Grave Awakening

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How to Lose a Guy in Fifteen Years

It was the final stretch. Nick made it to the last day of woodcutting, which that was a trial in of itself. Lon kept him along the outer range of the forest, which he was both thankful and irritated by this choice. On the one hand, it didn’t seem to matter where one got the wood. This was the zombie tree Nick saw growing behind the falls when at Leyshun, and it seemed the branch didn’t fall too far... from the... moving along. The trees, when separated from their roots, tried to grow wherever it was severed. The stumps, the ones still connected to the earth, grew far faster than the removed end, but Nick learned a valuable lesson when he fell his first (on day two): do not try to move from where it was hacked off. Just like the stump, it writhed with new growth, trying to sprout as fast as it could, into whatever it could for nutrients. He barely had time to move as it lashed out, four long, almost fleshy, bark limbs writhing towards him, wanting to latch and suck him dry. If Lon wasn’t there to hack them off, he might have been a goner for sure... but there came a new problem. The limbs tried to crawl and still get to him, even after being removed thrice.

He wondered if this was why the creatures of the forest evolved as they did, but that didn’t make sense. There weren’t other creatures actively trying to cut down the trees nor harm them in any way –as far as Nick knew, at least. Even then, the rate they regenerated was unreal. The tree he cut was already replaced the next day, simply missing its leaves, its branches filled with fresh buds.

But that lead into the other hand, the part he was irritated by. Because he was kept to the edge of the forest, he never saw too far in. He never got close to unveiling the mysteries that laid within nor the shadow that haunted his every waking moment at night. Even a glimpse of the nightmare that waited in there would be enough to quell it, but, since he couldn’t, he was tense the entire time with working near the forest. It was dense, the wood compact tight enough that the cutting team was forced to walk single-file and still struggled to fit through, but he knew plenty of creatures that were terrors that didn’t need more than a narrow corner to be absolutely menacing. And, because of how packed it was, with how dense the foliage was, no light made it in... though he caught glimpses of those mushrooms from time to time.

It was because of how dense, how tight a squeeze it was and how hostile the trees were that he garnered a bit of respect for these people, for those that needed to chop wood. That did not make the wait any less painful, though, and all that was left was for them to teach him about was mining- more about mining. So, that night was the slowest one yet, the day up to it already enough of a slog.

The last thing they needed to teach him about wood was how to properly handle it. He thought of something crass to rebuke with, but didn’t bother. From what he has seen with these people, he doubted they would know what he was talking about anyways. The wood needed treated, particularly the bit about it continuing to grow. For that, there was a small divot in the mount by the forest, the dirt replaced by a solid slab of stone. But it was what was on the stone that made intrigued Nick. They were using rock salt to deter it from growing out and latching. In fact, from the few that made contact, the tendrils seemed to shrivel and became uncoordinated until they simply slumped down. They held the tree there, hacking it apart, pressing the end to it until all the tendrils gave up, repeated upwards of forty times per tree. Then, when that was done, they went back and repeated it on the sections, chopping them a max of fourteen times before splitting those segments next.

The problem with this, though, was that only three-to-four could be done at a time, with only two-to-three on each piece. Because he was new, he only had a hand in one out of the whole ordeal. What did he do otherwise? Stand around like a jackass and “supervise”... Mostly stand around, but at least if he said he was supervising it meant he was actually doing something. The agonizing part was, aside tending to the first cut, the trees weren’t dealt with daily but at the end of the week, where they were piled high. That meant he spent about ten hours, easy, supervising.

But it was the end that was the worst. They had to load the wood onto carts and pull them up to the market. There were only five carts, and each one easily weighed quarter a ton by the time they were done filling- and this was where Lon had him do most of his work that day. This is what she had him do, after standing around, growing fatigued from doing nothing.

Every part of him screamed for relief that night. The first few were hell and it only got worse from there. He might have better acclimated his body in Leyshun, but there was no denying he was heavily out of shape. Going uphill that many times was already strenuous, but to do it, over and over, again and again with no end in sight? He gave them no stories that night, eating his food in contemptible silence. None of them questioned, either, his face donned with pure anger, malice, and unrelenting hatred. Even as they started to depart for the night, some stopped Lon and questioned if she would be okay, but they had no reason to worry. Not tonight, not until next week, and definitely not at night.

For the first time, he was in the basket before her, splayed out in it. It rocked, creaked, mocking the pain in his everything as he took the entirety. He let his head fall back over the side, letting his neck pop against it, and his groan was almost erotic from how sweet the release was. He blew out, softly, almost whistling, but caught himself before it did by taking another breath. Every part of him throbbed, both thankful and angry by this respite. After a while, he realized that something was amiss, and rose his head, seeing Lon standing before him. Her face appeared annoyed yet amused by his action, but if she was either way was uncertain as she was already asleep.

Rather, was asleep.

She shuddered, grumbled, and eyes fluttered open, feeling his stare, and huffed as she put her hands on her hips.

“Would you be so kind as to make room?” She demanded, yawning after. “If not, I might have no choice but to crawl upon you.”

“Am I supposed to find that... um...” He didn’t know their word for “deterring”, and there wasn’t exactly anything close in his lexicon to match it. Instead, he let it fade off and found the strength to hop into one of the sides, giving her room to settle in. She sighed, turning into another yawn, and curled in the other corner... yet was still watching him. She was fighting sleep just to stare at him, so how could he not oblige. “Yes?”

“You are very capable. You know that?”

“Thank you? I only did what was asked of me?”

“I should have mentioned earlier, but you didn’t have to cart all of it up today. We mostly do two or three and then bring it up over the week. It was only so low this time because it was the rainy season and most of it had rotte-”

“Wait wait wait wait... wait! You mean to tell me I worked myself to the bone... for nothing?”

“It wasn’t for nothing. The traders can make great use of the wood, as well as the smiths. But now we have enough wood in surplus up on the mound for a month-”

“And only a month of work... I’m now a little ashamed of myself.”

“D...don’t be. Sorry... You are very driven.”

“You don’t know an iota of it.” In truth, he was guessing if she said driven or not. It could have been that, passionate, diligent, or even hard-headed. Given that it was a compliment, though, he went with the most humble. Which meant it was time to shift the topic away from his least favorite topic. “So how about you? You seem great, hard at work. Why don’t you have anyone?”

Her cheeks flushed a little, adding a bit of fuel to the fire of keeping her up.

“Such an odd question. What about you in that case?”

“This isn’t about me. I am but a passing word here, but you, you have a stake in this place. It’s your home, your people.”

“It’s quite simple for me, in truth. I’m not of age yet- a-are you okay? Why did you suddenly-”

“No reason,” he squeaked, picking himself up off the floor. He was surprised that his whole body managed to leap high enough out of the basket without teetering it over. “You’re underage?”

“Under age... what? I’m forty yarros, if that’s what you are asking, though I’m not sure if that is under age or what? How old are you? Given your appearance, I would say-”

“I’m twenty-eight,” he said in their tongue. He was listening to them cut and tally off, giving him enough mastery over their numbers system to at least say that. The look he got, though, showed that, out of everything he ever told her, ever said to anyone there, was downright fraudulent. “Humans age differently... but you are serious? Forty is considered not of age?”

“Not by Kaalma’s Will. If one were to be bonded to another before they reached qurat of their life, know true happiness before then, then the remainder would be not but sorrow... Surely, the same must be true in human culture.”

“That depends. How long is a qurat? Rather, how long do Reylon live?”

“A qurat is fifty, and we usually live for about two-hundred yarros. Some have gone as high as a thousand, but those we call the Reyliin. The chosen of Reyla.”

Having to wait until you’re fifty to get lucky. That’s... depressing, he thought, but then hummed, mulling her answer. “Then you’re about right. Once upon a time, families would settle down at about a quarter- er, qurat of their life. Sadly, I’m on the other end of that. Humans tend only live a hundred years... if that.”

“Only a hundred? Humans really do age differently.” The way she said it, though, didn’t feel like intrigue or curiosity. No, it had the bitter, underlying, sorrowful tone of pity. Pity, remorse, and sadness.

“Yes, well, that’s why we are so shrefneid.” He repeated the word that he thought was driven, ending it with a huff. “Go to sleep. We’ll talk more in the morning.”

“Are you upset? Because I didn’t mean to offend-”

“I’m fine. Everything is fine. Just... go to sleep.” But she didn’t. She still kept staring at him, still prodded him with those light pinks until he could not stand it anymore. “What is it?”

“Have you considered settling with a Reylon? There’s already talk among the others of possible interest-”

“I’m not looking to settle down. As I’ve said, I’m simply passing through.”

“I’m not interested.”

“And my answer is still the same. Besides, there’s already one wanting after back in Leyshun. Naiyala.”

The anger that seeped into Lon’s eyes from simply uttering her name betrayed her next statement.

“Naiyala? I would be careful around her. You can do for better among the Reylon. Huraan, for instance. She’s a bit quiet, at first, but she’ll open up to you if you express interest.”

“Again, not. Interested.”

She groaned, and sat up, looking down upon him with those ire-glazed eyes.

“I understand, but if you ever do, please remember my words. Naiyala only brings death in her wake.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.”

“Good... good...” She settled back, and finally broke her gaze, turning away- but that didn’t mean she was done. “You are too pure to be corrupted by her... What? What’s so funny?”

“N...nothing. Nothing at all.” He finally managed to say, his body wracked with one last wave of pain before he eased it back into the basket, welcoming rest that night. Him? Pure? That was absolutely delightful. At least one good thing came out of that day, especially when he was delivered a bombshell of information –not in the form of Naiyala but in their lifespan. They could afford to be patient; he couldn’t. He must learn and use as much as he can as quick as he could and move on... if not for the fear of a stone age shotgun wedding on top of everything else.

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