Carpathia III: Episode 103: The Journey Within


Yseri, Desert Trail

The wind blew across the desert plain peacefully in stark contrast to the battle that just occurred. Jaze lay stiff and rigid on the ground, clutching the crystal with a knuckle-whitening grip. Jaze's eyes were shut tight and his breathing was erratic, as though he were in the midst of a nightmare. He was, however, at least breathing and his appearance had returned to the Jaze that they all knew. Slowly, the others made their way toward him, with Kaoru arriving first and Artemis, who seemed to have acquired no injury, following close behind.

Artemis: Who needs healing? I already healed myself, so I can get to the next person.

At the same time, Adell staggered up behind them, clutching his ribs.

Adell: Better get Azrael first, I think. He took a nasty punch.

The others turned their eyes over to Azrael, who was slowly crawling toward them, cradling his chest and dribbling blood from his mouth. His hesitant words clearly indicated that speaking came with great difficulty.

Azrael: Do not exert yourself on my account, Master Artemis. I will be fine. Please tend to the others.

Adell, Kaoru, and Artemis glanced around at the others, and though they were clearly injured in various degrees, they were at least able to walk upright. Azrael was, by far, in the worst condition.

Despite Azrael's protests, Artemis trotted over to him.

Azrael: Really, please don't trouble yourself. It would be unseemly if I could not take care of myself.

Artemis kneeled on the ground and reached out to Azrael, who immediately recoiled. Artemis rolled his eyes and let forth a low, gutteral growl, like a frustrated housecat.

Artemis: You protect us and we protect you. Now c'mere.

Artemis flexed his fingers, beckoning Azrael to come to him. Azrael first gazed up at Artemis, wide-eyed. For a moment, it appeared that his stoic facade melted away and Artemis could swear he saw a small smile grace his lips. Then, Azrael lowered his head and flopped to the ground. After that, he rolled on his back, fully exposing his belly like a puppy begging for a scratch.

Azrael: Very well. Do as you wish, Master Artemis.

While Artemis went to work on Azrael, the others gathered around Jaze, wondering what to do with him.

Kaoru: Are you okay, Quilyon?

Quilyon brushed some dust from her arms, but she otherwise appeared fine.

Quilyon: I'm fine. I just got shoved. What should we do with him?

With everyone staring at Jaze, deep in thought, several minutes went by in silence.

Adell: I don't know. I don't have any idea what's going on right now.

Kaoru: Can we take the crystal?

Adell rubbed his chin as he considered the possibility.

Adell: I don't see how. I don't know what would happen if we took it and the old man was very emphatic that two people should never touch the crystal at the same time. I think we just have to see how this plays out.

Azrael now approached, and, aside from a little blood on his chin, seemed back to his usual self.

Azrael: Under normal circumstances, judging from his breathing, heartbeat, and other subcutaneous activity, I would say that your friend is on fire. I believe that Adell is correct. I do not know how this crystal works, but if there is even a chance of its effects transferring to you, do not take it.

The others cast horrified glances at each other and then back down at Jaze, wondering what awful hell he must be going through.

_______________

Meanwhile

Fire.

Fire was everywhere. Jaze twisted and writhed where he was, desperately trying to find a way out of the hell sea that he was in. The intense, searing pain of the fire, however, ensured that any sort of movement was difficult, though somehow, through the pain, he noticed that he seemed to be suffering no physical effects at all. The skin on his arms was as fresh and new as if he had just stepped out of a spa. It was as if the fire was actually healing him, albeit painfully, like salt on a wound.

If only the job could be done more quickly. The roasting heat and excrutiating pain kept Jaze from mulling over any possible healing effects for too long and he wanted nothing more than to escape this hell.

Finally, after what felt like hours, the flames dissipated just as quickly as they started. Jaze found himself floating in a void, much like the one he was in just before he landed on Yseri. Ahead, was a small pinprick of light that was rapidly growing larger as he floated toward it. He'd seen this sort of thing in his astronomy books in school. It was a star and, as he came closer, he could see the tempest of hot gases and flames swirling around the surface.

As he came closer, however, he realized that he didn't feel any warmer. The temperature around him was comfortable and he could breathe with ease. Though his mind told him he would burn up soon if he approached, something inside him assured him that he would be safe. Not that he had a choice, anyway. Jaze drifted closer and closer until, finally, he serenely passed through the outer edges of the star's lake of fire.

The strange brew of flames and gas had no effect on him. The heat did not touch him. The gas did not suffocate him. Jaze let go of his mind and allowed himself to be taken, without struggle, to wherever he was being led. Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light and, for the first time since he entered the void, he could hear something: water.

His eyelids fluttering, it took some time for Jaze's eyes to adjust to his new surroundings. He was now sitting on the bank of a small creek, perched upon a rock. His feet dangled lightly in the cool, swirling waters. To his surprise, he found that he now held a crude fishing pole in his hand. It was just after that he felt something fuzzy brush upon his left ear. As his ear fluttered, Jaze looked up to seek the source of the fuzz. For a moment, he didn't understand what he was looking at, it had been so very long. The orange and black striped fur. The brown vest. The cheery, relaxed expression. It could only be his father. Without a word, Jaze tucked his head under his father's arm and gently nuzzled his side.

Tier wrapped his large, soft paw around Jaze's arm and pulled him close, giving Jaze a sense of comfort that he hadn't known in a long time. There was no Wishmaster. There was no Nekramentia. There was only himself, Tier, and the water splashing and swirling around his feet.

Without a word, Jaze remained where he was and allowed his mind to empty of everything except the here and now. Though a part of him knew that this, too, would have to end, he pushed away that thought as well and for as long as he could, he bathed in the comfort of his old life, feeling himself returned to childhood. As a dream, everything felt all too real, much like his meetings with Wishmaster, though infinitely less terrifying.

Recent memories, however, could not be kept at bay forever.

Trickling back as though drops from a stream, Jaze caught glimpses in his mind of Rhoskel and his stony, authoritarian demeanor. Later, the more tender moments of the short time he and Rhoskel co-habited came to the fore. He remembered Jump and his small hand that he only saw for fleeting moments pushing trays of extra food through his cell door. He thought of Mitani and his final last stand before Thirteen slit his throat.

The more Jaze tried to focus his mind elsewhere, the more he remembered of the people he knew and he could no longer stop the tears from welling up in his eyes. Jaze tried to bury his face more deeply into his father's side, but it was no use. The tears now dripped from his eyes and it also became impossible to restrain his sniffles.

Tier squeezed Jaze even tighter into his body, causing him to lose the last of his will to maintain composure as he broke down into sobs.

Now holding the fishing pole limply in his right hand, he put his left around his father and let all his emotions pour out of him like a burst faucet. Dream or not, he spoke to his father through his sobs as though he were really sitting next to him.

Jaze: I'm in a horrible place. I want to come home, but I don't know how.

Tier gently rubbed his paw on Jaze's arm in a futile attempt to comfort him.

Jaze: I've done... terrible things. I didn't mean to... I just...

Unable to continue, Jaze simply ceased speaking, waiting for comforting words from his father.

Tier: I'm sure you've done the best you can. You're a good person, Jaze. Don't lose sight of that.

Jaze lifted his head and looked into his father's sincere eyes. Through glassy, watery vision, he gazed around himself, taking in his surroundings for the first time. The stream was on the edge of a forest, with rolling hills on the other side. That was when he saw it for the first time.

On the other side of the stream was what he thought, at first, was a giant bird laying on the ground, its black, feathery wings spread wide. It was only later that he noticed that there was a human-like body attached to those wings, laying face down in the grass. Alarmed, the fishing pole slipped out of Jaze's hand.

Jaze: What's that?

Jaze pointed to what he'd just seen on the other side of the stream and Tier followed his finger with his eyes.

Tier: I don't know. It wasn't there before.

Slowly, Jaze stood, and Tier allowed him to slip from his arm. Hesitantly, he stepped away from his father and leaned forward trying to get a better look. Now, he could tell that the person on the ground was injured in some way. Feathers were missing from the wing, leaving exposed, bloody bone. Whoever it was, they appeared to be hurt.

Jaze glanced back and forth between the being on the ground and his father, instilled both with a desire to help and unwillingness to leave Tier's side.

Jaze: I don't want to go...

Jaze's voice trailed off when he lost the words to complete his thoughts. Tier, however, simply smiled knowingly and serenely, the same look he has when he's about to dispense fatherly wisdom.

Tier: But you have to go, Jaze. You wouldn't be you if you didn't.

Upon hearing these words, which struck Jaze like a punch to the gut, his body spasmed as tears poured forth from his from his eyes once more.

Tier: I would go with you, but it seems that I cannot move from this spot.

Tier wiggled his body, as though attempting to dislodge himself from the rock upon which he sat, but he could not. Jaze glanced one more time at the being in the grass before resigning himself to his fate.

Jaze: I guess you're right.

Hanging his head low, Jaze slowly turned away and hesitantly took another step toward the stream, looking for the best place to cross.

Tier: Jaze.

Jaze stopped and turned, grateful for any reason to delay moving further away from his father.

Tier: Whatever happens... or whatever has happened... don't ever forget that I love you and I'll always be proud of you.

Jaze sniffled as his trembling lips expanded into a small smile.

Jaze: Thanks. I love you too, Dad.

Again, Jaze glanced at the person laying in the grass. However, this time, when his eyes tracked back to his father, he was gone. Tier was not there. The fishing poles were gone. It was as though he had never been there at all. His heart heavy, there was only one thing left to do. Jaze sniffled and wiped the tears from his eyes. It was time to see who was on the other side of the stream.

_______________

Meanwhile

The balmy, night air hung like a wet curtain over Rune Lake, where Jaze's parents slept. Rather, they should be sleeping, but Tier sat on the edge of his bed holding his chin in his paws, deep in contemplation. Tier's tail flopped back and forth, sending a reverberating "pat pat" through the mattress. Elektra, who was attempting to sleep on the other side of the bed, stirred and moaned before rolling over.

Elektra: Dear, what's wrong? You know I can't sleep when you do that.

Tier took a deep breath and kept his gaze on the wall before him.

Tier: Jaze is alive. I'm sure of it.


Commissioned art in this episode from:
Miyumon
Jenova87
Ensoul
Thatwildmary
Pokeguin
Iniphineas

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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