Carpathia III: Episode 120: Gravestone

The Outlands, Yseri

Nita's house was big enough, barely, for the newcomers. The villagers cheerily scraped together whatever they could find to make everyone comfortable. Even more beds were hauled up to the house until everyone had a place to sleep, including a baby-size rocking cradle for Ryuu.

And sleep everyone did, well into late morning. Even Ryuu stayed, and upon awakening the next morning, he bid farewell to the sleepy group, taking especially long with Zet, and flew away to commence his quest to find the other dragon.

The rest took their time crawling from their beds, keen to enjoy the soft mattresses on their weary bones. Kaoru was the first one out and Jaze found him by the front porch tending the flowers. Jaze took a deep breath, taking comfort in the familiar sweet smell of Nita's garden.

Jaze: Good morning.

Kaoru snipped a leaf from the stem of one of the flowers and looked up.

Kaoru: Hi, Jaze. I found some scissors and thought I'd tend the flowers.

Jaze leaned against the porch post and sighed heavily.

Kaoru: You alright?

Jaze: I thought it would be weird being in that house again without Nita. But, with the new floor and all the beds everywhere, it seems like a completely different place.

Kaoru yanked at a particularly stubborn weed in the flowerbed.

Kaoru: Funny that I kinda know what you mean. After what Ryuu showed us, it's like I was here myself.

Kaoru gave the weed another hard yank. The stubborn plant cracked the surrounding dirt as it began to release its grip. Jaze turned and looked at the front door.

Jaze: Speaking of all the beds, there's no room to cook in there. I wonder if Jacob might let us use his kitchen.

Jacob: Someone talkin' about food?

Kaoru and Jaze turned abruptly and spotted Jacob, grinning widely, followed closely by Roose and Aten. Jacob tightly gripped the bail handles of two large dutch ovens, holding both away from his body as steam streamed from the lid. Aten had a pile of blankets under his arms and Roose held a collection of bowls and utensils. Jacob alarmed Jaze and Kaoru most, however, as he was not only carrying two massive pots, but with his arms outstretched. Kaoru forgot about the weed he was working on immediately and ran to Jacob with Jaze following close behind.

Kaoru: Holy crap, that looks heavy! Let me take one.

Before Jacob could respond, Kaoru had already removed one of the pots from Jacob's hands. Right away, he regretted taking it so hastily. The weight was far more than he guessed and he nearly dropped the pot, along with its contents, on the ground. At the last moment, he managed to save it, but not before everyone gasped at the sight of the pot swaying precariously on its bail handle.

Jacob: I was gonna say that's heavy, but I reckon you know that by now. Anyway, I knew you didn't have any way to cook, so I made a nice, big stew to bring over. Got some blankets too. Figured we could make a picnic out of it.

Before Jacob finished his last sentence, Aten was already spreading blankets out on the ground. Kaoru wasted no time putting the dutch oven he was carrying on the first one that Aten rolled out.

Jaze: I'll go get everyone!

Jaze trotted back into the house to rouse the rest of the group while Kaoru helped Roose and Aten arrange the blankets.

Kaoru: I'm not sure if anyone told you this, but Toma can only eat fruits and vegetables.

Jacob smiled and placed the final oven on one of the blankets.

Jacob: Not a problem! Jaze told me that and I didn't forget. This one is completely veggie. The one you took has meat.

Jacob pulled the lid from the oven, releasing a small mushroom cloud of steam. Already detecting the aroma of its contents, Kaoru scrambled to it and peered inside. Indeed, it was crammed to the brim with a colorful assortment of simmering garden bounty. Beside Kaoru, Aten jumped up and down excitedly.

Aten: I helped make it!

Kaoru: Oh, after all those days of stale bread and jerky, this is gonna be good!

It didn't take long for a steady stream of half-awake people to start pouring out of the house. In short order, the entire party was quickly lured out with the promise of a hot meal and further enticed the the aroma of Jacob's cooking wafting around the area. Though pleasantries were exchanged and gratitude was given, there was little conversation beyond that, as the hungry newcomers devoured the contents of the two ovens rapidly. Jacob didn't seem to mind, however, smiling heartily while the others so clearly enjoyed the meal they ravenously destroyed.

It only took a few minutes for everyone to finish and now, everyone was wide awake.

Jacob: I suppose now you'd all like a wash in the river.

While the others nodded in agreement, Jaze had other ideas.

Jaze: Jacob, did you find two bodies in the house after I left? I was curious what happened to them.

Jacob: As a matter of fact, we did. Couldn't get the floor clean, so we replaced it. They're buried just up the hill. We didn't know their names, so the stones are blank.

Jaze assumed that Jacob would understand more than anyone what he wanted to do next, since he had come from Nekramentia himself.

Jaze: I know their names. They weren't bad people... They were just in a bad situation. I was wondering if you had a hammer and chisel. I know their names.

Jacob: Yeah, I got that. You wanna carve their names into the stones? You wanna do it before going to the river?

Jaze: It makes sense, right? I'll just dirty myself up again anyway.

The others listened surreptitiously and now Adell decided to interject.

Adell: If you want, I can cut their names into the stone. It'll be easy for me.

Jaze hadn't considered that idea and though he considered it for a few seconds, he chose to reject it.

Jaze: Thanks, Adell, but this is something I want to do by myself.

Jaze looked past Adell at everyone else. They were all still there, mostly stacking the bowls and utensils and rolling up the blankets.

Jaze: Everyone, I know this is going to sound strange, but you go ahead to the river. I want to carve the names into the stones myself and then, once I get everything right, I'll... um... I guess, "introduce you" isn't exactly the right way to put it, but that's all I can think of right now.

Hardly a moment passed before Kaoru spoke up with words of encouragement.

Kaoru: Not a problem. Let us know if you need help, alright?

Jaze: Thanks, Kaoru.

Only one more thing to do and that was to reassure Toma before sending him to the river with the others.

Jaze: See you soon, Toma.

Jaze gave Toma a peck on the lips while stroking his ears.

Toma: After, we'll find a private spot and I'll wash you myself.

Jacob: Well, now that's all settled, I'll go randle up that hammer and chisel for you.

Jacob grabbed one of the ovens and trotted off toward his house with it, followed by several others, carrying bowls, utensils, blankets, and the other oven. In no time at all, Jacob returned and handed Jaze a hammer and chisel as promised in addition to a charcoal pencil, which he explained would be useful for writing the letters before carving them. Jacob pointed out the location of the cemetary and that the older nekohuman was buried to the left of the younger one. Jaze thanked him and they went their separate ways, Jaze up the hill and everyone else down.

It wasn't hard to find the place that Jacob indicated. The cemetary was obvious and he quickly found the only two blank headstones next to each other, just as Jacob said. Pausing at the site, Jaze sniffled and wiped a tear from his cheek. The soil at his feet was still loose and the gravestone shiny and smooth. Nearby, he caught sight of Nita's stone. All three graves had cheerfully colorful flowers planted on them.

Jaze sat on the ground by the gravestone on the left, Rhoskel's, carefully positioning himself so as not to sit on the grave itself or the flowers. Taking a deep breath, he reached up and touched the top. It wobbled ever so slightly and Jaze wondered if Jacob meant to place it in such a way that it could be modified easily later, given that it was unfinished. Regardless, it still took a hard push to dislodge it from its dirt foundation and he gently laid it on the ground.

Jaze thought for a moment how he should inscribe the gravestone, hovering over it for several minutes with his charcoal pencil in hand. Deciding to keep it simple, owing to his inexperience, he chose to write the name straight across in large, block letters. It took a few tries to get the name centered properly, but he managed. It was fortunate that the charcoal pencil was easy to erase with his hand so that he could start anew.

Now came the tricky part. The charcoal pencil could be erased, but that was not so once he started chipping away at the stone. Would it flake? Shatter? He had no idea. Jaze carefully placed the chisel on the stone, starting with the straight edge of the R. Giving the chisel a light tap with the hammer caused little to happen. Jaze progressively tapped the chisel harder and harder until he began to achieve results. Soon, Jaze knew more about stone than he ever imagined. Expecting the gravestone to be crumbly, he discovered that there was a certain quality to the stone that he had difficulty describing. The adjective that passed through his mind over and over was "soft," even though the stone was as hard as any other. Regardless, instead of crumbling away, the places he chiseled flaked away like ice shavings. It made sense now that this sort of stone would be used for graves. This was easier than he expected.

Jaze didn't know how long he worked on the gravestones, as he concentrated solely on doing the best job he could. The stone continued to be forgiving throughout the process and he subconsciously hummed a lively tune that was echoing through his mind. Soon after he was finished, he heard footsteps softly approaching him from behind.

Kaoru: Hey.

Jaze turned to find Kaoru behind him. Jaze smiled sadly and nodded his head to the ground. Kaoru understood and took a seat next to him.

Kaoru: I wanted to see how you were doing. I also wanted to give you fair warning that Azrael is doing a security audit of the entire village. He's sure to pass by here soon.

Jaze: Sounds like him. I probably wouldn't even have noticed, though.

Kaoru: By the way, that was pretty, whatever it was you were humming. What was that?

Jaze scrunched up his face momentarily before slapping Kaoru playfully on the shoulder.

Jaze: Oh, come on. You know that nekohumans can't even hum nicely, least of all me.

Kaoru giggled and shook his head.

Kaoru: I'm serious! It was pretty. Now what was it? Just sing a little. It's just us. I won't tell anyone.

Kaoru leaned forward in eager anticipation. Rather than argue the point, Jaze decided it would be best to teach Kaoru a lesson by gracing him with the unmistakable awfulness of his singing voice.

Jaze: Would you fall, give it all, would you give it all for me

Kaoru's eyes widened and even Jaze was surprised. What came out of his mouth was surprisingly soft and gentle.

Kaoru: That was great! Do more!

Curious himself about this heretofore unknown talent, Jaze tried again to make sure it wasn't a fluke.

Jaze: Would you fall, give it all, would you give it all for me
Suckerpunch those demons from my dreams!

Kaoru smiled broadly and egged Jaze on.

Kaoru: That's amazing! Don't stop now!

Now fully emboldened, Jaze closed his eyes and took a deep breath, preparing to give it everything he had.

Jaze: Get out of my dreeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaammmmmmssss!!!

Kaoru clapped enthusiastically and Jaze was stunned into silence. If Kaoru hadn't been sitting next to him, listening and approving, he wouldn't have believed his own ears. A voice behind them, however, interrupted the reverie.

Azrael: What did you say?!

At the same time, Jaze and Kaoru realized the other interpretation of the lyrics and both struggled for a way to hastily explain to Azrael what they meant. However, before this could happen, Azrael pulled out his sword and stood before them with a comically serious look on his face.

Azrael: I will defend the honor of my people!

Both Jaze and Kaoru struggled to maintain their composure, daring not even to breathe. For awhile, they managed, but that all ended when they looked at each other and suddenly each knew what the other was thinking. Together, they collapsed on the ground in hysterics.

Jaze and Kaoru: Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

Azrael lowered his sword as his eyes widened like a confused puppy. At the same time, Adell approached the group as well.

Azrael: Did I say something wrong?

Adell put his hand on Azrael's shoulder and guided him away.

Adell: Come on, Azrael. It's not what you think. I'll explain it to you.

Reluctantly, Azrael allowed himself to be guided away while he sheathed his sword.

Azrael: I do not understand, Master Adell. Was I not intimidating?

Commissioned art in this episode from:

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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