Chapter 12: Phanna
They made good time to Pandora, with little trouble. Keith's superior senses generally alerted them to the presence of monsters before the monsters were aware of them. It was also possible that the monsters were gradually being killed off too, they agreed. For his part, Randi had Purim draped inelegantly over his left shoulder, while his right hand was free to grab at his sword if need be. The arrangement had been rather awkward at first, but after the first hour, Randi was pleased to note that he was still moving at a fast pace, and if anything, it was getting easier to manage with her weight. He couldn't feel the slightest bit of weariness. For her part, Purim never stirred through the worst of the traveling, even when Randi slipped on a rock crossing a stream.
"And you seriously aren't tired?" Keith asked incredulously.
"Not a bit. This just gets easier as we go." Randi sobered a little. "Just the same, next time I'd settle for a girl who's five inches shorter and as thin as a broomstick."
Keith snickered. "She's gonna hear about that comment when she wakes up! But seriously, why don't you leave her in Pandora? She'll be safe there, and by the time she figures anything out, we'll be long gone. We'll warn whoever her parents are, and they can tie her up or something. It's a perfect plan."
Randi shrugged. That had occurred to him too. If he left her in Pandora, she wouldn't be in any danger, even if half the people in the city were zombies at the moment. But as much as he was tempted...
"Forget it. In case you've forgotten, I need to deal with Thanatos, and I'd like her help on that. I don't want to have to deal with her when I get back from the Underground Palace."
"Suit yourself. Say, that's Pandora up ahead, isn't it?"
"It should be close," Randi agreed. He wasn't ten feet up in a tree with enhanced eyesight, so he couldn't see anything. But he remembered the route he had taken before. "Let's just have a little chat with her parents before we keep going."
"Why? Are you going to leave her?"
"Just a little detail. Maybe she'll wake up while we're here."
The guards nodded to him, remembering that he was permitted access to the city.
"He's with me," Randi explained, noting the guard's incredulous stares towards Keith.
"Heya, chumps," the sprite greeted them cheerfully. "Where's the bar?"
"She's with me too," Randi informed them, gesturing to Purim.
Now the guards were really staring. "Th-that's Lady Purim!"
"Hmph. She still hasn't told me why she's considered royalty," Keith objected.
"Can you tell me where she lives?" Randi interrupted.
"In the castle. Someone there can show you her quarters."
"Thanks. Let's go, Keith."
"But what about the bar..."
"Forget about the bar. You shouldn't be drinking, anyway."
"What do you know?"
"Shut up. I don't plan to spend long here."
By the time they had reached the castle, Randi was getting fed up with the stares he was getting. He was aware that more and more people seemed to have become ‘zombies'. There was only one guard at the castle entrance, and less people milling about the streets. Things were clearly getting worse here. If they weren't affected yet, they simply stared dumbly at him anyway. Apparently it was not a common thing for Lady Purim to be carried in like a sack of flour. Keith's presence probably wasn't helping any.
He stopped the first person he saw, a young woman with long blue hair. Not a bad look, really, he decided. Lisa probably would have looked good like that too...
Returning to the issue at hand, he faced her down. "Where's she live?" he demanded, more than a little annoyed by the dumbfounded stare she was giving him.
"You brought her back!" she exclaimed. There was an unspoken addition to that statement, Randi thought. Something akin to ‘How much did the king pay you for that?'
We're just passing through," Keith inserted. "Got somewhere to tie her up?"
"Shut up," Randi ordered. He managed a weak smile towards the girl. "Now... what's your name?"
"Phanna," she offered.
"Well, Phanna, what are you doing right now?"
"I... was going to lunch."
"Lunch has been delayed, Phanna," Randi said politely, but forcefully. "If someone else has a problem with that, tell them that the ‘Mana Knight' required some help from you. Now if you wouldn't mind showing me to her quarters?"
She shook off her stupor long enough to nod. It was possible that enough gossip had circulated regarding the 'Mana Knight'. "Uh... right this way, sir... Mana Knight."
"Hey, she's pretty good looking for a human," Keith commented idly as they followed. "Is that some kinda hereditary thing around here?"
Randi collared the sprite with his free hand and lifted him to eye level like he weighed nothing. "If I have to tell you to shut up again while we're here, you're going to feel like Purim when she wakes up!"
Keith nodded obediently, trying to look innocent. "I was just complimentin' Phanna."
Randi briefly glanced over, but Phanna seemed not to have heard. At the very least, she wasn't paying any mind to it. "Yeah, well you've got less manners than Purim!"
"We're here, sir," Phanna informed him, standing obediently at the door. "These quarters belong to Lady Purim and her immediate family."
"Thanks. Is anybody home?"
"Well... not really, sir."
Randi didn't quite understand her until he opened the door and entered. There was a middle-aged man seated dumbly on an armchair to one side of the richly decorated room. Aside from that, the room was empty of people.
"Is he..." Randi trailed off, looking at Phanna questioningly.
She nodded. "Her father. Just this morning. A few days and he'll probably... join the others down at the ruins."
"I see. What about her mother?"
"Um... she died when Lady Purim was born, I believe."
"Oh. Well, I guess I'll need your help a little longer then."
Ten minutes later, Phanna emerged from Purim's room. She handed him his rain cloak, which was looking rather roughed up. "Is there anything else you need, sir?"
"I don't think so." Randi's face turned a little red. "Is she, um, decent?"
"A noble-brat like her oughta have plenty of clothes to spare," Keith guessed. "Is she awake?"
"She's decent. And she's still asleep," Phanna replied. "Would... would you mind if I asked you a question?"
"Go ahead," Randi invited.
"They say she ran away because of Sir Dyluck's disappearance..."
He sighed. "Yeah, she did. Elinee captured him and his team."
"I see..." She looked downcast.
"But he's not dead," Randi assured her. "We think he's down at the ruins right now. In a few days, we're going down there."
"I don't think you should, sir. Sir Jema went down there, and we haven't heard back from him since."
"Jema?!" Randi sighed. If someone like Jema had failed down there... what chance did he have? Even with Purim? He glanced at his sword. If he ever needed some help from it, that would be the time... He heard a rattle across the room, followed by the clink of glass.
"They keep a great liquor cabinet here!" Keith informed them. "Just give me a minute here..."
"Hey! Get out of there!" Randi ordered.
"We brought back this guy's stupid daughter. He owes us at least a drink, right?" Keith gouged the cork out of an expensive looking bottle of wine and took a deep swig of wine. "Good stuff!"
Randi scowled in warning. "Fine. Take that bottle. But nothing else!"
"And lookee here! This stuff is illegal in Dwarf Village!"
"You're just lucky her dad is out right now!"
"You worry too much." The sprite took another long drink straight from the bottle.
"Um... you can go if you want," Randi said weakly to Phanna. "I don't want to keep you any longer than necessary. We'll be leaving soon."
Keith belched. "Bottle number three!"
"Hey! Alright, that's it!" Randi leapt to his feet and lunged towards the sprite, intent on pinning him to the ground and restraining him.
Keith dove out of the way just in time. Randi scrambled to his feet and attacked again, this being more cautious. Keith sprang up and grabbed onto the ceiling mockingly. "Up here, slowpoke!" He jumped across the room as Randi reached for him again.
This time, Keith decided to have a little fun. Waiting until Randi had almost reached him, he used his new magic to create a wall of ice. He laughed as Randi ran into it, unable to stop himself in time.
Then he heard a metallic ring. A moment later, the entire wall of ice instantly melted. He saw the Mana, sword now glowing faintly blue. Randi grinned at him. "If you want to use magic, this sword can suck up anything you can throw!"
"Oh my..." They both turned see Phanna looking a little startled at the display of magic.
All three of them turned to see another person walk slowly into the room. No one made a sound as Purim staggered across the room, looking half-dead, her back in a noticeable kink. She grabbed a piece of fruit from a bowl on the table and took a bite out of it. Then she saw Phanna.
"Oh, hello Phanna. I... didn't hear you arrive."
"Hello, Purim," Phanna said slowly.
"Have you seen Dyluck anywhere? He won't believe the dream I had last night!"
"Um..." Phanna was at a loss for words.
Keith hiccupped loudly. "Bottle number four!" With Randi briefly distracted, he had taken his chance and grabbed another bottle of liquor from the cabinet.
Purim slowly turned and saw Randi and Keith. Her eyes widened as her memory began to piece events together. She slowly looked back at Phanna. "Dyluck?" she asked in a hopeful whisper.
Phanna shook her head silently.
Randi hadn't thought it was possible for someone to undergo such a complete change. Yet a moment later, Purim looked a completely new person.
"Let's get going, Randi. First, your stupid Underground Palace. Then we go to the ruins and get him back!"
"Sounds like a plan," Randi agreed cautiously. "Are you sure you're okay?"
"I'm fine!" she snapped, looking around. "Where's my bow?"
Phanna looked horrified. "You don't mean that you're leaving again! I thought that he was bringing you back."
"Just passing through," she corrected.
"But... you could be killed! Even Sir Jema hasn't come back from the ruins!"
"Well, too bad for him. We dealt with Elinee, and we're going to do the same to anyone or anything in our way at the ruins!"
"Y-you're... insane!" Phanna protested, although she still seemed hesitant. Randi got the impression that she was insulting someone who held some rank over her.
"What do you know, Phanna?" Purim snapped. "You don't even have a man right now! How could you possibly understand?"
Phanna's face froze over upon hearing that. Finally she just shook her head and glared angrily at Purim before stalking out the door.
"I think you made her mad," Keith observed, between drinks.
"Are you coming?" Purim demanded of them both. She was already at the doorway after recovering her bow and arrows. She glared at Keith, now on his fifth bottle of liquor. "If I wasn't in such a hurry, I'd teach you some respect for other people's property! Why don't you just spend the night here too?"
The sprite stuck his tongue out at her. "Go ahead and try something, you cussy hag! If I wasn't in such a hurry, I'd teach you some respect for people! Why didn't you just slap her in the face while you were at it!?"
Personally, Randi felt they were both right. Keith certainly had a lesson or two coming his way. And he didn't blame Phanna for the way she'd reacted to Purim. He was beginning to see the reason that Purim was so feared around this castle. He couldn't help but wonder how Dyluck, supposedly a fantastic person, was attracted to someone like Purim.
Keith belched, tossing his fifth bottle of liquor on the ground.
Their exit from the castle was quick, mainly due to Purim practically dragging them towards the exit. Any guards who might have thought to question her leaving with a bow and arrows were put off by the icy glare she gave them. The other reason for their quick exit was that Randi was acutely aware that Keith had somehow drunken five bottles of (expensive) wine, one after the other. He didn't want to know what Keith was going to be like when the alcohol finally kicked in, but if he didn't simply pass out, he didn't want a drunken, swearing, knife-throwing, hot-blooded, magic-user running around loose in the castle.
On their way out, Randi thought he caught a glimpse of Phanna, who was giving Purim an angry glare. Judging from assorted glances that other people had given her, some angry, some fearful, he had hunch that Purim didn't have very many friends around the castle. But before he could dwell on that any further, they had gone beyond the gates of Pandora and were headed into the vast wilderness called Gaia's Navel.
"What about that shortcut you mentioned about?" Randi asked Purim curiously.
She nodded. "The one I was going to show you if you came with me before?"
"I got along fine without it, didn't I?" he pointed out.
"You ended up helping me anyway, didn't you?" she countered. "Not many people know about it, but Dyluck showed me it shortly after we first met, because it's a great way to get to Kippo village. He was born there, you know. His parents still live there."
"It must be a good shortcut," Keith commented, "because Randi told me that it took him three days to get to Kippo village, and you came out way ahead of him."
"It is. The road to Kippo village is like a giant horseshoe, with us at one end. With this shortcut, we can just take a straight line to the other end."
"Sounds good," Randi agreed. "Which way?"
"That way," she said, pointing straight into the forest.
"Smell anything?" he asked Keith.
"Nothing, but the wind's going the wrong way. We'd better be on our guard."
"What's your problem?" she wanted to know.
"Randi's a monster magnet, and we won't be able to move around as easily in the forest," Keith replied evenly.
"I didn't see any when I went through the last time," she objected.
"Would you like to take the long route?" Randi demanded. "You're going to see a couple hundred dead monsters that I had to deal with! You have me to thank for the easy trip last time! This time you've got no such luck. Keep an eye and an arrow out, got it?"
"Don't worry about me. Anything that comes between me and Dyluck..."
She left her sentence unfinished as the three ventured into the bush.
An hour later, the forest had opened up somewhat and they found themselves walking along a swiftly flowing river. To Purim's surprise, they had been pursued with monsters almost constantly through the forest. Fortunately, they had been a small threat, consisting mainly of the monster-rabbits and the overgrown rose bushes, as Randi liked to think of them. He dealt with them almost by habit now.
And he had two other people with him. Keith and Purim were both bright enough to make use of the opportunity to practice their newly acquired magic. While they were both mindful of their experiences after overdosing previously, neither seemed to see any harm in moderation. Having no magic of the sort himself, Randi was able to study them both.
Keith seemed to be the most enthusiastic about his magic, constantly inventing new ways of using his water magic. Ice, water, mist and sheer cold were all things to be experimented with as far as the sprite was concerned. Many an enemy fell victim to his ‘experimenting', while others were simply cut apart physically with his weapons.
Purim, on the other hand, limited her use to charging her arrows with ice spells and healing herself when a rabbit managed to scratch her arm. But her use of magic never seemed to even come close to what Keith was doing. To put it simply, she didn't seem nearly as enthusiastic. Perhaps because the consequences of her overdosing had been a little more painful. He hoped that wouldn't become a problem later on. He didn't want her holding back when they ran into something dangerous.
"How come you never use those ice spells like Keith does?" Randi asked Purim curiously.
She shrugged. "They're wasteful. He's wasting his power on making it look nice. I'm more concerned about results, especially when we're dealing with Thanatos. I don't think he's going to care about how the magic looks."
"I told you before," Keith replied, "it's a mental thing. Fear tactics, y'know."
"These monsters are all too stupid to be afraid of us. Just get the job done..." Purim deftly fired an arrow at a stray rosebush. The arrow left a blue trail through the air as it zipped into the plant. The instant the arrow connected, there was a flash of blue, and the plant had been turned into an ice replica of itself.
Purim disdainfully walked over and kicked it, shattered the plant into fragments of ice. "That's what I'm going to do to Thanatos!"
"If you live that long," Keith reminded her, unimpressed.
"Hmph. We'll see who survives, you little freak-"
Randi just shook his head and continued walking. He wasn't particularly impressed with either of them, and even less impressed with the powers that had decided to give them the magic in the first place.
A rose bush snaked out its tentacles at him. Neither Keith or Purim noticed it, too busy arguing with each other. Randi barely noticed it himself. When he caught the movement, he didn't even bother lifting his sword. By the time the vine had reached him, he was already somewhere else, moving with a speed that he could only have dreamed of a month ago.
He clamped one hand around the trunk of the plant, where there weren't any thorns, and simply crushed it in his bare hands. The entire plant tensed, then collapsed in a heap. Randi discarded the plant and kept going.
"Hey! Wait up!" Keith yelled, finally noticing that Randi wasn't waiting for them to finish their argument.
Randi took no notice of their hurried footsteps. He was the least impressed with himself, for actually hoping that either would be any help to him. In the end, he had only himself to depend upon.