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Chapter Twenty-Seven

The landrover sat motionless, pounded by wind and snow, a few yards from the entrance to the underground community of Skure. It had been driven from the Luveno's landing site, a mile away, to this unremarkable area. A rounded gateway, about eight feet high, jutted out from the snow; but aside from that, there was nothing to distinguish the landscape.

Alis and the others were inside the landrover, donning thick, restrictive garments to protect them from the ever-raging storm outside. Although they only had to walk a short distance to reach the entrance, the temperature required extreme protection.

"According to Luveno, it's the middle of the winter here," said Alis as she pulled on her gloves. "Assuming the people here got his comm, they should be expecting us."

"I still don't like the idea of announcing to them all what our goal is..." Odin remarked.

"Luveno trusts the people here, Odin," Noah answered, "and if he believes that, then rest assured we'll be safe. Skure has only the minimalist of contact with Palma, and there certainly aren't any Lassic-lovers here. Nor robotcops."

"And we'll need their help anyway." Myau tossed on a light hide of fur as he spoke; obviously his own coat was nearly protection enough. "If we're going to make this our temporary home while searching for the prism, we need an explanation. After all, people just don't come to Dezoris everyday for sight-seeing."

A grunt was Odin's only response. He pulled the small control cube from the main console and placed it in his sack. Alis then stepped forward to the landrover hatchway, and turned her head to face the others. "Ready?" The others nodded in unison. Turning back to the hatch, Alis pressed the release button, and a blast of freezing air and snow shot through the cabin as the door opened. "C'mon, hurry up!" she shouted over the howling breezes. They trudged outside, clenching their coats around them, teeth gritted. The landrover hatch closed behind them. Upon reaching the tunnel entrance, Alis lifted a gloved hand and firmly placed it over the touchpad. With a hiss, the doorway slid open, and they hurried inside. Odin, the last in, touched the interior pad, and the door closed.

Taking off her hood and goggles, Alis packed them away. Before them stretched a brightly lit hallway with a gentle downward slope; it disappeared around the corner.

"It's a bit warmer in here," Myau commented.

They began to walk down the corridor. The walls were very smooth, and seemed to be carved out of the surrounding ice itself. Electro-torches dotted the path. Suddenly, around the first turn, Alis broke out into a run, leaving the others behind. "Alis, what are you doing...?" Noah cried out in surprise.

"Trouble...?" asked Odin, gripping the handle of the axe at his belt. Myau simply looked around, ears perked.

Ahead, as Alis neared the end of the hallway, she stopped running and took a surfing pose, immediately sliding down the final lengths of the corridor. Losing her balance, she stumbled, and landed squarely on her back side, facing the others. A huge smile was spread across her face.

"Just wanted to try that..." she said with a laugh.

Myau and Odin exchanged puzzled glances, while Noah bowed his head and groaned.

- - - - - - - - - -

"We are certainly thankful for your hospitality, Councilman. We owe you much for allowing us to stay here." Alis was complimenting Councilman Reno, the delegate chosen to attend to the four adventurers. They all now stood in a room at the one and only inn in Skure, a small building designed to house no more than fifteen to twenty people at a time.

"We are delighted to be of service, miss. Although we have not garnered much interference from him, we've long held extreme distaste for Lassic's regime. Luveno has sent you into friendly arms, here." The councilman was a portly man with modest features and light blue hair. Set to be in his mid-fifties, he had been a part of the Skure Governing Council since the colony's earliest days. "I am slightly disturbed that you won't tell us what you are looking for..."

Noah stepped forward. "I understand your concern, Councilman. But we've no wish to endanger anyone more than necessary. It is for your own protection... but believe me when I tell you that we work only for the betterment of all of Algo."

"Of course, of course... if Luveno trusts you, I trust you. Just let me know whatever I can do to aid you in your quest."

Odin turned to a nearby couch and flopped down exhaustedly, as Alis began to speak again. "We would be grateful if we could procure a meal soon... after that, it would be nice if you could point us to someone who can explain the current Palman/Dezorian climate here. We may have the need to interact with the Dezorians, and wish to be adequately prepared."

"Absolutely. You can follow me to the Council dining hall... it's just down the lane." Reno walked to the door, and Noah and Myau followed. Alis turned to Odin, who was slumped down on the couch.

"Odin? Are you all right? she asked with concern.

"I'm fine, fine... I'm just going to rest here a while, maybe get a few minutes of sleep. Come and get me after you finish dinner, okay?" The warrior shifted and stretched out on his back, resting his arms on his chest.

"...Alright, if you're tired... we'll be back in a little while." Alis left with the others, unsure if what Odin was doing. He certainly didn't look tired before we got here...

- - - - - - - - - -

A few minutes after they left, Odin quickly rose and left the inn. Turning left down the lane, he walked to what was obviously a local tavern. A bright sign, "Mitty's", flashed about the door.

Stepping inside, he was greeted by familiar sights and smells. A thick layer of smoke filled the air, and clanking ale bottles rang everywhere. There were about twenty tables spread around the small room, though many of the patrons were seated at the bar. Odin quietly walked up to the bar, and took sat down between two rough-looking individuals.

"One ale. Strongest you've got." The bartender eyed him for a moment, then produced the drink. Odin took a sip.

The giant on his left turned to him. "Haven't seen you around here before."

"I'm a hunter. From Palma. Just arrived." Odin took another sip of ale.

"A hunter, eh? Don't get many of your type around here. In fact, we don't get many of anyone's kind here in Skure! Har har!" Several of the man's companions broke out in a laugh.

"I'm looking for a little adventure," Odin said with a small smile, though staring straight ahead. "I've heard you've got some real nasties here on this icecube." The men laughed again, as the hearty old man on Odin's right spoke for the first time.

"This ain't no Palma, friend. Those buttercups back there are a breeze compared to the beasties out here. We got the worst of the worst. On Palma you fight for sport. Out here, you fight to stay alive." The man tossed back a full half-mug of ale, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

Odin chuckled. "I've been fighting to stay alive all my life... but I'll take your word for it." Finishing off his ale, he pounded the mug onto the bar, indicating he wanted another. The bartender obliged. "So... I've heard some bad things about the... native population..." he said, straight-faced.

The giant was the first to respond. "Har, those greenies are worse than the beasties... they've got brains."

"What he means," said the man on the right, "is that officially, they don't look too kindly on us. Unofficially, they'd kill us on sight."

"We'd do the same thing," added the giant, without a smile.

The other man continued. "There's been a history of bad blood between us Palmans and them. We started out by killing each other... and things haven't improved much. And then there was..." The man looked down, closing his eyes.

"And then there was...?" Odin questioned.

"The bastards killed her. They killed the Queen, and locked the King away in a damn dungeon to torture him," grunted the giant, knuckles going white around his mug. "And there wasn't a damn thing we could do to stop them... and the Council didn't think it appropriate for us to return the favor."

"The King and Queen? I never knew... I remember as a kid, on Palma, hearing that they died..." Odin trailed off.

The man on the right raised his head again. "It was a long time ago. Only the uppity ups back on Palma and Motavia knew what really happened... they all thought it was better if everyone else just thought it was some accident. Those people do this, and we're just supposed to sit here and take it? They all thought it should be kept secret to prevent a war from breaking out... I say to hell with that! If there had been a war I woulda been out there in front, leadin' the way! They had no right! The King and Queen, they were nice people, real people... and they tell us just to sit here!"

"Tom," the bartender said, looking disapprovingly at the man.

"All's I'm sayin' is somethin' shoulda been done, is all..." the man grumbled, turning back to his ale.

"Never turn your back on 'em, is all you should know, hunter," finished the giant man on the left. "That's all we're sayin."

Odin quickly downed his second ale and rose to his feet. "Thanks for the ale... and the advice," he said, placing a few coins on the bar. Without another word, he walked out, and hurried back down the lane to the inn, mulling over what he had learned.

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