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Chapter Fourteen

Their journey through the mountains had taken days. Innumerable savage beasts had slowed them, and the gigantic lava lake had proven quite an obstacle. Only Noah and Myau's healing spells had allowed them to cross that lethal pool. There was a bonus, however, as they had discovered many chests full of meseta, or rather, had to fight for many chests of meseta. Such as it was, exhausted, they finally neared the upper coast; far across the water, the town of Abion still awaited them.

Noah was convinced that the robot Hapsby must have been taken to Abion, the only town in this part of the world that might have had the money to buy it from the robbers. It was often suggested that Abion was the one and only black-market on all of Palma.

To assist in their search, the doctor had given them a small electronic device attuned to Hapsby's unique broadcast frequency. If the robot was anywhere nearby, it would begin to emit a light beeping sound. That is, if Hapsby was still functioning enough to broadcast. Just what the group would do to regain Hapsby from whomever held him now was an unspoken understanding between them. The stakes here were immense; force would be used if there was no other option.

They were now only a half-mile from the beach when Alis noticed a small settlement just a ways off. "Noah, what town is that over there?"

"No," he replied, "that is the town of Bortevo."

"Perhaps we should stop there to rest... we are all still weak from the lava," Myau suggested. Stopping and turning to face the other three, Noah appeared quite strained.

"We have to keep going... the longer we delay, the more likely the robot will be useless to us. We must get that ship, and he is the only way."

Odin spoke for the first time in quite a while. "Abion is still many days distant, Noah. There is no point in pushing ourselves to collapse... if we stay there tonight, we'll be that much more able to travel longer tomorrow."

"I have to agree with Odin," Alis added. "We all need the rest." Looking at each of them, Noah frowned, but quickly gave in.

"Very well. You are right. I myself have been under great strain using so much magic... but we must leave at the first break of light."

"Agreed," Alis concluded. And so they turned away from the coast, instead walking off towards Bortevo. Several minutes later they were at the town gate.

No one was outside. Amidst the various houses, nothing moved, no sounds came. "Where is everyone...?" Alis asked as they cautiously entered.

"The town looks deserted... but what caused them to desert?" Myau's implication was obvious.

They moved from building to building; each was nearly empty inside. Many were filled with piles of metal scrap and refuse. "It appears that no one has lived here for some time," Odin said. They moved on to the next house, hoping to find some clue as to what happened. Just as Alis reached to open the door, she heard a faint beeping sound.

"The tracker!" Myau exclaimed. Alis quickly removed it from her sack; it was indeed beeping.

"Is this thing working right? All that's here is some... junk..." The recognition was instantaneous. Alis opened the door and they all rushed inside. Here was yet another pile of metal junk. Alis walked over to examine it. "I can't see any robot... maybe it's buried in here. Help me move this stuff off..." Odin stepped to her and they began to try to pry away the various pieces of scrap. None of it budged, despite Odin's great strength.

"It's all fused together," he announced. "There's no way we can find out if it's in there."

"It is in there," said Alis, "this tracker's going crazy. There must be some way to tear that pile apart."

"There is, there is..." came a low, eerie voice from behind them. Noah spun around, and saw a man hunched over in a black robe, his face completely covered. They were all surprised to see anyone in a town they thought was abandoned.

"Who are you?" Alis demanded as she strode forward to face him.

"Alas, I have no use for names... everyone who once knew me is no more..." Alis could not tell if he were joking with them or if he was genuinely sincere.

"We have no patience for your games, sir... what has happened to this town, where is everyone?" Oddly, Noah found himself musing over how quickly Alis had taken charge of the situation.

"My friends, my friends, I have lost them all... it is a tragedy, but I cannot speak of it; it is too painful to bear thought..."

It was obvious to all of them that this hidden man would not disclose his secrets. Alis continued to press, though, and Noah wondered if the strain was affecting her.

"What did you mean that there is a way for us disassemble that slag heap, stranger? What do you know that might help us?"

"You seek to intimidate me, you four, but I have nothing more to lose, and so you cannot harm me... but you... you, lass," he said as he pointed at Alis, "you bear the look of great loss... perhaps a loss not so different from my own... the liquid Polymeteral will aid you well, for it is said to melt all metals... except that of Laconia... that fits your needs quite well, does it not?" Chuckling, the man turned and ran out of the house, quickly reaching to town gate. Casting a glance over his shoulder, he moved off into the now-darkening wilderness.

No one said a word for a good thirty seconds. "What was that all about?" Myau questioned. "How did he know that Hapsby is constructed of Laconia?"

"Your guess is as good as mine," Alis answered. "But at least we know now that we don't have to make the trip all the way to Abion. We just need to get some... what did he call it?"

"Polymeteral," interjected Odin, "he said Polymeteral. I came across a small bit of that chemical some time ago."

"Well, that's good then. We just have to get some more of that, and we'll be on our way! Where did you get your supply?"

Odin looked at Myau, who furrowed his small cat-eyebrows. "I liberated it from one of the Scion businessmen who sell Musk Cats. But I know where he got it from, so we can get more."

"And...? Unless we have to go all the way to Abion to get it, why are you frowning? Odin?"

"Because... we have to go all the way to Abion to get it."

Alis closed her eyes and fought back the frustration.

- - - - - - - - - -

After spending the night in the abandoned town (one of them always awake to watch for the stranger) they were up again the next day, heading out again towards Abion. Upon reaching the beach, they had to travel through a large underground tunnel that led to the opposite coast across the water. They were now at the south end of a huge island, at the north of which sat Abion. Unfortunately, the mountains to the north were completely impassible on foot, and so they would have to follow the coastline all the way around the the edge of the island; it would add days to their journey, but was unavoidable.

Nearly four hours into the trek, they had just begun to traverse the tens-of-miles-long southern beach head. They spoke little, and their progress was uninterrupted by monster attacks.

Striving to start a conversation, Alis addressed Noah. "Noah, tell us more about this magical artifact that we must travel to Dezoris to find..."

Hesitantly, Noah at first was silent, but soon began. "We must find the Aero-Prism, a gem of great mystical power. The Espers have known of its abilities for generations... but no one truly knows what it is or where it came from... we only know that it currently exists on Dezoris, and has the power to thwart black magic."

"Power that we can use against Lassic, eh? I'd prefer my own strength and a sturdy axe to some rock..." Noah could tell that Odin was not being insulting.

"You do have faith in magic, my friend?" he asked the great warrior.

"Of course I do, of course I do... I've seen far too much of this world to doubt that magic is useful... in fact, Myau and I sought the mystic axe that is said to be held by Medusa not long ago... but if magic is to be used, surely it could take a more offensive form than a rock."

"Magic has many forms, though; each has its advantages. As you would have use for a magic axe, so might another have use for a magic rock." Odin nodded in concession.

The ocean waves were crashing against the beach, creating an almost deafening roar. As such, Myau was oblivious to the huge form rising out of the water behind and to the right of them.

Without warning, a giant tentacle wrapped itself around Myau, and lifted him high into the air. He screamed, and the others turned.

In the water, tens of yards offshore, an absolutely enormous beast was emerging. Its slick skin was a deep shade of pink, and its jaws opened and closed viciously. Five tentacles were visible, each hundreds of feet long. They were a good five feet thick at the monsters torso, tapering off along their length. One of the tentacles had Myau in its grip, waving him violently above the water. It was a gigantic mutant octopus.

Odin shouted Myau's name as each of the three drew out their weapons. Odin ran off into the water, trying to reach his friend, but a free tentacle closed around him. He started to hack at it, each powerful blow causing the beast to scream a horrible call.

Alis sought to find a better way to get to Myau; the octopus' arms would not allow for a direct attack. She ran along with edge of the water, constantly avoiding swipes from the tentacles, looking for any weakness she would find. Noah followed her partly, but soon stopped when he stood directly in front of the beast.

All the while Myau was having the air crushed out of him. His left paw was pinned, but he was desperately slashing with his right. His claws were having no effect, though, as he was squeezed tighter.

"Myau!" Odin yelled again as he finally managed to sever his own tentacle. It was still wrapped around him, though, its suction action holding a firm grip. Before he could remove it, another arm wrapped around him, this time dragging him underwater.

"Noah, do something!" Alis shouted to the Esper. He was standing motionless at the edge of the water, his eyes closed. A tentacle reached for Alis, but she brought her sword crashing down upon it and it quickly withdrew. "Noah, you've got to..." She didn't finish her sentence. Suddenly Noah raised his arms, holding his staff to the sky. Out of the blue, a bolt of energy, lightning-like in appearance, shot from the heavens into his staff; an instant later it was launched at the creature, striking it's body with an explosion of light. As the beast cried out in agony, another bolt struck, then another. The creature fell back, creating a huge splash as its support arms gave way. It sank out of sight, but the tentacles with which it held were being drawn back out to sea. Odin exploded from the water, gasping for air, as he brought his axe back down against the arm. It had been cut clean through, and he struggled back to shore, pieces of the beast still clinging to him.

Myau had fallen out of the air and hit the surface, though he was still trapped in the dead monster's grip. Alis ran forward into water, and used her sword to slice off the last remaining arm. She carried Myau, unconscious, back to the beach.

Odin had freed himself by the time she returned and gently placed him on the sand. "We've got to get that tentacle off him, it's still squeezing," said Odin, his breathing still labored. The three of them pulled, careful not injure Myau any more than he was, and soon had removed it. Myau was still unconscious.

"Noah..." Odin pleaded. The Esper nodded silently, and began his healing spell.

A few seconds later, Myau opened his eyes slowly. "Myau, can you hear me?" Odin asked. His was concern for his friend had never been more apparent.

"I'll live... but not comfortably..." was his weak response.

"He'll need to rest a while. The magic does not restore full vigor to all..." Noah advised.

"Come on, we can settle farther up the shore..." Alis said. Odin gently picked up Myau, and they moved up the dunes, far away from the perilous water.

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