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Chapter Nine

Having exited the cavern without incident, the three warriors now stood in the late afternoon sun outside, discussing their options. For the first time, Alis got a full view of Odin. He was even more intimidating in the sunlight; his massive frame was topped by a strong face, and his blond hair shone brightly. He was the largest man she had ever seen.

"We are finally united," Myau told Alis, "and so what is our next step?"

"I have learned that the governor of Motavia might help us well. We must gain an audience with him. But we need a gift... apparently, we need to find a rare Palman pastry... it's quite odd, but he will not see us without it." Odin jumped at the words.

"A pastry? I know of a man who sells them," he said.

"Very well, let us go buy one immediately," Myau replied.

"It's not that simple, I'm afraid. He lives... well, it'll be difficult to get to his shop..." Alis featured a look of concern.

"What do you mean, 'difficult'. Where does he live?" she asked.

"He takes home far to the north, past the hill of Baya Malay. It would be a long, long journey." Odin still seemed to be leaving something out. Alis pressed further.

"So what of it? I've heard that you are the greatest warrior alive. Are you afraid of the journey?" Alis' implication shocked Odin, who swelled his chest as he began to defend himself.

"My lady, I have traveled farther than that, alone, with no food, and only a puny short sword to defend myself with. It is not the journey that concerns me; nor, in fact, am I against the idea. But you must know, the man I speak of lives inside a cavern itself, much like the one we just left." Odin's companions' mouths dropped open.

"Inside a cavern? What kind of fool would live in such a dangerous place?" Myau asked.

"He's crazy, perhaps, but he's no fool. Fools don't carry blasters to defend themselves..." Odin smiled to himself at this. "Before the monster numbers began to increase, he set up a home and shop in the northern cave. For one, he disliked societal living, and wished to stay away from the cities. And, he thought having a shop in such an odd place would attract a great deal of business..."

"What an odd, odd man," said Myau. "Certainly no one actually traveled to visit his shop!"

"You'd be surprised," Odin commented. "Back then, it was a long journey, but it was not dangerous. Generally, Palmans have been taught to stay out of the ancient caverns, but his very presence there showed that it was fairly safe."

"But when the monsters started appearing all over, no one would travel up there anymore..." Alis interrupted.

"That is correct. But he refused to leave his home, even when beasts began to infest his cave. I was able to get him a blaster to protect himself, although I pleaded with him to leave the cave. The last time I saw him, some four months ago, he was still living there."

"Then we can travel there and get him to make us a pastry for the governor." Alis' mien was resolute.

"You are quite a daring girl, I see," said Odin. "Very well. If you feel the governor may aid us, we have no choice. But we must go to Eppi first."

"Eppi? For what? We were just there not two weeks ago..." Myau said with hesitance. Odin grabbed the bag from his belt that he had taken from the cave.

"The people of Eppi have been sympathetic to the resistance movement. They may have information that can help us. But more importantly, there is a man there who may provide us with a key to enter the northern cavern."

"A key? Why would we need such?" questioned Alis.

"The cavern has a locked gate at its entrance. Many of the Palman caves do; the pastry seller always left it open, but some of the beasts keep it locked now. This man in Eppi has made keys that will disable all types of locks. He once gave me one, but it was lost in a battle... he should be able to give us another." Myau looked nervous.

"That is why you retrieved the compass, eh?" he said as Odin nodded and pulled a small ball from the bag he held.

"What do we need a compass for?" Alis was obviously lost in the two warriors' unspoken communication. Myau explained.

"Eppi lies in the middle of Eppi forest, just over there to the east..." Myau pointed towards a huge range of dense trees, not half-a-mile from where they stood. "The forest is absolutely unnavigable without a compass to lead the way. It is also quite dangerous... some of the most powerful beasts have taken residence there." From his solemn tone, Alis took his words very seriously.

"Yes, indeed," added Odin, "the forest is not too be taken lightly. If we did not need the key, it would be best to avoid it completely. But we cannot." Looking directly at Alis, he continued. "There are huge bat-like creatures in the forest. They are lightning quick, and they approach in silence. They attack in groups, and, with their relatively high intelligence, they are extremely deadly. If you have any doubts as to your battle skills, you must not accompany us. Myau and I can go alone, as we've had a bit of experience dealing with them." Realizing that Odin's concern was not an insult, but truly a sincere feeling, she responded in kind.

"I have known from the beginning that this path would be dangerous. My brother's death taught me that. But I cannot ask you to do something that I myself would not. I will go with you, where ever need be."

- - - - - - - - - -

Despite the fact that the sun was still shining brightly in the sky, the forest itself was almost pitch black. Alis had activated her second flash as the trio slowly made their way to the town. Odin led the way, using the compass as a guide. Alis followed behind him, as Myau tailed them both.

The trees were immense, some ten feet around, and they were spaced only a few feet apart. There was little room to fight, a crucial point that had not gone unnoticed by Alis. There was no sound here; whatever wind spread over the Palman countryside, it never made it this deep into the woods. The group was walking at only a pace per second, and they each continuously scanned the surrounding area, looking for signs of confrontation.

They had been traveling for over twnety minutes before anyone had spoken. But suddenly, Odin stopped, and turned to Myau. With his hand, he motioned to the left and to the area behind them. Myau understood immediately, as he explained to Alis quietly. "There are three bat creatures surrounding us..." Looking around, Alis strained to find them, but she could not.

"Where? I can't see any," she said. Myau held his paw out towards the direction that Odin had first pointed. As she stared, Alis began to recognize them. Standing several feet away, partially hidden by the trees, she saw two immense creatures. They resembled Palmans in body-form, but their features were all distinctly bat-like. Thin wings draped from their arms to their torsos. Colored a dark blue and a deep brown, they were well suited to hiding among the trees. One of the pair was inching away, towards the other spot that Odin had pointed to. Alis looked over there, and saw another, similar creature. They were obviously positioning themselves to attack, silent though they were.

Unsure of what to do, Alis merely watched them intently, as they continued to spread out. She gripped her sword tightly, and saw Odin raise his axe to a battle-hold. Before long, the trio of heroes stood, each facing one monster, backs toward each other. The beasts had formed around them in a triangular shape.

"We're surrounded," Alis whispered.

"We're in trouble," Myau added.

"There are three of us, and three of them. They are in trouble." Odin's words reflected his confidence. Whatever cautions or reservations he had in preparing for a battle, they vanished when the time actually came to fight. He was truly of one mind when the situation called for it. This resoluteness was a benefit to his colleagues, as they looked to him for strength. "They will pounce on us simultaneously, to confuse us. Concentrate only on the beast that comes after you, or their tactic will succeed." Alis and Myau noted his advice.

They heard it all at once: a deafening screeching sound coming from every direction. Bracketed by the noise, Alis was momentarily disoriented as she saw the beast ahead of her launch itself through the air, claws extended, coming straight towards her. Just as the bat reached her, she deftly raised her sword, splitting its right wing completely. Leaving her no respite, the creature was on the move again, jumping backwards even as it swung its claw at her face, missing only by inches.

Recovering, Alis was ready now, as it let loose another high-pitched scream and darted back to her. Side stepping, she jabbed the edge of her weapon into the side of the bat as it flew past her; she was knocked over by its wing as it crashed to the ground. It writhed in pain, the sword still stuck in its body. Alis ran to it, avoiding the blind swipes of its claws, and pulled her sword out before violently stabbing it in again, near the area that Alis guessed the being's heart would be. In a moment, it stopped moving, dead before her. She withdrew her sword, immediately turning around to check on her companions.

She saw Myau rake at his monster's abdomen, spilling its insides onto the forest floor. It fell to the ground, obviously dead in an instant from the wound. Odin stood motionless a few feet away. He held his bloodied axe in his hand, as Alis noticed that he had actually severed the creature's head from its body. She turned away quickly, disturbed at the sight.

"You did well," Odin said to her as she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked at him, unable to reply. Myau joined them. "Eppi is not too much farther. We must go on." Myau nodded, and the group set off again, Alis casting a final glance on the bizarre monster she had just killed.

- - - - - - - - - -

Eppi was a small town, quite unlike the large cities of Camineet and Parolit that Alis had always known. Here, there were only a few buildings, interspersed among the houses. A church and hospital stood at the north end of town; the group passed by both of them as Odin led them to one particular house near the town's center. At the door, Odin knocked. Quickly it was opened.

"Odin! You are alive!" An elderly man spoke as she shook Odin's hand excitedly.

"Yes, old friend, this world has not done me in yet..." Odin said.

"Ah, and Myau," the man went on, "I see we have not lost you either! And who is this fine young lass that travels with you?"

"If we might come inside, Hegger, I will explain," answered Odin.

"Of course, of course, come in!" The trio entered the old man's house. It was sparsely furnished, and consisted of only four rooms, but there were chairs enough for all. Sitting, Odin began.

"Despite our intentions, we were not able to defeat Medusa and gain the mystic axe." Alis perked up at the mention of such a weapon; she had not heard this before. "I unfortunately fell prey to her stare, and was turned to stone. But this young woman sought out Myau, and freed him no less, and then they came to rescue me. We've come right from Medusa's cavern to here to speak with you." Odin nodded his head towards Alis, and she introduced herself.

"I am Alis Landale, of Camineet. I've come searching for Odin as an ally in my battle against Lassic..." The old man leaned back in his chair, realizing the significance of who this girl was and why she had come.

"You are Nero Landale's sister, then? We in Eppi have aided the resistance many times, but have lost contact with them recently. How goes it?" Guessing that the man had not heard of her brother's death, Alis explained further.

"Nero is dead, slain by the Robotcops. The Camineet resistance is no more."

"Dead? I... I..." Sensing his concern, Alis acknowledged his unspoken feelings with a nod. Hegger restored himself, and spoke again. "Are you looking for a dungeon key?"

"Yes. You are ever wise, my friend," Odin said quietly.

"I have hidden one in the warehouse on the outskirts of Camineet. I put it there long ago, while we could still leave our town without fear of death. You are welcome to it, my friends." Alis gave a slight smile. "But you cannot leave now. It is nearly night, and you should not travel the wilds when dark. You must rest here for the night, as our guests. We will give you food and drink to take with you tomorrow."

"Thank you, Hegger. Your assistance, as always, is invaluable." Odin rose from his chair, as Hegger led them back outside. They walked to the hospital, and Alis guessed that that is where they would spend the night.

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