May 20th, 2019
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  1. Nika san Terrelia Firrobans stood frozen in the snow— a man was eating another man. The man had noticed her too, knelt over the partially butchered corpse, blood dripping from the corners of his lips. She couldn’t tell if he was actually starving or if he was simply depraved. He didn’t seem thin underneath that brown padded coat of his. He had gloves that were now stained with blood. Even a scarf was wrapped around his neck and chin, which was now getting dampened by the blood from his unfortunate meal. His steely blue eyes twitched as he watched her. She watched back as well. Nika wondered if she should turn her the carbine in her hands on the man. He didn’t make any sudden movements. She glanced at the man’s side. A bag, his possessions perhaps? Was there a weapon on him? She didn’t see one. She seemed to have caught him by surprise.
  3. Several seconds of fragile calm passed.
  5. Then the man spoke: “Did you want some?”
  7. “Why would I want to eat a man?” Nika asked back, unsure of how to actually respond to such a question. “I know there are stories you people tell of us but I did not think you to be so brazen as to ask me such a question!”
  9. The man sat up a little, putting on a hand on his hip. His guilty and surprised expression was now replaced by one of frustration. “Is that how you treat someone who attempts to be hospitable even to a filthy darky like yourself?”
  11. “Is that anyway to speak to someone who has a gun?” she said back.
  13. “Fair point,” he admitted. He simply raised his hands in defeat, before standing up. “Look. I’m starving.” He pointed down to the naked body. Nika noticed the butchered man had a scarf wrapped around his face. And by his head was a bloodied icicle as long and sharp as a dagger. By the time she got to him, it seems the maneater had gone through most of his arm. His legs as well had long cuts along the skin and belly too. “And this man was useless anyway. Ate too much food. Complained too much of the cold. I mean, I’ll give him that last point. I’d rather be stabbed right now than be out here much longer. But now this man serves as a meal. And for that, he has finally fulfilled a little purpose in his sad bleeding miserable little life.”
  15. “Did you kill him?”
  17. “… no.” The hesitance in his tone said yes to Nika. “He killed himself with the way he lived. Tried to climb a tree to get at some bird’s nest upstairs. Next thing you know, he slips and falls and unfortunately he snaps his spine. So.” The maneater motions to the corpse. “I can’t exactly bury him, I have no shovel. And it would be a waste to just leave him here. So I have acquired his clothes and I have also made his supplies mine as well.” Nika stood stock still, regarding the maneater with caution. She never thought that serfs of Emeritto would stoop so low. Even in the Tribe, eating the once-lived was as serious an option as summoning the World Dragon to expel the Outsiders. The maneater clasped his hands together, a quiet begging motion. “Please, understand my situation.”
  19. “I do,” said Nika. “I still find it abhorrent. But I understand.”
  21. “Thank you.” The maneater bowed his head to her, then motioned to his bag. “Would you like some actual food then?”
  23. “Wait.” Nika tilted her head, staring at the bag. Her stomach was starting to quietly protest the thought of moving on without a meal. “Actual food? You have actual food and you chose to eat this man instead?”
  25. “I wanted to conserve it, yes,” said the maneater.
  27. Nika did not know how to respond to that logic. But her stomach started to override her caution and desire to simply run away. So she nodded and slung her carbine across her back.
  29. Together, she and the maneater pulled dry tinder from trees, dug a small pit, and lit a meagre but workable fire. She couldn’t believe that her scouting mission was leading to her eating food with a maneater of all things. It would be hard to explain to the Chieftan and everyone else how she managed to find a meal. The food wasn’t splendid. It was Outsider food. It was packaged in a strangely smooth and flexible package called an “Emaree”. The maneater showed her how to heat up the meal, how to mix a strange colored drink out of the powders— a laborious process that Nika hoped would produce something delicious.
  31. What she got was a strange yellow mass that was no bigger than a slice of bread. It looked like something that came out of the wrong end of a horse. And even the smell of it was making Nika’s stomach suddenly change its mind about wanting to eat. The maneater read the bag and said, “Ah, this is…” He squinted his eyes. “The Outsiders call this thing a ‘Veggie Omelet’.”
  33. “You can read Outsiderspeak?”
  35. “Indeed.” He still ate chunks of the man that was sitting nearby, something which Nika wanted to protest about but couldn’t. She didn’t want to spoil the hospitality of the maneater. “They have schools down on the Coast.”
  37. “Why are you up here then?” she asked.
  39. “The Flu,” he said firmly. He crunched down on something, then spat it out into the snow. A bone. “Once people started dropping dead, I decided to head north along with a party of others to try and find safe haven until the plague died.”
  41. “There are more of you?”
  43. “There were,” he said. A stupid question to ask, she thought, given the context of her meeting with him. “What about you?” She paused, then simply remained quiet and bit into one of the few edible pieces of her meal: a cracker. “No story about you?”
  45. “I don’t feel the need to share anything about myself,” she said quietly. The maneater stopped his chewing, giving her a very inquisitive look. The cold right now, as harsh as it was, was doing nothing to make Nika’s heart freeze up. Much as she accepted the meal and hospitality, she was still in the company of a maneater. Many thoughts and scenarios ran through her head. None of them were good. She continued to remain quiet.
  47. “Fine then.” The maneater bit down on his chunk of meat. He flinched, his teeth bit into bone once more. He licked at his teeth, sniffling a bit and rubbing at his reddened nose. Nika elected to remain quiet for the rest of the meal, as did the maneater. She would have her crackers, and he would have his arm.
  49. Still, even with the meal completed, Nika elected to save her strength by resting near the small but still warm fire. She held out her gloved hands to it, spreading her fingers out and letting the heat radiate among them. Even though her thick leather gloves she could feel the blood swell all the way to her fingertips and down into her palms. A little heat, even from a fire as small as this, was still needed. “Brightplains.” Nika froze, and looked up at the maneater as he picked at his teeth. “Am I right?” Nika looked back at the fire, refusing to speak. “Your silence answers the question better than any lie can, darky. But you all live down south? What are you people doing this far north?”
  51. “I don’t believe that to be of any business of yours,” she said back. She had to concede that he managed to guess the Tribe correctly at least. It was frustrating her. A random maneating –savage–- of all people was somehow looking straight through her. It made her want to bite her fingers from the bitter feeling of defeat. “What makes you assume such things anyway?”
  53. “Your hair ribbon.” He pointed to the back of his head, shrugging. “Pattern like that, I believe the Drow tribes have different patterns for different tribes. And I figure that the Brightplains would have a ribbon like that. That dark green with the gold circles and lines, like the flowers in the Brightplains. I’ve been there, it’s a beautiful place.” A phantom fist punched Nika’s heart at that remark. Something even the maneater noticed. “Something happen to it?”
  55. She did not want to answer the question. Not because she wanted to give the maneater more information, but because saying such things would only invite more grief. She sighed, letting some of it out into the air. Then she stood and dusted down her coat and hat. “Thank you for letting me use your fire and for the food as well.” The maneater looked confused. “I must take my leave.”
  57. “Wait.” He stood up. “You don’t mean to continue north, do you?” Nika paused in walking away, looking back at him. “That’s bandit country from what I heard down south. Bandit lords preying on travelers, killing anyone who so much as coughs in their direction, claiming the women for sport. You know that kind of business. Lone elf such as yourself, you wouldn’t last five minutes!”
  59. “And you think I would last longer with a maneater?” she asked back.
  61. “I don’t eat man-meat because I like it!” he said, blood still staining his cheeks. “It’s a strange kind of taste! Almost like pig actually I will say. Rare, kind of chewy around the arm but I suppose that’s the muscle speaking. But that’s not out of the desires of my heart! It is out of desperation for my own survival!” he said, with another pair of Emarees poking out of his bag. “And I assure you, I did not kill him because I wanted to eat him! He wasn’t even very fat anyway!”
  63. “Good sir, I appreciate your position.” Nika turned fully towards him, clasping her hands in front of her chest and bowing to him. “But I must take my leave and we must part. I do wish you a fond farewell.” She smiled at him. The maneater stood, still confused, and possibly still offended by the implications of him being a maneating savage. “Perhaps we will-“
  65. “Take me with you please,” he said quickly. Nika paused, her smile immediately dropping. He stepped up to her, making her back off in return. “Okay, let me be truthful. I did kill him. But only after he snapped his spine. It was a mercy kill. I can’t run these snowy wastes alone. I am unarmed, I am defenseless, I assure you. I mean you no harm! And I can do your Tribe so much good if you will allow me to join you, please! I have no one else! I just ate my last companion! Granted, I didn’t like him but socially speaking he was the last thing keeping me sane!” He stepped past, pointing back southwest. “Three days that way, our horse died of exhaustion! So we had to eat the poor bitch! And then before that, a few others were killed by a bear too!” Nika stood, listening. “Please, darky! You must take me with you, I am desperate!” He fell to his knees, and to Nika’s incredible disgust and surprise he hugged her leg. “Don’t leave me alone out here!” He started sobbing, whimpering pathetically. “I can’t die out here like an animal!”
  67. Nika glanced around, wondering if this noise was attracting anything first, before looking down at him. She had lived sixty years. None of those sixty years had ever prepared for a sobbing maneating man to hug her leg and plead for help.
  69. The Tribe would never accept it. He was one of them. Not an Outsider, but a man of Emeritto. He didn’t have the Flu, but he could be carrying it. He could be doing this as a way to curry sympathy and then in the night steal what he can and flee. He could even be a spy for one of the Bandit Lords in the north. If any of them ever found where the Tribe was settling, there would be dire consequences. Nika knew that the smart thing to do was simply tell the man to get lost— and kill him if he resisted. But the right thing, in her mind at least, would be to take the man in and show what charity the Tribe can afford. And given the Tribe cannot even afford to feed themselves in this weather, nobody would ever approve of her action.
  72. -
  74. “You brought back a human?”
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