Carpathia III: Episode 68 - Setting Out
Nita's House, The Outlands, Yseri
Jaze breathed deeply as the moment was finally at hand. After days of preparation, he was finally ready to set out with Ryuu and Roose to find some evidence that his friends might be nearby. His backpack was heavy with necessities like food, knives, and a map and a water pouch hung from his belt. Nita and Jacob looked him up and down, making sure that he wasn't forgetting anything, while Aten paced impatiently.
Jacob: I reckon that's everything.
Nita gently took Jaze's hands and smiled sadly at him.
Nita: Now, you remember what I told you?
Jaze: Watch out for the guards who patrol outside the cities and especially watch out for the slave traders. We're just going to scout the area so we can figure out what to do next. It's not like any of us know what we're doing.
Nita: Right. I think you'll be fine with Ryuu and Roose looking out for you, but be careful anyway, okay?
Nita pulled Jaze close and wrapped her arms around him in a tight hug. When she released him, Jaze took a quick glance at himself and gave his backpack strap a quick tug.
Nita: Good luck.
Just then, Aten rushed up to Jaze and wrapped his arms around his waist.
Aten: Don't go!
Jaze patted Aten gently on his head.
Jaze: I promise I'll be back in a few days.
Jaze's departure from the Outlands weighed heavily on his mind as he filled his water pouch in the swift waters of the river. Despite his promise to Aten, he now knew he surely wouldn't be back in a few days. That much time already passed with the group following the river.
The previous night, the unmistakable lights of a city shone in the far distance. Up until then, what they found of the landscape was not encouraging. The countryside was mostly flat and featureless in all directions except for the canyon in which the river flowed. Only the tree-lined strips of land on either side of the river could possibly provide any cover from danger and then, with no easy way out of the canyon, they'd be like rats in a trap.
The journey was tolerable with Ryuu and Roose for company. Though there wasn't much to talk about aside from light banter and the consistency of the dirt, Jaze was thankful for the companionship. Their food supplies were nearly depleted, but fortunately, it turned out that Ryuu was a surprisingly adept hunter and kept them reasonably fed. As Jaze and Roose sat on the riverbank replenishing their water and washing their faces, Ryuu dove in and out of the river looking for fish.
Jaze: How long do you suppose he's been underwater this time?
Roose: Quite awhile.
Jaze reached into his sock and pulled out his camera. As he pointed it at the river, he hit the record button. Soon after, Ryuu poked his head through the water's surface with a big, floppy fish between his paws.
Ryuu: Got one!
Ryuu flapped his wings once, just hard enough to carry him to the shore. Jaze watched in amusement as Ryuu shook the excess water off himself like a dog.
Ryuu: What's with the camera?
Jaze: Nothing. Do something silly.
Right away, Ryuu closed his eyes tight and stuck out his tongue.
Jaze: Hee hee. Perfect.
Jaze stopped the recording and slipped his camera back into his sock.
Jaze: What am I doing out here? The world is a big place and I have no idea where Toma is.
Roose: Gotta start somewhere.
Jaze: I suppose.
Jaze suddenly noticed Ryuu sniffing at the air, his head darting back and forth.
Ryuu: Do you smell something different? Something smells different to me.
Ryuu continued sniffing, wandering around investigating all the plants and trees around them.
Jaze: Kind of. It always smells different when we come to the river.
Ryuu continued sniffing at all the flora he could find.
Ryuu: It's not that. There's something new.
Ryuu stopped sniffing the flora around him and looked up.
Ryuu: Uh oh.
Jaze and Roose both looked in the same direction as Ryuu. On the top of the steep hill, they saw three figures, clearly pointing guns at them. They seemed to be wearing helmets, appearing more like the Zhail soldiers that Nita described rather than the considerably more dangerous slave traders. The figure in the middle gestured for them to climb the hill.
Jaze: No chance of running, I think.
Roose: Not through these trees.
Jaze: Ryuu, you stay hidden. Roose and I will go up.
Roose tucked his wings tightly against his back as they gathered their belongings and began the difficult climb up the hill with the soldiers watching them at all times. As they reached the top of the hill, the soldiers stepped back and allowed them to get to their feet. The soldier in the middle fixed upon them a steely gaze. He was different from the others, with gold trim and a read embelleshment on his helmet. Both surmised that this one was in charge. The soldier spoke to them curtly.
Soldier: Papers, please.
Jaze: We're sorry. We don't have any papers. We're just travelers.
Soldier: What is your destination?
Jaze: The Outlands. I have a brother who lives there.
The soldier paused to scowl at Jaze.
Soldier: Interesting. If you were going that direction, we'd have seen you before now.
Jaze looked down, wondering if he should say anything.
Soldier: You have entered the boundaries of the Volcano District. I shall have to detain you at the barracks until such time as we can verify your story.
Jaze began to panic. He knew that someone in the Outlands would vouch for being his brother, but Jaze knew that it would take many days for someone to make the trip all the way over there and back again and he was absolutely not interested in spending more time in a prison.
However, Jaze didn't have time to mull for long as a small fireball streaked in behind the soldiers and hit the dirt sending a large cloud of dust between them. Jaze ran immediately, and Roose followed, as the solders stumbled around, hacking and coughing. Right away, they saw Ryuu and followed him.
They didn't get very far.
A shot rang out and a bit of dirt just ahead and to the right of Jaze's foot exploded.
Jaze and the others froze and turned around slowly. The soldiers approached, and the one in charge from before aimed his gun not at Jaze, but at Ryuu.
Soldier: Not bad. It so happens that we cannot detain your little fire-shooting friend in our wooden cells. I'll just have to shoot him right now...
Jaze tensed and nearly leapt at the soldier with his claws out, but the soldier held out his hand and lowered his gun.
Soldier: OR... I can let the three of you go.
Jaze relaxed only slightly and looked the soldier in the eye, waiting for some sort of catch.
Soldier: Yes. However, if we see any of you three again, you will be shot without warning. Now, go.
The soldier pointed in the direction of the Outlands. Jaze and the others followed his direction right away, for fear that he might change his mind. As they walked away, Jaze sometimes turned to see that the soldiers hadn't moved. Jaze waited until they were far away from them before he spoke.
Jaze: We should go back to the village. We need to re-stock supplies and talk about this. We're going to need a different plan.
All city pictures from SimCity 4