by Ace

The first inklings of radiant amber-gold splashed forth across the dusky horizon like a sliver of long confined joy, making the clouds ever pinker . . . A haunting melody spilled forth along with them, almost as though the sun himself was singing forth his triumph over the long, dark night. The darkness of Gaia's Navel in the cold grey mist of the night was slowly losing its power as the harmony of the exultant sun and wooden flute overflowed into the valleys and over the plains and shadowy forests beyond on that cold morning.

The black-cloaked figure playing the eerie song stood out, silhouetted against the kaleidoscopic luminescence of the dawn. She watched the divine sunrise finish, and as the last enchanting rays seeped over the hills, she whistled the final majestic crescendo, and its magnificence resonated throughout the glen, shattering the silence and piercing into the darkness.

The figure danced back down the forest path in silence. . .

The cave was silent, except for the perpetual dripping of the stalactites that covered most of the rock ceiling. Beams of light filtered into the darkness through tiny holes and cracks above me. A drop of water fell on my face, and slowly and painfully I sat up, pulling my sable cloak around me and trying to adjust my vision to the darkness. My body ached all over from sleeping on the cold, stone floor, and I couldn't remember where I was. Then the memories flooded back to me. The fight with my mother.

Sometimes I got up early to watch the sun rise, or stayed up a little late to watch it set. I had slept in a few times too many when my mom needed help with work, and last Monday had been the final straw. She had gotten angry at me and both of us said things we didn't mean. She called my sunrises foolish fantasies and said they didn't help to get the work done when I slept in. I decided to run away, bundled my clothes in my backpack and set off, not planning to return for at least a week. Thinking back on it now, I wondered why it never entered my mind to run away forever. As I thought about it, I quickly dismissed it as absurd. As if a thirteen-year-old could actually try to make a living alone.

What would I do? Work for a storekeeper? I just wanted wait a week until my mother and I both cooled down.

Now I see it was illogical for me to run away. There wasn't much for me to do, and I didn't have much money. Had I expected to have an adventure? I thought of going home, but I decided I would feel too silly. Besides, I was still too angry for that.

Suddenly I heard voices. Someone was in the right-hand cavern, the tunnel of Gaia's Navel that led to the Dwarf Village and the Underground Palace. I was in a small cave that used to open into the blacksmith's shop. The story goes that a dwarf blacksmith named Watts opened it for the Mana Knight and his friends during the Second Fortress War, but it had been closed when a tunnel ceiling collapsed after a big rainstorm a few years ago. Now it was just a small alcove.

I dressed as quickly as I could and left my belongings on the ground. I'd get them later. As an afterthought, I slipped on my ring. My ring had been in the family for generations, and now it was mine. It was magic, my grandmother had told me, and it had made me laugh. There was writing on it that I couldn't understand. It could have been Latin, one of the Ancient Languages. During the First Fortress War most people in the world had been wiped out except for a very small portion of North America who had hidden underground. English was the only language anyone knew now, not counting Matanese, the language of the mushrooms, or the dialect of the moogles.

Some time in the past, perhaps a thousand years ago (no one knows for sure) some people discovered Mana. They called it magic then, and anyone could use it to manipulate its power for their own use. Their civilization grew strong and they created the Mana Fortress: the ultimate weapon. They had become power-mad, and wanted to take on the world with their new-found 'magic.' But they had disrupted the balance of Mana. All the monsters they had created with Mana became the Mana Beast. But the beast has little control over its rage. A violent war rocked the world, and Mana seemed to disappear. Land broke up, and most of the continents became a large land mass.

But the Chosen Ones, the Protectors of Mana came before all was lost. A hero wielding the Mana Sword destroyed the fortress and sunk it to the bottom of the ocean. But it was too late, and the monsters created with the fortress stayed permanently. The women of the Mana Tribe became the Mana Tree, and created the Mana Seeds to seal Mana from outside influence. The Elementals of Mana keep the seeds safe. But if the seals were broken, Mana could be controlled, and the fortress would resurface . . .

The voices in the cavern were silent now. I crept, barefoot, through the icy, knee-deep water below my rock platform and under the waterfall towards the left cave. The tunnels were still now except for the endless dripping echoing all around. The voices had ceased. I moved inside like a lion stalking its prey with my hand on the hilt of my sword. I made my way up a rock stairway out of the water and onto higher ground, pausing for a moment to grimace as I saw a skull and shards of bone around it. As I was creeping through another tunnel I heard something. Pressing my back against the wall, I slowly walked towards the noises. I got to the edge and peeked around the corner.

Four kid goblins had cornered a boy about my age, perhaps older. He took a stick from the ground and prepared to use it like a spear. The goblins moved closer and the boy lunged at the nearest one. I moved closer and hid behind a rock, just in time to see the goblin swing his axe and break the end off of the boy's stick. But the boy suddenly kicked the axe out of the goblin's hand and hit him over the head with the rest of his stick. The kid goblin had obviously not anticipated the boy to be so aggressive. It collapsed on the ground and disintegrated into dust.

The boy whirled around to face the others. They weren't laughing anymore, but instead making horrible faces and growling. The kid goblins were very ugly, wearing stolen human clothes, all torn and ragged. One stepped up, a smile on his hideous, furry face. The boy swung his stick at the monster, but another--Kid Goblin Number Two--hurled a boomerang in his direction, and the boy suddenly cried out, dropped the stick, and clutched his hand.

The remaining three goblins laughed and it was then that I stepped out from behind the rock. I flung my boomerang hard at one of them, hitting him in the head and knocking him over. I caught it as it returned, then threw it again at another one who screamed in pain as it hit him in the shoulder.

"Yeah, you're not so brave now, are you? You can dish it out but you sure can't take it! Who's next?" I challenged.

The third kid goblin moved toward the boy, and I took up my boomerang once more. With him still to recover, Number One started walking over to me. I put my boomerang into my belt and unsheathed my sword. We traded blows, axe to sword. My sword was just as strong; his axe was obviously poorly made.

My sword was the sword of a Master Ninja, a katana that dated way back to the Second Fortress War. My father was very proud of it, and gave it to me a year ago, telling me not to use it until I was older. Well, I was older now, wasn't I? And I was using it with a vengeance.

I shoved the goblin's axe down with my sword and kicked him as hard as I could without losing my balance. He fell and turned to dust. Two left. I whirled again to face the one I had seen out of the corner of my eye sneaking behind me. I fought with him, and could tell by the clamour behind me that the boy had joined the fray again. I killed the goblin I was fighting and turned to see that the boy had finished the last of them off. Sheathing my sword, I walked over to him, searching for something cool to say, but all I could come up with was, "Well, hi."

His face broke into a grin, and he reached to take his red and black checkered pack from the dust of the earthen floor. He looked like he was about fifteen, and he had black hair and brown eyes.

"Thanks a lot," he said, still breathing a bit heavily from all the action. I was too. "I was having a bit of trouble. I guess you noticed. What were you doing here anyway?"

" I'm Jenzi from Pandora, I'm thirteen years old, and I'm running away." I stated. "You?"

"I'm Shylock from Kippo Village, I'm fifteen, and I'm camping out for fun," he said with a smile.

"Fun? Do your parents know?" I suddenly noticed a pile of firewood in the corner. That was where he must have gotten the stick from.

"Not exactly. They're on vacation in Northtown, where my grandparents live. I stayed behind. They're gone for five more days. So many possibilities. I've always wanted to camp out here."

"I love camping too . . . You said your name was Shylock?"

He nodded.

"That's a funny name."

"Well, there was this guy called Shakespeare who lived about two thousand years ago, before the Fortress Wars, and he wrote plays. Shylock was a character in one of them. My mom has strange taste. How about yours? What's

'Jenzi' supposed to mean?"

"Believe it or not, I'm a descendant of the Jenny from Pandora who fought alongside the Mana Knight in the Second Fortress War. My name's Jenny, after her, but my dad called me 'Jenzi' when I was a toddler. So there you have it." I smiled at him. It was cool to be related to a hero of the past.

We were walking out of the cave now, and, after getting my few possessions from the right cavern, we were off. We ducked under the waterfall and out of Gaia's Navel. The sun felt wonderful on my skin and I had to squint to become accustomed to the daylight again. When we passed the pool of frigid water at the bottom, I could finally put on my leather shoes. A couple of buzz bees noticed us coming out and flew toward us. I handed my boomerang to Shylock and asked him if he knew how to use one.

He shrugged. "I'll give it a fling."

"That's the idea," I laughed, and pulled out my katana.

Shylock turned out to be pretty good with the boomerang, and swore he'd never used one before. I was impressed. It usually took a while for a beginner to get the hang of it, but he caught it on the second try.

While fighting off buzz bees and other various monsters, we decided to go on a vacation ourselves. The note I'd left for my mom told her not to worry, that I'd be back in a week or so just to have a break from each other. And Shylock wasn't due home for awhile, so what the heck, we'd go exploring or something. Have an adventure. There was a long trail beside Potos village that would take us to the Upperland. And I had another mission. I wanted to get to Tasnica and find my dad. Tasnica and Pandora were allied kingdoms. Six months ago my father had been recruited to Tasnica to help get rid of an enemy army. But it takes a really long time to get into Tasnica. My father had been on a ship with many more Pandoran soldiers, and I haven't seen or heard from him since. The argument my mother and I had before I left yesterday could have been because of frayed nerves. We both worried about him sometimes, my mother more than I.

The route was long, and the first clearing we came to we had breakfast. Shylock had the insight to pack food for his little camp-out in Gaia's Navel, but it wasn't in his original plan to cater to two people. Nevertheless, we dug in with enthusiasm, and when we had finished and packed up again, we began the trail with renewed vigour. We talked a lot to pass the time, and got to know each other a little better. The more I spoke to Shylock, the more I liked him. I was glad to have a partner on this venture.

We finally reached the threshold of the Great Forest, and soon surfaced in the winter woods. The weather suddenly changed drastically, and I found myself shivering. It was freezing. There were two frozen ponds in the middle of the small recess, snow on the ground and a harsh wind. We quickly ran down the path and passed six stone pillars with faces imprinted on them. They looked like lions to me.

Suddenly the foliage changed. The trees were no longer bare and snow-covered, but had brown, autumn leaves on them and the forest floor crunched when we walked on them. There were owls that dived out of the sky at us, and we left those woods in a hurry. When we passed four more carved pillars the leaves on the great oaks and elms turned green.

"Summer woods. The moogle village is around here somewhere." Shylock noted.

We fought off a few fierce silktail rabbits and were about to enter the village when I heard someone yelling. I ran towards the noise with my friend right behind me. There was a hurt moogle fighting off a silktail. The silktails were a lot harder to kill than the kid goblins, but my weapons proved sturdy and while Shylock thrashed at the bunny with my sword, I picked up the poor little moogle.

He was kind of like a fuzzy, pinkish-tan bear with a pink, round, koala-like nose, and little blue bat-like wings and an antennae with a little yellow ball on the end. I've always wondered what that little antennae is for, but it was clearly not the time to ask. The poor little guy was howling.

"Shh, shh, it's okay." I picked him up, noticing he had the makings of a good black eye. His wailing subsided to sniffling. "What's your name?"

"Kapok." he said, beginning to calm down. I saw Shylock finish up the silktail. It vaporized in a burst of rainbow colours.

"I'm Jenzi, and you're going to be okay." I set him down and held his hand, and the three of us entered the moogle village. It was a clearing in the trees, and the entrance had two pillars on each side. I wondered if the pillars were to keep the monsters away, because there sure weren't any inside.

Inside the village there were many moogles running about, most of them little ones like Kapok.

"Kumama!" he shouted, and ran towards another, bigger moogle with pink wings. They embraced. Shylock and I looked around. There were flowers and baskets of vegetables, and clay pots on the ground. Large rocks were set in circles on the ground to show each moogle's personal space, with a small space between two rocks as a doorway.

We had a lunch of vegetables in the moogle village. The moogles were delighted to feed us, after we had saved poor Kapok from the vicious silktail. Silktails look like harmless little bunny rabbits, but that's before you see how many sharp, pointy teeth they have.

After asking the village elder, Kupan (the only English-speaking moogle there), which direction Matango was in, Shylock and I left.

"Goodbye!" I called to Kapok, who watched us depart.

"Kupo!" he responded, and turned back to his mother.

We walked past four more rock columns and entered the spring woods. The trees were always in full bloom here. Some say the way the trees always have set seasons is a strange side-effect of the Wind Seed. The Wind Palace's entrance is just north of the spring woods, and each Mana Seed has an energy field that guards the land around it.

We mostly just ran away from the monsters. It was a lot easier than killing them, and I didn't want to get hurt. Once I heard a rustling behind us and I turned and saw a young sprite girl with long green braids peering down at us from the branches of a great oak.

On the way, I told Shylock about wanting to locate my father, and he agreed to help me.

"But how are we going to get to Tasnica? It's only accessible by ship, and where do you expect to get one?" he asked.

"I don't." I knew the plan was far-fetched, but I decided to give it a go. Matango wasn't very far away, anyway.

Matango, the land of the mushrooms.

Shylock watched me, waiting for an answer.

"The Flammie Drum is kept in Matango, right?" The Mana Knight of the Second Fortress War had used the drum to call Flammie, the white dragon he and his friends had rescued from a great serpent. The drum had been Flammie's favourite plaything, and some say that white dragons still answer to it.

Shylock looked at me with scepticism. "I seriously doubt that just any white dragon would come to it. The War was a long time ago. White dragons don't live that long."

"I know. But maybe one of Flammie's children? . . . There's always a chance, no matter how small."

He looked at me, then finally he said, "You're a nut, Jenzi. But if you really want to try, I'm not going to miss out on a chance to see a white dragon."

"Okay," I said. We passed some more pillars, walked out of the spring woods and into another part of the Great Forest. "I know what a lot of monsters look like, but what are those?" I pointed to a green, evil-looking slug.

Shylock took a deep breath. "Those are crawlers," he said, looking at me seriously, "and if we want to reach Matango unscratched and unscathed, I would strongly suggest we evade them as best we can. Poison." He smiled, but looked a little paler than usual.

"That bad, huh?" The slimy crawlers couldn't reach us because there were rocks in the way. They didn't think of simply going around the rocks. Stupid but lethal, if Shylock didn't miss his mark.

"Alright, give me the sword. We know you're faster than me from seeing you with those kid goblins, so you'll have a better chance weaponless than I. A shame the boomerang is long-range."

I handed him my katana. "Let's split up. They can't all chase both of us. On the count of three: one . . . two . . . three!"

We zigged and zagged away from the menacing crawlers. Shylock was doing well, but I knew I had no defence, so I ran like the wind. I soon out-distanced Shylock and the advancing crawlers, but they were everywhere. More came out of the bushes in front of me, and I had to jump to avoid them. I was running out of breath. It was like a real-life game of Octopus, with the crawlers as the seaweed people the players had to dodge. But Octopus always ends the same way; all the players are caught. As I tried to leap over a crawler and miss a tree, the spikes on the crawler's back grazed my ankle. I gasped and looked down as I ran. Blood trickled from the wound onto my shoe. I stepped behind a pile of rocks and a tree, where the crawler couldn't reach me. After it left and I began to yell my friend's name.

Shylock emerged from around a corner.

"What? Did they get you too?" He was panting.

"Yeah." I looked, and sure enough, there was blood on Shylock's leg, too. But we'd gotten past the crawlers. "When did they get you?"

"Fairly early on. Thanks for the sword." He handed it to me, and I sheathed it. It was clean. Shylock apparently hadn't used it much.

We began to jog towards the cave that would lead us to Matango. Suddenly Shylock tripped and fell. I reached out to grab him, but missed.

"You okay?" He didn't answer. He stayed on his hands and knees for a minute, then slowly rose to his feet. He was still breathing hard.

"Jen, you're going to have to help me; I can't walk straight and I'm seeing double."

I put my arm around him and he held onto me as I guided him. I felt kind of strange, putting my arm around a guy. But soon I just plain felt strange. My ankle felt tingly and it was still bleeding. It should have clotted by now. It was only a prick, I thought, and realized the poison was spreading.

"C'mon, Shylock, let's walk faster."

We reached the tunnel but the shortcut was obstructed by rocks. We would have to take the long way.

A couple of times we tripped in the darkness, but the third, Shylock didn't get up.

"Come on, Shylock, we gotta go," I said groggily. I felt dazed and weak. "Come on!" I suddenly realized he had passed out, and this shook me a little more awake. "Shylock!" I shouted, and tried to lift him up. He was too heavy, and I knew dragging him would only waste my time. I half stumbled, half ran through the passage. I knew somewhere in the back of my head that I had to get to Matango. I staggered out of the cave and saw a very blurry shape. A mushroom?

"M-my friend--in c-cave--" My words we stuttered and slurred, but I heard the shape say, "Hey! Get some help over here!" Hearing this bit of assurance, I peacefully blacked out.

When I came to I was in a bed. I felt hot and pushed the blankets off. Immediately I felt better. No fever. I looked around the room. I seemed to be in a large grass hut. I saw Shylock asleep in the bed beside me. I hope he's okay, I thought.

I got out of bed and taking one last look at my sleeping companion, I walked out the door.

"Oh, nice to see that you're up! How do you feel?" a mushroom in the kitchen asked. He put down the towel he was using to dry dishes with, and walked into the bedroom with me.

"I feel fine." I suddenly noticed my clothes were wrinkled. "How long did I sleep?"

"A day and a half, but some of that was due to the herbs out doctor gave you. Sleep is essential to the healing process. We had to give you and your friend here a lot of medical herbs. I do hope you feel better. I'm Toadstool, by the way."

"Oh, I do, thank you so much," I said, remembering my manners. "Oh, I'm Jenzi, and he's Shylock."

Just then Shylock groaned and opened his eyes.

He squinted at me, and said "Jen? Where are we? And did you see who threw a rock at my head?" He slowly sat up.

"That bad, huh?" I said sympathetically. "You'll be okay, just rest a little more."

"Here, I'll get you some herbs," Toadstool said, and zipped back into the kitchen.

"When did I black out?"

"When we were in the cave. We had to take the long way because the shortcut was blocked. When you conked out, I ran and found help." I explained.

"That's twice you've saved my life. I guess I owe you, Jen." He smiled weakly.

"Geez, you don't know that for sure." I started to turn pink. "Someone could have found us. And the crawlers would have gotten me anyway, if you weren't with me. You told me how dangerous they were."

"Ah, there we are," Toadstool said as he walked in and brought that uncomfortable conversation to an end. "Some anti-poison herbs." He gave my some radish-like vegetables, and I put them in my pack. "Your headache shouldn't last too long. Why don't you two look around?" He left again, and brought back my katana.

Shylock slowly got out of bed, and clutched the side of it for a moment after he got up. "My head's still spinning."

I suddenly remembered my wound, and looked down to find it had healed up nicely, with just a scab left.

"Do you need any help?" I asked awkwardly.

"No, I'm okay." He blushed furiously. "I don't need help."

"Okay, let's explore."

"So that's why we need the drum." Shylock finished telling our story to the mushroom king, Truffle IV.

He seemed to be deep in thought. Finally he said, "Your story is too original to be a fake. Yes, you may borrow the Flammie Drum. I'm letting you because you" he looked at me, " are a descendent of Jenny the Mana Warrior. And because this sounds like so much fun!" He smiled happily. "I love adventures!" He ran off into another part of the big grass hut-castle.

I looked at Shylock in disbelief. He shrugged. "All of the royal Truffle line is eccentric," was all he said.

The mushroom soon returned with the drum and handed it to me. It was a hollow piece of wood with leather stretched over the ends, a handle protruding from one end, and two little wooden beads on leather straps hung out. Very dusty, but otherwise in mint condition.

"Thanks a lot! We'll bring it back, I promise!" Shylock and I left the hut.

"Gontma!" He called in farewell.

Shylock and I ran to a clearing just north of the village.

"Okay!" I said happily. "I hope this works."

I couldn't believe it! The chance to meet a white dragon!

"It might not work, don't get your hopes up."

I shook the drum, and the wooden beads bounced off the leather. It sounded just like a real drum, though it really wasn't. It was a child's toy. Flammie had been raised with Truffle, and she had loved to hear it play. The Mana Knight had used it to call her. Now, maybe one of her children would recognize it . . .

I shook it and shook it, but nothing happened. After a while, I sadly gave up. Maybe the white dragons had died out. They were almost extinct.

"Well, it was worth a try." I suddenly felt depressed. "Come on, Shylock. Let's go back. We'll stay in Matango tonight, and turn back tomorrow."

"Okay." He looked hesitantly at me, but didn't say anything. Disappointed, we started back.

That night I took off my ring in bed and studied it by the candle on the nightstand. The stone was a hazy white. I wondered what was so special about it. I turned it over and read aloud the words engraved in the silver: AQUA-TELLUS-VENTUS-INCENDIUM-LUX-CALIGATIO-LUNA-ARBOR

Luna . . . Where have I heard that before? . . Luna is one of the Elementals, the Elemental of the moon. Does that mean anything? I pondered that for a while, then blew out the candle and went to sleep.

I shot upright in bed and looked around. Something had woken me up. I listened hard, but heard nothing. I slowly settled back down again when --


I was out of bed in a second, grabbed my pack and weapons, and ran out of the hut into the night. A dark shape was flapping its wings, and by the light of the moon I made out --

"A white dragon!" Shylock marvelled. "Holy cow, Jenzi, a white dragon!"

I nodded in stunned silence and watched as the magnificent beast descended. Mushrooms with lanterns were coming out of their grass huts, gasping in awe.

"Breeeeeeeeee!" the dragon whistled. I walked up to it. It was almost as big as a tree, but not quite. I supposed it was only a baby. What was the word for that? Dragonlet? Dracling? Who cared?

I ran my hand over her silky fur. White dragons have fur and feathers, and that's what separates them from normal, scaly, fire-breathing ones. That and their two sets of feathered wings.

"Go ahead!" Truffle said from the door of his hut. "Go and ride it!"

Shylock glanced hesitantly at her, and walked up. The dragon knelt and we climbed onto her back. Holding tightly onto her thick fur, we braced ourselves. But the dragon ascended gracefully, light as a feather. I laughed at my fears as we soared higher and higher. The towering mountains beside Matango looked awesome and mysterious in the hazy moonlight. I could see the vast sands of the Kakkara desert, and the Lofty Mountains. The shadowy light made it all look magical. She hovered high in the air. Her ivory wings faded into blue at the tips and she had a shock of long amber-gold fur on her head.

"Isn't this awesome?" I whispered to Shylock.

He nodded, evidently at a loss for words.

The dragon whistled.

"I'll call you . . . Twilight." The name seemed just right. "Take us to Tasnica, please." Twilight whistled, and started to fly to the south-west, towards the Lofty Mountains and Mandala. We passed it, and I could just barely see the ring of sleeping villages that was my home land. Pandora was among them, somewhere . . . They drifted out of sight as we flew over the mountain ranges, and finally back over forest. I could see the sun peeking over the edge of the world.

"This is so cool!" Shylock said. "Thanks a lot, Jen!" His eyes were sparkling. Mine probably were too, and I was grinning so hard it almost hurt.

We slapped fives, carefully holding onto Twilight all the time. Tasnica was in the distance now, and as the sun rose, swifter than it ever had, my heart was beating its own set of wings.

Twilight glided down slowly, circling over the grand castle of Tasnica. We landed gently beside the dock where the ships come in.

"Thank you," I said softly, "and goodbye. I'll call you later when we need to go back. Is that okay?" Shylock and I slid off Twilight's back.

The dragon whistled a low whistle, and I took it as a yes.

"Come when I whistle, I don't have the drum anymore."

"Goodbye, Twilight, and thanks for everything. Take care!" Shylock waved as the majestic creature took wing, and uttering one last call, soared off into the rising dawn.

Shylock and I smiled at each other in the new light, and I thought of the flute in my backpack. This was the right time, but not with him around. I couldn't.

"Well, let's get going," Shylock said.

I unstrapped my pack and weapons from my back, and tied the belt and sword around my waist again. Slinging my pack over my shoulder, we went up to the massive double-doors of the castle.

My friend picked up one of the large brass door knockers and knocked loudly. The doors opened a minute later, by armed guards. Suddenly spears were thrust at Shylock and me, and I hastily said, "I'm Jenzi, this is Shylock. We're here to see my dad!"

"Liars and spies of the Empire! Come quietly or else!"

I was much too afraid to ask what they were going to do, so Shylock and I just went inside. We were led to the king's room with spears pointed at our backs, and I wondered what kind of trouble Tasnica was really in to be this cautious.

When we got up to the king, it was Shylock who spoke.

"My friend Jenzi and I are looking for David of Pandora. I'm Shylock of Kippo, and this is Jenzi of Pandora, his daughter." He sounded confident that we wouldn't get in serious trouble.

"How did you get here?" The king asked suspiciously.

Shylock and I looked at each other uneasily, and finally he replied, "You wouldn't believe us if we told you."

"Try me."

"White dragon?"

"You're right. I don't believe you." He spoke to the guards. "Take them away until they're ready to talk."

"Wait! Just let me see my dad!" I said desperately.

The guards waited. The king told them, "Get David of Pandora over here. He'll testify whether they're spies or not, but if not, they're definitely insane."

My father showed up after a very uncomfortable while. I shouldn't have worried.

"Jenzi!" He cried, and we embraced. "How did you get here? Who's that?"

"Well, Dad, that's Shylock, and we came here by white dragon," I said nonchalantly as we detached from each other.

He looked at me doubtfully. "What's the punch line?"

"No joke. I'm serious."

Shylock nodded. "Sometimes the truth is harder to accept than any lie. And crazy as it sounds, it's one hundred percent real."

"If I still had the Flammie Drum, I'd show it to you. Dad, here's how it went . . ." Shylock and I began to tell our story once again. When we were finished, they said just about the same thing as Truffle, that our story was too preposterous to be false.

". . . And the reason Tasnica is so heavily guarded is that the rebels of the Empire are attacking again. They think that if they gain control of Tasnica they can slowly take control of Pandora, and then conquer the surrounding lands. I'm here to help, but we're trying to get the situation under control before anyone else gets too alarmed," Dad explained.

"Maybe we can help. You know I'm not all that bad of a fighter. You taught me yourself."

"It's too dangerous, Jenzi."

"And speaking of danger . . . !" Shylock said as we heard a crash from outside the castle walls. A guard ran in.

"I have orders from the commander to attack! The Empire has come!" He ran into another chamber.

Shylock and I glanced at each other, and ran towards the doors.

Outside, a battle raged. Swords were clashing, and the knights of the Empire were slowly forcing the Tasnican troops back.

"Shylock, you go back and find a sword! I'm goin' in!"

He nodded and ran back inside.

I was about to go and battle when the Imperial commander shouted something and a huge clang came from the forest beyond. To our surprise, the Imperial troops scattered, but we found out the reason soon enough. A Metal Mantis emerged from the shelter of the forest and came towards us!

The troops fought bravely against the beast, but soon the outcome was obvious. It was a lost cause. Realizing this, the commander ordered the troops to retreat and regroup. I didn't. I had come too far to see the kingdom over taken by the Empire. I decided to go out and do the best I could, for my dad. I had mostly stayed back and watched its battle tactics. Now I went in.

I carefully approached the great insect. It stood on two claws and was covered with metal armor. Its two forearms had scythe-like ends. I wondered how the Empire had actually managed to find and capture one. But I knew what I was doing.

The Mantis made the first move. It jumped into the air, attempting to land on me. I neatly side-stepped it and slashed it. Sickening green blood spurted all over my clothes from its shoulder, and it angrily struck out at me. I blocked with my sword, and suddenly the beast gave a cry of outrage. Shylock had gotten him from behind.

We would almost have the advantage we were such a team, but two against one isn't great odds if the one is as strong as this.

It reached for Shylock, but I stabbed it. It swung and hit me, but only with the flat of its scythe-like arm. I skidded across the ground, flat on my back. My clothes were ripped a bit, but I was unharmed and quickly rebounded.

The Tasnican troops waited a few metres back, unsure of what to do.

Shylock fought bravely, and suddenly my dad joined the fray. We all slashed at it, and it went mad with our attacks. It lashed out and knocked all of us over.

The air around us suddenly tingled with magic. I gasped as transparent crystals suddenly materialised around us, and rose into the air.

I held up my sword and miraculously, the crystals shattered against it. Shylock, however, was obviously in pain, and my father was unconscious. "Shylock! Dad!" It was a spell. It didn't appear to have done any permanent damage.

Now I had endangered all three of us! Had I been mad to challenge the Metal Mantis?

I heard jeering from the shadows of the forest.

I wondered what had made me do such a rash thing in the first place. Something inside me had felt so confidant. I reached for that inner strength, and traded blows with the Mantis when it came towards me. I did well for a while, slashing and blocking, slashing and blocking, then I was knocked off guard again.

He came up to me, and I shakily stood up. I felt the tingle in the air again, but in that moment before the spell was fully formed, I looked at the Metal Mantis Ant, and held up my hand. The usually dull opaque colour of the jewel on the ring was full of sharp, swirling, angry rainbow colours, and I cried out a word I had seen engraved on the inside of my ring.


My hand tingled, and a warmth spread through my body like wildfire and burst out of the palm of my hand. A beam of pure light shot straight at the Mantis and it exploded in red dust. When I was done coughing, I just stood there. The black afterimage of the bolt was still bouncing around in front of my vision. All I could think was, I finally found the magic in the ring. Grandma said I was the one, always daydreaming, and watching sunrises . . . the words engraved on the inside are spells! Lux is Lumina! I took off the ring, and studied the words: AQUA-TELLUS-VENTUS-INCENDIUM-LUX-CALIGATIO-LUNA-ARBOR

So lux meant light in Latin, and meant Lumina's magic. The others would stand for different Elementals! Lumina was the guardian of the Seed of Light.

I noticed the Imperial troops had retreated, hopefully for good. The Tasnican army came over, and helped my wounded father and Shylock up. They all thanked me, but my mind was still incredulous, and I wondered if it would ever stop whirling.

"I still can't believe you did all that!" My mom gushed.

"I know!" I said enthusiastically.

We were back at my house, a day later. I had called Twilight with a blast on my flute, and Shylock, Dad, and I were back home.

Dad was back to health, and Shylock had come over to help with the telling of our story. Though we'd only been friends for a few days, it felt as though I'd known him forever. We were best friends.

Everything was almost back to normal. The ring faintly swirled rainbow colours now. I had revived the magic within. We had learned the true story of the ring from Grandma. Jenny had somehow focused her powers into the ring before she died so that her descendants could protect Mana with them. But it turned out that the ring didn't work for anyone. It stayed in the family anyway, just as an heirloom. But I had been able to somehow awaken its magic.

Jenny and the sprite child, the companions of the Mana Knight, had been given the gift of magic from the Elementals of Mana to help them on their journey, my grandmother told us. She somehow locked the Elementals' gifts to them inside the ring.

"Well, I'll see you guys later!" Shylock said, and opened the door to go back to Kippo.

"Wait! I'll walk with you!" I ran and walked out the door, but I didn't miss the wink Mom gave to Dad. Yup, this was going to be the beginning of a very cool, very exciting friendship.

The End.

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