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"It's quite a price for the vehicle," Noah explained, raising his brow, "but acceptable under the circumstances. I trust of course that it's in perfect working order?"
"Absolutely... I go out and perform maintenance checks on them every week... here's the control block." The salesman hefted a small cube of circuitry onto the counter; despite its size, it was apparently quite heavy. Odin grabbed it by its handle.
"Here's the meseta," said Alis as she offered the money. The man took it eagerly, as if he had not seen such an amount in some time.
"Thank you, thank you," he added. "You know, I wasn't going to tell you this, but... it's of no use to me now..." Alis and Noah held puzzled looks. "If you ever make it back to Palma, you might be able to pick up a used hovercraft..."
"A hovercraft?!?" Odin exclaimed. "They've been outlawed, with the shipping lanes closed... I haven't seen one for months..."
"Too true... but sometime last year, while it was still feasible for us small town traders to make a living, I was on Palma and bought a hovercraft in Scion. I thought I might get a good price for it here, but shortly after I got it, it broke down. I tried my best to fix it, but it was really state-of-the-art. I eventually abandoned it in Bortevo."
"Bortevo? That town has nothing but junk..." Alis pointed out. She quickly realized that she was pointing out the obvious.
"Of course, that's why I left it there. It was practically falling apart on me."
"Why are you telling us of this, friend?" asked Odin.
"Well, I won't be making it back to Palma anytime soon... it's just too dangerous. But I know that you people can still make your way there..."
"How do you know that?" interrupted Alis.
"Derrin, from Uzo, sent a comm to our village, explaining that you were coming. He told us of your mission, and that we should do whatever we can to help you... I just thought that I might be able to help you in some small way..." The man's eyes told of his sincerity, and Noah quickly assured him.
"We thank you, friend. When we return, we shall do our best to repair it... we have an ally who has experience in that area..." As the four turned to leave, the man smiled, glad to be of some use. Just before closing the door behind himself, Odin called over his shoulder.
"By the way, you can tell everyone in the town that the Casba Dragon has been destroyed... and that kind deeds find reciprocation in hidden ways..."
They stood now before one of the landrovers, for the first time gaining a close look. The craft was covered with a dark blue metal that would serve as armor; only its small windshield viewer was exposed. Odin pressed one of the faces of the control cube against a small square next to the door, and with a hiss, the portal opened. He went inside.
There were six seats, spaced two per row. Each of the front two seats was bolted in front of the control board, where two steering wheels resided. The rest of the board was a hodge-podge of buttons, lights, and circuits. The rest of the cabin was bare, except for one metal cabinet at the back.
Odin was joined inside by the others as he gently locked the cube into its interface on the control board. A few seconds later, the cabin began to hum, and lights everywhere turned on.
"It's really cramped in here," Alis commented as she settle into the first seat and gripped the wheel. Noah and Myau sat in the next row, behind her. As Odin took his seat next to Alis and began flipping switches on the board, she quickly took her hands away from the wheel, knowing that she did not want to hinder his progress.
"I used one of these a long time ago..." he began. "It's a bit different, but I think I can handle it."
"Then we're back to Uzo, to load this aboard the ship?" suggested Alis.
"No," Noah responded from behind her. "We need to make one more stop here on Motavia, a very important one." Odin turned to face him."
"Where to, then?"
"We need to see my mentor, Master Tajim... I must speak with him about our path. He lives deep in the southern mountains; I can direct you as we go, Odin."
Alis looked concerned. He had never mentioned a need to see this Tajim before, or even that he existed. There was something he was leaving out.
But her thoughts of this quickly vanished as the landrover surged forward, Odin manning the wheel capably. Through the viewport, they could see the external world, desert all around; but here inside the rover, it was like living in another place, safe from any trappings the desert might offer.
The vehicle moved swiftly through the barren sand, taking seconds to cover ground that would take more than ten times that long on foot. Odin, enjoying himself as he guided the rover, flipped another switch on the board. Suddenly a cool jet of air filled the cabin, the only break from the heat that they had experienced since leaving Palma. "Air conditioning..." he said with a smile.
Having already mastered the simple Desan healing spell from many weeks ago, Alis was surprised at the difficulty in learning Noah's techniques. They involved completely different modes of concentration, and she was fast learning her limitations.
"The main component of performing any of these spells," he was telling her, "is to submerge your conscious, thinking mind within. You must train your mind to quickly be able to shift towards a completely reactive state; there can be no thought, no feeling, only reaction."
Alis currently had her eyes squeezed shut, grittng her teeth, trying to attain such a mind state.
"Do not force it, Alis... relax... relax yourself to the point that your thinking mind drifts away into the background."
"I'm trying... but it's not working... how and I supposed to do anything if I can't think about? I don't see how I..."
"Just rest," Noah said. "Start with your body: do not allow yourself to use any muscles, let your body sit, abandoned by your mind's direction." Alis took a deep breath then leaned back into her seat, eyes still closed. "Now, allow that detachment to spread to your thoughts as well. Think of nothing. Process nothing. Just drift into a lull of inactivity." Both were silent for several moments. "You can hear my voice. But do not pay attention. Let your reactive mind heed what I have to say, but do not waste thought upon it. Can you still hear me?" Alis' mouth synched the word "Yes", but no sound came.
"Good," Noah continued. "You are nearing the perfect state. Your reactive mind can feel the power within you, the power that goes untapped in your conscious mind. It is this power that will fuel you, that will be released in the many forms we call magic. Only your reactive mind can tap or control such power. The minute your conscious mind returns, the power will vanish, hidden again by the cumbersome limitations of conscious thought. You can feel the power, can't you?"
Again, Alis mouthed the word "Yes", though she appeared to be asleep, far away in a dream world.
"Good. This contact is the first step. It is a monumentous achievement. You must now leave the reactive state, submerging back into your conscious mind." Alis' eyes fluttered open slowly, and she raised a hand to her temple, as if in pain. "Discovering what you have for the first time is very strenuous... we shall continue this training later, when you have recovered."
"It was... incredible," she whispered. "Everything was there, the world around me, and I was a part of it... not a being living in it, but actually a living part of the world..."
"And so you have lived the most basic experience held by all Espers. It will make you stronger, over time."
"I can't wait..." Alis replied, still dreaming over her newfound ability.
"We're here..." Noah said aloud. Odin stopped the landrover, and gazed out the window.
"Where?" he said, "I don't see anything out there... just mountains and rock formations... where does this Tajim live, anyway?"
"My master lives underground, in another cavern."
"Oh boy, you Espers and your caverns... don't you people life sunshine?" asked Odin playfully.
"The isolation given by the caverns gives us the ideal opportunity to study our teachings, my friend. The external world has too many distractions."
"And there'll be monsters in this underground cavern, I presume?" replied the warrior.
"Of course..." Noah said with a smile. "We need something to practice our magic on..."
The four heroes began to exit the rover, once again meeting the harsh world outside. "Will the rover be safe out here in the open?" Alis asked.
"I'm taking the control cube with me, so it's not going anywhere." The cube fit snugly into Odin's sack as he closed the hatch. "Alright then, where's this cavern?"
Noah pointed to a rock circle abouty forty feet away. "Right there. The entrance is always left open."
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