Later that day, Justin and Joseph left Depretha, which was now a rebellious town full of spirit - not the depressed group of bums that greeted Justin when he arrived the day before.
It turned out that Cannon Travel existed here in the Underworld, too, and Joseph said that the nearest Cannon Travel Center was in a town called Unarrix. Unarrix was on the same path that Justin took to get to Depretha, only in the opposite direction. From there they would be able to get themselves to Thanatos' headquarters, which was to the southwest - if they were lucky. The Red Wolves would surely be after them now - especially if the two surviving soldiers described Justin to Thanatos. His hair would be a dead giveaway to his identity as the Mana Knight (even Joseph didn't know who Justin was yet).
Along the way, Justin and Joseph talked about the next step in their mission. "So what's Unarrix like?" asked Justin.
"Well, it's definitely bigger than Depretha, but still not very big. And Thanatos' men will be there - waiting for me."
"Unarrix has the only Cannon Travel Center on the continent. As long as they have it guarded, they think I'm stuck here. They're a tricky lot, but not as tricky as me."
"And just how are we supposed to get by?"
Before Joseph could answer that, three Red Wolf soldiers jumped down from the trees. "Well look what we have here - two little renegades takinŽ a walk in the woods," said one.
"Let's take `em," declared Justin, who quickly rolled under an oncoming spear and kicked its wielder's legs out from under him. Joseph jumped over the fallen soldier, and hit the next one in line with a flying kick to the face. Meanwhile, Justin tried to take the first soldier's spear. But the wolf's grasp was too strong, so Justin rolled backward and threw him and the spear into a tree. As Justin turned, he saw the last soldier hit Joseph in the back - hard. A dagger - the same one that almost killed Justin when he first crossed Joseph's path - flew out of Joseph's pocket. It landed at Justin's feet and he picked it up. Suddenly Joseph was in a headlock. Justin suddenly felt filled with strength, and he threw the dagger right at the soldier, who looked up just as the blade flew into his face. It was not a pretty sight, and I'd rather not describe it.
Joseph sighed with relief. "That was close." But victory was not on Justin's mind. He was thinking about Joseph's dagger. Something about it had made him stronger, but what? Then again, it may have just been his adrenaline, so he ignored it. Right now, they had to get to Unarrix - and fast. There would surely be more soldiers after them.
Or maybe not. Unarrix looked deserted when they arrived. "I thought you said Unarrix was full of soldiers?" said Justin.
"I thought it was," replied Joseph, who was quite surprised that not a single person was in town - or if they were, they were all inside, which is also very strange.
"Maybe the three soldiers we fought back there were the only ones around," suggested Justin.
"Maybe... but that was too easy. It's gotta be a trap."
"Well if it is, let's hurry up and get airborne!"
The two of them found the Cannon Travel Center, and asked to go to Thanatos' home base. As strange as the request was, the owner agreed to it. So Justin and Joseph got into the cannon. Everything had gone as expected - until the cannon started turning. The cannon could turn so it could aim at different places. But when the cannon began to turn, Joseph knew something was wrong. It was turning too much! Joseph tried to say something, but the fuse was already gone, and the two of them were thrown high into the air.
On the ground, a Red Wolf officer walked up to the Cannon Travel man. "Well done," he said, putting his arm around the man's shoulder. But stranger yet was the officer's hand - it was made of metal! A metal hand to replace the one Justin had cut off. This was the same officer from Depretha. He took out a communicator (like a walkie-talkie) and pressed a button on it. "Come in Pular - this is The Iron Claw. They should be coming down any moment now."
Justin landed smack on his stomach. It hurt a little, but that didn't matter. He and Joseph should be right on Thanatos' front doorstep. But when he looked up, all he saw was sand stretching out for miles and miles. He turned to Joseph, who was standing behind him. "This isn't Thanatos' headquarters, is it."
"Do you know where we are?"
Joseph looked around. "I'd say... the desert."
Justin almost laughed. "You're a lot of help."
Now Joseph was trying not to laugh. "Seriously though, I'd say we're smack in the middle of the desert." He thought to himself for a moment. "Wait a minute - that means Pular must be nearby!"
That reminded Justin of something one of the Red Wolves had said. "Yeah, by the way, where's Pular?"
Joseph gave him another one of those "you're stupid" looks. "It's here in the desert."
"No, I mean 'what is it'?"
"Oh! Pular's a large Red Wolf military base. There might even be more soldiers there than at Thanatos' castle!"
Justin rolled his eyes. "Great." He looked up. There was actually some sunlight here, but it was setting fast. "Well, at least we won't fry out here - the sun's going down."
Joseph gave him a concerned look. "Have you ever been in a desert at night?"
"Well, I hope you brought a coat."
"What do you mean 'they never showed up'?!" The metal-handed Red Wolf officer shouted into his communicator.
"I mean they never got here. You sure you got the right coordinates, Iron Claw?"
The officer - or Iron Claw - walked over to the cannon Justin and Joseph had been shot out of. "It's at a 42x40 setting."
"It's supposed to be at 43x40, you idiot!"
"Well, you'd better contact the boss. Pular out."
Iron Claw pressed a button on his communicator, and shaking with fear, he spoke. "Thanatos, sir?"
The voice on the other end was deep and filled with hate. "What is it now, Iron Claw?"
Iron Claw had sweat dripping down the sides of his head as he spoke. "The coordinates on the cannon were slightly off - the Mana Knight never arrived in Pular."
"I-It's all right, sir. He should be out in the desert."
"Then get the sand ship and go get them!"
"Yes, sir. I'll fly to Pular immediately."
"And Iron Claw?"
"Don't fail me again."
Justin and Joseph had been marching through the desert for a long time. It was now completely dark, and Justin was shivering from the cold. "I thought deserts were supposed to be hot?!" he said, turning to his companion, who didn't seem to be nearly as bothered by the temperature. "And where the heck are we going, anyway?"
"What?! Why the heck are we going there?!"
"I'm hoping we can snag a skid."
Justin gave him a puzzled look. "What's a skid?"
"You remember the thing the Red Wolves flew off in?" inquired Joseph. Justin nodded. "That's a skid."
"So you're saying we can fly ourselves to Thanatos' base?"
"That's the idea."
"That could work - if we don't get caught."
Suddenly Joseph stopped walking and stared straight ahead. "So much for that proposition," he said.
Wondering what Joseph was looking at, Justin followed his gaze, and saw a very large vehicle heading their way. It floated above the desert sands, with green lights bouncing off the ground. A sand ship, like the one Commander Morie piloted back in his world. "Is that a-"
"-Red Wolf sand ship?" interrupted Joseph. "Yep."
"So what do we do now?"
"Nothing. There isn't anything we can do - yet. We'll just have to let them capture us."
Justin scoffed at the notion. "This trip just gets better by the minute," he said in his usual sarcastic tone.
The sand ship stopped in midair just in front of them, and a platform lowered out of the bottom of it. On it were four soldiers and an officer. The officer slowly walked toward Justin. "Justin. How nice to see you again."
"Just cut the crap and get it over with," replied the angry Mana Knight.
"If I were you..." The officer's voice trailed off. Then he swung his arm around and smacked Justin in the side of the head. "I'd watch your mouth."
Justin looked up. His head hurt tremendously. Then he noticed why - the soldier had a metal hand. Now he knew who this was. "You," he said.
"Put them in the cells and call Thanatos," said Iron Claw. "We're haulinŽ in a marlin tonight!"
The sand ship traveled through the night in silence. This was all deja vu for Justin, though. He had been held prisoner on a sand ship before when Morie mistook him for an Imperial spy. But this was no mistake - the Red Wolves knew exactly who they were dealing with. Well, Justin wasn't sure if they knew he was the Mana Knight, but they were definitely after him. Right now he just sat in his cell, feeling bored. He and Joseph were being kept apart, so there wasn't really anybody to talk to.
Suddenly, he heard someone talking at the end of the hall. Then he heard footsteps, and the soldier guarding him took off. Another soldier followed him, leaving the hall empty.
"Yes," came a voice from the end of the hall the soldiers had come from. As Justin tried to figure out who it was, he heard a jingling sound, and then the sound of a door opening.
Then the person walked in front of Justin's cell. "Joseph!" said the surprised Mana Knight.
"The one and only," replied the exhilarant thief.
Justin couldn't believe his eyes. "How did you get out?"
Joseph held up a ring of keys. "Those Red Wolves oughtta watch their belts when I'm around."
Justin laughed. "Nice grab - now get me out of here." Joseph unlocked the cell and the two of them ran off down the hall.
It was at that very moment that Iron Claw emerged from around the corner at the other end of the row of cells. He wanted to see how his captives were doing. But when he saw the door Joseph had forgotten to close, he gasped in surprise. They had escaped! Thanatos would have his head if he didn't get them back! He took out his communicator. "Captain, stop the ship - the Mana Knight has escaped!"
Justin and Joseph were barely on their way away from the cells when a loud alarm siren began to whine. At the same time, red lights along the ceilings began to flash. The two of them started to run faster. "I knew you forgot to close the door!" shouted Justin.
"Me?! It was your cell!"
"I don't care whose fault it was - let's just get out of here!"
As they continued to run, they could hear voices behind them. And soon afterward, a laser blast hit the ceiling above them. Iron Claw and some soldiers were hot on their tails, and Justin didn't know if he could keep running like this. And even if he and Joseph did get off the sand ship, where could they go?
"They're just ahead!" shouted Iron Claw to his men. "Come on you guys, Thanatos'll have my head if he gets away again!"
"Don't worry, sir," said a soldier, "we'll get him." That soldier then took out his spear and fired, narrowly missing Joseph.
"You all right?" said Justin.
Joseph gave him a puzzled look. "He never even hit me."
They were now at a four-way intersection. Behind them was where they came from, of course, so they had to choose from three different paths. Down the hall to the left was a metal ladder leading up to the deck of the ship. A ways to the right was a large door. That was probably the bridge. And straight ahead was the way out - the opening in the bottom of the ship they came in through. But guarding the exit were more soldiers. And as soon as Justin and Joseph arrived, the soldiers began to head right for them.
Joseph had to think quickly. Iron Claw was right behind them, and more soldiers were in front of them. He turned to Justin. "Go left," he said.
Justin didn't exactly know what his friend meant. "What?"
"Go up that ladder over there - I'll take care of these guys up ahead."
"You want me to go without you?"
"You saved my butt back at Depretha - I owe you one. Now go!"
Joseph ran straight toward the crowd of soldiers, running toward them with his knife in hand. Justin took his advice and headed for the ladder on the left, but even as he climbed, he knew Joseph didn't stand a chance.
When Iron Claw reached the intersection, his men stopped for a moment to look at Joseph, who was putting on quite a show, but still not winning. Iron Claw didn't notice this until he was already halfway up the ladder. "Forget about him, it's the other guy we need!" he shouted. His men suddenly jerked back to reality and followed him topside.
The deck was deserted. "Where'd he go?" said a soldier.
"He couldn't aŽ jumped," said another.
Iron Claw looked around. There were large laser cannons attached to the deck, as well as some metallic boxes that supplied the cannons with power. The Mana Knight could be hiding behind any of them. "Fan out," he said. "He must be here somewhere."
The soldiers spread out and began searching the deck. Within a few seconds there was a loud yell. The Red Wolves turned to see Justin knock one of them out. "Shoot him!" cried Iron Claw.
"But Thanatos said-"
"I don't care what Thanatos said, just do it!"
The soldier raised his spear and fired, but the argument had given Justin enough time to duck behind one of the large energy supply boxes.
Justin tried to decide what to do. He reached into his bag of weapons and found the Garuda Buster, a powerful bow he had obtained by defeating Metal Crabs in the Mana Fortress so long ago. He reached over to the side of the box and attached the bow to a clamp. He had to pull back behind it once it was attached to avoid the rain of laser shots, but now he would be able to fire off arrows very quickly. In one swift motion he reached over, slung an arrow to the Garuda Buster's string, and let it fly. It soared straight through a Red Wolf's chest, piercing his heart. Justin fired arrow after arrow, and the remaining soldiers were barely able to get out of the way.
Now that the Red Wolves were on the defensive, Justin was able to put the Garuda Buster away and fight hand-to-hand, which was just how he liked it. He sprang forward and tackled a soldier in a matter of seconds (well, it was more like half of a second). Another one tried to hit him with his spear, but Justin rolled out of the way and then tripped him. Suddenly the two of them were engaged in a wrestling match of sorts, rolling around grabbing and punching each-other. And because of the rolling around, nobody else was doing anything, because it was hard to tell exactly who was who. But eventually Justin was able to slam the soldier's head on one of the cannons, breaking his neck. Yet as he stood up, another soldier attacked him. This soldier charged right into his back. Justin flew forward and landed on his back at the edge of the deck. The soldier got on top of him and held a spear sideways against his neck, trying to push him over the edge. Fighting the pull of gravity, Justin grabbed the spear and threw it and the soldier over the edge and into the sand.
Relieved to be on his feet again, Justin faced his remaining opponents - Iron Claw and one soldier. "You fight well, Mana Knight," said the angry Red Wolf officer.
"I thought you would have known that by now," replied Justin, looking at Iron Claw's "iron claw".
"How'd you like a rematch?"
"Bring it on, baby." Justin beckoned Iron Claw with his hands. The enraged Red Wolf ran forward and tried to punch Justin with his metal fist, but Justin grabbed it in mid-swing and socked Iron Claw right in the jaw. The surprised werewolf pulled back, and pulled out his gun. Justin's heart skipped a beat when he found himself being held at gunpoint by Iron Claw.
Iron Claw snickered. "I never said anything about a fair fight."
Justin began to snicker as well. "Neither did I." He then rolled backward, took a spear from a dead soldier, and hurled it at Iron Claw. It hit his hand, causing him to drop the gun. Justin then headed for the bow of the ship, but the other soldier ran after him.
Iron Claw looked up. He was lucky the spear hit his metal hand, or he would have been hurting a lot. The Mana Knight and his remaining soldier were engaged in a fist fight, and the Mana Knight was winning. In fact, the soldier was soon unconscious. But while Justin caught his breath, Iron Claw rushed forward and slammed into him. Justin tipped backward and fell - off the deck.
Joseph was now captured and was watching the whole thing from the bridge. He gasped as Justin fell off the deck but was able to grab onto the end of a cannon. The captain of the ship picked up a communicator. "Iron Claw," he shouted, "what are you doing?! Thanatos wants him alive!"
Iron Claw threw his communicator on the ground and blasted it with his gun. "Shut up," he said.
The captain's jaw dropped. "Thanatos is not going to be happy with him."
Joseph watched in horror as Iron Claw began to grind Justin's hands with his foot. Justin cried out in pain and let go.
Fortunately, he landed feet first, but the force of the impact crushed his left heel. He grimaced in pain and fell over. It was probably broken. He was holding back tears when he saw Iron Claw aiming the cannon at him. There was no way he could get away in this condition. As he stared up at the sand ship, he knew this was it. It about ten seconds there would be no more Mana Knights.
Iron Claw sneered in triumph. "Say your prayers, Mana Knight!" he said.
But as Joseph and everyone on the bridge watched in disbelief, a huge fireball flew down from the sky and blew the cannon to bits. Iron Claw flew backward and landed on another part of the deck. "Yes!" cried Joseph, as the entire ship shook from the impact.
"What the heck was that?!" cried the captain. Another fireball hit the side of the ship, causing it to lurch to one side. Fireball after fireball hit the ship, until the captain had no choice but to turn it around, leaving Justin out in the desert. But as the sand ship flew away, Joseph heard a deafening roar. Yet it was not a deep roar - in fact it had a high tone. But it was definitely loud, and Joseph knew it must have come from an animal.
Justin sat alone in the desert. His foot hurt so badly he couldn't even walk. He was stuck out here. As he tried to think of something to do, he heard a loud roar come from the sky - the same kind of roar Joseph heard when the sand ship was attacked. It sounded familiar to Justin, but he couldn't quite put his finger on what it was. It almost sounded like the Mana Beast, but that couldn't be it.
The next thing he knew, he had been lifted off the ground and was on the back of a flying animal. The animal was white, and it had a long tail, four feet, and four wings with blue-tipped feathers. It roared again - that Mana Beast roar. Now Justin knew what - or who - had picked him up. "Flammie?" he said.
"Surprise, surprise!" said a feminine voice.
Justin couldn't believe who it was. "Ashley! What are you doing here?"
"Saving your butt."
"But I thought you weren't coming."
Ashley patted Flammie's neck. "Not without this guy."
"But Luka said we weren't allowed to bring Flammie!"
"But she didn't know about this," Ashley said, holding up a finger. "Come on Flammie, show Justin your new trick!" Flammie roared loudly, and then spit out a huge fireball!
Justin stared in awe. "Wow. So he's the one that saved me."
"Yep, Flammie's old enough to breathe fire now, and that convinced Luka that he was ready for the Underworld."
"So, have you seen Tony?"
"No, but I know who captured him."
"You are gonna love this..."
Iron Claw was the first man off the sand ship when it arrived in Pular. He jumped to the ground from the deck (it was on the ground now), and took off running. He didn't want the captain to see him, `cause he was in a whole lot of trouble. He didn't even want to think about what Thanatos would do to him. His only chance was to go after the Mana Knight.
At that moment he came upon some skids - eleven of them to be exact. And there were ten soldiers standing there - perfect. "All right, boys," he shouted, "you're cominŽ with me! Let's take these skids out and search the desert - we've got a Mana Knight to catch!"
"But don't we have to get authorization from the admiral first?" said a soldier.
Iron Claw pointed his gun at the soldier. "Just do as I say."
"So Thanatos controls it all," said Ashley.
"Yep," answered Justin, who was captivated by the view from Flammie's back.
"The Underworld doesn't look so bad from up here, does it," said Ashley.
Ashley looked at him for a moment. "Something's on your mind."
"The thief - what about him?" Justin had already told her about Joseph, Iron Claw, and everything that had happened.
"He probably gave his life for me. There's no way he could have beaten all those soldiers."
Even though she had never met him, Ashley couldn't help feeling sorry for Joseph. "Hey, cheer up," she said. "You know how many times Joseph's gotten away from the Red Wolves. He'll be fine."
"Maybe." Justin sat in silence for a moment. "I wanted to get to know him better. He seemed so familiar."
Suddenly Flammie let out a loud roar. Justin wasn't expecting it, and the high volume of it hurt his ears. "What is it, big guy?" said Ashley. The huge white dragon was staring at something off in the distance. It took a moment for Ashley to see it - several tiny dots in the sky ahead of them. "Hey Justin," she said, "what do you think those are?"
Justin could only see them as dots, but he knew what they were. "Skids!" he shouted. "Flammie, get us out of here!"
Flammie turned around and flew off.
"He's on the run!" said Iron Claw. "Let's blow that thing out of the sky!"
"You sure that's him?" said the voice on his skid's communicator.
"That's a white dragon, soldier - no doubt about it."
"Very well, sir."
Iron Claw switched off his communicator. "When I bring you back, Mana Knight," he said to himself, "Thanatos won't care about all the times I failed to get you before. He might even promote me."
"We can't outrun them - they're too fast!" shouted Justin.
Ashley was starting to get worried. "So what are we supposed to do?"
Justin snapped his fingers. "Flammie can take `em - he breathes fire now!"
"Oh yeah - duh!"
"Come on Flammie," yelled Justin, "let's give these guys a run for their money!"
"He's heading back toward us," said a soldier.
"I can see that!" shouted Iron Claw. "Let's just give that guy what's cominŽ to him!"
"All right, commander."
"Eat laser, Mana Knight!!!" Iron Claw shouted at the top of his lungs.
"They're shooting at us!" cried Justin, as a bright blue light flew over their heads.
"Come on Flammie, show `em some real firepower!"
With a mighty roar, Flammie spit out a churning ball of flame. It narrowly missed one of the skids. The next fireball hit that same skid head-on, blowing it to pieces. Justin and Ashley whooped and hollered, cheering Flammie on. The great white dragon spit out two more balls of fire, both of which hit and destroyed skids.
"Those fireballs are too strong!" shouted a soldier.
"Then shoot him down!" ordered Iron Claw. Some of the remaining skids began to fire their lasers at Flammie, but they all missed. Flammie continued to spit at them until there were only five skids left, one of them being Iron Claw's.
Justin was following the movements of the skids. "That one looks like the leader," he said, pointing at Iron Claw's skid. "Go for that one."
"You heard him Flammie," said Ashley, "get to it!"
Flammie started toward the lead skid, but it quickly turned to the right. "Shoot to the right!" called Justin, and Flammie did just that.
Justin and Ashley watched intently as the fireball zoomed toward its target. And finally the two of them collided, and they saw the explosion. "Yes!" cried Ashley.
But then Justin saw the skid fly out of the explosion. His jaw dropped at the sight - the leader had used one of his own men as a human shield! "All right, I've had enough," he said to Flammie. "Just kill them all."
Iron Claw couldn't believe what was happening. His men were exploding all around him. And Thanatos said the white dragon was too young to breathe fire! Then he suddenly realized he was the only one left, and a fireball was heading directly toward him! Now thinking only of staying alive, he jumped out of his skid only moments before it blew up.
"Yahoo!" cried Ashley.
"We did it!" said Justin. "Way to go, Flammie!"
Iron Claw landed on the ground with a thud. Amazingly, he was still alive. He was about to scream in rage when his communicator beeped. He picked it up. "Hello?"
"Iron Claw," said the angry voice.
"Shut up you fool!"
"Sir, please. I can explain."
"I don't care if you can. I've had it up to here with your constant failures. Not only were you unsuccessful in capturing the Mana Knight three - no, four times, but you took a squadron of skids from Pular without permission?! That's the same as stealing, commander."
"I didn't have time - I needed to catch up with the Mana Knight."
"Silence!" Iron Claw was shaking with fear. "You know what I do to thieves, right?"
Iron Claw gasped. "Please sir, no!"
Thanatos laughed a little. "It's too bad I'm not there to see it in person - your metal hand would have added a touch of magic to the show." Iron Claw opened his mouth to scream, but a small device on his chest was already spouting electrical sparks.
From up above, Ashley heard an explosion. "What was that?" she wondered out loud.
Just then Justin saw an arm fly by. "I don't think I wanna know."
Later, the two of them landed Flammie and were trying to decide what to do next. "Should we just fly to Thanatos' castle?" suggested Ashley.
"No," replied Justin. "That was my original idea, but now I know that Thanatos is a lot stronger than before."
"Well what are we supposed to do, then?!"
"I'd like to go find Joseph, but I don't have a clue about where to start looking."
Ashley was about to say something, when suddenly Justin held up a finger. Then he stood up. "Did you hear that?" he said.
"I heard a woman's voice."
Ashley looked around. "Where?"
"It seemed to be coming from all directions."
Suddenly, Justin heard it again. "Justin, listen to me," it said.
"There," cried Justin, "did you hear that?!"
"No!" said Ashley.
Justin continued to listen to the voice. "Here, maybe this'll help," it said. An image of a woman with bluish-green hair appeared before them.
"Luka!" said Justin. "How did you get here?"
Luka almost laughed. "I'm not really here." Ashley and Justin gave her a confused look. "This is an image of myself - a message I'm giving you." Now they understood.
Luka continued. "I presume you've found out about Thanatos."
"Yeah," said Justin.
"Then listen to what I have to say. Thanatos will be much stronger than before, and I don't think you're ready to face him. But I know of something that will help you. Hidden in the Underworld are eight magical orbs, each representing an element, just like the Mana Seeds. Each one contains the power of a special spell pertaining to that element, which only the Mana Knight can use. With these orbs you should at least have a chance of defeating him."
"So where do we find these orbs?" inquired Ashley.
"Each one is located in a shrine or palace, like the Mana Seeds. But these palaces were created by the sprites who lived in the Underworld long ago, and they were sealed up to prevent Thanatos from getting to them. You will need a sprite to get to those palaces."
"Great!" said Justin, sarcastically of course.
"That's not all. There is another Mana weapon that I forgot to mention. It is the key to opening the palace doors. It is called the Mana Dagger."
"That's it!" cried Justin.
"What?" said Ashley.
"Joseph's knife - when I used it I felt filled with this power. That must have been the Mana Dagger!"
"Probably," said Luka. "You must find this 'Joseph', whoever he is. Without the Mana Dagger the palaces are inaccessible."
This got Justin thinking. "Luka, the Mana Sword has regained all its power, which means only I can wield it. Is there anything special about the Mana Dagger?"
"There are certain things the Mana Dagger can do that other Mana weapons can't, but anybody can use it."
"Why do you ask?"
"Very well. That should be everything." Luka sighed. "I wish you luck." And with that final farewell, she disappeared.
Justin turned to his companion. "Well, you heard her Ashley - let's go."
"I've finally found an excuse to go look for Joe - I don't want to waste any time!"
"But where do we start?"
"We'll fly around until we see signs of him - or a sprite."
"That'll take forever!"
"What else are we supposed to do?! Besides, I'm in a crazy sort of mood."
Ashley laughed. "All right 'Monkey Knight', let's go."
Joseph was hurled into his cell like a sack of potatoes. When the sand ship landed in Pular, he was put on a skid and sent to Thanatos' castle. And ever since he got there, they'd been torturing him, trying to get him to talk about the Mana Knight. All he knew about the Mana Knight was that he was some guy who had the Mana Sword - why would they be asking him? He just didn't get it. And his whole body ached, too. He almost felt like crying. "Why are they asking me about the Mana Knight?" he said. "I don't know anything about him."
"Is that so," said a voice behind him. It turned out that he wasn't alone in his cell. Sitting in the corner was a young, red-haired sprite. "Then why are they trying to get you to talk?"
"That's what I wanna know!" shouted Joseph. "They keep asking me where he is, but I've never met the guy!"
"Or maybe you did, and you didn't know it."
That caught Joseph's attention. "What?"
"Did you, by chance, happen to meet a sarcastic young man of about your age, with tall spiky hair, a slight muscle build, and whose name was Justin?"
Joseph was quite surprised at the detail of Justin's description. "Yeah," was all he could say.
"There's your Mana Knight."
Joseph couldn't believe it. "Justin's the Mana Knight?! No wonder he had all that money." Then he turned to the young sprite. "Wait a minute. Are you... Tony?"
"That would be correct."
"Well, he's here to get you."
Tony sighed. "That's what I was afraid of."
"What do you mean?"
"One night I got out of my cell, and sent Justin a message to come rescue me and the other sprites. I later found out that Thanatos had let me get out - he wanted me to call Justin."
"Why would he do that?"
"Do you know why Thanatos kidnapped us sprites? To get our Mana! He wants to use it to create a portal to get to Justin's world. It would have worked, too, but I'm all out of Mana. But I knew Thanatos would find some way to get something out of me. So I called in the Mana Knight. What I didn't realize when I sent that message was that I had just put Thanatos' backup plan in motion. Calling the Mana Knight here gave Thanatos another source of Mana - Justin."
Joseph gasped. "You mean he's after Justin's Mana?!"
Tony nodded. "The Mana Knight has more Mana than all the sprites combined - a gold mine for Thanatos."
"Exactly. If only there was some way I could warn Justin..."
Joseph smiled and snapped his fingers. "I think I've got an answer to that problem," he laughed.
Thanatos sat in a chair in his tiny, darkened room. It was almost impossible to see anything. To each side of him stood a Red Wolf soldier with a golden sash across his chest. These were his two bodyguards - they followed him everywhere. As he sat his mouth twisted into a wide smirk. Soon the Mana Knight would be within his grasp, and the world of Mana would be his. Nothing could stop him now.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. "What is it?!"
A Red Wolf officer entered the room. "Um, sir, I, uh, have bad news. Um."
Thanatos didn't have time for such foolishness. "Spit it out, already!"
The officer straightened his posture. "The Mana Knight's friends have escaped."
"I'm sorry, sir, but one minute they were there, and suddenly, they were gone."
"Get every man you have after them! The sprite knows about our plan to lure the Mana Knight here - we can't let that information be passed on!" The soldier ran out of the room. Thanatos pressed a button on the arm of his chair. "General, I have a job for you. Get as many men as you can, and go get the Mana Knight for me. We might not be able to wait for him to come here."
Tony and Joseph were running through the forest out back of Thanatos' castle. "You're gonna have to teach me that trick," said the sprite.
"Maybe I'll write a book revealing all my techniques," laughed Joseph. "I'll call it '101 Things You Can Do With a Strand of Hair'."
Tony laughed a little. "Well, there's no time for that now. We have to find Justin. Where did you last see him?"
"In the desert. I got captured, but they left him out there when we were attacked by some fire-breathing animal. At least I think that's what it was."
"Did you see it?"
"No, but I heard it."
Tony looked at him with anticipation. "What did it sound like?"
"I can't describe it. It was like a high-pitched roar, or something."
"Then Justin could be anywhere."
Joseph wondered what that meant. "Huh?" he said.
"Justin and I used to ride on a big white dragon named Flammie, who should be able to breathe fire by now. I think the only way to reach Justin now would be to find some sort of air transportation."
"Like a skid."
Suddenly they heard voices behind them. "I see them - they're over there!"
"Soldiers," cried Joseph. "Run!"
The two of them ran through the woods and into the mountains, the soldiers following them all the way. At this particular moment they were running along the top of a cliff, and there weren't any trees to hide them. "Fire!" said a soldier behind them. A laser blast flew over their heads.
"Whoa!" cried Joseph.
"It's all right, just keep running," Tony said. "By the way, where are we going?"
"There's a city on the other side of these mountains. We might find a skid there."
Suddenly, one of the Red Wolves' shots hit the ground under Tony's feet, causing it to crumble away. Before he knew what had happened, Tony found himself hanging on the side of the cliff. It was a long drop, and it didn't look as if there would be anywhere he could go if he fell. "Hold on Tony, I'll get you!" shouted Joseph.
"There's no time. You have to find Justin!" And at that moment the rocks Tony was holding onto fell, taking him with them.
"Tony!" Joseph cried. He had no choice but to go on without him.
He eventually managed to lose the soldiers in the mountains, and now Joseph found himself at the bustling port town of North. He never did understand that name - on a map it was more west than north. Maybe it was because it was to the north of Thanatos' castle. But who cared. Right now he had to find a skid before the soldiers caught up with him. But there was not a skid in sight. How could that be? North was a large city - there should have been dozens of them. Now he had to think of a way to get out of North without going back the way he came. Then he saw a huge boat getting ready to depart. He decided to find out where it was headed.
He snuck up behind some boxes and was listening to two soldiers. "Hurry up and get these supplies on board!" shouted one.
"All right, all right," said the other, picking up a box.
"Come on! The admiral in Pular needs these supplies by tomorrow."
A ship headed for Pular? That was just what Joseph was looking for. And it was a Red Wolf ship, at that. They'd never think to look for him there. But how would he get on board? He thought for a moment, and then he knew what to do. While the two soldiers were on the deck putting some more boxes into place, Joseph silently got himself into one of the boxes on the ground, closed the top, and waited for the soldiers to come back. "Whew, last three boxes," he heard one say. Then his box began to move. "Whoa, this is a heavy one!" grunted a loud voice. Yes! Joseph thought. Pretty soon he would be in Pular, and there had to be skids there. In fact, he was feeling so sure of himself, he decided to take a nap.
A sudden jolt woke Joseph from his rest. The box he was in had fallen on its side. Were they there already? Joseph wanted to find out, so he opened up the box, and climbed up out of the cargo bay.
On deck, a splash of water hit him in the face. It was pouring, and lightning flashed every so often. This was one hell of a storm. Waves rocked the ship from side to side. That was probably what knocked his box over.
The Red Wolves were running around like scared chickens, trying to secure all the loose objects on deck, and eventually one saw him. "Hey, it's that guy!" he shouted. "The thief!"
An officer ran over. "How'd he get here?!"
"I don't know, but we'd better take him to Thanatos after we're done in Pular."
Joseph smiled. "Oh yeah! You have to catch me first!" He ran in the opposite direction.
"Get him!" shouted the officer. Some of the soldiers began shooting at him, while others ran after him. One soldier tried to hit him with his spear, but Joseph punched him in the face and then threw him in the water. Another soldier came after him, but a laser from one of the other soldiers hit the ground between them, and they both backed off. The firing soldier tried again, and he would have hit Joseph's head, but the speedy thief ducked. The shot cut through a rope, releasing some barrels, which rolled over a soldier standing nearby. This distracted the soldier going after Joseph. Joseph used this opportunity to knock out the soldier and take his spear (I hope by now you've figured out that the regular soldiers all carried spears). The soldier who was firing his spear at him shot again. This time it ricocheted off the spear Joseph was carrying. Talk about lucky. Joseph decided to return the fire, and just barely missed. The soldier took off running.
"Oh, come on!" shouted Joseph. "Is that all you've got?!"
Now the officer approached him. "Think you're tough, eh?" he said, brandishing a knife.
"Oh, so that's your game," Joseph replied. He threw away the spear and took out his own knife, the Mana Dagger. The Red Wolf let out an angry yell and charged forward. In a few seconds the two of them were engaged in a sword fight of sorts - or would it be a "knife fight"? Oh, nevermind. Their knives clashed and slashed, one always stopping the other. Eventually they found themselves standing out on the bowsprit of the ship, both fighting and trying to keep their balance at the same time. Yet they continued to fight. Wanting to get this over with, the Red Wolf soldier tried to bring his blade down on Joseph's head, but Joseph blocked it in mid-swing, got down on one hand, and used his left leg to sweep his opponent's feet out from under him. The soldier landed on his back on the bowsprit, and then fell in the water.
Joseph got back onto the ship's deck, and examined the situation. The storm was getting worse, and the lightning was getting a lot closer. Then he realized something - this boat was made of metal! He had to get off of it. He saw ropes hanging off the side of the ship. Maybe that meant lifeboats. He looked over the side. Sure enough, there were two lifeboats floating along the ship's side.
Suddenly, a laser shot hit the ground next to him. More Red Wolves were heading toward him. He climbed over the side and began descending toward the lifeboats. Now the soldiers were leaning over the side to shoot at him. One of the lasers broke the rope and Joseph fell into the water with a splash. He came up next to a lifeboat, gasping for air. The soldiers continued to fire, so he decided to try and swim away. After he swam for a little bit, he turned around to see how far away he was. He was still within range of the Red Wolves' lasers, and one was aiming right at him. "Now I've got you," the soldier hissed. At that moment all the hair on his back stood on end. The other soldiers all looked up and screamed as a huge bolt of electricity came surging down from the sky, striking the deck. The ship exploded into thousands of tiny pieces, and Joseph had to dive underwater to avoid the fiery bits of debris that were flying overhead. But when he came back up to examine the situation, he didn't see the huge wave from the explosion come crashing down on him. That's when he lost consciousness.