The Hero of Algol
Chapter 1: The Martyr's Sister
From here forward I will do my best to allow the tale to be told by minimally edited quotes from my sources (which include diary entries and interview transcripts) and will try to keep my own editorializing to a minimum. I would very much like to allow the heroes of Algol to speak for themselves.
AW 342, June 7 (day 1)
I think I'm finished crying for now. This diary has sat empty on my shelf for years. Feels too late to start it now, today of all days. But I wanted to tell someone. Someone as stoic and nonjudgmental as a blank piece of paper at the beginning of an empty book. Someone who will accept whatever I put down without trying to comfort me or look away guiltily, not knowing what to say. My brother died today, and now I want to die too.
AW 342, June 8 (day 2)
So I didn't lie down and die last night. Instead I just fell asleep. With the lights on. In my clothes. On top of the covers. This morning I learned that hunger eventually overpowers grief. I didn't eat at all yesterday, and my stomach let me know it was pretty angry about that. So I had to get up.
I almost went to school this morning. Got dressed, packed a lunch and everything. Then I realized that was a bad idea. I'm not up to facing people yet. And I wouldn't be able to pay attention in class. The girl who goes on frequent crying jags? Sure, THAT'S the type of classmate I want to be.
Instead I stayed home and thought about whether or not I'd have to go back to another foster home. A fifteen year old girl isn't supposed to be living on her own. Could I get a job? Should I? Should I try to finish school first? There are so many memories in this house it hurts to look at anything, but I don't want to move. This is my home.
Suelo came over and made lunch. We talked for a long time. She helped me remember Nero's old family heirloom. He always insisted that underneath all that ugly paint was a pot made of pure Laconia. He said we would only ever try to sell it in a dire emergency. I think impending homelessness counts. Suelo wants me to move in with her. I haven't decided anything yet. I guess today wasn't very productive. I hope tomorrow is better, but I'm afraid it's going to be a long time before I feel good about anything.
AW 342, June 9 (day 3)
I'm in Parolit now. I don't have any family to stay with. Nero was the only family I had left. Suelo said I could stay with her as long as I wanted, but a friend of a friend of Nero's (or so he claimed) said it was dangerous for me to stay in Camineet. The police appeared to be preparing for another set of raids (how he knew this I don't know) and that due to my relationship to Nero and the spectacle I made at his execution, I might be on their list. He gave me a little money, and the only thing he asked of me was that I stay away from Camineet for a while, so I think he was serious.
Now I'm in a cheap room in Parolit. I have no friends here, no job, and only enough money for a few days of food and shelter. And oh yes, I don't think I'm far enough from home to be particularly safe. Camineet is only a stone's throw away and Parolit is also under martial law. I don't have enough money (or a passport) to take a ship to Motavia, so I think tomorrow I'm going to have to risk walking to Scion.
AW 342, June 10 (day 4)
I almost died today. Trying to walk to Scion alone was a bad idea. The monsters stalking the wilderness are more numerous than I remember. I'm glad Nero taught me how to use a sword or my "adventure" would have come to a very bloody end today, rather than the moderately bloody brick wall it hit instead. I tried to cast the healing spell that Suelo taught me last year, but even though my need was desperate and I prayed with all my might, I just couldn't remember how to make it work.
Long, painful story short: I limped back to Camineet and am recuperating at Suelo's now. Thanks to her magic, I don't need to go to the hospital. My clothes are having the blood washed out of them, and tomorrow we're going to go shopping for a shield. It was a big mistake not to have taken one in the first place. I know it's not safe for me to stay in Camineet, but walking to Scion alone is even less safe as unprepared as I am.
I guess I've officially dropped out of school. I really wish Nero was here to tell me what to do.
AW 342, June 11 (day 5)
I'm scared. I wish I could have told that to Suelo today, but everything she can do to help she's already doing. I can't risk her deciding she needs to try to do more. I'm scared because today was so... good. And I know tomorrow won't be.
Last night Suelo re-taught me how to cast Heal. I've been practicing all day today and I've pretty much got it down now. Even in the middle of a fight I should be able to pull off a quick Heal spell if I don't panic and mess it up. It's amazing how some of the simplest of magics can be the most profoundly useful. Suelo says I have real talent and that with the right teachers I could go really far someday, though I doubt that's what destiny holds for me. I was born in the wrong century to be a sorceress.
What really made today fun was that Suelo and I spent all day shopping. (Suelo made me stop whatever I was doing to try and cast Heal as quickly as possible whenever the alarm on her watch went off, which was frequently. It was tough, and mentally exhausting, but effective.) We took a day trip to Parolit. I bought a nice leather shield and Suelo bought me a brand new sword. I didn't want to take her money, but she said she didn't want me dying out in the wilderness because she had been too stingy to buy me a going away present. I didn't have a good comeback for that. I drooled a bit over some state-of-the-art ceramic swords that were on display, but those are only for those few aficionados with more money than brains. Sure, the keenness and strength of modern ceramics may be unreal, but so were those prices.
Suelo and I talked about buying a gun for me instead of a sword, but neither of us were eager to learn how to locate the black market. And my legal situation is precarious enough as it is without trying to buy and carry around an illegal weapon. Besides, I know how to fight with a sword and shield, I've never even touched a gun. We met some interesting people perusing weapon stores; fellow self-defense enthusiasts, though I don't really consider myself to be such any more. I got some good advice about staying away from forests, and one guy claimed that Medusa has been reborn and lives in a cave to the south. I'll believe that when I see it (not that I'd get to believe it for very long before I turned to stone). There are apparently much more dangerous monsters in other parts of the world, farther away from the capital and King Lassic's robotcops, but everyone agreed that a trip to Scion shouldn't be too dangerous, even alone, for someone who knows what they're doing. I hope I do.
I'm going to try for Scion again tomorrow. If Suelo tries to come with me, I won't let her. I don't know how long it'll be before it's safe for me to return to Camineet. Suelo's already done more to help me than I ever could have asked, and every extra hour we spend together puts her in more danger. She still has a life here. I
want need her to keep living it.
Watch over and protect me, Nero, as I venture into the unknown. And please watch over and protect Suelo too.
P.S. Note to self: shorter journal entries please. My hand hurts.
AW 342, June 12 (day 6)
Scion is nice, I guess. I'm in a cheap motel room with clean sheets and warm lights and a divine shower. (A pretty normal shower actually, but it sure felt divine when I finally got into it.) I'm writing this half-naked because my clothes are gross and I don't want to put them back on. I really need to learn to kill monsters without getting blood all over myself.
Speaking of monsters, I hate sworm flies and giant scorpions. A lot! The weather was pretty fickle too. "Scattered showers" apparently means it'll be sunny and beautiful and you'll be attacked by lots of sworm flies, and then it'll start pouring and you'll get drenched, and then it'll be sunny again and you'll have to fight giant scorpions while soaked to the skin, and then it'll be sunny and rainy simultaneously and while you're dragging smelly, ugly monster corpses toward an uncertain location to begin a new life of poverty in an unfamiliar city for an indeterminate amount of time you'll see the biggest most beautiful rainbow in the world and then you'll start to cry uncontrollably.
Well, the crying part might not have been the weather man's fault.
I made it to Scion before sunset. Trudging into town, magically tapped out, physically exhausted, bruised and bleeding, dragging dead sworm flies and scorpions, soaked by rain and stained with blood, I think I might just have been the most horrifying fifteen year old girl the people of Scion have ever seen.
City guards here are a lot less hostile than the ones in Camineet and Parolit. Because it's less rebellious (for whatever reason) King Lassic doesn't think Scion needs to be under martial law. The gate guards pointed me toward a butcher that I could sell my carcasses to. I got more money than I expected to for the disgusting things, not that I got a lot. Enough to pay for a hospital visit and a motel. In unrelated news, I've decided I'm a vegetarian now.
I don't know what I'm going to do tomorrow. I have enough money for three more nights in this room, assuming I don't feel like eating much. But for now I intend to enjoy this lumpy bed and clean sheets more than I have ever enjoyed any bed ever.
Goodnight Nero. Thanks for listening.
AW 342, June 13 (day 7)
I explored Scion a bit today. Found a church. Found my feet taking me into it. It's been a while since I last went.
I did a lot of thinking in there. It was very peaceful, and a bit mournful too, so it suited my mood. Eventually the priest came over and talked to me. I told him a simplified, safe version of what I'm dealing with. That my brother had died. That I'm now an orphan again, but I'm not going back into the foster care system. I'm old enough to take care of myself if I have to. And I do have to.
I guess I was feeling defiant, and expected to get a lecture, or a sermon. Maybe I wanted him to scold me, or tell me what to do. Instead he said that I was welcome there any time, and that if I needed anything all I had to do was ask and he and the church would be there for me.
Is this a cruel, callous, and oppressive world that we live in? Or is it the opposite: kind, sympathetic, and generous? Is it both? Would that even make sense? How come I can't tell?
Are you disappointed in me, Nero? When I remember your last words to me, my face burns with shame. Should I be fulfilling your last request? Does dying give you the power to lay that obligation on me? Or should I be doing what I think is right? I still don't share your paranoia, Nero. I know things are bad, but I don't believe in conspiracy theories. I'm not going to throw my life away like you did joining a hopeless resistance against King Lassic. And I wish you hadn't either. I don't hate you Nero, but I'm angry at you for dying.
Please forgive me. I love you. Please watch over and protect me, Nero.
AW 342, June 14 (day 8)
Today was the first day of the rest of my life. I am now officially a self-employed hunter. Though I can't join the guild and become an official "Hunter" until I turn 18, or until I get a fake ID that says I'm 18. A good fake ID might be useful for other reasons too if I ever want to go back to Camineet.
I met a Hunter named Seth this morning. He took me out and showed me how to hunt maneaters. Nasty insect-like monsters the size of large dogs with short, stubby legs, long grabby tentacles, and a horrid piercing proboscis. They're more dangerous than giant scorpions, but are worth more money too.
After a day spent learning to hunt, kill, clean, carry, and sell maneaters, Seth took me to a Hunters bar to introduce me to his friends. Of course by "introduce me" it turned out he meant "show me off" and "try to get me drunk" so that I would be willing to "properly thank" him for the day's lesson. Did I mention that Seth is over twice my age?
Ugh. Is it wrong that I'm both flattered and creeped out by this? That I'm both genuinely grateful to Seth for what he taught me today, and disgusted by how he tried to take advantage of me? And now feeling guilty about expecting him to react with something more dangerous than mere disappointment when I turned him down. Sitting there in that dingy bar, with the filthy jokes flying amongst Seth and his friends, I was very uncomfortable and I guess I assumed the worst. Will I start to use that kind of language too if I stay a Hunter long enough? These aren't really the types of people I want to be my new peer group. But I think I might be stuck with them.
AW 342, June 15 (day 9)
Odin. The name I've been avoiding. I woke up this morning feeling ashamed. My brother wanted to talk to him, seek his help. His last words were a request that I go in his place. I know it's because he was scared for me, for all of Algol. And Odin, the famous warrior, might just be the next Perseus. Maybe he'll be the one to save us from all of these monsters. And from Lassic?
My brother believed that King Lassic and the immortality cult he and the ruling class all joined are the root cause behind this decade's rising tide of monsters. Yeah, things are bad, transportation and communication lines are constantly being shut down by the monsters, agriculture and whole ecologies are being disrupted and destroyed. Scion used to be a trading hub, but the myriad ocean monsters have forced its port closed completely; the economy here is in tatters, save for the new monster carcass processing industry. (Monster carcasses seem to be an endlessly renewable resource, albeit somewhat dangerous to procure, but... people have to eat something.)
King Lassic may be a tyrant. Nero was arrested one day, tried, convicted, and publicly executed the next. But the monsters are hurting his interests as much as anyone else's. He can't tax what we can't produce, and he can't rule a solar-system in which civilization has collapsed. He's already practically abandoned the Dezoris colony! How are the monsters helping his interests there!?
Civilization collapse. Maybe that's overly pessimistic. Things are bad and getting steadily worse year by year, but King Lassic's robotcops are protecting the cities of Palma from the monsters. I don't like King Lassic, and I hate sounding like I'm defending him, but his iron fist might be all that's protecting us from the encroaching chaos. And if he were overthrown, the end might come for the rest of us all the sooner.
All that said though, I'm going to do what Nero asked me to, at least partly. I'll talk to Odin. If Algol ever needed a hero, it's now. I'll tell him what Nero wanted, and if Odin wants to throw his strength and renown behind the Camineet resistance, that will be his choice.
Thanks, diary. Putting my thoughts to paper forces me to figure out what I actually think and how I really feel about things.
As to what I did today: I asked questions. A lot of questions. Odin was here in Scion two weeks ago. He had an exotic travelling companion, a talking cat! Odin went to kill "Medusa" in her cave south of Parolit and hasn't been seen in Scion since. And, disturbingly, I talked to a Hunter who claimed to have found a talking "beast" in Medusa's cave a short time thereafter, which he subsequently sold to a merchant bound for Motavia. !!! Is this the type of person Hunters are?!! I wanted to punch him in the face! But I didn't. I don't need to be making waves here. Or enemies. Or waves of enemies.
I still don't believe in legendary monsters coming back from the dead, in spite of all the rumors and questionable "eye-witness" accounts. But I have to catch up with Odin, wherever he is now, and that means following up on what leads I have. Tomorrow. Right now I get to go to bed. Goodnight.
AW 342, June 16 (day 10)
It would be easy to procrastinate. Make excuses. I need better gear. I need more experience. I could grind my life away putting off the task I'm afraid of. Or I could be an adult and just go do it before the trail gets any colder.
Not that today was a waste. I really did need more money for supplies and provisions for the trip. I couldn't find anyone who wanted to come with me to Medusa's cave, so I'll go alone. I'm not scared of the monsters anymore. Not really. Not a lot. Back when I was taking self-defense classes, they said I had a knack for sword-fighting. I guess all that practice has paid off. And the magic lessons from Suelo as well.
Swords and spell craft. And tomorrow I set off to venture into a monsters' lair, looking for a hero to save the world. Oh boy. I feel like a character from a really bad movie. If I find Odin wearing a loin-cloth, shirtless, and waving a two-handed sword at a dragon, then I'm going to just venture my way right back out of that cave and not look back.
AW 342, June 17 (day 11)
For logistical reasons I'm spending the night in Parolit. I know it may not be safe for me here, but I paid for the motel room in cash, used a fake name, and will be leaving at the crack of dawn. I'm here because Parolit is a lot closer to the cave than Scion is, and if at all possible I'd like to avoid spending the night outside the safety of a city's walls.
Tomorrow's the big day though. I'll admit I'm a bit nervous. Not just about having to deal with bats and slimes and whatever other non-mythical (i.e. real) monsters that infest the place, but about meeting -- or more likely, not meeting -- Odin. Chances are he's long since gone from there, and I'll have to try to figure out where he went. Not back to Scion, not up here to Parolit (I asked around a bit, no word of him being in the Camineet-Parolit area recently), so... south?
I hope I find some sort of clue or clues. I'm not really sure what my next step is if I don't. Try to track down that talking cat(!) maybe.
AW 342, June 18 (day 12)
It isn't light out yet but I'm wide awake. I had the nightmare again. Perseus is standing, all alone. I can see him clearly, even though all around him is darkness. He looks frightened, and angry. I don't know why, but he doesn't have his famous shield with him, just an ordinary iron one, and rather plain looking sword and armor too. For the longest time I didn't even realize it was Perseus I was seeing in these dreams. Suddenly a monster looms partway out of the blackness. Not just a monster. The monster. I don't mean Medusa, his most famous adversary, but something far more dangerous and terrifying. The thing seems to be the personification of darkness, a force of elemental evil.
I don't know why I dream about this. My mind's way of manifesting unconscious fears I guess. Represented by the greatest of heroes fighting an overwhelming monstrosity. I must have very ostentatious unconscious fears. Perseus and the monster battle fiercely, striking at each other again and again while I can do nothing but witness. The outcome is inevitable. Perseus is going to die. I am choked with fear and horror as I watch, but I always wake up before the final blow is struck.
This nightmare always feels like an ominous portent. The last time I had it was the night before Nero's trial and execution. But I also had it the night before the street protest that the robotcops cracked down on, when Nero and I were almost killed, and the night before the orphanage split Nero and I apart. I'll never forget how hard Nero fought to get me back after that. I really miss him.
Okay. Sun's starting to rise. Time to go.
AW 342, June 18 (day 12)
I've been staring at this blank page for twenty minutes now. There's no good way to say this. So I'll say it a bad way.
I found Odin today! He's as tall and broad-shouldered as everyone says. Very muscular and attractive. And upon finally seeing him for the first time, I was immediately struck by his granite like chin, his rock hard body, his unblinking stony gaze...