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Chapter Thirty-One

Lusar hurried down the long hallway, passing a pair of guards, entering the cold throne room, lit only by the small torches hanging on the walls. Lassic sat alone on his throne, chin on fist, staring off into the blackness. He showed no reaction at all to the rapidly approaching Lusar, who was out of breath as he reached the throne and kneeled before his king.

"M'lord Lassic, I have urgent news that..." Lusar was cut by a wave of the tyrant's hand.

"I have no desire to listen to your incessant prattling, Lusar. Leave me be."

"But master, you don't understand. You need..."

Lassic boomed at the still prostrate underling. "I said leave me be you fool!"

Lusar stood, defiantly, refusing to go. "I will not leave, Lassic! You must hear this!"

Lassic's eyes burned in his silence, and for moments Lusar feared for his life. But he would not be resisted. "Proceed. Carefully , if you value your pathetic existence."

"A group of rebels has surrendered themselves to our custody. They demand to have audience with you."

"Why do you bother me with such trifles, Lusar? Kill them and be done with it." Lassic leaned back in his throne, satisfied that the matter had concluded.

"Ordinarily, I would have seen to it myself, m'lord. But this is different." Lassic seemed slightly intrigued.

"Explain."

"A short time ago, the rebels... there are four of them, by the way, and one of them is a Musk Cat... entered the tower of Baya Malay. We believe that they are the ones that our agents have been hearing rumors about. Your troops of course confronted them, but were stymied by their extraordinary fighting abilities. The group then demanded to speak with you. This is when one of your lower commanders informed me of the situation. Being that they had resisted your forces so well, I deemed it necessary to meet them myself." Lusar tried to gauge the king's reaction, but his face was ever-still. Lusar continued. "I had planned, of course, to merely distract them as we prepared to overwhelm them with superior forces, but it was then that one of their number, an Esper..."

"...An Esper...?"

"Yes, m'lord. It was then that he demanded an audience with you... by way of the Triumvirate Pact." All was silent. Lusar wished to continue, but could not bring himself to speak. The king sat up, hands gripping his throne tightly, blood vessels straining in his neck. His lips began to curl around gritted teeth in a viscious snarl. For the first time in ages, Lusar visibly trembled before his master. He had seen rage grip the king before, but never with such intensity. Taking a small step back, and risking instant death, Lusar stuttered out his final words. "What... what would you have me do, m'lord?" His face contorted, expecting the worst.

"Bring them to me immediately. Unharmed." Lassic's voice was a whisper, through his still gritted teeth. "And have the castle evacuated. I want none to remain." Lusar bowed his head, breathed a silent sigh of relief, and left the king alone. "Attendant!" Lassic bellowed off to his right. A small man walked slowly through a side doorway into the throne room. "Bring me my full royal battle armor!"

- - - - - - - - - -

Their trip from the top of the tower to the immense dark castle floating in the sky had been short. Accompanied by only two armed guards, Alis and the others were flown to the castle via a small aero-transport ship that was obviously used to carry the more important leaders in Lassic's government back and forth between the king and the world below. As they cruised along through the sky, they could see through the viewport tumultuous flashes of red, blue and orange light that seemed to writhe in space, blanketing the slowly emerging castle. The structure itself was of tremendous size, dwarfed only by the rocky land mass that it rested on top of. To Noah, the only one capable of judging such matters, it would have required enormous amounts of magical power to keep such an object afloat. Not even the Espers held such power.

The craft gently touched down directly in front of the castle, whose eerily golden brick walls now loomed some six stories above them. Still holding tight to their sheathed weapons, the four heroes exited the craft, leaving their guards behind. Some twenty yards away, at the main door of the castle, Lusar awaited them, alone. He motioned for them to come forward, and slowly they did. The engines of the transport still hummed quietly behind them.

"You'll hardly need those," Lusar said coldly, pointing to their weapons. "If we had wanted to kill you, we would simply have crashed the transport."

"Your troops are that devoted, eh? What inspiring leadership you must have..." came Odin's caustic response.

"Our forces would die if we commanded them to... all for the greater good of the empire." Lusar and Odin exchanged steeled looks as the quartet was led inside the great hallway of the castle.

The path seemed to stretch for hundreds of feet before them. Far in the distance, barely lit, they could see a single set of enormous wooden double doors, closed. Not a word was spoken between them; even Lusar was silent as they traversed the carpeted floor. Alis and Odin exchanged nervous, wary glances. Meanwhile, Noah's face was contorting slightly, as if holding back an intense pain. Whatever evil magic that flooded the castle was obviously having a negative effect on him.

Minutes later, they had reached the main doorway. As Noah began to grit his teeth and close his eyes in pain, Lusar turned to face them. "Consider yourselves fortunate... Lassic rarely grants audience to scum like you..." With a forceful shove, Lusar then pushed the giant doors inward, revealing the massive royal chamber. As Alis took a step forward, peering into the darkness, Lusar hurriedly made his way back down the hallway, exiting the castle.

They could see nothing but blackness. A chilling breeze wafted over them, just as Noah doubled over, resting his hands on his knees. Alis, standing next to him, helped him back up. Quietly, Odin whispered. "We're off to see the wizard..."

Some seventy feet ahead of them, two tall torches burst into flame. They flanked both sides of a dark throne, upon which sat the dread lord himself. Draped in a deep red, blue and gold robe, his silver and black armor could be seen reflecting the firelight underneath. A golden horned helmet topped his head, and partially hid his eyes behind a pair of red transluscent goggles. In his left gauntleted hand he held his golden staff upright; its own ornamented head mirrored the helmet he wore. He sat motionless, radiating evil, awaiting the four heroes.

It's finally here... the moment we've all been fighting so hard for... be with us, Nero... Alis' thoughts swirled around her as she took the first tenative steps forward, followed by her companions. In moments her stride grew more forceful as her confidence began to assert itself, even amidst the daunting surroundings.

Myau followed just behind and to the left, desperately scanning the darkness for sights or sounds of an ambush. But it appeared that the entire throne room, save for themselves and the king, was empty. Noah was on Alis' other side. He now clutched his own staff with two hands, using it to assist his walking. Odin walked behind them all, right hand ever holding the handle of the Laconian axe on his belt, unblinking eyes never leaving the king.

And then they were there. A mere ten feet from the throne, which they now saw sat atop an ivory step-pillar. The four heroes lined up, Alis and Myau in front, Odin and Noah behind. For tense seconds neither they nor the tyrant moved or spoke. And then Alis cleared her throat.

"King Lassic," she said.

The king let out a deep, guttural laugh that chilled them all.

- - - - - - - - - -

The Ruling Council of the Earthmen convened deep within the great ship Noah, still floating high above Palma. Twenty-five men, seated at a round table in a brightly lit room just off the main control bridge, were quiet. A large viewscreen that showed the blue and green planet far below backlit the sole standing figure. Gerod, the de facto and de juno leader, spoke slowly, eyes practically glowing in anticipation.

"The moment of the Great Merge is almost upon us... our lord feels his distant brother finally beginning to enter Algo! In mere hours, their powers will combine, and the peoples of Algo will lay dead at our feet! Our long long journey has come to its epic finale! We will soon fulfill our rightful role as masters of this system, dominators of Palma! Praise be to the Force of Darkness! Praise be to us! Our destiny is at hand!"

The council responded with a chorus of Praise be 's. Marlowe, seated directly opposite of Gerod, broke the revelry. "Where is the merge to take place, Gerod? We will need time to prepare..."

"We need do nothing, save bring Noah to the desert planet! That is where the brother shall break through... once we transport our lord to Motavia, he will be able to journey down to the planet from orbit and complete the joining. It is indeed a glorious day, brothers!"

Over-zealous fool! thought Marlowe. Your religious nonsense will be our own undoing! We have no need to serve this demon...

"Yugi! Command the proles to set Noah on a course for Motavia! Sync us in orbit directly over Paseo," Gerod called. A short blond-haired young man arose from the table, nodded, and quickly left the room.

"It will take us almost half a day to reach Motavia, Gerod. I take it the new demon won't mind his brother showing up a bit late...?" Marlowe's sarcasm was only partially veiled.

"It matters not," the leader replied. "He will simply be free to wreak havoc with the Motavian forces until we arrive... at which time ALL will be destroyed! ALL!"

- - - - - - - - - -

He sat within the modest Governor's Mansion in the heart of the city of Paseo on Motavia. Sirus spoke with two advisors over a plan to build a high speed transport system that would link all of the outlying towns directly to the capital city. No one else was in the small conference room behind the main hall, as was customary.

"And so you see that the degree of expansion and contraction caused by the varying levels of heat require that..." The advisor halted in mid-speech with a wave of Sirus' hand. The governor closed his eyes and bowed his head. "Governor? Are you alright?"

"I'm... I'm suddenly not feeling so well, Redmond." Here Sirus placed a hand to his temple. "Leave me for a while, and I shall take my rest."

"Shall I summon a doctor, Governor?" the other advisor asked.

"No no, it is nothing that serious. I shall be fine with just a bit of rest. I shall send ungh... I shall send messengers for you when I am able to continue. Thank you." The advisors looked worriedly at each other, but turned and left the governor alone in the stateroom. After their departure, Sirus rose from his chair and staggered over to a nearby table to get a glass of water. But the pitcher fell from his hand, crashing to the floor and he collapsed, sprawled motionless over the paved-stone ground.

Miles away, deep in an underground cavern, Master Tajim screamed out in pain as he fell to his knees, hand clutching his cloak just above his heart.

- - - - - - - - - -

"You have gained your audience with me, invoking the name of the Triumvirate Pact. Explain how you know of such things." Lassic's tone was cool and unrevealing.

"You have not lived up to your end of the bargain, Lassic," Alis began, "and have betrayed the trust of the king of Algo. You have broken the pact of goverance between the king, Sirus, and yourself. You therefore have forfeited your claim to the throne of Palma."

Lassic again broke out in a vile laugh. "Dear child, I am the king of Algo! I have dominion over Palma, Sirus is nothing but a minor annoyance, and Dezoris is worthless. The king is dead, long live the king! Ha ha ha ha!"

Noah spoke up, though his growing exhaustion was evident. "Your madness has consumed you, tyrant! The king gave you rule over Palma in good faith, and yet you have led the people of this planet into the heart of oblivion!"

"I was given nothing! I deserve this rule by the very power of my will! And the people be damned! They exist only to further my own goals... to increase my own power!"

"No!" Alis yelled, taking a half step forward. "You have no right to abuse the people so... you have a responsibility to..."

"Responsibility? Ha ha ha... your naive youth colors your perceptions! The only requirement of rule is strength, and the only goal is power!"

"You killed my brother!"

"Ahhhhh..." Lassic shifted in his seat, a cruel smile spreading across his face. "So that is why you have come before me... you seek revenge! How delicious!"

Alis' expression flushed red with anger. As she took another half-step forward to continue the debate, Odin silently unhooked his axe from his belt. "We seek justice! Justice for the myriads of crimes and atrocities you have committed against the Palman people! Your reign must come to an end!"

"Watch you tone, lass... I have tolerated your presence because I was mildly interested in your knowledge of the Pact. But you have outstripped your welcome and my patience. Your sentence for resisting the empire has been decided. You will lay down your weapons and your lives will be forfeit. Such is my judgement. Hold your tongue and I shall make your deaths painless."

The tyrant and heroine held each other's gaze. And then Alis began to move forward. She pulled her sword out of its sheath and held it, blade downwards, as she walked. In moments she stood three feet before him. Her eyes cast downward, she slowly began to kneel, the Laconian sword clanking against the stone step below Lassic's throne. Lassic stood, his royal robes swaying, staff in hand. His smile returned.

"Such is your will, King Lassic," Alis said. "Thy will be done."

In a flash, Alis rolled off to the side as Odin's Laconian axe came whizzing through the air, striking the king squarely in the abdomen, piercing his dark armor. Screaming out in agony, Lassic ripped the axe from his body, its blade now striped crimson, and flung it aside. As he staggered to the right, Alis quickly recovered the axe and slid it along the floor, returning it to Odin. "Noah, now!" she yelled. The Esper raised his staff and a second later three violent torrents of visible wind flung themsevles towards the reeling king. But they would not find their mark, as Lassic recovered and held up his own staff to block the attack.

"You are fools! You will die!" he screamed. Immediately bracing himself against his throne, he pointed his mystical weapon at the Esper and the others, and fired a pair of magical blasts of energy. Odin and Myau scattered; Noah erected a simple force field around himself, but was knocked backward off of his feet by the sheer force of impact. Without respite, Lassic fired again, this time at the dodging Alis, who narrowly avoided the blasts by diving towards a far wall.

Turning his attention back to Noah, Lassic was blindsided as Myau flew across his field of view, slashing his face with a silver blade. Lashing out, the king kicked at the Musk Cat as Myau landed, sending him flying violently through the air. He landed with a limp, but quickly righted himself.

Without warning, Odin appeared behind the king, axe raised high above his head ready to strike. But Lassic was quick to react, and swung the end of his staff back and over his shoulder, spinning around, slamming it into Odin's face. The warrior stumbled backward, dropping the Laconian weapon. He tripped over the ivory steps and landed on his side, mouth and nose bleeding. Lassic's eyes flashed as he readied his staff of another blast, but he was caught unawares by lightning shot from Noah's direction. Rocked back, the robes he wore caught aflame, and the tyrant began to swing wildly as he tried to pull off the burning garments. In the process he barreled into one of the torch stands next to his throne, knocking it over. The deep red carpet quickly was ablaze.

Alis ran back to Noah's position, who was now joined by Myau. They retreated to the side of the room as the fire shot down the carpet, eating its way down the long hall. Smoke and intense heat filled the air; behind the wall of flame, Myau and the others could faintly make out the king's outline, still writhing, desperately trying to quell the fire on his person. "Noah, can you fire at him from here?!?" Alis yelled over the raging wale of the flames.

"I'd have to drop the force field... I wouldn't be able to block out the heat of the flames!"

"Just do it! While he's still vulnerable!" Noah did as she suggested and dropped the field. Standing tall, he raised his staff, jutting it forward. Its tip began to glow intensely, as the Esper readied the most powerful lightning blast he could muster. Out of nowhere, Myau leaped and tackled him, knocking him and Alis out of the way as two bolts of blue energy shot towards them from behind the raging flames. Alis' left hand was singed badly and a deep burn had formed on her shoulder while Noah struggled to get the force field back up. They could see nothing now, as Lassic's form was completely blanketed from view.

On the other side of the flames, near the throne, the king had managed to rip the robes off, and was now choking on the volumes of smoke that surrounded him. He could see little, and was blindly launching blasts from his staff in hopes that they would strike the rebels. Behind him, silently, Odin had recovered his axe.

May you rot in hell for what you have done, you bastard... Effortlessly, Odin buried the blade of the Laconian axe in the back of King Lassic. He fell silently to the ground, dead instantly.

It was only seconds later when the castle began to rumble and shake. Bursting through the wall of flame, Odin rejoined his comrades, though severe burns covered his face and hands. "He's dead! Come on, we've got to get out of here!" The warrior grabbed Alis arm and pulled her along, forcing her down the hallway back to the door.

"Wait! How do you..." she yelled. But Noah silenced her.

"He's right! The magic that holds this place together is collapsing! We've got to go now!" The Esper stumbled along, and Odin was quickly at his side, helping him along. All four raced down the throne room, crashing throught the huge doors that were now ablaze. The tremors rocking the castle caused Alis to lose her footing and she fell to the ground, but she was right back up again and the heroes finally made it outside of the building. There were no transports in sight, and the ground itself was now violently vibrating.

"This whole structure is failing! There's nothing to support EEYAARRGH!" Noah's knees buckled, and his hands went to the sides of his head.

Quickly, Noah! You must go see the governor on Motavia!

"TAJIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIM!" the Esper screamed in intense anguish.

"Myau!" Odin yelled as the castle behind them began to crumble, huge stone blocks crashing to the ground. "You've got to do it! It's our only chance!" Myau nodded, and Alis frantically searched through her sack. A moment later she took out a handful of Laerma nuts and placed them in Myau's outstretched paw. Pausing, Myau looked in the eyes of Alis, the Odin, then put the nuts into his mouth and began chewing. Almost immediately a blindingly white light enveloped the Musk Cat, and his companions had to turn there eyes away. They heard a horrible, shrieking mewl that lasted for several seconds. As it died down, they turned around, and could not believe what greeted their eyes.

Before them was Myau. The Musk Cat had grown to some fifteen feet in length, and huge snow-white feathery wings flapped majestically. The site was extraordinary; Myau had become an immense and beautiful beast, still undeniably Musk Cat in some areas, and completely alien in others. His golden fur glittered brightly in the swirling mystic energies, and his sheer size dwarfed each of his fellows.

Barely able to speak, Odin managed to stutter out, "Can... can you manage to carry us all?" Without a word, Myau thrust his great wings up and down, lifting his massive form high into the air. He circled above their heads for a moment, then returned to the ground in an effortlessly agile manner.

"I believe so," came his now booming voice. "Climb on my back." Hurriedly, Alis and Odin picked Noah up and placed him upon Myau's back; he was joined by the two a second later. They each held tightly to the soft fur of the Musk Cat, and with a whoosh they were off, leaving the crumbling castle behind. Careful now to fly too fast for fear of losing his riders, Myau glided back down towards the tower of Baya Malay far below. Odin looked over his shoulder just in time to see the now-distant castle structure explode in a fiery crescendo. The shockwave hit them almost immediately, sending Myau spiralling down to earth out of control. "Hold on!" he cried. The others gripped him tightly as he tumbled end over end, desperately trying to regain control, wings swinging violently.

Now rocketing downward, they were only a few hundred feet off the ground, still out of control. Over the blasts of howling wind, Alis heard Myau yell, "It's wearing off! I'm starting to change back!"

"Hold on! We're almost down!" Alis screamed.

Indeed they were. Barreling at some twenty-five-miles an hour, the green ground below raced towards them; just in the distance the waiting Hovercraft could be made out. Alis and the others could feel the body of Myau slowly contracting beneath them as he finally righted himself and began to slow their descent. "Brace yourselves!" he yelled.

With a violent crash, the quartet slammed into the ground, with the ever-shrinking Myau absorbing most of the impact. Alis, Odin, and Noah were thrown off the Musk Cat's back into the bushes nearby.

"Odin!" Alis called. "Noah, Myau! Are you all right?!?" Several feet away, Noah stumbled from the foliage with a nod. Odin grunted not far off. Alis turned, and there lay Myau, back in his Musk Cat form, rising slowly to his feet. He held his front left leg off the ground; Alis guessed that it must have been broken.

Each was silent as they hobbled over to each other. Suddenly, Alis broke out in a small laugh. "I... I guess we made it! We did it!" she said, face brimming with happiness, tears beginning to form. "It's over!"

"No, it's not..." Noah coughed, out of breath. "We've... we've got to get to the governor. Immediately."

"What are you talking about? We just killed Lassic!" rebuffed Odin.

"Tajim... says we must get to the governor. There's something going on in Paseo. Something major . We've got to get back to Gothic and get the ship right away."

Alis' smile dwindled. "But what's going on? What's wrong?"

Just then a huge chunk of granite from the sky slammed into the not-so-distant Baya Malay tower, knocking them all off their feet. All over the countryside, bits and pieces of the now destroyed castle were crashing into the ground.

"I don't know," Noah said. "I don't know."

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