"All right," Alis said, twisting off the stopper. "Here goes nothing."
"Keep your fingers crossed, meow."
Alis glanced down in surprise at the Musk Cat.
"Wait a second, Myau. I thought that you said this medicine would restore him."
"That's what it's supposed to do," Myau replied. "I've never actually seen it happen."
The two of them had come to this dank cave south of the town of Parolit to rescue Myau's partner, the warrior Odin. Alis' brother Nero had told her with his dying words to seek out Odin so that she could complete Nero's quest to overthrow the tyrant king, Lassic. Apparently, Odin was one of the few men with both the strength to fight Lassic and the courage to do so.
Right now, though, he didn't look capable of fighting anyone. According to Myau, Odin had been turned to stone when he had tried to take on Medusa, Lassic's provincial governor, who apparently had not merely named herself after the legendary monster from a thousand years ago but actually was that monster. Myau had a bottle of medicine called Alsulin that could cure the effect, but lacking opposable thumbs he couldn't get the top off.
Of course, the statue might just be a rock and the Alsulin nothing more than winterberry juice, but Alis didn't want to believe that. She tipped the bottle and its contents leaked out over the statue. A reaction happened almost at once. Thousands of tiny cracks formed throughout the stone, and in seconds a kind of "crust" shattered into a shower of pieces, revealing living flesh beneath that quickly turned from gray to its natural color. Odin stumbled as he tried to find his balance, then drew himself up straight. The heavy blade of his short-handled iron axe gleamed in the light from Alis' flash.
* * * * *
The first thing that came over Odin was confusion. The last thing he remembered was charging Medusa, axe ready to strike, then beams flashing from her eyes, pain and a curious tightness like all his muscles clenching at once, and then...everything was different. He was in the same place, a passage within the ironically-named Medusa's Cave, but now he faced a young girl about fifteen with soft brown hair falling past her shoulders wearing a short pink dress, the skirt being loose to allow freedom of movement, under an armor breastplate. A sword was buckled at her waist and a shield hung from her arm. Myau, the Musk Cat who'd been Odin's friend and partner for years, sat next to her, his eyes worried.
"Odin, are you all right?" he asked at once.
"Y-yes, I think so. A little disoriented, though. What happened? The last thing I remember is fighting Medusa..."
The memories came flashing back to him, the vicious battle with the wizardess who had become a monster, the way she'd casually slaughtered so many of his companions, fellow resistance fighters. They'd bet their lives on one grand gamble that they could destroy Lassic's most powerful servant, and they had failed. Bold Cyan with the laughing eyes, courageous Merrick, Kyla, Asher...the entire group. Probably most of those who'd tried to lure her into the cave for Odin's team to fight. Each death wholly in vain.
"You were turned to stone by her gaze, meow, and I couldn't get the Alsulin bottle open. I tried to tell you that when you gave it to me, Odin."
He flushed, remembering how preoccupied he'd been at the time.
He turned to the girl.
"Thanks for saving me." Odin ran his hand through his crewcut blond hair. "Some revolutionary I turned out to be," he said glumly, hooking his axe back into his belt. "I guess if Medusa can stop me, I don't have much hope of killing Lassic."
"My brother died trying to kill Lassic. He was a resistance fighter in Camineet, but the robotcops caught him and cut him down in front of a crowd as a 'lesson' not to meddle in Lassic's affairs. before he died, he told me to seek you out."
Odin could see the pain etched into her face, but he was too lost in his own hurt to sympathize.
"Oh, is that so?" he sneered sarcastically. "Well, we must not let your brother die unavenged."
Her bright blue eyes snapped wide open in shock.
"My brother believed in you! He said you were the one man who had the strength to fight Lassic!"
"Obviously he was wrong. I'm no here. Saving the world's a stupid dream for people who can't face up to facts."
"But...but you tried to fight back! If you don't believe in the dream of a free Algo System, why did you try to fight Medusa?"
Of course, he did believe in the dream, or at least he had. Deep down, Odin probably still did, but he was too caught up in pain and self-pity to realize it.
"Because Medusa has a mystic axe," he snapped back. "That's all I am, a simple thief. Unfortunately, she got away from me. As for the thirty Resistance fighters who got butchered by her troops and spells, they were there just for the fun of it." He spat at her feet. "What's the matter, can't you tell there was a battle here? Didn't you see the corpses of my friends? The friends I let die in vain, and you step over their bodies without a thought?" Stupid little-- "Or is it just that you don't care about anyone but your precious brother? Our whole Resistance cell was massacred, and you're asking me why we were fighting?"
The girl stepped back reflexively, shock and hurt on her face. Good! He'd meant to hurt her, the little twit. How could she be so blind? She recovered quickly, though, stepping right up to him, fists clenched at her sides.
"I loved my brother!" she snapped in his face. "He was decent and brave and honest and he died for what he believed in. You were his hero! He wanted to be like you in every way--but all you are is an arrogant, spiteful man filled with hate! I'm glad he never got to meet you!"
Myau's roar took them both by surprise.
"Odin, Alis, you're both acting like children!"
They both spoke at once, which was almost comical.
They shut up, faces still tight with smoldering anger. Myau sat back on his haunches and began to groom his paw delicately.
"That's better, meow. Now listen, both of you. It's silly for you to be screaming at each other when your real enemy is Lassic. Odin, she doesn't know a thing about what happened here. It's been nearly two months since that battle. From what I've seen, whatever supplies weren't moved to Eppi were stolen by the army after the battle. This place is essentially a bare cave now, with no sign that it was a Resistance base. Even the bodies are gone."
Odin winced, remembering the green slimes that had oozed through cracks in the walls from breeding pits deep in the rock. They had been a constant problem for the Resistance.
"It's my fault, probably," Myau said. "I should have told Alis everything that happened instead of just that Medusa had turned you to stone." He lowered his gaze. "It wasn't easy for me either...and I saw more than you did."
For a moment the Musk Cat was silent, but then Myau regained his composure and turned to the girl, Alis.
"Odin didn't come here hunting Medusa. This cave was used as a base by a band of Resistance fighters. We joined the group and worked with them for several months. We tried a bold plan: lure Medusa herself to this cave with a feigned attack on her hovercraft and ambush her in the tunnels. She's Lassic's most powerful and well-known ally. Defeating her would have told all Palma that the Resistance could succeed, that the tyrant could be fought. That would have drawn more people into the fight, and might have given us the chance to win."
Myau gave a deep sigh. It was noticeable how his catlike meows disappeared from his voice when he was talking about important things, probably because he had to concentrate more on his use of Palman to make sure he used the right words.
"Only it didn't work," he continued. "We beat some of her troopers and robotcops, but they slaughtered us in return. In the cave, Medusa revealed herself as the monster all the stories call her, and she killed many of us as well as turning Odin to stone. I was the only one who escaped, and I wouldn't have made it if one of the men Medusa fought was dead hadn't surprised her by striking with his last strength. We lost a lot of friends that day."
Alis looked horrorstruck.
"Oh no..." she whispered, and turned to the warrior. "Odin, I had no idea."
"It's all right." Myau's words had been like a dash of ice water on his rage. "I...I was acting like a self-pitying jerk, lashing out at you because you were convenient."
"Luckily, you have me along to tell you these things, meow." No one acknowledged the comment
Alis shook her head.
"No, you don't understand. I was looking for you in Scion, and I met someone who told me about you. He said...oh, what was it?" She scowled, trying to dredge up the man's exact words. "Oh, yes, he said, 'Odin set off to kill Medusa! He went with an animal that can speak! The animal had a bottle of medicine hanging from its neck, but I don't know what that is for.' That was the clue that led me to find Myau when I couldn't learn more about you."
Odin realized that he was staring at her in shock, but he figured that it was all right since Myau was, too.
"Alis, that's impossible!"
"It's the truth!" she protested.
"But...I only put the Alsulin bottle around Myau's neck right before the battle. No one could have known, even if they got the general story confused."
"What was this man like, meow?"
Alis frowned thoughtfully, trying to remember. Of course, the incident hadn't been particularly important from her point of view; it was the clue that would have mattered, the words rather than the speaker.
"He was dark and slender...his face wasn't very distinctive."
It wasn't much of a description, but it could have fit one of those who had fought in the cave with Odin.
"Did he have a scar on the back of his left hand?" he asked.
"He...yes, he did!" Alis exclaimed.
Odin looked at Myau. The Musk Cat nodded.
"Scott," the fighter concluded.
"Was he a traitor?" Myau wondered. "He might have pretended to fight, meow."
"I don't want to think something like that."
"I don't think he was," Alis said.
They both looked at her.
"Why is that, meow?"
"Because of his eyes. I thought then that he was scared of Lassic and the robotcops catching him talking to me, but he looked...haunted. I think that whatever happened to him cost him his sanity, that he told me what he did because the truth was hidden away in his own mind, where it couldn't hurt him any more."
Odin nodded. He could imagine it--Scott wounded, left for dead by the army, only to regain consciousness surrounded by corpses. Badly injured, possibly delirious and in shock, how he'd returned to civilization might have been a horror story all by itself.
"If we get back to Scion ourselves we'll have to make sure that he gets the help he needs."
"Let's do that," Myau agreed.
"So...I guess that you two are going on together from here, then?" Alis asked.
"I'd assumed so," Odin replied.
The girl sighed.
"I see." Her head came up. "Well, I understand. You fought against Lassic, and after what you've gone through..."
Odin shook his head.
"I'm not giving up. I've got a debt to pay, to the men and women who died so I'd get a chance to fight Medusa. I'm going to find the power I need, and kill her."
"Then why don't we travel together? There's strength in numbers."
"But...you're only a young girl. This fight isn't for someone your age."
Myau chuckled, purring.
"You haven't seen her in battle yet, Odin."
He looked at her in surprise.
"I'm going to fight," she said. "You're fighting to avenge your friends, and I'm fighting to avenge Nero. They all died for the dream of a free Algo, and I'm going to make sure that their souls can watch that dream achieved."
There was determination in her voice, and something about her that spoke of the ability to endure what was to come. Odin once had described himself as not being a leader, but as a knight who was suited to follow a king he believed in. Well, why not a queen?
"All right," he said. "I like the idea. What do you think, Myau?"
"Of course I agree, meow. I was just hoping you'd think of it by yourself."
Alis giggled and exclaimed, "Wonderful! Now, back in Paseo, I heard rumors that the Governor might have sympathies towards our cause, but we'll need some kind of master key if we want to get in to see him."
"The village elder in Eppi might be able to help with that," Odin said. "Wait a minute. You said Paseo--on Motavia?"
"What were you doing there?"
"Rescuing Myau from the pet shop."
Odin laughed heartily, the noise booming in the corridor.
"The pet shop? Is that why it took you two months to come back for me?" he asked Myau.
"I think," the Musk Cat said primly, "that perhaps I should have waited for three, instead."