Carpathia III: Episode 118: The Death Races
The group continued their journey, plodding forth slowly as they took care to keep everyone close together. As usual the journey was monotonous and uneventful, until Kaoru noticed Quilyon sniffing the air. This was usually not a good sign.
Kaoru: Is it something bad?
Quilyon sniffed again and was now joined by Ryuu and Zet doing the same.
Quilyon: Not bad. Just strange, really. I smell a lot of reekweed, which is overpowering everything else. I didn't think it grew outside the forest.
Overhearing the conversation, Adell looked to Azrael for advice.
Adell: Should we do something?
Azrael didn't answer for several moments. When he finally spoke, he seemed unsure.
Azrael: I am inclined to err on the side of caution. We should tighten our group for now.
Adell: That's good enough for me. Reuli! Wolfram!
As was often the situation, Reuli and Wolfram were several feet away from the entourage, but had learned to come immediately when called. More than anything else, Toma's story and the incident at Volcano was enough to convince them of that.
Reuli: What's wrong? Did we go too far?
Quilyon, aware of what Adell was up to, kneeled in front of Reuli and Wolfram.
Quilyon: No, you were fine. Azrael just thinks we should stay close for awhile, so we'd like you to stay in the middle of everyone, okay?
Reuli and Wolfram knew Azrael well enough to understand that they should do as told and both moved to the middle of the group. Azrael took a few moments to rearrange everyone in a strategic fashion, with Kaoru and Quilyon taking point, Zet and Artemis in the rear, Ryuu circling overhead, and everyone else arranged along the middle. With their party rearranged, they continued forward once again.
Quilyon: That smell is getting stronger.
Out of both caution and confusion, the party continued ahead, with everyone keeping watch for anything unusual. For most, this turned out to be a futile endeavor, as most didn't even realize what had happened until it was all over.
The first sign that most had that something was awry was the sound of Azrael's sword being unsheathed, recognizing the unmistakable sound of metal scraping against metal. With lightning speed, Azrael thrust his sword into the chest of a man who was just emerging from a trap door hidden in the ground. On the other side, Phobos and Deimos subdued a man who was emerging from another trap door. Ryuu assisted in subduing the man while both of the little androids tore off the man's shirt and made quick work of ripping it apart and using the shreds as makeshift bondage. A third was momentarily stunned into inaction, giving Adell enough time to break the trap door above his head, sending it collapsing in on top of him. In no more than a few harried seconds, the battle was finished.
Azrael leaped into the open door nearest to him and began searching the underground lair right away while Jaze, Adell, and Artemis kept an eye on the one that Phobos and Deimos subdued. Quilyon quickly grabbed one of her guns for herself and tossed another to Zet and one to Kaoru, both of whom deftly caught them. Quiyon, Kaoru, and Zet hurried quickly away from the scene with Reuli, Wolfram, Kagurain, and the pack animal in tow. Toma followed briefly, but stopped, allowing the caravan to proceed without him.
Ryuu: We got him!
Finally, those who remained calmed themselves as Azrael popped out of the underground bunker.
Azrael: There is nobody else.
Azrael climbed out of the hole and dusted himself off before placing his sword back in its sheath.
Azrael: My apologies, Master Adell and Master Artemis. I understand that I was not to kill, but I was not able to fulfill your wishes this time.
Adell glanced at the remains of the trap door from which the third man attempted to exit.
Adell: You did fine, Azrael. I think I just killed one of them too.
Azrael: He is dead, indeed. I hope this does not distress you.
Adell rubbed his nose and glanced around nervously.
Adell: Honestly, I'm not sure. I mean... Everything happened so fast.
Azrael: At least we now know from where the reekweed originated. The bunker is full of it, likely to mask their scent. It worked very well.
Artemis waved them over to the man that Phobos and Deimos captured.
Artemis: The question now is what we're going to do with this guy. We can't take him with us.
The man on the ground did not speak and remained almost face-down in the dirt, gritting his teeth and growling angrily with each breath he took, nostrils flairing from his scared, pockmarked face. The man was grungy and smelly, and not just from the fight. His long, greasy hair spread out from his head in clumps around his filthy shoulders. If it were possible to judge all people from the way they looked, nobody would guess this was a good guy.
Toma: We can't take him with us or let him go.
The man's eyes suddenly widened and his breathing quickened as the others turned to see Toma approaching. Jaze, especially, was alarmed by the sight of Toma's narrowed eyes and grim expression. Toma stood tall and forbidding as he stepped heavily toward the man, with an uncharacteristic malice oozing forth from every manner of his demeanor.
Toma: I know this man.
Ryuu leaped from the man's back as Toma slowly placed his boot on the back of his neck, increasing pressure on it little by little until the man appeared to have difficulty breathing.
Toma: May the fangs of Nibelakul gnaw at your living bones for all agonizing time without end. It would still be better than you deserve.
Everyone around Toma reacted in surprise, but none moreso than Jaze, whose mouth flopped open and eyes widened until they appeared ready to simply topple out of his skull.
Before anyone could say anything, Toma lifted his foot and stomped with full force onto the man's neck. Jaze jumped backward in shock and the others winced just as the man's spine snapped. Toma kicked the man's body into the open trap door and he tumbled inside. After that, Toma simply walked away.
Before Toma stomped on the man's neck, Jaze was concerned that Toma had possibly become a monster. Now, he was sure that there was something deeper that he could not see. Jaze knew a lot about monsters, and he knew that Toma was no monster. Toma made no attempt to run, and instead plodded mournfully away. Jaze caught up to him quickly.
Jaze: Toma, are you okay?
Toma came slowly to a halt, his last step dragging along the ground. Jaze circled around Toma, standing directly in front of him. Jaze tried to look into his eyes, but Toma kept his eyes shut and head turned away. Jaze stepped in closer and wrapped his arms around Toma, who suddenly sank to the ground as though someone had just kicked his legs out from underneath him. Through tears, Toma struggled to speak as the others, including Quilyon's group, gathered around, respectfully keeping some distance.
Toma: I didn't tell you about the worst part. The Death Races... They forced people to run through obstacle courses where one bad step sent you tumbling into spikes or sliced with swinging blades. There were springs that catapulted people into walls of spears and spinning blades that sliced anyone who came near.
Jaze said nothing and just listened as Toma sniffed and inhaled sharply.
Toma: It wasn't just the fighters like us who were forced to do it. On special nights, they would bring in entire kidnapped families to run the races. The finish was a plunge into spikes. If you finished, your remaining family went free. If you didn't, then another family member had to try. You could hear the screams all the way down in the dormitories. There was no escaping it. When I first arrived, I was the one who had to clean the blood from the traps the next day.
Toma lifted his head briefly and glanced toward the trap door where the man he killed once lay.
Toma: That man was in charge of kidnapping people for the Death Race and designing the courses.
Toma turned his head again and buried his face into Jaze's chest. Jaze said nothing and only stroked Toma's ears gently.
Toma: You said before that Ryuu could read and share my memories. I don't want anyone to see or hear the things I have seen and heard. I would not wish that on anyone.
Everyone waited, but no more of the story appeared to be forthcoming from Toma. He and Jaze simply remained on the ground, locked in embrace like a statue, and appeared content to remain that way for now. Adell was the first to turn away, stepping gingerly toward the bunker where their latest ordeal began. Soon after, Kaoru followed.
Adell: We should do something about this. It wouldn't be good for us if someone came here and found a load of dead bodies.
Kaoru: I have an idea about that. I never had a chance to say anything since there was so much going on.
Kaoru kneeled and placed his hand on the ground, as though he was sensing something.
Kaoru: There is a vein of water close to the surface here. It's probably the reason why they chose to put a bunker here in the first place.
Kaoru took a step forward, still crouching, and felt the ground more.
Kaoru: The water pressure is a bit high. It wouldn't take much to bring it to the surface.
Adell stroked his chin, trying to understand what Kaoru was implying.
Adell: I'm not sure what you want to do here.
Kaoru stood and faced Adell.
Kaoru: You can collapse the bunker and I'll draw the water out. It will be a nice little pond. Hopefully, people would think that the water broke through and they drowned.
Adell paused, considering Kaoru's proposal. It seemed like a sound idea. There was no place on the flat, desert plain to hide bodies. Unable to consider a better solution, he agreed.
Adell: Alright, sounds like a plan.
Kaoru: Just make sure that the bodies are under something heavy. We don't want them floating to the surface.
Both turned to the group to announce their intentions.
Kaoru: Everyone stand back. We're going to create a pond here.
The others turned their heads to Adell and Kaoru and then to each other. After a few moments, all began to step away. Adell and Kaoru followed as well, until they were beyond the boundaries of the bunker.
Adell: Here it goes.
Adell adopted a wide stance and flexed his fingers. The others watched as Adell remained still and dropped his fists down to his side, his only movement now being the rise and fall of his chest and shoulders as he breathed deeply several times. Finally, with one last gulp of air, he raised his fist into the air and struck down hard at the ground. From the point of impact, the cavern collapsed in a cascade away from his fist. The hideout was much larger than any of them thought, fit enough to hold a few dozen people if necessary.
With Adell's part complete, they were now faced with a massive hole many feet deep. Kaoru kneeled at the edge of the hole and placed his hands on the ground and for awhile, he remained that way, deep in concentration. Finally, he stood, gazing at a point in the middle of the rubble and speaking to nobody in particular.
Kaoru: Over there...
Kaoru moved his arms and hands end over end, as though he were pulling a rope slowly toward himself. The others watched, though nothing appeared to be happening at first. Finally, the debris in the hole began to shudder slightly and increased in intensity. Kaoru did not break his motions, still fluidly moving his arms and hands until water began to trickle from beneath the ground. Suddenly, the water broke through in a torrent and rapidly began to fill the new basin. Kaoru stopped his arm movements and watched, with everyone else, as the water poured forth. In time, the cavern where so many lives had been ruined became a sparkling oasis.
All city pictures from SimCity 4