Carpathia III: Episode 26 - Is Anybody Out There?

Nekramentia Compound

Jaze yawned as he gazed thoughtfully out at the Nekramentia Compound tower. Everything around him suggested a story far bigger than what was readily apparent, and the more he thought about his surroundings, the less sense everything made. Where did the tower come from? He knew there was no way it was built by Maelstrom or his child army. It was all they could do just to keep the place from falling apart. Everything around him suggested something that once held a great deal more splendor than it now did.

Again and again, thoughts of simply running away filled his mind. He knew he had little chance of success, however. Even though night guard duty was very thin on personnel, the lights from the tower meant that it would have been difficult to slip by unseen. The situation was even more difficult as the only part of the compound not surrounded by the hazardous Arid Sea was a narrow strip of land. Naturally, this was where there were always more guards stationed.

In the beginning, he hated night guard duty, since nighttime, when it was cooler, was the perfect time for sleeping. Jaze didn't feel much like sleeping lately. When it was hot, he could only sleep in short, shallow segments. When it was cool at night, he could sleep deeply, but more and more often, he felt as though a shadow was descending upon his dreams. Every time he went to sleep, he could feel something cold and foreboding enveloping him and, more than once, he thought he could see a pair of yellow eyes, like a cold fire, glaring down at him.

Jaze slapped his cheeks a couple of times to snap himself out of his funk. He adjusted the rifle slung over his back and rounded the bastion towards the Arid Sea once again. He wasn't even sure why he was even given a gun for his patrols. Nobody ever tried to escape. Even if they did, he surely wasn't going to shoot at anyone, punishments be damned.

Jaze gazed longingly up at the stars, wondering which light was Carpathia's star. He wondered if he would even be able to see it, as he couldn't even be sure if he was in the same galaxy anymore. He wondered if he was at least looking towards his home and if his mother and father were looking back. As his eyes began to tear, he reached into his sock and pulled out his camera. No matter what, he was determined to document his life and especially his location as much as possible. If he were ever to get home, he wanted to be able to tell people what was going on here.

He held the camera towards the stars and looked into the viewscreen. Just before he snapped the shot, he thought he saw a dark figure flitting about within the frame. He lowered the camera and gazed out into the night. It didn't take long for him to spot what he was looking for and he wondered if his eyes were playing tricks on him. He saw a human-like figure in the distance with massive wings manically circling around, pausing once in awhile and spreading his arms and legs wide. The figure kept this up for several minutes before it finally stopped, hovering in mid-air with legs crossed and hand over its mouth, looking just as perplexed as Jaze was feeling.

The figure then suddenly swooped swiftly down below the guard tower. Jaze hesitated for a moment and then shakily stepped towards the wall.

Creature: BOO!

Jaze: Gah!

Jaze leapt high into the air as the creature suddenly poked his head above the wall. He could see him much more clearly now. He appeared male, judging from his flat chest, but that was just a guess. His wings were massive, as were his ears, and stood out even more agasint his exceptionaly slender, light frame.

Jaze clutched his chest and stared at the creature, wondering what he would do next.

Creature: Oh, you are a jumpy one, aren't you? What's that in your hand?

The creature grinned devilishly at him, showing his long, pointed teeth, and pointed to his camera. Jaze hastily shoved the camera back into his sock.

Jaze: What's what?

Creature: Ha! You're funny! Okay, I'll play. I didn't see anything!

The creature smiled again and started tucking himself entirely within the crenel of the battlement and folded his wings onto his back. Jaze watched in amazement as he dexterously squeezed himself into the tiny opening.

Creature: So, I've never seen you before. Strange. You're old. I should have seen you a lot by now. So why didn't you shoot at me?

The creature was silent, seemingly awaiting a response. Jaze finally managed to stammer one out.

Jaze: I... uh... Actually, I just got here. And why would I shoot at you?

The creature's eyebrows raised for a moment.

Creature: Everyone here tries to shoot me. They always miss, but it's funny to watch them try. But wow, if you're new here, Maelstrom must be getting desperate.

Sizing up the newcomer, Jaze felt it was reasonable to assume that he was quite mischievous, but not dangerous. At the very least, he was not a friend of Maelstrom. A foe, hopefully? Jaze started to relax a little.

Jaze: What are you and how do you know so much?

Creature: Hey, there you are. 'Bout time you snapped out of it.

The creature lifted his foot and scratched his face like a dog. Again, Jaze was astounded at his dexterity as he watched the creature chew on his own clawed toes. Jaze was now taking his time to get a better look at what now crouched before him. He looked to be no more than 16 or 17 in human years, but that was judging solely on his stature. Since he had no idea what species he was, he couldn't determine his age.

Suddenly, one of the massive ears on the creature twitched.

Creature: Someone's coming. Act natural.

Without another word, the creature leapt soundlessly over Jaze's head. Jaze looked up and all he could see was the pointed roof of the bastion. Suddenly, he realized the roof had a different texture. It was the creature's wings, folded around his entire body, blending nearly perfectly with his surroundings.

Jaze took the creature's advice and acted as naturally as he could, continuing to scan the vicinity as though he cared about guarding anything.

Jump: Hi, Chaos.

Jaze turned to see Jump coming towards him.

Jaze: Oh, Jump. I didn't think I'd see you here.

Jump: I'm going to the other side. Change of scenery, you know. Later!

Jump kept walking past Jaze towards the other side of the compound.

Jaze: Don't be too hard on me tomorrow.

Jump turned his head back towards Jaze as he kept walking in the other direction.

Jump: You'll never beat me!

Jaze watched as Jump faded into the distance. Again, he patrolled his immediate area, wondering if the winged creature would return.

Eventually, Jaze caught a quick flurry of movement out of the corner of his eye. He looked towards the battlement to see the creature tucked, once again, into the crenel.

Creature: Oh, "Chaos," is it? You must have raised some ruckus to get a name like that.

Jaze: I might have. My real name is Jaze, though.

Creature: Jaze, eh? That has a nice sound. I tell you what. You can ask me four questions and I promise I'll answer as honestly as I can.

The creature grinned again, clearly enjoying himself. Jaze was already starting to get annoyed at the games.

Jaze: You're joking, right?

Creature: Nope, I'm not joking. I've decided that I like you, so I want to help you out. Not too much though, because I also want to see what you do on your own too. Three questions left.

The creature unfolded one of his wings and he scratched at the claw on the end of it.

Jaze: Hey, I didn't ask anything yet!

Creature: "You're joking, right?" That's a question. Three left!

Jaze's pride didn't want to let him proceed further with what he considered a ridiculous charade, but he also knew this was his best opportunity to gain valuable information. He swallowed his pride and thought carefully about what his three questions would be. He finally decided that he wanted to know who the creature was, what he knew about Maelstrom and the compound, and if there was any chance of escape.

Jaze: Okay, first question... well, second... Anyway, who are you?

Creature: Not much to know there. My name is Keast and I'm a bat. I don't really know more than that. I don't remember my family or anything before I came here. There are other bats here, but they don't like to meet others. I guess I'm a bit strange like that.

Though Jaze didn't gain much information, he hoped it would help him to establish a rapport with Keast. Having a friend who can fly, he thought, could be very useful in the future.

Jaze: I'm a nekohuman from Carpathia. I came here not long ago through some kind of wormhole. I think they call it a "portal" here.

Keast shifted impatiently on the battlement.

Keast: Yes, yes, it's nice to meet you. Now, hurry it up, or I'll leave whether you ask all your questions or not.

Jaze: Okay, okay. So, what do you know of Maelstrom and this place?

Keast: Well, that's a big question, so I'll try to stick to the important stuff. Maelstrom is the leader of this area, but you already know that, I'm sure. He's been taking children, mostly boys, from other worlds for many, many years. I don't know why. He's made a lot of changes over the years, I know that. He doesn't bring bats anymore. We always fly away before he can remove our wings. I've never met Maelstrom in person though, and from what I've heard, I'm glad I haven't. What I have learned today is that if you're here and you just arrived, then something has gone very, very wrong. Maelstrom doesn't like older boys. They are more difficult to control.

Jaze didn't learn as much as he had hoped with that question, but his last statement, at least, confirmed a suspicion. He could tell nearly from the beginning that his arrival was an anomaly, perhaps even moreso than he had thought.

Jaze: I'm not the only one. There is another my age who arrived not long after me.

Keast suddenly sat up straight and leaned forward, scratching the corner of his mouth with the thick, black claw on the end of one of his fingers.

Keast: Really? Now that is interesting news.

Jaze: How do I get out of here?

Keast: Yup, saw that question coming. I don't know how you get out of here. I flew out. Obviously, you can't, and you're much too heavy for me to carry. But, like I said, I like you, so I'll answer the question you should've asked. "Where do I go once I get out of here?" Now that I can answer. No good options though, I'm afraid. There are a couple of villages south of here, but they are sad, depressing places. Little food and water there and the people are barely making it. The nearest good village is to the north, but you have to cross the sand to get to it. You'll need a pair of wings like mine or a sandboat to do it.

Despite what Jaze had been told before, there was, at least, somewhere he could go if he managed to escape and he was grateful for that information. He decided to push his luck and ask one more question.

Jaze: Have you seen any tokki here?

Keast's yellow eyes widened and he gave Jaze another toothy grin.

Keast: Oh, you filthy little rulebreaker. You know, since you've given me some good information, I'll play along. First, what's a tokki?

Jaze long ago noticed that there were no tokki at the compound and, judging from Keast's reaction, he guessed there were few or none on the planet. He wasn't sure if this was good news.

Jaze: They look a lot like me, but they have really long ears and little, poofy tails.

Keast: Interesting. I have to say, I've never seen nor heard of such a creature.

Jaze swallowed as he clasped his fingers together and squeezed.

Jaze: I see. Thanks anyway. You've given me some things to think about, at least.

Keast leaned far forward, towards Jaze's face, and tilted his head back and forth.

Keast: This tokki is special to you.

Jaze opened his mouth, but no sound came out. Instead, he could only nod.

Keast: Tell me what this tokki looks like.

Jaze considered rapidly if it was a good idea to tell Keast about Toma. Desperate for help, he made up his mind quickly. He composed himself and described Toma as quickly as he could.

Jaze: He's a little taller than me, not including the ears. Black hair. Black ears. Black and white tail. Gold eyes. His name is Toma.

Keast stood up on the battlements and spread his wings.

Keast: If I hear or see anything, I'll let you know. Something tells me that your arrival will cause a lot of changes here. And nothing is more interesting than watching chaos from above!

Keast leapt from the battlements and flew a short distance away.

Keast: We will meet again!

Keast turned and flew away. Jaze watched as he faded into the night sky. For the first time in many months, he felt something he hadn't felt in a very long time: hope.

Commissioned art in this episode from:

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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