Chronicle of Mana
by Glarryg

Chapter Eleven: Cold Breeze

"Mister Geshtar!" Kalin almost yelped in surprise.

"It's Hans," Geshtar calmly reminded her.

"I didn't think you would be back... I mean, I thought you left yesterday after your meeting."

"No," he said, casually slipping his hands into his pockets and gazing around the lobby. "I'm supposed to head back to headquarters as soon as possible, but my flight was delayed today because of the weather in Byzel. I stopped by to tell you about the meeting, to keep you informed."

"Oh," Kalin said. "Actually, I was hoping to talk to you. There's a message from me waiting for you when you get back to your office."

"Oh, really?" the CEO replied with a wide smile.

"It's not about the stockholders, though," the scientist continued. She looked around a bit, then stepped closer and lowered her voice. "People are saying that we've hired the Scorpion Gang."

"Well, we didn't... that is, you didn't," the man said, leaning towards her and copying her tone. "The KAIRI hasn't hired anybody like that; Vandole Enterprises, however, can do as they please."

"But they say the Scorpions are looking for the ancient Seeds."

"Officially, they aren't; they're testing some of our new mechanical equipment. There is no official record of a Seed Project." He stole a glance to one side, then straightened his posture and beckoned for her to follow him down a hallway. "Off the record, though, we're looking for any number of ancient artifacts. Just for kicks." He smiled.

Kalin cocked an eyebrow, registering the amusement on his face. "I see..."

"But that's off the record," Geshtar added with an arch in his eyebrow. The scientist looked at him, letting her concern melt into a mild grin. "You don't need to worry about them, anyway," Geshtar added, "They won't be doing that much longer. I'm going to find another job for them." Kalin looked as if she was going to speak, but Geshtar cut her off as he produced a small card from his pocket. "At the meeting yesterday we agreed that it would be worth your time to hire someone to find your stolen specimen. This is the number for Guardian Systems' main office; ask for a man named Johan Kett. He's one of their best field agents, and he owes me a favor anyway, so make sure you mention my name. Put any of his expenses down in the research budget, and Vandole will compensate you."

He handed her the card and circled her casually, heading back to the lobby. Kalin read the card over:

Guardian Systems
Home * Business * Private
"The Best Since the Mana Age"

She read it again, looked at the CEO, and slipped the card into the pocket of her white coat. Following him to the front door, Kalin stuttered a good-bye and watched the man wander into the parking lot just as a long, black vehicle pulled up in front of him and took him away.

The giant turtle drifted up to the shore, finally seeming to grow tired. Sayoe hopped off its back and turned to watch for Kion, who hastily slipped off Booskaboo's shell and scrambled onto the pale, musty beach, waving for her to toss him the cloak she had purchased for him. Already chilled by the air and the cold seawater that had soaked his boots and pants, he threw the cape around his shoulders, over his pack of supplies, and clumsily fastened it around his neck. He could not tell if his legs were numb from the cold or from the unsettling rocking of the trip across the ocean; walking was a tentative endeavor for the first few minutes. Sayoe faced the mainland as she removed the tie around her ponytail and pulled her hood over her head; after about fifty yards the bleached sand gave way to a frosty plain covered in snow, which quickly introduced the foothills of a stiff mountain range. She stood for a moment, in either hesitation or awe, then looked over her shoulder at the blacksmith.

Kion was looking over his own shoulder at Booskaboo, who seemed to be waiting for something. The creature aimed its gaze at him, and the two were frozen for a second. Suddenly, the turtle blinked, and Kion was instantly aware of just how blank and lifeless its eyes appeared. He recoiled, but the giant did not notice, as it was already turning back to the ocean. The young man took a few steps back, and Sayoe walked past him towards the departing Booskaboo. She waved and bid the creature good-bye, then aimed a mildly quizzical glance at Kion as she returned to the mainland. He cleared his throat.

"Kary's Pass, right?" he confirmed.

"Yeah," she answered.

"Any idea how far that is?"

"Not too far once we get into the mountains," Salamando said, appearing between the two.

Sayoe started into the field, and Kion kept pace right behind her. "And who is it we're looking for?"

"Undine," the Fire Elemental said. "She's the Elemental of Water."

Kion looked up; the sky had been dulled by clouds halfway through their ocean trip. "Are we going to get there by nightfall?"

"It is not as late as it seems," Sylphid pronounced, blinking into view beside the young man. "We can reach the Ice Palace by midnight if we maintain a brisk pace." Nodding, the blacksmith glanced at the Wind Elemental and noticed that, just past him, Sayoe was slowing down a little. She kept looking at the jagged mountains ahead, and almost tripped on a stone as they neared the rocky skirt of the first mountain. Skipping a little, she glanced at him, cleared her throat, and asked:

"How are you doing?"

His brow knotted. "What do you mean?"

"Well, I thought you wouldn't be used to weather like this," she said.

"I did grow up in the mountains," Kion reminded her. "It's been a while, but it just takes some getting used to."

"Yeah, but I figured you'd have said something about it by now."

The blacksmith shrugged. "Not much point in complaining about it."

A sharp wind blew past the group, and a cloud of snow slapped against them. With the next gust, a steady flurry of powder began to race across the sky. Sayoe cocked an eyebrow and looked at Kion, who returned the glance with less amusement. Salamando floated ahead of them; his body seemed to flare up a little and burn more brightly than usual.

"I'll help you see your way around here," he offered.

"Thank you," Sayoe replied. She stopped for a moment, looking up at the crag before them. Pausing only a little bit, Kion walked past her and began climbing. Shrugging his cloak behind him, he gingerly stalked up to what looked like a beaten path. A burst of snow whipped past his eyes, and when he opened them he recognized Gnome standing a yard in front of him.

"Better not go up this way," the elf creature warned frankly. "About halfway up, the rocks get really loose; they'll never support your weight. Go around this way," he said, motioning to Kion's right. "It's a little longer, but a hell of a lot safer."

Aiming his glare in the direction Gnome pointed, Kion barely discerned a shallow ravine cutting through the rock almost a dozen yards ahead. He looked back up at the first path he chose, then at Gnome, and turned to the right, muttering: "Thanks."

The Earth Elemental nodded, and the next time Kion looked for him he had vanished. Without hesitation, the blacksmith headed into the narrow ravine, bordered on both sides with jagged horns of rock. He was able to use the duller points to support himself as he squeezed through the passage. Looking back, he saw that the young lady was following several paces behind him. She seemed not to be having any trouble negotiating the slim pathway; it was merely that she walked more slowly than usual. Salamando hovered around her until she asked him to join Kion. Sylphid floated behind Sayoe, far enough that Kion could barely tell that he was there.

Quietly assuming the lead, Salamando bobbed in the air in front of Kion. Floating at eye level, the Fire Elemental held his burning staff forward, like a torch. The blacksmith kept his gaze to the rocks, being careful not to trip. Salamando glanced over his shoulder and saw that Kion's eyes were aimed lower than he thought; he descended so that he was in the young man's line of sight.

Kion squinted his eyes and stopped walking. "What are you doing?" he inquired.

"I'm helping you see your path," Salamando replied.

"No, you're not; you're in the way."

Sayoe caught up with him. "You really should try to be more polite to them," she chided. "Do you know what--"

"No, I don't," Kion snapped, glaring sideways at her. "Whatever it is, I don't know it; I think we've established that pretty well. Ever since I met all of you, you've been telling me things. It gets tiring being reminded that I have no idea what all of this is. Mana Seeds, Wendel, whatever. Let me figure some of this out for myself."

Her brow furrowed. "All I was saying was--"

"I should be respectful," he interrupted. "Yeah, I heard it." He began walking, brushing past the Fire Elemental, who was staring at him in surprise. "Tell you what," he said to the air, "Once I have a reason to, I'll show them all the respect they deserve." He trudged through the ravine, bracing himself on a knife of rock that broke off of its base. Stumbling as he inadvertently snapped the rock in his hand, he seized it and threw it into a valley that had been slowly emerging to his right.

Salamando cocked his head, then glanced back as Sayoe. "He's probably just antsy because he's cold."

She looked at the Elemental, then at Kion, then back at Salamando. "Hey, I bought him the cape; don't look at me." Salamando's brow furrowed, and Sayoe cringed a little and bit her lip. "Sorry." She quickly trotted along the path, as the blacksmith was moving faster than before.

The jagged ravine twisted around to the left, and before long the right-hand border became a thin fence of rock, dividing the narrow passageway from a deep valley. The mountain to their left grew steeper, and soon the ravine turned upward. Kion started up the incline, but stopped and looked back. The snow had picked up a little, and t took him a second to confirm that Sayoe was still behind him.

"Are we going the right way?" he asked over the sound of the wind.

"Well, I think that's Kary's Pass," Sayoe answered, pointing to the valley on their right.

"So we need to find a way down," Kion deduced.

"No," Salamando interjected, "We don't want to go that way. She's not in the Palace." He pointed up the mountain. "She's up there."

"How do you know?" Kion inquired.

Salamando motioned at Sylphid. "Remember when I told you that Sylphid and Gnome are like brothers? Undine is like my sister. I can tell where she is."

Kion nodded. "Fire and Water; right."

"I don't know why," the Fire Elemental said, "But she's about a hundred yards up that way."

Not looking where Salamando pointed, the young man continued up the thin passage, taking deliberate steps as the incline grew steeper. He found himself trudging up the incline rather quickly, and ended up kicking a few rocks loose as he lumbered to the peak. Before he knew it, the walls of the ravine sunk into the mountainside, and he had a few yards of open rock left to reach a wide open plane ahead. Squinting through the blowing snow, Kion forced himself to slow down, and crept up to a fairly level cliff. Salamando rushed in front of him, darting his eyes back and forth. Pointing his staff a little to the left, the Fire Elemental floated off, and as Kion followed he seemed to cross an invisible barrier, the inside of which was completely protected from the snowfall. He stopped, staring at the wall of snow behind him and tentatively wringing some of the moisture out of his cloak. Sayoe passed the border of the snowfall, stopping after a couple of steps. While Kion still examined the edge of the weather, she looked forward, where Salamando had gone.

Seeing her cautious, almost anxious expression, Kion looked at the rocky outcropping where Salamando had floated. The Fire Elemental paused a few feet from the edge, and snuck a glance back to the humans. Saying nothing but trying to form a question, the blacksmith started towards the edge just as Sylphid emerged from the snowfall. Nobody was speaking, and everybody except the young man seemed frozen. Not even the surrounding wind could be heard; Kion frowned.

"What's the matt--"

He halted upon seeing that the pointed outcropping in front of him opened up to another, much steeper branch of Kary's Pass. Regardless of the altitude, the bottom of the valley was beyond his sight. Stepping back, he tried to fight the shaking in his legs and scanned his surroundings quickly. At that point, the figure on the end of the cliff moved, and he saw that something was sitting right where he had just been looking.

About the same size as Sylphid, but much more blue in complexion, the figure blended in with the dull, frigid rock of the mountain, only standing out by way of a head of hair that flashed various shades of green, teal, and violet as it moved. A small trident sat beside the figure, and Kion noticed a finny tail in place of legs. Propped up by delicate arms and gazing longingly over the edge of the cliff, the creature had the appearance of a miniature mermaid; she turned her head a little towards her right shoulder, but kept her gaze downward. Had he paid more attention, he would have realized that the figure was also at the center of the odd dome that repelled the snowfall.

Salamando, nearing Kion, stole a glance at the blacksmith, then regarded the tiny mermaid on the cliff. Puffing his chest out a little, the Fire Elemental slowly floated to the ground right next to the figure.

"Undine," he said.

"Yes," she replied quietly, looking at him. Her face had a childlike air to it, despite the apparent malaise weighing on her eyes.

"What are you doing here?" Salamando asked, sounding as if he did not want to offend her.

"Just thinking," she answered, turning her attention back to the valley.

"Listen," the Fire Elemental pronounced, cocking his head to get a better look into her eyes, "I'm here with Sylphid and Gnome..."

"I know," Undine confirmed.

"There's a problem," Salamando continued. "The Mana Field is..."

"I know," Undine said, a little bitterly.

"We need your help."

Still looking over the edge, the mermaid's face soured. "Of course you do," she muttered. Salamando's eyebrows popped up in surprise, and Undine flashed him a quick apologetic frown. She sighed, and the snowfall quietly crept up around them, although on the whole it had diminished somewhat. The Water Elemental sighed and spoke right before Salamando moved to ask her something: "It always happens like this. There's always a problem. Every generation or so, it happens the same way. Mankind grows too confident, and tries to control too much of the universe, and Mana pays the price."

Salamando bowed his head. "Yeah."

Turning her eyes skyward, Undine squinted them in thought. "I really wanted to believe that the last time was the last time. I thought they finally learned something from all of this."

"Well, it seems as though it's a little different this time; there's a man who--"

"It doesn't matter if it looks different; it's still the same. We thought it would be different two centuries ago, when they built that shrine, but it turned out the same. People never learn."

"Well, even so..." Salamando began.

"Even so, it might be better if we let them figure this out for themselves. No Mana Hero this time, no help from us this time." Undine looked back into the valley. "Maybe we should let them drain Mana for good this time."

"That wouldn't be fair to the rest of the planet," the fire creature argued.

Undine glared at him through the corners of her eyes. "Let them figure it out for themselves; it doesn't look like they'll learn any other way."

Salamando huffed a dejected sigh and looked back to the humans. Sayoe stood in place, next to Sylphid, silently watching the conversation with her hands folded. Kion cocked an eyebrow, snuck a glance at the pair behind him, then approached the two Elementals on the cliff. Squatting next to them, he folded his arms across his knees and spoke, casually looking past them across the valley at first.

"Let me get this right," he began, slowly turning his gaze to the Water Elemental's eyes, "You think it would be better not to do anything than to try to help people."

"That's right," she replied suspiciously, "Who are--"

"I thought you Elementals were supposed to protect this Mana Field by nature," he interrupted.

"Not by nature," she corrected, "By a sense of duty..."

"So, when you get tired of fulfilling your duty, it's okay to go back on your word?"

Undine narrowed her eyes. "What do you know about us?"

"I know this much," the young man declared. "I made a promise to take all of you to Wendel, so I'm not leaving unless you're leaving with me." Undine moved to speak, but Kion cut her off. "You can try to argue with me, but I'm not going back on my word, and we already know that you do, so I'll let you figure out which of us will crack first."

Undine's mouth dropped open in indignation, and Salamando burst with laughter. The tiny mermaid seized her trident and jumped up, floating in the air and looking down at the Fire Elemental. "Why are you laughing?" she demanded.

"This guy," he chuckled. "I've never seen a worse attempt to try and win an Elemental's favor."

"I don't care about anyone's favor," Kion proclaimed. "I told you: I have a job to do. I don't want to do it, but I gave my word."

Salamando shrugged and said: "He has a point, though. We may not like doing this all the time, but we have an obligation. The integrity of this planet depends on us."

Undine glowered in thought, eyeing the young man. Settling back to the ground, she squeezed the spear in her hand for few seconds. "You have a lot of gall," she told the blacksmith, "But... I'm going to go with you. Still, you owe me a better explanation as to why I should be doing this." She pointed the trident at him, and he answered it with a warm, amused grin. Undine returned a less entertained smirk.

Suddenly, the wind stopped; an eerie calm fell over the cliff. On a strange impulse, Kion looked to where Sayoe and Sylphid had been waiting. The young lady had begun walking towards the cliff, placing a hand over her heart as if she was trying to calm it. Behind her, Sylphid floated stiffly, reaching a hand towards her just as she reached the trio sitting on the cliff's edge.

"Mistress Sayoe..."

Kion's brow furrowed, and he straightened his back a little as Sayoe quietly fell to her knees, fixing a tentative stare on the Water Elemental. Undine returned an almost equally concerned look. Sayoe cleared her throat.

"Spirit of Water," she addressed the tiny mermaid.


With a waver in her voice, the young lady continued: "Did you know... Sumi Ishiba?"

Kion's face blanched and he stood clumsily, barely stopping himself from backing off of the edge of the cliff. Neither Sayoe nor Undine registered the movement, although Salamando moved as if he was about to warn Kion of the drop. The blacksmith could not pry his eyes from the young lady. Her face suddenly appeared more familiar to him than it ever had.

Undine cast her eyes to the ground. "I did not know her personally, but I knew of her."

Sayoe bowed her head deeply. "She was the Wanderer, and my older sister." Still looking at the ground, she pointed her head a little towards the blacksmith. "Kion is finishing her work for her."

The young man's throat was dry, and he was not sure if he could speak. Managing to walk back to the side of the young lady, Kion swallowed hard and quietly asked: "How did you know?"

Sayoe placed her hand on the left side of her neck, over the faint scar tracing along it from her ear. "I was a little kid, only five years old, when I fell out of a tree and cut my neck on the way down. Sumi was the only one there at the time, and the cut was too deep to move me." She raised her eyes enough to see the Water Elemental in front of her. "Sumi was born on Undine's day, so Undine was her guardian Spirit. She had been studying Undine's spells, and she managed to close the wound using a spell, but the strain put her in a coma for two days." The tears forming in her eyes had welled enough to escape, and ran down her cheeks in a hurry. "I would have died if she hadn't saved me, but she almost died in order to do it." She choked a little. "After she woke up, I swore to myself that I'd make her proud of me when I grew up, so it would have been worth it for her to save me." A forced smile ran across her face. "I know it sounds a little silly, but I was just a kid at the time."

Kion had taken a knee next to her, and held a fist up to his nose, trying desperately to find something to say to her. She sniffed deeply and looked at him.

"I left home to find Sumi, partly because she had been gone longer than we expected and partly because I wanted to show her that I had finished all the schooling I needed to become a Wanderer. I wanted to prove that I was good enough to do what she does. When I met you and saw that you had the Spirits with you, I knew that something had happened to her; there was no way she could have been gone in that part of the world as long as she was without finding at least one of them." She tried to laugh. "To be honest, I thought you might have killed her, but when I saw how little you knew about the Spirits and the Mana Field, I figured you were the last person to do something like that. You didn't even know what your mission was until we were halfway to Forcena."

Kion slowly lowered his fist. "She was attacked by a monster; I found her not long before she died." Hearing it, the young lady quickly averted her eyes, no longer trying to suppress her sobs. The young man leaned forward, hovering his hands over her for a second, then retreated and rubbed his temples with one hand. Sayoe brought her crying under control and turned back to him, gingerly removing the small crown from her head.

"Did you save her birth jewel?" she asked.

"Jewel?" he repeated.

Sylphid had floated to their level, and spoke: "A jewel is fashioned in the likeness of the guardian Elemental for every child born to the Mana Tribe; women typically wear their jewels on a crown, and men wear them on a belt buckle. Such were the adornments you saw in Mandala. They are passed down through the generations in most cases." He turned to Sayoe. "The older generations used to bury a Wanderer's jewel with him or her, so, in a way, Kion did not violate custom."

The young man squinted in thought. "I don't remember any... well, there was something on a string around her neck..." He glanced at Undine, and recalled the blue charm with the fish tail.

"Her crown had broken," Sylphid pronounced.

Kion shot a glance at the Wind Elemental, then looked at Sayoe. "Why didn't you tell me this?"

She wiped her eyes. "Well, like I said, at first I thought you might have done something to her. But, I guess the real reason was I was afraid to face it. If nobody said anything about it, then maybe it didn't happen." Another force smile tried to take over her expression. "But the more you kept talking about your promise, the more I knew that you had met her, and that she couldn't finish her duties." Looking him in the eye again, she smiled more naturally as she said: "Nobody could make a promise to my sister without carrying it through; it's just the way she was."

Smiling back a little, the blacksmith stood up, and Sayoe followed suit. The three visible Elementals floated to eye level, and Kion looked at Sylphid. He stared at the Wind Elemental for a second, then said: "Why didn't you ever tell me any of this?"

"Once we encountered Mistress Sayoe, I reasoned that she should tell you herself."

The young man nodded slowly with pursed lips. "Right."

Sayoe was again looking at the ground, her eyes still a little red. "I'll bet Rook knows, too; all of the Holy Cities knew that she was the Wanderer. He probably figured it out like I did; that's why he was acting strangely when I left." After a pause, she forced a quick sigh, then turned to Undine. "Undine, will you help us now?"

The Water Elemental gripped her trident and stole a nervous glance to Salamando. "Well, I guess I--"

A sudden burst of wind stopped her. All three Elementals, seemingly by instinct, looked up at the mountainside. Kion and Sayoe followed their stares to a figure perched above them like a gargoyle. Pausing for a second, the man stood straight up and gripped the cloak around his neck, tearing it off to reveal the gilded armor beneath. As he tossed the cloak into the valley, the figure smiled cruelly.

"Well, Karakor," Sheex observed, "It seems like every time I run into you, you have another Spirit on your side. We're going to have to fix that." Leaping down to the cliff, the armored man landed heavily about a yard in front of the group.

"Who are you?" Sayoe demanded, wiping the last tear from her face.

"A servant of the great Jykaro," Sheex said. "I'm here to tell the Spirits whose side they're supposed to be on. I'll thank you to stay out of this, girl."

"This Jykaro," Sylphid began, "Is whom?"

"The next man to master the power of Mana, Wind Spirit," Sheex answered, "And the greatest mortal sorcerer on the planet."

"The Mana Wizard," Kion deduced.

"To the commoners, yes." He looked at the Elementals; Gnome had appeared among the other three. "Spirits, I bid you to leave this filth. He has no idea what he is doing, and you are obliged to aid my master."

"I thought your master stole the Mana Sword," Salamando inquired.

"Stole it?" Gnome repeated. "Why should we help a guy who steals the Mana Sword?"

"Because, it is time for you to recognize that the Mana Tribe's selfish practices are dooming this planet; my master is going to release Mana's true face."

"Not while we're still breathing," Gnome swore.

"You will see in time," Sheex said. "Until then, I will have to sever all of your ties with fools such as these." He faced the humans, and placed his hand on a hilt to his right. Slowly, confidently, he drew a sword. As it emerged from its sheath, the blade seemed to warp and grow, moving as if it was made of rubber. Ultimately, the sword appeared larger than its sheath; the blade alone was at least five feet long. The Elementals recoiled.

Sylphid backed up so that he was next to Kion. "Dainslaif," he whispered.

Kion, still looking at the weapon in Sheex's grasp, reached back for his chain sickle. "Now what?"

"The Dainslaif is a demon sword, thought to have been destroyed ages ago," the Wind Elemental explained. "It is rumored to be the polar opposite of--"

Sheex quickly sliced the weapon through the air, drawing it to his side as he charged Kion. The blacksmith dodged backwards, pulling his weapon in front of his face as Sheex raised the sword straight up. The blade of the Dainslaif bore onto the chain, and made it clear that it was definitely not made of rubber. Kion pushed against the assault, shuddering under the weight of his opponent. Stealing a glance at the sword, he saw that its hilt appeared to have an eye sitting in the middle. When the eye blinked and aimed at him, he twisted his arms with a spasm, throwing the attack to his right as he frantically dodged to the left.

Following through, the armored man effortlessly turned and directed an upwards strike at the blacksmith; Kion escaped the attack by falling onto his back. Rolling and springing to his feet, the blacksmith tore his own sword from its sheath and tossed it to Sayoe, who had backed away from the fight with the Elementals. She could surely defend herself with his sword if the armored man went for her. Sheex stepped back, casually tracing a circle in the air with his weapon as he smiled in genuine amusement. Kion kept his eyes on the weapon, but noticed a shuffling around and behind him. Quickly darting his eyes around, he saw a dozen black creatures slowly surrounding the cliff; they were the same marble-headed things that had mobbed the Shell Hunters' city. Sheex saw them, and his smile relaxed slightly.

"Not now, Shadows," he ordered them gravely. As they retreated, his grin retained its severity, and he brandished the Dainslaif on preparation for another charge. Kion twirled the chain at his side a couple times, then lurched forward and pitched it at the armored man. Sheex twisted the Dainslaif downward, deflecting the sickle into the ground. Before the blacksmith could pull the chain back, Sheex dashed at him, driving the sword forward almost in time to impale the young man. Kion dodged to the right, and Sheex quickly drew the sword to the left, slicing it horizontally right above the blacksmith's head. Stumbling, Kion lost his footing, and his opponent raised the Dainslaif straight up, pausing for a second to take in the young man's stricken expression.

A pained jolt ran through Sheex's body, and he froze. Kion flinched, and upon realizing that the armored man was paralyzed for the moment, looked up and saw Sayoe, with Kion's sword buried across Sheex's left side. Sheex grimaced, and let go of his sword with his left hand, letting his right arm fall limply to the ground under the weight of the Dainslaif. Gritting his teeth, he drew his free arm back, and threw a backhanded punch too late to hit the retreating young lady. Tearing the sword from his side, Sayoe danced backwards, keeping the weapon trained in front of her face. Sheex staggered a little, looking less pained and more winded as he recovered from the shock of the attack.

"Don't... distract me," he breathed, pointing an unsteady finger at her. Shaking his head, he forced a deep breath and took the Dainslaif in both hands, facing the blacksmith again. Kion was on his feet and ready, having whirled the chain sickle to a steady revolution. He ran at Sheex, throwing a diagonal strike at the armored man's head.

Sheex caught the sickle, letting it hook the blade of his weapon, and stepped back. First pulling the chain towards himself, the armored man threw his weight forward and rammed his shoulder into the blacksmith's chest. Stooping down like a charging rhinoceros, he lifted Kion into the air and ran him to the edge of the cliff. With an inhuman leap, he sent the both of them off the cliff and into the valley, spinning around and pitching Kion farther out with his massive shoulder plate.

Kion thought to scream, but found he had no breath inside himself to do so. Plummeting sickeningly into the valley, he twisted around to get a look at Sheex, and in the rush on wind and noise around him he could swear he heard a laugh. Sheex seemed to spread his arms and legs out, and the next thing Kion saw was empty space where the armored man should have been. With the sensation of his own innards rising into his throat, the young man tried his best to find a comforting final thought, but the only thing he could cognize was the sound of someone doing the screaming for him.

Eyes open. Light. Brightness. Movement. Snow. Falling at eyes. Falling into eyes. Down into eyes. Looking up. Looking up at snow.

Cold. Numb. Only feel cold. Blink. Eyes work. Can only feel eyes. Breath, slowly. Air cold. Colder than lungs. Blink. Snow in eyes. Move.

He tipped his head to the side, and an excruciating pain wracked his neck, stopping his breathing for a second. Something registered in his ears, a sound. Nice sound. He could not tell what it was, but it was nice to hear. He moved his eyes; they hurt. The right more than the left. As if he had been hyper-extending them.

Something touched his face, something warm and soft. Like skin. His body seized up, and a grunt erupted from his throat. The thing retreated, and he snapped his head in the direction of its origin, ignoring the grip of pain around his neck. His eyes took a second to adjust to the shape above him.

"I'm sorry," Sayoe blurted. She was kneeling at his side, and sat back on her feet, resting her hands on her knees. Kion found himself tensed by her proximity, and tried to sit up. "Be careful," she told him.

He threw himself into a seating position, sighing off most of the pain. The majority of his pains felt as if he had been overexerting himself; the most prominent injury seemed to be in his neck. He rubbed the back of it, and looked at his surroundings. Drifts of snow dotted the landscape, and a valley stretched out in front of him, extending to the mountains on his left and through a forest of evergreens on his right. Behind Sayoe, the four Elementals had gathered, looking with interest at him. He blinked a couple times, then glanced at the young lady:

"You've gotta stop finding me like this."

She chuckled, smiling warmly at him. He leaned forward, trying to stand up. Undine rushed forward, saying, "You'd better take it easy; you‘re not completely healed yet."

He cocked an eyebrow, massaging his neck again. stealing a glance to his left, at the mountains, he asked: "What happened, anyway?"

"Sheex threw you off the cliff," Sayoe answered.

Kion's face grew all the more quizzical. "Okay, but how did I... how am I..."

"I did it," the Water Elemental said. "My powers let me heal wounds in living creatures. It's been a while since I've had to do it, though. Give it a little more time to settle in."

"We found you just in time," Salamando added.

The blacksmith pointed up at the mountains, looking at Sayoe. "How did you get down?"

"The Spirits helped me," she replied, a little meekly.

Kion looked down; his legs appeared limp, and he figured he would do well to wait to try and move them. His clothing was soaked by the snow, and by his own blood in many places. Darting his eyes around a little first, he looked at the tiny mermaid floating not far from him. He cleared his throat quietly.

"Thank you," he told Undine, a little uncomfortably.

She smiled, a childlike smile, and nodded to him. The other three Elementals gathered around her. Salamando patted her shoulder.

"This guy's not really that bad," the Fire Elemental said. "You might even get to like him."

"Not that any of us would know what that's like," Gnome quipped. Salamando chortled a little more loudly than he might have wanted, and Sylphid folded his arms. Undine cast a mildly worried expression among them, and the blacksmith cocked an eyebrow, ignoring the sound of muffle laughter from Sayoe. Gnome pointed a finger at the young man and winked at him.

Abating his laughter, Salamando shook his head slowly, saying: "I missed this kind of thing. sometimes it would be nice for us to get together a little more often, under better circumstances."

"Yeah," Gnome agreed with a slightly malicious grin, "The Four Lower Spirits. I can't wait to start causing some real damage."

Kion's brow furrowed slightly, and he looked at Sayoe, who snuck a shrug back to him. He breathed an exhausted sigh; the burning feeling from the cold air had diminished somewhat. Resting his head back in the snow, he gazed at the gently falling snow.

"So," Sylphid said to Undine, "Will you accompany us?"

"Well," she replied tentatively, "I guess it would be better not to let all of humanity suffer because of one man." She paused. "Plus, Kion was willing to defend us at the cost of his life. I'll come along for now."

Silence fell over the valley, and the Elementals settled into the snow, watching it fall serenely into Kary's Pass. Kion blinked, thinking about the ramifications of what he did. Sayoe pulled her hood around her head and sat down, first brushing a spot free of snow. In time, all present found themselves engrossed by the quietly drifting snowflakes. For the moment, it was enough for them to sit and watch.

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