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Chapter Eighteen

"It feels very light... very natural," Odin told Derrin. They stood in Uzo's armorer's store, and Odin held a deactivated Light Saber in his hand. Alis held one as well, while Noah and Myau stood aside.

"Yes. It'll feel a bit heavier once the plasma stream is running... the plasma itself doesn't add to the weight, but it was designed to increase its mass when activated... just press that botton on the hilt, but hold it away from everything!" Following Derrin's instructions, Odin turned on the light saber; a shimmering blue wave erupted from the hilt, as the occasional crackling of electricity filled the air. Slowly, Odin swung the saber left and right, gaining a feel for the exotic weapon. Alis activated hers, and did the same.

"It's marvelous, Derrin! All the weight needed, but light enough to swing quickly... I cannot wait to test it out in battle." A smile across his face, Odin was obviously enjoying himself. Alis turned hers off.

"We'll take them Derrin... they are immense improvements over our current stock. Are you sure you won't take one, Noah?" she asked.

The Esper held up his hand in resistance. "No, no, I've always disliked swords... and generally weapons of any kind. And without proper training, I'd only be a hindrance. I shall stick with my spells for the time being."

"Very well. Derrin, I feel we must be leaving now. You've been so generous already, I don't wish to impose upon you further." Alis held out her hand, and Derrin shook it readily.

"You are off to Casba, then?" he questioned, "Noah, you know that the Casba Dragon still holds sway over that town... you'll be lucky to avoid him..."

"We have no intention of avoiding him, Derrin," answered Noah. "We seek the Amber Eye... with that, we shall never lack for meseta... and we must also reach Casba to purchase a Landrover. It will be integral to our trek on Dezoris."

Derrin sighed. "Very well, if you won't be dissuaded. I pray for your safety. Return here at any time if you need help... you are always welcome." Noah walked over to Derrin and embraced him.

"I know that, Derrin. Be assured that we will succeed... in part thanks to you. Good bye."

"Good bye, Noah... Alis, Odin, Myau," he said as he nodded to each.

"Keep well," Alis responded. And with that, the four warriors left the store, heading to the town gate. They began their journey, on foot, to Casba, which lay southwest of Uzo. The desert heat was not as oppresive as it had been, though their steps would soon be labored.

"The town of Casba is surrounded by unscalable rock formations," Noah was explaining about ten minutes into the walk. "The only way to access it is through an underground tunnel..."

"A tunnel that just happens to be inhabited by a dragon," Odin remarked.

"Unfortunately, yes. When the Casbans intially settled there, it was an ideal spot to maintain their indepence from Paseo... but the cave has become infested with monsters, isolating them far more than they had intended."

"How can they survive without leaving the town?" Alis point was a fair one.

"They've become self-sufficient, mostly, although they do send their most able warriors to the outside world occassionally. If they absolutely need something from somewhere else, they'll send a party to Uzo... but not very often. And with the dragon living there now... I can't say how long it has been since they last journeyed away." Noah looked at Myau and noticed that he seemed to be struggling greatly, perhaps due to the heat. His facial expression was one of intensity. "Myau, are you alright? Shall we take a break for you to rest and drink some water?"

Without pausing his gait, he replied, "No, I am fine. There is no need to stop now. I can go as far as we need to... waste no worry on me." It was not the words of his comment that bothered Alis, but rather the flat, empty tone with which he spoke them. The effect did not fall unnoticed by Odin or Noah, either.

They continued on as the miles stretched by. Ere long, the rocky hills surrounding Casba came into view. Nearby, they saw the underground cavern entrance, not unlike all the others they had visited. "Why do all these caverns look the same?" asked Alis. "They all appear to have a common origin..."

"True enough, Alis," said Odin. "But their mysteries are lost to the history books. It's inconsequential, as far as I'm concerned."

Just beyond the edge of the hills, they could see three large vehicles sitting in the sand. They were each about twelve feet long, and had enormous inflated tires. "Those the landrovers?" Odin asked as he hitched a thumb towards them.

"Yes, but we can't get one until we make it to Casba," Noah stated. "The shopkeepers have a block of circuits that are necessary to run them. They're useless without the electronics."

They stopped at the entrance. Alis and Odin activated their light sabers. There was no door here, only steps leading downward. With Noah's magic lamp lighting the way, they entered.

- - - - - - - - - -

"I can sense it," said Noah. They were at a juncture in the cavern. "The dragon, he's somewhere that way..." He pointed down the corridor that branched off to the right. "If we keep going forward, the path will take us directly to the town."

Alis took a step down the branching hallway. "We might as well find the dragon now. There's no point in putting it off. C'mon." The other three followed her, the glistening psuedo-blade of her light saber held defensively out front.

"Turn left up here," Noah called. Rounding the corner, Alis could just faintly make out another turn far down the path. "It's somewhere along this way, I'm sure of it." Alis continued to move forward, as Odin was only a step behind her. Noah was next, while Myau brough up the rear, continuously checking for surprise attacks from behind.

"Where are all the little beasties?" Odin whispered. "You said this cave was infested with monsters..."

"It is, it is... but they must not come near this area... perhaps for fear of the dragon...?" Noah's explanation did not sit well with the group.

Odin maintained his observation. "Wonderful... they're not scared of us, but they're scared of the dragon. What does that say about our chances?"

"No monster will bar us from our goal..." Myau spoke, the first time since they had entered the cave.

They were only a few feet away from the next bend in the hall. "Wait..." Noah instructed. "It's very close... around the corner... the evil I feel here, is... overwhelming..."

"I can hear it's breathing," Myau pointed out. "Heavy... course..."

"We head around this corner on my word..." Alis told them. "Ready... now!"

Alis ran forward, positioning herself against the far wall, while Odin lined up beside her. Noah jumped in between them, as Myau leapt to Odin's right. And then they all froze.

Ten yards before them, filling the cramped hallway, sat a massive beast that could only be described as immense. The dragon's body expanded from wall to wall, while its tail twitched behind it. A long neck was stretched low to the ground, black eyes leering at the four heroes. Leathery wings rose from its back, and each clawed hand was larger than a Palman head. The light from Noah's magic lamp illuminated each and every one of its deep-blue scales.

No one moved, as the dragon's breath slowly continued, wisps of smoke rising from each nostril. Neither man nor beast seemed willing to make the first move, as the combatants studied each other intently.

"Do you think it likes us...?" Odin's comic relief was lost on his companions.

Suddenly, the head of the dragon rose to the ceiling, its chest expanding greatly. Without warning, it spewed forth a ball of flame, momentarily blinding the heroes. The fire dissipated before it reached them, but the intense blast of heat was searing.

"Now, before it has a chance to shoot again!" Odin yelled as he ran towards it. The dragon's head fell to meet him, hissing passionately. He swung the light saber in a lightning fast movement that scarred the left side of its face, before sliding out of the way of the creature's swinging left hand. No sooner had he run forward that Alis did the same, meeting the jarred head with her own light saber slash. The dragon screamed horribly, and its chest expanded again. A second later it belched another ball of fire, but it was much smaller than the first, and Alis easily side-stepped it.

Noah and Myau had held back, for fear of hurting their own: Alis and Odin continued to dodge the monster, and were too close for the others to attack. "Draw back!" Noah exclaimed. "Let me get a clear shot!" As the two obeyed, Noah raised his staff and began his lightning spell. But another blast of flame shot forward, and Myau jumped into the Esper, knocking him over, narrowly avoiding the fire.

Odin lurched again, getting in another hack before being knocked against the wall. The dragon raised a hand to crush him; Alis leapt ahead to distract the beast, but a wall of flame kept her from reaching Odin. The delay was enough, though, as Odin rolled away, quickly getting to his feet and retreating to the end of the passageway.

Noah was back up, and instantly three torrid bolts of lightning shot from his staff, impacting the creature hard enough to send it reeling backwards. Before it could recover, another three bolted to it, and the dragon's head exploded violently, smearing the walls of the hallway with blood. The abandoned neck fell to the floor with a thud, as the body collapsed.

"Never hurts to have an Esper around..." Odin whispered to himself.

"I... well, it's dead." Somehow Alis didn't even believe it herself. "Where is the Amber Eye?"

"It's probably behind it, on the other side... if anyone wants to walk through that mess to get it..." No one responded to Odin's remark. "Well then, I guess that means I've gotta go get it... the things I do for you guys..." Odin walked forward, his boots slicked with blood and dragon brains. "Ah, the blasted thing takes up the whole passage, I can't get past it!"

"Then climb over it, Odin."

"If you're so sure of yourself Alis, why don't you come and climb over this thing?" Alis smiled at him and shook her head. "Sigh..." Slowly, Odin braced his foot against the wall, and grabbed one of the fallen dragon wings, pulling himself up onto the creature's back. Walking on the skin proved difficult, as his boots kept sliding out from under him against the beast's scales. Alis and the others watched as he disappeared behind it.

"It's here!" he called, his voice muffled and warped by the large dead body between them. "I've got it... sure is a pretty thing... there's a lot of meseta back here too..."

"Bring those back as well!" Alis shouted. They could faintly hear the sounds of coins rustling together. Then, a hand reached up from behind the dragon and grabbed a wing. Odin was visible again, toting a sack over his shoulder. He was obviously having difficulty, straining with the heavy sack and keeping his balance. He slipped, and fell backwards, coin bag crashing to the ground.

"You okay back there?" Noah cast to his hidden friend.

"Fine..." came the response. "No thanks to you guys... hold on..." A hand again reached up for the wing.

Alis wondered how long this amusing sight would go on.

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