Chronicle of Mana
by Glarryg

Chapter Six: Ninja's Trump

She stood statuesque on the elevated path, still pointing at him as he approached. Wrapped in a cape and light, loose-fitting armor, the only clear indication of her gender was the sound of her voice, and even then she only said two words. Nevertheless, Kion walked purposefully up to where Sayoe and Lester waited, trying to focus on her face. It looked as though she wore a mask, with thin eyes glaring down on the trio beneath her. Lester beamed at Kion, and was answered with narrowed eyes; shrugging this off, he waved his hand up at the stranger.

"This," he said majestically, "Is my lady."

The blacksmith eyed the stranger, then glared at Lester. "What's this all about?"

"I told you; she tells me about what's going on in the world, and when there's trouble, she lets me know so I can pray for better times." He paused, and cocked his head a little. "I don't have any other family, Kion," he said simply.

"So I heard," the unimpressed young man replied. Sneaking a quick glance to Sayoe, he said: "What does any of this have to do with us?"

"Well," the musician explained, "You two know the Spirits. So does she. Any friend of the Spirits is a friend to my lady." He added, mater-of-factly, "I'm sure she can help you. She knew my sister."

"What does your sister have to do with--"

"Look, man, KAIRI and Davias are the same thing. One devil, different pajamas," Lester interrupted. He was beginning to sound annoyed.

Kion stepped back. "This doesn't make any sense; why do you think we--"

The shape on the elevated road leaped down, alighting right in front of Kion. He jumped back, and Sayoe reacted as well. Lester cast his eyes to the ground, wandering a little to the side. Looking Kion in the face through her sinister mask, the stranger leaned towards him a little and spoke again:

"We haven't much time, Kion. The KAI Research Institute is going to act soon, and your mission is at stake."

Glowering at her, Kion protested: "But they said KAI doesn't have anything to do with--"

"KAI is Mana," the stranger declared.

The blacksmith stopped, still glaring at the stranger. He forced an awkward pause, then calmly inquired, "How do you know anything about my mission?"

Mirroring his calm, the stranger replied: "You have allied yourself with the Elementals of Wind and Fire. You are taking the burden the Wanderer placed on you."

Biting the inside of his bottom lip, the young man cocked an eyebrow and stole quick glances at the other two. Lester was still diverting his eyes leisurely, but Sayoe was paying close attention to the verbal exchange, and almost looked fearful. A wavering feeling ran down his spine as he pondered what the stranger said. It was not the same uneasiness that he felt before entering the city; it was more like a sensation of urgency. Worse yet, it was far more difficult to ignore than the previous anxiety. He forced a deep breath and said:

"What am I supposed to call you?"

Straightening her posture slightly and shifting her weight back with her hands on her hips, the stranger replied, "I am called Nightblade. It will do tonight."

The young man slowly looked at Sayoe, who seemed shocked and expectant at the same time. His mouth wrenched a little to one side, and he hoisted his leather pack a little. He forced another, slightly irritated sigh. "Let's go."

Lester walked up to him and said, "I'll watch your bag for you."

"No, you won't," Kion answered as he followed Sayoe and the Nightblade over to and up the same coal pile behind which he had hidden.

As quickly as she ascended it, the Nightblade leapt from the top of the coal mound to the elevated road. Sayoe followed, and Kion joined them after tossing his pack ahead of him. He quickly noticed that the elevated path was another railway, although in much better shape than the earthbound one. Not wasting any time, the stranger set off to the east, briskly following the tracks out of the unkempt part of town. Sayoe kept up well, but Kion frequently fell out of pace as he strained to assume an adequate stride over the wooden slats of the railway.

By the time he managed a decent step, the track straightened out and the scenery changed; the dark, dank recesses of the old warehouses and dead store buildings were replaced by lights and dynamic metal and glass towers, the likes of which he had seen on his way into the city. Still not as inviting as they had been from afar, the massive structures prompted Kion to pull ahead to Sayoe's side and tell her:

"This is all against my better judgment; I'm putting more faith in this woman than I should."

"Okay," the young lady nonchalantly replied, keeping her focus on the masked stranger ahead of them. A tunnel appeared further down the railway. After a while, the Nightblade slowed down, and was soon walking. The pair slowed down in accordance, and kept a few paces between themselves and the stranger. She tossed a glance over her right shoulder at them, then looked back at her path and said in a low voice:

"We need to penetrate the KAI Research Institute building; you must do exactly as I say. Our window of action is small." Her pace slowed considerably, and she seemed to be watching the right edge of the track. They had not yet reached the railway tunnel.

"What are we going to do in there?" Kion inquired.

"Gnome is there," the Nightblade answered. Saying no more, she turned and jumped off the side of the elevated track.

Sayoe rushed to the spot from which the Nightblade leapt, and Kion ran after her. Leaning in a little, he whispered: "What's Gnome?"

"Who, not what," Sayoe corrected. Directly below them lay the street, just beside the border of the sidewalk and a row of uniform, drab gray buildings. Dropping off the side, she landed gingerly not far from where the stranger waited. Kion hesitated; the fall was farther than he wanted, but he could not tell exactly how far. He crouched down and hopped off. As he fell, he stretched his spine out and extended his legs. Crumpling up as he landed, the young man rolled to the side to cushion the fall. Quickly springing to his feet, he joined the two ladies as the Nightblade led them towards one of the buildings, surrounded by a high barbed wire fence.

Approaching the fence carefully, the Nightblade stealthily tucked her hands underneath her cape and drew a pair of knives. In one fluid motion, she charged the fence and sliced at it with both weapons; the two travelers could barely follow the movement of her arms. A narrow triangular portion of the fence fell back into the yard. Turning to the pair, she motioned them towards the building.

"This is it; we must hurry." Kion and Sayoe slipped into the yard, and the Nightblade followed them, whispering: "The overnight security guard is signing on now; he shan't spot us if we are quick." Running ahead of the pair, she led them to a door next to a generator and motioned for them to stay close to the wall. The Nightblade stopped for a second and watched a small metal device mounted on the wall above them; it rotated back and forth with an unassuming hum and small, blinking red light, and once it pointed away from the door she ran past it. Brandishing one of her knives, she slipped it between the door and doorway. A couple of quick jerks of the handle popped the portal open; she ushered the travelers ahead.

Quickly taking the lead again, she crept down the long hallway before them and once again motioned for them to stay against the left wall as she did. The empty hallway dead-ended against a perpendicular hall; the Nightblade snuck a glance into the new hallway, then whispered for Kion and Sayoe to follow.

"Stop," the blacksmith ordered, standing straight up. Turning impatiently to him, the masked stranger leaned in with her head cocked a little. Kion folded his arms, stealing a quick glance behind him to Sayoe. To the Nightblade, he said: "We need to clear a few things up before we go further."

The woman's shoulders dropped a little. "We need to--"

"Answer me honestly or I won't help you," the young man interrupted. Allowing a pause first to make sure he was being heard, he continued. "This KAI Institute... is playing with an energy field..."


"... And saying that it's not Mana."


"But it is Mana."


He looked at Sayoe again. "So, they're draining Mana."

"Exactly," the Nightblade replied.

Kion tightened his mouth and slowly drew his sword. "And this Gnome is... somebody... related to Mana."


"And what does any of this have to do with that Wizard?"

"Nothing," the Nightblade said after a short pause. "That is another matter entirely."

Squinting his eyes in partially amused thought, the blacksmith gripped his weapon, letting it bob up and down a little with forced leisure. "You know an awful lot," he said, shifting his weight away from her "I don't trust you. I'm going to stay close behind you."

"You'll believe me in due course," the Nightblade answered calmly. Staring at him for another moment, she turned back and crept down the new hallway to the left, keeping close to the wall. Kion glanced at Sayoe once more, and noticed the concerned disappointment in her eyes. With the stranger quickly rounding the corner and leaving his sight, he decided to follow the Nightblade rather than breach the young lady's thoughts. Sayoe continued on, not quite as closely behind Kion as she had earlier.

Most of the halls in the building were modestly lit, and some had no lights on at all. All of the doors they passed were dull and gray, almost blending in with the drab walls had they each not sported small square windows at eye level. Barely anybody walked the building at so late an hour, and the three only had to duck away from people on two occasions. The first was after their second turn down a right-hand hallway; the Nightblade ushered them back to the previous hallway as a tall woman in a laboratory coat stalked into a restroom. The second was after they had wandered far enough into the building that Kion could no longer remember how to retrace his steps back to the entrance. In a hallway filled with small classrooms on both sides, a man walked out of a room, giving the intruders barely enough time to slip into another room before he would see them. Aside from those two occasion, the trip into the heart of the building consisted mostly of sneaking past the same kind of rotating objects as the one on the wall outside of the door they had entered.

They remained silent the entire time; Kion kept his weapon ready, and as he grew more tense he began mulling whether he should have it pointed at the Nightblade's head in case something happened. They had not yet been in the building ten minutes before a faint dinging sound echoed four times through the empty halls. The Nightblade froze.

We are too late," she whispered grimly. "The security units have been activated."

"Security units?" Kion repeated.

"Robots," the stranger said. "Quickly; we are almost there." She began to run.

Kion readily caught up with her, and Sayoe kept up behind them. They rounded one more corner and halted at the sight of a large shape down the hall. It almost looked like a large torso, with wide shoulders bordering a small, pointed head. It lower half consisted of a track of caterpillar-style treads that pushed the thing down the hallway. A single red light shone on the head portion as it trudged down the hall towards them, emitting a low beeping sound and slowly raising its thick arms.

Wasting no time, the Nightblade rushed the creature, tucking her right arm under her cape. As quickly as she drew her arm back, she swept it forward, throwing a trio of thin metal objects at the thing. Puncturing it with a quite "ping," each object sliced a piece off of the metal creature; both arms and the head were severed from it. Quickly approaching it, the Nightblade vaulted over the thing, landed silently behind it, turned, and yanked a metal panel off of its back. Reaching into the remains of the torso, she pulled a handful of wires out and shoved the thing onto the floor.

Red lights flashed on and off through the halls, and a siren began wailing. A tinny voice resounded: "Guardian Security Systems have been breached. Repeat: Guardian Security Systems have been breached. Disturbance is being pinpointed."

"Run," the stranger ordered grimly, and dashed off down the hall.

"Dammit," Kion swore, "She did that on purpose!" He charged after the Nightblade, not stopping to examine the remains of the metal creature that she had mauled.

Sayoe ran after him. "On the other hand," she called, "You made us late by arguing, twice." She was prepared to glare back at him as he bitterly looked over his shoulder at her.

They quickly caught up to the Nightblade, who had stopped in front of a door and was already prying it open with her knife. It took more doing than the other door, but she eventually broke the lock and pulled the portal open, waving the other two inside. Once inside, they were met with a descending staircase. At the bottom, a host of lights shone. Kion drew his sword up to her neck. "Why did you do that?" he hissed. "You want them to find us, don't you?"

"No," she replied coldly, "This is where we want to be." She pointed at the door; it was the only one they had seen with no window. "This level has its own security system; they will still be looking for us back there."

"At first," Kion added. "When they don't find us there, they'll look other places."

"All the more reason to hurry," the Nightblade said simply, waving him towards the stairs. "This is not the way I would have things go."

He narrowed his eyes, staring down the lifeless mask before him. Slowly, he lowered his sword, and stepped back. "You first," he ordered.

Lester wandered down the street, having chosen not to follow the railway home. The clouds still lingered overhead, but appeared calmer than before. Odd, considering how much they seemed to be stirring an hour ago. Still, a deep breath reassured him that nothing was going to happen. He took his time going home.

Ahead, a shape moved towards him. Even at such a late hour in such a neighborhood, other people were still walking the streets. The man ahead wore a heavy, hooded cloak, and not much beyond his wide shoulders could be discerned. With a bowed head, he stalked towards the musician, giving no sign that he saw him in his path. As the man approached, Lester quietly sidled out of the way, stopped and said:


The man grumbled an unintelligible response.

"Nice night," Lester persisted as the stranger passed him.

The wide-shouldered man stopped a couple of paces past the musician and lifted his head a little. Looking up at the sky for a second, he glanced over his shoulder and amusedly said: "Of course."

Lester chuckled a little to himself; the stranger seemed a little too sincere about his response. He was about to continue on his way when the man started walking back towards him. A sudden chill ran through the musician; he stepped back a few paces and forced his smile on. The stranger lowered his head again, hiding his face beneath his hood, but walked right up to Lester and asked:

"Is this the main thoroughfare here?"

"It's as big as a road gets in this corner of the burg," Lester replied.

"Are you a local?" the man queried.

"Born and reared," the musician said simply. A hot feeling began to grow at the base of his neck.

"I'm looking for a foreigner; came in by boat, headed this way."

"A lot of kids--"

"He's a blacksmith," the man said with a weird air of insistence.

Lester stopped; his throat went dry, and he vainly tried to clear it. The stranger did not move; he did not notice as Lester clamped his mouth shut for a moment, straightened his posture, and forced a quiet breath of composure through his nose. Smiling more naturally, the musician pronounced:

"Yeah; I saw a couple sprouts come by today. One was a blacksmith; real nice guy. They slid north a couple hours ago." The stranger's head lifted a little. "Should be slick out of town by now," Lester continued. "In a real hurry."

The wide-shouldered man lifted his head enough for Lester to see his face. "Thanks," he replied with a grin. Turning quickly, he stalked off in the direction Lester indicated, with a disturbingly sprightly atmosphere in his step.

Lester sighed in relief and turned back to his own path. Walking a little faster than before, he tried to get the image of the man's face out of his head. Although he could discern very little about the stranger's visage, one feature had burned itself into his memory. The man's eyes almost seemed to glow. They were not entirely... right. Not entirely... human...

Despite the abundance of light, the basement hall was completely deserted. It was a little wider than the ground floor halls, and their steps echoed all the louder for it. The Nightblade raced past several rooms, none of them with windows like those on the higher floor. Instead, a small plaque sat at eye level on each portal; most of them had no writing on them. Kion kept up intently, and Sayoe lagged a little less than she had earlier. The hallway was about to end abruptly when the Nightblade stopped in front of a door. Not looking any more special than any of the others, it bore a name on its plaque:

"Dr. Paul Zeno"

Again drawing a knife, the Nightblade nearly stabbed at the doorway when a sudden clanking sound ran down the hall. Retreating from the door, she hesitated. With a quick glare to Kion, she declared, "The electrical locks have been activated."

"Great," Kion frowned, gripping his weapon a little tighter and tensing his arm.

Looking again at the door, the stranger ordered: "Step back." Kion and Sayoe did so, and the blacksmith readied his sword as if expecting an attack. Positioning herself directly across the hall from the door, the Nightblade widened her stance and crossed her arms in front of her face. With a bow of her head, she sounded like she was whispering something, but was barely audible. The hall began to shake slightly, and the hair on the back of Kion's neck stood on end. He stole a look behind him, and Sayoe seemed just as anxious as he was. She took another step back, and Kion followed suit. When they looked back at the stranger, she was enveloped in a web of electrical arcs; her body appeared to be the epicenter of the tremors. Kion retreated further in alarm, and almost smacked Sayoe in the face as he drew his sword back.

Quickly assuming a fighting posture, the Nightblade threw two punches into the empty air in front of her. Each volley tossed a wild spark into the hall. Following through with her momentum, she launched herself forward, jumping and twisting as she swung her foot up and back down across the door. The portal buckled as the kick connected, and crumbled open as if it was made of paper. With a sickening creak and crash, the ruined door fell open amid a stirred-up cloud of smoke. Almost instantly, a siren began wailing in the hallway.

"Go!" she shouted as she ran into the room. Kion hesitated, but Sayoe slipped around him and beckoned as she ran after the Nightblade. Another second of hesitation let the blacksmith finally decide to pursue them.

Crossing the doorway and wafting the smoke away from his face, he was met with an expansive room filled with tables bearing glass beakers, burners, and sloppily stacked towers of paper. Commanding the most attention was a large machine at the back of the room, surrounded by scores of monitoring instruments and screens bearing rows of data smashed into cramped columns. The heart of the machine was a large, cylindrical glass tank with vapor clouding its contents from outside viewers. A host of tubes and mechanical arms fed from the tank to the instruments around it. A row of sinks and medical tools lined the right-hand wall, and the left bore a wide door that was drawing upwards as the three entered.

A portly man stood in front of the opening portal, clad in a white laboratory coat. His face, lined by a scraggly beard and receding hairline, was twisted in surprise and fear.

"You can't be in here!" he yelled frantically.

Ignoring him, the Nightblade pointed at the tank, telling Kion: "In there; quickly!" Not waiting for a response, she started after the fat man, who recoiled and began pounding a large button on the side of the raising door.

"Hurry, hurry," he muttered in frustration at the portal.

Kion looked at Sayoe, who had already leapt onto the nearest table and was skipping across them towards the tank. She plowed right through the instruments laying on the tables, knocking paper stacks over and breaking most of what she came in contact with. Grimacing, the young man ran around the tables after her. He could hear a tinny voice in the hall again, but the words it said were drowned out by the alarm siren.

"Stay back!" the bearded man ordered as the Nightblade approached him. Behind the door, a trio of metal creatures like the one she had mauled before appeared. Red lights shining, they crawled towards her.

Kion stopped and looked back, distracted by the mechanical whirring of the things. "Hey," he called to Sayoe, "Should we help--"

"Don't worry about her!" Sayoe called back. Nearing the tank, she hopped onto a metal pumping device on the right side of it and threw a kick at the glass. Pulling her foot back with a wince, she nearly lost her balance. Kion moved towards her, but stopped and glanced over to the Nightblade across the room.

She had already attacked one of the metal things, kicking its head off and vaulting over it to the next closest. Spinning around, she drove the back of her hand into the thing's chest, collapsing it inward and knocking the creature backwards. As it fell, she somersaulted over it and swung her heel onto the head of the last thing. Watching its head cave in, Kion finally pinpointed what had attracted his attention; her feet and hands looked like they were on fire.

"Kion, hurry!" Sayoe called. Turning back to her, Kion was seized by the look in her eyes. With knotted brow and tightened mouth, she had the most serious air that he had seen in her yet. All of the strange expressions of worry she held before seemed to be compounded in one visage: at once insistent and fearful, as if she was stricken by the possibility of his not complying.

Knotting his brow, the blacksmith drew his sword up and, after an unsure pause, stepped onto one of the machines in front of the tank. Taking the handle in both hands, he swung the blade diagonally at the glass. Just as the sword cracked through the tank, a jet of vapor spewed out, shattering the rest of the glass. Both Sayoe and Kion were thrown back by the explosion; the room shook, and several of the surrounding machines collapsed about them.

Springing to his feet in panic, the young man vainly waved the vapor out of his face; it did not seem to be steam, but at the same time did not cause any immediate reaction against his skin or lungs. A host of lights on the housing of the tank had come alive, and several of the remaining monitoring instruments were complaining in some form or another. Amidst the noise, Kion asked Sayoe if she was okay; he barely saw her stand in the haze, but heard her respond in the affirmative. Suddenly, a creature leaped out of the tank, bouncing away from the machines and landing between the two.

"What the hell is this?" the thing bellowed in a gravelly baritone. Kion recoiled; it was not much larger than Sylphid, but looked much more human. A thick beard dangled from its face as the creature hopped around menacingly. The pointed hat on top of its head waved behind it, and its pointed shoes barely touched the ground as it circled the area in front of the tank. Its hands were clenched in fists, and its sharp ears twitched as it leaped around.

"It's Gnome!" Sayoe called with an air of childlike excitement.

"You bet," the creature answered, still bounding about and scanning the room, "And I'm as pissed off as they come! What's going on here?"

"Gnome!" Sylphid called as he appeared beside Kion's head. "Over here; this man saved you."

Hopping up to the blacksmith, Gnome declared: "I owe you one, kid! If Jinn's on your side, you've gotta take my powers, too!"

Still wary of the energetic thing, Kion gripped his weapon a little tighter and asked, "You're an Elemental?"

"The best element," Gnome yelled above the alarms. "Earth! Volcanoes, quakes, diamonds; I've got it all!"

Kion stumbled back. "Diamonds?" he repeated. Not waiting for an answer, he said: "No! I don't want that! Stay away!" He nearly dropped his weapon.

Sylphid followed him as he staggered back into a table. "No," the Wind Elemental said, almost desperately, "It is not what you think. The Diamond Gigas was a creature that misused Gnome's powers; think of it as the antithesis of the Earth Elemental. You can trust Gnome."

Frowning at the starkly serious tone of Sylphid's voice, the young man bit his lip. The creature hopping about looked menacing only in behavior; its slightly gnarled face would appear grandfatherly under other circumstances. Sending another uncertain glance to the Wind Elemental, he stepped forward and addressed Gnome. "Okay... let's go." The Earth Elemental stood still for a moment and stared right into Kion's eyes; a chill seized his spine, and the blacksmith cringed in annoyance at the feeling.

"We should go," Sayoe announced, waving the group towards the other side of the room, where the Nightblade had tackled the security units. Heading in that direction, Kion scanned the room without finding the woman.

"Where did--" his words were cut off as he slipped on a sheet of paper on the floor and nearly lost his balance. Still running, he saw the fat man cowering against the wall not far from the door that held the metal creatures. Hopping behind him, Gnome saw the man, stopped, and roared:

"You! You're the one!" Drawing his hands back, the creature hissed, "I'm going to make you--"

"Let it go," Sylphid called urgently. "We must leave now."

Kion stopped and looked back at Gnome. Twisting his mouth in frustration, the little elf glared quickly at Kion, then at the fat man, then relaxed his arms and hopped after the group with a mumbled curse. Sayoe was examining the room where the security machines had sat before activation. Nearing her, the blacksmith saw that a large tunnel had been bored into it, bending up towards the surface. The young lady shrugged quickly and ran into it.

"You can't leave," the bearded man ordered, feigning authority. Kion looked at him again, then at the demolished security creatures scattered around him. Sylphid and Gnome had already started into the tunnel; Kion glanced at the fat man once more, at his lost, stricken expression, and smirked in disbelief as the blacksmith followed Sayoe out of the room.

"Wait!" the fat man pleaded, not soon enough to catch the young man on his way towards the ground level. Standing up, he gritted his teeth angrily and pounded a meaty fist onto the nearest countertop. He began walking towards the ruined door just as a pair of men entered, wearing dark blue uniforms and carrying implements resembling small cattle prods.

"What happened here?" one of them asked over the wailing siren.

"What does it look like?" the fat man yelled. "We were burglarized!" He pointed to the tunnel, and the two men marched up to it, examining the demolished wall of the room in amazement. The bearded man watched them for a moment, then smacked his forehead. "Go after them, you morons!" As they hesitated, he grunted his annoyance. "Forget it; you'll never catch them now." Walking out the doorway, he lethargically punched the wall. Stopping in the hallway, he looked at his wristwatch, tapped his foot impatiently a few times, then spun around and returned to the ruined laboratory with a muttered curse. "I have to make a call," he grunted, stalking up to the right-hand wall and yanking a telephone receiver from its nest. Pulling a small card out of the breast pocket of his coat, he punched a number into the phone and resumed tapping his foot. A few moments later, a voice answered.

"Hello, is this the Liotte Hotel?" the bearded man inquired. "I'd like to speak with a Doctor Kalin; she was supposed to have checked in this evening." He frowned. "Yes, I'm aware of the hour," he hissed. His eyes rolled. "I'll wait."

His glare wandered around the room, checking all that had been destroyed. Repairs were not going to be cheap, and the time needed to order a new tank would probably be too long for the higher-ups to wait. The two uniformed men were still examining the tunnel, and appeared to be egging each other to go into it; his eyes rolled again. The telephone beeped twice, and a voice lazily said: "Hello?"

"Yes, Doctor Kalin?" the man confirmed. "It's Doctor Zeno."

"Paul? What do you want?" the woman on the other end asked.

"We have a problem," he said gravely.

"And it can't wait until morning?" Kalin replied.

"No," Zeno answered. "We've been attacked; they took the specimen."

"What specimen?"

"Number Double-Zero Sixty-Three," he announced.

A pause. "What? Who did it?"

"I don't know," Zeno said.


"I don't think so," the bearded man responded with a dejected sigh. "I only got a good look at one of them; some young guy with tools, like a carpenter or something."

On the other end, Kalin sighed loudly into the phone. "Where did they go?"

"Our security forces," the man said, with sarcastic emphasis on the phrase, "Lost them."

Another pause. "I'm coming in."

"Good," Zeno said, and he nearly slammed the phone back onto its nest. Taking another moment to survey the damage, he cursed to himself again and marched off to find a headache pill.

Sayoe continued to run for some time, and ducked into an alleyway without saying anything. Kion followed her, stopping to catch his breath once he reached the alley; clutching his knees, he stole a look her way. She seemed to be excited about something; she smiled with the same energy she had upon meeting that Gnome creature. Standing up, the blacksmith turned a complete circle before deciding that both Gnome and Sylphid had disappeared.

"I can't believe we made it," Sayoe exclaimed.

"Yeah, I can't believe we actually broke into that place and destroyed that entire room," Kion replied shortly, quickly facing her as he began brushing the dirt off of his clothes.

"You heard what Lester said," the young lady declared, "Those people were responsible for the Mana drain. We had to save Gnome to stop it."

The blacksmith frowned at her, and turned to the entrance of the alley. Nearly right in front of him stood the masked Nightblade. Ignoring his surprised retreat, she spoke:

"You did well. The KAI Institute is trying to bring Mana under its control. Seek out the other research centers and stop them."

Before either of them could say anything, the Nightblade dashed out of the alley, and had vanished by the time they started after her. A moment of silence followed, with the two of them standing at the mouth of the alley, partially dumbstruck and lost. Finally, Sayoe piped up: "I guess we should go back and tell Lester--"

"No," Kion interrupted. She looked at him, and he answered her with a blank, slightly tired expression. He straightened his jaw, and noticed that it had started to hurt again. "I'm not going back that way. If you're coming with me, I'm in charge from now on." Her face turned a little hurt, and he started along the sidewalk off to the north. "There's got to be a hotel or an inn somewhere here." Muttering bitterly to himself, he kept talking: "Elementals, Wizards, some guy wants to kill me, a worldwide business conspiracy, and I've got to side with vandals. My luck."

The words dripped from his mouth, and Sayoe did not move until he finished talking. She was about to speak, but he had already made several yards by the time she thought of what to say. With a glance back to the south first, she followed after him. It started to rain.

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