• Completed • [North Woods] Stew (Graded)

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Rokas
Approved Character
Posts: 74
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2020 6:57 pm
Race: Human
Profession: Muscle
Renown: 20
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Wealth Tier: Tier 7

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[North Woods] Stew (Graded)



Cylus 6th Arc 721

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Streams of crimson running down like tears, streaming from the wrist across the back, past the knuckles, trailing around the digits. Gathering at the joints below, swelling into fat droplets, growing until they were too heavy to cling to skin. Falling then, spheres of red, splashing into a small puddle next to the corpse with the smashed-in skull and broken teeth.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

Down into that shallow pool, growing it with each drop, with each splash. Not as fast as the steady stream that leaked from the smashed head, dented at one side, splinters of bones poking out. Stark white against the crimson. The fluids formed a miniature lake, tendrils stretching out, snaking through grooves in the ground, all creeping towards the left where the land was lower. The earth drank it in, quenching its thirst and sating its body. Staining itself, taking in the nutrients to replenish its own. Restocking the reserves depleted by the growth of plants.

The blood lapped against Rokas’s boot. He stepped back, eyes following the channels of crimson spiralling down his fingers, and flicked the blood off his hands. Quick and sharp motions, scattering red droplets all around. Many of the blood-trails were already drying, crusting layer of sand and soil caked to his skin. A splash of color, vibrant amidst the greys and dark browns. He sighed, a deep and drawn out sound, then rolled his shoulders. Perhaps he’d gone a little overboard; some of the muscles near his neck protested, smarting when they were in use. Stretching helped for a moment, but the pain returned almost immediately afterwards.

He dragged rhe corpse by the leg until he reached the logger’s camp, switching hands every so often. Across the open central area, up to the fire, its tongues splitting and lashing out, hoping to get a taste. Rokas swatted them away. Not yet.

The door of the largest of the shacks swung open. It creaked in its hinges, the iron rusted but functional. Rokas glanced up at the old man --Joe, he called himself-- standing in the doorway with a shovel resting against his leg, then returned his attention to the fire.

Joe often left camp in the morning, and returned later in the day, dirt under his nails, mud caked to his shoes and pants. Shovel's blade a little more worn every time. Rokas never asked, yet knew what he did when away. The earth had told him. Joe dug holes. Large and deep, box-shaped holes. It usually took him a couple days to finish creating one, but when he did, he filled it up again.

Today marked the completion of the fourth hole. If the pattern held, the old man would start filling it the next day.

“Good afternoon!” Old man Joe said with forced cheer, unbothered by the lack of greeting in return. “Boar again today?”

Rokas rummaged in a small box of utensils, hand returning with a butcher’s knife. Wild pig rolled onto its back, he let the knife slice through the stomach, drawing a line of parting skin and bristled fur. The old man hovered at the edge of his peripheral vision, observing. Approaching when Rokas tore a patch of skin right off, throwing it to the floor.

"No, no! You carefully take the skin off in one piece, don't rip it up into chunks! You're getting hair in the meat, and you're ruining a perfectly good skin!" He snatched the knife from Rokas's hand. The fire flared, the earth rumbled. Oblivious, Joe crouched beside the boar, inspecting the damage. He sighed.

"Yeah, it's fucked. Unusable." He shook his head, grumbling under his breath to no-one in particular. Bony fingers danced over the flesh of the beast, knife slicing and cutting. Straight lines rather than the unsteady ones Rokas created. Expertly stripping away the skin and fur bit by bit.

Laying bare the ribcage, Joe gestured for Rokas to assist. His old, shriveled muscles no longer possessed the strength they once did, and he was too thin besides.

Rokas reached out, fingers grasping for the exposed bones. Joe interfered, throwing him a pair of leather gloves.

"You'll get dirt all over it."

He looked at his hands, at the layer of soil coating all of his skin. At the almost imperceptible shifting of it, distributing red-stained grains in a subtle gradient. Almost as if seeing it for the first time. Definitely becoming aware of its presence for the first time in a long while.

Fair enough.

Hands gloved, he broke through the sternum so the ribs weren't connected at both front and back anymore, and grabbed hold of the middle ones. Muscles tensing, he pulled the ribcage open with a grunt, exposing the heart and lungs. Then he withdrew, stepping aside so Joe could continue.

The old man sliced a deeper cut into the abdomen, releasing a foul stench Rokas hadn't smelled since Rhakros. Joe removed the innards, setting some aside in a bowl and throwing the rest into a pile on the ground.

While Joe busied himself chopping chunks of meat off the carcass, Rokas fetched a basketful of potatoes, onions and root vegetables, along with a large keg of brine. He got to work peeling the veggies, letting short and thick strips fall on the packed forest floor. The old man spared a sideways glance and a mournful shake of his withered head for Rokas's handiwork, but said nothing.

For a while they sat in silence, working to the rhythm of the sound of slashing knives, the cries of butchered meat and vegetables, and the oddly hypnotic tango of flickering flames and shadows.

Joe broke the silence, as he always did. Not once since his arrival had Rokas felt the need for conversation, nor had he been very engaged when spoken to. It never seemed to bother Joe though.

"You know, I quite like you, mudman," the old man said, tossing a handful of meat cubes into a pan at a time. The moment they hit the metal, they began to sizzle. The campfire hissed, blocked by the pan, unable to reach. Rokas looked up from the half-naked carrot, knife biting into his thick leather glove. He frowned.

"Why?"

Joe shrugged and stirred the cubes, dusting them with a pinch of spices. Immediately a mouthwatering aroma wafted through the camp. "Is it hard to believe you're pleasant company?"

He just stared, then shifted his gaze to the carrot again. In his peripheral vision, Joe grinned like a gaunt undead. Unlike during the first encounter, now some luster danced within. Though he was still a man with a void inside, it seemed a little less all-consuming. Or perhaps Joe’d become better at hiding it.

"Well, you might not be. But you were exactly the company I needed. No incessant questions, no asking why I'm here and what I'm doing. You're just there. Present, existing. There when I need you, but keeping your nose out of my business. I appreciate that. Sometimes you just need someone to ramble to, even in the wilderness. I wanted to be alone, but that doesn't mean I wanted to be lonely, you know?"

Rokas dropped the last carrot in a bowl and picked the one with peeled potatoes off the floor. Careful not to nick himself, he began dicing them up. The gloves and his big fingers made handling the smaller pieces rather difficult, so Rokas sliced them into somewhat large parts.

“Anyway, you probably don’t care, and that’s fine. I just wanted to get this off my chest before I go.”

Rokas’s hands stopped moving, fingers clamping around the knife and vegetable. The wind fell away, trees no longer rustling and swaying their branches. Fire shrunk away from the pan, as if gathering itself all in one place, ready to pounce. The earth seemed to hold its breath. For just a moment, the elements turned completely silent. Rokas didn't as much as glance up, eyes glued to the shiny starch-covered lump of potato. Nothing really seemed amiss, yet an unmistakable tension charged the campsite as if it were crackling electricity.

"You're going back to Etzos?"

Joe scoffed, his shadow’s head splitting open as it threw its head back and laughed. There was no humor in his words when he spoke though. "Not in a million years! The city is as good as dead. What remains is a corpse convulsing one final time before the spirit leaves. Nothing's waiting for me there, and I’ve got nothing left either. Why would I ever go back?"

He shook the meat blocks out of the pan and into a wooden bowl, then poured chopped onions into it and added some splashes of vinegar. Meanwhile, Rokas continued to slice veggies into cuboids.

“They took everything from me, you know,” Joe whispered, flames dancing before his eyes, casting shadows across his face. “Lisirra, Sintra. With their plagues and siege and whatever foul scheme the spiderbitch’s been nurturing all this time. Killed my granddaughter, killed her mother, killed my dogs. Couldn’t give them a burial, they burned them immediately. Prevent the disease from spreading, they said.”

The meat returned to the pan, Joe pouring a large amount of beer over it, then diluting it with water. Herbs joined the broth, thrown in with a sharp snap of the wrist.

“Killed my son when we retaliated. Damn fool marched to Rhakros. Didn’t stand a chance, he’s held cleavers and knives before, but no swords. Commander said one of them bug-host soldiers got him. Tackled him to the floor and exploded, got covered in flesh-eating worms or something. He was on my doorstep maybe twenty trials later, not a scratch on him. Started preaching some Sintra bullshit. Joined her private guard. I knew it was a fake then. Fucking bitch reassambled his corpse and made it dance. Couldn’t even let him rest in peace.”

A sigh, long and deep.

“He returned a season later or so. Trembling, crying, shocked to the core. He’d seen things, he said. Terrible things Sintra’s been doing without them knowing. Said he’d made a huge mistake, that he’d need to spread the word of what’s really going on. That she’d been pulling the wool over our eyes all along.” Joe chuckled, the sound all wrong. “I mean, that’s a given, right? It’s Sintra after all. I thought-- for a few moments I began to doubt. ‘Maybe it’s him after all. Maybe they actually brought him back from the dead’. Crumbled into dust the very next moment. Poof. Vanished into smoke. Knew too much, I assume.”

For some time only the crackling of the fire, the rustling of the trees, the bubbling of the broth in the pan, and Rokas’s knife cutting through vegetables were the most prominent sounds in the campsite. Joe stared into the flames, eyes seeing the past mirrored there, events playing out in hues of orange. Slumped like that, he appeared even more decrepit than he already was. “A father shouldn’t lose his only son twice, let alone within the span of a few seasons,” he croaked.

Rokas dropped the last of the diced potatoes in the bowl, and passed it to Joe without a word. He wasted no time getting started on the carrots. For a couple seconds, the old man stared at the bowl he now held, but then he smiled, shrugged, and poured the contents into the pan.

“See, this is what I like about you. You don’t judge. You don’t pity. You don’t try to cheer me up with asinine platitudes, offer hollow words of sympathy, or pretend you understand when you really don’t. Nothing of the sort. Well, nothing at all. It’s like talking to a rock, I suppose. Or a wall. But in a good way.” Pause, silence, pondering. "Or maybe like a cat or dog.”

“I’m not a pet.”

A frown rippled across Joe’s brow, head shaking slightly. “That’s what you get hung up on?” He stood, throwing his arms above his head and stretching his back. The vertebrae popped in quick succession. Joe groaned. “Hmph! Well, I’ll be off. You’ll want to let this simmer for a couple hours. Stir every so often.”

“You’re not going to eat?”

“No, I don’t feel like it. I got everything off my chest I wanted to, so it’s time for me to go. You've helped me immensely in making up my mind, mudman. So again, thank you. If you run into me, take care of me, if you would. Everything’s prepared.”

Rokas watched the old man leave the campsite, leaving everything but the clothes he wore behind. Trudging out of the circle of light, into the dark woods. Determined steps, back straight, head held high. Disappearing between the trees.

He did not return.

Not that Rokas figured he would. Joe was too hollow on the inside, and had no-one left to anchor him here. So he simply sat, scooping stew onto a plate and talking to the wind. It said Joe was still close by. Near the spot he visited when he wasn’t at the camp. The earth couldn’t sense him any longer, but the wind still could.

Unable to help itself, it played around the old man, rocking him back and forth. Rokas didn’t bother asking it to stop. He ate stew instead.

It was delicious.


Last edited by Rokas on Fri Apr 16, 2021 7:04 pm, edited 1 time in total. word count: 2301
User avatar
Jackalope
Posts: 420
Joined: Sun Feb 28, 2021 7:34 pm
Race: Human
Renown: 0
Wealth Tier: Tier 1

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Re: [North Woods] Stew


Experience: +10 xp

Knowledge:

-Cooking: Peeling vegetables
-Cooking: Dicing vegetables
-Cooking - recipe: Boar stew
-Cooking: being layered in dirt is not hygienic when preparing a meal
-Butchering: the proper way to skin a boar
-Strength: dragging a corpse

Skillplay: Appropriate to level.

Loot: None.

Injuries/Overstepping:

Renown: None.


Comments: I’ll start with my one criticism: I think you may need to re-calibrate your ideas of what merits a warning. The depiction of the blood and bone and gore of the slain boar was, while not at all tasteless nor pointlessly graphic, quite vivid. And Joe goes off and hangs himself in the end.

While its tempting not to want to spoil the ending, even for the reviewer, it’s important to let people know what they’re in for. Anything that might be upsetting. Especially suicide, since you don’t know what sort of personal experiences your reviewer might have. Just be sensitive about that going forward.

All that said, wow, this thread was a great read! One really feels for Joe, the tragedy he’s been through, his devastation and loneliness. And he is likable enough that it’s really heart-rending. The way you describe things, from the dead boar to the cooking fire to Joe taking his leave and wandering off, is different and vivid. And once more, you use Rokas’ attunement to the elements to good narrative effect. I look forward to reading more Rokas threads! Just be mindful of those warnings…

PM me if you have any questions. Enjoy your rewards!

word count: 258
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