4. A Strange Encounter
Night creeps over the horizon all too soon. Soft pinks and violets bleed into the sky, casting low shadows through the leaves as Kel makes camp. There's plenty of brush to hide a cloth tent in, at least. Hopefully that's enough to avoid attention. With all the bushes and leaves here, making a fire to deter creatures seems more likely to set the scout's skin ablaze than anything else. It's not a risk worth taking.
After cozying up in her tent and blanket, Kel's left restless. The lump-stippled face of the creature she'd run into earlier plays through her mind again. It's just not normal- there shouldn't be this many large creatures in an area, let alone ones she'd run into. They're territorial. She's seen markings and claw-streaked trees, paths worn into the ground by beasts treading their domain day after day. The large ones aren't supposed to tolerate others straying so close to their homes. And yet she's met three in the same area- why? Why are they so close together? Are there more? How's she supposed to sleep at all with that hanging over her head?
It's a fitful night at best, and Kel's only half-asleep when something rustles outside the tent. The scout's eyes snap open in a flash. Her hand is on her dagger's handle before she's even looked outside the tent. A rush of cold air and a trail of mist greets her- groaning to herself, Kel keeps her hand on her weapon as she steps outside of the tent. There really is no running from this guy, is there?
"Get out here and show your face," she snaps, keeping her back to her tent. A shiver rolls down her spine from the chill of the fog as she scans the area. "If you're going to hound me, then be quick about it and leave. I'm tired."
Sure enough, a riot of colors announces a now-familiar presence in front of her. It's dim outside, but there's no missing that neon yellow as the stranger steps out from the brush, tipping their hat.
"Shut up. What do you want?" Content that the stranger isn't going to jump her right away, Kel crosses her arms. She's having none of this nonsense tonight, not when they've woken her up. "Out with it."
"If you're not here just to screw off again, then hurry up and start talking."
"I would if you'd allow me." The slight rasp in their voice betrays frustration as they step a bit closer, thumbs hooked on their belt. "You're truly a pleasure to talk to, do you know that?"
"Likewise. And your dog tried to kill me, so I think I've the right to say whatever I'd like." She takes a step forward, jerking her chin up in as rude a gesture as she can manage. "You owe me. Talk."
Kel swears she hears the stranger mutter a curse under their breath, and they pinch their nose for a moment before answering. Good. If she's gotten on their nerves, then they deserve the annoyance.
"I'm here on business," they hiss. "You... may have no tact or grace, but I'm inclined to offer you something-"
"I don't want it." Staring them down, Kel shifts her weight to the side. "You're following me. You sicced your dog on me-"
"You nearly killed my dog, dear-"
"Don't care, not your dear. Give me one reason I should bother with you."
"I... owe you." Kel can hear the stranger gritting their teeth at that admission, and a petty smile crosses her face.
"Damn right. What're you offering, then? A vacation from your crap?"
"A chance to break Fate." They step forward again, and it suddenly strikes Kel that they're only a pace or two apart. She can see them fidgeting with something in their pocket as they speak. "You want to go home. The spirits have no intention of letting that happen, but I suppose that I can pull a few strings. Consider it to be... settling a debt."
Kel grimaces. This is unexpected, to say the least- and it's not something she's inclined to trust, not when this jerk's been nothing but a pain since they first bothered her. She scoffs, looking to the side.
"What, you? What strings can you even pull? Been ranting about Fate and spirits and all like they're gods, and now you're up in my face saying you can do something?" She uncrosses her arms just to put her hands on her hips. "I don't believe you."
Sighing, the stranger rustles about in their pocket for a moment before pulling out something familiar: a fruit core. "Recognize this?"
"Excuse me? Dear, this fruit might save you, and yet you consider me a creep for salvaging it?" They lob it up in the air, catching it. "You truly are terrible to deal with."
"For the last time, I'm not your dear. And it's a fruit core. It's garbage. You ran around collecting my garbage. Creep." She jerks her chin up again.
"This garbage was a gift from the spirits. Show some respect." They sigh again, turning the core in their hand. "And one gift can stand in for another. Apples, blessings, prophecies... please, do tell me you're not so dull that this is lost on you."
"I'm smart enough to know a crook when I see one."
The stranger mutters another curse under their breath. "Look. You dislike me. That much is quite obvious, believe me. But you would be a fool to reject even a sliver of hope if you'd like to find your way home, yes?" The core is suddenly flung into the air, and Kel catches it on reflex. She's almost startled to find it in her hand. "It's simple enough that even you could manage it. Take the core and destroy it. Fire is best, but any method will do so long as nothing of substance remains."
"Bullshit." Still, Kel's hand tightens around the core, juice dripping between her fingers.
"I wouldn't come all this way just to lie." They step back, shaking their head as the mist thickens. "You're... skilled in the art of destruction. Do what you do best and it will all be over. One gift returns another."
"Still calling bullshit. Why should I trust you?" The fog is rolling in alarmingly quickly, and Kel has to squint to see the stranger at all. When they reply, their voice is faint and indistinct, seemingly floating in from all sides before it's gone.
"You have no better choices," they whisper.
When morning rolls around, the fruit core is still there in Kel's tent, resting at the foot of her blanket. She swears it's taunting her as she sits up, bleary-eyed from what little sleep she managed to get. Her hands are sticky from its juice.
As Kel packs up camp, that core nags at her mind. She can't quite get the stranger's words out of her head. If she destroys the fruit, then what? She destroys the prophecy? Is that it? It can't be that simple. All those children's stories of spirits taking revenge on meddling humans... it's never that simple. Right? Her gaze strays back to the core as she ties the strap around her rolled-up tent. It would be so easy to pulverize it. The fruit wasn't that hard to begin with, and it's probably been out in the sun for a while. The scout bites her lip, hands falling still.
She's standing before she knows it, taking long strides towards the core until she's standing right next to it. It wobbles after a nudge from her boot. Fate's awfully delicate if this little thing can break it. A little grin plays over Kel's face at the thought of one stomp changing the course of her whole life. Would it be so bad to take her future into her own hands? Would it be so wrong?
Her boot comes down hard on the core, and Fate spatters across the soil.
Nitty Gritty Details
Starting chaos factor: 7
Scene test: expected (9)
Fate question: Does Kel make camp safely? Odds: 50/50
Roll: yes (20)
Fate question: Is Kel disturbed during the night? Odds: 50/50
Roll: yes (55)
By what? Roll for meaning (descriptions): nicely bizarre (interpreted as the stranger- they're the only non-hostile character I can think of that might drop in and fit that description. Polite, slightly conniving weirdo.)
What do they want this time? Roll for meaning (character motivations): approval, business
Chaos factor -1; current factor: 6
Added to thread list: breaking fate
Scene test: interrupt (4)
Event focus: close a thread (66; random event ignored due to interrupt scene)
Which thread?: Return home (5)
Event meaning (actions): observe nature; military (rolled an extra word because I still had a lot of warring interpretations)
Chaos factor -1; current factor: 5
I originally meant to have Kel hold onto the core for a while and think it over, but then I rolled an interrupt scene. It seems she could be going home sooner than expected- but at what cost? Fate doesn't break gently in this world. Will it be worth whatever follows?
I feel like I've got a much better grasp on the stranger now, though I still haven't given them a name. There'll be a good time for that eventually (I hope)!