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Chapter Eleven

It was soon obvious to Alis and Odin that roaming through deserts and mountains was not a task that Musk Cats were well equipped for. Myau was visibly weakened by the heat, so much so that after three hours of travel, Odin offered to carry him the rest of the way. Myau politely declined, preferring to bear the exhaustion that bore down upon him.

The path to the Maharu cave was simple enough, according to the map. But that didn't take into account the various beasts they encountered along the way, not the least of which were numerous sandworms, similar to the one that Alis and Myau had fought on their previous trip to Motavia. Even with Myau weakened, though, the group still fared well as Odin proved to be a great asset.

Six hours into their journey, they reached the entrance to the mountain pass that would lead them directly to the cave. They agreed to set up a mini camp here to rest a bit. The governor had given them plenty of water to take, for which now they were entirely grateful. There was a spot just at the mouth of the pass that looked appealing enough; there were a few scattered bushes around, and they could not be surprised by monster attacks. Or so they hoped.

They sat and removed their packs, and Alis took off some of her heavier armor. Odin was as vigilant as ever, as he held onto his axe and scanned the countryside. Alis began a conversation with Myau. "The governor said that Noah is an Esper. I remember them, vaguely, from my childhood. Sometimes Nero and I would pretend, I was an Esper, and he was a monster. We'd fight, and I'd use my magic to defeat him."

"A children's game that became a shadow of the future," Myau commented. "My people have many stories of involvements with the Espers, though I've never met one. They used to be fairly visible on Palma, but now I don't think there are any left there. They just seemed to disappear one day."

"It was Lassic's work," said Odin. Alis and Myau were startled. "Not so long ago, it is said that Lassic brought the most powerful Espers to his castle, in order that they might find a way to make him live forever."

"An eternity of hell, for Palma," came Myau's response.

"They did not honor his request, fortunately for us. Sometime after that, they were banished from Palma."

Alis was surprised. "Banished? Then they went to Motavia?"

"Yes," Odin said. "Although some went into hiding on Palma, most came to this planet. There are even rumors that some Espers went to Dezoris."

Silence befell them all, as they each chased their own private thoughts. The midday sun was still bearing down, but ten minutes later they were on the move again, entering the mountain pass.

As they progressed, they soon spotted a group of small creatures many yards ahead. The animals seemed to be wearing some type of clothing, and were gesturing to one another. Cautiously, Alis and the others approached them. Now their features were more distinguishable. They each were dressed in red and brown robes, and they stood about four feet tall. They were covered in short blue fur, and bore slight resemblance to a common rat, though they were humanoid in shape. One of the beasts noticed the strangers, and quickly said something to the others as he pointed at Alis, Myau, and Odin.

"What are they?" Alis asked.

"I don't know," said Myau, "but they seem intelligent. We must speak to them, to try to avoid confrontation." Odin nodded, and Myau stepped forward to the group, now only few yards away. The beasts stood close together, as if they were expecting an attack.

"Greetings, my friends. We are strangers to this area..." Myau began. "Do you understand my words?" One of the creatures meekly stepped forward and spoke, his voice a high-pitched squeak.

"What do you want with us? Leave us alone!" Myau was taken aback by the implication.

"We have not come looking for you, in truth. We are traveling to the Maharu cave up ahead. What manner of creatures are you, pray tell?"

"We are Motavians, but you must leave us be. We have no wish to fight you." The speaker's timidity was painfully apparent. "Please, go now, leave us be."

"We have no wish to hurt you, friends. Surely you can see that." As Myau spoke, Odin noticed that he was still brandishing his axe. Quietly, he lowered it and put if behind his back. Seeing this, the group of creatures began to scurry away, climbing the hills that formed the edge of the passageway. In moments, they were gone.

"What odd little beings," Myau sighed.

"They seemed to be deathly afraid of us..." Alis said.

Myau's replied, "Perhaps there are those on this planet who give them reason to fear us... they claimed they were Motavians, native Motavians, apparently."

"Mayhap the miners here do not have an outstanding relationship with them," Odin interjected. "That might explain their reaction to us."

"But what could miners have against such creatures? They seemed harmless enough..." No one had an answer. The three walked on, closing in on their destination.

And in minutes they were there. The entrance to the Maharu cave was not significantly different than the entrances to the previous two caverns they had explored. Perhaps the Motavian caves were constructed by those who had built the Palman ones? But it didn't matter now. Each of the warriors readied their weapons, adjusted their armor, and looked at each silently. Alis took out a flash and hooked it on her belt, lighting it in the process. With a nod, she motioned them inside.

- - - - - - - - - -

"It's coming again!" Myau shouted. A gigantic spider was scurrying towards them in the tight passageway. Odin raised his axe high over his head and brought it crashing down upon the monster's abdomen. Spasming in shock, the beast swept it's front legs wildly, slamming Odin against the wall. Behind him, Alis leapt forward, narrowly missing the swinging limbs, and jabbed the point of her sword into the spider's left eye. It's legs stopped flailing, apparently dead. But every few seconds it would twitch, as if struggling for its lost life.

Alis quickly recovered her sword and moved over to Odin, who lay against the wall. "Are you all right? You hit your head..."

Leaning forward, Odin put his hand to his forehead and stammered an answer. "I'll be fine in a few moments... ungh, if you could just... help me up..." Alis took his hand and pulled him to his feet. "I should've expected that... in this enclosed space, I've got to brace myself better... stupid, stupid..."

"Hardly, friend," Myau said. "Either of us would have been killed by that blow... only you are tough enough to have survived that. Lay still and let me perform the healing magic upon you..."

"No, no, we haven't the time. This cave is crawling with beasts, and we have to keep moving. We've got to get to Noah then get out of here as quick as possible. I'll be fine." Odin took a deep breath, then picked up his axe and began to move forward again. "Come on, let's go," he called over his shoulder. Alis and Myau followed, though they shared a look of concern for their comrade.

They had been in the cavern for over twenty minutes now, and had been besieged by numerous monster attacks. The cave seemed to be an endless maze; only Myau's thoughtful idea of noting their path with sword marks saved them from being completely lost. As they turned another corner, Myau shouted again. "There's more of them! Ahead and behind!" Alis turned around, and saw one of the winged eyeball creatures bearing down on them. In front, another spider creature slowly approached. There was no where to go.

"I've got this one!" Alis yelled as she readied her sword for the flying beast. Myau jumped past her, ready to join Odin in battle against the spider. Alis' sword flashed in the light as she felled the beast with one quick blow. It lay on the floor, it's body severed completely in half. But the flapping sound that accompanied its presence was not abated. Looking up, Alis saw two more of the creatures farther down the hall, racing towards them. "We've got more trouble coming!" she cried as she turned around. Odin was straddling the spider, hacking away with his axe, but the beast was still fighting. Myau darted in and out of its swipes long enough to get in a few scrapes with his claws.

But Odin had heard Alis' warning. "Get past me, both of you! I'll hold this beastie down, but watch its legs. Move!" Bowing to his experience, Alis ran past, deftly dodging the spider's movements. Myau leapt over it completely, landing upright behind Odin. "There's at least four more coming now Odin, we've got to go!" Myau's ears had detected more of the flying beasts. In one quick movement, Odin pressed down on his axe, which was stuck in the monster's back, and launched himself backwards. He simultaneously pulled the axe out, landing safely beside Alis and Myau. The spider turned; it was injured, but obviously still willing and able to battle them. And the flying eyeballs were nearly at hand.

"Go! Go!" Odin shouted. Alis and Myau took off running down the next turn, with Odin following closely. They each could hear the beasts following them. "Left!" Odin's directions were clear, if not unfounded. They turned the next corner, as the monsters closed in.

The passage then fed to the right, at a sharp angle. They had no choice but to follow it. Alis, who had been leading, stopped cold. Not fifteen feet from the turn stood a door. Oding nearly collided with her, as her halt was so abrupt. "Get it open, quickly!" he shouted. "I'll hold them off!"

Alis sprang to the door; there was a latch of some kind, but she couldn't figure out how to open it. It was a complicated mess of levers and gears. "They're coming," Myau said as he backed towards the door. He was ready to leap to Odin's aid; they both had their backs to Alis. "Alis..."

"I'm trying, I'm trying! It won't open!" She began to frantically tug at the levers, hoping one would open the door. But nothing was happening, the door was still held tightly shut.

"Alis, now!" Odin's urgency was like a dagger.

"They're here!" Myau yelled, as the first flying beast rounded the corner. Odin swung viciously, dropping the monster.

"Got it!" Alis shouted as the door swung open. She leapt inside, missed her footing, and crashed to the ground. Her flash was shattered.

"Myau, go!" Without a word, Myau dashed inside, as two more eyeballs appeared. Odin swung at one, knocking it into its partner. The two tumbled to the ground, but were flying again in an instant. In that very moment, Odin turned and ran, clearing the doorway. He grabbed the door and slammed it shut. A sharp clicking sound told him that it was locked again.

Odin stood panting in the total darkness. "Myau? Alis? Where are you?"

Suddenly a light flashed on, and Odin saw his companions. Alis was lying on the ground, Myau was close beside. But there was someone else.

"Who are you?" the stranger demanded.

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