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Chapter Twelve

The being before them was quite a sight. Dressed in a long white robe with a hood that covered much of his face, he was tall and lanky. His hair was a bright shade of blue, and he held a long staff. His pose struck them as being full of pride, perhaps even a bit of contempt.

Odin stepped forward and helped Alis rise from the ground. "Who are you?" the unknown man repeated. "What are you doing here?"

As had become customary, Alis was the first to respond. "I am Alis Landale. This is Odin, and this is Myau. Are you Noah, the Esper?" The man's expression was one of impatience.

"Yes, I am Noah. But I'm busy with my training now. Don't be a nuisance. Take your leave. You are not welcome here."

"But wait, we've come so far to see you. I have a letter from the governor..." Alis removed a sealed envelop from her sack and offered it.

Pausing a moment, Noah said sharply, "Let me see it." Noah took it from her and opened it.

As he read, Odin whispered to Myau, "Not exactly an amiable chap, is he?" Myau raised an eyebrow in response, as Alis tossed Odin a stern look.

Noah then folded the letter and looked up. "Our duty is clear; we must protect the planets of the Algo system from evil. We must find Dr. Luveno. Come, let us go." Stunned, Alis spoke out.

"Wait! Hold on... you just said that you didn't want..."

"We have no time to argue. We must leave immediately. I will gladly explain once we are on our way. There is a secret exit to the outside world that we can take to avoid the monsters in the cavern. Come." With that, Noah turned, grabbed a nearby sack, and began to walk to the back of the room. Touching the wall, a hidden door slid open, and stairs led up into darkness. "Come on," he said impatiently over his shoulder.

Alis looked at her partners, whose shock mirrored her own, then set off for the doorway. The others followed her.

Noah apparently had a light source somewhere on his person, as their pathway was continuously illuminated as they traveled upwards. Three sets of stairs, broken by two landings, led them to another door. With another touch from Noah, it opened; the bright sunlight of the Motavian day greeted them. As they exited the cave, Alis noticed that this side of the door had been disguised: they had actually just exited from the cavern from what appeared to the the mountainside itself. They were about a hundred feet from where the trio had first enterned.

"All right, now let's have some explanations," Alis confidantly demanded. "A few moments ago, you were about to kick us out, now you're willing to help us save the world. Just what did that letter say?"

"I owe you as much," Noah began, "but come, I will explain as we journey back to Paseo. Fair enough?" Alis nodded, and the group moved on. Alis and Noah led, with Odin and Myau following behind. "The governor and I have a mutual friend," Noah continued. "The letter told me of your plan to destroy Lassic and free Palma from his grip. Sirus believes that I can be of assistance to you."

"Well, certainly it will be valuable to have an Esper on our side... we are glad to have you. Who is this Dr. Luveno you mentioned?"

"Dr. Luveno is perhaps the greatest scientific mind in all of Algo. He has the technical knowledge to provide us with a ship."

"A ship?" Odin asked. "A space ship?"

"Yes," was Noah's only response.

"What do we need a spaceship for? We've been able to use the spaceports to travel between Palma and Motavia." Alis was lost.

"We cannot rely upon a system that Lassic controls to get us where we have to go. There are many tasks ahead of us, and to succeed we must have our own ship."

"What are you talking about? I don't understand what you mean..." Noah stopped, his patience straining.

"I see that you have not developed a real plan to defeat Lassic. That must be why the governor sent you to me. The Espers have knowledge of many things hidden from normal Palmans. You must trust me when I tell you of what we must do. Our road will not be easy, but it is the only way."

"What are you saying that we must do, Noah?" Myau wondered.

"Our ultimate goal before confronting Lassic will be to travel to Dezoris and retrieve the Aero-Prism. Only with the prism will Lassic fall."

- - - - - - - - - -

The four had just gotten off of the Paseo-Camineet flight. Noah was currently leading them to an abandoned corner of the Palman spaceport. Alis had resigned herself to trusting him, though his actions continued to befuddle her.

Stepping behind a building, Noah explained. "There is a secret trap door just over there that leads to an underground passageway. It will take us to the Gothic Forest."

"But the Gothic forest lies across the river," Myau pointed out. "Does the passageway go under the very river itself?"

"Yes, friend. It will bring us out into the small town of Gothic, where Dr. Luveno takes residence. It has served us Espers well in our efforts to hide from Lassic's men."

And he was off again, stepping a few feet away. He bent down and used his staff to pry open a small door embedded in the ground. "Some assistance, please," he called. Odin immediately went to his aid, and it was open in moments. They cautiously went down a ladder into the passageway. It was again lit by Noah, though Alis still had not seen him use a flash. She closed the trap door behind them.

The way before them stretched off farther than their light could reach. The tunnel was simple enough, no different from the few caverns they had been in. "Don't worry," Noah said, "you'll find no beasts in this cave." Odin didn't look convinced, as he held his axe in an ever-ready position.

It took them less than fifteen minutes to traverse the passage's length, silent all the way. At the other end, there was a gate through which they could see the lanes of a small town. They were out in a moment.

"Welcome to Gothic, my friends. This town will serve us well in our journeys. Dr. Luveno's home is just over there," Noah declared as he pointed, "he will surely lend us aid." The group walked over to a nearby house, as Alis noted that the streets were deserted. Noah knocked on the door; no answer. After knocking again, a man in the house next door stuck his head out a window and called them over.

"Noah!"

"Tybal, my friend, where is the doctor?"

"Come inside, come inside," the man replied. Noah walked to the man's house, while Alis and the others hesitantly followed.

Inside, Tybal was shaking Noah's hand. "It is good to see you again, Noah. It has been quite a while."

"Yes, friend, it has. But we have come looking for the doctor... where is he?" A sad look befell Tybal's eyes.

"He has been taken prisoner by Lassic's men..."

"What?!?" Noah gasped.

"Tis true. Not two weeks ago robotcops stormed his home and took him away. We are lost without him, Noah! You know that he was our leader... the town has lost its spirit since he's been gone. Everyone is afraid to even come out of their homes, lest the robotcops suspect that we are involved in the resistance! You must help us Noah!"

"Calm down, Tybal." Noah ushered the man into a seat; Noah and the others sat as well. "We will free him, we must. I assume he's been taken to Gothic prison?"

"I don't know, I don't know... they just took him away. He may even be dead..." Tears were streaming down Tybal's face. Noah put a hand on his shoulder.

"Speak not of such things, Tybal. We will find him and bring him back. Not to worry." Noah rose, and motioned the others outside. "He's hysterical. This town virtually worshipped Dr. Luveno; to lose him is a great blow."

"If we need him to build the ship, how can we find him?" Alis asked.

"Most likely, if he's still alive, they've taken him to Gothic prison south of here. We'll need to travel there."

Odin smiled. "A jailbreak, eh? What fun..."

- - - - - - - - - -

The path to Gothic prison was a difficult one. To reach it from Gothic town, one had to make his way through dense forests that sat at the edge of impassable mountains. As dusk arrived, Alis was reminded of her previous trek through Eppi forest; she hoped that the way would not be as dangerous. Noah assured her that it would be.

Although night had met them, somehow their path was still lit brightly. "Noah, where is that light coming from? It has surrounded you where ever we go, but I haven't seen you activate any flashes. Is it magic?"

"In a way, Alis, I suppose it is. I carry a 'Magic Lamp', an item that eternally generates rays of light when darkness falls. It saves me from having to cast a lighting spell. Every Esper is given one upon the beginning of their training. The master Espers empower each with a powerful spell when they are constructed; after that, they need no more attention..."

"Hold it!" Odin interrupted. "A bat-man, dead ahead. I'll deal with it." Odin took a step forward, axe ready, and Alis saw the beast at the edge of the darkness in front of them. It was ever so slowly shifting to right, barely noticeable, preparing to attack. Noah put a hand on Odin's shoulder.

"No, there is a safer way." Walking ahead, leaving Odin at a safe distance, Noah raised his staff. His muscles tensed, and a few seconds later, his arm shot forward. Immediately, the tip of his staff alit, and a small ball of flame flashed forward, hitting the creature in an instant. As it caught on fire, shrieking a horrible sound, another fireball leapt from the staff, striking the flaming beast. Seconds later it fell dead, still blazing. Odin was frozen by the display; Alis herself was shocked at what had just occurred.

"Was that..." she whispered.

"Magic," Noah answered, "in its most concentrated form. This is the world you are destined to enter if you wish to challenge the dark forces of Lassic. There can be no mercy, no restraint, in confronting evil."

Alis was still entranced. "Can you... teach me..."

Noah eyed her with calm reservation. "I can't not teach you. You must learn, to succeed. But that shall wait. Come, we still have a long journey ahead of us." Noah was off again.

And Alis knew that everything had changed.

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