Secret of Mana: A Novelization
by Intrasonic

Chapter 4: Gaia's Navel

Randi traveled at a crisp pace, having no trouble knowing where to go. The path to Gaia's Navel was simply the absence of trees and the presence of tall grass. Randi kept a sharp eye out for anything that might be hiding in the grass and stayed as far as possible from the thick forest.

Several times, he spotted the monster thorn bushes lurking in thick patches of grass or in the shadows of trees. Once, he saw a struggling deer caught in the grasp of a giant thorn bush, unable to free itself from the countless loops of thorny branches that had been thrown around it. Randi gulped, turning his head and continuing onwards. Luka had been right. Everything was becoming twisted. No doubt these monsters would soon become a serious threat to villages if nothing improved.

And he was expected to fix it all? Randi laughed inwardly. Maybe everyone was just lying to him. The monsters were following him, weren't they? Maybe they were using him as live bait to make their jobs easier. Maybe he was just being a fool by believing what he was being told. If this was the Mana Sword, shouldn't it look better? Even if it had somehow cut that insect in two with one slice. It hardly looked like the stuff of legends. Maybe the bit about it reflecting the user was nothing but rubbish.

He sighed. Did it even matter? Whether or not he believed it, his village certainly did and wasn't going to let him back in until they thought otherwise. He was stuck for somewhere to live, so he might as well do some traveling and see the world. At least he had a sword to protect him from anything that threatened.

And he could enjoy the scenery in the meantime. As dangerous as it was supposed to be, the area around him was as beautiful as it was varied. Numerous streams ran across the clearing, all heading in the same general direction as Randi. Tiny butterflies darted through the air, sometimes coming to light upon large blue flowers. Bees could occasionally be heard, visiting other flowers. It was a scene that suggested a virtual paradise.

Randi didn't believe it for a minute, but wished that he could.

It was almost a whole hour later that Randi felt the air go silent. It was eerie enough to make his arm hairs stand on end. When had all the insects disappeared? When had the wind died down? Where had the birds gone to? He looked around, trying to decide if he was imagining things.

He whirled around to face a growling noise that came from the right. Two grey blurs were racing towards him at high speed. It was more of the rabbit-monsters. He remembered the last two he had faced before. Like rabid, over-sized cats. He lunged towards them, stopping just short of them, letting them make the closing jump at him. The first one, he clouted with his fist, knocking it away for the time being. The second one he dodged, and before it could turn around to attack again, he brought his sword down on top of it, splitting it in two. Unfortunately, he wasn't nearly fast enough, and the first monster had already attacked him again.

Randi felt a searing pain in his arm as the little beast dug its razor teeth into his forearm. He grabbed it by the neck and in a burst of strength, crushed the life from it with his bare hands. He looked at the wound, which was bleeding freely. Rubbing a little spit in the wound, he pressed a fold of his shirt against the wound for several moments to stop the bleeding, all the while looking around cautiously for more trouble.

None presented itself, so Randi soon began walking, somewhat unnerved by what had just happened. Two small creatures had managed to wound him like that. What if there were bigger creatures out here? He needed to learn to fight, and quickly. This was a different game than back in the village.

Randi was no stranger to fighting. But it had always been against someone who could be bluffed down or scared. Randi was no weakling, and was smart enough to know that if you beat someone down early, they lost their nerve and wouldn't try again. Out here, things were different.

Out here, Randi was the only one with a sense of self-preservation. He was the only one with a mind capable of reasoning. And he began to realize that he was the only one holding back. Anything he fought wouldn't stop until it died. Randi began to realize that either he had to learn to kill quickly, or he wouldn't survive this adventure he was on. He was being forced to graduate from using his fists to using his sword. Anything less would mean an early death.

He heard a growl to his right and saw a grey blur run at him. This time Randi didn't hesitate. In one smooth motion, he spun on his foot and swung his sword out in a wide arc that whispered through the attacking creature like it was nothing more than thin silk, and followed through completely. Splatters of blood hit his face, but for some reason it seemed like it was someone else covered in blood. Someone else entirely.

A loud buzzing sound caught his attention. Bearing down on him was a giant insect-like creature. It looked as though someone had made a bee grow a hundred times its normal size. Its stinger looked like a giant spear point. Randi dove out of the way of its first onslaught, recovering just in time to dodge its next lunge at him. As it was, the giant stinger buried itself in the soil next to his arm. Randi thrust the point of the sword towards the insect's head, the point easily piercing the outer armor and killing the creature. It gave a few flutters of its wings, then collapsed on the ground. Randi scowled at it, and began walking forwards again as he looked around. Nothing could be seen for the moment.

He smiled grimly. That was the way it would be. Everything wanted to kill him? Well, he'd kill them all first. No matter what it took, he'd survive this. He'd slaughter every single creature that came within striking distance. He didn't care about being a warrior, but he swore he'd be a survivor...

Up ahead, growling heralded the coming of several more of the rabbit monsters. A buzzing could be heard to the right. Randi just laughed quietly, although he couldn't imagine why. "Get it over with. Don't bother lining up."

The guard scanned the open horizon intently. No carelessness could be afforded these days. Even the smallest of monsters, if it slipped by the guards, could be dangerous to children and the elderly.

His sharp eyes focused on a floating object several hundred feet away. An insect monster. One had attacked several days ago and had injured two guards before they had dispatched it. Now another was coming...

"Eyes sharp," he warned, readying his spear.

The man besides him drew his bow and aimed carefully. "Just let it get closer," he promised.

"Where's it going?" the third man asked.

"I don't know. Maybe it's circling around. Watch for other monsters. They might be smart enough to attack together."

"No, it's passing by, just like all the others. I wish I knew why the heck they were doing that."

"They must be trying to get somewhere. Maybe they smell something dead."

"I don't smell anything. But this has been happening for three days now. There's nothing that way except Pandora, and there's no way they could smell something that far away. If it was a dead animal, they'd have eaten it by now."

"Then why are they all going that way?"

"Shh!!! I heard something!"

"Just the wind."

"Shut up and listen!"

All three guards fell silent and listened hopefully. Their curiosity was becoming unbearable after three days of inaction. What was out there that was drawing the attention of every monster for miles around? Several more monsters could be seen to be heading towards the area.

Then they saw him. Appearing from behind the trees, he was slowly, but steadily walking towards them, with a sword in his hand. He didn't even seem to notice the monsters bearing down on him. At the last minute, he turned to face them, sword held firmly in his right hand. The monsters attacked one by one. And one by one, they were evaded and either impaled or sliced cleanly through with the sword. Before their remains had even finished settling on the ground, the man had resumed his walk towards the village.

They all swallowed. They now knew where all the monsters had been headed. And that man was still alive and fighting. And heading straight towards them. All three found themselves unable to move. After what seemed like an eternity, the man was scarcely five feet from them.

"Where is this?" he asked in a raspy voice.

"K-Kippo village," one of them stammered.

A look of relief came over the stranger's face. "I made it..." Without another word, he walked past them into the village. None of them took their eyes off him as he walked through the city towards the inn, leaving a trail of dirt and slime in his wake. Even the villagers stopped and began to stare at the young man smeared with dirt, soaked with water, and splattered with the blood of various monsters and animals.

The man had almost reached the inn when he suddenly began to go limp, and before their eyes, collapsed on the ground, his hand still locked in a death grip around the handle of his sword. At once, they all gathered around him, fearing for him.

"Is he..."

"No, he's asleep. Didn't even make it to the inn. Must have been exhausted to death."

"Where's he from?"

"Don't know. He must have come from Pandora."

"That's three days away!"

"Well, he'd have known he'd be as good as dead if he fell asleep."

One of the guards finally spoke up. "We must have seen hundreds of monster go by, all of them aiming for him."

"You mean monsters are all following him? Then this village is in danger!"

"If he's survived this far, he deserves our hospitality. We've had no monster attacks for three days because of him. I'd be surprised if any monsters were left in the area."

"Well... they have been getting a little thin lately..."

"He can stay at my house in our spare room. We'll get him something to eat when he wakes up. Goodness knows, he's the first traveler to make it to our village in some time."

It was some time later that Randi woke up and found himself staring at the ceiling. He tensed the muscles in his right hand, and to his relief, felt the sword still in his hand. Where was he?

Alive. And that was all that mattered.

Grunting, he rolled over and sat on the edge of the bed and gave himself a minute to catch his breath before standing up and looking around. He was in someone's house, although he couldn't seem to quite remember how he'd arrived here. He caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror hanging on the wall, and realized that he looked a horrible mess. He hadn't thought it was possible for clothes to be stained with so much dirt and... blood. He checked himself over to see if it was his blood.

After a minute, he was satisfied that most of it wasn't his, although he had his share of scrapes and cuts over his body. He found his memory gradually returning to him as he recalled everything that had happened up to the time he had collapsed. He had sworn he'd kill every monster in his way... and he'd done just that. For three days, he thought. How he'd stayed awake so long, he couldn't begin to imagine, but he had managed it somehow. He didn't think he'd even been rational after about the second day, but by then, swinging his sword had been regulated to more of an instinct than anything else. That endless energy had disappeared as soon as he'd reached the village.

Which village had it been? Kippo village? This must be where he was now. He had best go thank them for their hospitality and be on his way. He would dearly love to sleep longer, but a voice in the back of his head was reminding him that monsters everywhere would be searching him out. If he stayed in this village, he'd be putting them in danger. He slowly left the room and walked down the hallway to find his pack so that he could leave quickly.

As he slowly emerged from the hallway, he realized that the occupants of the house were having supper. He also realized that he was near-famished with hunger himself. The people eating the meal turned when they heard him.

"You're awake!" the oldest man said happily. "You looked as though you might sleep forever!"

"How long... was I sleeping?" Randi asked.

"Two days now. You looked like you needed it, though."

Randi nodded. "Couldn't sleep in the wilderness. Thanks for letting me sleep here."

"No problem. I think you earned a night's rest after all those monsters we saw tracking you down. It's a miracle you're alive."

Randi just nodded in reply. "I should be going now. The monsters chase after me and this sword. I've been enough trouble already."

"Nonsense. You'll at least eat one good meal before you go. And you'll stay the night too. No sense in starting out in the evening."

Randi looked doubtful, but inwardly was quite surprised. These complete strangers were offering more hospitality, even after he had admitted to them that the monsters were following him. This was a marked contrast to back in Potos village, where all his long-time friends had been bent on casting him out. "Maybe you should make sure the rest of the village understands this too. I'm a dangerous person to be around."

"We figured that out quickly. But it's been quiet the past few days. Only a few small monsters have shown their faces. We must all help each other out in these dark times."

The woman next to the man pulled a chair out. "Have some food."

Randi finally nodded and took a seat. "Thank-you. You people here are brave."

"You would seem to be a good judge of bravery. You have come all the way from Pandora?"

"That was the last city I was in. Actually, I don't really live anywhere these days."

"You got good manners for a traveler," one of the older children said. "Most travelers don't know enough to say hello."

"Well," Randi said sheepishly. "I'm just a guest, after all. Say, you make a good chicken soup."

"Why thank you," the lady replied, obviously pleased. "Almost as good as your mother used to make it, hmm?"

Randi almost choked on his mouthful of soup, but swallowed it quickly. "Uh, actually, I never knew my mom... but I'm sure this is what it would have tasted like. Is it your own recipe?"

"Why, yes it is," she confirmed, as eager to change to topic as Randi was. "Let me tell you, some earlier versions, even our dog wouldn't touch them!"

They all laughed, including Randi. "Well, now that you've got it perfected, perhaps you should consider teaching someone else the secret?"

"Mommy is teaching someone," one of the children piped up.

"Oh hush, children. You don't know what you're talking about."

"But you are!" the kid insisted. "You were teaching big brother's girlfriend how to cook last time she came up for a few days. You kept saying ‘Don't give up' to her."

"Yeah," another one of the kids agreed. "You say that to her all the time! Like when you're teaching her to sew and do all kinds of stuff around the house!"

It sounded like the girlfriend wasn't very skilled at anything. Randi looked at the two boys curiously. They both seemed a little young to have serious girlfriends...

"Oh, not them," the mother said, having gotten over her brief embarrassment, and noticing him looking at the two boys. "My oldest son is an officer in Pandora's army. Perhaps you've heard of Major Dyluck?"

Randi swallowed as he immediately recognized the name. "Actually, I did hear that name a few times while I was in Pandora. He... sounds like a good soldier."

"Oh yes! Only twenty years old and already a major."

"You must be very proud of him," Randi managed to say, trying to keep his voice normal.

Even still, they noticed the change in his voice. "Is something wrong?" the father asked slowly.

Randi took a deep breath, not trusting himself to reply. This wasn't fair. They should hear it from someone other than himself.

"You've heard something about my son, haven't you?" the mother said, not debating the fact.

Randi slowly nodded. "I shouldn't be the one to tell you. I... probably just overheard some gossip."

The mother eyed him steadily. "Please, sir, I'm begging you. Just yesterday, the young lady he was in love with came by and spent the night here. Then she left, but we're not sure why she came. She wouldn't say anything about my son either."

Randi sat there stunned for a moment. "Lady Purim came by? She's... she's insane!"

He realized that the entire family was now staring at him hopefully. He sighed. "Are you sure you don't want to hear this from someone else?"

"You're as good a source as any," the mother replied. "And better than many, I'm sure. We're completely in the dark about this."

"Well... okay. On my way south towards Pandora, I met your son with a group of soldiers. They were on a mission to defeat a witch in the Haunted Woods. From what he told me, it was going to be a dangerous mission. He figured that they would either succeed within a day, or else be killed in the process. The next day, nobody had heard anything from him or his men. I ran into Lady Purim and when she asked, I told what I'd seen. As near as I can guess, she's assumed that Dyluck's been... captured or something. She's convinced that the King sent Dyluck on that mission to get rid of him so she would have to marry the prince, and she lost her temper, and said that would happen over her dead body. On the way out, she tried to get me to help her defeat the witch, but I refused to take her anywhere out of the city. She got angry at me and said that no matter, she'd do it on her own. I thought she was just blowing off some steam, but if you say she's just come by here..."

The mother and father's face went white when he finished. "Dear Dyluck... can it really be true?"

Randi swallowed at seeing their despair. There had to be some reason for them to stay hopeful... he just had to think of a reason... "I wouldn't assume the worst. For all we know, Dyluck just arrived back in Pandora after I left. It takes almost a day to reach the Haunted Forest. Another day to get back. The person who's in more danger is Lady Purim, assuming she actually did go to the Haunted Woods. She'll be smart enough to know that she'd be fool to go any further."

His words seemed to give them some measure of comfort, but doubts still remained in their faces. What else could he say to reassure them?

"And there's one other thing you should remember," he said. "All the monsters in the area are coming after me. They walked right by your village before, didn't they? They'll probably just ignore her as long as I'm around."

They brightened at the thought of that. "That's something to take heart in," the father agreed. He frowned. "I don't suppose you're very excited about that, of course. No offense meant."

"It's not as if anyone else is the cause of my problems. If I see her up that way, I'll warn her again. And seriously, I should be going as soon as possible."

"You should stay the night," the mother insisted.

"I've slept for almost two days," he reminded her. "This is the best time to start off."

"But it's almost night."

"Day or night doesn't make much difference. I won't be sleeping again for a few days. You've already done more than you had to, I think. I don't know why monsters haven't attacked this city yet, but I don't want to push my luck." Randi stood up and started towards the door. "But thanks for the bed and food."

They looked like they were about to insist he stay, but the father finally nodded and followed him out. "If you're certain, then we won't stop you. Is there anything else we can do to help?"

Randi shrugged. "I make my own luck these days, I guess. I'll be okay. Do you know a fast way to Dwarf Village?"

They nodded. "Follow the river and you'll find the entrance to the cave that leads there. I've never been there, but I hear that Dwarf village was built at the end of these rivers. Just keep heading downhill and you'll find it for sure."

"Thanks," Randi said, heading towards the gate. "For everything," he added.

"Think nothing of it, my friend. Fair traveling to you."

Randi wasn't so optimistic about the chances of that.

The traveling was quiet that evening, and Randi almost began to wonder if he'd killed all the monsters around. Occasionally, he saw signs of wildlife, but found himself unable to enjoy the sight. He wondered if he would ever see an animal again without wondering if it was going to try and kill him. How many more would he have to kill before he had gotten out from under the curse of his sword? And what if he found himself up against humans? Would he have to kill them too?

Randi still remembered the three days before. It was like he had been possessed the whole time. The monsters that had come after him, he had struck down with a ruthlessness that almost scared him. Where had he learned to do that? His sword was changing him, he thought. He was almost sure of it, actually. He wasn't a warrior, so maybe it had magic to help him fight better. Randi didn't know if he liked that idea, but he admitted that it might be all that was keeping him alive now.

Was it really a bad thing? Randi had no idea how long he'd be traveling. He'd reached one palace so far and was on his way towards the second. But he knew he'd be traveling all over the world to reach the other palaces. How would he even get around? He couldn't walk across the entire world. He sighed to himself. For all he knew, he might just have to. For a brief instant, he felt anger towards the rest of the world. Was he really the last hope for this world? If that was true, shouldn't they be helping him a little more? The only help he'd gotten was from a backwoods town that hadn't even known who he really was.

He shrugged off his anger. He would fend for himself. In the end, as with all his problems these days, it didn't really matter.

His sword flashed in a wide arc, smashing through the body of a lunging animal, creating a spray of blood across the area. Randi looked at what had once been a rabbit, but was now something much different. Once again, the fighting had begun.

It was two days later that Randi finally thought he'd found what he was looking for. He had been following the streams faithfully, and true to expectations, they had been steadily heading downhill and centering on a general location. Only a short distance back, they had changed to waterfalls, and he had been forced to backtrack and work his way around the cliffs they ran over. Several miles ahead of him, Randi could see the mountain ridge that separated this part of the world from the Upper Lands to the North. It was higher ground up there, as shown by the many waterfalls streaming over the edge and falling down to his level.

Now that he was at the bottom of the waterfalls, he could see that they were all collecting in a shallow pool of water. Where did all that water go? Randi followed the water until his eyes set upon a cave set at the base of the cliffs. That was what he was looking for, he was certain. He glanced at the water between him and the cave. It looked shallow enough for him to wade through without getting more than his feet and the lower half of his legs wet. He would take what he could get.

The minute he took the first step into the water, he felt the hairs on the back of his neck beginning to stand up straight. He looked around, wondering what was looking to attack him now. He saw nothing of note around him, so dismissed the feeling, beginning to walk towards the cave entrance.

He stopped when he felt a tug on his leg, followed by several more tugs. He glanced downwards, already drawing back his sword to strike at whatever the offender was. He gaped when he saw the fish biting savagely at his foot, trying to bite through the thick leather. And it looked like it would succeed unless he did something fast. The make matters worse, he could see numerous dark shapes in the water, all zeroing in on him.

Randi slashed his sword through the water at the attacking form, spraying water everything, but cleaving the attacker in two in the process. A slick pool of red rose to float on the surface of the water. He looked around. There was no other way to get to the cave except straight through those fish. So be it. Randi yelled angrily and charged at the fish, sword already drawing back for a swing.

The closest fish actually jumped out of the water to meet him. Randi met the attack with his sword, cleanly cutting the fish in half. The rest of the fish attacked before he could pull his sword back again, biting savagely around his feet, legs, knees and anything else that was in reach. Randi slashed furiously, ignoring the pain they were inflicting on him. Several dead fish floated to the surface, but the rest didn't even slow down. Randi jumped to the side, clearing the water, and for a brief instant shaking off the fish attacking him. But they quickly found him again and pursued. Randi resumed attacking, acutely aware that more fish were approaching. A buzzing sound told him that at least one of the giant insects was coming onto the scene.

This wasn't going right, he realized. Eventually, they would wear him down or come at him from too many sides. He was well aware that not all the blood on the surface was his enemy's. Time was against him too. If he didn't do something soon, he wasn't going to survive...

Survive. The word rang in Randi's head, even as he swung relentlessly at his oppressors. Survive. He dodged to the side as an insect monster buzzed past him, stinging the water instead of him. A number of the fish began attacking the insect, quickly reducing its thin wings to shreds and rendering it helpless. Randi backed off quickly and tried to get his bearings so he could continue to attack his enemies and survive yet another fight.

Survive. Once again, the word was ringing in his head, and now it was beginning to occur to him why. Was he here to fight or to survive? Before, he hadn't thought there was difference. Now... Jema's words echoed in his head about the monsters acting on their fighting and killing instincts. And his warning for Randi to not do the same. And here he was, choosing to fight these monsters to the end. He stopped his rush towards the fish, who were briefly occupied with tearing apart the helpless insect. Then he chuckled to himself and looked to the side where the cave entrance was waiting, now wide open.

He shrugged and broke into a run for the cave. "Have a good time, boys. I've got places to go."

Randi stopped after entering the cave. Firstly, he was checking to see if any of the monsters had followed him. Secondly, it was dark inside, and his eyes needed to adjust. It would only get darker as he continued down into the cave. He wondered if there was any light deep down. He had never thought to ask how much underground traveling he was facing. He'd been walking two days already, and didn't know how long he could travel without sleep. All he had to do was follow the river, he reminded himself. That couldn't be too hard.

After he was satisfied that none of the monsters were following him, he started off slowly into the darkness, doing his best to make out the ground around him. Up ahead, he could see the dim flickering from something that looked like firelight. Maybe that was the village?

He followed it, noting that the river was headed this way also. There seemed to be some sort of pathway to walk on, which offered some more assurance that he was on the right path. He wondered how safe this area was. Were there monsters in these caves? If so, he might not be able to defend himself. He looked into the darkness worriedly. He saw nothing but black, which made him speed up his footsteps towards the source of the light. As he rounded a corner, he saw the source of the light with sudden clarity.

Someone was holding a torch. That someone was about five feet tall, and built like a bull. A massive double-bladed axe was in its right hand. Its other hand held the torch as it slowly plodded along the pathway. It gave a small grunt of surprise as it spotted him and raised the axe towards him.

"Uh... are you a dwarf?" Randi asked hopefully.

For an answer, the creature gave a roar and lunged at him, swinging the massive axe at him. Shocked, Randi leapt back out of reach from the creature.

"H-hey! I'm friendly! I just want to get to Dwarf Village!" Randi leapt back from another swing.

"If you don't stop this, I'm going to fight back!" Randi warned, now getting angry. Only moments ago, he had learned that it wasn't always necessary to fight. But that didn't mean he was going to run from everything now.

The creature snarled, showing crooked yellow teeth, and drew back its axe for another swing. This time, Randi attacked, deciding that whether or not he was looking at a dwarf, it wasn't about to offer him any help. Mindful of the heavy axe, Randi swung his sword to counter the axe's blow first. His sword was lighter, hopefully he could manage a second swing in time to dispatch his opponent.

The two weapons came together hard, yet Randi felt nothing. An instant later, a spray of liquid made him realize that the creature had been cut completely in two and wasn't about to fight him anymore. Randi stared in shock as he saw the axe. The metal handle had been cut completely in two from his sword. Randi looked at his sword in surprise. Rusty or not, it had cut through the solid metal shaft so cleanly he had barely even felt it happen. Now, more than ever, he realized that this sword was more than it seemed. He took a deep breath as he looked at the two halves of the creature. He hoped it wasn't a dwarf. It was probably yet another monster that was attracted to him and this sword. He shuddered. This creature wasn't just another animal gone bad. This was a real monster! Just when he thought that he could handle anything thrown his way, a new twist had been thrown. If creatures like this were after him, what else could he expect before long?

Forcing himself to calm down, Randi knelt down and picked up the torch that the creature had been carrying. Some light would be helpful, he knew. And it would let him fight better if another monster found him. For better or worse, his passage through this cave would offer him no peace.

Countless hours later, Randi was still winding his way through the various tunnels in the cave. He had seen no sign of Dwarf Village, despite his faithful attempt to follow the river. He wondered if perhaps the river had forked and he had taken the wrong fork. The only thing kept him from testing that theory was the knowledge that it would be harder to go back than to keep going.

He had found seven more of the creatures like the first he had encountered, but they had proven no match for his sword, which had easily cleaved them all, even the two with shields. From two of them, he had used their torches to replace his own. They weren't as dangerous as they looked, Randi decided. The important thing was to see them coming. Occasionally, he wondered how dangerous they really were, considering that he, a person with no combat training could beat them so easily. But then he decided it was simply the sword that was making it easier.

Randi carefully eased along a narrow ledge that bordered a fast-moving section of the river. He could make the swiftly flowing water below, almost a ten foot drop if he slipped. It was with a sigh of relief that he stepped onto the solid ground again. It had been like this for hours. Even without the occasional monster, it was almost as if he wasn't supposed to be here at all. Maybe dwarves didn't like visitors. Then again, maybe those creatures who lived down here were dwarves...

The one thing that comforted Randi was that he was steadily heading deeper into the earth, yet was always able to feel the gentle draft of air blowing from behind. That meant that the air was coming from the entrance he had used, but was somehow exiting again. He desperately hoped that it exited around Dwarf village.

The light from his torch finally shone on something that wasn't a rock. Randi's heart sank when he saw what it was. It was one of the creatures, dead on the ground. He ground his teeth in frustration. He'd come in a complete circle, back to one of the monsters that he'd killed!

Then he looked at the corpse again, noticing something unusual. The corpse was dead, but it was a clean job, not done by one of the metal-cleaving slices of his sword. Just a surgical cut around the neck, which had been more than sufficient to finish off the creature. Randi knew he didn't have a prayer of delivering such an accurate blow, so someone else must have done it...

His eyes caught the reflection of something metal to the side. Retrieving it, he held it up to the torchlight for inspection. It was some sort of thin metal ring, razor sharp around the outside edges. Randi licked his finger as the edge effortlessly nicked the skin. It didn't take a genius to figure out that this was meant to be thrown like a throwing disc, except with far more deadly results. He smiled in spite of himself. Someone down here didn't like these creatures, and he was willing to bet that ‘someone' included dwarves. He must be getting close to their village. The news restored his determination as he continued down the passageway, noticing that the passageways were becoming wider as he progressed onwards.

Just as he walked cautiously around a bend in the passage, he heard a gruff challenge. "Show yourself!"

He looked at the source of the voice. The figure was about five feet tall, and heavily muscled. He held a large battle axe in his brown-skinned hands. Another similar figure beside him had a bow drawn and trained on Randi. Behind them, numerous figures were walking around in what was a much brighter area, all less than five feet tall.

There was no doubt in his mind where he stood now. Somehow, he had survived Gaia's Navel and had arrived at Dwarf Village.

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