Secret of Mana: A Novelization
by Intrasonic

Chapter 3: Pandora

So it was that Randi set out for Pandora. Unlike before, he was on his own now, which was cause to be careful. He stayed as much in the open as possible to avoid anything that might be waiting to pounce on him, and kept a constant watch. Even the songbirds that flew overhead received a wary eye from him.

In a way, it was strangely exhilarating to be away from everything. Hiking through the wilderness, weapon in hand, on the lookout for monsters and unknown dangers. How often had he played at such when he was younger? Now it was for real. If he failed, he was dead. If he won... well, he decided that if he survived all this, he'd have earned the right to call himself an adventurer.

Make that a real adventurer. Technically, he already was an adventurer. Now he was in search of the Underground Palace, location of the second Mana seed. To get there, he needed to find the village of Dwarves, hidden somewhere in the depths of Gaia's Navel. It had a storybook quality to it all. All that was needed was a dragon and a damsel in distress and he could even call himself a knight. Maybe even a Mana Knight!

He laughed out loud at the thought of himself in shining armor, with a gleaming sword in his hand. All he had was his rusted sword and his traveler's cloak, now tied around his waist so that he didn't get too hot. Not the most heroic of attire, but it suited him fine right now.

Around mid-day, he found something interesting. Up ahead, near a cluster of upright stones, a group of soldiers were gathered. Randi counted nine regular soldiers, and one somewhat better dressed soldier, probably their leader. What were they doing out here? It couldn't hurt to ask them.

They saw him approaching and waved offhandedly to him. They seemed friendly enough. Maybe he should ask them for directions and make sure he was headed the right way. He altered his direction to meet them.

They called out a greeting to him. Obviously friendly. "What is your business here, friend?"

"On my way to Pandora," he replied honestly. "You?"

The one who appeared to be the captain approached him. In contrast to Jema's massive build and dull grey armor plating, this man wore only light armor, polished silver. He was a ruggedly handsome man who looked almost out of place in a soldier's uniform. "We're on a military mission to the Haunted Forest."

"The Haunted Forest?" Randi asked incredulously. He had only heard tall tales and horror stories surrounding that location. "Why?"

"You haven't heard?" the captain asked in surprise.

Randi flushed, somewhat embarrassed. "Well, I'm from Potos village and we don't get much news from anywhere."

If Randi had been expecting a snub in reply, he was disappointed. "I see. Well, you may in for disappointment, my friend. Pandora is off-bounds for strangers these days. The evil witch Elinee has cast a terrible spell on our kingdom. We grow weaker by the day. Me and my men are going to put an end to her evil deeds. There is a secret entrance to the forest that even she may have forgotten about. We will use it to our advantage today."

"A witch?" Randi asked. "That sounds dangerous."

"Very dangerous," the captain agreed. "The important thing to remember is that witches are usually very weak themselves. But they know many tricks and magical spells that can defeat the strongest of people if they're not careful. One must always remember: mind over muscles. These are my best and bravest men. If anyone can defeat her, it will be us, I am certain."

"Well, good luck then," Randi offered, glad it wasn't him on this trip. He had enough trouble on his hands without worrying about witches. "You're sure about Pandora?"

"We just left there this morning. No strangers are allowed through the gates. You might be wise to turn back now. If you hurry, you can make it make back to Potos before dark."

Randi grimaced. He couldn't very well go back to Potos, of course. He would have to brave the wilderness and push on. "I'm actually headed to Gaia's Navel. I had hoped to rest the night in Pandora, but I guess I'll just get by as best I can."

"Then luck to you. Gaia's Navel has many strange monsters. Be careful and do not ever let your guard down. It is smart to travel with at least one other person. Then you can take turns sleeping."

"I'll have to do the best I can," Randi decided, wondering if he could get by with sleeping only every other night. He had some traveling experience, but he couldn't be considered a hardened traveler. "Good luck on your witch hunt."

"Luck is needed," the captain acknowledged humbly. "I apologize for cutting this conversation off, but we must be on our way. I told his majesty that we would be done our job before sunrise tomorrow. Either Elinee dies or we die trying! Men, ready!"

A cheer went up from the other men as they checked their weapons and gear. They carried virtually no supplies except their weapons. Randi realized that either they would be home for dinner tonight or die before hunger became a problem. He shuddered as he watched them walk towards the group of upright stones he had noticed earlier. What were they doing...

"Lifeson, scout first!" the captain ordered when they were gathered around the stones.

The man nodded and stepped forward in between the stones. The instant he stepped between them, a brief flash of light was seen, and the man disappeared. Randi choked in surprise.

The captain noticed his reaction. "This is a teleporter. A person who steps in it will reappear inside the Haunted Woods. Very old technology. We do not understand the machinations behind it all, but we know the basic principles upon which it works."

Without another word, the rest of the men stepped onto the teleporter, one at a time. Each one disappeared with a similar flash of light. Finally they were all gone. Randi shook his head. Mana Seeds and Water Palaces before, and now spells, witches, and haunted forests. Potos never heard this kind of news. He would be smart to keep his ears open for other news. He simply wasn't as informed as he should be.

He'd better keep walking. It sounded like he wasn't going to be able to rest in Pandora. He'd forget about sleeping tonight and look for someplace safe to rest the next day.

It was growing dark by the time Randi caught sight of the walls of Pandora. The city was clearly bigger than Potos. Even the gates were larger, made of stripped tree trunks driven into the ground next to each other. There was a river that cut through the wall and led into the city. Two guards were stationed near the entrance, with spears at the ready, having already noticed him. He wasn't going to be allowed in, Randi realized, but that didn't mean he couldn't double check on his directions with them. Surely they wouldn't be that hostile towards him...

Before he could get in a word, they leveled their spears at him. "No travelers are permitted in the city at this time. Especially not to strangers with drawn swords."

Randi glanced at his sword. "Sorry about that, but I don't have a sheath for this thing." He held it up hopelessly. He'd have given a lot for an easier way of carrying it.

They looked surprised when they saw the sword. "May we see that sword?"

Randi held it closer to them obligingly, but he felt this face heat up with embarrassment. It was a pretty bad sword.

The soldiers were looking at him differently and giving each other sideways glances. "Sir Jema said that he wouldn't have a sheath and his sword would probably be rusty..." one of them began.

"But... he's just a backwoods boy," the other protested. "Not even a soldier."

"Who are you? And where are you from?" the first soldier asked, not sounding quite so hostile.

"Um... Randi. From Potos."

They nodded slowly. "I don't like it, but Sir Jema must know what he's talking about. You are free to come and go as you wish, he says."

Randi brightened. Maybe he could spend the night in the village after all. "Thanks. Where is Jema right now?"

"At the castle."

"Thanks again," he replied, heading into the city. Well, this was a pleasant turn of events. What was so bad in this city that strangers weren't allowed to enter? Surely Jema would know. He would go to the castle and find him.

Randi looked around until he spotted a local woman, walking around aimlessly. She would have a minute to spare, he figured. "Excuse me, miss?"

He got no answer from her. He tapped her on the shoulder. "Um, excuse me, miss."

He still got no reply from her. At random, she turned towards him, and Randi realized that she wasn't even aware of him. It was as though she was sleepwalking in the middle of the village. He shrugged helplessly. He would let her be for now. He went to an old man nearby.

"Excuse me, sir?"

Again, no answer. This time he immediately turned to look at the man face. The same blank look. "Are you okay, sir?"

"You're not from around here, are you?" a voice commented from behind him.

Randi turned to face a young lady. "Well no, I'm not. Can you help me?"

She nodded grimly, even as he permitted himself to briefly appreciate the fact that she was a very nice-looking girl, around the same age as him. Thick blond hair and a graceful form wrapped up in a casual pink outfit that was clear even in the dim light. Lisa, eat your heart out, he thought with a mental smile. He checked his thoughts. What was she saying now?

"...This village has a plague on it. It's turning people into mindless zombies. The extreme cases have left the village and are at a set of ruins to the south where they... well, no one's really certain. But things are getting worse by the day. Sir Jema has come from our sister city of Tasnica to help out."

Randi nodded eagerly. "I'm looking for him right now, actually. He's supposed to be at the castle. Where's the castle?"

She pointed behind her. "That way. It's hard to see after the sun goes down."

He glanced in the direction she had pointed and was able to make out the faint outline of a tall structure against the almost completely disappeared sun. "Thanks," he said, setting off in the right direction.

She stopped him before he could pass her. "Hey, did you come from up North?"

"Yeah," he confirmed.

"Did you... see any soldiers up there? About ten of them?"

"Actually, I did."

Her voice changed slightly in tone. "Did their leader have silver armor on? Blond hair?"

"That sounds about right. Why?"

She nodded, the expression on her face beginning to harden over. "Just curious, that's all." Without another word, she turned and headed in the same direction he was, outdistancing him quickly.

Randi looked hard at her. He wasn't much of a judge, but he was certain that news had meant something to her. Maybe meant a lot to her. His news had clearly agitated her for some reason. Interested, he followed her from a distance back. He was headed that way, besides.

The castle wasn't far. It was nothing special, Randi decided. It was probably designed more for function than form. It was your average stone-built wall with wooden roofs, windows at regular intervals at all three levels, and a host of banners and flag now hanging lifeless in the still air.

He watched the girl all but shoulder her way through the two guards at the gate. As it was, they were quick enough to give ground to her. Unfortunately, Randi did not receive the same treatment, the soldiers barring his way efficiently.

"But you let her in," Randi protested.

"Lady Purim goes where she wants," the soldier said, the look on his face suggesting that their might be consequences for anyone trying to stop her. "You don't even look like you're from this village."

"But I need to talk with Jema," he persisted.

"We'll tell Sir Jema you called," the other soldier said. "Now be gone."

Randi eyed them steadily for a moment. No joke here. Jema must have forgotten to tell them like he did the guards at the gateway. What could he do... "I'll call back tomorrow then," he said agreeably. "And if you wouldn't mind making sure Jema gets a message? Tell him that the ‘Mana Knight' needs to talk with him."

By the shocked expressions on the guards’ faces, Randi knew this was a message that Jema would hear soon, even if the guards didn't grasp the full implications of it. "See you later."

Randi left the castle grounds at a slow pace, having decided that he would go to bed early today so that he could wake up early tomorrow. He didn't know how much traveling he was facing, but he knew enough to know that the daytime would be his friend, and sleep would be his enemy. Clenching the sword between his elbow and his ribs, he awkwardly opened up his pack to retrieve something. After a minute, he was rewarded with the Elder's pouch of money. He undid the drawstring, wondering how much was in it. The inn would probably cost... how much would it cost?

When he looked in the pouch, he was rewarded with a sight. The pouch was full of precious metal. Some bronze, some copper, but a surprising amount of gold and silver! Randi had never used much money before, but he knew that he was holding a lot of money. He would certainly be able to afford a night at the inn! He smiled, thinking of the Elder back home. The only worthwhile person in the village, he reflected bitterly. It wasn't the money, Randi knew, that was the source of his gratitude. It was simply the fact that he was the only person who had been willing to stick up for him when it counted. Even his best friends and date had been quick to turn against him when threatened. Randi hadn't forgotten his promise to write a letter as soon as he got settled.

Randi quickly spotted the letters "INN" with a crude picture of a cup next to it and made a beeline for it. Pushing open the unlocked door, he noticed that like the rest of the village, it was almost completely empty. The innkeeper sat behind a desk, looking somewhat spaced out. Was he too a victim of the disaster upon this village?

The keeper made no move as Randi approached. Randi hesitated. "Excuse me, sir?"

No answer. Did this mean the rooms were free? The innkeeper would never know, he guessed.

Randi finally made up his mind. He could see the keys next to the innkeeper, with appropriate wooden tags attached to each one. He took four copper coins from his money pouch and set them on the desk and took one of the keys for himself. Hopefully that would cover the cost of a bed, because Randi couldn't bring himself to take the room for free. Wasn't this village suffering enough already? Maybe he wasn't able to help them out, but he wouldn't be the one to kick them when they were down.

Randi awoke the next morning, feeling refreshed. He yawned, pushing the covers back. He would have appreciated some bedclothes, but he wasn't foolish enough to think he'd have the luxury of such things for long time. He stretched his arms, and only then realized that he hadn't let go of the sword all night. He gave the sword a strange look. He hadn't let go of it all night? He was lucky he hadn't stabbed himself in his sleep!

He would definitely have to see to getting his hands on a sheath sometime soon. His hands were beginning to show signs of blisters from constantly holding the sword. But for some unexplainable reason, he couldn't bring himself to set it down, even for a moment.

He brushed his hair out of his face, clinching his bandana tight. It wouldn't hurt to try and wash off in a stream sometime soon, if he got the chance. His mind was still fuzzy, but he remembered what he was in the process of doing. He had to go to Gaia's Navel and find the village of Dwarves. And he had meant to talk with Jema about whether or not there was any particularly fast way to do that, because he was hoping to avoid sleeping in Gaia's Navel. He hoped that the soldiers at the entrance had passed along his message to Jema.

Giving the innkeeper a glance, Randi noted grimly that the man was still spaced out. How long would he stay like that? What about requirements like food and water? Randi hadn't seen any dead people around, but he was willing to bet that people couldn't stay under that spell forever. Then again, the village had seemed empty when he'd arrived. And there had been a mildly offensive odor in the air. Maybe people were already dying...

Randi shuddered at the thought as he left the inn and headed towards the castle. He decided that he wouldn't waste any more time here than necessary. Again, he hoped the guards would let him into the castle this time.

As he approached the castle, it wasn't long before he noticed something was different. The guards snapped to attention when they caught sight of him. As Randi got closer, he was almost certain they looked a little sheepish. Or perhaps they were simply exasperated with him. Would things be different this time? He found out quickly.

"About the talk we had last night?" Randi began pointedly.

The first guard nodded. "You are permitted to go in the castle. We apologize for the misunderstanding last night."

Randi smiled. "No problem. Thanks."

The second guard stopped him. "You're allowed to go where you need to, but between you and I, stay out of Lady Purim's way. That girl's been in a foul mood ever since she found out that his majesty sent her sweetheart away on a suicide mission yesterday!"

Randi nodded as he continued into the castle. "Thanks. I'll keep that in mind." He recalled the look he had seen on her face the night before. Probably not a good person to be on bad terms with. If she was considered "Lady Purim", she probably had something in the way of rank around here.

The castle was bigger than it seemed from the outside, Randi quickly noted. Several stone staircases led up or downstairs to unknown rooms. People milled about, all looking rather royal. Randi wondered how he must look to them, dirty and worn, with a drawn sword in his hand, probably looking like he was lost. He looked at the various people and finally decided to target one of the royal-looking guards.

"Excuse me, could you tell me where Jema is?"

The guard nodded. "Sir Jema is with the king right now in the throne room."

"Thanks. Where's the throne room?"

The guard pointed behind him. "Straight ahead, but I would not count on being granted an audience anytime soon."

"We'll see," Randi muttered, continuing onwards.

He soon reached a huge set of oak doors, barred by two important looking guards. He breathed deeply and approached them. "I'm told that Jema is inside?"

They nodded. The guard on the right spoke up. "No one disturbs the king and Sir Jema right now."

"Listen, I don't have time to get into details, but I need to talk with Jema. I don't need much time, but I need to know a few important details."

The other guard shook his head. "They are working on a plan to save our city of Pandora. Not for anything would we disturb them now. We are well aware that you are not to be hindered in our village, but this is a special case."

Randi eyed them steadily, but realized their minds were made up. His somewhat special status was also irrelevant to them. He would simply have to wait, a prospect which didn't appeal to him. He sighed. "Fine, then. But I'm waiting right here until they're done."

"We have no problem with that."

Randi took a seat on a chairs to the side of the center hallway and watched the doorway intently. Jema couldn't take too long, could he? He hoped not.

"What are you doing here, stranger?"

"I'm just waiting to see Jema," Randi muttered, not bothering to face the occupant. He was sick of everyone questioning what he was doing. He had enough problems as it was.

"Don't get snappish with me, boy. I asked you a question."

Randi turned to face the speaker, who sounded irritated. It was Lady Purim, he realized. A small voice in his head suggested he apologize and get out of her way. As it was, the rest of him was still annoyed at being called ‘boy' by someone who couldn't have been much older than him, and wasn't about to be troubled with anyone short of Jema. "Well, I answered your question."

Her blue eyes flashed angrily. "That's not how you talk to a lady."

Clearly a hot-tempered person. Not what he felt like dealing with right now. "Hmph. Tell me when you see lady around."

Her face turned red. "You want to be smart with me, you little swine? Let's see how smart you feel after his majesty's done dealing with you!"

A thought flickered in the back of Randi's mind. "Just try taking me to the king," he challenged. "He's busy right now."

"Not too busy for the person he wants for his daughter-in-law," she smirked, grabbing his arm. "Get up!"

Randi made as though to reluctantly obey. Inwardly, he was overjoyed with himself. With luck, she'd drag him right by those guards!

Randi wasn't at all disappointed in her intents. "Out of the way," Lady Purim ordered to two guards sharply.

They hesitated. "Lady Purim, the King is extremely busy right now..."

"Out of the way, or I'll make sure that you're extremely busy. I hear the castle chimneys are getting extremely dirty, and we're short on hired help with this damn plague..."

The guard swallowed. "I... I suppose the king would be delighted to see you, my lady." The two edged out of the way.

Lady Purim scowled briefly. "I'm sure he would. Hey you," she snapped at Randi, "get moving! I'm not finished with you yet!"

As he was dragged through the doorway, Randi couldn't resist the opportunity to smirk at the guards, who quickly realized that he wasn't being taken in against his will. But they didn't dare do anything to stop him now.

The doors were shut behind them with a resounding thud, but Randi didn't notice. They were in the throne room now. At the other end of the red carpeting, were two figures, one obviously the King, and the other... Jema.

The King looked at them strangely. "I assume there's a reason for this interruption?"

"I'm sure there is," Jema replied slowly.

"Darn right there is!" Lady Purim said angrily. "This little backwoods swine is deserving a little time in prison!"

She had released her grip on his arm, so Randi took advantage of the interval to cut in front of her and present himself. "Your majesty," he replied, bowing on one knee. He hoped that he was doing something close to proper protocol. "I'm really sorry to disturb you like this, but I've got to talk with Jema for a moment."

"Not a problem," Jema said, an edge in his tone that suggested to everyone in the room that it had better not be a problem.

Whether or not the edge was lost to Randi's tormentor, she obviously didn't care. "Your majesty, this stranger has no right to waltz into this city and start insulting people!"

"Lady Purim," Jema said, advancing over to her until he was less than a foot away and she was craning her neck to see him face to face. To her credit, she didn't even flinch. "You are outranked by all three people in this room, so I suggest you act accordingly."

"What!?" she said in disbelief. "Rubbish!"

The king took a deep breath. "Purim, I'm afraid he is right. Sir Jema here is the general of the Tasnican military and this young man here is... the Mana Knight. Please, we will discuss this at another time."

This seemed to be too much for her. All at once, she exploded. "What is going on around here!?! What about me, you worthless clod? I guess I shouldn't have expected anything after you sent away Dyluck on that suicide mission! I guess you think rank gives you the right to kill off people when you don't like the idea of them being in love with each other, hmm? Well, forget it. You want Dyluck out of the picture? OVER MY DEAD BODY!!!" Without another word, she stormed from the room.

Randi exhaled, realizing that he'd been holding his breath during the outburst. "I won't be any longer than necessary," he assured the two of them.

"Do not mind her," the king said wearily. "A lovely girl, but her temper is legendary in Pandora."

"We have more important things to discuss," Jema broke in. "Randi, your message left me somewhat curious. Would you mind filling me in on how you stand on everything?"

Randi nodded. "Luka explained what's happening to me. I need to seal the eight Mana seeds with this sword before the Mana Fortress comes back."

Jema nodded. "So you've decided to take up the quest?"

"I have. But you get one thing straight before this goes any further- I'm doing this for myself. I've got too many problems to think about those stupid noble ideas that you're probably acting on. Like Luka said, I've fallen into the pool and I'm wet. I'm choosing to swim. I'm choosing to stay alive by doing whatever I have to do."

Jema nodded slowly, not bothering to argue the point. "I don't like it, but I will accept that as your stand. So what else did Luka tell you?"

"My next goal is the Underground Palace in Gaia's Navel. I need to get to Gaia's Navel as fast as possible. I'm on my own, so I have to avoid sleeping as much as possible. I have no idea how far I have to travel or the best way to do it. A little direction would go a long way towards keeping your ‘Mana Knight' alive a little longer."

The King looked a little worried. "Jema, is this for real? He's... nothing like what a Mana Knight should be like. No respect for others, no concern for their well-being, and I don't think he's much of a warrior."

Jema shrugged. "I won't apologize for him. He doesn't have this sword by choice. His reaction is to be expected. But he's tougher than he looks. In the end, we really have no choice. If we can defeat the enemy without his help, so much the better. But I don't think we can."

The king sighed. "This world is in deep trouble. I defer to your judgement, Jema."

Randi scowled. This king was not an optimist. Then again, neither was he. He wouldn't waste any more time here. Just some directions and one other thing... "Jema, what's going on in this village, anyway? I don't think that guy at the inn even knew he was paid!"

"The evil witch Elinee is draining their energy, bit by bit. If you look at everyone, you'll see how drained they are. Even his majesty is not the spry man he once was."

"What about Lady Purim?" Randi asked sourly.

"We're still hoping," the King muttered.

Jema smiled. "I hear she used to be worse than this. I'm sure she'll be one of the last to go. But those who are affected badly enough seem to lose their minds and turn into zombies of sorts."

"I've seen that. So what happens then? If they don't eat or drink..."

"At about the time they'd pass out from lack of food and water, they simply wander south to an old set of ruins. What they do there... I don't know. Everybody here is too scared to investigate. That's why I'm here."

"You're going to see it for yourself?"

"That's right. I leave now for the ruins. As for you, go to Gaia's Navel as Luka said. There isn't much choice in how to get there. But there is a small village two-thirds of the way there called Kippo village. You could spend the night there before continuing onwards. You'll find the entrance to the Village of Dwarves at the bottom of a large pit. All the water in the area flows down into the cave, and eventually winds up at the village of Dwarves. There isn't much you can do to shorten the trip. Leave now and move quickly. I'm not sure if you can make it to Kippo without sleeping. It's a trip of a few days."

Randi sighed. "I'll do the best I can, I guess. I can go a day without sleep, maybe two. Uh, anything about Dwarves that I should know about?"

Jema nodded. "They're quite friendly, even if they talk tough. You'll probably hear them brag about their skills at weapon and armor making. They're probably understating the case. Their skill in metal-working is legendary, to say the least. I had all my equipment custom-made by them about ten years ago."

He tapped one of his shoulder plates. "Still looking perfect after ten years, and they've taken a lot of abuse."

Randi nodded. "Good at metal-working. Anything else?"

"Hmm... aside from a tall Dwarf being only five feet tall, not really. If you can get there, I'm sure they'll be happy to help you find the Underground Palace."

"Thanks. I'm going then."

"As am I," Jema agreed. "We take our leave, your Majesty."

"Luck to you both," the king agreed wearily.

As Randi and Jema left the throne room, Jema was talking to Randi. "Don't mind him, Randi. He has a lot on his shoulders these days. If I'm able to get to the source of this plague and stop it, you'll have a strong supporter."

"I don't need supporters, I need to get rid of this sword," Randi said sourly.

"We all do what we must these days," Jema agreed. "I'm sorry for what you're being dragged through, although I have no choice but to help you continue onwards."

"Mana Knight..."

Randi looked ahead to see Lady Purim standing directly in his path. He groaned inwardly. She was probably still mad at him. He looked at Jema. "Go ahead. I'll deal with her and head for Dwarf Village."

"Luck to you," Jema agreed, keeping a straight face in the process. The comment was also referring to the person in front of him. Without another word, he strode onwards, leaving Randi to face his opponent.

"Lady Purim, can I help you?" he inquired, not particularly caring to know. "I'm in a hurry, you know."

"Call me Purim. I simply wanted to apologize for our disagreement earlier."

"Your disagreement," Randi pointed out, trying to keep walking. "But apology accepted, since those guards weren't going to let me into the throne room otherwise."

Surprisingly, she didn't get mad at him, although she did block his path again. "We're even then?"

"Whatever. If you want to look at it that way. Now if you'll excuse me..."

"Just hold on a minute. We have a common interest right now, you know."

Randi raised a doubtful eyebrow.

"I overheard your conversation before. You're on your way to Gaia's Navel, I believe? Well, so am I."

"You can't be serious. Do you have any idea what things are like right now?"

"Believe me, I know. Probably better than a backwoods boy like you does. But I know a way you can reach Kippo village in less than a day. Otherwise, you'll be walking for at least three days. I know this from experience."

"So what's the catch?"

"If you're really the Mana Knight, then that's the Mana Sword you're holding there. I know all the stories. That's a powerful weapon, even if it does look a little shoddy right now. With that, I'll bet Elinee the witch wouldn't stand a chance. You could help me rescue Dyluck."

"What's this all about, anyway?"

"You know who Dyluck is, right? You saw him before you arrived here. That man who was leading the witch hunt. Well, him and I are in love. His majesty didn't like that, because he wanted me to marry his son, who's a little pig, if you ask me, not to mention only fourteen years old. So he sent Dyluck on that witch hunt mission to get rid of him in an honorable way. Dyluck hasn't gotten back yet, so something must have gone wrong. So I'm just going to have to get him out of there myself. But with your help..."

"I don't see how I gain from this. A shorter trip isn't going to buy me over, you know."

"Don't be silly. I have lots to offer. For starters, I'm a second person who can help keep an eye out for danger, especially when you finally have to sleep. You can't stay awake forever. And I know the people in Kippo village quite well. I can get them to give you some help. And after you've helped me get rid of the witch, I'll stick with you until you reach Dwarf Village. Think about it."

"Forget it. I don't have time to go on witch hunts right now, and I'm not going to be responsible for some crazy girl who's got a crush on a missing soldier. Sorry, but this ‘backwoods boy' has to go now."

"Fine then, be that way!" she shouted at him, fists clenched. "I'll be fine on my own!"

Randi ignored her, heading for the exit. Lady Purim obviously had problems of her own, but Randi wasn't going to be dragged into them. He already had problems of his own. Fancy the idea of someone like her actually being in love! It was almost as crazy as the thought of her going out alone to try and confront a witch!

Five minutes later, sword in hand, he had left the village and was heading into the wilderness leading to Gaia's Navel.

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