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"Good day, sirs," Alis said, disguising the contempt she held for all of Lassic's men, "I bring medical supplies to the hospitals of your town." She held up the card, offering it to the guards for inspection.
Barely giving her a second look, one of the guards waved her through. "Don't just stand there, get moving. We don't have time for your dalliance." The guard returned to the conversation he was apparently having with his partner. Stunned at this lack of scrutiny, Alis hurried through the gate. Inside, she was greeted by the pleasant lanes of this city on the oceanfront. Housing here was much more open than in Camineet or Parolit; it was not crowded, and there was plenty of variation in the architecture.
Despite the closing of the shipping lanes, Scion had somehow managed to resist the economic depressions that had plagued other towns. Although it obviously suffered in some areas, Scion was faring far better than its cousins. This intrigued Alis. How were these people supporting themselves? For a city that was practically built around the idea of commerce, Scion should have been one of those affected the worst by the monster infestations. But the lawns were lush and green, the parks and streets were clean and open, and the air of oppression that was so evident in Camineet was absent here.
Dismissing these musings from her mind, Alis returned her focus to her goal. She must find Odin.
Communicating with the people of Scion would be difficult. Were she to ask the wrong people the wrong questions, her mission could be quickly exposed as she would be branded a dangerous radical and certainly would be imprisoned. She had to gather information subtly, and delicately, without arousing suspicion. There were, of course, people dedicated to the resistance in Scion, but picking them out of the crowd would be nearly impossible. She hoped that luck would again be on her side.
Spotting a younger man who sat at a nearby park bench, Alis strode toward him, trying her hardest to show an air of trust and naivete.
"A beautiful day, is it not?" Alis asked the man as she sat down beside him. Noticing her for the first time, the man looked Alis over. The emerging smile on his face spoke of his newfound interest.
"Why yes, quite so. And you are...?"
"My name in Alis. I am a visitor to your fine town. I come from Camineet."
"A girl as young as yourself, traversing the wilderness to see our little town? Surely you have not come alone?" Alis knew instantly that this man would tell her anything she wished, if only she phrased her questions properly...
"Oh, no no, of course not. I would never have the courage to travel alone in these times. I came with a small group of merchants who are here to sell medicines to the hospital. They kindly allowed me to accompany them, in exchange for a modest fee."
"I see, how fortunate. And what reason have you for visiting Scion? Do you have relatives here?"
"No, in fact, I know no one here. I'm a stranger, I suppose. I came here because I have heard many stories of a great monster-hunter named Odin." Alis had baited the hook. "You see, I'm somewhat of a Hunter fan. I absolutely idolize them. I suppose you think that that's silly." Feigning blush, Alis eyed the man discreetly.
The man's smile broadened, and he responded, "Why no, not at all. It's quite natural for a girl as young as yourself to, ahem, fall for monster hunters. You know, I myself have done a bit of hunting, although certainly not as much as the Great Hunter Odin." Noticing the look in his eyes, Alis sincerely doubted that. This weasel of a man probably hasn't even been outside of the gate since this all started, she thought.
"Really? That's really admirable of you. To risk your life so that all of us on Palma might someday be free of those horrible beasts..." Her eyes fluttered. Although it would have been painfully obvious to anyone that Alis was acting a part, the man was completely enrapt. "Then I suppose that you know where I might find this Odin? I traveled so far, I'd hate not to be able to see him. I've even brought my autograph book with me. Do you think that he'd be kind enough to see a timid little girl like me?" The line was cast.
"Alas, the Great Hunter Odin has left Scion many days ago. He set off with one of those talking cats to destroy the Gorgon Medusa. It was the strangest thing, that cat. I mean, one sees cats like that around here often enough, but this one had a bottle around its neck. It was really quite odd. Ah, but you don't get to see those cats in Camineet, eh? They're nothing more than pets, really, although there's quite a market for them. Anyway, just a few days ago, I found that same cat that he left with wandering around here." Alis had caught her fish.
If it's an ally of Odin, I'm sure that this cat could help me find him, Alis thought. She began to rush out the words, but caught herself before she exposed her undue interest. "Odin isn't here? Ohhh, I hope he's alright. But what am I to do now? I've traveled all this way... Perhaps, if this talking cat is a pet of Odin's, I might meet it and salvage something from my trip?"
"Heh, I don't think that's possible. After I saw that cat, I picked it up and sold him to a merchant from Motavia. As I said, there's a great market for them. I made a great deal of money off of it." Alis was disgusted at the sick smile the man displayed. This man could tell her nothing else.
"Ah, well, then my trip was for naught. Thank you for your time, kind sir." She rose from the bench, and started to walk away down the lane.
"Hey, wait! I'm a hunter, I could sign your book! You don't have to go right now, do you? I could tell you about how I went on a hunt into the cave south of here!"
Eager to be rid of him, Alis yelled something unintelligible over her shoulder as she quickened her pace. He'd merely think that she was too far away to be heard, and hopefully would leave it at that.
As she crossed to another street, Alis began to be worried about her chances. This Odin was off in battle somewhere, perhaps he was even dead. How would she find him? Without this cat that the man had spoken of, she had no way of finding Odin. She might have to take up residence in this town until Odin returned, if he returned. And the longer she stayed, the more suspicion she would arouse.
Suddenly, she felt a hand grab her shoulder. As she spun around in surprise, a woman stood before her. Slightly taller than Alis, the woman looked quite old enough to be her mother.
"Alis," the woman spoke quietly, eyeing her suroundings, "I know your brother Nero. Come with me."
Stunned by this woman's announcement, Alis followed her, silently, into a nearby nest of trees. The area was deserted, and no one could see or hear their conversation.
"I'm sorry for the secrecy, but these are dangerous times."
Still surprised, Alis regained part of her composure. "You knew Nero? Who are you?"
"My name is Lokia. I've worked with your brother, for the resistance. He has told me about you many times."
"But how do you know that I'm Alis?"
Again searching the area cautiously, the woman replied, "Nero has described you to me. And it's my business to know each and every person in this town. You're obviously a stranger here, and you fit his description. Has Nero sent you here? With our communications link down, we thought that Nero would try to get us a messenger."
Alis knew instantly that this woman had not heard of her brother's death. Apparently, this link had gone down before he had been killed. Holding back the tears that would visit her many times in her life, she explained.
"My brother Nero is dead. He was killed by the Robotcops when they discovered the meeting place of the Camineet movement." Lokia was visibly shaken by the news.
"I am here because Nero's last wish was the I find a man named Odin. Nero believed that he was the key to destroying Lassic. And yet I have been told that Odin is not here."
"Yes, yes, Odin has not been seen for many days. My god, Nero is dead? I am deeply sorry. He was our most valuable leader." She paused, regaining herself, "I will inform the other members of the Scion movement. We must recover from this blow, or be lost. But Odin, he left the city many days ago and has not returned."
"What of this talking cat that he traveled with? I was told that the pet was sold to a man on Motavia."
"Ah, yes, Myau. He was no pet. Myau fought along Odin's side. Truly a marvelous creature who wished, just as we do, to free Palma from Lassic's grip. He is of a species called the Musk Cats. They populate the nearby countryside. They are very intelligent and a few are excellent warriors. Unfortunately, with no trade coming in through the ports, many people of this town have hunted them to sell them to visitors from other lands. They bring a high price, and these damn people have nearly wiped out their numbers."
"Fighting cats? Incredible... Haven't the cats a way to resist capture?" Alis asked, visibly fascinated.
"Only a few of their numbers fight well. Most are docile, peaceful creatures who lead a passive existence. They have no defense against well equipped hunting parties. But Myau, sold to a Motavian? That is truly horrible. We must get you to him. If anyone can find Odin, he can. Go see the man in the tool shop down that lane. He will assist you." Lokia grasped Alis' hand, the compassion evident in her expression. "I am truly, truly sorry for your loss. I hope that one day all Palmans can be free of this nightmare." With this, Lokia released Alis' hand and quickly scurried out of sight, leaving Alis again alone.
Sighting the tool shop Lokia spoke of, Alis walked down the lane. The shop stood alone amidst of a surrounding of hedges. Entering, Alis immediately recognized the tell-tale signs of a tool shop. Papers, trinkets and gadgets were piled haphazadly onto all the shelves that lined the walls, while boxes littered the floor. Apparently the care of tool shops on Palma was universal among all towns. Alis approached the counter, and the old man there turned around.
"I've been told that you can help me," Alis said discreetly, trying to communicate with the man without elaborating.
"I don't know who told you that. You had best forget it." The old man obviously wanted this strange woman out of his store.
"But I come from Lokia, she said that..."
The man interrupted, louder than before, "I tell you no one can. Go on back to wherever you came from."
"I am Nero Landale's sister, Alis. I come to avenge his death."
The shopkeepers attitude slipped quickly between one of irritation to shock and despair. "Nero is dead?..." The question went unanswered in the silence. His tone softened greatly. "All right, all right. I will help you. For Nero, rest his soul. I am sorry for the rudeness, but there are spies and sympathizers snooping around these days."
Alis was pleased with this change. "I need to get to Motavia, to locate Myau, Odin's Musk Cat."
"Ah, travel between the planets is difficult these days. The spaceport itself is closed to the general public." A pause. "But there are ways around these things." He left the room, disappearing into a doorway in the back of the store. Returning in a moment, he held a small fold-book in his hand. "This, this will allow you to enter the spaceport. Once there, you are on your own. I can do nothing more for you. Before it closed, passports were freely available to all, yet I do not know if that is currently so. I can only pray that you find your destiny."
Taking the book, Alis smiled graciously, turned, and walked to the door. "And I pray that you be rewarded for your kindness, whether in this world, or another." And she was gone.
With this book, the spaceport would be open to her. And hopefully, the path to Motavia as well. Beyond that, Myau, and, if all went well, Odin himself. So far, everything had gone her way. But with each new success, more and more obstacles made themselves apparent. How long would it be before she would indeed face her destiny? Lassic's death at her own hands... just how arrogant could she be to believe that she could accomplish such an overwhelming task? How long would it be before the reality of her situation crashed in around her?
These were questions that would often plague her mind. But, as with every time in the past, they were washed away with but a single thought: that of her brother, and her commitment to avenging his death. She could do no less that to give her all, and, fortunes willing, she would succeed. Or die trying.
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