Day 51 of 100 Word Prompts: Crickets
Following the strange interaction with the old man, Flint waited for some kind of explanation on his tattoo. The man had been punished for asking about something close to the ink that sat beneath Flint’s skin. The ink that had somehow changed shape when the monolith in Baswea had exploded, killing his companions and starting his journey.
What could it mean? Flint wondered, looking down at his arm. Why would they destroy this man’s life because of this?
With the old man no longer speaking to him, nor emerging from his bush, Flint decided that he would make camp nearby. The man was frail and weak compared to him. So, it made sense to offer a little protection to entice the man into telling him more. He set about his camp preparations, finding good, dry wood for a fire, setting out his bedroll, and setting a few snare traps for some wild hare.
Before long, Flint sat next to a small warming fire, letting it take the chill from the air, despite his comfort in the cool breeze, with two rabbits on sticks propped over it. The only sounds of the night were the crickets chirping and the crackle of the fire before him. Though he was no ranger, Flint knew enough of a few herbs to season the hare. It was a crude meal, but tasty as the goliath bit into the steaming beast.
“What’s that smell?” the old man called, his bush shaking as he yelled. “It smells delicious!”
“Rabbit,” Flint replied through a mouth full of food.
The old man’s head suddenly appeared from the top of the bush, his eyes huge like saucers as he eyed the food. Flint suppressed a laugh as the man pushed from his hideaway and approached the fire with his hands in front of him, grasping at air such as a young toddler.
“Do you want that one? I’m too full to eat it,” Flint lied.
The man was on the rabbit in a flash, biting into the meat fast enough that he emitted a yelp of pain from a burn. Regardless of the pain, the man continued to eat. Flint had never seen one but had heard tales of wild beasts eating ravenously and greedily, and this man gave him the impression that he hadn’t eaten properly in a long while.
“How is it?” Flint asked after a few minutes, letting the man get halfway through his meal.
“Wonderful!” the man replied. “It’s been so long since I’ve had any meat.”
“I’m Flint,” Flint said after another long silence of letting the man slow his eating.
“Awyss Gildean,” he replied through a mouthful of food.
“I would say that it was a pleasure to meet you, Awyss Gildean,” Flint said, “but this encounter has been an odd one, to say the least.”
Awyss stopped eating then, dropping his arms to his knees. His gaze fell as well, avoiding eye contact with Flint.
“I’m sorry for my conduct,” Awyss said, “It’s unprofessional and bordering on the hysterical. I think I’ve been out here for too long. I should have returned to Almewester long ago.”
“You’re from Thait?” Flint asked, recognizing the name.
“Yes,” Awyss confirmed, still appearing sad. “You see, Kinia is heavy with artifacts and tombs from the past. It has been my life’s work to catalog them and rediscover lost histories. I was too stubborn and-”
Awyss’ words came to a halt as he looked down and saw himself as though for the first time.
“Look at me,” Awyss continued after a moment, “I look terrible. I would be the laughing stock of Almewester’s libraries if any of them saw me like this. I am a learned man with important discoveries. I own a manor back home with a library, unlike anything your kind has ever seen here in Kinia. What have I become?”
Flint felt a stab of guilt for allowing the man to see himself as Flint saw him. He felt compelled to say something-anything to soothe the man’s pride.
“You gave me a good fight,” Flint said, “I doubt any of your friends back home could boast that they fought a goliath.”
“I didn’t give you a good fight,” Awyss’ melancholy continued. “I haven’t done anything of value since I stopped trying to get back into the village. I’ve become a waste.”
Flint eyed the man, seeing his ribs clearly, with the fat of the rabbit in his beard around his mouth. Though thin, his belly had begun to show a lump from the amount of food he had consumed in such a short amount of time. The goliath couldn’t argue with the man, he appeared to be a waste, but something struck a memory in him that he had nearly forgotten from his childhood.
“My friend Thulthram used to tell me that the only wastes are those that serve no purpose in the world,” Flint began, watching Awyss’ reaction, “clearly something beyond your own stubborn pride kept you here so we could meet. You know something about my tattoo. You are fated to tell me.”
Flint held out his arm, showing his tattoo once more in the firelight. Awyss leaned forward, inspecting the image.
“Before I tell you what I know, can you tell me anything about this one?” Awyss asked, his eyes not leaving Flint’s arm. “Where did you get it? Do you know anything of its meaning?”
“I’ve had this-well, almost this-tattoo as long as I can remember. I don’t know where it came from-”
“What do you mean ‘almost this?'” Awyss interrupted.
“It changed a few months ago,” Flint said, “back in Baswea. It’s kind of the reason I had to come here, actually.”
“Tattoos don’t just change, my large friend. Tell me what happened,” Awyss said. “Try to remember everything.”
Flint nodded and collected his thoughts. He began with Johannes and the promise of a treasure in the mountain. The story quickly became more of an exchange between the pair as Flint provided details, and Awyss asked more clarifying questions. By the end of Flint’s story, Awyss’ eyes had become something more focused and less hysterical as the goliath had first encountered.
“I believe that you are somehow connected to the Carnes,” Awyss said, his words coming in quick succession. “I don’t know how or why, but you have the same mark, and something happened to it when the man with the Mythril pick attacked it. What happened to the pick after you found it?”
“I only found the head of it,” Flint said, shaking his head. “I brought it back to Dick Wolf and handed it to him. He wasn’t happy about the story. He wanted me dead as retribution for his son.”
Awyss nodded solemnly. “You did the right thing by leaving. People don’t think rationally in the face of such a tragedy,” he said. Flint thought the old man was speaking more to himself than to Flint.
“So, what should I do?” Flint asked. “Should I continue up to the village and try to find more information?”
“I can tell you this,” Awyss said. “You should cover it while you’re here in Kinia. Based on the reception I received simply asking about it, I doubt you’ll fare better than I. I can tell you that there is another in the mountains here, and I suspect there are more from what you have told me. You should find them! Learn from them!”
“I’m not a very smart person,” Flint said, shaking his head. “I’m strong, not smart.”
“Then seek out others like me,” Awyss pressed.
“Why don’t you come with me?” Flint asked.
“I couldn’t,” Awyss said, shaking his head. “I’ve been exiled from the village. To return would be to invite my death. Besides, I’ve been away from home for far too long. It’s time I returned to my manor and my libraries.”