Part 12: Tajima
Chapter 12: Tajima
The locals were understandably upset that the only way out of town was full of monsters. I was tempted to blame them for building a town in such an inaccessible area in the first place, but there were monsters everywhere else on the planet too, so I guess building elsewhere wouldn't have helped them much in the long run.
I tried to reassure them, telling them I'd killed the dragon down there so at least the cave would be a little safer. When I held up the Amber Eye as proof, quite a crowd gathered around. A few even started cheering and applauding.
One man started talking about his hovercraft, and he seemed to be about to offer it to me. I was a bit overwhelmed by his generosity, and wasn't sure whether I could accept. After all, I hadn't really been trying to help the people of Casba; I'd run into the dragon by accident, and killed it in self-defence.
On the other hand, I had helped them, whether I'd intended to or not, and a way of travelling across water would definitely come in handy...
Oh, great. Assuming it wasn't actually broken beyond repair, he'd thrown away a perfectly good hovercraft. It had probably been taken apart for scrap by now. I thanked him for the information, trying not to let my frustration show.
Odin's eyes lit up. "Perseus used his shield to defeat Medusa! If we have that shield, I can finally take my revenge and Medusa's axe! Alis, I think we should try and find that village as soon as possible."
I nodded. "Well, don't get too excited. It's just a legend, after all. But I'll definitely follow up on it if we can find out anything more about where that village is supposed to be."
Poison gas? Sounds like a likely place to find a "village surrounded in mist", although if there was ever a village there it'd be an abandoned ruin by now.
Casba had an auto dealership where we could buy a Land Rover at a very reasonable price (well, reasonable compared to the Ice Digger). When I asked how I was supposed to drive it out through the cave, the dealer even offered to move the Land Rover out of town for us at no extra cost.
When we left Casba, sure enough, our Land Rover was waiting for us just outside the cave entrance. I still wasn't sure how they managed to get it out of there, but it didn't really matter to me as long as they did it.
The Land Rover was spacious, responsive and comfortable -- much better than walking across the desert. We now had ways of travelling quickly across all terrains from desert to snow, enough combat prowess to fend off anything Lassic had in store for us, and a lead on the location of a legendary shield. Things were looking up.
Odin turned to me, practically jumping out of his seat in excitement. It was strange to see a grown man act this way over some old shield. "So where did they say that village was again? The western shore of the ocean? I can't wait to see if Perseus' shield is as beautiful as I've heard."
"Well, that's where the gas was -- we don't know if there's a village there yet, let alone a shield. But we'll have to wait and see."
The Land Rover sure was something. We could drive straight through ant lion traps without even slowing down. When they heard us coming, the ant lions hid deep in their burrows until we passed by.
As we drove along, I turned to Odin, trying to make conversation. "So, Odin, care to share some tales of your heroic exploits while we travel? Nero seemed to have a very high opinion of you, but I never had a chance to ask him why."
Myau smirked in the way that only a cat can. "This ought to be good."
Odin scratched his head. "Well, uh, you see..."
Noah interrupted before Odin could continue. "I don't want to be a bother, but my master lives in a cave near the ocean. It's been an awfully long time since I saw him. Would it be okay to visit him while we're in the area?"
I considered for a moment. "Well, we went all the way to Dezoris for Myau, and now we're going to look for a ruined village that may or may not exist in the middle of a huge cloud of poison gas for Odin. Sure, it's only fair that we make a stop for you too."
Myau's ears pricked up. "Don't forget about going back to Dezoris when we're done. I still want my Laerma nuts."
We followed Noah's directions to the area of Tajima's cave. The path was long and mountainous, with many twists and turns. Why did wizards always have to live in the middle of nowhere?
Two of Lassic's sorcerers attacked us on our way, using magical flight to keep up with us and attacking us with bolts of fire that lanced straight through the windshield of the Land Rover. While Odin took pot shots at them with his laser, Noah chanted a spell. A black storm cloud formed overhead, bringing a torrential downpour of rain, accompanied by bolts of lightning that seemed to home in on the sorcerers. When their electrocuted bodies fell to the ground, the clouds immediately began to clear away.
"Great," Myau muttered. "Now he's literally Rain Man."
I heard a low rhythmic sound like huge wings beating behind me and looked back to see one of the flying sea serpents we'd encountered on Palma closing in on us. I was amazed that it could survive here in the middle of the desert, but I was too busy preparing to defend myself to think too much about it. It made the fatal mistake of flying close enough to let Myau jump on its back, tear its right wing off at the base and jump back into the Land Rover, leaving the serpent flopping around helplessly on the sand behind us. I felt a sudden sense of gratitude that the viciousness Myau directed against us was only verbal in nature.
After that long and eventful drive, we reached the cave Noah said Tajima lived in. We parked the Land Rover outside and entered. When Noah wasn't giving directions, he was prattling on about training in the magical arts under Tajima. I honestly wasn't paying too much attention, but his "training" seemed to involve a lot of going out to fetch food or firewood for Tajima and not much actual learning of magic. I guess that explained why he'd learned more in a few months travelling with us than in years with Tajima.
Noah stopped in the middle of a passageway and started tapping on the wall. Before I could ask him what he was doing, the wall slid aside to reveal a short side passage ending in a locked door.
"This is where Tajima made me leave all my worldly possessions before he'd let me train with him," Noah explained. "Now that I'm not his student any more, I don't think he would mind if I took them back."
We used our dungeon key to let ourselves in.
I gasped when I saw the contents of the tiny room behind the door. It was full of fine clothes, jewels, exotic foods and bars of precious metal. There was a fortune here.
Noah frowned in confusion as he searched through all the finery. "This... this stuff isn't mine. I mean, some of the clothes are, but the money isn't. And I had a lot of other stuff here that I can't see anywhere. Tajima must have put it somewhere else for safe keeping."
I was pretty sure Tajima had put Noah's possessions safely in the hands of some merchant in Paseo in exchange for all the money here, but I didn't have the heart to tell Noah that.
"He probably put all of this here because he wanted you to have it when you came back," I lied. "Let's take it with us."
Noah was convinced by the force of my argument, and we stuffed everything of value into our packs before continuing on.
While following Noah deeper into the caves, we were attacked by a red dragon, just like the one that had killed Noah soon after we first met him. It was still an intimidating foe, but it was much smaller than the dragon we'd already killed in Casba, and we were better armed and more experienced now. Myau and I ducked and weaved around and under its claws, teeth and breath, while Odin and Noah attacked from a distance whenever they had a clear shot. While the dragon was focusing its attention on Myau, I seized the opportunity to plunge my sword straight into its heart. The dragon coughed up a few drops of steaming blood, staggered backwards, keeled over and died.
We soon came to another locked door, which Noah identified as the entrance to Tajima's chambers. We opened it and went in, hoping he wouldn't be too upset at our intrusion.
A short, well-fed old man wearing a fancy robe several sizes too large for him looked up at us as we entered. Noah let out a little whoop of joy, and the shy, awkward young man I knew was instantly replaced with a side of him I never knew existed.
"Master Tajima! You're here! I've been thinking about you for so long! I have so much to thank you for! And I see you're even wearing one of my old sashes to tie your robe -- it makes my heart sing to know that you consider my humble clothing worthy of such an honour! If only I had more time to reminisce and learn from you, but I am on an urgent mission to overthrow Lassic! I beseech you to impart me with your wisdom once again!"
Tajima seemed a little surprised to see Noah still alive, but quickly composed himself.
Noah continued gushing. "Yes, Most Exalted Master Tajima! I have come here seeking your help! Please, teach me everything you know! Whether it be a lesson in the Way of the Oyster-Gatherer or instruction in the Sacred Path of the Cutter of Dry Cacti, I am ready and willing to learn! I know that when you left me in the Maharu Cave long ago you told me you had taught me all you could and I would have to find the path for myself, but I feel in my heart that there is so much more you can teach me!"
"Master Tajima... very well. I will do my best."
Noah raised his wand and prepared for battle. I don't think he quite picked up on the fact that Tajima just wanted to get rid of him.
(Video / Backup)
I saw the look of shock on Tajima's face as Noah summoned up a raging gale and pinned his former teacher to the wall with little effort.
Tajima unfastened his sash. When I realised what was happening, I quickly covered my eyes and looked away. What was it about me that made wizards want to disrobe in front of me?
As we walked out of Tajima's room, Noah examined the mantle that his now-naked master had just handed to him and started to put it on over his clothes.
"Aren't you at least going to wash that first?", I asked.
Noah looked shocked. "Wash it? I wouldn't dream of it! Master Tajima is cleanliness personified!"
I sighed, and felt a little guilty about taking an innocent like Noah along on my fool's errand to kill Lassic in the first place. "If you don't mind my asking, Noah, why did you decide to travel with us? What we're doing is very dangerous, and I wouldn't have made you come with me if you didn't want to. You know that, right?"
He thought for a while before answering. Usually that meant I'd either get an intelligent response, or an even more incomprehensible one than usual.
"At first I was just doing it because the Governor's letter told me to. Back when I was training with Master Tajima, he told me to always obey orders from my superiors, even if I didn't understand why. But mostly it's because I'm curious. I've spent all my life studying under masters who told me what they knew, whether it was in the academy with a professor or in a cave with Master Tajima. I wanted to see all the things they'd told me about for myself. And if I can help people while I'm doing that, that's even better. I know it's dangerous... but if you don't take any risks, you can't learn anything, right?"
I smiled. "Right."
Things always somehow turned out right for Noah, even when nobody, including him, knew what he was doing. I still wasn't sure if he was a fool with occasional flashes of brilliance, or too wise for normal people like me to understand.
Noah used his magic to teleport us out of the cave, and we returned to the Land Rover to seek out the "village surrounded in mist". I could only hope that the next leg of our journey involved more legendary magical weapons and less old man wang.