The Hero of Algol by Bad Hair Man

Chapter 5: The Cake Walk

**** Interview with Alis Landale - excerpt. AW 344, Nov. 12 ****

Interviewer: So... you needed... cake. ... Seriously?

Alis: *nods* Yep. Cake. ... Shortcake, to be specific.

Interviewer: You really went on a quest... for cake?

Alis: Well, it was a really good cake! Not like... just a normal cake.

Interviewer: ...

Alis: What? It's not like that was the only reason we went to Naula!

Interviewer: ...

Alis: *quieter* It was just the main one.

**** end excerpt ****

AW 342, July 15 (day 39)

I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Or, no, I should definitely cry. But I don't know whether I should cry because centuries of cultural artifacts and historical architecture were ripped ignominiously out of the ground and set to drift somewhere in the Palman sky, or because in ripping Waizz Hill from the earth, Lassic uncovered the long-buried remains of the ancient city of Iala.

In another day and age, unearthing Iala might have been a great archeological boon. But now -- when every hole in the ground on every planet is swarming with monstrous bats and all manner of creeping horrors (who are coming from God knows where) -- cracking open an ancient Ialan catacomb has unleashed a swarm of ghosts and skeletons across the countryside.

Fortunately no-one lives around there, and that peninsula was already crawling with monsters anyway, so the harm doesn't seem too great yet. We actually climbed down into the crater that Lassic left. The "Iala crater" I guess we're calling it now. We discovered the entrance to the old catacomb and Odin taught me how to fight ghosts. (He said that ghosts of this type are known as "evil dead", and are spirit remnants of violence and anger.)

Okay, we came back to Scion after making that discovery, but what it is that really makes me want to cry, or laugh, is what Odin has said we should do next. Apparently, when a "hero" discovers an ancient tomb, or dungeon, or crypt, or cave, or castle, or catacomb, or temple, that no sane person would dare step foot into because it's swarming with monsters, it is that hero's duty and privilege to venture into that lair of evil, vanquish all (or some) of the monsters, and loot the place for all the treasure it's got. Monsters, it seems -- especially monsters in dungeons -- are notorious treasure hoarders.

Rationally, it's absurd. It's foolish, dangerous, and stupid. Yes, something needs to be done about the monsters. Something always needs to be done about the monsters (that's why there are Hunters). But exploring a monster filled hole by ourselves just because it's there?! This is crazy, I know...

...But I kind of want to do it. It's irrational and reckless, but something in what Odin said feels right, even as I think it's wrong. I'm actually really curious now about what's been buried in that catacomb all these ages. And getting to be the ones to explore it for the first time... it's kind of exciting!

Nero, you don't think this is a bad idea, do you? I need to go to bed. Tomorrow should be... interesting.

Goodnight.

Editor's Note: Alis did not pen a journal entry for July 16.

AW 342, July 17 (day 41)

We took the day off today (mostly). After yesterday we deserved a day of rest (or five, not that we're getting five (yet)). I was so exhausted yesterday I collapsed into bed without writing anything, so I guess I'd better get caught up.

We went back to Iala, as planned. We killed so many monsters! (So many!) I couldn't believe the dogged perseverance Odin and Myau showed. Even after we were battered and bruised from a dozen fights and I was saying "maybe it's time we turn back, while our skin is still relatively intact", Odin was like: "Nah, we're still good. You've still got some healing left in you, right? Let's take these stairs and see what the next level down has for us!"

Even though he's still not fully recovered, Odin just refuses to quit. And after every fight he would critique my fighting skills, tell me how I can improve my stance or my aggressiveness, or just remind me that no matter how hectic things get, I need to always remain aware of what's going on around me. As if I needed him to point out that my inattention made me nearly skewer Myau. (God, I know I screwed up, alright? Does he really have to point out every mistake I make?!)

So we killed evil dead, and goldlenses, and even some werebats (we've got killing werebats practically down to a science now). And of course, skeletons. Skeletons are creepy and mean and they are not my friends. They did have treasure though. Not big piles of gold and jewels like I'd imagined, but some boring artifacts. Odin and Myau knew a thing or two about which things we should grab to take back with us.

When we encountered a locked door, Odin made a big deal about how you should always carry a "dungeon key" when exploring ancient crypts and whatnot. It was all very smug and self-important, and when I finally asked him what a "dungeon key" actually is, he and Myau just smirked at each other, then Odin swung his axe and smashed the lock. Then he went and made a comment about how he saves his "heaven key" for when he meets a "damsel in distress". I think Myau rolled his eyes at that one. And when I asked Odin to show me his "heaven key", he got really flustered and changed the subject, so now I think maybe I don't actually want to know what he was talking about.

Anyway, way down at the bottom of the catacomb, we found an ornate and impressive tomb. Then we got mobbed by skeletons. But after that painful kerfuffle, we discovered that the tomb had housed the remains of an ancient Musk Cat hero. Her name was Myau (though Myau insisted that it was probably a completely different name than his, it's just that Palman ears are so crappy we can't tell the difference between a Myau and a Myau).

The skeletons had already messed up her remains pretty bad, but as we tried to set things straight, we noticed that the ancient Myau had been buried with an old Musk Cat weapon and armor. An "iron fang" and a thick fur cloak. Myau seemed interested in these, but didn't want to disrespect an ancient hero. So Odin convinced him that not only did he have a greater need for them now than she did, but that since he had fought and defeated her skeleton when it attacked us, he had effectively already won them fair and square in a trial by combat. I'm not sure the argument he made is legally sound, but it was convincing enough for Myau. And I must say he looks even scarier now, fighting with that iron fang in his mouth.

That was about as deep as the catacomb went. After feeling satisfied that we had explored/looted every last nook and cranny, we battled our way back to the surface, dragged our exhausted selves out of the crater and up to where we had parked, and drove back to Scion where we could crash into bed within the safety of a city's walls. That's what I did anyway. Odin and Myau must have more stamina than me, because I think they went out carousing and showing off the rewards of our great dungeon adventure while I was busy passing out.

That was yesterday. Today was mostly spent recuperating. That, and finding someone with whom we could trade the spoils of yesterday's grave-robbing quest for some cold, hard meseta. I guess I still have mixed feelings about the whole business. I'm wondering if I ought to be feeling more torn up about looting a historical site, or if the fact that the place was swarming with monsters really does make it okay.

Myau and Odin and I also discussed what our next caper should be. Myau's put together a plan that's a little bit complicated. I don't really feel like explaining the whole thing now, but the first step is: we need some cake.

AW 342, July 18 (day 42)

I get to sleep in my own bed tonight, but probably won't again for a while. Tomorrow we're leading a relief "convoy" -- one truck and two vans -- up the north coast to try to get some aid into Naula.

Supposedly the robotcops have been clearing out the monsters and trying to reopen the road to Naula for a couple of weeks now, but they don't seem to be making very good progress. And of course their efforts are not to be questioned or criticized, and outside help is neither wanted nor welcome. Some people are getting really worried about how the people of Naula are doing though. Myau was able to find a group who were preparing a relief mission, and then convinced them to not only accept the assistance of the great hero Odin and his "coterie" (Myau and I) on this dangerous journey, but that we should leave tomorrow.

Even if Myau didn't have an ulterior motive, Odin, Suelo, and I agreed that this would be a thing worth doing. Myau does have an ulterior motive though. It seems that during the time he spent in Paseo searching for the resources or patron necessary to acquire the alshline to cure Odin, he learned that the Governor of Motavia is not on good terms with King Lassic, and that he may well be a powerful potential ally. Unfortunately Myau was never able to get an audience with the Governor, but he did learn what sort of "gift" he might be able to bring that would change that. The Governor loves cakes, apparently. Imported cakes from the Naula Bakery, specifically. And ever since travel to Naula has been cut off, the supply has dried up.

Ooh, but while he was off doing the serious work of arranging all of this today, Odin and I went shopping! Odin found a beautiful and modern ceramic shield that he can use with either his axe or his needlegun, and I... I am the proud owner of an expensive, yet incredibly impressive new ceramic sword. Made of state-of-the-art materials, it's guaranteed to never break or chip, it's as white as a wedding dress, and is so sharp you can practically use it to cut a piece of paper into two thinner pieces of paper!

I mean, the titanium sword I got from the people of Eppi is great, and I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I completely love my new ceramic battle companion. I love the way he sits on my belt and the way his firm haft feels in my hand. (So sexy!) I just love him so much!

AW 342, July 19 (day 43)

Well, it's finally come to this. Camping out, in a monster infested wilderness. Odin and Myau say they've done this plenty of times before, and showed me lots of techniques they know for keeping a camp safe from surprise attacks. Most important among them, one of us will be on watch at all times during the night.

Oh, the relief mission did not go well. We drove up the scenic north road, wedged between the coastal bluffs and the Malay mountains. It was peaceful and uneventful for the entire morning. We didn't see a single robotcop anywhere, oddly enough. Then we got to the landslide. It looked like someone had been working to clear it recently, but they never finished, and there was no-one there today. No-one except us, that is. And the swarm of evil dead apparitions that swooped down out of the mountains to ambush us the moment we stopped.

They attacked en masse, but we had come prepared for a fight and managed to defeat them before anyone in the convoy was too badly hurt by their evil ghost magic. That part of the cliff-side road would have been treacherous even without the landslide; as it was, there was no possible way to get the vehicles either over or around the obstruction. Most of the convoy headed back to Camineet to regroup, but Odin, Myau, and I decided to keep going on foot.

There were more monster attacks to deal with after that, of course; deadtrees and goldlenses and such. And then there was what was probably the most terrifying half-second of my life, when a spider, about the same size as me, unexpectedly dropped onto my head. It was green and hairy and so heavy that it knocked me sprawling. I think I screamed and flailed, trying to protect my face from its hideous fangs, but I had barely even begun to do that before Myau had tackled it off of me and was ripping into it, howling. It didn't take the tarantul (the type of spider it was) very long before it spit a web around Myau, disabling him temporarily, but that also gave Odin the clear shot he needed to finish it off.

That wasn't the only tarantul we fought today, but it's the only one I let get the jump on me. I watch the trees very carefully now when in a forest. (My ceramic sword, by the way, works like a dream, though Odin keeps reminding me that the skill of the wielder matters much more than the weapon wielded, and never misses an opportunity to tell me what I'm doing wrong in every fight. Urgh!)

I'm not sure what I'm more afraid of now, that I've learned a whole new type of nightmare to have (giant spiders jumping on me and biting my face, or perhaps wrapping me up in webbing and then injecting venom into whatever part of my body they think looks most tasty), or that I won't be able to sleep at all anymore.

Nero, please keep the horrid spiders away from me. Odin says we'll probably get to Naula by tomorrow evening. I hope we do. Goodnight.

AW 342, July 20 (day 44)

Nero, today I had a piece of cake so good it almost made me cry. Do you remember my thirteenth birthday "party"? Just two weeks after you got me out of that awful system and we were finally living on our own. Money was really tight, but you managed to get a cake for me from somewhere. Of course, it was a really terrible cake and I wasn't afraid to say so. In fact, my whole "party" was a huge letdown and I was a disgruntled little snot about it.

It wasn't until the next day that I started to realize what I'd done. That you were trying so hard to be both a good brother and a responsible guardian to me and you were so scared that you would screw it up, that you would screw me up, and that you would lose me again.

Nero, it's not your fault that the cake was terrible. I'm so glad that Suelo yelled some sense into me then, so that I could apologize to you, and feel properly awful about it, and now I don't have to live with never having gotten your forgiveness.

On your next birthday Nero, I'm going to buy you a cake from the Naula Bakery. No, sorry, that's a stupid idea. On my next birthday, if I can, I'm going to come back here and buy the best birthday cake they have. And then I'm going to put a note on it that says, "For Alis. Love, Nero." Because I know you well enough to know that if I were to ever tell you that the best cake I'd ever tasted came from a besieged little town on the northern coast, that the next time my birthday came around you would do whatever you had to -- brave any monsters -- to buy me a cake so good that it's making me cry again.

Okay, I guess that's not the cake this time. I love you Nero. Goodnight.

AW 342, July 21 (day 45)

I miss Naula already. It may be a dying town, getting cut off from the rest of civilization for longer and longer periods of time, population dwindling so much that most of it is empty and abandoned to the monsters, but at its heart, within the still defended inner perimeter, there are at least still people who look out for one another, and provide a safe place for weary travelers to rest. We're camping out again -- on our way back home -- and I'd much rather be sleeping somewhere other than out among the malicious ghosts and spiders and flying eyeballs.

We got what we came for: a couple of freeze-dried shortcakes. I don't know how they manage to still run a worlds-famous bakery out here, but their reputation does seem to be well-deserved.

Odin still won't give me a break. God, he just makes me want to scream sometimes! No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try not to screw up, he always finds something new about me to criticize after every single fight! I mean... God, if he thinks I'm such a lousy fighter, why did he invite me along in the first place?!

Moments of cake-bliss aside, I'm starting to feel like it was a mistake coming on this whole stupid journey. Odin says he's still not at 100% yet, but he and Myau are certainly capable of taking care of themselves now without my help. I figure this will probably be my last adventure with them.

Goodnight.

AW 342, July 22 (day 46)

I snapped today. I just couldn't take it anymore. After yet another tarantul ambush, one that went worse than most (there were three of them, and they were so aggressive with throwing their awful webs that there was rarely a moment when more than one of us wasn't tangled up); I was already feeling tired and beat-up and angry, so when Odin tried to tell me all the things in the fight that I might have done better, I let him know that I didn't want to hear it. I let him know... very loudly.

That made things kind of awkward for a moment. Then Odin apologized and told me that he thought I had the potential to be one of the best sword-fighters he'd ever seen, and that he'd just been trying to help me learn. Myau came to my defense and said he thought the way Odin had been "teaching" me had been excessively critical. I was still angry though. I still just wanted to get home and be done with the two of them, at least for a little while. We had a short discussion that ended with Myau and Odin I guess deciding that my self-esteem needed a booster-shot. Instead of only telling me what I was doing wrong in combat, they started telling me everything I had been doing right.

It took them a while. Eventually I started to cry. Even I hadn't realized until then how much I'd needed to feel... appreciated. God, it all sounds so stupid and sappy now, writing about it in retrospect. But the air is clear now, at least. Odin is still going to teach me what he knows about fighting with a sword and shield, building more advanced skills on top of the solid fundamentals that Nero taught me. But he's promised to try not to be such a jerk anymore while doing so.

Oh yeah, they both said they want me to go to Motavia with them. I don't know if I'm up to another trip off-Palma again so soon, but it is kind of tempting. It's not a sure thing by any means, but Odin gaining the Governor's assistance could be the thing that sets him on the path to truly making a difference in Algol. And it'd be a shame to pass up the opportunity to get to see the Governor's mansion up close.

Goodnight.

AW 342, July 23 (day 47)

Yay! Home again at last! I really like being able to sleep in my own bed! And apparently, Odin really likes being able to sleep in Suelo's bed. ... Argh, dammit! That's not an image I need in my head! Suelo's an adult, I guess she knows what she's doing. It's just, they barely even know each other! They shouldn't... ...

No, this isn't my problem. I shouldn't be thinking about this. I shouldn't even know about it. I need to just... focus on my own life. God knows I make plenty of mistakes of my own to worry about.

*sigh*

Being home does always make me kind of melancholy. I've barely been in Nero's room since...

Seriously, what am I going to do with all of Nero's stuff? I can't just leave it all in there indefinitely. But it'd feel so wrong to touch or move anything. And even worse to let someone else be the one to dismantle the remnants of his life. ... I guess it'll have to be me then. But not yet. Rationally I know that everything in this house is mine now, technically. And it'd be creepy and weird to just leave his room alone forever, keeping it as a pristine shrine to a grief that I refuse to let heal. So I won't do that. I'll sort through his things. Keep some, dispose of most of it. Probably move into a smaller place that's cheaper and doesn't have so many memories.

But not yet. I can't... I just can't, yet. I need a little more time.

I should probably stop writing to you in my journal like you can actually read what I have to say, huh Nero. It's probably not healthy. So if I never address you directly again, please don't take it personally.

Watch over and protect me Nero.

Goodbye.

**** Interview with Myau - excerpt. AW 344, Oct. 24 ****

Interviewer: It's been said that, even though it was Odin that you had pinned your hopes on to be the savior of Algol, you were the real leader of the group both before and after Alis joined you and Odin on your adventures. Is that a fair statement?

Myau: I... Heh! ... Well, maybe. For a little while. Back then, other than concerning himself with all of our immediate day by day concerns, Odin's head was still in the clouds, dreaming incredibly big and ambitious dreams about the deeds he would eventually do and the glory he would eventually earn. And Alis, for her part, was still very green at the whole adventuring business. When she wasn't struggling to keep up with my and Odin's tendency to always be dashing headlong into the next adventure, I think she was spending her time trying to figure out how to rebuild her life after the death of her brother.

Interviewer: So Alis wasn't really committed to the cause at that point?

Myau: Mmmm... Enthusiastically contributing to the cause? Absolutely. But committed? No. Before the three of us returned to Mota, I think Alis saw her role in our group as that of a crutch for Odin to lean on until he recovered enough to not need her help anymore, after which Odin and I would no longer want her around. For the record, Odin and I never thought of her like that. Right from the start we considered her to be a probationary team member who we were grooming and observing in the hope that she would make a suitable long-term ally.

Interviewer: And in your capacity as team leader, you were the one who made the decision that she qualified?

Myau: Er... no. Odin and I made those sorts of decisions together. I wasn't really the "leader" at any point. It's just that while Odin was fantasizing about the long-term, and Alis was struggling to keep up in the short-term, I was the one making plans for us in the medium-term. At least back then. And it's not like that period lasted very long anyway. That whole paradigm -- Odin's dreaming, my scheming, and Alis's probationary status -- all got turned upside-down when we went back to Motavia.

Chapter 6: Mythic Proportions