Part 11: Uzo
Chapter 11: Uzo
We disembarked from the Ice Digger at the foot of the Laerma tree. The tree towered far over our heads, but the lower branches were just within reach and loaded with seed-bearing cones. Now, all we had to do was grab a few cones, pick the nuts out of them and-- hey, wait a minute. Why were they--
The scales on all these cones were closed up; the nuts weren't mature yet. I wasn't sure how long Laerma nuts took to develop, but I was pretty sure it was longer than we were willing to stand around and wait in this weather. We'd come all this way for nothing.
Myau pawed the ground impatiently. "What are we waiting for? I want my Laerma nuts!"
I hesitated, knowing that there was no way I could make Myau take the news well. "I... think maybe Laerma nuts aren't in season yet. Maybe if we come back in a month or two..."
Myau lowered his head, narrowed his eyes and hissed scornfully. "Well, that's just great, isn't it? We've walked halfway across Dezoris, nearly frozen to death in the process and spent most of our money on a glorified snowmobile, and now the tree we came here for in the first place wants to take its own sweet time growing some nuts for us."
"Well, there's not much I can do about it, now is there?", I said in as pleasant a voice as I could muster. "Unless you feel like standing out here in the cold and arguing for a while longer, we may as well go to Motavia. And if you want to keep riding in my 'snowmobile', you'd better behave yourself."
Myau spat on the ground. "Fine. But we'd better come back as soon as we can to see if they're ripe."
After we got back into the Ice Digger, Odin took me aside. "Please don't be too hard on Myau," he said. "He's a good person... er, animal... uh, Musk Cat. He just... that's just his way."
I sighed. "I'm just tired of feeling like I'm everyone's mother. Noah at least doesn't know any better, so I can forgive him. But Myau's keeping himself entertained at everyone else's expense, and it's wearing my patience very thin."
"And I'd charge into danger and get myself killed if you gave me half a chance, right?" Odin grinned. "We're all in this together now. Lassic wants us all dead, so we'd better learn to get along if we want to survive."
"Tell that to Myau."
Our trip back to Skure was long and awkward. When Noah announced he'd discovered another new spell, I was grateful for any excuse to break the silence.
"What have you learned, Noah?"
"When that magician attacked us outside the Dezorian village, I watched the motions he made to cast his spell. I've been practicing, and I think I can copy it now."
I was genuinely impressed. I still had the scars from where the magician's lightning had burned me; turning a spell of such power against our enemies would be both satisfying and effective.
A few hours later, we arrived back in Skure to find the Luveno where we'd left it, still intact. Hapsby suggested emptying out one of the auxiliary fuel tanks and refitting it as a cargo bay so we could store the Ice Digger in there for when we needed it, instead of leaving it behind where it might get stolen. It didn't sound like such a great idea to me, but he seemed to know what he was doing so we let him go ahead with it.
On our way to Motavia, we stopped by Palma to visit Dr. Luveno and thank him again for his help.
It was a relief to see that Lassic hadn't tracked him down again yet. He was pleased to hear that his spaceship had been successfully tested in the field, and promised that if we left the Luveno with him for a while he'd look into fixing the temperature regulator. We didn't have time for that now, though; our next destination was Motavia.
Before we left, we paid a short visit to Dr. Luveno's assistant. I don't know why we bothered.
We returned to the Luveno and asked Hapsby to take us to Motavia. After Dezoris, a little sunburn didn't seem so bad any more.
As we watched Palma shrink away into the distance, I tried to relax and enjoy the trip, but having already been to all the planets in the Algo system somehow made space travel less appealing.
It amazed me how a planet's appearance at this distance could be so deceptive. Dezoris looked like a shining jewel, but in reality the whole planet was a giant frozen graveyard. Motavia was a rich, warm ball of yellow like a knob of melting butter or a little star, but it was really just a parched, sandy wasteland. Even Palma wasn't much better; it looked so green and healthy, but half the planet was a police state run by Lassic's robot cops and the rest was scattered with isolated, abandoned and decaying towns. The Luveno couldn't take us to any exotic paradise free from Lassic's influence. It just took us out of the frying pan and into the fire.
All the sights of Motavia, such as they were, came into view as we approached to make our landing: tall, lonely cacti, ant lions lying in wait for prey, and endless rolling sand dunes.
We landed outside a pleasant-looking little town named Uzo, built around a small oasis. The locals were friendly, and Lassic had given them relatively little trouble; he was too busy persecuting the native Motavians, who weren't under the Governor's protection.
As usual, the first thing we did in town was ask for directions to any other places of interest nearby. It looked like Casba would be our next destination once we were done with Uzo.
We were also given a warning about Casba's local wildlife. I didn't relish the thought of fighting another dragon after barely surviving my first encounter with one in Motavia, but the way she described the gem made it sound tempting.
One of the locals ran a business extracting fibre from a rare species of Motavian cactus for making strong protective clothing. Unfortunately, he didn't have any finished products to sell us, but Noah mentioned that he thought his master Tajima used to wear one.
We talked to a man who had hidden a magical item rather than hand it over to the cops when Lassic banned magic. When we told him of our mission to overthrow Lassic, he was willing to tell us where he'd buried it. I wasn't sure what use a magic flute would be to us, though.
We also managed to get some much-needed advice on traversing ant lion-infested territory. We'd have to look into finding a Land Rover. There weren't any for sale in Uzo, though, so we set off to the south, hoping to find one in Casba.
Skeletons of long-dead travellers rose from the desert sands to attack us as we went south. A few monsters wouldn't slow us down, though; they were nothing compared to what we'd survived on Dezoris.
Before too long, Casba was in sight. Unfortunately, it was surrounded by impassable rocky crags, so getting to it meant travelling through more caves. Really, I couldn't help but think that this was an incredibly impractical place to put a town. Couldn't they have built it on the east side of the oasis so people could actually enter and leave?
After wandering through the caves for hours and still not reaching Casba, I started to suspect we'd taken a wrong turn somewhere. We tried to retrace our steps, but the sound of some huge creature barrelling toward us stopped us in our tracks.
We turned around to see a massive blue dragon, much bigger than the one we'd barely defeated in Noah's cave, bigger than even the white dragon Noah had convinced to leave us alone in Dezoris. It didn't look like this one would be willing to walk away peacefully, either. I saw a large amber gem embedded in its forehead, but paid little attention; right now, survival was a more urgent consideration than wealth.
(Video / Backup)
Noah's protective spells were useless against its fiery breath, and even with Myau's magic enhancing my strength I had difficulty cutting through its thick scaly hide. Noah used his wind magic to pelt it with loose stones from the walls while Odin fired his laser gun at its head, causing it to rear up in pain and anger and expose its underside. Myau darted in and tore open the beast's soft belly with one swipe of his silver fang. The dragon gave one last, agonised roar before its enormous body crashed to the ground. Myau barely got out of the way in time to avoid having it land on him.
I pulled on the gem in the dead dragon's forehead and it detached surprisingly easily, making a disgusting wet popping noise as it came out. I was disappointed to see that the gem wasn't as perfect as I'd originally thought: it was a little cloudy and had tiny cracks in it. Still, it made for a nice souvenir. I carefully wiped the dragon blood off it and stashed it in my pack.
With the dragon gone, we took a moment to get our bearings and eventually managed to find our way back to the first fork we'd come to in the caves. This time we went north instead of east, and soon found ourselves in Casba. Whatever the people here had to offer us had better be worth the journey.