[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Chapter Twenty-Two

Alis tried her best to withhold her shock at the appearance of the two Drasgowians that greeted her and Myau as they stepped off the hovercraft. Their reddened eyes were surrounded by rings of darkened flesh; their entire faces looked skull-like in the morning sun. Their arms and legs were no more than sticks, and their movements were slow and restricted. It was immediately obvious that malnutrition and disease had taken their toll on the people here.

They were led to the main hall of Drasgow, where all governmental business was attended to. Along the way, the pair noticed a few more Drasgowians; each likewise held a shadow of living death about them. Piles of trash and refuse sat next to each house, attracting all manner of insects. The houses themselves looked dead, as doors and windows were closed tightly, and many were even broken and splintered. The entire town looked as if it were dying, if such a thing were possible.

The main hall fared no better. Windows were cracked, desks leaned on three legs, chairs creaked, ready to collapse at any moment. Alis and Myau's escort left them; they now stood with three old gentlemen who sat before them, only slightly more healthy than everyone else in the town. The man in the center motioned to the chairs, and the two warriors sat.

"It is not often that we host visitors to our town, young lady," he said, in a voice raspy and aged.

"...We are on very important business, sirs," Alis responded. She had trouble ignoring all that was around her, but could not bring herself to speak of it.

"I can see that you are appalled by what you see in our town, our people," the old man continued, "that is natural. We ourselves gave up the horror of it long ago... what is your and your companion's name, miss?"

"I am Alis Landale, sister of Nero Landale. This is Myau."

The eyes of all three men lit for a scant moment, perhaps the first time they had done so in months. "Landale...? You know then that we worked closely with your brother... but we lost contact with the others months ago..." The two men next to the speaker continued to remain silent.

"The resistance groups on the mainlands are in shambles... my brother is dead, murdered by the robotcops. We come here seeking aid for a renewed challenge to Lassic... but I see that is you that truly need help."

"Nero is dead, eh?" the man said dispassionately. A fit of coughing momentarily overcame him, and so the man on his left took up the words. "We never met Nero in person... but it was clear from his working that he was a fine man... but perhaps he was the lucky one, having a swift death... we are destined to be bled, second by second, until we become living, walking death. Lassic has seen to that..."

For the first time, the third man spoke. "With the close of the shipping lanes, we have had no contact with the shore. Our medical supplies are gone, our food cache grows more meager every day... we cannot survive much longer..."

The horror of Drasgow's plight had not truly sunk in for Alis until this moment. She had come seeking aid to save the world... but these people had not even the resources to save themselves. Despite the deaths she had seen, Palman, Musk Cat or otherwise, none of it could compare to what Lassic had done here. With one cold, callous order, he had doomed an entire town to death by starvation.

"...My friends and I are on a quest to destroy Lassic, to free Palma... we cannot do much for you... but we can do something, I'm sure. We have a hovercraft with which we can bring you supplies... food, medicine, whatever we can carry..." Deep inside she knew that the tiny craft could never bring enough to save the town; it would be like trying to flood a desert with a bucket of water... but it had to be done.

"Your assistance is very kind, lass," the first man returned to speak, "you have a fine heart. I am deeply sorry that we have nothing to guide you with... if there were anything we could offer, assuredly we would..." His eyes closed, tightly, as if he was in great pain.

"There may be something... something useful..." said the second man. "Long ago, when we were still free to travel the oceans, we found a man on an island north of here... he was raving about a magical sword high atop the tower that stood on the island... but we could never investigate because of the powerful beasts that roamed the area. He passed away, of a heart attack, before we could bring him back to Drasgow, but he never stopped ranting about the sword..." The third man cast a scornful look at him.

"You know better than to fill their heads with fantasies, Gomen. Such a 'magical' sword does not exist. He was a madman."

"Perhaps, but what else have we to offer? If the sword really does exist, surely it would help them defeat Lassic..." came the response.

As the third man folded his arms and muttered something unintelligible, the leader again spoke. "Take the legend as you wish... that is all we have to give you..." And then the man's tone shifted, as if he were speaking only to himself, ignorant of those around him. "Challenging Lassic is a fool's errand... he will destroy you, just as easily as he destroyed us... none have the power to resist him... none..."

Alis became uncomfortable with his manner, and so rose to leave. "Thank you for the information... perhaps it can help us... as soon as we return to the mainland, we will make preparations to send you whatever we can..." The men before her began to talk amongst themselves, oblivious to Alis and Myau's presense. The heroine bowed her head, then they turned and left the main hall. They were alone as they walked back to the hovercraft; no one could be seen in the streets, no voices were heard.

After they had unmoored the craft and powered away from Drasgow, Myau asked, "We are heading north? To the island they spoke of?"

"Yes," she replied. "Perhaps there is no magical sword, but we owe them to at least check it out."

"This will be quite dangerous without Odin and Noah. Are you feeling up to it?" the Musk Cat inquired.

"Seeing the people of that town has made me feel up to it. Whatever beasts inhabit the island and tower would best stay out of our way..."

Myau just stared at her as the craft sped northward.

- - - - - - - - - -

The landrover pulled to a stop just inside the town gate. Unbelievably, the eerie mist that surrounded Sopia stopped abruptly at the town's border. They would be safe from its effects in here, as they exited the rover.

A young man carrying a water bucket had seen the vehicle and came out to meet them. "You are brave to have penetrated the gas, strangers. What are your names?" he said.

"I am Noah, an Esper. This is Odin, of Palma."

"Welcome to Sopia, my friends. It has been a long time since we have had visitors. Come, I shall take you to our mayor. He can surely attend to your needs."

"Quite trusting, isn't he?" Odin whispered to Noah. "Either being an Esper carries a great deal of weight around here, or he wants something..."

"You are too paranoid, my friend. He is merely excited to see someone from out of town."

The mayor's home was furnished in a frugal manner, but it was clear by the tapestries on the walls that he was of some importance. Odin and Noah were given seats in front of him. He was an older man, with a flowing white beard, but his eyes still spoke of youth and vitality. He offered the two a drink, but they declined.

"Tell me, dear friends, what have you come to our quaint town for? Generally no one comes to Sopia since the mist cloud sprang up," the mayor asked.

Noah silently appointed himself the heroes' spokesperson. "We've heard that Sopia holds the legendary shield of Perseus, Mayor Ashley. We've come to bargain for it..."

"Ah, you are businessmen, I see!" Ashley said with a smile. "Surely no one but a businessman would risk the mist... but the mystic shield is not here... though I do know where it resides... or at least, where it is rumored to reside." Odin lowered his brow slightly; he sensed what was coming.

"And what would you require to give us this information, Mayor?" questioned Noah.

"Well, you see, I'm the head of this village, and as such, I have a responsibility to promote Sopia's welfare... Because of the cloud of gas, we are cut off from other towns, we are therefore very poor... before, even our town had plenty. Not so any longer... will you donate 400 mesetas, to ease our burden?"

"It seems we are not the only businessmen around here," Odin laughed. "Very well, you shall have the money." Odin took out his money satchel and produced eight coins; the mayor eagerly accepted them.

"But..." Noah began, but was halted by Odin's raised hand.

"You are very generous, friends," the mayor went on. "It is said among our people that the shield is buried on the island in the great lake just to the east. I'm sure that you'd find it there."

"In the middle of the Motavian lake?!? We have no means of reaching the island!" Noah exclaimed.

"Calm yourself, my friend. Our town prides itself on our hospitality... we will provide you with a small boat with which you can reach the island.... Jeremy!" he called. In a moment, the young man who had brought them to Ashley's home returned. "Jeremy, prepare a boat for these two. They will need it to reach the island in the Motavian lake."

"Yessir, Mr. Mayor. At once." He was gone as quick as he had come.

"So, friends, you are from Palma, eh? I've heard that Palma is a beautiful planet. Is that true? I'd like to go visiting some day."

"It was beautiful, before Lassic turned. You've never been there?" Odin asked.

"I was there many many years ago, as a child, but have not been since. I long to go back..." Suddenly, a young girl, no more that five years old, came bounding into the room. She stopped right in from of Odin, smiling, pigtails and all.

"This is my granddaughter! She's quite a bundle of joy!" said Ashley, a huge smile upon his face.

The girl strained her head up to look at Odin, grinning all the while. "Hi! I'm Miki! Do you like Sega games?"

Odin looked at the mayor, puzzled. "They're little electronic devices... keep her entertained for hours on end..." Ashley whispered. Odin looked down at the girl.

"Hello, Miki, my name is Odin. Do you like Sega games?"

"Of course! Sega games are best! Bye-bye!" Miki waved, and bounded off again through the doorway.

"The child certainly has a lot of energy, mayor," commented Noah.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]