Grave Awakening

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It Takes a Village

As the night waned on, Nick believed Rylo was either a great fool, a trusting oaf, a suicidal buffoon, or, perchance, the trifecta of being a great suicidal trusting oaf of a buffoon. Rylo witnessed what Nick was capable of. He saw, firsthand, that he would not hesitate, not even a little, and he had a mound of his people behind him to prove his ability to adapt and improvise. So, what made him think it was a good idea to lock himself in the same room as Nick, with the only obstacle in between him and leaving being, supposedly, a key on his person? Not only that, he completely let go of the spear within a half hour of falling asleep and slept squarely on his back, splayed eagle, chest and other extremities perfectly exposed.

Nick could only shake his head at him, the soft yet sharp tip of the spear whispering against his neck, taking away... months of growth? He let it go this long before, but that was a stint back when he was still in college, freshman year, just to see how soon he could look like a “murder hobo”. Four months was the magic number; however, people started calling him the names of the dwarves from Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, so he decided to just get rid of it... Didn’t stop one woman from asking if she could help braid it once to get the look.

What was her name again, he thought, mulling, wincing as the vibration hit the blade, drawing blood. It was more refined than the modern razors, to a fault, and would give a straight razor a run for its money. Just that bit of a hum made the tip slip and slide in with ease three inches. He watched in the window, just barely reflecting him, as he pulled it out, realizing how close he had gotten to his throat, yet the point of penetration was no thicker than the hairs that fell around... but back onto pressing matters. Was it Laura? Melanie? Patricia- Allison! That’s right. She was the one that constantly tried to ask me to her book club.

He chuckled at that; did he seem like the type of person who enjoyed reading? He did it only when it was absolutely necessary, and would never consider it as a hobby. He’d rather french kiss his father’s old double-barrel- though there’s a hobby he never got back into. He was a right shot at college, the lead of their shooting team, in both rifle and bow. Took them all the way to the finals... which that was... fun.

“I was just being nice,” he remembered Kim saying, acting like a victim. No, He was the true victim. He had no idea until it was his turn that she had cleaned his gun, taken her apart, deviated the barrel just enough from what he was comfortable with and nicked the sights while toweling it to completely make him miss every single shot. Shame, too; she gave amazing head, so it’s a wonder she wasn’t any good at working a rifle. She, also, had the gall to say that he should have been grateful; where was her gratitude when he threw that gun? It completely missed her and shattered against the side of the bus, where even the shrapnel missed her completely. Where was her gratitude then, instead of running to her girlfriend?

Okay. NOW I remember why I never went back to it.

He sighed, and, with one final flick of the spear, he was done with his neck. Just as the sun flashed over the horizon. It was a good thing he had done the top of his head, the sides, and his face before that; if he had been in the middle of a stroke when that white flare shown, he would be missing quite a few things. Though a suspicion now was confirmed. He had to pace out the entire night just to trim the sides down proper without suffering “bowl-cut” syndrome, but he didn’t think it took him eight hours to do it. He doubted it even took him four, and he didn’t walk more than six hours in the dark last night. It wouldn’t have been the first time he had done such a trek, after all.

So, night on this world is roughly around that. Six hours, he thought, grimacing at the sounds rising around. He expected no less from their reaction last night, but it seemed these were creatures of habit. They went with the sun, so it would only follow that they rise with it. Given how quick the room warmed, as well, he deduced that they were very much reptilian in nature, cold-blooded, which meant the clay walls were more than simply aesthetic. Each one was set up like a kiln or an an oven.

He smirked as he heard Rylo gasp behind, scrambling out of his basket. Nick turned to him, brandishing the spear off to the right. Rylo stood there, frozen, looking at the pointy stick... then at the hair at his feet, at his freshly shaven head, and heaved a sigh. He started towards him, looking far too lax for Nick’s liking, and reminded him who he was, pressing the tip of it against the bridge of his dainty little nose.

“Don’t think for a moment I won’t,” Nick said, pulling it back before thrusting to the door. “Be thankful I didn’t kill you while you slept and looted your body for the key out of this little c... I’m a dumbass! I could have simply picked your... wait. You don’t even have pockets, do you? Then how d...”

It finally clicked in his head. That’s why he didn’t show any fear; in fact, Nick knew now that his life meant his survival. There was only one door, in or out, and it was at the top of three wide steps, where the room turned into a bowl, curved into it. The way the hinges were set shown that the door swung out from the room, so he was a sitting duck, whether they fired in or created a wall of spears and turned him into a kebab.

Rylo must have seen this revelation for he simply smirked at Nick. He nonchalantly strolled over and eased the spear out of his grasp. He shouldered it again, started towards the door, and didn’t even glance back at him, didn’t slow his gait even the slightest bit. That made Nick all the more sullen as he followed, knowing that cheeky snake knew he had no other choice but to. He didn’t have any chains nor ink, but he knew now that he was Rylo’s bitch.

As they approached the door, Nick noticed that the sound around had grown still. They were still there, he was certain of that much, but all the noises, all the voices stopped right outside that door, waiting. Nick reached for the handle, little more than a bit of wood polished and struck into the slab that was the door, and pushed it open to smiling faces and shimmering tips, all for the two of them.

“Now that’s what I call a morning greeting,” Nick said, smiling, beaming at them as they continued to glare their appreciation. They softened a little seeing that Rylo was untouched, though he saw some stiffen seeing the blood on the tip of the spear he carried and the hackjob Nick did to his own face. In fact, he saw one or two look passed, into the room, as if wondering if he was the same person; the wonders a haircut makes. The phalanx separated for them, only to reveal more stairs. Doors lined each side, some opened, showing halls and other sets of steps, but all leading to the same location: a wide, gaping opening at the top. A cavern maw, essentially, one which Nick was surprised he didn’t notice the other day. It was at the top of the mound, standing right before what he surmised was a merchant’s plaza where blue blood still marked his first, and victorious, duel.

His stomach growled, wanting the breakfast of a champ. To the right, taking up an even larger portion of the mound, was what he could only presume was an outdoor kitchen. A community kitchen, separated into three levels. The bottom one, sunken into the mound, was almost stained red, the tables set in them pure red from whatever beasts’ remains littered them still. The “freshest” looked to be a deer at one point, but the three sets of antlers still attached to the cleaned skull told him that it would be one helluva trophy to anyone back on Earth. What was left of it was a bit of pelt and two sets of legs, heavily salted. Other tables had fish scales, fish bones, chitin from bugs he’d rather not consider- and it was safe to assume that was the level to handle raw meat. The next level was a little nicer, though would make plant sympathizers weep for the carnage that laid before him. So many stalks, so many roots ravaged and ruined and shucked before their time... leaving the final level, the highest, packed with clay ovens, prep tables, and a long trough for the wooden plates and utensils.

He only saw that last bit because there were four already cooking and preparing meals, moving with such grace and purpose that it actually made him... proud of the race? Respect them a touch? They might still be in the stone age, but they had an understanding of the culinary arts that many college students failed to grasp back home. There were some- majority of adults in their thirties and all the way to their sixties who had no idea what a colander was. He didn’t believe this species would know at the moment, either, but if they ever moved beyond slabs of meat and hunks of veggies into grain then noddle, then they would be in business.

His stomach rumbled in agreement, but more for him to head towards that kitchen. However, as he started towards it, he felt a few pricks from behind, reminding him that he was Rylo’s bitch. Rylo, at that time, was not hungry, so, in turn, he was not hungry. So, instead of filling their gobs, they were going down the other side of the mound, the side Nick didn’t have a chance to observe yet.

But did he observe it now.

The grasslands, after seeming to span forever, melted away to marshlands, which, from the top of the mound, he could see four spanning rivers all running down from a waterfall far to the west. It was on a cliffside even higher than the mound, but it was a different rock than the mountains he had seen before. Whereas those were ashen, gray, the cliffs were a deep red, showing that it was made from the clay that the species called their home.

There was a path to those cliffs, a natural hill that rose to its level, far across the marshlands, with some unnatural additions to make it easier across the rivers. How could they have such craftsmanship before they even invented bronze? How could they have such wondrous bridges made of simple cobblestone? It made him start to wonder if they were, maybe, the remnants of a lost civilization, but they seemed too well-kept, too refined and tended after to be simply inherited. Truly a wonder, indeed.

What was even more a wonder was that there were already members of the species down at the falls. As in at least a dozen, which were not counting the dozen that skulked after, the dozen that stayed and cooked, and the other three that went to the fields, which made him wonder just how much of a dent he actually made in their species... and how many called that mound home. That was, also, not taking into account their travelers to other cities, and how many other cities there were. He knew three offhand, but, if they were all about the size of this one-

Nick grunted, catching it before it became a full exclamation as one of his “fans” rushed forward. He barely had time to catch what was thrust into his middle, but still struggled to keep a hold of it, the ball it was packed in unfurling even before it left their hands. It was a net, made of thick yet light silk, and, from the heft, it was meant to span at least four years in every directions. At least he knew now why they were there, why others were there; shame, too. He was hoping he was taking a bath. He couldn’t have smelled the best after a three-year not-coma... then again, compared to present company, he probably smelled like he had the finest perfume on.

Rylo, also, received a net from the mindful do-gooder, a bulkier sort than the others who quickly returned to town- which raised another point. He saw that there were wooden plates and spoons and had more than enough exposure to their weaponry to know about the spears. There was even the wagon Nosu had, but he had not seen a single tree this entire time. There had to be trees, right? All this grass was well and good, but it wouldn’t be enough to make enough oxygen to live. Not even an entire planet comprised of the stuff would be able to.

If he could, he would have asked Rylo where they got all their hardwood, but he was focused on the task at hand. They made camp across the second river, the thickest, on the third bridge along it. The others were already manned, so Nick wasn’t sure if he should add his net- until he was given incentive by one of his “fans”. Did they have anything better to do than to be a thorn on his side? Maybe, actually, just teach him how to fish with a net?

He was observing Rylo do it, but the idea was still not clicking. His example was simply... tossing it in. No care in the world, no thought put in; he simply unfurled it, made sure it was not tangled anywhere... and tossed it into the w-

“Hell no,” Nick stated, surprisingly heard over Rylo’s “descent”. He dove off the bridge after his nest, hands over his head, fingers pressed firm into a cone that allowed him to slink under the water with sinful silence. There was only the softest of glorps, then he was gone... Only to reemerge a moment later with an entire net filled with silver-scaled goodies. He slung it over his back, wrapped thrice and given a handle before he started his trek up to the bridge, and stood there with the “fans”, watching him... waiting. Which resulted in him repeating what he uttered before.

Nick rolled his eyes, and pointed to the water. He paddled in the air after then made an X with his arms, shaking his head. It took four of those for Rylo to get the message, and he could feel his “fans” loving him more as his best buddy had to explain that he was hydro-dynamically declined.

I mean, just look at me, he thought, shaking his head as one of them approached to take the net from him. Do I look like I belong in the water? We humans might like it every so often, but we were never meant f-

Laughter exploded above, muffled by the splash of water all around. It was a toss up of why they were laughing, but a strong contender was the yelp he made as he was shoved off the side unceremoniously. His cheeks burned, temple in his head throbbed, but he had more pressing matters than to take vengeance upon them. He needed to survive this, after all; the river was deeper than he expected, and its current felt as if he was wrestling against boulder to even stay in one place. And he was failing. There was, also, a right nasty undercurrent, and his shoes weren’t helping.

The laughter was quick to stop as he was taken twenty yards downstream and five under, but at least Rylo was quick enough to come to his aid. His best buddy slung him into the muddy bank beside, and sighed as he plopped down as well, shaking his head. Nick needed a moment to catch his breath and to cough up some water... and even a small fish. It flapped on his chest, and reminded him of a remora, covered head-to-toe in soft, almost feathery, silver scales.

He picked it up by its back fin, and handed it to Rylo, coughing one last time.

“Believe me now?” Nick grumbled, and laid his head back, his newly shaven head back, into the mud, looking at that pale blue sky.

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