Man, it sure has been quiet out here.
Kobo and I have been riding for quite a few hours, now. As I've watched the world fly past us, I've seen little creatures running around, healthy trees, full of leaves... something I expect to change as I reach the more populated areas.
Which brings me to my point. Speaking of population, I haven't run into a single other human, yet. Is the rest of civilization that far out? Looks so much closer on a map... ah, well. Nothing to do but keep on riding in this direction.
Wait. Is that...
In order to confirm what I saw, I tap the right side of Kobo's head twice. This will make him slow down, and when he does, nearly skidding to a complete stop, I get him to turn back.
“A person. I was right.”
One man, laying against a rock, wearing nothing but a pair of brown, torn pants.
“Alright. This way, Kobo. Slowly.”
The usually speedy creature now walks toward the man at a relaxed pace. As we get closer and closer to him, I can see that he is not well. He looks like he hasn't eaten a thing in days, and I can now hear him crying to himself. Maybe I did the right thing, stopping here. It wouldn't feel good to leave this guy the way he is.
“That will do.” The speedscale now comes to a stop, just a little bit away from the man, still within the shade of the rock. I hop off of Kobo and walk towards the man...
...but not without some hesitation. I breathe in something so horrid it almost feels like my nose wants to fall off. He absolutely reeks of shit and piss. The man probably hasn't bathed in weeks, maybe even longer. Feeling even more pity, but still not being able to bring myself to get any closer than I already have, I take a seat in the grass right where I was standing.
“Hey, you. You listening?” As I speak, I snap my fingers at the man in front of me, leaning against the rock. The sound of my fingers snapping gets Kobo's attention, something I didn't mean to do... oops. “S-sorry, not you, Kobo. At ease.” I hold my hand up. Immediately, he goes back to staring blankly at the two of us without moving. I return my attention to the man. “You don't look good, man. Might you need some food or water? I wouldn't mind helping you a bit.”
“Ah, how miserable am I! What am I to do to stave of my sadness again? The wine has tried up, the whores have all left...” I'm at a loss. What is he talking about? I look to my left and right, then behind me, hoping to maybe see some sign of what he's talking about, but there's nothing. I think there's no shame in saying that I'm very confused by this.
“Wha—hey, are you deaf, or something!?” I shout, the vacant look in his eyes disappearing as he looks at me. “If someone's talking to you, you should answer them! Even little kids know that.”
“Oh, who gives a fuck about some water!” He shouts back. “I don't care, I don't want water... I don't like it.”
“You--” Wait. Something about this conversation makes me think back. I've read about people like this, and even seen a few when I was traveling with Master Grandall. There were quite a few of these people, who only drank, smoked, and fucked. At the worst point during The Last Days, there were so many of these people, sitting around, doing nothing but wasting.
Truly fitting is the name that people came up with for them. They called them “wasters”.
In other words, to stop here and try to help this man has been a waste of time. Just get back on your speedscale and ride off, Yrza. The closest town could still be pretty far off, after all. These are the thoughts that are going through my mind right now. That is what I probably should be doing, but...
“Don't be ridiculous,” I say, standing up. “I'll be right back. You'll see that you can live out here, and that all that stuff can wait until later. Just you wait.” I walk around the rock, and continue south. “I won't be gone long, Kobo,” turning my attention to him, “stay put.” With that, I finally walk onward.
Looking around, I see that this area is still very much alive. The trees are still full of green leaves. I hear all kinds of animals, the songs of birds, hooves walking over grass, and the buzzing of insects here and there. In the distance, I even hear the sounds of what must be rushing water. The Decay is supposed to get worse the closer I get to the capital, yes, but clearly this area hasn't gotten the worst of it, not by a long shot.
“All of this, and he has the gall to cry over wine...”
Whatever, don't think about it too much. If I bring something back, maybe he'll snap out of it and face reality. Could help me conserve some of my supplies, too--
Suddenly, I lose my footing. The ground is coming quickly to meet my face. Thankfully, I'm able to catch myself with my hands before that happens.
“Phew...” I stand up once more and brush my hands off on my robe. I probably should have kept in mind that I'm going to have to wash this thing... hopefully I'll be able to get my hands on a change of clothes or something eventually. I'll just have to remember I might have to sew Grandall's emblem into those, as well. It's something to think about. I've actually never tried sewing, before. Wonder if it's hard to do...
“Oh, wait... what was it I tripped over?” I start looking about near my feet. Behind me, on the ground, is...
Another person? No, wait. The rotting flesh, the smell... this is a corpse. This person is already dead.
“Gross... he could have at least buried them.” I wonder, could they have been someone he knew? He didn't mention anyone else. Well... I guess I'll worry about it later. I've got to keep looking for something good to eat. I'm starting to get a bit hungry, myself.
“Ah. Those red berries.”
I see a bush full of them over there. I'm entirely certain these are safe to eat, as there were bushes like these closer to the house, and I don't remember reading of a similar looking berry that's dangerous. Let's gather some of these...
I don't think this will be enough to fill us both up, though. Let's see, what else is there?
As I think to myself, I hear hooves running again. Louder and louder. They're coming in my direction. I see it just as it comes at me, and at just the right moment, I manage to leap over it. Now that I've got a good look at the animal, I can see it's a boar, and a big one, too. This guy comes up to my waist. He's probably angry that I was taking from that bush. He'll probably come running at me again. I take an unarmed fighting stance. I won't need the sword for this.
“Sorry, big guy, but you know the rules of the wild just as well as I do! Get ready!”
Without hesitation, he comes charging right at me at full speed. Waiting for the perfect moment, I punch straight with all I've got.
The boar squeals as my fist slams into its hard skull. I underestimated just how sturdy it might be. My left hand is going to hurt for a second. My attack seems to have worked, though, as the beast topples over, lifeless.
“Whew, that went well enough, I'd say.” I'll remember to come back for it as quickly as possible. Now, let's see about that water...
After walking for a little bit, I come across the stream I heard earlier. Probably the cleanest water I'll find out here. I take out the spare canteen I have and fill it with the water. I'll head back, now, carrying the berries and the boar with me.
“Look what I've got!” I set some of the berries and water next to the waster, and lay the boar down somewhere nearby. “You look hungry too, Kobo. Don't worry, You'll get to eat, too.” I start setting down the wood between the waster and me. That done, I decide to enjoy some berries, myself. I pop one into my mouth, chew, and swallow it. The sweet, yet tangy taste of it confirms what I thought before; these are berries that I've eaten before. “Ah, just as good as I remember.” I look at the man in front of me. “Well, what do you say, my good man?” I ask, hoping for a 'thank you'.
“Gah... what is this?” He asks, looking at the berries as if they were from another world. “You couldn't find any dreamweed out there, or anything like that?”
“How can you still be thinking about drugs right now!? Come on, man... shut up and eat.” Not looking back at him, I just continue eating the berries until my share is gone.
“I'm not hungry.”
“Tch... whatever. You'll probably change your tune when you get a whiff of this baby, after I cook it.” I get up and walk over to the boar to start preparing it.
“I don't need any food,” he insists, though I can see his body eating away at itself. Probably won't be long until he's but skin and bones. “You know what would help me right now? For you to throw that robe off and give my prick a little ride for a while.”
“What the fuck is wrong with you!?” I shout, caught completely off guard by his comment. I just continue draining the boar's blood, removing the intestines, and so on. “Damn, man, those drugs and all those wild parties have done a fuckin' number on you. You're out of luck, anyway. I only like women. I'd tell you to just use your hand, but looking at you, I'd guess it might not work as well as it should, anymore.”
“Ah, don't be like that, I used to say I only liked women, too, but after a while you get to stop being so picky. You're not so bad, I mean, you're a guy, but still pretty enough to kiss. I especially like the dark-skinned ones, so it's even better. Come on...”
“I'm not having this conversation anymore.” I take a fire Complex Seal out, focus on it for a moment, and set it on the wood I prepared. The flame sparks to life in a matter of seconds.
After I'm done getting ready, the boar is cooked and I eat as much of it as I can, giving some of it to Kobo, as well. I offer some to the waster, but he insists it's not seasoned to his liking, which can't be helped. The sun has gone down by now. Today has gone by much faster than I thought it would. I make myself comfortable on the ground, lay myself down, and go to sleep under the stars.
I wake up in the morning to see that more of the boar has been eaten. That said, it was also immediately clear to me who had eaten more of it.
“Kobo, what are you doing? Come on, don't be greedy,” I say, snapping at him exactly three times. He stops chewing on the boar and stands at attention.
I sit up with a sigh, coming to the realization that the waster probably hasn't touched a single thing I brought here. The berries are the same as they were before, and the spare canteen is still full. This is ridiculous. He really doesn't care.
“Oh, for the love of all that's good in the world!” He jumps at my shout, and stares at me like I'm some sort of monster. “What in hell is wrong with you!? Look, man, I saw a corpse out there!” I point south, where I went hunting yesterday. “Right now, you ain't looking too different from it, you know!? What is it!? Huh!? Are you trying to end up like that!?”
“A corpse,” he mumbles, seemingly thinking to himself. “Ah, so that's where Tom got off to.”
“One of my drinking buddies,” he says, as he sheds a single tear. “He was the last one to leave. Traveler, there were other people, here, but they all left me, said the time for the parties and fun was over, or they just died. Tom didn't leave, though. He said even if everyone went back to their responsibilities, we would still be alright here by ourselves. One day, he got up, said he wanted to see if there was any dreamweed growing around here. Maybe tripped or something. Never came back this way. So that's what happened to him...”
“Damn...” I feel even worse for the guy, now. However, it's exactly because I feel bad that I can't just leave him here. “So... you lived through The Last Days, didn't you?”
“The Last Days? You mean when Emperor Raul put his Law into effect?” He asks, and I respond with a nod. “Yeah. Y'know, some people have passed by here before, once in a while, talking about that time like it was a bad thing. Me and my friends had plenty of fun, though. Lots of dreamweed, liquor, women, or whatever was close enough, that day... but now it's all gone.” He looks at me. “Surely you had to have seen some of it and had some fun yourself? You look like you'd be around at that time.”
“I was ten when the Ghost Hurricane hit. Yeah, I was born during The Last Days, but Mother Marine kept me and the others shielded from most of it. So no, I didn't get to really participate in much of that 'fun'.”
“Hm, a church kid, I see,” he says, chuckling a bit. “Fuckin' boring-ass church, ruining the fun. Kids like me were out in the streets with every one else and we enjoyed ourselves.”
Wait. This guy I'm talking to... maybe he only looks a lot older because he hasn't been taking care of himself? The way I'm hearing it, he's not that much older than I am. For a child to have lived through The Last Days, exposed to everything... I'd rather not think about it.
“I must say, waster, this has been an interesting conversation,” I say, standing up.
“I'm... actually kinda glad to hear it,” he says, chuckling again. “I don't get to talk to anybody anymore, really.”
“Well, why not pick yourself up and go find more people you can talk with?” I ask, spreading my hand out towards the rest of the Empire's Corpse. “You'd have to work at it, but you could have many more meaningful encounters like this one. I'm begging you, just try.”
He shakes his head. “I'm sorry, traveler. I just don't have it in me.”
“You'd really rather stay here from now on? Alone and dying?” I ask, more disappointed than I'd be willing to admit out loud. “You'd rather just waste away?”
“I just don't see the point if I'm not always enjoying myself.”
There are all kinds of things I could probably say to this man. I could probably tell him that I think a life of working hard would be worth it. I could tell him that he could reap great rewards if he applied himself. I could tell him I just don't want him to stay here and die, because I came over here with the goal of helping him.
I could tell him any of those things. But...
“Well, if that's what you've chosen to do.” I grab what is left of the boar and stuff it into one of the bags I've attached to Kobo. “The rest of this thing is yours, alright? I'll give it to you when you get hungry again.” I pick up the water canteen as well, and put it in another bag. Getting on my speedscale's back, I look at the waster one last time.
Neither of us say another word to each other.
With a sigh, I take hold of the reins, and give a flick of my wrist.
With that, Kobo bursts into a sprint, soon reaching top speed. Within minutes, the waster and the rock are far out of sight... but not quite yet out of mind.