The Hero of Algol
Chapter 7: The Ineluctable Night
AW 342, July 28 (day 52)
Again, no summer romance on this flight. I suppose my first space-flight out to Motavia really was just a fluke. A lucky happenstance. Or an unlucky one. I meant to say unlucky. Not that I'm still thinking about Noll.
And I guess I should note that the streak has ended. No new dream last night. Or at least, if there was one, I don't remember it. Maybe this means my brain is back to normal.
Ughhhhhhh... Today was uneventful in the worst possible way. Myau devised a cruel scheme to get me out of his fur for most of the day. Talking to a group of women this morning, he fretted out loud about our expected upcoming meeting with the Governor. Specifically, about how he was worried that because I'm so young and inexperienced (and an uncouth monster Hunter, to boot), I might not know how to dress properly for such a meeting. And he and Odin didn't know enough about women's fashion to advise me in this area.
So of course three of the women there volunteered to scoop me up, hustle me off to the first-class room one of them had, and teach me a thing or two about how to look good and act properly. Of course by "teach me" I actually mean criticize my makeup (or lack thereof), my failure to pack any dresses on this trip, "even a simple one", and my insistence that my armor and sword are a necessary part of any outfit we consider. (Okay, I can give up the sword if the Governor's security insists, but if I don't wear either a weapon or armor I'll just look like some random high-school girl who's following Odin around for some reason. And then people might get the wrong idea about the... "relationship" between Odin and I.)
It seems pink isn't in this year, which means almost half of my clothing is out of style. It's a good thing there aren't any stores out in space, these women were itching to take me shopping, and it's not like I have a lot of money to spend on new clothes right now. They liked my hair, at least. Well, one said the fact that it's so straight and brown is "unfortunate", but I like it long and straight and brown, and so did the other two. (Man, I really should have learned their names. One of them is named Kate, she was one who liked my hair.) I keep it washed, I keep it brushed, and I keep it out of my eyes with a hair-band.
I could go on and on, but I don't want to. I think this is already the most insipid journal entry I've ever made. Here's the summary: today was stupid, and now it's bedtime. The end.
We finally land tomorrow, thankfully. Space travel is really cool, but the people you get cooped up with on a space flight can really start to grate on you after a while.
AW 342, July 29 (day 53)
Early Evening Entry:
Wow, what a day! I'm writing in the Governor's mansion right now, in a guest room bigger than my living room at home! This place is huge and it has butlers and maids and cooks and gardeners and security officers, and the hallways are so wide and go on so long and the carpets are incredible and there are nice vases with flowers all over and paintings on the walls and the doors are all fancy and the main entryway has a huge vaulted ceiling with a chandelier and the lighting fixtures are all antique looking but with modern bulbs in them and, and, and... This place is so incredible!!
I have a lot to say today, a lot of interesting stuff happened. We landed on Motavia before noon. It was an hour after lunch, ship's time, but late morning in Paseo. That's part of why today was so long. The time difference isn't as bad as last time though. Camineet and Paseo's time zones are closer to being in sync this time.
We made a few (in retrospect, unimportant) preparations before putting on our dress pinks and purples (or browns, in Odin's case; I think he thinks colorful clothing would take away from his credibility as a tough guy) and marching up to the gate before the tunnel to the the Governor's mansion. We passed a couple of ornamental guards standing completely motionless (Myau swears he heard one of them snoring) and approached a robot that seemed to be serving as both gate-keeper and receptionist.
Myau gave a pithy and well-rehearsed speech about who we were and why we were here, and I presented the shortcakes from Naula as "tokens of our esteem" for the Governor. The robot took the cakes and asked us to wait for a short time while it contacted the mansion. A surprisingly small number of minutes later an electric shuttle drove silently up out of the tunnel, the gate was opened, and we were invited in and driven down under Paseo's artificial lake and then up onto the island in the middle of it where the Governor's mansion is. It was even bigger and more impressive than it had looked from across the water.
Then we met some people and explained who we were and what we wanted again in a bit more detail before meeting and talking to the Governor briefly. He was apparently pretty busy right then, but invited the three of us to a private dinner with him later this evening, where we should get a chance to talk more. I don't know if I like the Governor or not yet; he seemed... distant. Anyway, then we were given a tour of the mansion and some of the grounds around it. Even though the artificial island is small, the mansion still has some very nice gardens and an orchard out behind it. After that we were shown to some guest rooms so we can relax and prepare for dinner. Though if the Governor or his staff is expecting me to change into a fancy dress, they're just going to have to be disappointed.
I figured I'd use the chance to get an early start on today's diary entry. One way or the other I expect I'll have more to say after dinner. We've got our foot in the door and now's the time to make our case as strongly as possible if we want to get the Governor's sponsorship for our cause!
Urgh... I'm so nervous I'm starting to feel a little bit queasy. I'm probably going to say something incredibly stupid or ignorant at this dinner and make a complete fool of myself. Myau and Odin will forgive me (because they're nice like that), but the Governor's going to think that I'm just a deluded girl who's playing at being a hero. (And he'll probably be right too.)
Ugh... I'm already exhausted. Stupid space lag. I wonder if I have time for a nap before dinner.
AW 342, July 29 (day 53)
Later Evening Entry:
Wow. What happened at dinner was... not among the things that I had prepared myself for. Trying to save Algol is such a big and dramatic goal, and so much of what we've already done has been so intense and dramatic, I really wasn't ready for the Governor's reaction to us to strike such a... an anticlimactic middle ground between my most optimistic hopes and my most pessimistic fears.
He seemed very impressed with all of us, even me. But he didn't exactly leap at the chance to aid us in our goal of getting rid of Lassic and all the other evils that have arisen in Algol lately. It seems Odin isn't the only person the Governor knows claiming to be a hero courageous and/or conceited enough to aspire to end Lassic's reign.
There is apparently a beautiful Esper mage named Lutz who the Espers of Motavia have prophesied to be Algol's next big thing. She is supposedly incredibly talented with magic and has been training her whole life to become Algol's savior.
So our new mission, should we choose to accept it (which we actually already have), is to head north to Maharu -- the cave where the mysterious and reclusive Lutz is in solitary training -- and meet with her. The Governor will give us a letter of introduction. Apparently the plan is to see if we can resolve this conflict of claims as to who is "the" hero, by either convincing Lutz that Odin is the real hero with the chops to save Algol, or else see if she can convince us of her superiority instead. Whether either of those things occurs or not, the Governor thinks Odin and Lutz should at least become acquainted. We are all on the same side after all.
The Governor will have the letter ready for us tomorrow morning. In the meantime he's invited us all to stay the night. So I get to sleep in the same lavish guest-room I flopped down in earlier today. Thanks to my space lag, that "nap" felt like going to bed at a reasonable time, and being roused to go to dinner felt like being woken in the middle of the night for a secret meeting. The enormous dining room with its antique furnishings, empty save for the four of us (and the occasional silent servant) kind of enhanced that mystique.
This guest-room with its huge windows was just awash with light while the sun was still up. Now those windows (in spite of the fact that the very heavy curtains are drawn) seem to be letting in the incredibly dark Motavian night. Actually, it's probably my own fault, I'm about to go to bed and have only the desk lamp on, and it's really not sufficient to properly illuminate a room this size. There are huge creepy shadows over in the back corners that I keep catching with the corner of my eye.
This place really has a very cinematic ambiance to it. Like I'm in some sort of gothic horror movie and any moment now a huge shadowy monster is going to burst through the windows to drag me off into the night. Ooh, or better still, a murder mystery. I'll go to bed and a few hours later, in the middle of the night, a woman's scream will sound throughout the mansion. All the various guests will arise to see what's the matter, and will find the Governor murdered in his study, the body just discovered by a now hysterical maid. Upon questioning, almost every guest will turn out to have various motives for wanting the Governor dead, and not only that, but the tunnel off of the island will have been cut-off somehow, and it will be up to us to discover who the murderer is on our own before he strikes again!
Hopefully I'll get to play the part of the detective or detective's assistant rather than hysterical dame, ingenue with a hidden past, or victim #2 (the girl who saw too much). Heh, I swear I didn't drink that much at dinner, just two glasses; I'm really only a little bit loopy. Ah well, I need to get to bed.
AW 342, July 30 (day 54)
Very Early Morning Entry:
Oh god. Oh god, I can't believe what I just did. It's still the middle of the night. I woke up almost an hour ago, in the lake, down the hill and a ways off from the mansion. Okay... I was sort of awake before that, but I can barely remember anything. I remember running. I had to get away. Two people tried to stop me and I...
Oh god! If I'd been armed I would have killed them both!! I wasn't thinking, I couldn't think. I just had to escape from...
No. I don't want to think about it. I can't deal with that yet.
One of the guards I hurt pulled me out of the lake. I'm lucky. The lake here in Paseo is probably the only body of water in Algol its size that isn't teeming with monsters.
I feel so awful. That man who pulled me out... he had such an ugly black eye from where I'd hit him earlier, and then he chased me down, dove into the water after me, and probably saved my life. I don't even know his name! What are you supposed to say to somebody who does that for you?! There is no apology, or thanks... there are no words at all that can make up what I owe him.
Is this how it feels to be the saved rather than the savior? An overwhelming sense of debt and guilt?! But if he is a hero -- and he is -- then he didn't save me so that I could feel bad about needing to be saved. He saw what state I was in, and even after what I'd done to him, he acted without hesitation and without anger. There is so much wrong in these worlds; why is it that unexpectedly meeting someone so good makes me feel so unsure of myself? Do I have to live up to his example now? Is that the reason I was saved? Am I even strong enough to?
I woke the whole mansion up. Everyone was in a panic wondering what had happened. I was so embarrassed I couldn't even talk for a long time. I had to let Myau tell everyone that I'd just had a bad dream. Just a bad dream? No, I... I can't...
Myau's going to sleep in my room with me for the rest of the night. And there's a maid who keeps poking her head in every three minutes. I think someone told her to keep an eye on me. She keeps asking if she can get me anything. I keep telling her I'm good. Even though I'm not. I'm really really not good.
Everyone's going back to bed now, including me, maybe. I don't know if I want to sleep anymore though. I'm scared of what might happen if I do. I'm really scared.
AW 342, July 30 (day 54)
We're going to be heading for Maharu tomorrow morning. Today was... bad. Not that anything else bad happened. I just... didn't feel good... all day. After that dream... *shudder* I was too scared to sleep. So that, plus the space lag, made me feel like a walking zombie all day today.
Odin and Myau spent the day gathering supplies and directions for a trip across the desert. I would have helped, but one of the Governor's aides gave me the name of a counselor I could talk to on short notice before I left Paseo. I told her about the nightmare, and about Nero. And how I've been burying my grief by fighting monsters and chasing heroes. I thought she would be able to tell me what all my dreams have meant, but mostly she just asked me a lot of questions.
I guess we sort of made sense of some things. I feel guilty about Nero's death, so now I'm repenting by following in his footsteps. Or something like that. Now that I know that, I get to decide if that's really what I want to do with myself. Should I continue running away from Camineet, fighting monsters out of guilt? Or can I go home and start to rebuild my life? Do I follow guilt, or hope?
I don't know. I'm so tired I don't even feel tired anymore, just kinda deadened. Or dead. If I still feel like this tomorrow I'm not going with Odin and Myau. I don't really want to go to sleep now, but I have to. If I have the nightmare again then tomorrow maybe I'll find a mental institution to check myself into... with some nice padded walls and a bed with restraints so I don't try to drown myself in the lake again.
That was a joke. I think maybe it wasn't obvious because zombified Alis has a very morbid sense of humor. But at least she's trying. *tepid thumbs up*
Oh yeah, the nightmare. I still don't like to think about it, but maybe journalizing it will help me purge this emotional bile. It was the same nightmare as always, but with one basic, awful difference. There was no Perseus. There was only me. Me in the darkness. Alone. And I could feel... out there... it. Hunting me. It was going to hurt me. It was going to kill me. And then it appeared, and it did.
I tried to fight it, but... It hurt so much! I didn't know dreams could feel like that. I thought I was really dying. It went on and on. I've never felt anywhere near so much pain in my life. It... the monster, pulled me apart, bit by bit. It felt like it would never end, like it could tear apart my body... torture me like that almost indefinitely, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
When I finally woke up, I wasn't me anymore. The pain and the horror had overwritten everything else. If I ever have a nightmare like that again, I think I might kill myself. Intentionally. ... That one wasn't a joke. ... I hope I don't. But I think I might. But I hope I don't.
Goodnight, book. Tomorrow will either be better or worse than today. I'll let you know.
**** Interview with Odin - excerpt. AW 344, Nov. 10 ****
Interviewer: One of the more curious moments in your journeys would probably be what occurred the night you spent at the Governor's mansion. I wonder if you could tell us what you personally witnessed that night.
Odin: Just my side of the story, huh? Okay. I happened to be awake already when it happened. I was down in the kitchen looking for a midnight snack and making the acquaintance of one of the mansion's maids who was also still up. We were deep in... ah... conversation when suddenly there was screaming coming from upstairs. I didn't recognize who it was at first. I'd never heard Alis scream like that. I'd never heard anyone scream like that. I ran out into the hall and saw Alis sprinting down the main staircase in her nightgown and shrieking the whole mansion awake. She didn't see me. The way she was moving and the look on her face... it was as if she thought the Devil himself was hot on her heels with his pants around his ankles.
Interviewer: *very uncomfortable* Uh...
Odin: I'll admit, I'm not proud of it, but I froze for a second. Half a second. I knew Alis well enough at that point to know that anything that she was that scared of, I didn't want to face bare-handed. And since I didn't see anything behind her that she was in immediate danger from, I ran back into the kitchen to grab the biggest knife I could find, and grabbed a second one for Alis, since I'd noticed she wasn't armed either.
By the time I got back out to the entry hall, Alis had already escaped out the front door and Myau was bounding down the stairs in pursuit. I asked him what was going on and if there was a monster upstairs. He said something like, "I don't know. Alis's room is empty." He seemed as clueless about what was happening as I was. We both ran to the front door and found one of the two door guards was gone, and the other was in a frantic conversation on the phone. Myau and I desperately wanted to ask him what had happened, but only paused there long enough to overhear him tell whoever he was talking to that Alis had flattened both guards single-handed, then run off into the night, still screaming incoherently, and the other guard had given chase.
By then Myau and I had spotted Alis's surprisingly distant yelling and the bobbing light from the flashlight of the guard trying to catch up with her. Myau and I went after them, trying to catch up too. It was tough though, Myau can see pretty well by starlight normally, but we were both night-blind for a bit, having just come out of a well-lit building, and kept stumbling over the uneven ground and nearly twisting our ankles. Or I kept stumbling anyway. Myau got ahead of me for awhile, but I caught up to him at the shore where he was standing next to the guard's abandoned flashlight. Myau didn't say anything, and I couldn't see him well enough to tell what he was thinking, but I suspect he was feeling pretty useless right then. Myau's not much good in water, and he was nowhere near big enough to help pull Alis back to shore.
Which is what the guard was doing at that moment, actually. There was a lot of splashing coming from the lake. Alis was still shouting incoherently, but not nearly as much as she had been. More often I heard gasping and coughing, and splashing. There was a lot of splashing. Myau picked up the front of the flashlight as best he could and pointed it at the commotion. It seems the guard had finally caught up to Alis far enough into the lake that it was too deep to touch bottom. He had grabbed her there and was wrestling her back to shore. Alis was still struggling, but the cold lake water was slowly shocking her back to her senses and she wasn't resisting nearly as forcefully as she had back at the house.
I called out to her and waded in and met the two of them where the water was only about waist deep. I picked Alis up and the guard picked himself up and we both started back toward dry land where Myau was busy blinding us with the flashlight. When Alis recognized me she stopped trying to yell or struggle and just... ... *sigh*
Interviewer: What is it?
Odin: If this were a story about anyone else I would smooth over this next part. Skip past the embarrassing bits. But Alis... *sigh*
Odin: She really doesn't like it when people embellish or edit stories about her to sound... better than reality. Alis thinks most people have an overly-inflated opinion of her and thinks dishonestly positive stories about her are the reason why. I don't exactly agree with that but... Alis wouldn't like it if I didn't tell you what happened next.
Interviewer: What happened?
Odin: Once Alis finally stopped panicking, she began to cry. Really cry. She was fifteen then, but was crying like an inconsolable child. I tried to comfort her, but I didn't seem to be doing much good, and it was ripping my heart out to see her like that and not even know what was wrong. I got her back to shore and Myau tried to talk to her, but she was crying too hard to speak. Myau eventually asked her if there was a monster in the mansion and Alis shook her head, "no". Myau asked if there was anything dangerous we needed to know about urgently. Again, "no". Myau thought for a little while and then asked if she'd had a nightmare. "Yes."
Alis had told me and Myau before that she had been having trouble with some recurring bad dreams, but it hadn't even occurred to me that that might be what this was all about. Of course, her prior nightmares had been of a rather ordinary intensity from what she'd said. Not fun, but the sort of bad dreams that everyone has occasionally. But this one... this must have been the mother of all nightmares, the great grand-daddy of night terrors. A nightmare of -- although we didn't realize it at the time -- a supernatural intensity that very nearly shattered her mind.
**** end excerpt ****