Carpathia III: Episode 66 - Tunnels


Nita's house, The Outlands, Yseri

On a few occasions, Jaze managed to rise from his nightly slumber before Aten, but he long ago gave up on waking before Nita. Always working, always preparing was her nature. Once Jaze realized it would be impossible to compete with her, he felt much less like a freeloader and focused harder on proving that he had some value to his new community. He spent most of his days helping Nita around the house, assisting Jacob in the field, or picking up supplies at the market at the bottom of the hill.

This day, he made an effort to wake up earlier, having a strong desire to be extra nice to Aten. Perhaps, Jaze thought, he'd show him his video camera.

Jaze's eyes fluttered open. He lay on the bed, looking up on the ceiling to allow his eyes to adjust to the splintered light flowing in through the tattered curtains. He blinked several times, wondering why the ceiling never seemed to come into focus. All he could see was a giant, black mass above him that covered most of the center of the ceiling.. The longer he stared at the mass, the more defined it became. All at once, the image became clear. He was staring at some massive creature with leathery wings attached to the ceiling, splayed out like an old-fashioned hand fan.

Jaze: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

Jaze hurriedly scuttled backwards and quickly fell, wedging himself in the narrow gap between the head of the bed and the wall. Panicking, he struggled to extricate himself, madly flailing his limbs and slamming his hands and feet against the walls and floor.

Nita: Jaze! Jaze! What's wrong?

Nita flung aside the curtain over the entrance to his room and rushed over to him. Jaze struggled to point at the ceiling.

Jaze: Up... up there! There's some... thing!

The mass on the ceiling suddenly stirred and Jaze panicked even more. Finally, the wings parted and a familiar face popped out.

Roose: What's with all the noise?

Jaze immediately stopped struggling and stared at Roose in shock. Nita did the same, all the while looking very cross.

Nita: Roose! What are you doing up there?

Roose shook his head vigorously, as though he were shaking off a case of the fleas. Jaze's chest still heaved from the adrenaline, though he was quickly beginning to calm.

Roose: What? I like sleeping this way.

Nita: Get down from there! Are you trying to give this poor boy a heart attack?

Roose's head retreated slightly back into his wings as he glanced around like a scolded puppy.

Roose: Alright. I'm sorry.

Nita turned her attention back to Jaze.

Nita: I'm sorry, Jaze. Roose heard that you were having a tough time and asked if he could sleep in your room with you. This was all after you already went to bed, of course. I didn't think there'd be any harm to it, but I didn't think he'd attach himself to the ceiling.

Nita took Jaze's hand and began to pull.

Nita: Now let's get you out of there.

Nita tugged harder as Jaze did his best to extricate himself from the narrow gap. Finally, after much pulling, Jaze managed to stand up. At the same time, Roose unclamped himself from the ceiling and alighted on the floor. Right away, he tried to sneak past Nita to escape the house without further scolding.

Nita: Hold it right there! You are not leaving without a proper breakfast!

Roose's ears sagged on his head as he tucked his wings tightly behind his back.

Roose: Yes, ma'am.

Roose slinked out of the room and into the kitchen.

Nita: He means well, but I'm afraid he doesn't always make good decisions.

Jaze bore no grudge and was now almost completely calm after his sudden awakening.

Jaze: It's okay. It was nice of him to be worried about me.

Nita held the curtain aside for Jaze to walk through.

Nita: Let's eat. Be sure to mind the cellar opening.

Confused, Jaze walked through the doorway and was immediately confronted with a large trap door opening in the floor. The table, chairs, and rug were pushed aside for the door to open.

Jaze: What's that?

Nita: Every house has an entrance to the tunnels. We used to have them in case the compound that you came from invaded. Now that the trench protects us, we just use it to store food. It's nice and cool down there. I'll show you later, but let's eat first.

Nita took the latch of the trap door and slowly flipped it closed, hinges creaking loudly as it went. It landed with a heavy thunk on the floor as she released the latch.

Nita: We'll just leave the table where it is now, since I'm going to be opening it again soon anyway.

Roose, already seated at the table, looked away and tried not to make eye contact with Jaze. Jaze took a seat directly opposite of Roose and tried to look him in the eye, but Roose looked away each time he came close.

----------

Later...

Breakfast was hearty and filling as usual. Jaze spent much of the meal trying to convince Roose that he harbored no ill will towards him, but Roose ate quickly and scooted out of the house as fast as he could. Upon conclusion of the meal and clean-up, Nita once again raised the trap door. Unexpectedly, almost as soon as she opened the door, Ryuu popped his head up from below.

Ryuu: Hiya!

Jaze: Ryuu! So this is where you've been.

Nita handed Jaze a small, rectangular flashlight.

Nita: You'll need this if you go down there. It gets very dark.

Jaze looked at the flashlight carefully, turning it around over and over in his hand.

Jaze: I know this! My mother has one just like it.

Jaze scanned the back of the flashlight closely.

Jaze: Almost exactly the same. It even says "Nexis Electronics" on the back. Where did you get this?

Nita: Many things come through the black portals besides people.

Suddenly, Jaze remembered how Adell's truck nearly landed on him when he arrived.

Jaze: That is definitely true.

Nita: This light sometimes stops working. Just shake it a little if the light goes out.

Jaze looked at the back. Using his fingernail, he twisted the small dial and the plate covering the back popped open.

Jaze: Yeah, Nexis makes the cheap stuff. Sometimes the power cel gets knocked out of alignment.

Jaze held up the flashlight so that Nita could see what he was doing. After a few pokes at the power cell, there was a small "click." Jaze replaced the cover and twisted the dial again with his fingernail. He clicked the power switch and a strong, brilliant light shone forth.

Jaze: It should work fine now unless it gets dropped or something.

Nita: Thank you! That's very helpful. Now, Ryuu, have you been over to the rock in the river?

Ryuu: I have.

Nita: Good. Then you can show him the way. Jaze, why don't you go with your friend today? I think you will appreciate the cool air down there.

Jaze: You don't need any help with anything?

Nita: Don't you worry about me. I'm just going to putter around in my garden today.

Jaze peered into the opening in the floor. He could see a steep set of stairs leading down and little else beyond that. It was very dark. He clicked on the light's switch and carefully descended the steep stairs.

Nita: I'll leave the table where it is. All you have to do is push on the door when you get back.

Jaze continued his descent until he touched his feet on the soft soil below. Above, the trap door closed behind him and all was dark except for the light that Jaze was holding. Peering through the tunnel, he could see that it was roughly hewn, with little more than dirt making up the walls, ceiling, and floor. Roots from the trees above dangled before him.

Jaze: How could you see down here without a flashlight?

Ryuu: I can see very well in the dark. That's how I could find you in the compound.

Jaze: Makes sense.

Taking a few steps forward, Jaze noticed that the tunnel began a steep decline right away. To his right was a door. He opened it and shined his light inside. It was a small room lined with shelves full of various meats and vegetables. This was clearly the food storage that Nita was talking about. Jaze closed the door and moved on, following Ryuu.

Jaze: I know I've said it several times, but thanks for coming for me. I wouldn't be alive if you hadn't.

Ryuu: Aw, of course I came. You're my friend.

As Jaze shone his light around, rays reflected from Ryuu back into his eyes. He winced several times at the reflection as they walked through the twisting, winding tunnel.

Jaze: Ryuu, you seem to be shiny.

Ryuu turned and took a quick look at his flank without breaking his stride.

Ryuu: I'm getting older, so my scales are starting to grow in. Soon, I won't be very cuddly anymore.

Jaze: Cuddly or not, I'll hug you whenever you want.

Ryuu fell back to Jaze's side and, with a flap of his wings, rose into the air and alighted on Jaze's shoulder. Jaze found that Ryuu was still light enough to carry easily.

Ryuu: I should be able to change form soon.

Jaze kept walking as he turned to look at Ryuu in surprise, though he could only see his nose and one of his eyes.

Jaze: Do what?

Ryuu pointed at an approaching tunnel intersection.

Ryuu: Turn left here.

Jaze turned left, leading him to a long, stone staircase. He began walking down.

Ryuu: If I were home, another dragon would teach me how to change form. I guess I'll have to figure it out myself.

Jaze: What is all this about changing form? Are you saying you could turn into something else?

Ryuu: There are a few limitations, but not many. I could be human, nekomi, anything I want.

Jaze: So, you turn into my twin if you wanted?

Ryuu: Not quite. I can't quite control my coloring, so my hair would be different than yours.

After a long descent, they reached the bottom of the stairs. A long, straight section of tunnel stretched out before them. This was different than the others, as the walls and ceiling were lined with stone.

Ryuu: We're under the river now. Keep going.

Jaze hurried ahead, not comfortable with the dripping water from the cracks in the stonework above. In a short time, they reached the end and found a long staircase leading upwards. Ryuu leaped away from Jaze's shoulder and began climbing the stairs on his own.

Ryuu: This is pretty long, so don't rush.

Jaze sighed and put his foot on the first step, beginning his long climb to the top. Little was said between them as they proceeded. The stairs were oriented in a square formation. Each flight of stairs lead to a ninety degree turn for the next flight. After awhile, Jaze was getting winded and he wondered how much further they had to go.

It wasn't long after that faint traces of light found its way into the stairway. Very quickly, it became bright enough for Jaze to turn off his flashlight. Shortly thereafter, he could see the end of the stairway and he emerged into the hot, daytime air of the village.

Jaze: You can see the whole village from here.

Jaze trudged to the edge of the slope, still weary from climbing the stairs and thinking about how he was going to have to climb again on the way back. He sat on the dusty ground while Ryuu nuzzled up to his side.

Jaze: Have you thought about what form you'd like to take?

Ryuu: A little. I have to be careful. Once I pick a form, that's it. I won't be able to change into anything else.

Jaze: You will need to pick a good one, then.

Jaze and Ryuu sat in silence, watching the river flow and the wind rifle through the tree leaves. Now properly fed and healthy, Jaze was considering for the first time in a long time what he was going to do next. Then, he noticed a pair of ears and sad, yellow eyes peeking up at him from the side of the cliff.

Jaze: You don't have to hide, Roose.

Slowly, Roose climbed up from the side of the cliff and settled himself next to Jaze. He spread one of his large wings and held it over Jaze and Ryuu, shading them from the blistering sunshine.

Roose: Is that better?

Jaze: It is. Roose, I notice that you don't fly around very much.

Roose: I broke my wing many years ago. I can glide a little, but I'l never be able to properly fly again.

Roose unfurled his other wing and stretched it out in front of him. Jaze hadn't noticed before, but now he could clearly see that the long curve of his wing was interrupted by a lump consisting of a mess of scar tissue.

Jaze: I'm sorry to hear that.

Roose tucked his damaged wing behind his back again while he kept his other wing over Jaze's head.

Roose: It's not so bad. I like living here.

Again, they sat in silence, observing the village and the river until Jaze spoke again with a heavy sigh.

Jaze: I still can't believe this is happening. I wonder how the others are doing. I'm worried about Toma. Maelstrom mentioned that he's here, somewhere. At least, I think he was talking about Toma. I need to find out where he is.

Ryuu: I can help!

Roose: I can too.

Jaze: Thanks, guys. I think I'm going to need a lot of help.

Jaze paused and took a deep breath as another hot gust of wind blew over the cliffside.

Jaze: I have a son back home. I don't know how old he is. I don't even know what he looks like. It seems so stupid now that I used to be so worried about what my parents were going to think when they found out about him. I hope my parents are okay too.

Roose scooted closer to Jaze until he was nestled up beside him. Again, he stretched his large wing and, to Jaze's surprise, wrapped it around him. Jaze found his wing to be unnaturally cool and comfortable and he leaned his head onto Roose's shoulder and closed his eyes, listening to the sounds of the land.


Commissioned art in this episode from:
Miyumon
Kay-Jay97
Teddybear-93

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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