Chapter 15: Family Ties
Several hours later, they were in the throne room, facing the king, who looked considerably more energetic than when he had last seen Randi. Purim was sleeping in her quarters, but Keith was with Randi, and slowly getting more visible. His weapons no longer fell through him when he tried to put them on. He was now content to enjoy the stares and double-looks everyone in the castle was giving him. Sprites were obviously a novelty around here.
The king seemed to be looking at him differently now as the two of them stood before him. Keith was off to the side, apparently content to let Randi receive the victory speech.
"I will be the first to admit that I had doubts when I saw you," the King was saying. "But it seems Jema was right about you. For doubting you, I am truly sorry. No one but the Mana Knight could single-handedly put down the plague that had beset this village..."
"Uh," Randi began, aware that his face was going rather red. "I had a lot of help..." He looked around to point out Keith, but the sprite was nowhere to be seen at the moment. "That is..."
"You are too modest, Mana Knight. Even out best soldiers were unable to do anything! And you come and put down both Elinee the witch and Thanatos! If there is anything we can do to repay you..."
Randi cleared his throat. "Actually, there's a couple of little things."
"Ask, and it shall be yours! Up to half this kingdom!"
"Would you mind if Keith and I stayed a day or two? Just to make sure he's recovered?"
The King looked at him a little stupidly. "That is it? We would be honored to have you under our roof!"
"Um, thanks. And one other thing? I don't suppose you'd have any records or books about old Mana Knights or the Mana Sword that I could take a look at?"
"I shall have our historians do a complete search of our records immediately."
"Thanks a lot."
"But is that all you want? Those are but simple things..."
"How ‘bout something to eat?" Keith suggested loudly, conveniently making his presence known again.
The King chuckled at that. "But of course! You must be famished! I will have our cooks prepare the finest of feasts for you!"
Randi opened his mouth to protest. All he really wanted was a sandwich. Maybe an apple to munch on. But Keith punched him in the side sharply, shutting him up. "Hey, maybe some food will help me return to normal faster," the sprite suggested hopefully.
Somehow, Randi didn't think Keith believed that himself. As for himself, he didn't have the heart to let the king know that he wasn't really the Mana Knight.
That evening, Randi found himself sitting in a soft chair across from Jema. After having eaten heartily, he had left Keith still eating and checked on Purim. She was still sleeping, which was no surprise. She had slept for almost a day and a half the last time she had used too much magic.
"So what exactly has been happening?" Jema asked curiously. "No offense to his majesty, but he's ignoring a great deal. Lady Purim obviously wasn't just along for sightseeing. And that other creature... a sprite? They're supposed to be only a myth."
"That's right," Randi confirmed, taking a sip from his glass. "Ran into him in Dwarf Village. Him and I are headed to the Upper Lands to find his village and the Wind Palace."
"So you got into the Underground Palace?"
"That was a loaded question. I don't believe you just walked into that palace. I know about the lava seal that protects it."
"We broke it."
Randi sighed. "Listen, I was just doing what I had to do to survive, okay? Or did you think I was beginning to enjoy dragging this sword around?"
"Your reasons are your own, and they seem to be sufficient so far. But I don't think you should devalue what you've done. Someday, when this over, you're going to have something to look back on and be proud of."
Randi scoffed. "That's what you think! If this business with the sword doesn't get me killed, I've still got a completely mixed-up body to remind me of what I had to go through because of a big mix-up!"
He walked over the window and stared outside. "I've done things that I should never be able to do, Jema! I've been knocked into walls hard enough to leave my imprint in them, but I was barely scratched! I've punched holes in rock with my bare hands! I've gone up against a real witch! I've killed more monsters than I thought even existed! I've gone the past few weeks with practically no sleep! I've gone up against two big shots from the Empire!"
"Perhaps," Jema agreed. "No doubt all on account of the Mana Sword."
"No doubt," Randi agreed disgustedly. "What about you, Jema? How'd you get your rank? Just leading some soldiers into battle and getting credit for leading them to some victory? You ever had to team up with a half-cat, half-thug practical-joker who swears every other breath and insists on eating the monsters he kills? You ever had to physically beat some sense into a woman who practically insists on committing suicide, all because she's got some stupid crush?"
Jema met his glare squarely. "There isn't much I can say to comfort you, Randi. I suggest you get used to it. Whether or not you want to face it, you're in the middle of a war. The winner is going to be the last person to give up. You became an enemy of the Empire the moment you picked up that sword! Trust me, they'd be happy to declare a truce with you."
"I'd go for that," Randi retorted sourly.
"They're not stupid enough believe such a thing possible, Randi. They mean to conquer this world one way or another. If they free the Mana Fortress, they'll do it easily. But they might just as easily do it the conventional way. They almost took over Pandora, didn't they? Eventually you and them are going to collide and only one is going to survive."
"I mean to make sure that it's me."
"For your own selfish reasons."
"What do you care? You should be glad that I'm not throwing this sword into the nearest swamp! Let some other idiot pick it up and let it turn them into some sort of super-human freak! Maybe they'll turn out to have a heart of gold and no sense of self-preservation! I don't see how things could get this bad in the first place."
Jema's eyebrows furrowed. Had Randi cared, he might have realized that it was obviously a sore point with the knight. "This has been happening for fifteen years now, Randi. My hands have been tied for all this time. Otherwise, I would have made sure the Empire movement was trampled long ago."
"So why didn't you?"
"Diplomatic reasons," Jema grunted. "I knew what was going on, but I had no concrete proof. I tried every angle I knew of to get them to slip, but they covered their tracks until it was too late. The Mana Knight who lived then went up against the Empire, but he failed in the end. That was fifteen years ago. These days..." Jema sighed, looking out the window again.
Randi abruptly stood up. "So what it all boils down to is that you're putting all your faith in someone who received the Mana Sword by accident!!! And after knowing what happening to a real Mana Knight! I thought you might be a little smarter than that!"
A lady poked her head in the door nervously. "Excuse me..."
"What?!?" Randi demanded.
"Well... your traveling companion... the sprite? We hate to complain, but your companion is still eating... and doesn't seem to be getting full..."
Randi glanced at her incredulously. "But... that was at least two hours ago!"
"Y-yes... he says that the King ordered that he be given a good meal, but..."
Randi's grip abruptly became tighter, completely shattering the glass he was drinking out of. He didn't need this new problem. He was willing to bet that Keith knew something no one else did. "I'll deal with him," he snapped.
He glanced backward one last time. "Jema, why don't you just make yourself scarce? I'm through with taking advice from people who prefer having other people do dirty jobs for them! I'll deal with my problems by myself!!! Express my sympathy to whoever gets this cursed sword after I get killed, okay?"
"I think I deserve some sympathy," Jema replied evenly. "Being forced to put some hope into a backwoods child like you. You may yet fail this world, Randi."
Without another word, Randi stalked from the room, headed towards the kitchen.
Randi reached the kitchen moments later, just in time to watch Keith eat a whole leg of chicken in two bites - bone and all. A large pile of empty plates were off to the side. Behind them, numerous empty bottles of liquor were collecting.
"I think you've had enough to eat," he informed Keith.
"Just a little more," the sprite agreed.
Randi stopped his grab for the chicken's second leg. "Perhaps you didn't quite hear me right. I don't know how you manage to eat that much, but other people need the food more than you do."
"Give me a break, Randi!" Keith begged. "The King said he'd give you half his kingdom? Is it too small to ask for something to eat?"
Randi shrugged it off. "A meal is fine. But this kingdom is running out of food, you know. Most of these people have been zombies under Thanatos' control. Now Pandora is trying to feed them all with the work of one-tenth of the population. Your appetite is going to be the death of this village!"
Keith had the grace to look a little shameful. "Well... how about one last shot of that whiskey..."
"Forget it! I'll also point out that all this food hasn't done much good towards returning you to normal. I can still see through you. Now let's go. We have to leave by tomorrow. If I'm any judge of the sky, this area and the Upper Lands are going to be getting some bad weather soon. We'd be smart to get moving."
"Yeah, yeah, okay." Keith acknowledged reluctantly, hopping down from the chair and following Randi out the door.
"So what's the story behind this?" Randi demanded, once they were outside. "You must have eaten several times your body weight! And you don't look the least bit bigger for it all!"
Keith shrugged. "I dunno. For some reason, I can eat forever without getting ‘full'. Took Dwarf village a while to figure that out. I don't think that I actually need food or drink to begin with."
"So why did you even bother eating before when we were traveling? Those monsters you cooked up?"
"Well, I like eating, you know. I still taste everything normally. Personally, I think my taste is flawless. I like to cook and try new foods. Besides, I can eat anything without it affecting me. Even hard liquor doesn't begin to touch me."
"Like those eight empty bottles of liquor I saw on that table?"
"I love alcohol. The guys back in Dwarf village swear that it works as a stimulant on me, but that's about it. I'm not sure where all the food goes, because I don't even have to go to the bathroom like Dwarves do."
Randi sighed. His companion had just revealed himself to be the ultimate eating and drinking machine. He should have known better than to think things were ever as simple as they seemed. "No more of that, okay? When you get home again, I don't care how much you eat, but until then, try to control yourself, okay? I'm a little short on friends these days, so I want to keep the ones I have left."
"No problem," Keith agreed cheerfully. "I'll be a perfect angel!"
Randi appreciated the cooperation, hoping that the sprite was being at least partially sincere. "Thank-you. Let's just go take a look and see if the King's historians found anything about Mana Knights or the Mana Sword."
After getting a few directions, the two of them found their way down to the historical vaults. Pandora had always been very meticulous at keeping records, which sounded promising to Randi as he was led to a large table with numerous open volumes spread out.
"This is what we were able to locate," one of the historians offered. "Regrettably, virtually all of these records are lacking in depth. Almost all of them involve various battles between the Mana Knight and other parties."
Randi nodded. He didn't feel like reading them all. He just wanted some select information. "Are there any mentions of an incident fifteen years ago between the Mana Knight and the Empire?"
"There is an account of the battle. It's one of the more detailed accounts, I might add." The man shrugged. "That can be taken different ways, depending on how much information you're looking for. The only source for information was the victory report that the Emperor released after winning. Needless to say, it was extremely biased." He handed Randi a thin volume and pointed at the start of the text. After several sentences, Randi realized it was probably an exact copy of the report given out.
A mere three days ago, a powerful enemy of freedom and peace threatened our Emperor Vandole's life. In what was believed to be a cowardly plot involving the Republics of Pandora and Tasnica, the Mana Knight made an attempt on our Emperor's life. In this, he was almost successful, overcoming even the formidable Geshtar, Sheex and Fanha, the Emperor's strongest and most powerful bodyguards. They were all severely injured defending their Emperor, but they will all survive to serve again. Vandole was forced to defend himself, and in the end he mortally wounded the Mana Knight and was the victor. The Emperor was himself badly wounded in the process, but will make a full recovery.
This attack was believed to have been an answer to Vandole's public speech the day before. The Emperor's proposal, one unified world, has met with much skepticism, particularly by Pandora and Tasnica. His majesty is already planning to speak with their rulers in hopes that they will also see the wisdom behind it...
Randi stopped reading as he realized that nothing more of value was being said. The historian was right. The information was both limited and biased.
"What about anything about the Mana Knight's getting stronger?" Keith asked. "We've seen Randi get stronger a few times."
"Actually, there is some obscure references to such things..."
"Let's see ‘em," Keith demanded.
The Historian handed them another text, this one much thicker. It was a prose book, with a series or verses book-marked. Randi glanced the words up and down, not sure what to think.
For although an excess of good or evil is equally harmful
The First Weapon must pose as a keeper of peace
The Second is the embodiment of Mana's vacuum
A means to balance, the Final is given
"What kind of crap is this?" Keith demanded. "That makes no sense at all!"
"Hold on a minute," Randi cautioned. "What about this last verse?"
The historian nodded in agreement. "It is believed that the ‘Final' of the three weapons is the Mana Knight. The first and second of the weapons are the Mana Fortress and the Mana Beast."
"So what does this have to do with me?" Randi asked skeptically. "I don't have a mother, you know. I mean, I never really did. I'm an orphan."
The historian raised an eyebrow. "Well... perhaps the verse is simply referring to the Mana Knight alive at the time. But if you would look at the third line about the Mana Knight? The part about experience and strength? There are several random references to Mana Knights miraculously becoming stronger in the heat of battle..."
Randi gestured for some silence as he thought things over. After a moment, he nodded slowly. "I think that's it, you know."
"What?" Keith wanted to know.
"Think about all the times that I've suddenly become stronger. Like in the Underground Palace."
"Like when we were fighting that giant dwarf?"
"Yeah. The first time that thing hit me, I was thrown back like a rag doll. The second time it hit me, I just got knocked back a little. The third time, I barely felt it at all! And the first time I hit him..."
"You didn't even hurt him," Keith recalled. "The last time, your fist went right through his head and into the floor! And what about when you threw me and Purim out of the way? That was a short while after you had carried Purim for a day. You kept telling me that you weren't tired! And you kept saying that it was gettin' easier. And what about when you and I were fighting and I threw those ring boomerangs at you? The first one, you barely managed to block with your sword! The last one, you caught right out of the air..."
Randi laughed. So beautifully simple, yet so powerful! "So that's how it works! Whenever I find something that I can't do, this sword makes me adapt so that I don't have the same problem twice!"
"That could be a pretty neat thing," Keith observed. "I mean, what are its limits? You've only eaten and slept a few times in the past few weeks. I'll bet your sword noticed that you were getting hungry and tired, so it made you able to get by with no food or sleep..."
"It's the reason I've become a better sword fighter," Randi added. "What if I did some practice fighting against some good soldiers? This sword might make me an even better fighter!"
"Let's go find out," Keith suggested. "We're done here. We found out what we wanted to know, right?"
"Yeah, I think so," Randi agreed, smiling at the historian. "Thanks a lot. Things make a little more sense now."
"A pleasure, Mana Knight. This clears up a few of our questions too, I think."
Ten minutes later, after learning that there were only a few soldiers in the castle fit for duty, they gave up on trying to find a soldier for Randi to fight against. Instead, Keith decided that he would be Randi's opponent, reasoning that he was the better of any soldier in the first place. So it was that they found themselves in the largely unoccupied training fields, about six feet away from each other.
"Catch!" Keith yelled, tossing a rock at Randi.
Randi threw his hands up, but the rock bounced off his forehead. "Ouch! What are you doing?"
For an answer, Keith heaved another rock, catching Randi on the shoulder. "Catch ‘em, buddy! You can't catch them now, but if we're right, it won't take long for you to get good enough to catch ‘em!"
Randi managed to deflect the third and fourth rocks. The fifth, he caught. And the sixth. And the seventh. "Okay, this is no problem," he informed Keith with a grin.
Then two rocks hit him at the same time. Obviously the sprite could throw with both hands. "This isn't done yet!"
After another twenty rocks, Randi was able to catch two rocks at the same time. True to expectations, Randi was getting faster. Although he didn't feel any different, Keith claimed that he'd never seen Randi move so fast before.
After that, they switched to having Randi dodge the rocks. Keith was a good thrower, especially for his size, and was smart enough to have the second rock placed to catch him avoiding the first. Nevertheless, after twenty or thirty rocks, Keith was unable to hit Randi from a mere ten feet away.
"Geez!" Keith breathed. "I swear I'd never believe it if I wasn't seeing it! You're fast! Almost as fast as me!"
"Any more tricks to try?" Randi asked with a grin.
"Just one more." Keith raised a hand, glowing with yellow energy.
Suddenly Randi was pounded with a shower of huge rocks that left him on his back. He knew that he'd probably be in pain if the Mana Sword hadn't already toughened him up. "What are you doing?"
"That was only two rocks, ‘cuz I only have two hands. But I've got magic, so your practice isn't near done! Get dodging pal! This is going to go on until I run out of magic!"
Randi hadn't even gotten to his feet before he was knocked over again. The third time, he sprang to the side as a boulder buzzed by him, probably outweighing him several times over. By the time he had faced Keith again, a similar boulder plowed him head over heels into the ground. He spat out dirt and got to his feet. Three more boulders flew towards him, but by the time they covered the distance between him and Keith, he was already out of the way, waiting patiently for the next attack.
The fighting continued for a few more minutes, at which point Keith was beginning to fade away again from using too much magic. Even still, Keith felt that not only was Randi getting better, he himself was getting better with magic. The sprite was certain that he wouldn't have been able to use that much magic on day one. Practice made perfect for both of them. Of course, in Randi's case, the process was considerably faster.
"This is all pretty cool," Keith commented idly, glancing at the huge boulders strewn around the yard.
"No kidding," Randi agreed. "I'm beginning to see why the Mana Knight is supposed to be so powerful. If he kept doing what we've been doing, there's no telling how strong he might get! He could keep trying to do impossible things, and eventually he'd get strong enough to do them too! Too bad I'm in a hurry, or I'd really learn to do some great stuff!"
"We can practice during the trip. By the way, we might as well get going. Nothing's going to give us any trouble, even if I'm a little short on magic."
Randi had to acknowledge the point. At the very least, not much would be able to hit him! By the time Keith had run short on magic, they had progressed to groups of ten boulders hurled simultaneously. Randi was bruised all over from the times that he hadn't been able dodge Keith's latest challenge, but felt much better than he looked.
"Then maybe we should be going," he agreed.
"Excuse me, sir?"
Both of them turned face one of the palace servants. The servant looked somewhat relieved at finding them. "What's up?" Keith asked cheerfully, clearly enjoying the servant's startled look. Sprites were a rarity, but one that was half-invisible was even more so.
"Well, Lady Purim finally woke up and has asked me to give you this letter..." The servant handed Randi a pink slip of paper, folded and sealed with a drop of wax. The outline of a flower was imprinted into the wax. No doubt Purim's royal seal. Somehow, he had a hard time equating the flower to her.
Suppressing a smile, he broke the seal and read the letter, aware that Keith was now dangling from the ceiling and reading over his shoulder. The letter was done in neatly penned green ink.
"To the Mana Knight," he read to himself.
"Now that I have woken up, it is with some relief that I find you still in Pandora. Firstly, you have my sincere thanks, both for allowing me to accompany you into the Haunted Forest and for accompanying me into the ruins. Despite the less-than-favorable outcome, I am honest enough to admit that I would have stood no chance alone and that you did all that you could.
"I am well aware that you and the sprite will be headed North to the Upper Lands in search of both the Wind Palace and Sprite village. Regardless of upcoming events, I wish you well. Deny it all you like, the Empire has a reason to fear you.
"Nevertheless, there is something which I would like to talk over with you. Make no mistake, I have been in your debt from the first day. I will not be insulted, nor irritated should you refuse my request. You have time working against you and I would not wish to be the source of unnecessary delay. But perhaps you find yourself with time on your hands. Perhaps the sprite has yet to fully recover, or perhaps you wish one last night in Pandora's hospitality...
"...I ramble. At any rate, I would be extremely grateful for the chance to discuss some matters with you...
"Well, ain't she the humble little girl?" Keith observed sarcastically.
Randi didn't reply for a moment, thinking the contents of the letter over. Keith was right. He had a hard time seeing Purim writing the letter he held in his hands. She obviously wanted something badly. Really badly.
"Where is Lady Purim right now?" he asked the servant.
"In her quarters. Do you know where they are?"
"I do. I'll take it from here."
Keith was quick to protest when he saw Randi head for Purim's quarters. "She said if we wanted to! You outrank her, remember? She said that she wouldn't feel bad if you refused. Pleeeease?"
"She said she wouldn't feel insulted or irritated. I have a feeling that she'd feel really bad if I refused. Besides, anything that could make her write a letter like this has to be important. And you read the letter. We have some time on our hands while you recover, right?"
"That's beside the point! I was recovered when she was writing this letter, I'll bet! We don't want to talk to her!"
"Then you can wait by the gate," he suggested. "I want to talk to her. I don't know what she wants and I might just refuse her anyway, but I still want to know what she wants."
"Fine, fine. I'm coming along. I want to know what she wants. What's more, I want to see her beg for it!"
As they went up the final round of steps, Keith's ears perked up. "Hey, somebody ain't too happy. We'd better come back later. Princess is busy chewing someone out..."
Randi said nothing, but kept going.
"Whoa!" Keith hissed in disbelief. "She's telling off his majesty!"
"The king?" Randi asked in disbelief.
"Yeah! I don't know what's got her ticked off, but I don't think she cares about rank at the moment! You should hear the words she's using!"
"She probably learned them all from you," Randi commented.
By the time, they reached her quarters, even Randi could Purim talking/yellng. She was clearly angry with whoever else was nearby.
"We'll just wait a minute out here," he decided.
"No kidding. She'd better hope that her majesty has a good sense of humor, because otherwise she's gonna loose her head! Not that I'd object or anything..."
A moment later, a young man could be heard to reply. "This whole business is off! I thought I was getting engaged to a woman! She's nothing but a monster herself! Let her find some common rabble to marry!"
The source of the voice quickly stormed out of the door, not even bothering to shut it behind himself.
"Whoa." Keith suggested in an interested tone of voice. "I think that might have been the prince."
The king's voice could be heard in the room, more controlled. "We tried to make it work, but I'm afraid such a marriage clearly will not work, Ellius. Your daughter clearly has a disposition unsuitable for any sort of royal union."
"But your majesty!" It was another man protesting now.
"No dishonor to you, Ellius. You are a good man. It is beyond me how your daughter could fail to taken on those traits herself. Perhaps the absence of a mother... At any rate, this is clearly a fault that lies squarely on her own shoulders. This matter is closed, it seems."
"Good! It took you long enough to figure that out!" That was Purim speaking.
"I leave her discipline up to you, Ellius," the king said in a firm tone. "Good day."
The king wasn't leaving in nearly as much of a rush as the prince, and saw both Randi and Keith waiting by the doorway. "Why, good day, Mana Knight."
"I didn't want to interrupt," Randi began hesitantly.
"Of course not. Is there anything I can do for you?"
"No. We'll be leaving soon," Randi replied. "We just wanted a last word with Lady Purim."
"Well, that might not be a good idea. She really hasn't been herself lately..."
"Was she ever?" Keith asked sourly.
The King nodded wearily. "Don't mind her temper. My son and her were to be married, but that was all thrown into havoc when she refused, saying that she was in love with a soldier..."
"My sympathies," Randi agreed, trying to keep a straight face. He had a hunch that Purim had never really been consulted on the matter. His sympathies were directed slightly more towards her in this case.
"At any rate, I wish you the best, Mana Knight. This village owes you something that can never be repaid."
"We're even," Randi replied easily. "Your historians were a great help to me."
"And the food was good!" Keith chipped in.
Randi had to laugh at the King's pained smile. "Whether or not he admits it, he's sorry for eating so much. He didn't know that food was short at this time."
"Not a problem, Mana Knight. I am... honored to have come face-to-face with such a... unique individual. Safe traveling to both of you." With a friendly nod, the king departed down the hallway.
"We might as well go in," Randi decided, pushing open the door and entering.
Purim and her father were still present, but they stopped glaring at each other when Randi and Keith entered.
Both individuals smiled upon recognizing them, but Purim's father's smile seemed a little strained. He was clearly angry at life in general at the moment. His face soon returned to glaring at Purim. "You are the most ungrateful daughter I have ever seen! After everything I've done for you, you repay me like this!"
"If you wanted something in return, you should've said so!" she retorted. "Maybe all you care about is making your life rich and comfortable, even at the expense of your own daughter, but I've got my own mind! If you can't accept that, that's just too bad!"
"Why you little-"
She cut him off with wave of her hand. "I hear that there's a celebration going on in the town square. To celebrate the returning of Pandora to normal. In about ten minutes, I'm going to be making a little speech there. I would suggest that you be present, because you're not going to want to miss this speech. I plan to clear up any misunderstandings we might have at the moment."
Her father glared at her. "Yes... you do just that, daughter of mine. We'll settle this once and for all." Without another word, he stormed out of the room.
Silence filled the room as Randi and Keith waited for her to break the ice. Neither particularly wanted her to direct her anger at them right now.
Fortunately, most of Purim's bad mood seemed to have left with her father. "Sorry about that. Royal affairs and all that." She gritted her teeth. "Seems everyone else is more than willing to consider Dyluck dead!"
"We saw him alive," Randi agreed neutrally. "But what'd you want to talk about?"
"Oh right. Thank-you for coming. I wasn't sure if you would or not."
"And miss seeing you beg-"
Randi cut Keith off with a glare before offering Purim a smile. "We got the impression from your letter that... the matter was somewhat important."
"I guess you could say that. Important to me, anyway."
"So spit it out," Keith demanded.
"I saw Dyluck alive in the ruins. You two saw Dyluck alive. For whatever reason, Thanatos kept him alive. I don't know why, but that being the case, there's still hope. I mean to leave within the hour."
"You're going to try and find him again?" Randi asked, knowing the answer.
She nodded. "I don't know if I'll be successful, but I have some ideas of where to look. I have plenty of money at my disposal, and now I've got magic. That's better odds than I could ever have hoped for."
"So what do we care?" Keith asked idly.
"I want to know if you'll let me go with you."
"Come again?" Randi asked. He had heard her clearly, but what she was saying didn't make much sense.
"Your journey is far from over," she reminded him. "And you've got the Empire for an enemy now. You're going to meet them again, you know."
Randi saw her angle now. "Thanatos is part of the Empire, so you're betting that we'll run into him again."
"He's your enemy too," she informed him. "Maybe not the way he's my enemy, but he probably hates you a lot more than he hates me. You'll have to deal with him eventually."
"That could be awhile, you know. You'd find him a lot faster on your own."
"Maybe, maybe not. The Empire isn't going to come looking for me. But they'll be looking for you. And once I find Thanatos-"
"You'd be wasting your time," Keith interrupted.
Purim shrugged, ignoring the sprite. "Decide what you like, Randi. But like it or not, our interests are overlapping here. Maybe not as directly as before. I don't really care much about the palaces that you're trying to get to and you have no reason to be especially concerned over Dyluck. But does Keith really care about your palaces? Do you really care about him getting home? You're just teaming up with each other as long as it's useful for you. I'm suggesting the same thing."
"Forget it," Keith retorted. As an afterthought, he glanced at Randi. "Right?"
Randi thought the matter over. He had to admit, Purim was right. Her reasons for doing this were bizarre to him, but her logic wasn't. She wanted to find Thanatos, and he was bound to find him eventually. "So what would you call this? What do we owe each other?"
"A partnership. We look out for each other on the road. When something big comes up, we work with each other. I have a feeling that anything we run into is going to concern us both to a degree."
"What about me?" Keith protested.
"You're leaving Randi as soon as you find Sprite village," she reminded him. "Me, I'll stick around as long as necessary."
"That could be a long time," Randi repeated. "You ought to realize that I can't slack off on my mission just to make a beeline towards Thanatos."
"I'm aware of that. I can be patient, you know. As long as you stick with your mission, I'll stay with you. I'm willing to gamble that the Empire will do the rest for me."
Randi finally nodded. "Fine. I still don't like the idea of you doing this, though. I've got the Mana Sword. Keith's been trained to fight. You're still a noble-woman."
"I've got magic too, I'll remind you. And I know how to use a bow. I'm not helpless, you know."
"I know," Randi agreed. "And you're probably leaving anyway."
"True," she confirmed. "So are we agreed on this?"
"I'm not!" Keith objected. "Trust me, Randi. You don't need a noble-brat like her along. She's only going to slow you down. How many times have you had to defend her so far because she couldn't take care of herself? She stinks at using what magic she has, and she falls asleep whenever she uses too much! And she's nothing but a weakling to boot!"
"You're one to talk!" she shot back.
Without another word, Keith lunged at her, grabbing her arms and pinning them to the ground. He gave her a smirk, inviting her to try something. Purim tried to move, but unsuccessfully.
"Think again, Princess!" Keith mocked. "Even I'm stronger than you. Stay home and marry some slob of a prince! Go be a good little girl for once!"
At that, Purim finally broke Keith's grip, throwing him back. "What good are you to him? In case you haven't noticed, Randi already knows how to destroy things without you and your magic along. But there's one thing that neither of you can do." Without another word, she pointed a finger at Randi.
Blue magic washed over him, instantly clearing away the bruises and scratches that he'd picked up from practicing with Keith.
"Can you do that?" she asked Keith, knowing the answer. Keith had tried once and it had failed for some reason.
"Quit it, both of you," Randi ordered. "One thing you'd better both get through your heads is that I've got enough to deal with as it is. Neither of you is coming along if you're more trouble than you're worth. I'd be glad to have you both along. Both of you have some neat abilities. But I don't want you along if all you're going to do is fight!"
"He'll be gone soon enough," Purim reminded herself. "I'll ignore him until then."
"Ditto," Keith seconded.
"Then let's go," Randi agreed, relieved to have prevented another conflict. He wasn't stupid enough to think the two of them wouldn't be helpful, but their constant arguing was becoming a real thorn in his side. No matter. Purim was right. Keith would be home soon, and that would be the end of the arguing. Until then, he would bear it in the cause of staying alive.
"Just one more thing," Purim reminded him. "I have a speech to make."
Ten minutes later, Randi and Keith were off to the side, near Pandora's northern gates. True to expectations, the crowds were thick and the air was one of celebration. It was possible that no one had truly expected Pandora to be saved. Yet that doubt had completely vanished as people rejoiced at seeing one another again, mind and all.
Near the center, the king and several noblemen were talking jovially, sipping drinks and relaxing. Randi recognized Purim's father as one of them. He looked as happy as the others, but could be seen to be looking around, like a hawk on the hunt.
"Maybe I'm just a doubter," Keith spoke up, "but do you really think she knows what she's getting into? I'll bet that if she knew, she'd stay home..."
"I think she knows," Randi replied. "I just have a feeling that she doesn't care. You heard her before. This is one serious crush that she's got on Dyluck."
"Well, what happens when she finally gets over it in some far-away land? You're headed to the Upper Lands right now, but there's no telling where you'll have to go to find the other palaces! What happens if... I dunno. You could be on some deserted island when she comes to her senses!"
"I'll just have to chance it," Randi decided, although the possibility had occurred to him. If that happened, he decided, he wouldn't be going out of his way to accommodate her.
"She's getting in over her head, I'm telling you," Keith insisted. "She's even bringing a combat spear now!" He grabbed the spear from Randi's hand and hefted it experimentally. Purim had asked Randi to hold her bow and arrows as well as the spear, which she had taken from the armory.
"Ridiculous," was Keith's opinion. "There's no way she knows how to use one of these things properly!"
"Do you?" The spear was large-headed and razor-sharp, but light-weight. It would probably be light-enough for Keith or Purim to use.
"Of course I do. Look at the blade... that's Watt's emblem. This was made in Dwarf village. But this isn't a throwing spear. It's meant for close fighting. She probably just thought it was smaller type of throwing spear."
"I'll let you explain that to her when she's done. What is she planning on doing, anyway?"
"We're going to find out," Keith replied, sounding interested. "Here she comes. At least she was smart enough to put on something a little more rugged. And lookee here... her dad's telling two soldiers something..."
Randi's eyes opened wide. "Soldiers?"
The two watched in silence as the two soldiers approached Purim.
"By orders of his majesty, you are to be detained until further notice."
Purim scowled at the soldiers. "On what grounds?"
"Disrespect for the crown and family."
She rolled her eyes. "He just doesn't give up, does he? You two, I'll say this once. Get lost and go tell my coward of a father to face me himself if he wants anything done."
"You must come with us," one of the soldiers said, advancing towards her.
"Back off!" Purim warned, extending a hand. Blue light began to glow around it, visible even in the mid-day sun.
Now the soldiers stopped in their tracks, faced with something more than they had expected. One of them glanced back where the king and Purim's father were watching.
"What manner of trickery is this?" the king demanded.
Purim laughed. "No trickery, your majesty. Unlike this entire city, I haven't been sitting around waiting for the end to come! I've gone out and done something about it! Now why don't you stand back and let my coward of a father, Ellius, face me?"
By this time, the entire celebration had been halted as people watch the argument. No one spoke a word as the two parties faced each other down.
Her father's face turned purple as he strode forwards. "You dare talk to your majesty like that?!"
"I talk any way I wish!" she snapped, walking forwards until she was face to face with her father. "To anyone I want! Especially you! Now is anything else you feel like trying? Maybe getting some more soldiers to force a trumped-up charge on me? Just because you can't accept a daughter with her own mind?"
"You still have none!" Ellius snapped. "There is no place for a childish girl who can't accept the fact that her stupid boyfriend is dead! Do you understand me? Captain Dyluck is dead!"
"What do you know? Just because you tried to kill him off by sending him against Elinee? You think it actually worked? I've seen him with my own eyes and he's not dead! I'm going to get Dyluck back!"
"You're delirious," he stated plainly.
"You think so? We'll see someday, father of mine. Someday, you're going to get the chance to look him in the eyes and tell him that!" Without another word, she stalked away, towards the exit.
"You stop right there!" her father ordered sharply. "You pass out those gates, you are no longer my daughter!"
Purim turned back around and walked up to her father again. "In other words, I have to choose between a father who's in front of me and a man who might possibly be dead?"
"I believe that's what I said," Ellius agreed menacingly.
A split second later, she lunged forwards and smashed him across the face, knocking him to the ground with a bloody nose. He coughed in disbelief, looking up just in time to realize that she had spat on him.
"In case that wasn't clear enough," she informed him, every word dripping with venom, "perhaps this will clear things up." Taking off her ring, she tossed it on the ground in front of her shocked father. "Go make another daughter and give this to her! I'll have none of it!"
"You're bloody insane!" he cursed, now loud enough for the entire crowd to hear.
"I'm perfectly sane!" she retorted, now as loud as him. "Love runs thicker than blood, ex-father of mine! Either I save Dyluck or I die trying!"