In approximately half an hour, the party of five reaches the rocky part at the bottom of the mountain, but they don’t find any cave or entrance there. So they decide to circle the mount to find it. As they walk, they find more and more skeletons, bones and skulls scattering everywhere.
‘Looks like Adair’s Arsenal is the most wanted collector’s item around here,’ says Chris.
‘Yeah, so many lives were wasted in pursuit of power,’ Iris adds with a sigh.
‘Well, we are not like them. We’re only here to help. We have no desire for the arsenal, do we?’ Carol stresses the last two words as she stares at Chris, demanding answer at once.
Chris is flabbergasted.
‘Er... of-of course! Who do you think I am, huh?’
‘A greedy dragon bait.’
‘Huh! We’ll see about that.’
Soon enough, the two cousins end their arguments as they see a huge cavern on the mountain – large enough for two dragons to fly through it side-by-side. It’s indeed a cave made for (or by, actually) a dragon for its lair.
Wasting no more time to admire a dragon’s handiwork, the five hunters enter the cave. And they are further impressed by the view inside the cave. It’s nothing like ordinary cave walls in there, with stalactites and stalagmites usually found in large caverns. The walls, however, are smooth and abnormally strong, dragon-craved and strengthened with dragon fire.
The path goes straight, and soon the group arrives in an immense dome. The sunlight coming from the crater opening on the top of the dome fades, and things are getting darker and darker in here.
Just as Chris is about to take out some torches (and food) from his backpack, a jet of firebolt shoots towards a torch lamp on the wall, and lit it without any oil, wood, or charcoal. Then comes another firebolt. And another. Six firebolts lit six lamps, and the dome becomes bright with magical light.
And there she is, the one who shot fire just now. It’s the ancient dragon Algaban, resting in the middle of the dome. She is exactly like the dragon Robert saw in his dream – and more. She is much larger than Robert imagined, and her scales are gold combined with red linings on certain places. The length of her wingspan is about five times her breadth. The unusual, complex yet functional shape of her body makes her look godly.
Robert bows to honor Algaban and his friends follow suit. The dragon lifts her enormous eagle-like head, stares at Robert’s group and greets them.
‘Welcome, my friends. Thank you for coming all the way here to help me.’
‘I’m sorry, we came late,’ says Robert. ‘Thank goodness the enemy hasn’t attacked yet.’
‘Because you delayed her,’ says Algaban, under surprised looks from the group. ‘Yes, Robert, I know about Zal’fira. My spirit is linked with yours when you decided to trust me, so whatever you think, I know. But I must apologize to you, Robert that I deliberately blocked your access to my mind, because Zal’fira has entered into your mind through Christopher. I can’t risk her getting into my mind also.’
‘That’s all right, o’ great one,’ says Robert. ‘The important thing now is we’re here now. Let’s plan some defense...’
‘That won’t be necessary.’
A voice interrupts Robert from behind. It’s a deep, cold, and sinister woman’s voice. Every word of it is full of threat, piercing anyone’s mind like a dagger.
Robert and friends look back, and they see a witch wearing a black, long robe with a matching black hat. She walks towards them slowly and dramatically. Clunk, clunk, thud, clunk, thud... the sounds of her footsteps and her stick are heard so clearly even from afar.
As she moves closer, we can see her face clearly now. She has the most intimidating face for a human being: cold, sharp eyes, a long nose, and thin lips that look like as though they’re smeared with jet-black lipstick. She might be beautiful in her youth, but now she is somewhat frightening without a reason.
Faint wrinkles in her face are shown more clearly as she smiles cunningly.
‘Hey! She’s really the woman I ran into in the village!’ says Chris.
‘Oh, how nice of you recognizing me!’ says the witch. ‘Allow me to introduce myself. I am Zal’fira. You might want to remember it when you stand before Sodomos very soon, when he asks who sent you.’
Carol answers her curtly, ‘At least this time you showed us some manners before you attack. But no thanks, we don’t plan to make any appointment with Sodomos any time, at least after we send you to him. You seem to have one; he bought you, didn’t he?’
This time Zal’fira shows a maniacal smile, answering, ‘Tsk, tsk, tsk... I was polite enough to send you a warning at the cost of exposing myself, but all I get is a rude greeting. Now you know me and what I’m capable of. I too know you – completely, and I say even if you train yourself for another century, you all can never beat me. So, let’s better avert this senseless bloodshed, give me what I want and we’ll all going home satisfied.’
‘What EXACTLY do you want?’ asks Iris.
‘My, the entire Adair’s Arsenal, of course, in addition to my collection.’
‘In that case,’ says Robert coolly but seriously, drawing his kiliji from the scabbard on his back, ‘we must fight you, Zal’fira. Because if we give you the arsenal, Algaban will be dead, punished by Vadis’ curse on her if she gives the arsenal to unworthy people. So, we’ll make sure you don’t get what you want.’
‘You will never get what you want, that I guarantee,’ says Algaban confidently.
Sensing that a battle is about to erupt, Andreas immediately casts protective force fields around his comrades by a single spell, ‘Omnigalatr!’ followed by Iris with her magic protection field, ‘Omninervatr!’
‘Oh, so that’s your decision, eh?’ says Zal’fira mockingly. ‘Apparently you can’t wait to meet Sodomos (satan) in Tartaros (hell), so I’ll be kind to grant your wish. But wait, you think I come here all alone? I also brought some friends with me. Come here, Ferre! I have some playmates for you!’
A small, winged, black creature flies into the dome and rests on Zal’fira’s shoulder. Chiel the micha shrieks with a loud ‘CHI-CHI-CHI!!!’ as though it sees a ghost. The creature looks similar to the micha except for two red little horns on its head, bat-like wings, and two fangs protruding from its mouth, typical devil’s attributes. Its eyes look evil – they are glowing red. Only its ears have the same shape as Chiel’s.
‘Ah, little micha, you never saw one of your anti-kinds before, didn’t you? Meet Ferre the luchi. Luchis are perfect anti-kinds for michas, so I think they will get along very well,’ says Zal’fira, Ferre’s master.
‘Is that all you brought with you, Zal’fira?’ says Chris. ‘Only a little devil mouse? I think you do underestimate us, but this is too much!’
‘Well you don’t know what it is really capable of, shrimp brain! And even if I overestimate you all, I can obliterate you all, including the dragon, all by myself!’
Zal’fira raises her Viper Cane as she reaches this point. The cane has a snake’s head on it, only it’s different from any common magic staff with a snake head on its top. The snake’s head looks very odd on that cane. It looks like a cross between a snake and a dragon, with five eyes on it, and it’s all jet-black as the cane is made entirely from a melted and re-hardened single opal gem.
‘But as insurance for my total victory, I also invite more friends to join the battle on my side. And here’s one of them! An Omegron Aschi!’