[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Chapter Twenty-Four

With the flash out, they had only the dim glow of Alis' light saber. They could not see more than a few feet in any direction, but would not be deterred.

Slowly, Alis reached up and pushed the door. It creaked as it swung open; all ahead was blackness. She looked at Myau, who shook his head. They entered, one slow step at a time.

Several feet into the room, Myau stopped. Alis held her ground waiting for him to explain.

"There's something in here... something very big... can you hear its breathing?" he asked.

"...Slightly. Hold on..." Alis began to move forward again, holding the saber out far in front, so as to light up more of the room. Four steps later, she stopped. At the edge of the illumination, it lay there. A dragon, for sure, similar to the one they had fought in Casba, but about twice as big. It appeared green, but the blue hue of the light saber made it impossible to tell. It was curled up around something... a crate, or chest, head resting on tail. Shadowy wisps of breath escaped from its nose as its massive sides expanded and contracted.

"I think it's asleep... it's eyes are closed," the heroine whispered over her shoulder. "That chest it's guarding may be what we're looking for."

Myau strode up beside her; they would have fallen back, but then would have lost the dragon in the darkness. Even now, it was no more than ten feet away.

"We should strike now, while it is asleep. That is our best chance for success." Myau's logic did not sit very well with Alis.

"But it hasn't attacked us... is it right to kill it in cold blood?" she wondered.

Myau's response was firm. "It is evil. Need we reason more?"

"But it hasn't done anything..."

"Anything that we know of, Alis. But we are here on a mission that superceeds the life of one dragon."

"The ends justifying the means, eh, Myau? I'm not comfortable with that notion..." She no longer looked ahead; she was staring directly at the Musk Cat.

He met her gaze resolutely. After a few second of silence, "Then what would you propose? It certainly isn't going to give us the box..."

Alis returned to viewing the dragon. "...I'll just walk up there, open the box, and take whatever is inside..."

"You can't be serious, Alis... if it wakes up, you won't have a chance to defend yourself."

"Your confidence in me is reassuring," she said sarcastically. "I think I can do it. Stay here, but be ready to lend me a hand if it starts to move, okay?" Myau just stared at her again, unbelieving. Finally, he nodded.

This is crazy, he thought to himself.

Alis stepped forward, nearly on tiptoes. She held the saber out in a defensive position, ready to respond instantly. Still the dragon lay.

Only a few more feet, now.

And she was there, standing just next to the enormous tail. Its breath was warm, filling the air with a pungent aroma. The box sat between the tail and its body, nestled in tightly. In order to reach the lock on the lid, she would have to step inbetween as well. But the tail was so wide... she would literally have to jump over it.

She turned her head back to Myau, who now had the Silver Fang in his mouth, in strike position. Turning back, she took one deep breath. Then, she launched herself forward, just barely clearing the tail, landing with a soft thud right next to the dragon's massive frame. She didn't move for half a minute, expecting the beast to awaken immediately. But it did not.

Without moving her feet, she reached over with the saber and poked the plasma blade into the lock mechanism that held the box's lid shut. The metal crackled at first, but soon it was melting, dripping down the side of the chest. She withdrew the saber and reached over with her other arm to lift the lid.

As Myau watched from a distance, he knew that he would not be able to reach her in time should the monster awaken. She would be crushed instantly by its huge tail, or its fiery breath would... despite his intentions, he was helpless. And he hated it.

The lid came open easily enough. But she had a problem: she couldn't hold it open and reach inside, for she had to hold the light saber to see. The only choice was to set the lid upon the belly of the beast... as she stared at the greenish scales that rhythmically flexed, she wondered how sensitive they were.

C'mon, we don't have time to waste, she told herself. Ever so gently, she brought the lid backwards, inches away from the dragon's hide. Lowering it the final half-inch must have taken a minute or more. But then, she noticed, it was done; it lay against the monster, rising and falling slightly in time with the beast's breathing. So far, it had not noticed.

The chest lay open to her. Reaching in with her free hand, she probed the box, unable to actually see what was inside. And she felt it; a sharp piece of metal... a blade. She traced its form down, finding a hilt. It was indeed a sword. It fell very light in her hand, almost weightless. And the feeling, the one she had experienced both on Motavia and on the other side of the door... it was here, now, more intense than ever. She lifted the sword out of the chest.

It was not entirely remarkable. A few abstract carvings graced its hilt, but nothing extremely ornate. Its surface, though, seemed to glow, ever so slightly. Perhaps it was merely the light saber's glare reflecting off the blade... but she had it, and now they could finally leave this place.

She inched herself around, so that she was facing Myau, who was ever-ready as before. Taking another deep breath, she closed her eyes for a moment. Opening them, she jumped forward... but did not clear the tail, her foot landing squarely on its edge. She fell forward, landing hard on the tower floor, as she heard the dragon stir behind her.

"Move, now!" Myau yelled as he backed to the door. Alis did not need more encouragement. Without looking behind her, she pushed herself up, a sword in each hand, and dashed forward towards the open door. Myau was already on the other side when she heard a loud sound, like rushing water. Waves of heat ran along her back and legs just as she cleared the doorway. She continued to follow Myau, running down the hallway, but cast one final glance over her shoulder. The head of the dragon was sticking out of the door, blowing huge streams of fire in their direction. But they were too far away, now, to feel it, as they rounded the corner.

They did not stop running until they reached the stairway leading downwards. "I don't hear him," Myau offered, panting.

"He wouldn't be able to move too fast in these small corridors..." Alis gasped, "but I'd rather not test that theory. Come on." She hooked the newfound sword on her belt, freeing herself to use the light saber effectively. She would have preferred to test the new weapon, but needed the saber to light up their path.

- - - - - - - - - -

Odin and Noah sat in Luveno's home in Gothic, examining the mirror shield. Luveno himself was outside, with Hapsby, making repairs to the Landrover. The front door opened, and the warrior and the Esper looked up in astonishment.

Alis and Myau stood in the doorway. The heroine's armor was torn in several places, and Myau held one paw up meekly.

"What happened?" Odin asked, in shock.

"...We just made it back..." said Alis, her breath heavy, "...barely survived our little excursion to Drasgow..."

Noah immediately rose and helped them to the couch. As they sat, he silently began a spell of healing. Odin continued to question them.

"I thought Drasgow was allied with the resistance... why would they attack you?"

"Not the Drasgowians... we went to an island north of there... to find a magic weapon..." Alis closed her eyes as she felt the effects of Noah's spell.

"There's a tower on the island," she went on, "and the people of Drasgow claimed that a magic sword was held there... so we went to look for it."

"Why didn't you wait for us? You could have gotten yourselves killed... it looks like you almost did!" cried Odin, full of concern.

Myau spoke for the first time, his paw now healed. "It was a decision made to hasten our progress... but we were successful, nonetheless."

"And just what is this magic weapon that they spoke of?" Noah asked skeptically.

"This..." Alis withdrew the sword from her belt and held it outward.

"Just looks like a sword to me..." Odin said. "What's so special about it?"

"...Oh my..." whispered Noah, who was staring at it oddly. Odin in turn was staring at him. "It's... it's a laconian sword..."

"Laconia, eh? That's quite a powerful metal, but I don't see what..." Odin was interrupted.

"It's not any laconian sword... it has been magically endowed with power... the likes of which I have never felt in such a weapon!"

"I felt it too," remarked Alis, "something, I don't know, some energy, whenever I'm near it. It's even more noticeable when I hold it."

"Ages ago, a few laconian weapons were collected and empowered by a group of magic users to use in a great battle... we Espers have the legends... but I never thought I'd find one... they were thought to be destroyed long ago!"

"Are you saying that the Espers created this weapon...?" said Myau.

"No, no, not our race... we only know that another group made the weapons... we don't even know how we came upon such knowledge... surely, this is a sign..."

"I don't know about any signs," Alis concluded, "but I do know that I've never felt a weapon like this... it seems to be innately powerful. And that can only be a good thing." She turned, spying the shield that Odin had placed on a table. "That's the mirror shield?"

"Yes," Odin answered. "We picked it up for four hundred meseta, plus some labor... it's very comfortable... and I'm convinced it's what we need to resist the Gorgon's power."

"Then we'll definitely be heading off to confront Medusa?" purred Myau, a slight grin on his face.

"Indeed, old friend. After all, if she gets to have a mystical weapon," Odin laughed as he pointed to Alis, "then so do I!"

[an error occurred while processing this directive]