Carpathia III: Episode 88: The Way Station
Yseri, Zhail Falls
When the journey started, Quilyon told of a bridge near a waterfall. After the bridge, she said, would be a way station where the group could rest comfortably and re-stock supplies. When the bridge came into view, it was clear that the landmark could not be missed. The bridge was high and the waterfall in the distance was vast and roaring. Kaoru looked forward to sleeping in a nice bed for a change and he expected that everyone else would surely feel the same.
Sure enough, the dirt road split in two, one branch continuing straight and the other turning towards the waterfall. They took the path to the waterfall.
The way station was a large building, made of wood and thoroughly dried by the punishing sunlight. As the group pulled up to the front, Quilyon sniffed the air.
Quilyon: Something kinda stinks.
Kaoru sniffed as well. Unsurprisingly, he could not smell whatever it was that Quilyon smelled.
Zet: You guys go on in. I'll mind the stuff.
Reuli, Wolfram, Quilyon, and Kaoru all put their backpacks down next to Zet and the horse and made their way to the front door, which was clearly marked "Office." The closer they came to the door, the more Quilyon crinkled her nose.
When Kaoru opened the door, even he could smell what was affecting Quilyon. Together, they ventured inside the small, stuffy office. Ahead of them was a counter with a bell and a hinge on one side, which allowed entry to the other side. Behind that was a wall with many hooks, most of which had an old-timey key handing from each. Next to the keys was a door leading to another room. Quilyon now covered her entire nose with her hand.
Quilyon: I don't know if I can take this much longer.
Kaoru: You can wait outside if you want.
Quilyon paused as she tried, and failed, to suppress a cough.
Quilyon: I think I'm okay.
Kaoru picked up the bell on the counter and jiggled it. It made a melodious, high-pitched ring and, right away, they heard stirring from the back. Emerging from the doorway was a heavily tanned nekohuman with overalls and a tattered hat. He was accompanied by half a dozen flies swarming around his head.
Jonas: Howdy. Name's Jonas, and I run this here establishment.
Jonas had a scent as powerful as a five thousand-foot freight train. This nekohuman obviously hadn't had a bath in a very long time and, had he not been holed up in his office, he could probably knock a man over from several yards away. Quilyon again attempted to suppress a cough, but failed.
Quilyon: You know, I think I will wait outside with Zet.
Without another word, Quilyon turned and quickly exited through the front door. Kaoru thought quickly, thinking that it would not be possible to stay if Quilyon found it unbearable. Rather than reserve a room right away, he decided to ask questions first. He considered that the rooms overlooking the lake were farthest from the office, so he decided to start there.
Kaoru: Um... we'd like to know if there are any rooms available, preferrably overlooking the lake.
Jonas smiled a big, snaggletoothed grin.
Jonas: Well, t'ain't the season fer travelers, so you good folk can have just about any room you like. How many in your party?
As Kaoru prepared the answer, he noticed that both Reuli and Wolfram were looking past Jonas into the room beyond. Not knowing what they were up to, he kept a side-eye on them as he continued negotiating with Jonas.
Jonas: Lake rooms got three beds, so I reckon you'll need two.
Kaoru hesitated, wondering how best to broach a topic such as bathing with someone who seemed to have never heard the word.
Kaoru: Okay, that works. So... um... they're fully-stocked with things like... er... soap?
Jonas tilted his head and narrowed his eyes.
Jonas: Not sure I follow. I warshed the bedsheets and whatnot, if that's what yer askin'.
Kaoru rubbed the back of his neck, considering his words very carefully.
Kaoru: Um... actually, I meant for things like washing our hair and face.
Jonas took off his hat and scratched the back of his head.
Jonas: Right, that sorta soap. 'Fraid we don't get much call fer that 'round these here parts. I might have a few bars in back. Lemmee check.
Jonas disappeared to the back room, leaving Kaoru with the opportunity to turn his full attention to Reuli and Wolfram. Reuli was jumping up and down in front of the counter pointing at something in the back.
Reuli: Look, look! He has guitars!
Kaoru leaned towards Reuli to get a better look at what he was seeing. Sure enough, Jonas had at least three guitars leaning up against a wall in the back room.
Kaoru: He sure does. Looks like there's a banjo in there too.
Some footsteps from the back again and Jonas reappeared through the door, carrying six small bars of soap wrapped in wax paper. He plopped them on the counter.
Jonas: Found a few. They're old, but I reckon they'll still work fine.
Jonas looked over at Reuli, noticing that he was making eyes at something in his back room. Jonas turned to see what Reuli was staring at.
Jonas: Hey, little guy, you eyeballin' my guitars, are ya?
Reuli gave a little gasp and looked up at Jonas.
Wolfram: He was. He's really good, too!
Reuli blushed and looked away, fidgeting with his hands.
Reuli: I dunno... I haven't felt much like playing in awhile.
Jonas leaned in closer and frowned sympathetically.
Jonas: Well, that ain't good. Why not?
At this point, Kaoru felt that it was prudent to step in.
Kaoru: We've all been through an ordeal recently.
Jonas straightened himself up.
Jonas: Well, now, that's a shame. If you want, little guy, you can come up on the roof with me and play. I go every sunset.
Reuli frowned and looked down at the floor.
Reuli: I wish I could, but my guitar is electric.
Jonas: S'alright. You just pop in here whenever you like and borrow one of mine.
Reuli lifted his head and smiled a little as Jonas turned his attention back to Kaoru.
Jonas: Anyway, we come to the unpleasant business of terms. Will you be needing meals? You're welcome to build a fire by the lake and cook your own, if you can't swing that.
Without being sure how long their money might last, Kaoru thought it prudent to forgo the meals, at least for now.
Kaoru: No, just the rooms will be fine. We also have a small pack animal that'll need to be kept.
Jonas: In that case, it'll be 25 bronze pieces fer the five of you per night plus two for your critter. I'm afraid I'll have to ask you fer exact change. A few fellers came in here earlier today and only had gold coins. I ended up giving 'em all my change.
Relieved that the price was well within their means, Kaoru reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. Zet had already taught him the monetary system and it was very easy. He counted out 27 bronze pieces and placed them on the counter. Jonas scooped the coins into his hand and dropped them into a small lockbox behind the counter.
Jonas: That'll do. I'll get yer keys.
Jonas turned to the hooks where the keys hung.
Kaoru: The others staying here... they seem like decent people?
Jonas pulled two keys off the wall and turned around.
Jonas: Seemed alright to me. One was a human, dressed up all fancy-like. The second was a short, skinny nekohuman who shouted a lot. It was the third what surprised me. I ain't never seen a demon before in my life!
Kaoru: I've never met one either. I've heard about them, though.
Jonas: From what I hear, demons are honorable folk. Only serve those who are strong and decent. At least, by choice. I got no sense that he was here against his will, though, so it's all good.
Jonas flipped open the counter and gestured towards the front door.
Jonas: This way. I'll show you to your rooms and then I'll take your critter to the barn.
The three of them went outside while Jonas followed. Kaoru suddenly noticed how much fresher the air smelled outside. He'd been inside so long, he'd forgotten about the smell. After collecting Zet and Quilyon, plus the backpacks and other gear, they followed Jonas to another door around the side of the building. Upon entering, Jonas lead them up a flight of stairs and down a hallway. At the end of the hallway was two doors facing each other. Jonas used the keys to unlock both of them and handed them over to Kaoru.
Jonas: Y'all holler if ya need something, alright?
After that, he left, after assuring them that he would now take care of their "critter."
The rooms were spartan, but tidy and carried little hint of Jonas's appalling body odor. Each had three beds with rumpled, but fresh, linens, a few wooden chairs, and a desk with an electric lamp. It was decided that Kaoru and Quilyon would stay in one room while Zet and Wolfram would stay in the other. Reuli elected to stay in Zet and Wolfram's room after Quilyon reassured him that she and Kaoru would always be nearby. With that settled, they turned their attention to their backpacks.
Quilyon: You guys can take care of this for now. I'll get a campfire ready for cooking.
Kaoru: Alright. We'll come find you when we're done.
Quilyon left and the others went about their business unpacking and re-sorting their supplies, which had become quite disheveled during their journey. Clothes that needed washing were stacked in one area. Clean items in another. Guns, ammo, and other miscellaneous items were all separated, awaiting reorganization. When it came to the food, Kaoru decided to take an armload of meat and vegetables outside to place near the fire.
Outside, the sun was already getting lower on the horizon. As Kaoru walked outside, he heard the sound of someone tuning a guitar nearby. Recalling that Jonas said he liked to sit on the roof and play, he looked up and, sure enough, there he was, ready to serenade the setting sun.
Walking toward the lake, Kaoru saw no sign of a campfire, nor any indication that one was being prepared. A lone figure sat halfway down the hillside, very still, watching the sun go down. Slowly, Kaoru made his way down the hillside and sat down next to Quilyon. For awhile, she said nothing and together, they listened to the plaintive guitar music playing in the background.
Quilyon: Sorry I didn't get the campfire ready.
Just then, Kaoru was sure he heard a second guitar join Jonas. Briefly, he turned and looked to the roof of the way station. Sure enough, Reuli had joined Jonas on the roof. They quickly harmonized their playing and their song, while still plaintive, evolved into a folksy tune.
Kaoru: Looks like Reuli found his way to the roof.
Quilyon buried her face into her arms. Kaoru was sure he heard a sniffle as he put his arm around her. Shortly thereafter, Jonas began to sing as he played while Reuli continued to provide accompaniment.
Jonas: Come away, O elven child
Before he fades away
Along the placid lake
On a road without a name.
Quilyon: I'm glad Reuli is starting to find himself a little. Is he okay up there?
Kaoru: With Jonas? He'll be fine. He's stinky, but he's a nice guy. He seems happy with his simple life.
Jonas continued to a second verse.
Jonas: Sand beneath his feet
With his family by his side
Trods upon dry leaf
As he enters to the wild.
Kaoru's ears perked at the last verse. He'd thought before that the first verse seemed strangely appropriate to the sitaution, but this was too much to be a coincidence. The song sounded planned and rehearsed and, he thought, if Jonas was making it up on the spot, he had considerably more talent than he expected.
Kaoru: I'm actually a little jealous. I suppose, part of me wishes I could be like him.
Jonas: Sun grows ever dim
Transforming light aflame
Stretching shadows long
Showing nighttime the way.
It took a few moments for Kaoru to realize what was happening, but he was sure that Quilyon was giggling between her sniffles.
Quilyon: I can't let you do that!
Kaoru, curious as to what Quilyon was thinking, feigned disappointment.
Kaoru: Aww, why not?
Jonas: The stars shine his course
Under sky onyx black
Torches will illuminate
The visage behind his mask.
Quilyon lifted her head and rubbed her nose as she looked at Kaoru and smiled gently.
Quilyon: I require that you wash.
Kaoru: Ha ha! Okay, I promise I'll wash.
Kaoru and Quilyon gazed into each others' eyes as Jonas's song took a turn, as though he was entering a chorus.
Jonas: This is the far eventide
Which ends in the lambent dawn
The child will never fade
The wayfarer will find his new song.
At the end of the verse, Kaoru and Quilyon leaned closer to each other until they kissed under the light of the setting sun.
Voice: Aww, aren't you two adorable.
Though the sound of the guitars and the wind rustling in the trees muddled his hearing, he was sure the voice must be Zet's and that he was probably wondering when the campfire was going to get started. Kaoru started to turn around.
Kaoru: Sorry, Zet. We were just...
Kaoru froze. It wasn't Zet. Instead, it was a face he feared he might never see again.
Adell: Hiya, Kaoru!
All city pictures from SimCity 4