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"Yes, the engineering was quite a feat," Reno replied, taking a sip of brown, steaming liquid. "You can see the rock formations up above us, but for all intents and purposes, we may as well be on the surface of another world. Our technicians keep us warm enough to be comfortable, and there's even been talk of setting up some kind of holographic "sky" to give us days and nights." It was obvious that Councilman Reno was very proud of the small town, of which he had every reason to be.
"It must have been difficult for the early settlers to deal with it, living underground," Noah added. "I can only imagine the feelings of claustrophobia that certainly came about."
"This from someone who lives in a cave himself," Alis remarked playfully.
"We've adapted well, this town is a hearty bunch. You'll see that where ever you go," said Reno.
Alis pushed her plate forward and leaned back in her seat. "So, Councilman, would you care to tell us how the Dezorian relations are going?"
Reno put his mug on the table, and his expression lost its light-heartedness. "We co-exist on this planet. Usually, we have no reason to interact with each other, but we occasionally send delegates to their towns to keep abreast of current movements."
"And how do they view your presence here, Councilman?" questioned Myau.
"They..." Here he winced. "They don't care for us too much, though they seem to tolerate our presence. Their new leadership seems more open to us that the previous cadre, but still, things could be better." The councilman took another sip of his beverage. "I don't imagine that you'll have any problems, though. If you have need to visit one of their settlements, let me know and I'll give you a letter of introduction... sans a description of what you're doing, of course."
"You don't have a means to communicate with them electronically?" Alis asked.
"Well, we know they have comm setup themselves, but they've made them incompatible with our own. They're very private about most of their affairs..."
"Thank you for the dinner, Councilman," said Alis as she stood. Noah and Myau did likewise. "If we have any needs or concerns, we'll be sure to contact you. Tomorrow, we'll be leaving Skure for a while, so after the morning, we'll see you when we return?"
Reno stood and extended his hand. "Of course. I'll have the letter ready tomorrow, if you need it. We wish you well on your journey, where ever it might take you." Alis shook his hand, and the three left the councilman at the table.
They returned to the inn to find Odin pacing along the floor of the room they had been allotted. As they came in, he turned to face them. "I was wondering when you guys would finally make it back," he said.
"We've just finished hearing about the Dezorians," Alis responded, "and I see that you aren't so tired anymore."
"I wasn't to begin with. While you were out, I was checking out the locals, looking for some info. You'll forgive me if I don't trust that councilman to give us the full story."
Noah stepped past Alis and sat on one of the beds. "And just what did your little undercover mission find out, pray tell?"
"The Dezorians and Palmans here have a history... Reno told you that things were going okay, right?" Odin asked the Esper.
"More or less."
"Well, don't believe it. There's more than just mutual distrust going on here... these people and the Dezorians share a mutual desire to kill each other."
Alis walked up to him, a look of bewilderment on her face. "Why? What's this 'history' you spoke about?"
"You'd better sit down," he told her. "All of you."
"So, you wanna tell us what your plan is for finding this prism thing?" Odin asked Noah. The morning after their arrival in Skure, the four were sitting in the Landrover, still parked near the underground entrance. Odin had already taken his seat at the controls, while the others were removing their extra garments. The landrover purred to life.
"We... we just have to go looking for it." The Esper seemed unsure of his own words.
Odin gave him a puzzled look. "Just what do you mean, 'we just have to go looking for it'? You have no idea at all, do you?"
"Master Tajim instructed me to get it, and he also said that I'd know when we were near..." The warrior put his hand to his forehead and closed his eyes, muttering to himself.
"Oh, okay, then," he resumed, "then all we have to do is drive around the entire planet until you 'know' where it is. Wonderful, just wonderful." Although the comments were teemed with sarcasm, Noah himself could recognize the enormity of the problem.
"There's a far simpler way to go about things here, I should say," Myau interrupted.
"I know where you're going with this Myau... it's too bad our big bad protectors here don't see it." Odin and Noah both looked at each other blankly.
Myau continued. "If the prism got here in the first place from where ever it came from originally, someone must have put it somewhere. Chances are, it's fairly near where the natives reside. All we have to do is search the areas that Dezorians have access to."
"Right," Alis said. "Of course it could be nestled out somewhere in the wilderness, but I wouldn't bet on it. In any event, we have to start somewhere, so it may as well be with the Dezorian settlements. I got a map from Reno just before we left... it shows all known locations of Dezorian towns, both underground and above."
"And you think the natives will welcome us with open arms?" Odin questioned in jest.
Alis returned his smile. "We'll just have to be on our best behavior," she replied. "And there are times when we can be very persuasive..."
The landrover rumbled along at a cool twenty-five miles an hour, struggling to maintain traction on the snow-covered slopes of ice. The heating units were pushed to their limit; its passengers could still see their breath condense in the cabin air. For four hours they had been traveling, ravaged by the torrential snowstorm, northwestward from Skure.
"It looks like we'll make it to this first town in about ten minutes," Alis told the others while her face was buried in the map. "There should be an entrance to an underground passage about three or four miles east of here." Odin gently steered to the right, being careful not to slip into a skid.
"I can barely see a blasted thing through this viewport..." he exclaimed, half in concern, half in frustration. "One thing's for sure... there's no way we'll be able to make it back to Skure before it starts to get dark. I can't drive this thing like that."
"But it has running and spot lights..." said Myau.
"Yeah, but in this storm, those lights won't get five feet. We may have to stay in this town we're headed to."
"I think we'd be safer if we slept in the landrover... especially considering what you've told us." Alis' words were true enough.
Odin nodded. "Agreed. There's plenty of power in this baby."
Noah stood and walked to the viewport. Staring, he pointed his finger off to the left. "What's that? Is that the entrance? I can't quite make it out." A short bit into the distance, a vaguely round shape seemed to emerge.
Myau scampered up next to him, standing on his hind legs to see. "Yes, I believe that is. It looks similar to the structure above Skure," the Musk Cat confirmed.
"Alright guys, suit up. And take your weapons. I don't want any surprises." Following Alis' lead, Noah and Myau readied themselves. The landrover hummed along, rapidly closing the distance to the underground entrance.
"We'll need to find out everything we can about their activities... where they go, what they do... if we're to have some direction as to where to search for the prism," she continued. "They might not like having Palmans snooping around, but we can handle this whole thing diplomatically , understand?" Noah and Myau looked at here. "Odin?" she said, waiting for a response.
"Whatever it takes," he replied with an edge.
They had never seen a Dezorian in person before. No amount of description or pictures could have truly given them an idea of what they were now facing. Before them stood a being, humanoid in shape, standing seven feet high. Its long arms and legs were draped in an ornate robe of brown and white, and a large hat topped its elongated brow.
But this creature's most striking feature, at least in the eyes of the Palmans (and the Musk Cat) was its deep green, almost scale-like skin. None of the four had ever seen anything quite like it before. Its nose was blended into its face, and it had no true lips to speak of.
And they were now standing at the gate of an underground town filled with these beings, walking down the lanes, speaking in native tongue, going about their daily business. It was a mixture of the comfortingly familiar coupled with the disturbingly bizarre. This was a town of aliens, in the truest and most false sense of the word.
And the one before them, the gatekeep, spoke.
"Welcome to our town, Palmans." The four adventurers were speechless.
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