"Come on Justin, we've been at this all day," moaned Ashley. "Can't we at least take a break?"
Justin - whose leg was feeling much better thanks to Ashley's Cure Water - didn't even turn around to look at her. "No. Must find Joseph," he said, with absolutely no tone in his voice.
Ashley laughed a little. "Seriously, we need to sleep. We're only human, you know. I might take days to find him."
"Maybe," said Justin, still staring straight ahead.
"Right. Now let's take Flammie down, and get some rest."
Justin finally turned around. "No way!"
Ashley was quite confused. "Then why did you say 'maybe'?"
"I meant 'maybe' that's Joseph," he said, pointing down below. Ashley scrambled toward Flammie's neck, where Justin was seated, and saw what he saw. There was smoke coming from the ocean! "That looks like Joseph's handiwork."
"What makes you say that? It could've been anything."
"Well I know how to find out."
"I knew it!" Justin said. "It's a Red Wolf ship!"
"Think of it - it's near Pular, it's Red Wolf, and it's been totally destroyed."
"Maybe they just had an accident."
Justin gave her a funny look. "The Red Wolves? I don't think so. They make everything run like clockwork. There has to be outside interference for them to mess something up. Interference like Joe - and me."
Ashley rolled her eyes back. "And I suppose that doesn't qualify as interference?" she said, pointing at a huge mass of clouds heading away from them. It looked as if there had been an electrical storm here earlier. "This boat is made of metal, you know."
"True, but look at this," Justin said, taking Flammie so close to the wreckage that they could reach out and touch it. "See this mark?" he said, indicating a hole in the mast. "Lightning can destroy a whole fleet of ships, but it doesn't fight with knives. And it takes a pretty sharp weapon to cut metal - like a Mana weapon."
"Okay, okay, maybe you are right. So where's Joseph?"
"He probably jumped overboard. You know how good he is at escapes. He should be somewhere in these waters."
"But I'm tired. And what if it isn't him?"
"It's the only lead we've had all day - we have to follow it."
"All right," Ashley groaned.
Another knock at Thanatos' door. "Come in." It was the same officer as before. "Well?"
The exhausted werewolf took a deep breath. "The sprite's dead."
"He fell off a cliff while we were chasing him."
"That's good - but what about the other one?"
"We lost him at North."
Thanatos slammed his fist down on a table. "What?!"
"There was nothing we could do. He got too far ahead of us. We know he was in North, but we never saw him after that." The officer couldn't see Thanatos' face, but he guessed he looked pretty upset. "At least we got the sprite. And besides, he's the one who knew the plan."
"Sure - like he never thought to tell the other guy. Commander..." The officer looked up as Thanatos unleashed a large, violet bolt of electricity from his hand, turning him into a charred carcass. "... you are dismissed."
Thanatos sat back in his chair. Things were falling apart all around him. His men were complete idiots, the sand ship had been totaled, a man with top secret information was trying to warn the Mana Knight of his plan, and most supply ships were way behind schedule due to the number of soldiers working on capturing the Mana Knight. What was he to do?
"I don't see anything here!" shouted Justin. He and Ashley were on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean. It was the closest piece of land to the wrecked boat, and they were looking for signs of Joseph. When Flammie had landed, the two of them headed in opposite directions, and Justin was just telling Ashley that he hadn't seen anything on his side of the island.
"Okay, I'll keep looking," replied Ashley, who somehow seemed much more lively. As she came over the top of a sand dune, she almost did a double take. "Justin, I think I found him!" she cried out in excitement.
Justin was on the scene in seconds. There, clothes completely drenched, lying on his back at the water's edge, was Joseph. "That's him all right!" The happy Mana Knight ran down the side of the dunes to reach his friend, laughing with triumph. When he got there, his face fell. Joseph was unconscious, and he wasn't breathing! "Oh my God, he's not breathing!"
Ashley ran down the hillside to see what Joseph's condition was. Justin was right, he wasn't breathing. She shook him a little. "Joseph, wake up!" Nothing happened. "Let me try something. Cure Water!" The magical drop of water appeared over Joseph's head, then dropped and splashed on his face. There was still no apparent change in Joseph.
"No," said Justin, getting down on his hands and knees beside his fallen friend. "No! Don't die on me now, man!" Close to tears, Justin did the only thing he could think of. He closed his eyes and put his hands on Joseph's chest, hoping he could somehow repeat what he did in Depretha. After staying in that position for several seconds, and not making any sounds, Ashley was beginning to wonder what Justin was doing. She gasped in surprise when she found out. The undersides of Justin's hands began to emit a bright green light, and Joseph's body seemed to soak it right up. Ashley's jaw practically hit the ground. Justin's eyelids were blinking very rapidly (but they were staying closed). This continued for about fifteen seconds, at which time Justin opened his eyes and raised his head. "I did it," he said, sounding exhausted. Then he fainted.
Ashley kneeled down next to him. "Justin? Justin! Are you all right?"
Suddenly she heard groaning noises behind her. Joseph was waking up. Now she was leaning over him instead.
Where am I, Joseph wondered, eyes still closed.
"Are you okay," said a voice.
Joseph opened his eyes, and saw the face of a beautiful blond girl staring back at him. His eyes widened when he saw her. "I am now," he said, still only half awake. Ashley just shook her head and sighed.
"Nice job you did on that ship," said Justin, who was starting to recover.
Joseph was on his his feet as soon as he saw him. "Justin! Thank goodness. Uh, I tried to hitch a ride to Pular, but I had to jump overboard. Then the boat got struck by lightning."
"Cool," Justin said, now on his feet again.
"Oh yeah! Tony wanted me to tell you-"
Justin's head jerked up. "You saw Tony? Where?!"
"At Thanatos' place. We escaped together."
"Then why isn't he here?" inquired Ashley.
"I'm sorry, but he fell off a cliff."
"WHAT??!!" Justin cried.
"I doubt he's alive."
Ashley looked at Justin. "Tony wouldn't go out that easy."
Justin walked up to Joseph and looked him right in the eyes. "Show me where Tony is."
"Fine - where's Flammie?"
Justin and Ashley looked at each-other in surprise.
"So Tony told you all about me," Justin said, riding on Flammie's back with his two companions.
"Yep," replied Joseph. "How come you never told me you were the Mana Knight? Don't you trust me?"
"I do now, but I had to be careful - how did I know you weren't one of Thanatos' spies?"
Joseph raised his eyebrows. "That's true."
"Is that it?" said Ashley, pointing at the ground below.
Joseph looked to see if they were there, and then nodded, confirming that it was the right place.
"So, Joseph," Justin said, "do you still have that dagger of yours?"
The young thief reached into his pocket, felt around for a few seconds, and pulled out his trusty weapon.
Suddenly Flammie let out a loud roar. "We're here!" cried Ashley.
The three of them jumped off of Flammie and immediately began searching the area. "Tony?!" they shouted every so often.
It didn't take long for them to find what they were looking for. They found Tony lying in a bush - still alive, but seriously injured. Ashley ran over to him. "Tony - are you all right?" she said, shaking his body.
The barely conscious sprite slowly opened his eyes. "Ashley?" he whispered.
"He is alive!" she cried. Justin and Joseph ran over to see him as well.
"Tony!" Justin cried. In fact, he almost did cry. He was just so happy to see his old friend again. He gave him a big hug. "I thought I'd never see you again."
"It's good to see you too," replied the young sprite. "Have you seen Joseph?"
"I'm right here, man," said the young thief, giving Tony a high five.
"Did you tell him?" asked Tony.
"I didn't get a chance."
"Tell me what?" interrupted Justin.
"We needed to warn you..." answered Tony. "You have to leave the Underworld." Justin gave him a confused look. "Thanatos deliberately allowed me to send you that message in order to draw you here."
Justin was quite puzzled. "Why the heck would he do that?"
"He wants your Mana." Justin gasped at that sentence. "Thanatos captured all the sprites so that he could extract their Mana and open a portal back to your world. But as you know, I'm all out of Mana, which was a just large enough shortage to keep his plan from working. But I made the foolish mistake of bringing you here, giving him access to more Mana than all the sprites combined!"
"That's why we have to leave as soon as possible. We can't risk letting you fall into Thanatos' hands."
Justin thought for a moment. "No."
"What? Justin, if you stay here, you're not only putting yourself in danger, but everyone on the other side as well. Even if the rest of us stay, you must leave."
"No way. Joseph, why did he call me here?"
"Because he knew you had to rescue him or Thanatos would find some way to get Mana out of him."
"Aha. See Tony? We can't think that just because Thanatos doesn't have me, we don't have to do anything about it. He'll find some other way. We have to put him out of commission - for good this time."
Tony just shook his head for a moment. "I admire you for that, Jut. You really stick to your guns."
"We've got to get rid of Thanatos, and thanks to Luka, I know just how to do it."
"You mean the Element Orbs?"
Justin was quite surprised. "You know about them?"
"The eight orbs which each contain a special magical spell for the Mana Knight's use - what sprite doesn't?"
"And now we can go get them, thanks to Joseph."
Joseph looked up. "Who, me?"
"That is the Mana Dagger, isn't it?" said Justin, pointing at Joseph's prize possession. The confused thief just shrugged his shoulders.
"Let me see it," said Tony. He examined the knife very closely. It was wide, shiny, and had a small jewel embedded in its center. It almost looked like a miniature version of the Mana Sword. Tony nodded his head. "It's the Mana Dagger, all right."
"With that we should be able to get into the shrines that the orbs are inside," said Justin.
"And with a sprite," added Ashley.
"A sprite with Mana," sighed Tony. "You know I'm all out."
Justin put his hands on his head and growled. "Damn!"
"Now how are we supposed to get in?!" complained Ashley.
Instead of getting angry and yelling - like everyone else - Joseph was thinking. He thought for several minutes - while the others just shouted in anger. Finally he thought he had an idea. "Hey," he shouted, "we could recharge Tony's Mana!"
Everyone looked at him. "Huh?" said Ashley.
"Yeah! Justin, remember how you fixed me up in Depretha?" Justin gave him a strange look. "You know, the energy... transfer... thing."
"You've done that before?" said a surprised Ashley.
"He sure did," said Joseph. "And I bet I know why you can do it." Everyone looked at him with anticipation. "He's the Mana Knight - it must be Mana!"
"Of course!" Justin cried. "I could do that to Tony!"
"My point exactly."
"It's worth a try," said Ashley.
"Well," said Justin, "I don't really think there's anything else we can do, so let's give it a shot." He slowly walked towards Tony. "All right Tony, just hold still. I've only done this to Joseph so far, so I don't know if it'll work on a sprite."
"If Joseph is right, it might work better on me than him." answered Tony.
"All right, here goes." Tony closed his eyes and tried to be very relaxed as Justin put his hands on his chest. Joseph and Ashley watched intently as Justin's hands once again began glowing green. Tony began to take slow, deep breaths as the green light flowed into his body. After a few seconds, the light stopped, Justin removed his hands, and the two of them opened their eyes.
This had happened quite a few times in Joseph's presence, but this was the first time he'd been awake to see it. All he could say was "Wow."
Ashley ran to Justin's side. "How do you feel?" she asked.
He seemed puzzled by the question. "Fine," he answered. "Just a little light-headed."
Ashley gave a sigh of relief. "For a moment there I thought you were going to fall over again."
Justin was more concerned with Tony. "Did it work, Tony?"
Tony eyes fixated on a small bush. "There's only one way to find out." The young sprite narrowed his eyes and pointed a lone finger at the plant. Without warning, he cried out "Fireball!" The elemental Salamando appeared briefly, and then a searing fireball shot out from Tony's hand. The fiery projectile hit the bush and it burst into flames.
"Yes!" cried Justin. "You've got your Mana back!"
Tony looked at his hands. "It's true," he said excitedly. "It's really true, isn't it." He turned to Justin, who slowly nodded. "Yahoo!" he shouted, leaping into the air. He ran over to Justin and gave him a huge hug. "Oh, thank you for not listening to me!" Everyone laughed.
"All right," said Ashley, "Tony's Mana is replenished, we've got the Mana Dagger... we're all set!"
"Okay," said Justin, "the eight elements are water, earth, air, fire, light, dark, moon, and tree. The palaces should be located in places where those things are abundant. Joseph, you know the Underworld better than any of us - can you think of any places where they might be?"
Joseph thought for a moment. "Well, there is a really big waterfall north of Unarrix."
"That sounds worth checking out - let's go."
They all got on Flammie and were soon at the location of the Water Orb Palace - or where they thought it was, anyway. Justin examined their surroundings. They were in a clearing surrounded by dark trees. Directly in front of them was a beautiful lake, at the other side of which a towering waterfall cascaded into it. It was a wondrous sight. "Well done, Joseph," replied the impressed Mana Knight.
"When you said the word 'water', this is what I thought of," Joseph said.
"It's beautiful," said Tony. "This is a perfect place for the Water Orb."
"Hey," Justin said. "Color me crazy, but I think I see a path leading around the lake to the waterfall." He pointed at what he saw. It took the others a moment to see it, but there was definitely a path leading up to the waterfall.
"Let's follow it," said Tony.
They followed the path around the lake and eventually ended up behind the waterfall. They were in a tiny "room" with a small pool of water. "What do you suppose this is for?" wondered Ashley.
Tony's eyes widened. "This is the place."
Joseph gave him a confused look. "How do you know?"
"`Cause of that." The sprite was pointing at a crystal orb embedded in the back wall.
"That's the orb?" replied a doubtful Ashley.
"No, it's the palace door." He raised his hands and cried out "Freeze". Big balls of ice cascaded down upon the orb, causing it to vanish into thin air. Then some bubbles came out of the water, but that was it.
"So where's the door?" asked Justin.
Tony seemed confused. "I don't know."
"I do," said Joseph. He dove into the water.
"Joseph," Justin yelled, "what are you doing?!"
Joseph looked around. It was hard to see through the murky water, but he found what he was looking for. Before him was a jewel-encrusted double doorway. At its center was a hole that looked like a key would fit into it. Joseph took out the Mana Dagger and stuck it right into the hole. It fit perfectly. He forcefully turned it sideways, causing the doors to swing wide open. There was water on the other side, but it seemed lighter in there. He swam back to his friends.
Justin and the others jumped in surprise as his head poked above the water's surface. "Hey guys, I found it!" he shouted. "There was a door, and I used the Mana Dagger to unlock it like a key. It's down here." He dove back under the surface.
Tony and Ashley quickly followed, but Justin was hesitant at the water's edge. Then he looked up. "Well," he said, "it had to get wet sometime." He dove into the water.
He swam under the water and through the open door. Joseph was right - it was beautiful. And this was only the beginning.
When he came up on the other side, he was captivated by the palace's beauty. It looked just like the inside of the Water Palace! "Whoa," he said.
Suddenly the others started laughing. "Nice hair, Justin!" Joseph said.
Justin was afraid of this. His towering hair had gone limp in the water and was now all over his face. "Cut it out, guys," he said, trying get his hair out of his eyes.
"Justin's right," said Tony, trying to stop laughing, "we have to keep looking for the orb."
Justin swept his hair back over his head, deciding he would worry about fixing it later. "Let's go."
As they walked along, they realized that the palace was an exact duplicate of the Water Palace where Luka lived. They followed the stairs as usual until they came to the altar of the Mana Seed - I mean Element Orb. Justin climbed the altar to claim the prize, when he suddenly stopped. "What's wrong?" said Ashley.
"It's not here," replied a confused Justin. "There's no orb!"
"What?!" cried Tony. He quickly joined Justin at the top of the altar. Sure enough, there was no orb. "That's impossible!"
Suddenly Ashley gasped. Justin and Tony turned around and saw something materializing in the air in front of the altar. When it fully appeared, they recognized it as Undine, the water elemental. "You did well to find this place," she said, "but you must prove yourself to me if you want the orb." And then she vanished.
At that moment the entire room began to shake. Pits appeared around the altar which soon filled up with water. "Look out!" Joseph cried, as a huge sea serpent poked its head above the water. Justin and Tony jumped out of the way as it lunged toward them.
"There must be a monster guarding each orb," said Ashley. "And I bet..." Her voice trailed off. "Blaze Wall!" she yelled. Big flames shot up from the ground around the creature, causing it a great deal of distress.
"Of course." Tony said. He tried one of his own fire spells. "Lava Wave!" Lava splashed over the creature's stomach. It roared in pain. But then it counterattacked by blowing icy breath at Tony, sealing him in a giant block of ice.
"Ooh, I'll get him for that!" said Joseph.
"Flame Saber!" cried Ashley. Joseph's dagger and Justin's sword began to glow a bright red.
"Thanks, Ashley," replied Joseph. He and Justin then lashed out at the serpent, striking it many times with their fiery weapons.
The monster still had a few tricks of its own, though, which it demonstrated by spitting acid at Joseph, but Justin rushed over and pushed him out of the way, allowing the acid to splash on his face instead. "Justin!" Joseph cried, checking to see if he was all right.
Suddenly they all heard a shattering sound. The ice around Tony's body was beginning to crack. Within moments the chilling casing burst into thousands of tiny shards, allowing Tony to move freely again. "Nothing a little fireball wouldn't fix," said the triumphant sprite. "Now for you," he said to the serpent. "Exploder!" he shouted. With a roar of surprise, the huge snake became caught up in a mass of fiery explosions. There were so many of them that they eventually lost sight of it. When everything settled, the serpent had been completely vaporized.
"Way to go, Tony!" shouted Ashley.
Justin - who seemed to have recovered from the serpent's acid spit - approached the altar once again. "It's here!" he cried. "The orb appeared when we beat that thing!"
"All right!" said Tony.
Justin reached out toward the clear crystal orb. As his hand made contact with it, it began to glow slightly. Then it disappeared. "Where'd it go?" said Joseph.
"I think I sealed it," Justin replied. "You know, like the Mana Seeds. I should have the spell now."
"Let's see it."
"I'd rather save it for when I need it."
"Fine. So what should we do now?"
"Find the next palace, I guess. Somebody name an element."
"How about earth?" suggested Tony. "You know of any big caves, Joe?"
"Let me think," said the young thief. He sat there thinking for about a minute, and was really testing the limits of the others' patience. Finally he spoke. "I'm not sure if this would be it, but I heard a rumor about a cave hidden in the mountains south of here. They say there's some kind of treasure in it. I know it doesn't sound like a good lead, but I can't think of anywhere else."
"Then to the mountains it is!" Justin decreed.
Before long the four of them were in the mountains looking for the secret cave. Justin was finally looking normal again, as he had dried and fixed his hair on the way. "So what does this secret cave look like?" he asked Joseph.
"I'm not exactly sure," he replied. "I hear that there's like a door cut out of the rock wall, but no one's ever figured out how to get it open."
"I'll bet Tony can," Ashley put in.
They found the entrance shortly. "Is this it?" said Justin.
"Looks like it," said Joseph. There was a definite line cut out of the rock face, forming a rectangular shape that resembled a large door.
"It is," Tony said, pointing upward. A crystal orb was resting on a small ledge above the "door". "I'll take care of this. Earth Slide!" A huge ball of mud and dirt rose up from the ground and smashed itself on top of the orb. What they assumed was the door suddenly exploded, throwing rocks everywhere. Inside was another one, but this was a real door. It was almost identical to the one Joseph opened with the Mana Dagger.
"Allow me," said Joseph, once again inserting his favorite weapon into the door's keyhole. With a forceful turn of the Mana Dagger, the door swung wide open, and they all entered the Earth Orb Palace.
This palace was an exact replica of the Underground Palace beneath Gaia's Navel. As with the Water Orb Palace before, there were no monsters inside. This was probably because the palace doors had not been opened for hundreds of years. The other palaces would probably be the same way.
After making their way to the room where the Mana Seed would have been in the Underground Palace, they were waiting for the Gnome - the earth elemental - to appear. It only took a moment. "We know we have to fight a monster," said Justin, "so bring it on."
The Gnome disappeared and a familiar monster appeared in his place. "A gigas!" Tony cried. Sure enough, the creature was quite similar to the Fire Gigas they fought in the Underground Palace so long ago, but it had more of a brown color, instead of red.
Justin almost laughed. Having defeating three gigases in his previous quest, he thought it foolish for the Gnome to test him with another one. Especially since he saved the Gnome by defeating one of them. "This'll be easy," he said.
The giant begged to differ. He pounded his hands on the ground, causing big rocks to fly up out of the ground and crush his tiny opponents. The four of them climbed out of the rock piles. "Guess again," Ashley sneered.
Tony wasn't about to let that stop them, though. He called upon one of his strongest magic spells, the Thunderbolt (you're welcome, Chip). Big bolts of electricity rained down upon the monster. "Yes!" Tony shouted. The gigas responded by making long weeds grow out of the ground and tangle him up. Joseph jumped up and tried to stab it with his dagger, but the titanic monster knocked him right out of the air with its huge hands. Then it shot a grayish beam at him, but Joseph ducked and avoided it. The beam hit the wall behind him, causing part of it to turn to stone. The same thing would have happened to Joseph if he hadn't ducked.
With a little help from Ashley, Tony was finally able to break free of the weeds he was trapped in. He then tried his Air Blast spell. It definitely hurt the gigas, but it still wasn't enough. Ashley decided that maybe a more physical approach was in order. She took out a javelin (the Valkyrian if you want to be specific) and hurled it at the giant. It struck the giant's arm, causing it to cry out in pain. But the monster still wasn't through. He used the Gem Missile spell to launch sharp gems at both of them. The shiny projectiles hit them head-on, knocking them out. Now Justin and Joseph were taking out their weapons. "Just keep attacking," Justin said. "Weapons seem to hurt him more than magic." The two of them cut and jabbed and swung their weapons at the gigas, but to no avail. The large creature grabbed Joseph and threw him to the ground. Justin knew there was only one thing left to do. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the Mana Sword. In a moment it began to glow a light blue. Justin raised it above his head and cried out "Splash Run!" He put his sword away and raised a fist at his enemy. Then he began to run toward him. Soon he was a blue blur hurtling toward the gigas. He crashed into the giant with a staggering punch that sent it flying into the wall. And as he landed his fist on the gigas' chest, he saw a splash of water fly off his hand. The mighty gigas was dead.
Justin snatched the orb from the altar, and then proceeded to wake up his friends. "I saw that move," Joseph said. "Was that your new spell?"
"Sure was," Justin replied. "And now I've got another one."
"So what orb is next?" inquired Ashley.
"I think wind."
"Well, this mountain we're on is one of the tallest around," Joseph said. "Maybe it's at the top."
Taking Joseph's advice, our heroes found themselves at the top of the mountain. They had seen some interesting creatures on the way up, like hairy animals similar to yaks, all sorts of birds, and even a monkey or two. In fact, there was a quite comical incident that occurred when a monkey tried to take one of Ashley's earrings. Anyway, they were at the top of the mountain, and the palace was there, but they couldn't figure out how to get to it. "How the heck are we supposed to get over there?" Joseph complained. The palace was on the other side of a large chasm, and there didn't seem to be any way to get over there.
"Maybe there's another one of those crystal orbs that act like switches," suggested Justin. "It might make a bridge to the other side."
"I think you're right, Justin," said Ashley. "I found the orb."
The others ran over to see. The orb was stuck in the chasm wall. "All yours, Tony," Justin said. Tony smiled and cracked his knuckles. He decided to use his Silence spell. He cast it as usual, but nothing happened.
"Um, Tony..." Joseph began. Suddenly the wind picked up and started to blow fiercely. It got so strong that it eventually lifted all four of them up into the air, tossing them around like rag dolls. Then, after several seconds, it stopped, dropping them on the ground.
"What the heck was that for?" said Ashley.
"Look," said Justin, "we're here!" Sure enough, the wind had dropped them on the other side of the chasm, right on the palace stairs. They proceeded inside.
This palace was identical to the Wind Palace in Tony's village. I'll just tell you now that all the Orb Palaces were identical to their Mana Palace counterparts - save some paper.
As they approached the altar, Sylphid did not appear. Apparently the elementals had wised up and decided to just bring on the monsters, and save time by not giving a speech. This time their opponent was a genie. It appeared out of nowhere and started casting lightning spells. Justin and the others jumped behind the altar, narrowly avoiding the sizzling bolts of electricity. They tried to come up with a plan. "Okay," said Joseph, "anybody got any ideas?"
"There's no way we can get past that lightning," said Ashley.
"Maybe we can," said Tony. "I've got an idea. Ashley, use your Speed Up spell so we can all move faster. First, I'll distract his attention. Then I'll cast Speed Down on him so he won't be able to fire as many electrical shocks. Then Justin, you come out and try your earth spell on him. Then Ashley and Joseph can get him with their weapons."
"That might work," replied an impressed Ashley. "You've become a lot more serious, haven't you Tony."
Tony smiled. "Hey, you don't save the world by goofing around." Ashley used her spell and Tony ran out from behind the altar. "Hey, over here!" The genie began concentrating his electricity in Tony's direction. Tony avoided them as best he could, then cried out "Speed Down!" Big vines came out of the ground and wrapped around the genie, slowing him down quite a bit.
Justin darted out, clasping his hands together above his head. "Shockwave!" he cried. As his hands started emitting a brownish light, Justin slammed them on the ground. The brown light traveled along the ground until it was directly under the genie, at which point a huge brown beam shot up from the floor. The genie cried out and exploded. The Shockwave had killed him instantly.
"That was too easy," Ashley said. "He must be hiding somewhere."
"Maybe not," said Tony. "The genie was the wind monster, so maybe Justin's earth spell was too much for it."
"So you're saying that if I use the spell of the opposite element on one of the test monsters," Justin asked, "it'll die in one shot?"
"Well there's only one way to find out," Justin said, taking the orb. "Let's go find the Fire Orb Palace!"
Thanatos was sitting in his chair again (are you getting tired of this scene?). He had been wondering how the search for the Mana Knight was going, so he had called an officer up to give him a report. That officer was still on his way, though.
A few minutes later the Red Wolf burst through the door. "Well," Thanatos asked, "how's the search going?"
The officer was trying to find the right words. "Well, sir, all efforts to locate the Mana Knight have failed."
"We've been searching for days, but we've come up with nothing. No one has seen the Mana Knight since the sand ship incident."
Thanatos was quite surprised. "Not a single lead?"
"Not really. There is something strange going on in Depretha, though."
Thanatos looked interested. "The townspeople refuse to answer any questions regarding the Mana Knight, and they even attacked some of our soldiers."
Thanatos' eyes narrowed. "It's the Mana Knight's doing. They must have thought that they could resist us when he drove Iron Claw away."
"That doesn't explain why they won't talk."
"They must know where the Mana Knight is, and they're trying to protect him. Get some soldiers out there, and tell them to do whatever necessary to get those Deprethans to talk."
Meanwhile, Justin and his friends were on their way to the next palace. They were hoping to find the Fire Orb Palace next, so that they might test Tony's theory about the test monsters' reaction to Justin's new powers. Because of that, their destination was an island where Joseph said there was a lot of volcanic activity. It was a long trip, so to avoid getting bored, the four of them were engaging in a friendly conversation. "He thought you were married?!" Joseph laughed.
"Yeah," Tony replied, laughing hilariously. "It was so funny."
"Ashley didn't think so," said Justin. "She made the ugliest face!"
Ashley looked at him. "Oh, I've seen you do worse."
Justin looked surprised. "When?"
"Whenever you're making one of your smart-aleck remarks."
Justin rebuked her statement with a quick hand gesture. "Oh, so what."
"Yeah," interrupted Tony. "We should be thinking about our mission."
"Hey Jut," Joseph said.
If you were there you could tell by Justin's face that he didn't like being called that. "What?"
"You guys saw Thanatos blow up right in front of you, right?"
"Well, if you killed him, then how come he's still commanding the Red Wolf army?"
Justin scoffed at Joseph's question. "Joe, I could only wish I knew."
"Maybe he found a new body," suggested Ashley.
"Probably," said Justin. "His old body was destroyed, so he'll definitely look different."
"Hey Tony," Ashley said, "you said Thanatos was standing nearby when he tried to drain you of your Mana. Could you see him?"
Tony slowly shook his head. "No, he was standing in a shadow, so all I could see was a silhouette. All I can tell you is that his new body is a lot younger, and he looks a little taller than you, Justin - not counting your hair."
Joseph chuckled a little, but then looked down and realized that they were almost there.
Justin, Joseph, Ashley, and Tony were now climbing the slope of a large volcano. They suspected that the Fire Orb Palace was at the top.
Well, it was, but they were quite disappointed when they got there. "What the heck is this?" Joseph said angrily. Before them was a giant column of rock which rose up out of the volcano. At the top of it was their goal.
"It's the palace, all right," Tony confirmed, "but I don't see any way up there."
"Couldn't we fly up on Flammie?" suggested Ashley.
"There's nowhere for him to land!" said Justin.
"Yeah. There's barely enough room up there for the palace," added Joseph.
"Maybe there's one of those crystal orbs," Justin said. "If Tony casts a fire spell on it, maybe it'll make a stairway or something."
They searched the area and found a crystal orb at the edge of the crater. Tony tried his Lava Wave spell on it. "I hope it's not gonna do that wind thing again," said Ashley.
Suddenly the ground began to shake violently. Joseph looked up and saw some lava beginning to ooze over the side of the volcano. "Run," he cried, "it's erupting!"
They all turned around and ran for their lives. As fast as they could they ran down the steep slope. "This is a fine mess you've gotten us into!" Joseph shouted at Tony.
The young sprite seemed confused. "What did I do?"
Before long the four of them were back on Flammie's back and were watching the lava wash over the entire island. "Great!" mocked Justin.
"If only we had come to this palace first..." Ashley started. "Now we'll never be able to confront Thanatos."
"Should we go home and leave Thanatos stuck here?" Joseph said.
"I don't see what else there is to do," said a disappointed Tony. "At least that way he can't get his hands on Justin."
"Wait a sec," said Ashley. "Just how, exactly, are we supposed to get home?"
"With Thanatos' machine," sighed Tony.
"So you guys are stuck here?" Joseph said.
Justin's face suddenly lit up. "Maybe we aren't." The others turned to him in anticipation. "It's a long shot, but it just might work."
As pointless as it seemed, the four of them had taken Justin's advice and camped out on another island nearby. The next day, they flew back to the volcano. Just as Justin thought, the column supporting the palace had crumbled and dropped it on the ground. Also, the lava had now cooled and become hard, allowing them to walk right up to the palace door, which Joseph unlocked as usual.
After making their way through the halls within, Justin and the others found themselves in the final room. "All right, salamander," shouted the Mana Knight, "bring it on!"
From out of nowhere a red biting lizard appeared. "That's it?!" laughed Joseph. "At least the other ones had some size."
Justin warned him to be cautious. "I've dealt with these guys before - they're stronger than they look. But with my Splash Run spell he shouldn't be too tough to get rid of." What Justin didn't know was that this was no biting lizard. It reared its head back and began to fire sizzling fireballs from its mouth. Justin was barely able to avoid them as he rolled to the left. "Watch out," he cried. Without warning, his amphibian opponent spit a giant fireball at the ceiling above, causing several large pieces to fall right onto him, burying him instantly.
"Justin!" Tony cried.
Joseph looked at Ashley. "Now what do we do?" The salamander wasted no time in taking advantage of their confusion. It immediately spouted more flames from its mouth. Joseph, Ashley, and Tony scattered around the room. Tony responded by using his Freeze spell on the creature. The big chunks of ice hurt it a lot, but seemed to only make it angrier. Now it was spitting lava at them. Joseph leapt into a handspring, barely avoiding the globs of molten rock flying toward him. As soon as he was back on his feet, he charged forward and attacked with his knife.
Meanwhile, Ashley tried to dig Justin out of the pile of rubble. But before she had even picked a piece up, the salamander stretched out its tongue and wrapped it around her waist. Joseph, who the salamander had knocked aside, looked up as Ashley screamed and the hungry monster swallowed her whole. "No!" he shouted, drawing the Daedalus Lance. He rushed forward and tried to stab it, but it dodged his attack, and then managed to get hold of the spear and eat that too!
Tony couldn't believe what he was seeing. Enraged, he took out an axe and began to chop wildly away at the salamander. However, the axe was so heavy that he didn't hit the thing once. Still not giving up, he threw the axe aside and tried to fight it barehanded. The creature stretched out its tongue and caught Tony's wrist, and the tiny sprite had to grab hold of the side of the altar to keep himself from being dragged in. Then Joseph got an idea. "Tony, pull!" he shouted. He ran up and swept the salamander's feet out from under it, causing it to fall flat on its stomach. Tony then grabbed its tongue and pulled as hard as he could, slamming its head into the altar. "Yes!" Joseph cried. The salamander got up. Now it was really mad. It breathed fire at the ground in front of Tony, making a wall of flames between itself and the sprite. The flames were so incredibly large that Tony couldn't even see Joseph or the salamander.
Suddenly he heard something moving behind him. He turned and saw the rubble covering Justin lift off the ground and begin to spin wildly. Without warning, the various pieces of stone flew off in all directions. Tony ducked to avoid being stricken in the head by a large rock. Justin now stood where the pile was, practically unscathed. "All right," he said, "where is he?! Where is the little squirt?!"
"Well," Tony began, "he just put up this wall of fire so that I couldn't get to him."
"What about the others?"
"Well, he already got Ashley-"
"You mean 'gulp'?"
"Didn't he spit her out as soon as you hit him?"
"What about Joe?"
"He's back there fighting with it right now."
"Looks I'd better use my Splash Run spell. We've got to get Ashley out of there - you only have so long before digestion kicks in."
"But you can't get through that wall!"
"I can with the Splash Run."
"But you can't see what's on the other side - you might hit Joseph!"
Justin pondered that for a moment. "That's a risk I'll have to take." The courageous Mana Knight got into a fighting stance. "Splash Run!" he bellowed. One of his fists began to glow bright blue. Justin took off at full sprint. In a blue blur he dashed right through the stupendous wall of fire. As he emerged from the other side he barely caught a glimpse of the salamander as he crashed into it at full force. It exploded in a giant splash of water, at last releasing Ashley (and the spear too, of course). She landed on her back on the floor.
Joseph rushed to see if she was all right. "Are you okay?" he said, looking somewhat foolish.
"Of course I'm okay!" she laughed.
Justin touched the orb, making it disappear and sealing its power. "Well, we're all done here," he said. "Let's go."
The four of them were now back at the base of the volcano, deciding where to go next. "Okay, Joe," Justin said, "here's a toughie for you. Give us a place full peace and light!"
Joseph laughed. "Is this there even such a place?!"
"Outside the Underworld," Tony sighed.
"You really miss it, don't you Tony," Justin said.
"Of course I miss it!" Tony shouted.
"Next element," Ashley said. "Darkness?"
Joseph laughed again. "Got plenty of that!"
"But where is there more of it than anywhere else," asked Justin.
"Oh, that's easy!"
Joseph had led them to a place south of Thanatos' castle. It was in a dark forest, and it certainly looked gloomy. Unfortunately, flying on a straight line from the Fire Orb Palace to here would have taken them right over Thanatos, so Flammie had to take a longer, less direct route. But now they were here, and they had already found a crystal orb, suggesting that one of the palaces might be here. "Are you sure about this one, Joseph?" Justin asked.
"I've heard that there's a tunnel here that leads under Thanatos' fortress, but doesn't have a way inside. Thanatos may keep something important down there."
"It's worth a shot," Tony said. He decided to cast his Dark Force spell on the orb, since it didn't take much effort to use. As it was every time before, the black orbs flew toward their target, setting off several explosions. The crystal orb vanished, and a black, gaping hole magically appeared in the ground before them.
"This is it?" Justin wondered out loud.
"I guess," replied Joseph. "I'll check it out." He moved towards the hole.
"Joseph, what are you doing?!" Justin cried.
Joseph just smiled, then jumped into the hole. For several seconds nothing happened. "Joseph?" said Ashley.
"Whoa," came Joseph's voice from inside the hole. "It's incredible!"
Justin and the others quickly followed, and found themselves in - of course - an exact duplicate of the Palace of Darkness. They had followed the intricate maze until they reached the room where Shade had given Tony his powers after the battle with Lime Slime. "All right guys, be ready," Justin said.
Within moments their opponent appeared. This one was a large bat. It screeched and flew down towards Tony. It reached out to grab him with its talons, but a beam of light - which was Ashley's Lucent Beam spell - knocked it back. "Thanks Ashley," Tony said. He whipped out his boomerang and hurled it at the enormous creature, but the bat flew upward and avoided it.
Justin drew his sword and threw himself at the creature, but the bat swatted him to the ground. "Are you okay, man?" said Joseph.
Justin rubbed his head. "I think so, but that thing is so fast that I can't land a hit on it."
Just then they heard a scream. Ashley flew over their heads and slammed into the wall behind them, groaning. "You're right," agreed Joseph, "we need a plan."
Several minutes later, Tony was still battling the monster, when a voice came from behind. "Hey, ugly!" Justin shouted. The bat turned and screeched at him. "Come and get me!" The bat left Tony and flew directly toward Justin. The daring Mana Knight didn't move one bit. As the bat came closer, Justin still didn't show any sign of fear or anxiety. At the last second, when the bat was about to grab him, Justin leapt over it. Joseph, who had been crouching behind him, went into a back-handspring. As his legs went around, the bold thief grabbed the bat's head with his feet, smashing its face into the ground as he finished his maneuver. While the large monster was still lying on its stomach, Justin jumped and rebounded off the wall, launching himself high into the air. When he was directly over the bat, he drew his sword once again and held it upside-down so that the blade was aiming directly at the its back. As he fell toward the floor, he prepared to execute his newest magical spell. "Inferno!" he bellowed, burying the blade deep in the animal's flesh. As soon as the sword hit, a giant column of fire rose up from the ground around them and continued all the way up to the ceiling.
"Justin!" cried Ashley, who was finally awake again.
After several seconds the column dissipated, revealing Justin, who was still holding his sword in the same position, and was not burned at all. As for the bat, there was nothing left of it - it had been completely incinerated. Justin turned his head toward Joseph. "Checkmate," he said.
"All right!" exclaimed Joseph.
While Justin was sealing the orb, Joseph and Tony were trying to come up with an idea on where the Light Orb Palace might be. "I'm clueless," Joseph said.
"Think!" replied Tony. "We have to find this orb or we'll never be able to beat Thanatos!"
"Why not? It's only one spell. Justin can make do with seven, can't he? What is it that's so special about this one orb?!"
"It's not just that one - once Justin has all eight orbs, the power of his spells will double. Even more important, he'll also be able to execute an extremely powerful spell called the Ultima Blast. It's as strong as all the other spells combined. That was what Luka wanted him to have."
"Okay, let's go," said Justin.
"Coming!" Ashley said. Suddenly they heard a thump. "Ouch!"
"What's wrong?" asked Tony.
"I tripped over something." Ashley gasped. "It's a crystal orb!"
Justin and the other male members of the group rushed over. "It's a crystal orb," Joseph said.
Ashley gave him a funny look. "I said that already."
Tony gasped. "Oh, I know what this is!"
"What?" asked Joseph.
"This must be the entrance to the Light Orb Palace!" The others looked confused. "The Light Orb Palace would be inside another palace so that you had to have a sprite to get in. Remember, sprites like me don't have the ability to cast light spells. But to make sure you need a sprite to get in, they put the entrance inside one of the palaces that sprites do have the power to get into. Somebody else would have to know light spells."
"Somebody like me," said Ashley. "Lucent Beam!" Big white beams of energy zigzagged toward the small orb. When they hit, the orb vanished and a door magically appeared in the wall behind the altar. Joseph opened it with the Mana Dagger, and they were soon inside the Light Orb Palace.
Our heroes climbed the stairs here as they did in the Golden Tower (Light Palace). At the top was their next challenge. The test monster of light looked like a little puffy cloud. "I'm getting tired of these guys," Justin said. "I think it's time we found out if Tony really was right about being able to kill test monsters with my spell of the opposite element." Justin raised his sword in the air. "Destructo-beam!" he shouted. He then pointed the Mana Sword at the small puff of air, and fired a small violet beam at it. The beam hit the cloud and it exploded. "I'd say that's a yes."
After they were finished with the orb, Justin and the others found a platform that transported them outside, and they were already climbing onto Flammie's back. "Let's go for the Moon Orb Palace next," said Tony.
"Gee," Ashley said. "What would you look for?"
"Anything that's really weird," said Justin. "Know any places like that, Joseph?"
"Let me think. Well, I hear that the Red Wolves have been building some pretty wild stuff in Pular - let's check there."
"Tell me where he is, now!" shouted a Red Wolf officer.
He was yelling at the merchant who had turned Joseph in back when Justin first came to Depretha. "I told you, I don't know where the Mana Knight is. And even if I did, I still wouldn't tell you."
The Red Wolf and his soldiers were growing impatient. They took out their weapons. "This is your last chance-"
"Wrong!" said the merchant, stepping back. The hermits and other various people of Depretha came out of their houses and street corners with makeshift weapons of their own. "It's your last chance."
The officer looked scared. Normally he would not have been afraid of such peasants, but there were so many of them that he and his soldiers were outnumbered by about twenty to one! The whole town was out in the streets, determined to drive them off. The werewolf picked up his communicator. "Pular, this is Commander Freditz. We need backup, now!"
"Attack!" the merchant cried, as the horde of townspeople charged forward.
Justin and his friends were on Flammie's back, as usual. They had just sealed the Moon Orb and were searching for the last one. The Moon Orb Palace had been on a high plateau, but with the help of a crystal orb a platform had appeared and carried them to the top. Inside, they had to face a mechanical enemy, which they defeated without much trouble.
Now only one orb remained - the Tree Orb. Joseph believed that it was on a large island between Thanatos' castle and the continent that Depretha and Unarrix were on. The entire island was a dense forest were very few people had been, which seemed like the perfect place for the last palace. "Is this it?" asked Justin, as they flew overhead.
Joseph looked down at the ground below. "Yeah, that's it all right. Take us down."
They landed on the island and were already inside (as you can see, I'm kind of anxious to get on with this, and I seem to be leaving out some of the details of the last few palaces). As always, there was a crystal orb outside, which this time had caused a large tree to grow out of the ground beneath them, taking them to the palace door.
Now they were in the main room, waiting for their opponent. At first nothing happened. Then, without warning, a green tentacle reached up out of the ground and wrapped around Joseph's leg. "What the-" he started. Before he could even finish his sentence, the "tentacle" jerked backward, pulling Joseph's leg out from under him. He landed on his back with a thud. It then started to drag him away from the rest of the group.
"Wait a minute," Justin said. He took out his sword out chopped the tentacle in half. Afterward they heard a deafening roar. From out of the ground where Joseph was being dragged toward (before Justin chopped up the tentacle, anyway), a giant plant similar to a venus'-flytrap arose.
"Holy shit!" Joseph cried.
"Watch your mouth!" Ashley scolded.
"Ashley, it's not my mouth you should be worrying about right now." The giant plant reached out another tentacle and tried to grab Justin, but the agile Mana Knight was able to jump out of the way and avoid being snagged. Tony took out their spear and charged forward, stabbing the carnivorous piece of vegetation several times. Then the large plant reached out with its "mouth" and tried to bite him, but Ashley saw what was happening and quickly cast a Fire Bouquet spell. The monster reeled back in surprise.
"Allow me," Justin said, raising the Mana Sword above his head. "Spin Strike!" He threw the Mana Sword at the plant. It spun rapidly in the air. In fact, it began to spin so fast that it became a small tornado. It continued forward until it enveloped the entire venus-flytrap. Then huge bolts of yellow-green electricity shot inward from the sides of the spinning mass of air, giving the plant a jolt to remember. It was still alive, but definitely weakened. The others followed with all sorts of spells, with some physical attacks thrown in too. In the end it was actually Joseph who killed it when he sliced up its stem with the Mana Dagger.
Justin climbed the altar and touched the orb. It vanished into thin air. Suddenly he felt filled with power and strength. He turned to his friends. "Suddenly I feel... like I'm... invincible!"
Tony slowly nodded his head. "The power of the Ultima Blast flows through you now. Plus, your other spells are going to be stronger than ever."
Justin's mouth became a wide grin. "Look out Thanatos, here we come!"