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Chapter Six

"Excuse me," said Alis, as she approached an old man who walked slowly down the lane, "could you help me? I've just arrived from Palma, and I'd like to know where I might find a particular... oddity..."

The man, obviously pleased to have someone to talk to, began, "Ah, then you've come to the right place, you have! Paseo, jewel of the Motavian wilderness, is home to many a strange sight! What are you searching for, my dear?" Alis smiled as she felt the true kindness within the man. He could be trusted.

"I come from Camineet, on Palma, searching for an animal that was sold to a man from this town. It is called a Musk Cat. It is very important that I find this animal. It..." The man's eyes lit up, as he interrupted her.

"Ah, yes! I know the man you speak of! He runs an exotic animal shop just down the lane, on the right. I must ask you, dear lady," here the man's tone fell, and his eyes squinted a bit, "what would an obviously good-hearted girl like yourself have to do with a man like that? He treats his creatures as nothing more than possessions, to be bought and sold. Musk Cats are intelligent beings, just like you or I, and yet they only represent meseta to him. It is truly a disgrace to our city that these animals are allowed to be imported from Palma. Even moreso that your city of Scion rounds them up to sell them..." Suddenly, Alis began to feel ashamed of her people; she explained further.

"I must confess, sir, that I come not to buy the animal for profit, or amusement. It once traveled side-by-side with a man that I am searching for. I believe that this Musk Cat can help me to find this man." Here Alis paused, about to reveal her dangerous plan. Somehow, though, she knew that her secret would be safe with this kind old man. Looking around, she stood closer to the man and lowered her voice, "I am searching for Odin, a great warrior on Palma. Together, it is my hope that we can liberate our world from King Lassic. But only Myau, the cat, knows where to find him."

Here the man returned her secretive tone, "Yes, I have heard of movements on Palma to overthrow the king. I can only hope that you succeed, my dear. Lassic makes his evil presence felt here on Motavia as well. Our own governor despises him." Seeing a newfound opportunity, Alis pounced on the remark.

"Would your governor lend assistance? Surely with all of Motavia rallied against Lassic, he would fall!"

"I'm afraid that is cannot be so, my dear. Motavia still depends on Lassic for much, and we have no true army of our own. Such a confrontation would devastate Paseo, as well as the few other towns here. No, he could not directly help you..." The man noticed Alis' excitement fade. "But, he may be able to assist you in less direct ways... it would be worth your while to speak with him, at least. But you will need a gift to see the governor. Have you any of the rare Palman pastries? He has quite a sweet tooth, it is said."

"No, I don't. Perhaps I can find one. You are sure that he won't view an audience without one?"

"I'm positive, dear. Although he is quite an able ruler, he is very eccentric. But away with those thoughts, you have come here to rescue the Musk Cat! I will walk you to the shop where he is held. Come with me." The man held out his elbow, and Alis took it as he led her down the lane. Shortly, they stood in front of a large shop, with a sign labeled, "Menagerie of the Ages". "I hope that you will be able to achieve your goal, my dear. But beware, this man inside is a ruthless businessman. He will try to deceive you as to the worth of his animals. Do not let him fool you! I must return home now, as my wife worries about me when I stay out too long. Good luck, my dear!"

"Thank you, kind sir. I am in your debt," Alis replied as the man walked back the way they had come. Steadying herself, she entered the shop.

She was aghast at the sight that greeted her inside. Lining the walls, in endless number, were the heads of beasts, all molded into horrible expressions of anger and malice; fully stuffed animals sat of the floor, in similar attack positions. Behind the counter, she could see many cages, stacked one on top of the other, filled with various live creatures. They were nothing like their stuffed brethren, though. These animals all lay down in the back of the cages, many mewling or cooing softly. As Alis got closer, she could see the faces of a few of the strange beasts; their fear and pain were apparent. One animal that resembled a small dog scratched ineffectively at the bars of its cage. She could feel the rage at this treatment welling within her, but knew that an outburst would cost her the opportunity to free Myau. And so she pushed the anger inside, putting on the best face she could, under the circumstances.

The man behind the counter was tall, and thin, capped with deep blue hair. His face contorted in a disturbing way when Alis spoke. "I'm looking for a Musk Cat," Alis said flatly.

"Ah, you're in luck, sweety. I just happened to have picked up one of those rare beasties on Palma recently. Quite a fighter, he was, but chains'll do wonders, eh?" The disgust Alis held for the man was increasing every second. "Of course, they're almost impossible to find here on Motavia, so the price is quite high." The man eyed her closely. "Would you pay one billion mesetas for it?" Alis, as per the old man's advice, was prepared for this.

"You know of course, that Musk Cats are hardly worth that. I come from Palma, and could very well pick one up in Scion, for quite a smaller price... being that I was here already, I thought I'd get one, but I guess I'll just have to wait til I return home." Alis hoped he would fall for it.

"Now now, let's not be so hasty, eh? All my prices are... *negotiable*, let's say. What are you willing to offer?"

"I have not brought much cash with me; I don't like to travel with large amounts. However, I do have quite a valuable item with me. Perhaps you've heard of Laconian Pots?" The man formed a delirious smile.

"Ah, yes, they are *quite* valuable. I think that we could work out a trade, now. I'll go bring the cat out front. Wait here, ok?" Alis nodded, and the man stepped through a doorway in the back. He returned moments later, carrying a small cage, inside of which lay a yellow-furred cat, with exceedingly large ears and a long, bushy tale. There seemed to be a small bottle tied around its neck, and all four of its paws were in chains. Alis removed the pot from her sack, and placed it on the counter. "Ah, this is quite a fine specimen here," the man said as he wrapped at the bars of the cage and handed her a key, "as is this pottery that you have brought. We are both happy with the trade, are we not?" Again, the man's smile sickened Alis.

"Quite," was her only response, as she picked up the cage and left the store.

Once outside, Alis quickly moved to a deserted grove of trees nearby. Opening the latch on the cage, she unlocked the chains that bound the cat.

"Thank you for saving me," the cat spoke. Alis was surprised at the clarity and eloquence of these simple words. The animal was obviously highly intelligent. "For what purpose have you given up that finely-crafted pot, my dear?"

"We will be fellow travelers. I'm Alis. And you are Myau?" Alis asked. The cat rose to sit on all fours, its head thrown back and chest expanded.

"Yes, I am Myau, a Musk Cat. How is it that you know my name?"

"Myau, I come from Camineet on Palma. I seek a man that I'm told you know well... Odin, the monster-hunter." Here Myau frowned considerably. Alis was amazed at the ability of this cat to mimic Palman facial expressions.

"Yes, but he is turned to stone!" Alis' heart sank at the revelation. Myau continued, "This magical potion will cure him, but I cannot open the bottle. It seems not to have been designed for those with paws." He pointed at the small vile that hung around his neck. "Odin gave it to me for safe keeping when we traveled to destroy Medusa, before he could open it in preparation, we were attacked."

"You tried to fight Medusa? The Gorgon of Palma?"

"Yes. We wished to free the world from her evil influence. But we were attacked, as I said. I barely managed to escape after Odin was turned to stone; I made it back to Scion, but was so weak from my battles that I was captured." Although she had been told earlier that this creature was a fierce warrior, she still had trouble envisioning it.

"But where is Odin? I must find him. If you can show me where he is, I can use the potion on him."

"We fought Medusa in the dank cave just south of the twin-cities. I gladly appreciate all you have done to free me, and all you are willing to do to save my friend, but you must tell me, why do you seek Odin?" Myau turned his head slightly, in curiosity.

"My brother," Alis began, "my brother worked for the Palman liberation movements. He wished to free our planet from Lassic's evil grip. Day after day, more atrocities and injustices are performed against the people." Her pace slowed, "He was murdered by Lassic's henchmen, the Robotcops."

"Ah, the Robotcops," Myau added, "I know the point of their blasters quite well."

"The last thing that my brother said to me was to find a brave warrior named Odin. With his help, I may be able to overthrow Lassic's regime and destroy the king himself. I must avenge my brother's death, I must free our world. I cannot allow myself to do any less." The lighthearted tone that Myau had been using now changed; his air was one of consolation, and empathy.

"Alis, I am sorry for your brother's fate. I too have lost loved ones. The climate of ruin and poverty that Lassic has created has caused the town elite of Scion to hunt my people down, and sell us to the highest bidder. Odin and I have fought long to end the madness that blankets Palma. Surely, I will join your cause, that no more may suffer as we, and countless others, have. I hope only that you find my presence a valuable asset, and that you allow me to aid you." Myau's head bowed, a gesture of respect and humility. Alis took his outstretched paw in a firm grasp.

"I welcome any with as kind a heart as you. Well then, we'd better go save Odin together, okay?"

The strange duo, a young Palman lady flanked by a small yellow-furred cat-creature walked down the lane. As they neared the spaceport entrance, Alis brought out her money-satchel. "Only sixty mesetas left," she thought to herself, "I hope that Suelo can provide some supplies once we return to Camineet." She walked up to the gatekeeper, money in hand. Myau followed silently behind her.

"I'd like one ticket please. I can store this pet in the cargo hold, correct?" Alis asked.

"Sure, sure, whatever." The man appeared not to want to be bothered by "tourists". "That'll be one hundred and fifty mesetas." Alis' face held an expression of shock.

"One hundred and fifty? But the trip here was just fifty meseta! And that was under an hour ago!"

"One hundred and fifty, ma'am," he replied, obviously disinterested the Alis' protestation, "I don't set the prices, the Palman government does. Do you have the money or not?"

Casting a side-long glance of concern at Myau, Alis answered, "No, no I don't. I'm sorry to take your time." The pair walked back towards the main lane of Paseo.

"Myau, have you any meseta? We need almost a hundred to return home!"

"I'm afraid not. The man who captured me stole the possessions I was carrying. There may be a way to get the meseta, though..." Perplexed as to what Myau might be thinking, Alis waited patiently for the explanation. "Many of the more intelligent of the beasts that roam these worlds keep treasure chests filled with money and items that they take from travelers." Alis had experienced such, in her early battle on Palma. "In fact, gathering these chests is one of the reasons that monster-hunting is still thriving... perhaps we can go looking for one of these chests ourselves, although *looking* for a fight is not entirely healthy," Myau said with a smile.

"And chasing after Gorgons is?" Alis half-joked. "It's not a prospect I look forward to; but together, maybe we can be successful."

"The desert just outside of Paseo is inhabited by a few monster species. They are not *too* dangerous, but we must be very careful. I trust you have a sword to fight with?" he asked. Alis nodded in affirmation. "Very well. Come then, the longer we wait, the more tenuous Odin's continued existence becomes." And so the two walked briskly to the gate in the northeast corner of Paseo. After acknowledging the warnings of the exit guards, they left Paseo, entering the barren wilderness.

They walked slowly, eyes and ears wide open, searching both for uncovered chests and roving beasts. "Most of the creatures hide their chests in the sands, and do not journey far from them. We will be fortunate if we can spot a chest without an owner," Myau explained. The heat surrounding them was immense, and merely walking around was exhaustive. For Myau, and his thick fur coat, Alis imagined, the heat must have been doubly intense.

Then, as they strode alone, Alis tripped over something in the sand and fell forward. Turning her head to see what she had hit, she noticed a small piece of wood protruding about an inch above the sand. It was colored a dark tan, which occurred to her was the reason she had not seen it. Myau came closer to investigate; he began to use his claws to dig around the wood. "This is the corner of a chest!" he exclaimed. Still on her knees, Alis smiled at their luck and began to assist Myau in the digging. The chest itself was about a foot long, buried nearly completely. But the granular sand was easily removed, and soon Alis could lift the chest out of its hole. Just as she did so, she saw, out of the corner of her eye, Myau's ears shoot up, as if he heard something. It was an inadequate warning.

Suddenly, not two feet in front of the pair, something was emerging from the sand. In a heart beat, a huge snake-like creature arose; pale green in appearance, it had no head, only a rounded yellow node that pulsed rhythmically. Its body looked to be nearly two feet thick, as it writhed in the sand, emitting an low rumbling sound. Myau jumped backwards as the "head" of the creature dove towards them, the rest of its eight foot long body dragging behind. Caught unawares, Alis tried to roll out of its way, but the beast rammed into the side of her abdomen.

An instant later, Myau's claws flashed as he viciously raked the pulsing node, the creature spurting brown bile. This allowed Alis to move aside, and in the same movement, she grabbed her sword and slashed at the head of the snake, completely severing it from the body. Alis and Myau stared at each other for a few moments, with the dead thing between them, still spewing the brownish liquid.

Breathing heavily, Alis spoke. "Are you all right, Myau?"

"Yes, I am fine. I've dealt with tougher foes than that. But what about you? You took a hit pretty badly." Alis held a hand to her side and grimaced.

"It's nothing I can't handle. Just a bruise. I was startled more than hurt. C'mon, let's get this chest open." Alis rose and took a step over to the chest, which had been covered with the creature's blood. "What a mess," she said as she began working with the lock. "It's hard to believe that a thing like that could be smart enough to take money from travelers."

"Intelligence takes many forms in this universe, as I might attest to," Myau commented. "So does evil." Alis, having no luck with opening the chest, began to use her sword to pry it open as she had on Palma.

"I think it's about to give," Alis said, "I've almost got it opAAARGHH!" Alis screamed, falling backwards. Myau saw a small arrow sticking in her chest; the box must have been trapped. She was bleeding profusely, moaning.

"Alis! Alis! You've got to pull it out!"

"Ahhhh, it huuuuurrrrttttttss!" she screamed. "Myyyyaaaaaauuuu!"

"Alis, pull it out! Now!"

Grabbing the arrow with blood-covered hands, Alis tugged slowly at it, but that served only to heighten the pain. "One sharp pull, Alis! I can help you, but you've got to pull the arrow out!" Myau stood by her side, fearful of losing his friend and savior.

Still moaning, Alis grasped the arrow firmly again, and, taking one deep breath, yanked with all her might, ripping the arrow from her chest. "Yeeeeaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhhh!" she wailed, blood now drenching her entire torso. As tears streamed down her face, Myau steadied himself by her side. His eyes closed and his head bowed. He seemed to be speaking to himself in low tones. A moment later, his head shot back, eyes open, and he yelled a screeching mewl that thundered across the desert. Alis froze, her voice silent, as pressure began to build in all parts of her body. It was like the sensations she had experienced before when performing the Desan healing spell, only many times more powerful. Distracted by the building pressure, her recognition of the pain had vanished. And no sooner had the pressure come that is was gone, leaving Alis without adverse feelings.

She looked at the spot where the arrow had pierced her chainmail, and although she could not see her skin, she could feel that it had been healed. Still covered in blood, she turned to Myau, who was teetering on his feet. "Are you all right, Alis?" he asked through his heavy breathing.

"Yes, yes, I am, thanks to you. You saved my life!" She was surprised that she had formed such a sympathetic bond with this creature in so short a time. "But you look hurt!"

"We are in this together, you and I. I must do my best to protect you. There is something unknown, something magical about you, something that tells me that you *must* stay alive, for the good of all Algo." Seeing Alis' confusion at this, he quickly added, "Performing that healing magic makes me weary, but I am not hurt. A little rest from monster-hunting, and I shall be fine."

"You know magic? From where could you learn such a thing? Surely you don't know the ancient Desan techniques! Do you?"

"My people have long used magic in our lives; it has helped us to survive in Algo for a very long time. But no, it is not Desan. We have our own methods and rituals." Standing fully upright again, he continued, "Come, it is not safe for us to remain out here. Gather the things from the chest and let us return home to Palma."

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