Chapter 2 – Part 1: An Acquired Distaste

An Acquired Distaste

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You wander along the high street as the evening approaches, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of this new town. At the post office, Jamie had welcomed you to Derna and given you a map, which you had studied in your room as you lay in the tub, giving you a general gist of the place. He also warned you to be careful; Derna is massive and is easy to get lost in, even with a map, due to the numerous tightly-packed districts filled with narrow, winding paths and dozens of buildings which are difficult to distinguish from each other. He said that if you were to walk in a straight line from one side of the town to the other, you’d swear you’ve just been walking through the same two or three areas in a loop.

He did also say that Derna tends to come alive at night, so you’re unlikely to be bored if you’re looking for something to do later.

After scanning a few clothing stores for ones that both suit your style and have decent prices, you begin to peruse the aisles to find a suitable replacement day outfit or two. Among the many styles on offer, you find an eye-catching, dark-coloured, feminine outfit with a slightly Gothic style, a loose, comfortable feminine outfit, which is easy to wear and move around in, and a basic outfit that doesn’t particularly stand out.

The latter two will do well in general, and for when you’re out and about during the day, but something a bit fancier is good for a night on the town. You pay for the clothes and opt to wear the Gothic outfit now, swapping into them in the store’s changing room. You stuff your old clothes into your bag and neatly pack away the other two outfits.

Now looking fresh, your next goal is to find something to eat, and your stomach rumbles almost immediately upon stepping out of the store. You pick a direction and keep an eye out for any food places that catch your eye. Eventually, you end up travelling down a particularly busy stretch, with bright lights, busy buildings and revellers everywhere. You can’t help but feel a bit enthusiastic thanks to the vibrant energy of the place.

As you make your way down the street, you soon find yourself being accosted by people handing out leaflets and/or trying to encourage passers-by to enter this building or that. Within about 10 paces of entering the street, you somehow end up with at least 3 leaflets and have been told, in various ways by multiple people, that you’re missing out on what’s on offer after declining to go into whatever building they darted out of to catch you.

Along the way, you pass by a few vendors with food carts selling hot and cold meals, and a packed fast food store with plenty of people both inside and out. You hover nearby for a moment, but decide against waiting in line for that, and try another, similar store nearby; judging by some of the menu posters in the windows, they sell some of the same food items.

You head into the shop and peruse the full menu for a moment (with all of the dishes being entirely foreign to you), and with a combination of random selection and asking for a recommendation from the server for a first-time experience, you order a small meat-based dish, and take a seat at the table near the window to wait for your food.You watch the townsfolk as they flit around outside, hanging around, singing, laughing and having a great time. While they can get a bit rowdy at times, they seem to be having good, clean fun.

You take a look at your handful of leaflets and read about “Josey’s”; a local bar, one of many in the area, offering great prices for its drinks, and a discounted drink if you present the leaflet, a theatre showcasing a play called “Bloodlines”, with a very elaborate bunch of characters decorating the page, and a bar/dance hall called “Stardust” claiming to have some legendary artists performing there this week.

A waiter brings you your meal, which gets your mouth watering; it smells pretty good! Roasted meat and rice, with a hearty portion of root vegetables, and some thin slices of something you can’t quite identify by sight, all drizzled in a thick sauce.

A delicious dish in Derna.

(Ai-generated image produced using Dall-E 2)

You take a bite and have to use all your strength to not immediately projectile vomit it back out.
Despite the alluring scent, the taste in no way matches what you smelled; the sauce has a distinct unpleasant undertone which you would not hesitate to describe as rancid, while the vegetables have an odd, oily texture and a slightly metallic taste, as if they were left to stew in an old, scratched pan, complete with fine iron filings. The meat, sickly sweet on its own, is quite tough and has a strange, gritty texture. The rice is overly soft and watery and apparently void of salt or seasoning. The mystery strips have a similar texture to mushrooms but are chewier, and are both sour and savoury.

You have a big drink of water before you take a moment to compose yourself and reassess your life choices. You struggle to remember tasting anything worse than this before. How did they manage to get each aspect of it to taste like hell?!

You steel yourself and try each part again just to be sure, but quickly confirm that it’s all as atrocious as you first thought. Not wanting to waste both food and money though, you pick and push the food around, avoiding anything even remotely covered in the sauce, and eat what you can of the meat and rice, with as much as you can bear of the ‘mushrooms’, which is about two more bites.
By the time you’re done, you’ve only eaten about a quarter of the meal, the rest having been condemned. You consider complaining and trying to get your money back, but the desire to just get out of here is higher.

Back on the street, you exhale heavily as you glance about. You’re a little less hungry but will still need something else to sate your appetite and get this horrible taste out of your mouth. You look back at the other store, which is still crowded, and wonder if their variants are any better, or if that dish is always like that. You could always try something entirely different there. On the other hand, you’d still have to wait in line, and wouldn’t want to add that to the wait for the food, and the disappointment if the food does turn out to be bad. You decide that, if anything, you’ll try coming back during the day and see if it’s less crowded then.

In the meantime, you head on over to one of the food carts, stopping at one that smells quite pleasant; this does make you a little wary. The vendor is selling a type of hotdog, with plenty of toppings and sauces to choose from. You order a classic one, which he whips together quickly and hands to you. You take a bite and it’s… completely underwhelming. Despite all of the ingredients, it’s somehow lacking in flavour. Again, how do they manage to keep making food that smells one way, but tastes completely different? Whatever. At least this one doesn’t make you feel sick. At least… not yet anyway. You hope this doesn’t come back to bite you later, or tomorrow …

You walk as you eat, opting to try and find slightly less crowded areas to reduce the chances of someone bumping into you and knocking your food out of your hand. By the time you’ve finished your meal, you’ve ended up in an area that’s a little darker, a little more closed-in, and a lot less crowded. You also notice that the positive energy of the other area doesn’t quite extend to this place.

You keep your wits about you as you move through, and notice that here, more people pay attention to you as you pass, unlike the other street, where everyone was so busy with their own business that they paid little attention to anyone else.

Amidst the ‘quiet’ of this area, you hear more of a commotion in a particular direction; you decide to go check it out and step out from another side street to find a relatively large crowd hanging around outside a series of dingy buildings on a cramped street. While some people are just hanging around and drinking, others seem to be waiting to enter one of the buildings there. The building does not have a name on it, and it’s not immediately obvious what this place is. However, you can hear a lot of yelling and excitement wafting out from within each time the bouncer opens the door. Beside the bouncer, another guy is handing out papers.

You make your way into the crowd and with a bit of gentle manoeuvring, you manage to get to the front for just long enough to acquire a paper and leave before anyone accuses you of cutting in line. You extract yourself from the throng and find a clearer area to have a look at the leaflet under a nearby streetlight. Apparently, this place, “The Pit”, is a fighting club with live wrestling shows in the evenings. They have food and drink and entertainment, as well as some totally legal gambling on the fights.

Hmm. Well, it’s not too late into the night, and you’re no longer starving, so maybe now’s a good time to choose something to do for fun. Or, you could go back to the hotel for the night to get some rest and resume your exploration tomorrow. You think for a moment and decide to go back to Slaryn House and rest for the night.

It isn’t an easy decision though, with all the options being equally appealing, but in the end, you decide to decide on it later. They’ll be performing Bloodlines at least twice a day for the next few days, so maybe you’ll start with that tomorrow?

You fold The Pit leaflet together with the others and slip the lot into your bag before turning back and heading the way you came.

You move through the closed-in streets and pass buildings dark and buildings bright, paying more attention to them this time around, now that you’re not busy eating a hot dog. Even though many of them are visibly active, most of the buildings here have a somewhat derelict feel, looking old and run-down. It’s as if these buildings were built many decades ago and used for entirely different things, then left abandoned until they were rediscovered by new tenants who began using them for their current purposes. It’s difficult to tell what the purposes are now though; they seem to be a mix of houses, shops and a variety of public and private buildings, all tangled together with a lot of signage, little of it clear.

You walk past buildings emanating muffled voices and laughter, hear music wafting from another direction, and see and hear the steady stream of steam from a third. Then you pass a row of darkened buildings that don’t match the ones that came before. None of this looks familiar. This dimmed stretch narrows further as you continue. Following it around a corner, the road widens again and brightens, but is almost void of other people. You did not see this place on your way to The Pit…

Did you take a wrong turn? You must’ve because this place is new. OK. You turn around and follow the narrow path back, returning to the wider one, retracing your steps. You see the steam, then hear more music, then muffled voices, then go back and continue until you’re on the jumbled row of buildings. You continue going for a while until you eventually see the side street, taking that turn and heading back in the direction of The Pit.

The path continues on for a while, widening and narrowing, alternating between dark and light, loud and quiet, and leading around corners. Too many corners… You’re just starting to think that when you come across a fork in the path, with two paths in front of you, leading off diagonally to the left and right.


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