Chapter 18: Sprite Village
Two Days Later...
"I've got her scent," Keith informed them, a strange glint coming into his eyes. "She went this way. Unless Imperial soldiers wear perfume."
"Fanha?" Purim asked, already certain of the answer.
"She's a little to the right," Randi confirmed. "I think I can see her..."
Alarmed, Purim peered ahead frantically for a moment. Then she thought about what Randi had said. "You mean... you can see her magic?"
He nodded. "She's a good distance away. But I bet we're gaining. If she has to sleep, we've got her dead."
"We see her, we kill her, got it?" Keith ordered, pulling a handful of darts from his belt, all laced with an ultra-lethal dose of poison. A flick of the wrist would spray an area with poison.
"I wonder how she's seeing Sprite village?" Randi wondered. "I think I'm beginning to see a little Wind Mana. But it all looks the same. I can't make out any source. If she's the only magic-user around...
"She must be confident of her ability to find it," Purim finished. "She probably knows something that we don't."
She glanced at the sprite. "Something that Keith has obviously forgotten."
"Shut up!" he snapped. "If I knew how to get my memory back, don't you think I would've done so a long time ago? That's half the reason I'm going on this bloody trip!"
"Don't take it personally. But I really have to wonder. Do you actually need to get to the Wind Seed to get your memory back? Remember back at the Underground Palace? Gnome said being near the Earth Seed probably affected you. But you never touched the Earth Seed. Wouldn't it make sense that just being near the Wind Seed would help you get back your memory."
"Even you can't be dense enough not think it wouldn't come back faster if I actually got to the seed," Keith replied.
"I didn't say we should give up," Purim shot back. "I'm just speculating. Have you tried remembering anything, yet? Or do you just accept that you can't? When people get amnesia, part of the treatment involves memory jogging."
"This isn't the same as memory-loss."
"Hey, you sound like you're on a real downer! Do you want your memory back or not? We're never going to find Sprite village unless you remember the way in!"
"Go to hell! If was able to remember anything, I think I would have over the last eight years!"
"You were in Dwarf village the whole time!" she retorted disgustedly. "Right beside the Underground Palace! Now you're out in the Upper Lands! Probably close to the Wind Seed! You must be completely retarded to ignore that! How-"
Purim's next words were abruptly cut off. In the blink of an eye, Keith had covered ten feet and completely knocked Purim on her back. She was too stunned to even fight back before Keith had collared her and leveled the point of a dart in her face. She didn't move, knowing that they were poison-tipped.
"How long are you going to babble before I shut you up for good?" Keith hissed in a low voice. "Shut up. Before I mistake you for Fanha." Without another word, he released her, already continuing down the pathway in pursuit of his prey.
Randi said nothing through this, but offered Purim a weak smile as she got to her feet, looking a little miffed. She brushed off her clothing, and continued to walk after Keith.
After several moments, she spoke again. "For someone who seems to like fighting so much, you don't seem to be having much fun right now."
"Maybe I'm not," he muttered.
"Why not?" she asked, coming up beside him. "What's so different about this fight? There's a bad guy, there's monsters and there's something at stake. It's been like that since the beginning."
"This is entirely different."
"This is the same story," she objected. "The only thing different is that for the first time, you actually stand to lose something."
"Go blow it out your ear."
"It's true isn't it? You've never given a care about anyone else but yourself. You don't care about Randi's problems and you don't care about my problems."
"Oh? You just figured that out recently?"
"I figured that out on day one. But I was there once, you know. I didn't care about anyone else either. Then Dyluck disappeared. Then I decided that I did care about something. Same goes for you. The instant you realized Sprite village was in danger, you suddenly realized that you cared about something. Well, ask yourself something, buddy. How much do you care? You want a list of what I've given up for Dyluck so far?"
"My heart bleeds," Keith said in mock sympathy, deliberately speeding up his walk.
Randi, watching and listening to all this a few paces back, took all this in with mild interest, being more concerned with keeping his eye on the dot of Mana in the distance that he knew was Fanha. No doubt about it, she had considerable power locked up in her. Glancing at both Purim and Keith, he could recognize traces of the Water and Earth Mana in them, a sign of their magical abilities. As close as they were, as far away as Fanha was, Fanha still looked stronger. He didn't want to know what her power looked like up close.
A brief flicker of power from Purim made him look at her. What he saw caused him to blink in disbelief. Faster than he'd ever seen her move in her life, Purim grabbed Keith by the scruff of his neck and pinned him to the ground so that he couldn't budge, so matter how hard he squirmed. Randi's mind flashed back to the time in Pandora where Keith had proven stronger. Purim must be angry...
"You listen well, you little freak," she spat at him, "because I'm only going to say this once! I don't know what your view on this whole business is, but I can assure you that the longer you hang around us, the less of a pleasure trip it's going to be! You may not care about my reasons, but I can assure you that I don't care much about yours. But if you care anything at all about your village, I suggest you decide really soon how much. I've given up my home, my family, my rank, my money, my reputation and if necessary, my life. The longer I'm at it, the bigger the list gets! If I thought that I could save Dyluck by doing a little memory jogging, do you have any idea how fast I would jump at the chance? If that's too much for you, maybe you should have just stayed in Dwarf village as an ignorant, one-of-a-kind freak! Because you're next to worthless to your own people!"
For the next two days, the group walked in virtual silence. Despite their breakneck pace of moving, they were only gaining very slowly on Fanha. It was agreed that she must somehow be able to avoid sleeping herself. Keith and Purim had deliberately avoided speaking to each other since their ‘discussion' the previous day, which Randi figured was just as well. In the respective moods they were in, any arguing might lead to blows.
All the while, everything seemed to be getting colder.
Then Randi saw a snowflake. "Hey!"
The other two turned in surprise. "What's up?" Keith asked.
"Snow!" he exclaimed.
They gave him an incredulous look. "Snow? It's summer right now!"
"I know that! But I just had a snowflake fall on me!"
"Hey!" Keith exclaimed, seeing one drift down gently. "You're not kidding!"
"This is completely absurd," Purim muttered, also seeing the snowflakes. "Yesterday, we might have gotten a sunburn. Then we got rained on. Now we've got snow."
"I don't think Fanha's doing anything," Randi informed. Their enemy's magic seemed to be inactive at the moment, although, her direction was changing slightly. As though it was curving around something...
"I never heard about anything like this," Purim mused. "Of course, nobody really comes up here these days. Nothing worth seeing, apparently."
"Who cares?" Keith decided, continuing onwards. "I don't think Fanha does."
"So this doesn't seem familiar at all?" Randi asked.
"Nada, nil, nothing. Maybe it's just the local climate."
"Alright, this ridiculous!" Purim exclaimed in disbelief.
"These leaves fell off the trees recently," Keith informed them. "Otherwise they would've rotted away by now."
"And we've been going in a circle," Randi informed them.
"Now that I think about it, you're right," the Sprite agreed. "Either Fanha's trying to throw us off her track, or..."
"How could she lose us?" Purim demanded.
"She probably thinks we're following her scent or something," Keith replied. "She doesn't realize that Randi can see her anyway. She can go in circles all she wants. We'll get her eventually, and then I'll gut her from head to foot!"
"There must be something important about this all," Purim mused. She cut her thoughts off as she noticed that the other two were already moving again. "We're missing something," she muttered to herself silently, jogging to catch up.
With a flourish, Randi cleaved the giant hedgehog into two pieces. Foot-long needles were embedded in the tree behind him. He breathed a prayer of thanks for the dodging practice Keith had given him back in Pandora. It was paying off now.
He gave Keith a glance. "You didn't know they were coming?"
Keith shook his head slowly.
"How could you not have?" Purim demanded disgustedly. "Even I heard them before we saw them. And the wind's going our way!"
"Are you helpless, Princess?!" Keith snapped. "Put a lid on it!"
"Don't take it personally," Randi interrupted sharply. "Unless there's something else I'm not aware of, she's right."
"Well, I'm not completely perfect, okay?"
"This isn't personal, Keith," Randi replied quietly. "But I think you're getting tired. We've been walking for how many days now? By the time we catch Fanha, you'll be asleep."
"Is that so? So what's your plan? Go to sleep and lose her for good?"
"She's walking in a circle," Purim reminded him. "We should have tried to cutting her off already. And we need all of us awake when we meet her."
"Just get some rest, Keith," Randi ordered. "I'll wake you up at the crack of dawn if you're not already up. But I want you at your peak when we meet her. I'll be honest with you two right now. Her magic looks stronger at this distance than the two of you do right in front of me. This isn't some ordinary monster we're dealing with here. So get some rest."
Keith could be seen to visibly ground his teeth. Finally he gave a curt nod. "Fine. A little rest. But you don't let her out of your sight. She does anything funny, you wake me up, got it?"
"The minute she breathes funny," Randi promised.
Keith sighed, sheathing his dagger, and skipping up a tree to an overhanging branch where he lay back against the trunk and closed his eyes. He tensed several times before finally appearing to relax and fall asleep.
Purim sighed. "You're sure about this, Randi?"
"I don't like it, but we have no choice. We need everybody in top form when we meet Fanha. Having him half-asleep is not going to help us out at all."
"I guess you're right. We'll - I mean, you'll - watch Fanha all night, I guess. I don't know what I'm going to do."
"Sleep?" Randi suggested.
"I'm still not tired," she replied. "I must have been around you too long. Or maybe it's a carry-over from when I stole your sword. That sword seems to make whoever holds it super human."
"Maybe that's it," Randi agreed. "It's probably a good thing you only had it for a little while. Otherwise, there's no telling what you'd be doing now."
"I wonder if it's working in me like it works in you?" she mused. "It would seem logical, really. Ever since you started this trip, you've been getting more capable as you've met problems. Since I had it for about a day, it's been making me more capable. Since I only had it a short time, it's only doing minor things like making me able to go without sleep... I wonder if I could do other things too?"
"Go ahead and try, if you're serious about it," Randi invited. "But it's all magic, you know."
She thought about it. "You're right, you know. I think I'll just worry about the magic I already have. Goodness knows, I don't know much about that to begin with."
They sat in silence for several moments before Purim spoke up again. "Isn't that the truth for all three of us?"
"About magic, I mean. We've all got magic at our disposal, and we know nothing about it. If we actually sat down and thought things over, we'd probably realize that we're nothing more than kids playing with fire. A big fire."
"Do I have any choice?"
Purim winced. "Sorry. I guess not."
"No, I'm sorry. I guess you don't have much choice either, do you?"
"I have a choice. I'm... just choosing to go this way."
"So am I. It's like Luka said to me. When I picked up this sword, I fell in the water. I was wet. It was my decision to sink or swim. I'm choosing to swim. I don't even have anything half as noble as you to justify it. I'm doing it for survival. You're doing it for love. I just want to be alive when this is all over. You might be giving up your life for this."
"Don't talk that way," Purim admonished gently. "You're just down on yourself. We have our reasons, but you can't say one is better than the other. It's like my teacher always said."
"What did he say?"
"He hated the way that the heroes who fought for love always came out victorious, while a lot of others didn't. He said that the only ones who should be successful were the ones who were fighting for something that they were being unjustly denied. I think you fit the description more than I do. Everyone should be able to live. As for me..."
"Now who's down on herself?" Randi asked pointedly. "Do we have to go over that again?"
She sighed. "We think better of each other than ourselves. And then there's party member number three who thinks he's a demi-god."
"Give him a little credit. You wouldn't want to be fighting him, trust me."
"So he can fight. Big deal. That's not going to do us a lot of good if he can't even remember how to get into his own village!"
"Keep hoping. I have a feeling that he's trying with all his might to remember something. But he's got eight years of Dwarf village working against him on this one. Don't be too hard on him."
"Who's side on you on, anyway?" she demanded sharply. "He's just too stubborn to admit that I'm right!"
"Maybe he won't admit it to you, but I don't think he'd choose his pride over his village. Haven't you noticed how bad his temper's been the past few days? I think he's trying harder than either of us realize. Without results."
Purim shrugged. "Maybe. But most memory jogging works better with someone to direct your thought patterns. I learned about that sort of thing in school."
Randi raised an eyebrow. "Then maybe we three can talk about as soon as we're traveling again."
"We should have talked about it today before he slept. Sometimes dreaming can help free up memories. Reason isn't much help for this kind of thing. Not that he's got much of that in the first place."
"We'll talk about it tomorrow," Randi repeated.
Purim's eyes suddenly opened wide. "Did you hear that?"
Randi snapped awake too. "Hear what?"
She got to her feet, picking up her bow and drawing an arrow. She gestured for silence. "I heard a voice. Maybe soldiers..." she whispered, quietly edging forwards.
Randi followed suit, cutting around to the side, his sword leaving its sheath in a quiet rasp of metal. His ears strained as he listened for what she had heard. Perhaps they had been warned and had gone silent too...
Then he heard more talking. Purim heard it too, relaxing. "Don't worry, Randi," she said, now in a normal volume. "This idiot is talking in his sleep. I'd shut him up, but he'd probably try to cut my throat when he hit the ground!"
"Oh well. Just ignore him."
Purim's face developed a sly smile. "Sleep-talking can be very interesting sometimes. I wonder what a psycho like him thinks about?"
"Give it a rest, Purim," Randi muttered, heading back to his seat. He received no reply. Presumably, Purim was simply in need of entertainment tonight. He didn't really care either way.
"Psst!" Purim hissed after several moments. "Get over here!"
"I'm not interested, Purim," he replied tiredly.
"Yes you are! He's muttering about Sprite village!"
Randi was at her side moments later, listening intently to the sleeping figure up in the tree.
"...Village seal... Wind Palace protection..."
"What's he talking about?" Randi hissed.
"Little things about Sprite village, probably. Keeping listening..."
"Sprite village," Purim hissed at Keith. "Invisible... hidden..."
"Village seal," Purim repeated in a low voice.
Randi watched this, unsure of what was happening. After a moment, he realized that Purim was trying to force the Sprite to think about certain things. Such as the seal around the village...
"Village seal," she repeated again.
"Village seal," Purim muttered again, looking a little frustrated.
"...Spring to... winter... spring ‘gain..."
"I want a location, not a weather report!" she hissed at Keith's sleeping form. "Idiot!"
"... Idiot... bitch..."
She ground her teeth upon hearing that. "He even swears in his sleep! He's insane!"
Randi wasn't so put off. "Well, you called him a name first," he replied smugly.
"Village seal," she growled up at Keith.
"... seasons..." Keith suddenly tensed slightly. Then an eye popped open. "Huh? What the hell..." He glanced down at the other two. "What are you guys doing?"
Purim scowled. "Darn. He woke up."
"Who wouldn't, what with your belly-aching?" Keith muttered. "Aw heck. I wasn't getting any sleep anyway. Let's get going. Fanha doing anything?"
"Nothing," Randi replied. "Purim was hoping that you might dream about how to get into Sprite village. "
"Yeah well, she's dreaming if she's that desperate. I'll save you the trouble. I don't talk in my sleep. The Dwarves tried that kind of approach when I first got washed up in their village. But I don't talk in my sleep for anything."
"Well, you just were," Purim informed him.
Keith's eyes opened wide. "Really?" He glanced curiously at Randi, who nodded in confirmation. The sprite abruptly became interested. "Cool. What did I say?"
"Nothing," Purim replied disgustedly. "You gave us a weather report."
"Well, if you were expecting a speech, I can't say I feel sorry for you. What did I say?"
"You kept rambling on about seasons. And you insulted me."
"Hey, what can I say? I always felt it was obvious to anyone, even with their eyes shut."
"Forget it, guys. Are we going to move?"
"Yeah!" Keith agreed, enthusiastically. "Which way is Fanha?"
"Seriously? Then she hasn't moved since I went to sleep!"
"You're right," Randi mused. "I wonder if she can see us too? I wonder if she's baiting us along?"
"As soon as we catch her, we'll beat the information out of her."
"So what did I say?" Keith wanted to know. "Besides, keeping Purim up to date on her condition?"
"What do you care?" Purim inquired snidely. "I thought you didn't sleep-talk?"
"Not until now, I guess. Maybe you're just overlooking something I said. It's obvious that you've the brains of a pet worm, so we can't leave complicated things to you."
Randi cut in before Purim could reply. "You mentioned something about seasons."
"Okay. How about some detail? How about the exact words?"
"‘Spring to winter to spring again'," Randi repeated. "You said the word ‘seasons' a few times. You also mention that the village was invisible. Most of it was a little garbled."
Keith seemed to be thinking hard. "Hmm... weird."
"Sounds pretty complicated for someone with your intelligence," Purim breathed.
"You got any ideas, slut?"
"I'll let you know as I've figured it out. Maybe you should try some memory jogging?"
At that comment, Keith lunged at her. Purim skipped backwards, already bracing for a fight. "What's your problem, freak?" she asked with a mocking grin.
Keith gave her a dangerous look. "You're becoming more trouble than you're worth."
"Define ‘trouble'," Purim challenged. "If you don't like it, do something about it!"
"If you put it that way," Keith agreed, smoothly producing a knife between two fingers. "I think I will deal with the trouble. Now."
"Try it, freak," Purim invited, her hands beginning to glow with blue energy.
"Why don't you just put your frustrations aside until you meet up with Fanha?" Randi suggested coldly, meaningfully lifting his sword a few inches out of its sheath. "Or else I'm going to express a few of my frustrations! And trust me - I've got plenty to complain about!"
The threat was enough to make Keith's knife vanish from sight as well as the blue energy around Purim's hands, but it did nothing to wipe off the sprite's dark expression, nor Purim's mocking one.
"Thank-you," Randi replied calmly, much calmer than he felt. "Now if you would be so kind as you ignore each other and anything the other person says? That way, we might be able to get something done."
"We're not getting anything done until he decides that he wants to go home," Purim replied stonily. "Maybe he's decided that he'd rather live his whole life in Dwarf village. Maybe he wants Fanha to slaughter his entire village?"
Keith stepped forward, his long teeth fully visible as he spat out his next words. "Is that what you think, you worthless piece of royalty? Is that your view on this whole business? Well let me tell you something, sister! From the very day I was told about my village and the Wind Palace, I've been trying as hard as I could! I've gone over every single trick for remembering things that I know! And I know more than you'd believe possible, because they tried ‘em ALL when I first arrived in Dwarf village!"
Keith was literally seething as he fixed Purim in her spot with blazing eyes. Randi wondered if the Sprite even realized how insane he looked. His clenched fists did nothing to hide his claws, all extended to their full length. The sprite's big ears were standing straight up, their normally pale skin flushed red. The very hair on his hands and feet was bristling. "And you have the nerve to try and get on my case because all this gets me is some frickin' weather reports! You have no idea how thin of a wire you walking on!"
Randi glanced back at Purim to see how Keith's outburst was affecting her. To his disbelief, she didn't even seem to be aware of it. He tensed, ready to intercept Keith when the sprite finally snapped. He didn't even know if he was fast enough to stop someone with Keith's speed...
"So you just get one thing straight- One more peep out of you, no matter how quiet or small, and I slit that pretty little throat... hey! Are you even hearing a word I say-"
"Shut up, Keith," she muttered. "Something just occurred to me now."
"I'll tell you what should be occurring to you..."
"If you've been trying that hard to remember something..." Purim mused, "then maybe we should looking at things differently. Especially if you've never talked in your sleep before. This bit about seasons..."
"What of it?" Keith demanded, still fingering his knife purposefully. Randi held his breath, having a gut feeling that what Purim said next might determine whether Keith actually did kill her.
"That's it!" she shouted, making the other two jump. "We should've thought of it the moment we heard you say it in your sleep! Think it over guys. What's the weather been like while we were in the Upper Lands. At first, it was hot and sunny. Then we kept traveling North. For some reason, the rain Randi was expecting never really came, right?"
"That's right," Randi agreed. He had been rather miffed at its absence, although had thought little of it beyond that. "Keep going."
"Anyway, just after we found Fanha's trail, we got dumped on with rain. I don't know about you guys, but that was the kind of stuff that flash floods are made of. We kept going. Then it started to snow on us."
"Right," Keith agreed cautiously.
"Now the leaves are beginning to fall of trees. Do you guys see a pattern here?"
"Not really," Randi replied.
"Nope," Keith replied immediately. Then his eyes opened wide as he forgot about his knife for a minute. "Waaaait a minute! I was talking about seasons in my sleep... seasons! We're frickin' walking through different seasons. In reverse order!"
"That's what I think," Purim agreed. "So what do you say we forget about Fanha for a bit? We'll just turn around and follow our trail the other way?"
"Yes..." Keith agreed. "I'll gut Fanha later on. What'd I say in my sleep? Spring to winter, spring again?"
"That's right," she agreed.
"Then we're going. If we can warn my village, we'll have some help for when Fanha finally comes."
Randi looked back towards where Fanha was. Something was wrong... with a flash everything came into focus. Fanha wasn't a day away from them, she was only fifty feet away and running. Somehow, she had confused them...
"What's she doing?" Keith demanded.
"She's running away! I don't know how she could do it, but she changed the magic around her to look far away! She must have just heard everything we just said!"
"Where is she going?" Purim demanded.
When Randi pointed out the direction, she gulped. "You're right. She must have heard us. We've been going in a circle. I wouldn't be surprised if Sprite village is in the center of the circle."
"So?" Keith replied. "She still had to walk the seasons like us! She's been walking the wrong way too!"
Purim gave him a disgusted look. "Think of this as a big pie, with four quarters in it. Each quarter is one season. We both have to walk around all the slices. But if she gets near the center of the circle, it's only going to take her a few minutes to walk around the circle!"
"Then after her!" Keith yelled furiously, taking off like an arrow. "Before she reaches the village!"
Randi was already running in the direction he had seen Fanha go. But she was moving fast. Faster than he could run.
"Which way is she headed?" Keith demanded, skipping along the trees branches overhead.
"Straight ahead!" he gasped between breaths. "But she's running too fast!"
"Then catch up as fast as you can!" Keith ordered. "I can outrun anything with two legs and no wings!" Without another word, the sprite, shot ahead like an arrow, lightly touching various branches as he skimmed over the ground in pursuit.
"Fanha is going to slaughter him on his own!" Purim spoke up, trying to keep up with Randi.
"Then we'd better back him up as soon as we can!" Randi replied. "Just follow me!"
Twice, monsters sprang from the bushes, but Randi cut them apart with his sword before they could ever finish growling. Purim was right. He had seen Fanha's magic before. It made Keith's look like a candle in comparison. Unless Keith was fast enough with his weapons, it didn't even begin to approach a fair fight between the two of them.
He pushed those thoughts from his mind. Keith was far ahead of him now, his claims about his speed having been understated. Purim was trailing behind more and more. He expected as much. She didn't have his unlimited endurance. Actually, Randi could almost feel himself moving faster and faster. Once again, the Mana Sword was making up for his failings... he was running faster than he'd ever run in his life...
Up ahead, he could see Fanha suddenly stop for a moment. Then to his horror, he saw her quickly run around in a circle. Moments later, she disappeared for his sight. He was able to make out the aura of Keith's magic, much fainter than Fanha's. The sprite had arrived at the same spot and was also running around in a circle. Moments later, he disappeared too. He continued running, Purim seemed to have gotten a second wind, somehow managing to stay close to him now.
Then he saw the entire world in front of him begin to flare up brightly. He didn't even want to know what that meant. The glow was made of... Wind Mana. Something must be happening at the Wind Palace, he guessed. A loud cracking sound in front made him look ahead with his regular vision.
"Look up!" Purim shouted in disbelief. "Tornado!"
Randi looked up and saw the twister for himself. It was directly overhead where Keith and Fanha were. He felt a pang of fear go through his mind. Keith had no way to create wind spells...
Keith felt himself slammed to the ground by the force of the tornado Fanha had thrown towards him. He staggered to his feet, literally clawing his way towards the source of the tornado.
He could hear Fanha laughing at him. Thrusting out his hand, he caused a boulder to materialize in front of him, offering some shelter against the intense wind. He just needed to get closer to her. Peering around the boulder he spotted her.
Her thick red hair was billowing around her face, a pair of cold green eyes glaring out from behind it. Her red cloak wrapped around her lithe frame, giving her a statuesque appearance. She gave him a mocking look, clearly daring him to try something. Well, he'd take her up on the offer. The tornado she had created to blow him away was fading now, no longer a threat to him. He leapt out from behind the boulder, rolling and leaping to avoid being a stationary target. Pointing his fingers towards her, he sent waves of razor sharp icicles lancing towards her general area. She didn't have a prayer of dodging them all...
Fanha didn't even try. Extending her left hand, she instantly melted and boiled them all with a blast of flame. She laughed again at his attack, sending a salvo of fireballs his way that he jumped. It was obvious she had him outmatched where magic was concerned. But he still had a wild card that she might not be counting on. Driving towards her again, he sprayed the area with more icicles, these ones smaller, but much greater in number.
Fanha simply melted and boiled away this attack as well. Then pain screamed through her entire body as molten metal was splashed across her legs. Directing a hand downwards, she froze the metal and numbed the wound. Falling to her knees, she threw out a blast of wind to force Keith back.
The sprite landed on his feet, eyes ablaze. "Maybe you can boil ice, but a knife is another story, bitch!"
"Try it again!" she challenged, vainly trying to stand up. She hadn't been fast enough to freeze the metal before it did damage.
A metal ring skimmed towards her as she spoke. This time she summoned a blast of wind that picked the ring up and carried it to the side. With a grunt she caused the ring to come right back at Keith. The sprite twisted aside, catching the ring in his hands and throwing it back again. To the ring he added a salvo of poisoned darts, spaced so that she wouldn't be able to control them all at once.
Fanha threw up a boulder of her own, all the weapons bouncing off harmlessly. Using the boulder for support, she got to her feet, easing around the side, ready to incinerate anything that presented itself. For the briefest of instants, she gaped. No one was in sight. Instinctively, she threw herself to the side as yet another boulder crashed to the ground where she had been. She threw up another blast of wind to push Keith away, but he was atop her boulder and had a solid enough grip to hang on.
"You killed them all!" Keith yelled furiously. "They're all dead because of you! My home!"
More poison darts flew towards her, bouncing off another rock that was hastily erected to protect her. Before Fanha could ever collect her thoughts, another knife was flying towards her from another direction, paired with more icicles. She blocked them with a wall of ice.
"Pathetic!" she screamed, raising her hands to the sky. Thick bolts of lightning smashed into the ground, gouging rocks from the ground. Keith lunged every which way, barely staying ahead of them, all the while throwing assorting weapons towards her, which she blocked easily.
"You will join your brethren!" she swore. "No one fights the Sorceress Fanha like this and lives! I'll kill you just like I did your village-" She stopped short, realizing that Keith had stopped moving. His eyes were glowing a brilliant white, with pulses of power surging in and out of his body. His form was beginning to fade away from using so much magic, but he didn't even notice.
"Do your worst!" she invited with sneer, able to see the massive waves of Earth magic coursing through him. She was ready.
"Look up, bitch!" he growled, the ground beginning to shake underneath.
Fanha glanced upwards briefly, expecting yet another rock to come crashing down on her Nothing was there. "You've used up all your power, sprite!" she laughed, her gaze returning to him. "Now you will-"
"Die!" Keith yelled, channeling all his power into his spell.
Between the two of them, the entire ground was ripped into chunks and thrown into the sky. Fanha threw out a giant blast of wind that push aside the rocks, giving her a clear view. Now she would destroy the miserable sprite for good... She saw them coming for her. Long white needles...
A huge blast of flame enveloped them, certain to melt them before they reached her. Even another metal weapon would be boiled away with the heat this time...
Randi crashed through the bushes, Purim not far behind him. A terrible scream echoed through the area. His vision finally came into focus after entering Sprite village. Keith and Fanha were facing each other down. Huge boulders and craters littered the area, as well as assorted weapons that had no doubt been Keith's. Keith was almost completely transparent now. He had obviously used too much magic in the fight. And Fanha...
Fanha was laying on the ground, barely able to support herself on her elbows. Her face was pale, her entire body smeared in blood and dirt. From her chest jutted several huge spikes that seemed to have gone right through her. She was gasping in horror as she tore the spikes out of her body and tossed them aside. The sprite had somehow ripped diamonds from the very earth and turned them into weapons. She gestured towards herself weakly. Blue magic washed over her body, beginning to mend the injuries. But it was a slow process.
"You die!" Keith shouted, hefting one of his ring razors and drawing back to throw it at her. Unfortunately, the ring fell from his hand as he tried to throw it at her. He had grown too faint to hold a weapon properly.
"You've used too much magic!" Fanha grunted, her magic fading away as she staggered to her feet. "Now I will kill you, you pathetic creature..."
Keith carefully lifted a dart in each hand. "Come on, bitch. You can't even heal yourself properly! I‘ve still got enough to hold these darts up! I touch you with these darts, and you die!"
"You'll never get the chance..." Fanha informed him, drawing a knife from her belt slowly. Blood was still gushing from numerous wounds in her chest, but she didn't even seem to notice it. She started towards him, cautious, but obvious in intent.
Keith didn't even wait for her, lunged towards, ducking under the sweep of her knife and stabbing the darts in to her stomach before she could react. Except that the darts weren't there anymore. They had fallen out the instant he had moved quickly. Fanha laughed, drawing back her knife to attack. White energy began to flow into the blade. The knife's metal might not be able to touch the sprite, but the magic would.
With a zip, an arrow embedded itself into her side. Fanha screamed in pain as a coating of ice began to appear around the wound. Falling back, she barely dodged another arrow as it flew over her head. Yanking the arrow out of her leg, she scrambled to escape, even as Purim drew back her bow a third time, her arrow glowing blue with ice-magic. She took aim carefully at the staggering Fanha...
Fanha's legs began to glow a faint blue, the wounds abruptly beginning to heal as Fanha used the last of her magic to heal her legs. With a burst of speed she bolted for the forest, Purim's arrow hitting the ground where she would have been. "This isn't over, sprite! You'll pay for this dearly!" She was in the trees before Purim could fire another arrow.
"I'll kill you!" Keith swore, clenching his teeth as he vainly tried to pick up one of his darts for another throw. "You'll die for this!"
"I'll get her!" Randi growled, charging after her, sword drawn. He was halfway across the clearing when the magic around Fanha abruptly vanished. He had no way of finding her in the forest. He reluctantly brought himself to a halt, turning back to the other two, shrugging helplessly.
"She used up all her magic, didn't she?" Purim asked slowly. "You can't follow her anymore?"
Randi could only nod and come up to Keith, who was staring at the ground dejectedly.
"You... okay?" Purim asked hesitantly.
"I saw them..." Keith whispered, "for just a few seconds... there were sprites everywhere here... then they all faded away like ghosts... when Fanha attacked the Wind Palace..."
"This was Sprite Village?" Purim asked in disbelief, looking around, seeing the truth for the first time. Various items were cast around the ground. Half-eaten food... books... baskets. Simple houses were present, many having been destroyed in the fighting.
"They're... all dead... I wasn't able to save them."
"We weren't able to save them," Randi replied sadly.
"I'm the only sprite left now," Keith whispered. "It never seemed like that in Dwarf village. All those sprites never had a chance against Fanha..."
Keith was beginning to cry softly as he walked through the village. "I'll get Fanha for this. I'll get the Empire for this. I'll kill them all. They won't get away with this!"
Purim sucked in a breath. "Randi? What if you used your sword to seal the Wind Seed? Fanha must have broken the seal around the seed, making the Sprites disappear..."
Keith's eyes opened wide. "The palace is over here!" he urged, hope coming into his voice.
Randi ran all the way back to the palace, desperately hoping Purim was right.
The Palace looked like a duplicate of the Water Palace, except that it was colored in gold and marble, giving it a brilliant sheen in the overhead sun. But the three took no time to appreciate the beauty, racing through the open front doors, eyes frantically searching for the Wind Seed. It was in plain view, atop a small pyramid with steps leading up the front. Randi bounded up the steps, lightly touched the Mana Sword to the Seed, praying that this would work.
He felt a rush of power as the entire room began to glow brightly, blinding all of them. When it finally faded, Randi looked around hopefully. He could see nothing. Maybe there just hadn't been any Sprites in the Palace at the time...
Purim was already running outside, looking around. After a moment, her shoulders sagged and she returned inside. The look on her face said enough.
It hadn't worked.
"They're... really dead," Keith whispered in disbelief. "But how..."
"The balance of Mana is disrupted beyond normal recovery," a voice spoke to them.
They all turn to see what looked like a cross between a man and a cloud. The semblance of facial features were etched into the lining of the cloud.
"Who are you?" Keith asked hesitantly.
"I am Sylphid, the Wind elemental. You are the sprite who disappeared eight years ago. Living away from the Wind Palace has weakened your tie to the palace, which has prevented you from fading away like the others."
"How do I get them back?" Keith asked frantically.
"If the balance of Mana is restored, they may come back safely. But even that is not guaranteed. You will disappear too with a great enough imbalance of Mana, but it will take a much greater shock."
"I don't care!" Keith yelled. "I didn't wait eight fricken years to have things turn out like this!"
"If the balance of Mana is restored, that may repair things."
"Then the Empire's gotta die," Keith decided. He looked sharply at Randi. "You got room for a third member? Same deal as Purim."
Purim looked like she wanted to object, but held her tongue, obviously realizing that despite their disagreements, Keith would be a big help to her own reasons. He wanted the Empire destroyed, and that included Thanatos.
Randi thought for a moment. "Same deal as Purim. We work together on this and look out for each other."
"Right. And we kill anything from the Empire until it's not an Empire anymore."
"Good to have you along," Randi agreed grimly. It seemed their interests were overlapping again...
"These two are assisting you, Mana Knight?" Sylphid inquired.
"They are," Randi agreed. "You know, the other two elementals gave these two magic..."
"If that is what you wish, I too shall bestow my elemental upon them."
Randi nodded in affirmation, briefly wondering that he was actually in a position to cause such a thing to happen. "Then do it."
Both Purim and Keith audibly gasped as yellow light washed over them, until they were only golden forms. After a moment they returned to their regular selves, looking a little disoriented, but otherwise okay.
"Thanks," Randi said. "Listen, do you know where the closest palace is to here? We've already been to the Water Palace and the Underground Palace. We've still got five palace to find."
"I have been isolated too long from the world in this village. You will need to ask an outside source for that information. I am sorry."
"Well... do you know any outside sources nearby?"
"The village of Matango is West of here. You will be able to get information from them. They are reputed to be at the edge of the Lofty Mountains."
Purim sighed. "We've got some walking ahead of us, guys. We'd better get going."
"Like she said," Randi agreed, looking at Sylphid. "Thanks for the help."
"We must all do our utmost to assist the Mana Knight in these troubled times."
The three left the Wind Palace in silence, all feeling the gravity of what had just happened. It had been a close call at Pandora, but things had worked out in the end. Here... an entire village had just been destroyed. For better or worse, the situation had driven the three of them together and given them a common interest. Whether the alliance would survive, much less prove strong enough, remained to be seen. But for their own reasons, they were committed.
Keith winced as he finished recovering what weapons were still useable after the fight. The devastation was his own, but not the absence of inhabitants. He fingered his remaining knife, the other having been destroyed in the fight with Fanha.
"I'll make ‘em all pay, I swear it. Even if it kills me, I'll avenge you all..."