Part 4: The Governor
Chapter 4: The Governor
Almost as soon as we entered the cave we were confronted by a rusted but sturdy iron gate set into the stone of the cave wall, held shut with a massive padlock. Fortunately, our recently-acquired dungeon key opened the lock without difficulty, and after a considerable amount of pushing and shoving the gate creaked open.
This cave was clearly the work of human hands; apart from the gate at the entrance, every so often we came across rotting remnants of supporting beams. Maybe it was a mine once, long since played out. In any case, whoever dug it out hadn't done any maintenance in a long time. Some passages were half-collapsed, forcing us to scramble through on our hands and knees.
Attracted by the flickering light of a fire from around a corner, we stumbled across an old man dressed in rags and animal skins. His eyes darted wildly across our group as he stopped gnawing on the carcass of some unfortunate rodent for long enough to warn us against going any further in our current direction. I thanked him for his advice, then beat a hasty retreat before nausea overcame me.
While I don't normally make a policy of taking advice from crazed hermits, one direction was as good as another to us and he surely knew the cave better than we did. We turned back and followed another side passage.
Myau's keen eyes soon spotted a rotting wooden box, half-concealed under a pile of rocks and debris. He called our attention to it with a squeal of excitement and we followed as he bounded toward it.
As Odin leant over the chest and lifted its lid, an arrow shot out and embedded itself deeply into his thigh. Whoever had abandoned this place clearly didn't want visitors poking around in the ruins. Odin grimaced as he yanked the arrow out of his leg, while Myau admonished him to be more careful in future, as if it wasn't Myau who was so eager to get it open in the first place. I cast a healing spell to close Odin's wound and we continued on.
The cave was infested with more winged eye-creatures. Compared to the ones we'd fought before, these were huge, barely having enough room to fly through the narrower passages of the cave. Their bodies were still soft and vulnerable, though, and they gave us little difficulty.
As we continued deeper in, we heard horrible moaning from all around us. Dark mist seeped out of cracks in the walls and congealed into ghastly humanoid forms. Just touching them sent an unearthly chill through my body, and I knew intuitively that they were the restless spirits of people who had died here long ago. Fortunately for us, our weapons still seemed effective enough at dissipating their insubstantial forms.
Halfway down a narrow, twisting passageway, I heard the cracking and shifting of rock below me and felt the ground under my feet give way. Odin and Myau tried to pull me back up, but I only succeeded in dragging them down with me. We half-slid, half-fell down a cascade of rock to more solid ground a few feet below, landing with a few bruises but with no serious injuries.
A few steps further down the passageway, pretty much the same thing happened again. Myau hissed at me in annoyance and Odin told me to watch my step in future. Well, if we wanted to go deeper into the caves, at least we were succeeding at that.
Myau soon set his eyes on another treasure chest hidden in an alcove, and this time he insisted on opening it himself. After what happened last time we opened a chest down here, I warned Myau to be careful, but he told me not to worry because he wasn't "big and clumsy like Odin".
About two seconds later I saw a blinding flash of light, and heard and felt a tremendous rush of heat and air from the direction of the chest. Fragments of rock and metal tore through my armour and slashed across my skin. When my eyes readjusted to the darkness, I saw Myau sprawled on the ground a few feet away from the chest. I picked him up, cradled him in my arms, cast a healing spell and called out his name.
"Myau! Myau! Are you okay? Speak to me!"
He raised his head and flashed his teeth in what I thought was a grin. "I saw the trap just before it triggered and managed to get down before the explosion. Most of the shrapnel went right over my head. These traps are designed to kill humans, not Musk Cats."
Odin frowned. "You saw the trap before it triggered? You could have warned us."
"And you two could have stood further back before I opened it, but you didn't, did you? Now, since everyone's still alive, let's get moving."
I continued on, starting to wonder a little if Myau was trying to get Odin killed on purpose. If so, he hadn't done a bad job of it so far.
As we walked even deeper into the caves, the sound of rattling and clanking began to echo through them, faint at first but steadily louder. We rounded a corner and found two skeletons in the process of dragging themselves out from under a caved-in section of the passageway. They finished extricating themselves, then leapt to their feet with inhuman agility and attacked us with ancient, rusty weapons.
(Video of the battle / Backup)
They dodged and parried my sword and Myau's claws with great skill, but Odin's needlegun punched right through their shields and shattered their brittle bones. Eventually, they collapsed into lifeless heaps, too damaged to move or hold their weapons any longer.
Their weapons and shields were too worn and rusty to be worth anything, but among their possessions we found a long, narrow case made of Dezorian mammoth ivory.
Myau bounced around excitedly. "Open it! Open it! This has to be what we came here for!"
I sighed. "Okay, but if it turns out to be full of poison gas or something, I'm holding you responsible."
I opened the case and found a long, curved metal blade which still looked as sharp and shiny as the day it was made. There was some kind of handle in the middle. I swung it around experimentally, but it didn't seem like a very practical weapon; it was the wrong shape to fit comfortably into a human hand.
"That's an iron fang, a weapon for Musk Cats," Odin explained. "Centuries ago, before the Musk Cat population was decimated by hunting and disease, native Dezorians used to train Musk Cats to aid in their hunts. This weapon was made by a Dezorian craftsman, probably about three hundred years ago; I don't know if there's anyone alive today who still knows how to make anything like this."
Odin took the iron fang and fitted it into Myau's mouth. It certainly looked like a deadly weapon, but Myau didn't seem to be able to close his mouth properly.
"Isn't that uncomfortable for you, Myau?", I asked.
Myau shrugged his shoulders. "O'ly whe' I trya talk. Take it o' whe' we're in tow', okay?"
Finding our way back up to the cave entrance took considerably longer than finding our way down. Fortunately, Myau had innate magical talents that began to show themselves on our journey out. His ability to heal wounds soon surpassed my own.
Eventually we made our way back to the surface. All we had to do was bring the Governor his gift and -- oh, right, I didn't have a gift yet. Well, he liked sweets, but he'd hardly be satisfied with something I could get in any shop for a few meseta. The gift had to be something special, something hard to come by, something like...
I felt ridiculous even thinking of the idea, but it did seem like my best bet.
I turned to Odin and Myau. "Can we make one more detour before we visit the Governor? I need to stop by a cake shop in a cave to the north."
Myau stared steadily into my eyes, clearly nonplussed. "We're goi' i'to a ca'e. To 'uy cake."
"That's right. I'd explain why, but, well, I'm not really sure either. Come on; I came along on your side trip, so now it's your turn."
We trekked on through the forest covering the western foothills of Baya Malay, just outside the fenceline that cordoned off the mountain itself. The forest was infested with giant spiders who spat globs of sticky thread to hinder our movement, but Myau's new weapon sliced through their carapaces with ease.
After a short walk through the forest, we reached the cave. Thankfully, it was much smaller and more straightforward to navigate than the one we'd found the iron fang in, although still just as full of monsters. Soon, we came to a wooden door with a small sign above it reading "Naula Bakery: Fine Cakes and Pastries Baked Fresh Every Day".
The shopkeeper himself seemed friendly and sane enough, although he brushed off all my attempts to ask him why he had a bakery at the bottom of a cave and charged such absurd prices for shortcake. I guess if he still had enough customers to stay in business, it just had to be really, really good cake. I was almost tempted to taste it myself, but there was no way I was buying two pieces at 1000 meseta each.
We left the cave and walked back to Camineet. Now that Odin was by my side and it seemed like I might actually survive a month or two before Lassic's minions hunted me down and killed me, I decided to pay a visit to Nekise to tell him I was still alive.
Nekise was pleased to see me alive, and amazed to see Myau and Odin. He listened eagerly as I told him of my journey, and seemed to regret that he didn't have any skill in combat so that he could help me. I was glad he was staying at home, though; it was nice to be able to talk to someone away from all the violence whose life still maintained some semblance of normality. Before I left, he made me promise to visit him again. This time, I was pretty sure I'd be able to keep that promise.
While we were in town we also bought some new equipment, including a sword and shield for me, a shield for Odin and a protective jacket for Myau. Oddly enough, the jacket had two holes cut in the back, just below the shoulders. I wondered why, but decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth; I was lucky enough to find anyone who sold armour for Musk Cats at all.
The guards outside the Governor's mansion paid no attention to me, so I decided to let myself in. Maybe I wouldn't need that cake after all, and could see what was so great about it for myself.
No such luck. Well, at least this meant I wouldn't have to explain to Odin and Myau why I'd made them brave the hazards of a monster-filled cave just so I could buy and eat some overpriced cake.
The Governor's mansion looked even more spectacular up close. It was a beautiful sight, but it made me uneasy to know that the Governor was living in such splendour while his people increasingly struggled to make ends meet.
I entered the mansion and was ushered into the audience chamber, where I was introduced to the Governor, a fat, balding middle-aged man, already stuffing his face with the cake I'd brought him.
I explained my mission to him, and while he refused to give me any substantial help in the form of money, equipment or soldiers, he was more than happy to put in a good word for me with someone who might actually be willing to do something.
The way he kept staring at my chest during our conversation didn't do much to raise my opinion of him, either.
Honestly, I just wanted to get away from him and get on with my mission as soon as possible, but I was still jet-lagged from the flight to Motavia, and anyway it seemed rude to refuse his offer.
I was shown to my room in the Governor's mansion, and Odin and Myau were given an adjacent room (after we convinced the Governor that Myau was properly house-trained).
For the first time in over a year, I didn't stay up late that night. I was more tired than I'd realised, and I wanted to get up early so we could set out again and find Noah. If something was going to come and drag me away in the night, well, so be it.