Chapter 17: Serval

While the garage wasn't exactly impressive, the further Casper got into Terminus, he realized that he shouldn't have judged Terminus by the first room. As Casper walked out of the hall, he came to a massive plaza, if you could call it that. Several layers of bridges and stairs hung over his head and below his feet, including a large scaffold that bordered the room on each floor. On each side of the room, there were doors that lead into individual rooms, in which people were either working or simply gathering in casual meetings. It honestly looked like the depictions of shopping malls from ages past. A very metallic and less vibrant shopping mall, where the rooms had rebels instead of shoppers. To someone who just got there, like Casper, it was a cluster of various rooms, bridges, stairs, and a lift here and there, with the occasional crowd of people gathered together. The sounds. Chatter, mostly, a few normal conversations, with the sound of revelry mixed in. Clanging could be heard on a few floors, becoming more prominent below, the sound of busy work. If one were to tune their ears and get close to one of the rooms, they'd realize that each of them had their own distinct tone to them.

Casper removed from his pocket a small canister and flicked a small, blue pill into his hand. A Life's Blood pill; something that anyone with Arborpathy should keep on them. Popping the pill into his mouth, dry swallowing it. He continued on. The air was warm and dry. Just the temperature that he liked; his lack of fur did give him an innate resistance to ambient heat after all, while at the same time making him more at risk of sunburn.

According to the map, the room was known as the Heart; true to its name, it pumped with the blood of the Coalition. A large area where everyone made their living and where all areas of the base connected. Directly below, past all the bridges and stairs, was the engineering bay known bluntly as the Motor Bay, where all the fine mechanics and power systems were held and maintained. There was far more to the map that he only barely began to read, so to save time, with a hand on a railing, he walked and read. It was now time to start his knew life with a new name.

It was then that he spotted a group of Qestians in the corner, a trio of men, having a conversation. Casper listened in on their conversation.

"I like Deelee, but she has an attitude problem." A blue striped Wyvern said, working on a small drone. "She splashed water in my face and yelled at me."

"You were smoking, weren't you? She hates people smoking in her kitchen. I don't want ashes in my food either, so don't go doing that." Another similar looking Wyvern said, possibly related to the other man.

The third one remained silent and only watched his friend work on the machine in front of him. A large Maine Coon, rather chubby looking, clad in a hooded jacket. On the center of his jacket was the symbol of a beetle with the word ORYCTES right below it.

So he, or the three of them, were part of that group mentioned earlier? Either that, or Oryctes had their own clothing brand.

With enough eavesdropping for today, Casper continued on into the Heart, stepping across one of the bridges that overlooked the ground floor. He's be scared if it wasn't for how sturdy the bridge felt, wobbly though, that was another story. As long as he didn't look down. He turned the corner, following his map. The first task was to find one of these rooms to go to, going by what Rakkan said, they'd accept him, right? It was then that his eye spotted a bit of text. He was was reading the map, maps actually, it was directly above him. It wasn't written in the common Qestian language, but instead written in a slowing, archaic language of a long dead civilization. The language of the Great Race of Xha.

Xha-Laotan, was what it said once translated. The largest research group for all things related to the Xha, be it exploring their ancient catacombs, researching their culture and society, or restoring their relics. Just reading those words brought him back to his teenage and young adult years. Memories that brought a smile to his face. He never knew they were part of the Coalition. For once, his path was clear, as he headed up a flight of stairs. He didn't consider himself too good at hunting Amalgamates like the Holy Divers, he didn't consider himself too good with weapons so he decided the security team was out of the question, and he was definitely not going to work on the machines of the area.

But studying the Xha? That was one thing that he knew, as a former member of one such research group.

It was for a brief moment that his self doubt arose. Could I really go back to the way things were before? A voice at the back of his head. The very same that told him to leave Rakkan and Cho behind those days ago. Self doubt that was brutally slapped down, as Casper gave himself a slap across the face. "Idiot, Casper!" He continued up the stairs and made his way across the walkway. "Your'e not going to get anything done if you just sit around and mope! You're here to get things done."

The next floor was more or less the same thing. Doors that lead into rooms. Bridges connecting them. Each door thankfully had a sign above them, indicating where it was going. Some of them simply read things like Hall or Lobby; one curiously read Possum Bar… Maybe he'd check that out. Others had pictures of stairs. The one at the end of the room had Meeting Room + Bridge on it, so it likely lead straight to the bow.

Casper tried his best to read the map… Engineer bay was the bottom floor, that was obvious and easy to read. The room was mostly empty but had some cannons on it to shoot down any hostile Amalgamates.nThe bridge was just a small room on bow of Terminus and the floor below it was where Oryctes was, and below that was the Blood Font, Holy Diver's HQ. Then on each side were the rooms and cabins where people lived… Was that one hall way near the bridge the medical bay? He assumed so. There was a mess hall in here somewhere.

Casper's head was spinning just trying to parse all of it. All of this crammed into this one, albeit massive, vehicle?

But, quickly, he stepped towards one of the numerous doors on the top floor, passing by a few people on his way. People looking to him, some stopping mid-conversation. Was it that obvious that he was new here? "Don't look over the edge, don't look over the edge…" He said. "You're gonna be living here, you have to get use to these bridges…" He said, peaking over the railing of the bridge, only to immediately snap his attention back to his destination.

The door he was going for was the one with the same Xha writing from the map. The door, every door on Terminus so it seemed, was a simple sliding door. Ones that opened with a quiet swish sound.

It was a smaller room than he expected. Shaped like an 8 and incredibly messy, a messy look that brought back memories of old. A large circular desk, strewn about with relics of the Era of Xha. Papers scattered about. Some of them drawings and others writings. Even the air was incredibly casual for what was presumably a massive research group. Just like the rest of the Coalition, they lacked a solid dress code, although most of them were in white, with name tags that had both their name in Qestian and in Xha. A few Qestians were standing around. 3 of them huddled around a computer (A Fenrir, a Garuda, and a Wukong), another one of them drawing at the table, and there in the back corner, there were two more members having a conversation, one of them with a coffee in hand. The artist was a starry eyed male serval, that Casper felt some familiarity upon seeing the star shaped mark on his forehead. In front of the serval were several drawings, most of which were the common depictions of the Xha.

Pale white skin, flat noses and faces, yellow eyes that lacked pupils. In place of fur, they simply had tough plates on their heads, like the scales of the Wyvern species. Similar bodies to the Qestians, although their limbs were all rather long. No tails either, something the majority of Qestian species possessed. They looked so creepy, in Casper's opinion, but in the words of an old friend, "They are your progenitors! Show some respect!"

The serval looked up from his work, his eyes meeting with Casper's. Why did he recognize him?

As the serval rose from his seat, taking his drawings with him, and in an excited, yet shaky, voice, he called to Casper. His eyes. They looked wide with surprise… Was he crying? "Ah! Wait? Damien?! Is that actually you? By Valu, you- You're alive! It's me, Wells!" He extended an excited hand to shake, "We met back in Roe Pond! You recognize me don't you, Damien!"

Casper paused. His whole body freezing, momentarily avoiding eye contact with the boy. It was like he was in some sort of trance. The others in the room looked over, the young serval's childish voice catching their attentions. Closing his eyes tight, for an awkward length of time, he opened them, then looked over to Wells. "It's, uh, Casper now… Don't call me Damien anymore." Changing the subject, his eyes looked to the star on the Serval's forehead. "…You were the kid from that village weren't you? You wanted to join but you were too young. Right…?" He was sure he was right?

Wells' face went from confusion to Casper's reaction, then to remorse once he realized he had struck a nerve. "So it's really you? I'm so sorry for what happened, Dam- Casper. For your loss." He slapped himself in the face, cursing under his breath. "Stupid Wells… But uh, yes it's me… That kid."

"It's fine, Wells," Casper said, following him, setting Ekko's journal down on the table as he got close. He definitely remembered Wells now. No other serval he knew had that star shaped spot on the middle of their forehead. "It's sort of the reason why I'm here today. I'm looking for someone here who can help me is all." He sat down, looking at the still regretful Wells' drawings. He gave the teenager a reassuring smile. "Don't worry about it, buddy."

Yeah, he remembered it now. A small village, suffering from heavy clouds of Jinmenju pollen. Wells was just a kid then, with mediocre art skills. More and more memories of days long gone. He didn't know whether to smile or to tear up.

"Help you how?" Wells asked, going back to drawing, multitasking. A teenager now, his art skills clearly improved over time. "Help you how?" Wells asked, going back to drawing, multitasking. The ability to illustrate long extinct species, solely from writings and old carvings, was nothing to scoff at either.

"There are 3 things that I need to get done… Stuff I can't do alone." Casper said, his voice low, but not as heavy as the last time he explained it. "I can't do it alone. That's why I came here."

"Really? I guess you're going to the Holy Divers?" He asked, looking up from his drawings. One of them, coincidentally, was a drawing of a simple cone. "If you want to find the Amalgamate that killed your friends, they can find it."

"It wasn't-" Casper said, raising his voice, cutting himself off immediately. "…yeah, an Amalgamate… I couldn't do anything to it."

Hide the truth, Casper, for the right time.

"You've been through a lot, dude," Wells said, "A lot of people here have. Just talk to anyone here and they'll tell you." Putting his stacks of papers together, Wells took a moment to admire his work. "Like, I joined last year, finally hit my dream! If you're looking for a roommate here, I just got here. It's might be a large base, but, y'know, not everyone can have their rooms to themselves."

A friendly man. Barely an adult. That kind of naivety was something that Casper both pitied and envied. "Yeah, I just might." Coughing, he looked to extended his hand to Wells, finally going with a handshake. "But later…. For now I want to look around a little bit." He had sometime. Read over a few of the files they had.

"I'm not so much a kid anymore." Wells furrowed his brow. "You're looking like an old man already."

"New guy, huh?" A voice called from the entrance, right as Casper was getting ready to leave, after such a short meeting. "Glad to have you aboard." The owner of the voice was a short woman. Looked like she was around the same age as Wells. Snow white fur, a pair of long lopped ears. A rabbit. As she stepped in, she walked with an apparent weakness, a faint wobble that the untrained eye wouldn't pick up. A certain sickly way she spoke and moved. "…Sorry, this a bad time. I just like to greet all new people."

Everyone else in the room but Casper stood at attention, the one coffee drinker set his drink down. Even Wells awkwardly got out of his seat in order to salute her. "Ah! Commander!" He shouted, standing up straight.

"Commander…?" Casper said, picking up on the actions of others and standing up as well.

"If we knew you'd be coming, we'd make the place look less bad…" One of the other researchers said, a tall looking brown bear.

The rabbit shook her head, clearing her voice, "It's fine, guys, don't have to salute. We're not Imperials." Just like that, everyone could relax; that was one way you could control a room. With a weak, but proud, smile, the girl introduced herself with a cough. "Pleased to meet you… Like I said, I greet new members. I know you already met with Awassi."

Awassi, huh? Just what was that sheep up to? Casper thought to himself, the wheels in his head now just turning to realize the importance of this situation. His jaw practically dropped when the realization hit.

"I should introduce myself. I know I don't look like much." Fighting against her own apparent weakness, she stood as confidently as she could. "I'm Ada. Leader of the Sleepless Sky Coalition…"

Now standing before him, despite the fact they looked barely able to stand, despite being just a small teenager, was one of the most powerful people in the world. At the helm of one of the two largest factions in the world, where so many groups flocked under the umbrella of. The Sleepless Sky's very own Ada.