Carpathia III: Episode 6 - Rising Falls

Rising Falls

His own labored breathing began Adell's slow, creeping return to consciousness. At first, he was only dimly aware of himself, except the difficulty it took him to draw breath. For a long time, he resisted the urge to cough, but it was a fight he could not win and, in the end, his body jolted as he coarsely expelled the air from his lungs. For a moment, he thought he was back home in his bed, but he was soon sure this was not so. The bed in which he lay was far lumpier than what he was used to and was sharp in many places. He moved his arm slowly and realized he was laying on a cushion of straw. He inhaled deeply again. The thick, heavy air did not satiate his need for oxygen and he took several more deep breaths.

Not only was the air thick and heavy, almost as though he were attempting to breathe under the waves of the sea, but it was also intermingled with the strong smell of cooking fish. Slowly, he opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling. It was a rough construction, made of irregular wooden planks of wildly varying sizes and colors with many gaps exposing the inside of the room to the orange sky above. With a groan, he sat up, and his head began to throb. He held his hands tightly to his temples in a futile attempt to control the pain, but to no avail. Only once in his life had he drunk so much alcohol that he had a hangover, and this felt similar.

Looking around the room, he could see it was made from earthen bricks fortified with straw, which stuck out in many directions. As he scanned around, there was little else inside, and what was there was in various states of disarray. A half-broken clay vase. A small, wooden table, just as irregular as the ceiling above him. Finally, in the opposite corner, he could see a man with his back turned, tending to a small firepit. Smoke billowed from the pit and coiled up and out one of the small windows, but some of it lingered. The man standing over it appeared to be very old. His hair was as white as a swan's feathers and it contrasted violently with his leathery, deep golden skin. The clothes he wore appeared to be scrounged together from whatever he could find. Mismatched colors and patterns adorned him from head to toe. Adell began to think he was a squatter in someone's barn. The main question was, how did he get there?

Adell: Excuse me.

Though Adell had said the words, he found that he could not hear them himself. His senses were only slowly returning to him and with that realization, he noticed that his words were being drowned out by roar coming from outside. He recognized the sound. He had heard a similar sound when he visited Imperator Falls in New Berengaria, but this was louder. He spoke again, and this time he could hear himself, at least, if just barely. He realized that it wasn't just the roar from outside, but his own voice was weak and hoarse, as though he hadn't used it for several days. Using all the strength he could muster, he called out one more time.

Adell: Excuse me!

His voice came out as a raspy croak, but it was enough, for the old man turned towards him. Adell had difficulty hiding his surprise at the old man's face. His skin appeared even more leathery than the little he could see before. Deep lines he could never have imagined possible even in the oldest man criss crossed every last inch of his face, from which protruded many scraggly, white hairs of varying lengths. Dark circles ringed eyes that were deeply sunken into his head. He had none of the frailties he would have expected of such old age, however. In fact, he appeared to be as hale and fit as the healthiest of a 30-year-old, leading Adell to think that he was younger than he appeared.

The old man smiled at him, but said nothing as he turned back to the firepit. He took a small plate in his hand and started scooping something onto it. Then he turned towards Adell again and walked towards him with the plate and a cup. As he neared, the two mysteries of what was on the plate and the smell of fish that hung in the air were revealed to him, for that's what the old man had been cooking. The old man kneeled by the bed of straw upon which Adell sat and, without a word, offered the plate and cup to him with an eager smile on his face.

From the time he woke up, Adell's senses were slowly returning to him and now, suddenly, he became aware of a new one: hunger. The plate contained a single, whole fish, grilled in little more than simple spices of salt and pepper, as far as he could tell, and was accompanied only by similarly seasoned leafy green vegetables that he couldn't identify but appeared to be similar to spinach. The contents of the cup appeared to be tea. Normally, he would never think to accept an offering of food from a stranger in such an odd place, but the wave of hunger now crashing over him like an ocean wave during a hurricane was impossible to ignore. He reached out and accepted the plate of food and the tea.

Adell: Thank you.

He anticipated that the old man would provide him with a fork, but none appeared to be forthcoming, so he quickly checked his surroundings and still found no utensils of any kind. When he looked back, the old man gestured with his fingers, pinching an imaginary object in his hand and lifting it to his mouth. The meaning was clear; he meant Adell to eat with his hands. At that time, Adell noticed that his plate was little more than a small plank of wood, curved and treated. Like much of what he'd seen so far, it appeared to be handmade, leading him to guess that the old man had no utensils of any kind.

Adell pinched the the soft flesh of the fish and found that it was still hot, but not so much as to burn his fingers. He lifted the meat to his mouth, giving it a pinch along the way to check for wayward bones, and ate it. For as simple as it was, it was surprisingly good. He wondered if the old man was naturally a good cook or if he had years of practice. He continued eating ravenously and between mouthfuls, he tried to ask the old man questions.

Adell: Where am I?

The old man said nothing and simply shrugged his shoulders.

Adell: How long have you been here?

Again, the old man said nothing and shrugged his shoulders. Adell continued to pick at his food until he cleaned his plate of everything on it, save for the fish's head, bones, and fins. With his hunger sated, his mind awakened even more and finally his last memories before waking in that strange place started to come back to him. He remembered that he was driving to visit a university with his friends. He remembered the argument with Artemis. He remembered being surrounded by a strange mist and then, immediately after, a black void. It was the last thing he remembered before waking. Suddenly, he began to grow panicked. His friends! What of Jaze, Toma, Kaoru, Artemis, and Ryuu?

The old man noticed his sudden change in demeanor and gently placed his hand on the back of Adell's shoulder and took his empty plate with the other. More and more, Adell was starting to understand that this was no ordinary homeless person, but what he was, he could not tell.

Adell: My friends! Have you seen anyone else around here?

The old man slowly began to stand, keeping one hand on his shoulder and with the other, he gestured for Adell to stand by excitedly twirling and raising his hand. Adell found it more and more curious that no matter what happened, the old man refused to speak, but nevertheless, he was buoyed by his sudden excitement. Adell stood with him and staggered a bit as he got to his feet, still somewhat dizzy. He was beginning to wonder how long he'd been asleep and what happened to him. He held his hand to his head again, but this time to his forehead, and was surprised to find a piece of cloth taped to it. Surmising that he must have hit his head at some point, he wondered again how long he'd been asleep.

The old man gave him a nudge on his shoulder, directing him towards the door. Together, they slowly walked outside. There, the humidity was even more stifling, like trying to breathe through a wet towel. The roar that had permeated the air since he woke up was louder than ever. Adell gazed around at his new surroundings. They were now standing on a gravel path outside the house with a crossroads immediately to his left. Surrounding him on all sides was a thick forest. The trees grew out of a rich, orange soil, the color of which he had never seen or heard of on New Berengaria. He wondered anew where he was and was starting to suspect that the answer was far more complicated than he ever imagined.

The old man turned and pointed to the gravel trail that went up the hill and smiled kindly to him. Still, he said nothing, and he and gave Adell another gentle nudge on the shoulder towards the hill. Adell slowly strode forward towards the hill. With every step, he felt his strength returning to him. He was glad of the strength as the hill became steeper and steeper.

Soon, it became too difficult to walk up the hill and he thrust his hands down into the gravel and started pulling himself up with all four of his limbs. The heat and humidity were crushing down on him like a tractor on the soft soil.

Adell was gratified to make it to the top of the hill. The path ahead of him was level and weaved between the bushes and the large stone towers. He continued to follow it.

To his dismay, the path ended and there was nothing but jagged rocks ahead of him. At the end of the outcropping, he could see a lone figure sitting upon it. Ahead of the figure, he could clearly see the source of the roar that had been filling his ears since he awoke. A long stretch of waterfall spread out before his eyes.

The first stretch of the outcropping was the hardest to traverse, with its jagged spikes and steep slopes. He wondered why the figure on the outcropping would deign to cross it just so he could sit there. He crawled along carefully, doing his best to avoid cutting his hands on the sharp formations. After he crossed that section, the outcropping became smooth again and he could walk. As he got closer to the figure, he could make out more details. He was sitting with his back to him and made no indication that he could hear him coming. It would be an unlikely prospect considering the noise the waterfall was making anyway. His hair was white and he had a pair of grey ears on his head and a grey tail. It was Artemis.

Adell clawed his way up the last incline at the end of the outcropping and sat next to Artemis, who glanced over at him as though he was expecting him to come all along.

Artemis: I know what you're thinking, and no, I had nothing to do with this.

Adell was surprised at how somber Artemis appeared to be. It was a disconcerting change from his usual, maniacal self.

Adell: I'm not even sure what "this" is. Do you know where we are?

Artemis: We're not on New Berengaria or any of the other Carpathian planets, that's for sure. That's all I can tell.

Adell: Do you know anything of the old man? He gave me food and drink after I woke up.

Artemis: The old man is what worries me the most...

Artemis's voice dropped off as though suddenly engaged in an unpleasant thought.

Adell: He seemed nice enough.

Artemis: No, no. That's not what I mean. I don't know if you realize this, but you've been asleep for two days. You hit your head when you fell out of the wormhole. I was lucky enough to land in a tree.

Artemis didn't pause or react to Adell's expression of surprise. Adell wanted to stop him to ask questions, but he was too bewildered to speak.

Artemis: Anyway, two days on this planet is a long time. As near as I can calculate, the days are around 39 hours long. I can only hope that we're in the middle of summer, because I don't think I could stand it getting worse than that. Anyway, the old man... I've had a lot of time to "talk" with him, such as it is. What worries me about him is that he can't speak. He's been here so long, alone, that he's either lost the ability or has forgotten how. He still understands, at least. Mostly, anyway. I've had to teach him a lot of words that I think he's forgotten.

Adell was full of questions, but for the moment, he stuck with the one most immediate to the conversation.

Adell: Well, if he wants to stay here alone, that's his business. Why should we?

Artemis turned his head toward Adell glared at him.

Artemis: Look around you. Look all the way around you.

Adell gazed ahead of him at the waterfall and followed it to find the end. No matter how far he turned, it continued, circling around until he came back to where he started. He wondered how it was possible that the water didn't fill up the depression where they sat. Then, he noticed with astonishment the reason why. The water was flowing upwards, away from the island on which they sat.

Adell: Is that waterfall flowing up?

Artemis nodded.

Artemis: It is. I've been sitting here for hours trying to understand how this is possible. And before you ask, no, I cannot think of a way to get out of here. We are stuck.

To be continued...

Commissioned art in this episode from:
Atomic Clover

All city pictures from SimCity 4
Rising Falls image from SimCity 4 and modified by Jporter

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