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Chapter Sixteen

"Calm down, ma'am, please... get a hold of yourself..." Noah gripped the young woman by the arms, as she continued to rave on about Lassic.

"No, you have to do something! Lassic, he was here! I saw him arrive... he was horrible, and there were guards... people were running for their homes, but I was frozen! He was pure evil! I could feel it! You've got to save us! He might still be here... he might still... oh god, what if he comes after me because I've seen him? He'll kill me, he'll kill me! You've got to ungh..." The woman collapsed into Noah's arms, unconscious.

"I've temporarily put her to sleep... she needs rest, obviously, she's in shock..." Noah explained.

"Is Lassic here? Could he really be?" asked Alis, the concern in her voice obvious.

"If he was here, he's not now... I'd sense his presence if he were... but this woman has seen something that has her upset."

"We need to find someone else to speak with," was Myau's opinion. "Perhaps we can learn something that might aid us in our quest." Odin raised his arm and pointed to the west.

"There's a chemical shop... we can check there for the Polymeteral, and try to get more information." Noah carried the young woman to a nearby bench, then joined the others as they made their way to the store.

Inside, an old man stood behind the counter, reading a large book. Noticing their entrance, he closed the book and greeted them. "Hello, hello, strangers... how can I help you today?" Aged to about sixty, the man had a few wisps of white hair; his frame was small but still told of strong days in his youth. Alis stepped to the counter.

"Well, sir, we are looking to purchase a certain kind of chemical... something that will dissolve metal..." The man furrowed his brow.

"I'm afraid I don't know what you are referring to ma'am. I don't think I can help you..."

Odin stepped forward, his voice firm. "We need a small supply of Polymeteral. We know that you sell it here..." Here he tightened the glove on his hand, "You've sold some to traders from Scion... and it is absolutely imperative that we get some..." Implied or not, the old man felt the threat.

"Oh, ah, yes, I do believe I have some Polymeteral in the back... I can get that for you... right away..." He disappeared into a back room. A few minutes later her returned, carrying a small vial of blue liquid in his hand. "I trust this is a... sufficient amount?" Odin nodded, as Alis took out their money satchel. She placed fifteen hundred meseta on the counter, taking the vial.

"This payment will insure that you have never seen us, is that right?"

The man stammered an answer. "Yes, yes... of course... wait, you," he said as he meekly pointed to Odin, "you are the monster hunter Odin, from Scion! I recognize you from reports... I hadn't known, I'm sorry about all this... one has to be very careful these days... I am honored to have you in my store, please excuse my rudeness, sir."

Odin sensed an opportunity. "Simply a misunderstanding, then, eh? Tell me, sir, what do you know of Lassic coming to this town?" Suddenly the shopkeeper's voice fell.

"Lassic... the king was here very recently... only a few saw him arrive, but word spreads quickly... it is said he went to meet with the mad doctor who operates in the center of town... the doctor is said to be working for the king, to an unknown end..."

"A doctor?" Alis asked. "What kind of doctor?"

"As I said, a mad doctor. He performs tests on animals... he buys the cats from Scion, and uses them in unspeakable experiments... truly a horrible man, a blight on our town... Oh my! You!" he exclaimed as his gaze met Myau, "you! You're one of the animals he has!"

Myau's ears shot forward, "Musk Cats?!? He's using Musk Cats?!? My people!"

"This mad doctor must be the main source of income for the traitorous Scion poachers!" Odin growled.

"And if Lassic is funding him..." Noah added.

"We must stop him!" Myau yelled, "we must free them!"

"Yes, we must. What more can you tell us about this doctor, sir?" The man scrambled to answer Alis' question.

"I cannot say more... everything is just rumor... but you will find the entrance to the tunnel that leads to his lab at the western edge of town... do you mean to tell me that you plan to kill him? That would be to challenge Lassic himself! Surely you..."

"We will do whatever is necessary," Alis stated, "to free the captive Musk Cats and see that this doctor no longer poses a threat to anyone. There is no other concern." The man was amazed, staring at the four defiant heroes. "Thank you for your help, sir."

"Godspeed," he said quietly as they left the store.

- - - - - - - - - -

The tunnel that they had to travel through was more of a maze, its winding passageways obviously intended to discourage anyone from seeking the doctor. But the four warriors would not be stopped, and they quickly traversed the halls and exited the tunnel.

They stood now in the center of town; the 'island' that housed the doctor's laboratory was surrounded by a wide moat, more proof that he did not wish to be disturbed. The building itself was of mid-size, about twice as big as any Abionian home. They readied their weapons, and Alis waved them forward. Odin led, followed by Myau, Noah, and finally Alis.

The door was unlocked. With a swift, powerful kick, Odin brought it crashing down. They rushed inside, unsure of what sight might greet them.

The room was as standard as any laboratory, with beakers, burners, and the like. Potions boiled and an intense odor filled the air. Empty cages littered the floor near the back wall; but no living thing was in sight. A door faced them at the opposite end of the room.

"Someone is here," Myau said quietly, though the anger in his voice shone through clearly. "I can smell him."

"Be ready for anything... he must know we're here, from the do...!" Alis broke in midsentence as a grotesque figure emerged from the doorway. He stood nearly seven feet tall, dressed in a full-length white lab coat. His head was completely encased in a clear glass bubble, appearing to warp his already gnarled face.

"Who are you? How dare you invade my laboratory?!? Do you know who I am?" Suddenly, he noticed Myau standing next to Odin. "Hey! Bring that cat over here!"

"We are justice, come to end your horrible schemes, doctor!" Myau's voice was stretched to near-breaking. "What have you done with my people?!? Where are they? Tell us now!!"

A large grin spread over the doctor's face. "Ha ha, a Musk Cat with spirit! You would indeed make an interesting subject, rodent! So many of your brethren are docile, it became less than a chore to kill them!"

"Devil! You will pay for your atrocities!"

"Where are your subjects, doctor?!?" Alis yelled as she stepped forward. "Your life hangs by a thread, you would do well to tell us NOW!"

The doctor laughed. "Of course, of course! I have nothing to hide! They are all dead! It seems that the little pests have very low threshholds for pain... they just up and die out of the blue! It's quite pathetic! But this one, this one looks as if he would make a fine test subject! You three, stand aside!"

"MURDERERRRRRRR!" Myau screamed as he ran and leapt at the doctor. He swiped with his claws, but struck only armor underneath the lab coat. Doctor Mad violently kicked, sending Myau flying across the room. He then suddenly took a handheld blaster from his coat and fired at Odin, who was knocked over by the blast. Alis and Noah dove away, scattering behind some tables as the doctor continued to fire upon them. Odin had managed to roll to cover, though he held his side in great pain.

"I will kill any who interfere!" came the doctor's maniacal chant.

A blast struck the table that Noah hid behind, shattering it into millions of wood splinters; Noah dove away again, unable to focus on his magic. Alis, across the room, looked at Odin nearby as glass exploded and flew overhead. She then turned to look for Myau, who was now behind the doctor; Mad had forgotten him in his murderous rage.

Rising back to his feet, Myau took out the Silver Fang, gripping it tightly in his mouth. Silently, he jumped forward; a nearby explosion caused Alis to shut her eyes instinctively. There was a loud crash, and when she opened her eyes again, Mad lay dead on the ground, his glass helmet shattered about him. His back was covered in blood; Myau stood over him.

The Fang dropped from his mouth. "His threat is ended." His voice was cold and calm, a stark contrast to the raving energy he held only moments before.

Alis stood and walked over to him, as Noah attended to Odin. "He may have been lying, you know. There may still be Musk Cats alive here..."

"No," he told her, "I don't sense any... only dead bodies..." Odin struggled over to them both, Noah guiding him.

"Myau, my friend, this is not your fault... there was no way you could have known." Alis and Noah knew well enough not to interrupt the two; this was a moment that they had to share alone.

"Yes it is, Odin. I abandoned my people, left them to fend for themselves. I was raised to be their protector, and I chose to leave them... That is... unforgivable."

"No, Myau," Odin continued, "it is not your fault. We both left our jobs, our lives, that we might fight the greater evil, Lassic himself. It is Lassic's doing, all of this. He is to blame, and we must continue along our path until he is destroyed. Only then can we both fulfill our true duties... only then will our peoples be truly safe..." Myau was still. "You know in your heart that it must be this way, my friend."

Myau walked back towards the entrance of the lab, making his way outside. Alis started to follow him, but Odin grabbed her arm. "No, let him be. He needs to be alone now. Let us do what we can in here, perhaps we can learn something beneficial... and then we can begin building the graves."

- - - - - - - - - -

Outside, Myau sat alone, gazing towards the sky. The setting sun cast a pale orange glow upon him. His mind flew a universe away from his body. Never again, he thought. Never again.

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