Tony's breath came in short gasps, panting so heavily he could hardly breathe. But then, that is what happens when you run the way he was. "Get away!" he cried, glancing back behind him. An eerie black mist floated after him. The forest was so dark he could barely see it, but he knew it was there. Tony ran as fast as he could, but the mist followed his every move. Tony knew he couldn't keep this up forever, and he was getting tired. To make matters worse, the ground was like an obstacle course. Vines and logs littered the ground, and the roots of the trees stuck out of the ground in quite a few places. Eventually the forest got the best of the little sprite, as one of his oversized feet caught a root that was arching up from the forest floor. He rolled over and ended up on his back, staring up at the strange fog. It slowly moved toward him. He stared up at it in terror, and his voice shook as he spoke. "No... no..." And he cried out as the mist enveloped him, "No!!!!!"
And then Justin woke up. There he was, sitting up in bed, dripping with sweat. "Another one," he said to himself. Why did he keep having these nightmares about Tony? And why did they scare him to death?! I'm the Mana Knight, he thought to himself. I'm supposed to be a brave warrior, but here I am sweating my brains out over a dream! What the heck is wrong with me?!
Perhaps he felt that what happened to Tony was his fault. But what had to be done had to be done, and Tony knew the consequences of challenging the Mana Beast. And he was willing to make that sacrifice, too. But Justin's nightmares had only started a few days ago, and if it was from guilt for Tony's leaving this world, he would have been having dreams ever since the Mana Beast's destruction, which was many months ago. But Justin had been feeling that something terrible had happened to Tony ever since the dreams began. Maybe he needed something to distract him... but he would think about that in the morning.
A dark figure stood outside a huge concrete fortress. The sky was as black as a panther's fur, and not a star shone in the sky. "Is everything ready?" he said.
"Almost, sir," said someone else. "They're bringing in the last one."
"Good." Two more individuals walked up with a small, red-haired sprite. "Hello, Tony," said the man in who was apparently in charge.
Tony stared at him with disgust. "I know what you're up to," he said. "Trust me, it won't work."
"We'll just see about that. Hook him up!" As the men escorting Tony came to take him away, the enraged sprite launched a spray of spit straight into the face of the person he was speaking with. The figure drew back in surprise, as one of his soldiers came up and hit Tony in the face with the blunt end of a spear. The leader's eyes glowed a bright violet in his rage. "You will regret that!" he hissed as the soldiers took Tony away.
The two soldiers took Tony to a strange device that looked much like a giant test tube sliced down the middle, with two small claw-like structures inside of it. Above it was a small mirror. They clasped the two claws around Tony's wrists, and put some sort of device around his head. Tony could see a lot of those machines, each one with another sprite inside. "Everything's ready, sir," said a soldier.
The lead man walked over to a console and pushed a couple of buttons. A metal panel on the ground slid open, and a huge machine looking very similar to a radar dish came out of it. The man pressed another key. One by one, the sprites started to glow a bright green. Then, as if on cue, a beam of green light shot up from each sprite, bounced off the mirrors above, and headed straight for the "radar dish" - every sprite but Tony, that is. Then the dish itself began to glow. It seemed as if everyone was holding their breath in anxiety. And then the glowing stopped. No explosion, no short-circuit, just stopped. Tony smiled.
"What happened?!" shouted the lead man.
One of his men walked over to the machine and looked at a monitor. "What the... " he said, dumbfounded. "Insufficient Mana?"
The leader ran over and stared at the blinking message.
"I told you it wouldn't work!" shouted Tony.
The leader slowly turned toward him. "You knew."
With a huge grin on his face, Tony began to explain. "I knew it would fail because I defeated the Mana Beast. Not an easy task, I assure you. Really takes the Mana out of you." He pointed at the silent machine. "With me out of Mana, that thing is useless." He was really enjoying this moment.
One of the guards stepped under a light. Tony thought he looked very similar to the Wolf Lords he had battled in the Mana Fortress. The difference was the color of his skin - instead of pale blue, it was a deep red. "You shut up!" he said.
"He's right, you know," the leader said. "Put them back in their cells!" On their leader's command, the werewolf-like soldiers began taking the sprites out of the machines. Meanwhile the leader called one of his men over. This one was wearing a black uniform, and was obviously of high rank. The two of them went inside.
"So what do we do now?" inquired the officer.
"We need more Mana."
"But sir, every sprite in existence is in our custody! How are we supposed to get more Mana?!"
"I have a plan - a way we could have more Mana than you could ever imagine. And it only requires one sprite. One very special sprite."
"It's mine!" Justin shouted. He ran backward, staring up at a rubber sphere about the size of a basketball. As it fell toward the earth, he dove into the ground, and smacked it back up into the air with his fist.
"Nice one!" exclaimed Timothy. The Mana Knight was engaged in a game similar to volleyball with his two foster brothers, Elliot and Timothy. Justin always did enjoy playing with them, even if they were naughty sometimes. Besides, if he had never gone into the woods with them behind the Elder's back, he never would have found the Mana Sword, and the world would have belonged to the Empire. So perhaps their waywardness was a blessing.
"Yeah, but see if you can get this one!" Elliot said, punching the ball so it flew directly at Justin's legs. Justin stumbled backwards, and accidentally kicked the ball high into the air. The three of them could only watch as the ball floated through the air, over the trees on the eastern side of town, and into the forest. "Aw, man!" pouted Elliot.
"That's okay," said Justin, "I'll get it." And he walked off into the woods.
"This Mana Knight thing has really changed him," said the bewildered Elliot.
"No, really?" Timothy shouted in an extremely sarcastic voice.
Tony sat inside his cell, feeling lonely and useless. The cell wasn't so bad - a small room, half of which was behind metal bars, with some straw or hay on the floor. But that was not his concern. He may have foiled his captor's plans today, but that wouldn't last. He knew they'd come up with some way to replenish his Mana, and then all his efforts would be in vain. If only Justin were here.
Just then he noticed two figures standing just beyond the doorway. More of those werewolf guys, probably. "How much more Mana do we need?" one said.
"Just from that one." They must have meant Tony.
"Well, what can we do with the Mana we already have?"
"Well, we don't have enough to open a portal. We do have enough to send a message to the other side, but we no longer have any allies there." When Tony heard that, his heart skipped a beat.
"So it's worthless."
"Oh, well. You hungry?"
"Oh, yeah, you bet!" The two of them walked away.
Tony thought about what they had said. If he could somehow get a message to Justin, maybe he could come and break him out, along with the other sprites. All he had to do was get out of his cell.
Then he saw it - the ring of keys sitting on the chair of the guard who normally kept an eye on him. If he could reach it, he'd be able to contact Justin in no time! He stretched his arm between the bars, groping for the small tool. He worried that he might not be able to reach it, but he found it quite easy to get hold of. He searched through the many keys, until he finally found the one that unlocked his cell door. Those soldiers aren't too bright, he thought to himself. Before he had a chance to do anything, he noticed a piece of paper hanging among the keys. "1, 2, 4, 3" was written on it. He wondered what that was for. Later - he had to get to that dish.
When he stepped out of the room - much to his surprise - he found the "dish" sitting in the gigantic foyer of the fortress. With its huge twin marble staircases heading up to a main room above, it was quite majestic. But even this huge room was completely empty! This was almost too easy. But who cared?! This was a good thing!
Tony sat down in front of the console mounted on the base of the dish. Not knowing what to do, he pressed a switch marked "On". The machine came on with a quiet hum. Next he pressed a button that said "Communicate". The machine's monitor came up with a blinking message.
MANA BANKS NOT CHARGED
Then Tony noticed a button bearing the word "Charge". He tried it. After a few seconds, the machine began glowing as before, and hummed very loudly for a few seconds. Tony hoped nobody heard that. He pushed the "Communicate" button again. A message flashed.
Enter your password:
What was the password? Then he remembered the paper with the numbers on it. "1243", he typed. A tiny green light on the front of the monitor turned on.
Transmission commencing; begin speaking now
Justin stumbled through the woods, trying to find the lost ball. "Where is that thing," he said to himself. He was now deep in the forest, where nobody else was allowed to go. The Elder had declared that only the Mana Knight would be allowed to enter the clearing at the north end of the forest, where the Mana Sword was laid to rest. And that was where Justin was. It was a good thing he had offered to go get this ball, or they'd never find it! "There you are!" he exclaimed. The ball was resting on the riverbank. He couldn't believe he had kicked it that far! "Maybe I should take up a different sport," he said to himself as he picked it up. "Oh, well. I guess I should hurry up and get back."
Just then he heard a tinny voice. "Justin?" The bewildered Mana Knight jerked his head up with a startle, but he could see no one. He thought he was losing his mind - until he heard it again. "I don't know if you're there, but if you are, please listen to me." Then he saw it - a translucent figure standing in front of the Mana Sword. He couldn't believe his eyes. It was Tony! He was alive! Then he realized that it wasn't Tony, but an image of him. Maybe he was sending him a message. The image continued to speak. "I am in the Underworld, along with the other sprites. Get the Mana Sword, and anybody who can help you. You need to rescue us, or-" And then it was gone.
"He's alive!" Justin said to himself. "And he found the other sprites! But now he needs my help." He looked up at the sky. "Tony, you know I'll do whatever it takes to get you back." He slowly walked toward the Mana Sword, and grasped it with one hand. "May the citizens of Potos forgive me." And in a brilliant flash of light, he slowly removed the sword from its rock in the middle of the stream.