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Chapter Eight

On their way to the cave, Alis and Myau had been confronted by two creatures similar to the scorpion-like beast that Alis had fought several days ago. They had been easily dispatched by their combined efforts; out here, in the open, there was no element of surprise for the monsters to rely on.

Other than that minor incident, their trip had been uneventful. Exchanging snippets of their lives, learning to enjoy each other's company, these were the things that they had occupied themselves with. But now, as they stood a few yards from the entrance to the underground cave, they were completely focused on the task at hand. Rising from the ground ahead of them was a rock formation, stretching over ten feet high. It opened into a pitch black world beneath Palma's surface, hiding unknown risks and unknown dangers.

"We must be sure to get in and out as soon as possible," Myau warned, "I remember the path we took the first time. But there will surely be monsters to bar our way. I assume you've never fought in an underground cavern before?" he asked Alis.

"No, no I haven't. I've never even been inside one. Everyone I've known has always said that we must stay out of them. But if it is pitch black in there, how can the beasts see any more than we can?" Myau gazed back at the entrance as he responded.

"Many of the beings that inhabit these caves are well suited to life in the dark. Our flashes may scare the lesser of them off, but most will be angered by the intrusion. They fight well in there; we will be at a disadvantage. The quarters as very cramped, the brick walls will severely limit our fighting room." Alis looked startled.

"Brick walls? I though it was a cavern, a natural formation?"

"No, this cave, as well as many others, was made by man. My people believe they were constructed by an ancient culture, for an unknown purpose. They must have fallen into disuse many centuries ago, for none of my race remembers who built them. But as I said, we will be at a great disadvantage. That is why we must get in and out very quickly."

"And what of Odin?" Alis said. "Will we have to help him reach the surface, or do you think he'll be able to hold his own, after his transformation?" A smug looked momentarily crossed Myau's face.

"If I know Odin, he'll be leading the way, ailing or not..." With that, Myau motioned his head towards the entrance, and Alis knew it was time. Myau confidently lead the final few yards to cave, with Alis following closely behind, her sword drawn, held in front of her. As they reached the doorway, Alis twisted the cap of the flash that hung from her belt; in an instant, it was shining brightly, even in the mid-day sun. Pausing for one final time, they exchanged nods, and entered the cave.

Despite Myau's description, Alis was still shocked at the closeness of the tunnel they now found themselves in. Standing at the bottom of a stairwell, they could not see the end of the path, although, about a hundred yards ahead, they could see where the tunnel branched off to the left. Everything beyond that lay hidden in darkness. The pathway itself was but six feet across, making it most impractical for the two to travel side by side. The ceiling seemed ready to rush in and crush Alis, as near as it was.

"I will lead," Myau whispered. "Be as silent as possible; we must be able to hear if a beast is approaching." They began to move forward, at a pace that Alis thought was far too quick considering this was unknown territory. But realizing that Myau had been here before, she kept up. So far, despite the dreary surroundings, nothing seemed out of the ordinary to Alis. As they walked, though, she soon became acutely aware of a pungent smell that began to turn her stomach. A thought then flashed into her head.

"Myau, wait!" she whispered, the excitement in her voice plainly evident. "You said you fought Medusa here... what if she's still here? If you and Odin could not defeat her, what chance do..." A stern look from Myau silenced her.

"If we have to face the Gorgon, so be it. We will fight to our last. Your own goal is to free Palma from evil, as is mine. That cannot be done without confrontation." Alis, slightly ashamed at her outburst, nodded in concession. They continued forward.

Suddenly, Myau stopped, causing Alis to nearly trip over him. She saw his ears surge forward. She knew immediately that he heard something coming, although she herself heard nothing. She held her sword tightly.

And then, faintly, she could hear it: a rhythmic rustling of air, growing steadily louder. It appeared out of the dark boundary set by the flash, flying towards them a considerable rate. Alis raised her sword, trying desperately to make out the blur of motion that was fast approaching. It seemed to be a giant ball, with huge wings growing out of either side. As it neared, Alis readied herself to fall back towards the entrance. But she looked down at Myau, who was frozen, his head down near the ground, his front legs bent so that his shoulders were ready to explode. His hind legs were spread slightly, and Alis puzzled at what he was about to do. Before she knew it, when the flying beast was only a few feet ahead, Myau launched himself into the air at the creature, his front paws outward, claws extended. In one vicious movement, he slashed the monster with both claws. He landed behind it as it crashed to the ground, settling at Alis' feet, unmoving. In less time than it had taken to register the creature's presence, it lay dead in front of her, spewing blood.

Alis got a good look at it for the first time: it was a giant eye, or at least appeared to be, with two leathery wings sprouting from its sides. She was transfixed by the grotesqueness of it, as Myau returned to her. "Come, we have no time to waste." Myau was off again, and Alis tore herself away from the horrible sight to catch up.

They reached the first junction, as a pathway extended to the left. Turning, they followed this new hall. As she walked, Alis looked behind herself frequently, determined not to be caught unawares. Shortly, she saw another hall branching to the left. So similar was this to where they had turned earlier that she wondered how Myau could tell where he was going.

Minutes later they were at yet another split. Just ahead of them, the path stopped, while a left and right passageway began. Myau paused, looking down both corridors, as if he could not decide which way to go. While Alis waited, she looked around. Nothing unusual, for an underground cavern, anyway. Then something caught her eye. The wall just to the left of them seemed to be... seeping something. It was some kind of blue goo, and it was rapidly coalescing onto the ground. Puzzled by this behavior, Alis took half a step towards it, as Myau noticed it for the first time.

"Get back!" he shouted. Reflexively, Alis launched herself backwards, colliding with the opposite wall forcefully. Just as she did so, the goo, in a lightning fast movement, formed itself into a small disk and jumped to the spot where Alis had just stood. It jumped again towards Alis, just as she rolled out of the way. Myau was active in an instant, jumping to her side. "Use your sword! Cut it, but don't get it on your skin!"

Following his instructions, Alis stood and swung her sword at the mess as it again launched itself. The thing was sliced completely in half, and it dropped to the floor with two sickening thuds. As she watched, the two pieces of the creature began to liquefy, quickly losing their integrity. Moments later there was nothing more than a blue puddle in front of them.

"I'm sorry that I could not aid you; but once that slime gets on your skin, it eats its way inside of you. My claws would have been useless." He paused. "That was a fine technique you displayed." Still stunned by the weirdness of the experience, Alis gave only a short response as she tried to wipe her sword against the wall.

"Thanks." Myau turned, facing the left corridor, and continued. Alis resumed her procession behind him.

They turned once more to the left before finding him: standing before them, frozen, was a hulk of a man who stood at least six feet tall. It was as if he were a marble statue, carved in intricate detail. Wearing full body armor, he carried and axe in his hand. On his face was an expression of surprise; yet even in this Alis could note his strong will and defiance.

"It is Odin," Myau said. Alis quickly took the vile from around his neck and pried the cap off. A strange aroma then filled the passageway, as she gently began to pour the blue liquid over Odin's petrified form. Taking two steps back, she and Myau watched silently as the liquid started to bubble and fizz. Shortly, the surface of rock around Odin's head changed color; his torso, and arms and legs soon followed. He was transforming back before their very mystified eyes. Suddenly, Odin fell to his knees, gasping for breath, before looking up at his rescuers.

"Odin!" shouted Myau, "you're alive! We have freed you from Medusa's power!" Noticing Odin's expression as he stood, Alis introduced herself.

"I am Alis Landale. I've come looking for you... My brother told me that you were Palma's greatest warrior." For the first time, Odin spoke.

"Your brother, whomever he is, speaks in hyperbole. As I offer my thanks for saving me," here Odin turned his head to smile at Myau, before returning his attention to Alis, "I would know why you sought me out? And Myau, how could you have endangered this young lady by bringing her on such a dangerous mission? I am gratified for your presence, old friend, but you have shown poor judgement here. The caverns of Palma are no place for a city-girl." Myau stuttered momentarily, unsure of how to respond to such a comment, fearing where the conversation might escalate to. He was about to find out.

"I am on a quest to destroy King Lassic," Alis began, asserting herself through her tone. "My brother was killed by his henchmen. His last request was that I continue his fight; he claimed that you would be a valuable asset to my cause." Odin began to interrupt, but Alis continued, obviously intent on defending herself, "I have freed your companion, Myau, from imprisonment, and have journeyed here with him to free you. I will not be patronized by such a 'great warrior' as yourself. If you wish to join my cause, I would have you. If not, let us leave this dreadful cavern and go our separate ways. I have no time to debate my capabilities with you." Shocked by the fire evident in her words, Odin responded in concession.

"My apologies, dear lady. I had no wish to offend you. Truly, if you have come this far, you are a worthy and honorable warrior." Alis nodded and her face softened. "I must not let your brother die unavenged. I will join your cause, for I am in your debt. Perhaps together, we can finally rid this world of that tyrant." Odin fell to one knee, a gesture of atonement and humility. Myau spoke up.

"Come, we must leave this place. It is too dangerous to speak excessively here."

"Always the impatient one, Myau," Odin laughed, "but we cannot leave yet. We must retrieve the compass I stashed in one of these passageways before we can go. We will need it soon." Unsure as to what he meant by that, Alis studied him intently. "Myau, you lead the way. We'll need your sensitive hearing out front. I will tell you which way to go." And so Myau turned and walked the way they had come, as Alis and Odin followed. At every junction, Odin whispered directions to Myau. Within five minutes, they had reached a dead end.

"You have led us to nowhere..." Myau said, frowning at Odin.

"Not so, not so." Odin bent down, and used his axe to pry loose a stone at the base of the left wall. Behind the stone lay a small leather bag, which Odin picked up and attached to his belt. "Alright, let's go. I have no wish to meet Medusa again... at least not yet..."

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