Carpathia III: Episode 91: The Road to Ruin

Yseri, The Island

Over the past few weeks, Jaze found himself being both a mentor and teacher at the same time, not only to Kagurain, but to Ryuu as well, to an extent. Not only did Jaze teach Kagurain many words that he did not know, but explaining to him what he can expect from the changes in his body took much longer than expected. Kagurain pestered him for days with questions and Jaze did his best to answer.

Otherwise, life on the island was as simple as it could be. They ate. They slept. They talked. Breaking up the monotony was Kagurain's boundless energy and imagination. At any given moment, he could be up a tree, climbing on the roof of his castle, making royal proclamations, or anything else that might pop into his head. All of this contributed to Jaze's relief that Kagurain was spared the worst of Nekramentia's horrors and to his sadness that Rhoskel seemingly bore the worst of it.

Despite his physical exhaustion, Jaze fell into an uneasy sleep every night, and this night was worse than usual. His mind anxious and his muscles tense, Jaze tossed and turned on his straw bed, unable to get comfortable. Sleep came in short, dreamless spurts.

Jaze awoke countless times during the night, but one time was different. It was cold. Very cold. Shivering, he insinctively reached for a blanket before realizing that he didn't have one. Sitting up, he looked around and all was eerily silent. Normally, he could hear the wind rustling through the leaves in the trees or the distant noise of the waterfall, but now, all was deathly still. He could see both the straw beds where Kagurain and Ryuu normally slept, but nobody was there. Wide-eyed and scared, he looked around and called their names.

Jaze: Kagurain? Ryuu?

There was no answer as Jaze's voice echoed ominously around the room. He suddenly shivered again as he sucked air through his teeth. He'd never known Yseri to get so cold before and he could see his own breath. Could Kagurain and Ryuu be taking shelter elsewhere? If so, why did they not tell him? Jaze put on his shoes and slowly crept to the front door, clutching his chest and rubbing his arms at the same time, trying to warm up.

Outside was just as silent. Jaze could not hear the sand churning in the Arid Sea or the rush of the waterfall. It was all as if he were inside a wax museum after hours, with nobody around, and everything around him was fake, trying to look like something else. Jaze decided to go to the water's edge, thinking that, perhaps, Kagurain or Ryuu might be there. Even if they weren't, it would at least give him an open vantage point so that he could look around easily.

Jaze started down the gravel path that ran between the dense trees. Now, the only sound was the crunch of his feet hitting the loose stones. As he proceeded down the path, the world became darker and darker, as though the universe itself was closing in on him. Soon he couldn't even see the trees anymore and the crunch of his feet hitting the gravel suddenly turned to the clop of his shoes hitting solid stone. Knowing there was no hard stone between the castle and the water, he stopped and strained his eyes in the darkness. The trees were gone, replaced with smooth, stone walls.

Jaze was now sure this must be a dream. Recently, dreams this vivid could only mean bad things were coming. He tried to go back, but the castle and gravel path were gone. There was no way to go but forward. Treading carefully, as though the ground might swallow him whole at any moment, he proceeded slowly through the darkness.

In the distance, Jaze saw a faint, wavering, blue light. As he slowly moved forward, the light became larger and brighter and now, he could see the faint outline of the walls without having to concentrate on them anymore. Still further he trod, wary that something might jump out at him at any moment.

As Jaze moved closer to the flame, the way forward became more illumitated with flickering, blue light. The further he walked, the more he could see the faint outline of the walls. Stopping to look around, he could see that the walls were made of massive stone blocks, each as long as Jaze was tall and built up to an arched ceiling high overhead. The stones were old and punctuated with numerous cracks.

Hesitantly and shakily, Jaze stepped forward, trying to keep his footfalls as silent as possible. Frequently, he looked around, afraid that something might be watching him. As the light grew brigher, he turned to his left and gasped, laying his eyes upon a massive, terrifying creature preparing to leap out of a cave. Clutching his chest, he jumped back and cowered in fear, his heart pounding like a door knocker.

He nearly turned and ran, but that's when he noticed the unnatural, straight lines through the creature and the cracks in its face. It wasn't a creature, but a grotesque mural, which portrayed a savage, black cat with bloody fangs lunging from a pitch-dark cave. The whites of the cat's eyes and brightness of the teeth were vivid enough to be like lights unto themselves. Rubbing his sweaty palms, Jaze calmed his frantic breathing and, making a pointed effort to look away, he hurried forward again.

Jaze tried to keep his eyes on the ground, but that was not much better. The etchings in the silver stone at his feet now also carried images of frightening scenarios. Each one contained an image of either a vicious cat of some kind or of nekomi dying in various horrible ways. Jaze wasn't sure if he wanted to be closer to the light anymore, as the etchings on the ground and murals on the walls and ceiling were impossible to ignore now. The only advantage was that concentrating on ignoring everything in sight kept his mind off the cold.

Eventually, Jaze reached the urn where the blue fire burned, but it provided no warmth. Instead, the area closest to the fire also felt the coldest. There were many urns scattered around the cavernous room illuminating massive, square pillars supporting an arched ceiling at least two hundred feet over his head. Like the hallway, these pillars and the ceiling also carried nightmarish murals, like a satanic cathedral. Carrying on through the room, Jaze sidled around each of the pillars, still expecting something to jump out at him at any moment. At this point, he surmised that it would be Maelstrom himself who appeared.

Slowly, Jaze made his way through the forest of pillars, carefully checking around each one before proceeding. Caution, however, temporarily robbed him of his overriding goal to find an exit. Careful as he was to make sure nothing was coming for him, he paid no attention to his destination. Eventually, he found himself in another massive room. This one, however, was different.

Ahead of Jaze were steep stairs, leading up into mostly darkness, though he thought he could make out a vague shape within. Shakily, he took a step forward and looked around. Fire urns lined the path and behind those were what appeared to be massive feet. Each foot was nearly as big as he was. He allowed his eyes to follow the feet upwards through the legs. When his eyes reached the top, dozens of feet above, he gasped and softly spoke aloud.

Jaze: Oh my god...

The cat statues towered high over Jaze. Not only that, but he was sure the two with blood dripping from their mouths were staring at him. His mind was torn between two possiblities. He could go back and see if there was another way out. On the other hand, he deemed it likely that the way out was to go through the statue gauntlet. Jaze decided to move forward very slowly, watching the statues carefully. Should anything change, he thought, he could hopefully run away. Tentatively, he took a step forward, looking back and forth at the row of statues for any sign of changes.

Just then, a small, white cat with red stripes jumped in front of him.

Kitty: Rawr!

Jaze recognized the small cat from Nekramentia. The cat lunged toward him and he took several steps back. The cat lunged again, but did not attack, and Jaze took two more steps back.

Jaze: What are you doing here?

The cat sat down and swished his tail while Jaze felt foolish for expecting an answer. Then, rapidly, before his very eyes, the small cat began to grow larger. Jaze watched in horror as the cat grew and half its body turned into an armored exoskeleton. It didn't take long for the identity of the cat to be clear.

Wishmaster: Welcome, Jaze, to my home. I am Wishmaster.

Commissioned art in this episode from:

All city pictures from SimCity 4

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