Broth by the Bonfire Prose in Oniran | World Anvil
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Broth by the Bonfire

Reading Time: 15 min. (2760 words)

Another day, another night, another step forward to the nearest town. Or at least, you’re fairly sure this path led to one. There wouldn’t be much reason to have such a well established route through the forest if not for traveling merchants and the bandits that looked to prey upon them.   You knew it’d be wise to not travel at night, but as the sun finishes its descent below the horizon, you still find yourself absentmindedly walking. Trotting, even. You should’ve stopped hours ago. The thought of having to set up camp in the dark only intensified the gnawing hunger and exhaust in your bones. There’s a stale loaf of bread in your bag, however, perhaps you could spare a few minutes to scarf it down before walking through the rest of the night? Perhaps you could simply hide away in the bushes and rest there? Perhaps you could… is that music?   As you look up from the ground for the first time since sunset, it hits you. A warm firelight, the calm melody of a guitar you can’t quite place, the smell of smoke and herbs; the silhouette of a man seeps through the gaps in the trees. Honestly, you should’ve noticed it sooner. It seems as if they set up this camp with the sole purpose of letting everyone within a mile radius know of their exact location. The bonfire was large and bright, the man sat on an overgrown log with his back to the trail just a few feet away, and as far as you knew he was completely alone and unbothered.   You weigh the options in your head. This could very well just be someone camping, or it could be an elaborate trap somehow set up specifically for you. You don’t realize you were still walking until their head perks up in your direction, still playing their guitar.    
“Why, hello there! I do hope this night has treated you well!”
    There's a cheeriness in his voice, warmer than the bonfire but hardened with experience, that takes you a smidgen by surprise. As you get closer, and the light finally reveals you completely, his demeanor changes. He looks you up and down and mutters under his breath, but from what you could hear it seemed to just be a myriad of ‘hmmmms’ and ‘mmmmms’.    
“You look weary, traveler. Hm. That’s no good, no good at all. Come! Sit and rest a while, yes, and I’ll serve you a bowl of my finest broth!”
    Perhaps it was against your better judgment to accept his offer, but if he was having the broth himself then it most likely wasn't poisoned or anything. You rationalize. With the promise of rest, a warm fire, and what you could only hope was indeed a fine broth, you find yourself dropping your things and damn near collapsing onto the log beside him. In your current state, the moss blanketing it feels like the softest bed you’ve ever had the pleasure of sitting on.   This camp is actually infinitely better up close than just viewing from afar. The warmth of the fire washes over you and a savory, herbal scent wafts from the cauldron in waves, the music calms your nerves and nearly lulls you to sleep.    
“Impressive gear you have there, I do say. Hm, yes. Would you happen to be a fellow adventurer?”
    You turn to him and nod, finally getting a proper look at him. Warm firelight reflects off of the visor of a knight’s helmet and the irresponsibly large gauntlet plucking at the guitar’s strings. The plume on the helmet, or perhaps his hair, is easily his most striking feature, less of an ornament and more of a great mane over half your size that billowed in the calm forest breeze. The cloak wrapping around his shoulders seemed more fit for sleeping rather than any attempt at stealth or protection. He exuded comfort.    
“Splendid! Now, I’m afraid it’ll be a moment for the soup to finish, you see. So, if you don’t mind my asking, have you any tales of recent endeavors?”
    It wouldn’t hurt to share a bit, and he seems genuine, so you indulge him. You recount the events of your most recent quest to him, progressively investing yourself more in your own accomplishments as you witness his growing excitement. It’s not often that someone is so engaged in conversation with you, asking questions, reacting to big moments as if you were reciting a masterful play, providing his own input but taking care not to interrupt. The hype was infectious. To be honest, now that you’re describing your quest out loud to this kind of audience your adventure feels significantly more impressive than it did before. It’s a nice feeling, and god knows those have been seldom as of late.   Now of course, he shares a story of his own after you insist. You learn that he is indeed a Knight, an hour ago this would’ve immediately stuck out as a red flag. Knights almost never travel alone after all; so far he seems to be an exception.   He had just completed a quest in the town you were headed towards. A simple kill quest turned escort turned delivery turned overthrowing the plans of a nefarious alchemist who was pulling the strings from the very beginning. As he goes on you’re able to recognize and connect the dots between what he says happened and the numerous signs of wear and tear on both him and his equipment, lending validity to his tale. His words are evocative, his movements exaggerated, and his tone warm. As if catching up with an old friend. You find yourself just as invested as he was to you.   Funnily enough, the cauldron currently simmering the broth in front of you had actually belonged to that alchemist. Honestly, that was the best part of a quest suddenly having a villain. You immediately had a god given right to take their shit completely guilt-free. Personally you preferred to call it the “Adventurer’s Tax”.   He goes to taste test as you mull over the ethics of Loot. You’re not exactly sure how he accomplishes it without removing the helmet, every time you think you can see his face it’s obscured by a bad angle, a glare from the firelight, his hair, or perhaps some divine intervention, so you give up entirely. In the meantime, remembering your bread, you offer to toast and split the loaf. As far as you remember, you've never seen someone so grateful over complimentary bread.    
After a bit of seasoning to taste, he rears his head back and lets out a proud “Mm, beautiful! My finest yet!”
    With your focus dedicated to not burning the toast, the sudden clattering of glass jars startles you a fair amount. He seems to have amassed a small collection of them, in fact. All with varying sizes, lids, and shapes. He begins methodically ladling the broth into those jars, making sure all that goes in is clear and rich.    
“I suppose it’s good fortune we met at week’s end. This is when I usually make the broth in the first place, you see. Serves as a sort of meal prep if you will. It’s got all the good stuff, lasts a fair few days, and’ll give you a boost when proper meals get scarce. And, when all the jars are filled...” he says as he locks the last jar with a fancy latch, “...there’s enough left for two!”
    He turns with a triumphant flourish as he finishes that last bit, clearly unprepared to immediately be met with you and your bowl at the ready. He lets out a prideful chuckle before serving you and beckoning to follow him.   The broth was indeed fine (damn near liquid beef with a splendid mouthfeel) and the both of you eat in comfortable silence, admiring the view before you. As it turned out, he had set up camp with purpose. The trail was much higher up than you originally thought; the shallow cliffside just beyond the camp overlooked the vast forest canopy bathing in ethereal moonlight. The life of adventure was full of chaos, uncertainty, and no small amount of gratuitous violence, but it was views like this that made it all worth it in the end. It was views like this that kept you going.   He finishes his meal with an obnoxiously exaggerated slurp and a satisfied sigh, clearly intending to break the silence. Out of the corner of your eye his head turns to you.    
"Apologies if this seems rather presumptuous of me, but I get the sense that you've wanted to ask me something for quite some time now. Haven't you?"
    Huh. So you haven't been as subtle as you once thought. He was right, however. In all your days of adventuring this was certainly a first, and rather convenient at that. Someone who just so happened to set up a camp right beside the trail, fire blazing, paying no mind to whoever might be watching, plotting, even, and immediately eager to help a stranger he had never met? There had to be a catch, some ulterior motive, hell, even a surprise fee for the rest stop would be far from the strangest turn of events you've experienced. If there was any time to ask, it might as well be when he clearly knows you want to.    
Why was he so kind to someone he had just met, someone who very well could've intended to harm him?
    He lost himself in thought, at least a little, letting the question simmer in his mind. The silence occasionally broken by his hmmm-ing and the rhythmic tapping of his metallic chin. You almost considered taking back the question, worrying you had unintentionally offended him, before he took in a breath.    
"Well, your journey up to now has left you hungry, weary, and exhausted, no? I was in that position, once. Close to death, I was. It was somewhere up North, I believe. With a rather nasty injury I don't quite remember..."
    You hadn't even noticed he brought along his guitar when the same calming melody once again fills the air around you.    
"Frostbite is a wicked thing, I tell ya'. Y'know they say a sudden warmth is the last you feel before it takes you, yes? For a moment I thought I was taken as well. Hm. Yes, I believe in actuality it was the warmth of the magelight she had by her side. I had been found by a wandering traveler, you see. I say 'she' but all I really had to go off of was their voice. She insisted on treating my wounds as well as offering some of her food, heh, and that I was in no position to argue!"
  He let out a jolly laugh in agreement, a laugh unburdened by past hardships.  
"The next morning I felt like a new man, but not a trace of her remained. I searched and searched, desperate to show her my gratitude, as anyone would, but...I never did see her again..."
  The strumming ceased, suddenly, as if he had just made the realization himself. Minutes pass as you both admire the moonlit trees. All until another chuckle escapes his helmet, somewhat forced, as if holding something deeper.  
"I suppose she left quite an impression on me. I wasn't always the kind or trusting sort, and in a lot of ways it left me quite miserable. Yes. But it's not often you experience salvation from a complete stranger; especially in our line of work, yeah? But...while I can't guarantee it'll happen to me again, I can guarantee that I can provide it for someone else, and I wouldn't have it any other way. Wouldn't you agree?"
    The morning was, as expected, rather uneventful. Unless you counted unintentionally sleeping in 'til about noon, which may have regrettably thrown a wrench into your schedule. You weren't particularly looking forward to the monotonous task of packing up for the journey ahead, but you also liked to think of yourself as the responsible sort. At least, as responsible as an adventurer could be. But deep down you knew the real reason was a nagging worry in the back of your mind.   A worry that quickly became truth as you crawled out from your bedroll. Your stomach drops a smidge as you take in the sight. A bed-sized patch of flattened grass, cobblestones circling around a pile of soaked ash and smoldering timber, wisps of smoke rising from its center, and not a trace of another person to be seen. But you were so sure that last night had indeed happened, right? No one could just hallucinate all of that, there's no way he was actually...?    
"Ah, you're awake! Splendid!"
    You whirl around and are met with the Knight, cauldron in one arm and the other wrapped around a bundle of jars. Letting out a breath of relief you hadn't realized you were holding, he breaks out in a joyous belly laugh.    
"Oh heavens, I had no intention of leaving before saying proper goodbyes! Just cleaning the cauldron, is all. As well as retrieving the jars. That being said..." he reassures you as he hands you a healthy sized jar of the gelled broth, the fancy one, in fact, as if he had noticed you take interest in it the night before. "Consider it a gift, on the house, if you will. A little tradition of mine for those who accept my offer..."
    A sort of vague melancholic feeling rises in your chest as he says that last bit. Realizing last night might've been a rare occurrence for him as well, especially since it was likely his loophole as a Knight. You could at least take comfort in how unbothered he seems. You both ready your things and acknowledge each other for what may very well be the last time. He takes a deep, confident breath, the kind that only an adventurer could make before continuing their journey.    
"...Before we part ways, fellow adventurer, I'd like to offer a proposition. Yes. So long as I'm not overstepping any boundaries, of course."
  You don't see why not, it's the least you could do in return for his hospitality.  
"It's not often that my offer is accepted, even less so that I've regretted it, and even less so that it's so memorable I invite them further. In fact, I could probably count the number of times I've considered it on one hand! Ha!"
  You begin to see where this is going, and have already begun thinking over the inevitable choice you suspected would arise since getting into bed for the night.  
"Last night was truly one for the books, and I'm quite fond of your company, you see. Now, I don't know if you already have a party, or if you have anyone waiting for you in Dawngrove, but, if you're willing, I reckon I would love to invite you to join me!"
    A warm and fuzzy feeling simmers in your chest at his heartfelt invitation. You take a moment to plan out your response as he, rather unexpectedly, begins to walk down the path. The opposite direction from where you came, in fact. He turns back to you, still walking, with a cheerful wave.    
"And if you wish to decline that's quite alright! I'm sure we'll cross paths again, my friend, and we'll get to share our stories once more!"
    You get the feeling he's being truthful. Perhaps you will cross paths again should you decline the offer. And given that he already took his leave, that offer seemed quite low-stakes. You walk up to the trail and look both ways, once towards the next town, Dawngrove, apparently, and once towards the gradually shrinking silhouette of the Knight. After a pause, you make a decision.   Another day, another night, another step forward.


Author's Notes

This is a story I had simmering for a WHILE lemme tell ya, and Adventure April seemed like the perfect opportunity to finally finish it. I really love this one in particular, and it gets even better when I tell you that it was all inspired by an EXTREMELY cursed meme, the best genre of Soulslike NPCs, and an hour long loop of the Home OST from Undertale. Oh btw the melody he's playing on the guitar is the Home OST from Undertale.   This is also the first time I've written in the second-person, so I figured I'd go all the way and leave the ending ambiguous albeit with a clear and defined choice. If I may expertly farm engagement for just a moment, if you really were in this situation, what would your choice be?   That's all, have a good one!

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Apr 4, 2024 02:06 by Polina "Line" Arteev

I am so hungry for more adventures with this knight! With chemistry like that, you just have to see what's more to offer :D   But wait, I want to know what's over in Dawngrove too oh no

Seek a new dawn, in Malkora!
The Feral Sovereign sleeps peacefully, but will return...
Apr 4, 2024 08:47 by Jon

bsdfkls I'm sure if you caught up with him and asked to check out Dawngrove anyway he'd happily oblige!   Honestly I agree, maybe at some point I'll write more stories with him!

While I would love to go on an adventure, writing them is enough for me.
Apr 4, 2024 03:10

How long have I myself been traveling alone? Do I even remember why? It isn't as if I have any particular plans in Dawngrove--didn't even know for sure there was a town at the end of the road, let alone what it's called. Up until just last night everything felt unfocused, but I woke up into a world of clarity and even if I don't know where my next steps will take me, I know which direction they're going.

From The River to The Ocean, a civilization grows up.
Apr 4, 2024 08:52 by Jon

Damn you absolutely COOKED with this one!!! You touched on an aspect of MC that I was only passively aware of while writing but didn't explore fully, the deliberate ambiguity being more than just an audience surrogate. On top of that you just made me realize that MC did, in fact, have a character arc actually.   Such a beautiful input, really, thanks so much!!!

While I would love to go on an adventure, writing them is enough for me.
Apr 4, 2024 17:37

Aw, thank you. I already have a habit of imagining epilogues--you offer an invitation like that, and how could I resist? :)

From The River to The Ocean, a civilization grows up.