, long history of how humans came to be, how their society rose and fell so many times (often from the same reasons as the societies before it fell). He made it to colonial America and the clash of the dinosaur-riding British and the dark-pact Americans when the sun began to set... He might have taken a few... liberties with the retelling.
They had him share a room with the woman who spoke and answered him. Her name was Lon Dera, and she still persisted until sleep stole her away, leaving him alone in that clay room. Just like Rylo’s, it was bare, but at least he felt a bit more comfortable with the baskets. They were made of actual wood... though that, also, disappointed him a little with them being wood. There was a sort of sick satisfaction with sleeping in the bones of the kill, but he supposed that hacking down a tree was still killing prey, just not prey that could really fight back.
Then again, what’s the difference with what I have done? He thought, snickering, and sighed as he continued to inspect the room. It was very much like the mound back in Leyshun in every way save for the sight: the glass, the steps... the door. The door was, also, made of wood, which turned out to work against it. The clay held more firm to the bone, and he was able to pry it open with almost no effort.
Sadly, it would be a while before he could go wondering. Ralai turned out to be a trading hub. Considering the forest path most of them would have to endure, he perfectly understood why... though... he wouldn’t mind going back now just to grab a few of the butter scorpions. But, he presumed he would end up in a cycle like he was in Leyshun, stuck with Lon for the first few days until they saw he could handle it and-
“Good lord, I just picked up a new part-time job,” he grumbled-
And jumped as he heard Lon snort behind.
He eased the door shut again and turned around, watching as she raised herself out of the basket. Thankfully, her eyes were still shut, wiping them with her palms but she was awake. She. Was. Awake.
“Nick?” She mumbled, yawning again. “What are you doing? You must be tired after so much traveling.”
“I was going to explain that tomorrow, actually,” he said, chuckling softly. “Humans don’t need to sleep. At least, Americans don’t. Thanks to the dark pact made with Gronz Makkar, the head of the old gods in the Americas. Helped us greatly to take down his heretics and work with the good followers of Farrow Shen to finally settle and claim that country as our own. Then the Americas turned to their original Lord, the true Lord, and had Him smite the old gods while keeping the pact in check.”
“Well, in that case, might you be a bit more quiet?”
“I will. Sorry.”
She sighed, turned into one final yawn, and settled back into her basket, returning to her slumber... but so many thoughts were running through Nick’s head that he couldn’t be bothered to enjoy this victory. She woke that easily, from a dead sleep. That wasn’t a habit but an evolutionary adaptation. He had a feeling the others were just as light in sleeping, so not only did it make this more difficult... but it also made him wonder why. Why did they develop this while Leyshun didn’t? What sort of predator lurked in this area that they had to be vigilant? The scorpions were one thing, but they were ambush predators... and tried to prey on him. Something had to prey on the scorpions, and he doubted it would only stop with them –no matter how delicious they were.
He walked over to the window, looking down at the forest under it, and he wished he did need sleep. That way, he could say he was too terrified to do so.