Istroama scooped up a fallen branch as they entered the forest, and swung it against briar and fern as he walked. “Elves are different. Every sentient can use magic, but Elves? Elves make it look easy. They’re not actually stronger in magic than the other races, mind you. No. They’re just remarkably skillful and knowledgeable with what they have.”
With a rictus grin he swung the stick hard against a Lasle tree, breaking the branch into fragments. He frowned as he considered the paltry chunk that remained in his grasp before letting it drop back to the forest floor. “Magic is the friction between Order and Chaos. Chaos makes everything possible, Order creates a path to enact possibility. Tap into the interaction there and you’re able to conjure wonders. Except I’ve been trying to do just that and I’ve generated exactly nothing thus far. Regardless, Elves don’t follow either Order or Chaos. Instead, they have natural finesse in manipulating the friction between the two. I would say that’s why they’re so self-absorbed, scheming, and gluttonous.”
Istroama moved up beside Symeon as the path opened back to the riverbank. Symeon looked over at Istroama with the hint of a smirk. “So yer sayin’ ya don’t like Elves?”
Istroama gave a sharp, singular bark of a laugh at the comment. “Friend Symeon, Elves don’t even like Elves. Why should I be so presumptuous as to disagree with them on the matter?”
Symeon came to a halt as they reached the stony bank of the river once more. “Okay, we get two more Symeoncanes each, pop ‘em open ‘n fill ‘em with muck. Try ta get lots of pebbles ‘n gravel, just like the loads I scooped up before.”
“Consider it done.” Istroama moved to the edge of the river proper, surveying the array of rotund reeds with his blade in his hand. He found a large one to his liking and pointed at it with the machete. “You’ll do.”
He stooped down and jabbed the blade in the mud of the river beneath the plant, prying up on it as he had seen Symeon do before. An Implet leapt from the water, flailing and biting toward his hand. Istroama reflexively pulled away before slicing repeatedly at the spot where it fell back into the river. He was rewarded with the sight of a slashed Implet floating to the surface before swiftly it disappeared in the froth of being swarmed and savaged by its kin.
Symeon, for his part, had already extracted a Symeoncane. He chuckled as he watched Istroama take a cautious step back from the feeding frenzy. “Ain’t they vicious little biters? Here. Quick ‘n smooth is the key.”
Symeon placed himself near a second plant, and drove the blade into the mud beneath it. Then, he gave a sharp pull. The broad blade worked like a shovel, resulting in a water-muffled crack as the roots shattered and tore. The Symeoncane tumbled into the river, spraying blue mist ineffectually as it sank beneath the water. He reached out and caught it in the curve of his blade, pulling it onto the bank. Istroama looked on as Symeon stepped back with his prize and took a bow.
Istroama nodded slowly, and turned his attention to the river once more. The aquatic skirmish had ended, with the only sign that anything had occurred being a scrap of Implet flesh that had ended up in the rocks. Istroama picked it up with a flourish, extending his arms out from his sides with the meat in one hand and the machete in the other. He stayed in that pose, unmoving, as a Myriad came buzzing out of the treeline, drawn by the proffered scrap.
As the chitinous horror flew near, Istroama swung his knife around and up into the maw of the thing, skewering it. The backswing was brought over the clustered plants, triggering a massive outpouring of blue mist. A short flick of his wrist flung the carcass free, hitting the water in an immediate frenzy of Implets. Istroama sheathed the knife in a smooth motion, stepped forward to put both hands on a discharged Symeoncane and tore it loose to fall behind him. A second lunge secured another, which joined the other as he pulled back to the safety of the shore before the blue mist could settle low enough to touch him.
Istroama turned to Symeon with a smug grin, and took the same spread-arm pose as he had before. “You know, it’s not easy being me, but it’s oh so satisfying.” He took a long slow breath through his nose, as if inhaling the perfume of some rare flower. The exhalation came with a luxurious hum. “MMMMMMMM, Istroama.”
“Are ya done?”
“Not quite, I believe I have one more in me. Yes. MMMMMMMM, Istroama.”
Symeon couldn’t help but laugh. “Alright, alright. That was pretty slick. C’mon. Let’s go get that muck.”
“Oh. Right.” Istroama brushed his damp hands off on his robe, which largely failed to achieve much as the robe absorbed none of the liquid. “Muck it is, then.”
Soon enough they were back at the camp with four more loads of mud and rock. Symeon dumped out three of the loads near the stone circle to finish the firebreak, and with a shrug used the last to top off the occasional gap.
“Okay, firebuildin’. There’s a buncha ways ta do it, most of which are a pain. We could grind a pair of dry branches together ‘n try ta start a burn with friction, but that’s for poor suckers who don’t have this gorgeous specimen”, he gloated as he hefted the large flint off the ground.
“So that shard of Earth creates Fire? I don’t see any exceptional lines of magic in it. How does it work?”
“Yeah, nah, no magic to this. We take one of these knives, yeah?” Symeon drew his blade and waved it vaguely at the stone as he explained. “We strike it hard on the rock. Flint is actually harder than the steel, ‘n if ya do it right it’ll make sparks that’re actually bits ‘n pieces of the steel comin’ off. Rough on the steel, so we don’t use the bladed side if we can help it, but in the end fire is more important than a pretty knife.”
Symeon put the knife and stone down while he gathered his ample collection of dry wood shavings and twigs in the circle of stone, while Istroama observed and commented. “So the wood fragments, we’re using the lines of Fire within them as a catalyst to this flint and steel magic?”
“Seriously, there’s no magic ta this. The wood’s the fuel, but that’s not magic. This is force ‘n preparation.”
“Fair enough. Still, lucky for us these knives are indestructible, if this would normally break pieces off.”
Symeon stopped moving midway through forming an orderly cone with the kindling. He took up the knife and rock once more, staring at them in an infuriated silence.”No. No no no. If that’s right then… NO! I’m doin’ this anyway! This is gonna work!”
Symeon was rather frantic in his efforts as he brought the back of the machete down against the flint, one, twice, and on the third blow there was a spray of sparks that danced over the kindling. He flung the knife and stone aside to carefully feed the growing flame more shavings, more twigs. Soon larger chunks of wood joined the flames, and Symeon slumped back in a blend of satisfaction and relief. Istroama looked on with a broad, knowing smile that Symeon found somewhat alarming.
“What are ya smirkin’ about, man? It’d better be yer happy for us havin’ fire.”
“Oh, yes, yes... but that was magic.”
“Shut up. That was pure, manly woodcraft.”
“I fear it was not. I was watching the lines, friend Symeon. The first and second blows primed a mote of Fire, and the third called it into being. I can see it clearly.”
Symeon inspected the blade, chuckling. “Yeah, naw, no magic. Workin’ as intended, my friend, workin’ as intended.” His chuckle died out as Istroama drew his own blade and gestured for the flint.
Symeon stood up and handed over the flint, crossing his arms as he watched Istroama take a bow with the stone. With an elaborate flourish, Istroama brought his machete down in an uneven blow, and another. He paused and adjusted his grip on the blade before starting a long, languid sweep that barely touched the flint. A burst of sparks rained down to join the existing flames.
"Ya only grazed it on that third swipe.” Symeon chewed on his lip for a moment in consideration. “So. Magic. That's good, yeah?"
Istroama handed back the stone with a shrug. "It's a wonderful proof, but it’s not quite throwing elemental bombardments. Those sparks aren't going kill an Elf in a timely manner. I'd be better served poking it with the flint."
"True. Well, no Elves here to stab anyway, so let's focus on food. Take a seat, ‘n I’ll show ya how to clean the meat.”
While Istroama settled in, Symeon brought the two boxes over near the growing fire. Opening them let loose a mild, fishy smell, and revealed the fallen legion of Chthonic Implets within. “Right. This here? Meat. Kinda like the peppers.”
“The Istroama Peppers.”
Symeon took a long, slow breath while leveling a stern gaze at Istroama. “Anything we plan ta eat should be cleaned first, at the very least. The peppers, we can get away with scrubbin’ the surface. We skipped that today because I’m willin’ ta roll the dice on eatin’ bug bits over goin’ hungry in a crisis.” He pulled one of the dead Implets out of a box with his fingertips, while pulling his blade from the sheathe with his good hand.
“Now, meat. Meat is somethin’ that needs more work. A carcass like this, we gotta clean it inside and out.” A deft flick put a cut in the side of the eel-squid, and he laid the body out on the edge of the knife. “These nasty bits here? Organs. They’re mostly not for eatin’. We clean those out. Huh.”
Symeon paused, examining the organs. He had expected more. Still, this was a very alien thing, and he was coasting on the equally alien knowledge in his head regarding it. He had some context in knowledge of other beasts, but that too was from the same source. With a shrug grabbed a Symeoncane still aden with water.
“Do me a favor ‘n pop this one open. Right. Nasty bits out, same with the beak. What’s left? Raw meat. Eatin’ raw meat is NOT recommended. We’re washin’ the worst of the muck off, cookin’ it thoroughly. Don’t let meat sit! It goes bad.”
Istroama handed over the freshly bleached Symeoncane. Symeon scrubbed the meat in the water for a moment. “Not sure if there’s a point ta this. None of this is sanitary, I’m probably just spoilin’ good water. We’re really leanin’ on fire to make this right.” His next action was to put the morsel of implet meat back on the flat of his blade, and push the blade out into the fire.
“The joy of an indestructible knife. We let this little nugget cook up, and we’re laughin’. Yer turn.”
There were some partial failures in Istroama’s attempts, but they were all recoverable with a little effort. The innards were dropped in the empty Symeoncane they had first drank out of, the meat fried on knife-edge. There was some dismay while Symeon worried about handling a blazing-hot knife, but a little prodding revealed the blades to have no notable heat at all. This made for more difficult cooking, but showed another aspect of the knives' immutable nature. The final results of the fry-up were declared ‘better than goin’ hungry’ by Symeon and devoured with haste.
“Right. That’s food done. We should get the guts away from camp before they draw attention. We should probably start diggin’ a midden somewhere.”
Symeon started gathering some of the litter, handing a few pieces to the confused Istroama. “What would that be, exactly?”
“A midden? Well, what I got in mind short-term is a little pit away from our water supply where we can drop our trash ‘n deal with our unmentionables.”
Istroama paused in preparing his share of the litter. “What unmentionables? Is there some taboo I need to know about? Say, here’s fun. Let’s violate it!” Istroama shifted his load to free a hand and waved his middle finger around at random. “This is for you, rotten divinities!”
“Okay, bring it down Istroama. I mean our… hold on. Ya wouldn’t know about this stuff, would ya?” Symeon put his burden down as laughter overtook him. “OH! Oh this is it. This is one of those moments I’m gonna be chucklin’ about when I’m a toothless old coot. Okay, so all this food and water goes in, and later the bits ya don’t need go out.”
“Fascinating! How does that work exactly?”
“Well it goes out yer… oh, no. Ya wouldn’t know THAT either. Ah, this just went from funny memory ta thing I drink ta forget. Right, ya got a hose in the front for fluid and a hole in the back for solids.”
“I don’t follow, Symeon.”
Symeon scrubbed his face with his hands, trying to think of a way to resolve the matter. “Look, just… take a look inside your boxers.”
Symeon was looking away when Istroama said, “No, I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
Frustration boiled in Symeon’s veins, and he turned with gritted teeth. Whatever words he might have said were lost as he looked upon Istroama, standing with his boxers around his ankles, and a featureless blank between his legs.