and licked the soup from the cook's own ladles

Hollow Lowlands 
The fog was thick as rain continued to drizzle. It was a good day to be a duck. Or a good day to pretend to be a duck. So figured Remington, who was itching to take his new call for a test run and take a break from his toils at the homestead. That morning, before dawn had even broke, he headed for Magic Hollow to the marshy lowlands he had driven by once before.

He parked his truck on the shoulder of a quiet side road. This was no serious hunting affair and so he stepped out dressed casually in an old well-worn pair of black jeans and a black tee shirt. Black leather hikers completed the dark outfit as he meandered down to the marsh's edge. The sun was just starting to peek through the trees and he could see the silhouettes of a few dabbling ducks as they began tipping for breakfast.

Remy crept closer to the water and sat on a clump of mud among some tall reeds. He wasn't too concealed but it was enough for the task at hand. Over his shoulder he could see still his truck and the sunlight glinting off it. With a smile on his face he took out his call and gave it a try, blowing a few soft drawn out quaaaacks to see if any mallard might be convinced enough that he was a lonely hen to come and investigate.

Scout sauntered through the marsh with her bow in hand with an arrow pulled back tightly. The call of ducks was something she was eagerly after, their soft quacking raising the interest of her feline. As she stepped carefully through the reeds, careful not to make too much noise, her eyes searched for her prized dinner.

She was approached, the scent of.. something interesting assaulted her nostrils. Furrowing her eyebrows together, she cursed to herself and reminded herself that she was on a hunt and couldn't get distracted so easily. Breathing through her nostrils, she exhaled gently and aimed her arrow at a female duck who had drifted away from her flock.

Her finger released the string and the arrow was sent whizzing through the air, piercing the duck with ease. The impact and commotion send the rest of the flock fluttering away in a panic. Scout smirked and marched forward to snatch up her prize.

His quacks had an immediate response. Several ducks interrupted their feeding to glance in his direction. There was not a bit of alarm ruffling their feathers or causing them to stir nervously. To his ear the mellow wood tones sounded properly duckish, but it never mattered what it sounded like to his ear if the ducks did not agree.

He quacked again and this time was rewarded with an even more promising response; a hen broke from the flock to paddle toward him. Remy bided his time, letting her come nearer, but he could see her interest wane in his silence. Just as he was about to call again, with one hand grasping the call and the other cupping the end of the barrel, an arrow cut through the air and stuck the duck. Remy's duck call produced a strained, high-pitched splutter as he startled and the rest of the flock took wing.

Quick to his feet, wide-eyed Remy turned to see a woman, bow in hand, strolling toward the cleanly killed bird. His mouth hung open, until he took to grinning ear to ear.

"Damn, girl! Hell of a shot there!"

The voice, she had to admit, startled her. But not enough to make her flinch as she trekked through the reeds towards the duck floating in the water dead. "Yes, I know it is." Scout arched a brow at him. Of course, it was. Why would she make a bad shot?

Cautiously, she inched forward and lifted the bird out of the water, swiftly removing the arrow from the duck's neck and ducking it into her quiver. He was awfully smiley and it made her a bit uncomfortable. Was he impressed with her shot? It was reasonable to be indeed. Scout prided herself on her aim. Her fingers tapped on her bow as she looked the man over.

"You have the gift of Mother Earth inside of you," she stated plainly, "Which creature do you encompass?"

Huh. She spoke a bit odd. But Remington passed no judgement and continued to just grin at wonder at all. The last thing he expected to see was another person at the marsh. Let alone a woman with a bow in her hands who was skilled enough to put an arrow cleanly through a duck's neck. It was a hell of an encounter but one he welcomed openly.

Her question caught him off guard and he arched a brow, not certain what she was asking, but he cottoned on quick enough. "Ohhhh... I," he said, bringing a hand to his chest as he drew himself to his full height in a theatrical display of pride, completed with a beaming grin, "am a rat." And proud of that he indeed was. Speaking of; Remy felt the hair on the back of his neck raise and recognized it to be his wee beastie's discomfort. Slowly but surely, the two were melding, sharing in each other and the moment.

"Gift of Mother Earth you say? What a charming way to put it. I'm Remy," the man extended his hand.

She awaited his response with a blank look. He seemed to be caught off guard by her questions. Perhaps he wasn't asked very often. She couldn't recall too many people asking herself to be fair. Scout shifted in her stance and slung her bow over her shoulder.

"A rat?" An eyebrow arched up curiously. "A rat encompassed by a Remy." A slight smirked formed on her lips. "It is nice to meet the both of you. I am Scout and I encompass a cougar." The woman gave a swift bow, her dark brown hair falling forward. "It's not very often I come across people, would you care to join me for dinner?" Scout lifted the duck up by its neck, showing what they would obviously be eating for dinner.

Instead of a handshake, he got a bow, and more peculiar diction. It was charming, really.

Cougar? Oh no wonder the rat was lifting its fur. Cat's in the carrier, my dude, it's all good. The rat might have been feeling like keeping its distance but the opposite was true of Remy; he found himself drawn to this arrow-slinging woman, and when she held up that duck by its pierced neck and asked if he wanted to join her for dinner, he was damn near ready to drop to one knee and ask her to marry him right there in that marsh.

"Oh hoh hoh, I couldn't say no to that! But shouldn't you be asking a younger feller out to dinner?" Remy winked, and not really waiting for an answer, he turned away for a moment to snap some dead branches off an old swamp snag. "Shall I build us a fire or are we taking this bird somewhere?" He thumbed behind him to the Colorado. "My truck's just right there if you want."

She cocked her head at the man and his comment, unsure of what he meant about a "younger feller". Her gaze moved to the vehicle off in the distance and frowned, shaking her head. "No need. We'll feast right here. Build a fire and I'll get this duck prepped." With her free hand, she slipped a knife out of her belt and flipped it skillfully in her fingers.

While she went to work removing all of the feathers from the bird, she eyed the man curiously. "Are you from around this area, Remy? You work as if you know the land pretty well, " she said, yanking a fist full of feathers off and tossing it to the side gently. The feathers would be saved for her pillow and the for her arrows. Nothing was to go to waste, not while she was around.

Honestly, eating the bird right there on the edge of the wetland where it had been harvested was more appealing to Remington than taking a drive. He grinned, happy to oblige, and set about cracking off dead twigs, picking up small branches, stripping off bits of birch bark and gathering handfulls of dried leaves. Many of these smaller materials ended up in his back pockets.

"Nah," he answered, glancing over his shoulder at Scout, who was plucking feathers and seemingly gathering them to the side. He arched a brow at this but was all smiles as he curiously wondered if she had planned on keeping them. "I moved into Red Rock not long ago, bought a bit of land up there. I'm just at home wherever I am," he laughed. "Especially out in places like these," he added, spreading his arms and indicating the nature around them.

Remington deposited his collection of tinder and kindling on the ground near to Scout. "Be right back," he said as he headed for his truck. From behind the back seat he retrieved a small axe, and then set about procuring larger branches and logs nearby. "What about you, Scout?" He paused after bucking a length of wood from a log and splitting it into four pieces. "From around here?"

As he explained where he was from, Scout pulled out a small tarp from one of her many pockets and unfolded it out flat on the ground. She didn't know names of places around here, perhaps that was all the signage she saw on the main roads. Hm.

Her fingers swiftly used the blade to cut away at the duck's chest to gut it. She laid out the innards on the tarp and began to dismember the carcass into manageable pieces for cooking. She looked up once or twice to see what Remy was doing. Silently, she was impressed with his fire building skills, her eyes following him to his truck and back with an axe in hand. The woman raised her eyebrows at the tool before going back to work. Only did she pause when he reciprocated the question back at her. "Hm? No. North, much more north. It has no name. Not like your places here," hse said, waving her blade back and forth to gesture at her surroundings.

Once the duck was prepped, she rose up from where she sat and made her way over to the fire in progress, dragging her bag with her. Scout squatted down and untied a section in her bag, pulling out several branches, perfectly peeled and cut into even pieces. She set them aside and retied her bag. "We'll add these to the fire once it has a good start. The smoke of these will add a good flavor to the meat," she explained.

"Oh, the No Name North, eh?" That was a bit odd but Remington was not one to get stuck in his head too much thinking about such things. "I bet it's awesome."

He plied his axe against the log again until he had another length quartered. Then he buried the axe head into the log and gathered his arm-load of wood and returned to his other supplies. Remy used his hands to clear a bed, then gathered in a pile his birch bark, small twigs, and a handful of dry leaves. Reaching into his back pocket he produced a lighter and a scrap bit of paper that had some old measurements on it. He lit this, and nested it in the tinder, igniting a small flame that he carefully tended, adding his kindling — smaller branches — bit by bit and breathing life into the fire until he had it going steady. His attention kept wandering to the duck-hunting woman while he did this.

She knew her way around a carcass, he noted, as his eyes scanned the duck.

Scout came beside him just as he started arranging the logs into the flame. "Well now you're just getting fancy," he laughed, stacking two more logs up with the rest until he had formed a teepee over his bed of burning kindling. This was the simplest and easiest of fires to build. "I can cut us a few spears and we can cook it piece by piece if you like. Or did you have something else in mind?" He probably had something in the truck he could turn into a proper rack.

Scout scrunched up her nose at his fancy comment. Fancy? Far from. A puff of air escaped her nostrils as she stared into the growing fire. The thought of this beautiful fatty duck hitting the fire, well, it made her close her eyes and lick her lips. Her cat purred happily with her. She was woken from her trance when the man suggested cutting a few sticks into spears.

Her eyes fluttered open and she nodded simply. "That would do just fine," she said. Not like she had many other cooking wares tucked away in her pack. Except a mug for tea and a couple jars for salve.

"Who taught you to build a fire?" the woman inquired with a jerk of her chin towards the flame. Even though she noted him using the lighter and some paper, she was still curious about how easily he knew just what the fire needed to grow strong.

With a nod, he set about procuring two spears, beginning by searching out two straight limbs with forked branches. One quick snap with the axe liberated them from the trunks of their trees.

"That would be my old man," he replied as he carefully plied the axe to clear any other branches from the stems and peeled the bark off the forked end. "He taught me how to hunt and fish too. How to forage. Taught me a lot of things." Smiling, Remy handed the two spears to Scout. "My father believed in living off the land as much as he could. Being one with nature and all that."

He crouched by the fire, felt the heat of the flame on the palms of his hands. It didn't matter the temperature outside, there was something comforting about the warmth of a fire.

"Who taught you how to shoot a bow?"

His story was not something she hadn't heard before. Well, because it was a story she lived. Scout took the sharpened sticks from him and took a duck breast and tightly speared it then placed it into the dirt near the fire for it to cook. She repeated this with a leg, liver, and the rest of the pieces. Some she put on right away while others she waited since their cooking time would be too drastically different.

Scout shifted in her stance and crouched down. "My father taught me all of that as well. Same for teaching me how to shoot a bow," she said, bringing her hands up to hold her face while she stared at the fire. "He didn't believe in living off the land as much as possible, it's just what my family and I did. I don't know any other life. Maybe he did, but I don't know. I learned to shoot a bow after I was able to make my own arrows."

He watched her work, carefully observing the technique and her selection of meats. She knew her way around a duck and a fire that was for sure. The smell of the flame licking at the fat and muscle had him humming in anticipation.

"Guess we both had good pa's eh?" Remy dropped to his rear and leaned back on his palms. "Didn't have a whole lot growing up. It wasn't until later on my early twenties that the family business took off and my folks started getting ahead and living a pretty comfortable life. So some of living off the land was necessity, some of it was that we lived in a small town that fostered that life anyway, and some of it was just preference. I can't imagine going about life any other way now. The closer I am to nature the more right I feel."

He was excited to get his homestead fixed up and get settled in such that he could get his garden going and map out where all the goodies on his property were. The thought had the man closing his eyes and smiling in peace.

"Do you exclusively hunt with a bow?"

"Guess we both had good pa's eh?" Scout turned his word's over and over in her head. Good pa's. She gave a quick but subtle nod.

"Feeling close to nature is what I live for. I am nature and nature is me," she cooed, watching a bit of fat drip off and sizzle into the flames. The smell was immediately and her stomach grumbled anxiously. "My bow is like an extension of me, but I prefer to let my feline do the hunting." It just felt more natural to her, and honestly, it was easier. But then a thought popped in her head.

She perked up and turned to the man, "C-can you and your inner beast hunt?" Scout was genuinely curious. While she awaited his answer, she slipped out a pocket knife and cut into the duck breast to check it's done-ness. Once satisfied, she cut off part of it and handed it over his way with greasy fat covered fingers.

Her words spoke to his soul.

He reached out to receive the offering of duck breast, beaming at it so much his grin stretched to his ears. Before he answered he had a bite. It tasted as much like heaven as it looked. Remy's bright expression and hums told the tale of approval. "God that's good stuff." The breast was too good to hold and look at. He ate it, and though he savored the taste it did not take long for him to finish it and suck his fingers clean. Only then did he finally answer.

"Sorry, hah, that was too good. I can make use of the rat's finer senses to help me in my hunts, but the rat himself ain't much of a hunter or predator. Hell of a forager though, he finds edibles tucked away in places hidden from my eye. But," he lifted a finger. "He can hunt frogs and things like that. That's fun, but I sure do envy you and your cat. Bet you can take down a deer eh?"

His rat could, he imagined, were it not, well, rat-sized. Even large-rat sized.

Scout gave a small smile as her company thoroughly enjoyed the meal, so much so, she pulled the entire stick from the ground holding the duck breast, and handed it his way. "Eat," she simply said. Meanwhile, she pulled off a piece of the duck's heart and eagerly ate it, also licking her fingers clean. Her cat purred happily as the metallic taste it left behind.

As the man explained his inner animal, she sort of frowned. Sure, rats were good at the foraging for food sort of thing, but she was reminded just how grateful she was to have her feline. She brought at hand to her chest and laid it palm side down; a gesture of acknowledging the cat. But as his conversation continued, she arched a brow at him.

"A deer? Yes, easily. Elk too. This time of year they are coming down into lower elevations, but the males are more aggressive too." she said between bites and sucking the underside of her fingernails clean. Scout cleared her throat and pulled her canteen from her bag, taking a large drink, letting water drip down her chin. "Do you live solely out here or do you live with the humans?"

His tongue swiped around his mouth as she handed him a stick of more meat. "Don't have to tell me twice," he quipped, and sure enough, another bite was disappearing down his gullet as his blue eyes rested upon her.

There might have been a pulse of jealously in his breast had Remy not accepted his beast and what he and it was so thoroughly, but instead he simply grinned at the thought of her tackling down an elk while on four paws.

"I ain't got no roommates or nothing so it's just me and a lot of land but I mingle often enough with the regular folk." He was a country boy, but he was not cut off from socieity. Sociable, he enjoyed being around others. "Keep to yourself out here in the wilds do you?"

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