Part 13: Drasgow
Chapter 13: Drasgow
As we drove north in the Land Rover, we saw a man standing in the middle of the desert, waving and calling out to us. When we stopped and got out to help him, his entire body burst into flames and he attacked us. We brought him down while suffering nothing worse than a few minor burns, but the experience made me uneasy. If Lassic's monsters could disguise themselves as ordinary people, then nobody and no place was safe from him.
I felt so alone sometimes. I couldn't talk to anyone without worrying about whether Lassic's cops and spies would find out and track me down, or worse still, punish anyone who helped me. It was too late for regrets now, though. There were only two ways my journey could end: lying dead in the wilderness at the hands of monsters or assassins, or standing over Lassic's corpse with a bloody sword in my hand. I returned to the Land Rover and kept driving.
The gas was hard to miss; it seeped out through vents in the ground and blanketed a wide area in greenish-white, pungent fog. The dead and dying trees all around us provided silent testimony to its toxicity. The gas was too dense and opaque to tell from outside if there was a village anywhere in there or not, so I drove a little further in. Hopefully we could bear the smell for long enough to get in, find the shield if it existed and get out.
It didn't take long to regret that decision. The smell in the air grew increasingly intense, and I started to feel dizzy and nauseous. Coughing and gasping for air, I turned the Land Rover around and drove away. Once we were safely out of the area, I stopped, rolled all the windows wide open and lay back in my seat, breathing deeply until my head cleared.
"Sorry, Odin," I said. "I guess we'll have to find some way to protect ourselves from the gas before we go any further."
Odin grinned. "I think I might be able to help with that. My father used to work on an offshore gas platform in Palma. I remember that when I was a child, I used to worry about what would happen to him if there was a gas leak, and he told me not to worry because they kept plenty of protective gear in storage."
"Good idea. Time to go back and see if that hovercraft in Bortevo is salvageable, then."
We drove back to Uzo without any further delay. We arrived at the Luveno in the middle of the night; I slept through most of the flight back to Palma.
When we landed, Noah wanted to try and find the magic flute he'd heard about in Casba. Since we were in Gothic already, I decided there was no harm in letting him have a look.
Sure enough, buried at the foot of a tree on the outskirts of Gothic was a small box with a beautifully-crafted silver flute in it. Noah played a little tune on it, and it sounded lovely, but I still wasn't sure what was so magical about it.
Before we left Bortevo, I visited Dr. Luveno and told him we'd be leaving his spaceship outside Gothic for a while. He was more than happy to keep it under guard and give it a tune-up for me while I was gone. His assistant walked in on us halfway through our conversation and stood in the doorway glaring silently at me until I left.
We unloaded the Land Rover from the Luveno and set off for Bortevo, taking Hapsby with us just in case he could help us put what was left of the hovercraft back together. We left the Land Rover parked at the edge of the lava field, and travelled the rest of the way to Bortevo on foot.
We found the hovercraft, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was almost intact. Hapsby was able to scrounge up a few parts from nearby junk piles and get it running again. It made a lot of noise and more smoke than I think it was supposed to, but at least it ran.
It probably wasn't the smartest move to risk breaking the hovercraft so soon after we got it by seeing if it could travel safely over lava, but I didn't want to walk all the way back.
As it turned out, the hovercraft coped just fine with the lava. We reached the other side safe and sound, and told Hapsby to drive the Land Rover back to Gothic while we travelled to the gas platform.
Odin's directions were good, and after a short trip to the southwest we came to the Drasgow Gas Platform. I was impressed by its size; it was basically a small, self-sufficient town in the middle of the ocean, with permanent housing structures for the workers.
The locals gave us a warm welcome. I guess they must have seen even fewer visitors than Casba lately, so they were happy just to have some new faces around to break the boredom.
Drasgow had been abandoned by Lassic; even the ships that normally came to pick up gas and drop off supplies had stopped coming. The inhabitants could use their gas to power the desalinators and make all the fresh water they needed, and fish and algae farms around the platform provided adequate if monotonous nutrition, but their situation was precarious. If anything broke down, the parts and expertise needed to fix it weren't available. The people of Drasgow couldn't go on like this forever.
The workers on Drasgow came from all over Palma, and had a lot of stories to tell. One of them had heard a legend about an island to the north with a magic sword on it.
Some of their stories were harder to believe than others.
I'd thought the same thing myself; that hill wouldn't be so well-guarded if there wasn't anything there. I had a bad feeling about Baya Malay, though. I resolved to go there later, when we were better prepared.
We entered the drilling rig to see if there were any spare gas masks we could buy or borrow. I could hear the drilling machinery still running all around me, pumping up gas to keep Drasgow powered.
One of the workers inside had heard a rumour that someone had stolen a few spare gas masks from the rig's supply room and was hoping to sell them, but he wasn't sure who. For my part, I wasn't sure how anyone expected to make money selling gas masks when there were more than enough in storage for everyone on the platform and nobody else ever came here.
It didn't take us long to find the salesman. I pointed out the flaw in his business model, hoping to haggle him down to a low price.
Apparently, he thought it was tremendously funny to pretend he was selling stolen goods. It didn't seem like much of a joke to me.
Eventually, we managed to find the real gas mask salesman. To be honest, I'd seen shops in stranger places before. A gas mask shop on a gas platform at least made some amount of sense; a cake shop in a cave, on the other hand...
Try as I might to get it through to him that we were the only customers he was ever likely to see and any money was better than nothing, he wouldn't lower his price.
I wasn't sure what he was going to do with all that money out here in the middle of nowhere, but if he thought he had a use for it, good luck to him. But expecting us to come back and buy more of his overpriced gas masks later crossed the line from optimistic to just plain crazy.
Odin agreed with me that while we were on Palma, we might as well check out that island we'd heard about rather than going back to Motavia straight away. Sure enough, on an island not far to the west of Bortevo was a crumbling old tower.
Judging from the extent of its decay, the tower had to be hundreds of years old. The walls were cracked and covered in moss, and I was a little worried that the whole building would come crashing down on our heads while we explored.
I heard heavy footsteps from around a corner. We lay in wait, weapons drawn, to surprise whoever was coming, and soon came face to face with a pair of Lassic's latest model of robot cops patrolling the tower. They were fast, strong and hard to destroy, but in a way I was almost glad to see them; their presence confirmed that there was something here worth finding.
We were surprised to find an old man living among the ruins. He told me that he once lived in Bortevo, but when the town degenerated into a junkyard under Lassic he took his boat out to the island and never looked back. He warned us that the upper floors were more heavily guarded and warned us to turn back. I thanked him for the advice, but continued on anyway.
A chill ran down my spine as I saw a tall armoured figure striding down the corridor toward us. Glowing, inhuman eyes stared out from behind a dark helmet. It swung its axe with deadly speed and accuracy, while arcs of electricity coruscated around its armour and sometimes leapt out to shock us. When we finally managed to bring it down, its body dissolved into foul-smelling black smoke and its armour collapsed into a useless heap of rusty metal.
After fighting our way through many more of the guards, we went through a doorway and found ourselves in what must once have been a lavishly-decorated bedroom, now long since ruined by the ravages of time with only a few mouldy tapestries and the rotting remains of a bed to show what once was here. At the centre of the room was a red dragon. We'd fought several of its kind already; even in our fatigued state, this one gave us little trouble.
Searching through the dragon's treasure hoard, I found a sword forged of blue-green metal that shone as if illuminated by direct sunlight instead of the dim glow of my flashlight. Its razor-sharp edge was free from nicks and damage, and its hilt was designed artfully but functionally; this was a weapon for fighting, not for decoration. To me, that made it beautiful.
I held the sword in my hand and took a practice swing. The length and balance were just right, and I could swing it like an extension of my own body. It felt perfect, as if it had been made just for me.
I grimly considered all the guards that were doubtless still waiting for us outside, and kept the sword in my hand. We were all wounded, and Myau and Noah looked so tired that I wasn't sure I could rely on them to teleport us out of the tower.
I addressed the group. "Hang in there, guys. If we're going to get out of here alive, we can't afford to let our guard down."
"Why don't you play the flute?" Noah asked.
I looked at him quizzically. "The flute? What good is that going to do?"
"Just trust me. Try it."
Well, if we were going to die, we might as well die listening to some pretty music. I sheathed my new Laconian sword, took out the flute and tried to play a few notes. Even though I'd never played the flute before, it seemed to come naturally to me and I managed to produce a very sweet little tune.
The next thing I knew, we were all standing outside the tower, right next to where we'd left our hovercraft.
"Well, Noah, I don't know how you know these things, but that flute came in handy after all," I said. "I'll take good care of it."
We took the hovercraft back to Gothic and loaded it onto the Luveno. Hapsby had returned safely with the Land Rover as well. With our gas masks and my new sword, we were finally ready to return to Motavia and seek out Perseus' shield.