Chapter 23: Alive & Unwell
Randi cautiously approached Purim. "Would you mind telling me what on earth you thought you were doing there?!?"
She smiled as she looked at the fallen sprite. "I'll explain another time. I think he should be okay for the time being. We're going to have our hands full making sure this doesn't happen again."
A hissing sound made them both turn. A miniature version of the dragon they had seen earlier was coming towards them, miniature teeth bared threateningly. It was obviously not a threat to them, but all the same, it obviously meant to fight them.
Purim looked at it blankly, but then a slow smile came over her face. "We talked with a dragon before, didn't we? And didn't Keith seemed to have some sort of natural communication ability? If I didn't know better, I'd say that against all odds, Keith made friends with this one..."
Randi came forwards. "You understand us?" he asked hopefully.
The baby dragon stopped hissing. / Who are you? /
"Is he okay?" Randi whispered.
Purim sighed and took a deep breath. "I'm no expert on this, really."
"You're the most qualified of any of us," he replied. "What do you think?"
"I think he's okay for the time being. But I don't think this is over yet. I suppose an explanation would be appreciated?"
Randi nodded wordlessly.
"Well, I'll do the best I can. Let me warn you that most of this, I've gotten from old historical references here. I have no way of knowing whether it's right or not."
"It's worked so far, hasn't it?"
She smiled. "Yes, I suppose it has, hasn't it? Well, let me try to explain. To begin with, you need to realize that there are some key differences between different races that go beyond the outside. Whether you're talking about humans, dwarves, sprites or mushrooms or whatever else there is out there, they all have something in common. They're all made up of a certain amount of free-flowing Mana. When you look at a rock, it's completely inanimate and never does anything unexpected. This is because it has virtually none of this free-flowing Mana in it. But as you get into more complex things, this starts to appear. In small amounts, you get animals. Intelligent races, you tend to get larger amounts. I'd guess that at the bottom of this list are humans. Near the top are Sprites, which are almost entirely made of this free-flowing Mana. It's not actually on intelligence, since there are a considerable number of examples of stupid or inanimate exceptions to the rule. Like many monsters or demons. Anyway... you get this so far?"
"I think so," Randi confirmed, silently feeling like a complete idiot in her presence. How she had managed to deduce all this, he no clue. He might have suspected a lie, but he'd seen her neutralize Keith's awesome magic powers before, doing something so ludicrous that it bordered on insanity. And it had worked. Somehow, she had gotten some answers. He continued to listen.
"Good," Purim was saying. "The next thing you need to realize is that this free-flowing Mana is what lets individuals use magic. In other words, a sprite magician is something very powerful indeed. As a matter of fact, in ancient times, it was apparently against the law for sprites to practice magic in any form. Even sprites upheld the law religiously."
"Keith's breaking a law?"
"He was given the magic," she reminded him. "Half of me is disgusted that he was even given magic in the first place. ‘The consequences of this cannot possibly outweigh the consequences of failure'," she stated mockingly.
Randi raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that that what Undine said back at the Water Palace?... are you saying that she probably knew what might happen."
"Wouldn't be surprised," Purim muttered. "Anyway, where was I? Right. Sprites weren't allowed to practice magic. The reason for this was because of all this free-flowing Mana. Even an inexperienced, magic-using sprite could be unbelievably powerful. That in itself was reason enough. But there was another reason for this rule. Sprite emotions often resulted in accidental magic usage. They couldn't help it. It was just a part of them. It was as basic as a human's heart beating faster when they're threatened."
"So these magic using sprites were dangerous even if they were good?"
"Right. Don't relax yet. This gets worse still. Sprite psychology is different than most other races."
"The way they think," Purim clarified. "Let me explain. When you get angry at something, how do you feel? If you're at all normal, you feel a lot of anger right away, but it tends to gradually fade away with time, right? Or if you feel happy, it gradually fades away, right? Same for almost any emotion."
"I guess so," Randi agreed.
"It doesn't work that way with Sprites. If you got one of them mad at you, they'd be mad at you like anything else. But if you came back a week later, it's quite possible that they'd still be furious at you. According to some of those books, they're capable of holding an emotion or mood for near forever."
"Strange," was Randi's opinion. He tried to imagine how something like that would work. "So how would you... get an angry sprite to calm down?"
"You have to divert it's emotions to something else. A good apology would probably work. But you have to actually bring out another emotion. Maybe try to make them happy. Do anything that doesn't make them angry. Of course, once you've done that, you'll have to deal with however you made them feel."
"No kidding. You should see some of the stories I read. Apparently one sprite had his entire bloodline slaughtered in cold blood by a dwarf. The dwarf came back the next day, ready for a huge final fight. Turns out the incident was already ancient history for the sprite, who was more concerned about inviting the dwarf in for some tea. The dwarf, being rather stupid, tried to kill this last sprite, and got the sprite angry again. After a five year chase, the sprite finally caught up to the dwarf and killed him in revenge."
Randi had to laugh at the idea. "Is that true?"
"It's possible," she agreed, looking dead serious. "It's strange, yes. But do you have any idea how dangerous that is when you pair with an individual who's prone to accidently letting off magic every time they get emotionally excited?"
Randi shuddered, beginning to see the problem. "So what exactly has been happening with Keith?"
"Well, all this stuff I've been saying about sprites holds true for him, give or take a little bit of influence from dwarf culture. Remember when you fought him the first time? At first, he thought the whole thing was a joke. After you hurt him, he was steaming mad at you. He didn't calm down until you managed to pin him down. Didn't you see him just calm right down? Although he'd probably never admit it, I'm willing to bet he was scared. His fear replaced the anger he was feeling towards you. Remember what happened when he fought Fanha? All that magic he was somehow using? He was probably downright insane with anger. Half of what he did, he probably did unconsciously. He only began to calm down after he started crying over what had happened."
Randi was thinking hard. "So why did he begin to get some temperamental lately?"
"It started after the incident at village," Purim reminded him. "I could be wrong, but I'm willing to bet that he's been getting a lot of flashbacks during his sleep of everything he's forgotten. Which basically amounts to his old life in Sprite Village. And with his sort of personality, anything at all remotely connected to Sprite Village immediately brings to mind what happened to it. Which obviously, makes him mad."
"So it's been building up?"
"That's right. And in that state of mind, I wouldn't be surprised if he finds it very easy to recall anything at all that's frustrating in his life, which might be quite a bit, these days. High on the list might be you."
"Because you beat him. That sprite's ego approaches ‘demi-god', and you put a real damper on that, you know? Not your fault, really, but that might explain why he cut loose with so much magic on you before."
Randi thought back to what the sprite had been yelling and had to agree that Keith's angry comments tended to fit that description. "I guess that would explain why he sounded so obsessed with power before."
"Right. At any rate, the book also mentioned that when the emotion overloads occurred - barring outside interference - they tended to wind up turning the sprites into giant magical explosions. Apparently a city or two was lost before they figured out the reasons behind it."
"You mean Keith might have..."
"That's right. That freak owes me big for this."
"What exactly did you do to him?"
She grinned. "Simple. I gave him something else to think about. He was probably so angry he was seeing the world in shades of red! Then his opponent starts crying and hugging and kissing him? He probably didn't have a clue what was going on, but his mind must have decided that he was supposed to start feeling happy. The sudden switch was what probably knocked him out before."
Randi shook his head in disbelief. "You've got a lot of guts, Purim. You had me thinking that you were going to try and outfight him or something!"
"I did," she corrected. "Yours Truly has learned how to block magic attacks now. All I have to do is identify the Mana elemental and redirect the power into doing something. Of course I have to think of something new to do with the elemental. But the harmful magic won't be able to touch me, as long as I'm strong enough to keep up the effort. Let me tell you, Keith just about got me anyway! I can see why you had trouble with him before."
Randi scowled. "He was going easy on you, Purim. That was nothing compared to what he was trying to do to me. If that battle-site was still around, you'd be able to see a three-foot deep silhouette of me! He pounded me that hard into solid rock!"
She shrugged. ‘You're alive, aren't you? Isn't it comforting to know that you've actually gotten that strong?"
He grimaced. "That hurt, you know."
"It won't as much the next time, right? We all need to get stronger. The only way we'll get stronger is by challenging ourselves."
"We'd be stronger if we only knew more," Randi informed her. "It's no good to have strength if we don't know how to use it."
Purim nodded. "That's why we're going to get started on some reading. Me, I'm going to keep trying to figure out what's wrong with Keith. You, I suggest you get started on finding information on Mana Knights, the Mana Sword, the Tribe of Mana or anything else related."
"That could take awhile."
"No time like the present to start," she agreed cheerfully, getting to her feet. "This is like going back to school all over again, except this time, even my teachers don't know anything about the subject!"
Randi scowled. "You can be as cheerful as you want, but I think it's more like trying to find a needle in a haystack."
Purim shrugged. "Unless you want to leave Keith behind, we might be here a few days. We'd be foolish not to use them to our advantage. I'd suggest you either practice fighting or try to learn some more about what you're getting into."
Randi nodded. Keith had intended to train him some before this came up. Fighting practice would be more effective once the sprite was helping. For now, he would start reading and hope that Keith made it. He allowed himself to comforted by the idea that Purim was working towards that. If there was way, he was sure she'd find it.
Purim sat quietly on the ground, staring at the scene in front of her. She had been doing this for the past hour or so, yet still nothing had come up. In front of her lay Keith, sprawled out rather carelessly on the ground. Behind the sprite, stretched out calmly, was the baby dragon that had followed them home. She had more than a hunch that it had imprinted itself on the sprite.
She'd heard of such thing happening with other animals. In the absence of parents, a baby could be made to ‘adopt' a new guardian. Although usually such a thing involved kindness on the guardian's part, which didn't fit Keith's description...
/ Keith is very kind. /
She was jolted from her thoughts as the baby dragon spoke. She scowled at it. "He was half-crazed and insane and about to explode. Just you wait until he's returned to normal!"
/ Can you help him? /
"I don't know. I'm trying to figure out how. He's the first sprite anyone has seen in I don't know how many centuries. Naturally, information is a little scarce after all this time. Some of these books are about to crumble to dust in my hands, really. Just don't disturb me, okay?"
The ensuing silence was enough to suggest that the baby dragon had taken the suggestion to heart and simply decided to resume guarding Keith.
The door behind them opened as a mushroom ‘walked' in. Personally, Purim felt that ‘waddled' was a more appropriate term. The mushroom had an armful of books in its arms. "These were the best we could find, m'lady."
At the sound of the title, Purim felt her mind wandering back to memories of Pandora, during her life as a noble-woman. A completely different world, she reflected. As many gourmet meals a day as she desired, young men willing to jump at her every word, sole heir to her family's considerable fortune. A virtual paradise in more than one way.
Her mind continued to wander to other memories. A temperamental father, made even angrier by a daughter whose strong will mirrored his own. Hundreds of faces around her, all clearly afraid of her. The whispers behind her back. The lonely days which drove her to do anything that would occupy her mind, even things like education...
She opened her eyes quickly. "Um, yes?"
"Where did you want these books?"
"Just set them down here."
"As you wish."
The mushroom swiftly obeyed, turning to leave the room.
"Bluestem," the mushroom replied after it realized she was talking to it.
"Um... thank-you," she offered, feeling like she was speaking a different language. "You can just call me Purim, okay?"
The mushroom gave what she had learned was a smile. "If you need anything else, Purim, just give one of us a call. We're still looking for more information, but that's what we've found so far."
"Thank-you," she agreed, not feeling quite as uncomfortable saying the words the second time. Taking a deep breath as the door closed behind the mushroom, she picked up the first book.
‘The Chaotic Nature of Mana', was the title. She shrugged, deciding that recent events had taught her the truth of that. Seemed as good a choice as any. She only hoped it had the information she was looking for.
She gave Keith another glance. The sprite's face looked deathly pale, which was a new sight to her. Whatever else she might say, she couldn't deny that Keith was far from helpless. The sprite's faults could fill an entire encyclopedia, but the reader would never find a heading titled ‘Weak Constitution'. Anything that could reduce him to such a state was nothing to be scoffed at. She had a hunch that he shouldn't have lived as long as he had. Whatever else she might think he deserved, he certainly deserved a chance to live.
Randi shuddered as he put down a book. He was beginning to wish that he'd just decided to go out and practice fighting. Over the past three hours, he had read more horror stories than he'd ever cared to hear in his entire life. And they were all about the Tribe of Mana. It was more than obvious that historians were less than favorable towards the Tribe of Mana, towards the Mana Knight in particular.
The power of a true Mana Knight was clearly something of another world. There were stories of whole armies being slaughtered in mere seconds. Their crime had been skepticism upon being ordered by a single individual to surrender. Other stories told of mountain ranges being ripped apart, fields being flooded with fire and lava, entire lands being frozen into tombs of ice. And all these things were done by a single person wielding the Sword of Mana.
He looked at his sword. "What are you?" he whispered. "If you think I'll ever do something like that, you've got another thing coming!"
In response, the sword only glimmered in the light.
He sighed and put down the book, refusing to even look at the title again. ‘The Curse of Mana'. He could relate all too well.
He picked up another book. "In the Shadow of The Sword," he read, already having a hunch of what he was going to read. But he had no choice. He needed to know what he might be capable of doing. All the stories so far had only been concerned about what had been done. The how had been irrelevant. Perhaps this book would have some horror stories that actually mentioned how the terrible things were done...
Resignedly, he opened the book. The first page seemed to be some sort of introduction from the author... ‘Throughout the ages, the Tribe of Mana had always stood for balance, in all ways. True to form, the cold and destructive ways of The Tribe's men have always been balanced with the passionate and healing ways of The Tribe's woman. Indeed, the characteristics are rumored to be so deeply ingrained that the two genders are almost separate tribes onto themselves. ‘While the foremost of The Tribe's men have traditionally wielded the Mana Sword, many people mistakenly assume that only they can overcome the spell that protects the sword from being used. But there are many instances where The Tribe's women have been forced to wield the sword for the good of this existence.
‘It is with this purpose in mind that I write this book. Not being of The Tribe myself, I am naturally excluded from the vast majority of knowledge of their many secrets. This, my heart and soul are surely happier for, no matter how saddened my mind may be. With knowledge comes power and with power comes responsibility. The Tribe of Mana has always been the ultimate embodiment of this fact, and one can only guess at the responsibility they shoulder.
‘So I must be resigned to using what means I have at my disposal. Although there are countless numbers of stories behind the men of The Tribe, equally fascinating are the stories behind the women. I have done my utmost to gather all possible information on as many stories as mortally possible. The best and most complete I have published in this book...'
Randi smiled faintly as he finished reading the book's introduction. He had a hunch that he had finally found something worth reading. This might just be what he had been looking for...
Purim sighed as she set aside another book. Several books had alluded to a possible way of saving Keith, but the sprite didn't have a prayer of succeeding at them. It involved a particularly difficult type of mental focus. She'd heard of it before, as well as monks who spent their entire lives trying to learn the art as part of their training. Only a few extreme devotees ever came close to succeeding...
She needed to find another way. Perhaps one that let her take a more active part... Keith might be able to come halfway if she did some of the process. As for what that way might be...
...she had no idea. No book she had found yet had even begun to suggest another possible method. Apparently, most of the problems with sprites and magic had been dealt with forcibly. Ideally, the sprite was killed before they could become a serious problem. Only a few instances had occurred where the sprite had lived...
Randi shuddered as he finished reading the tale. It was a strange one. In it, two people from the Mana Tribe had fought each other over a frighteningly close to home reason. Apparently a man from The Tribe had felt that the sprites were becoming a danger to the balance of the world and that they needed to be terminated. A woman, wielding the Mana Sword, had opposed him and they had fought. In the end, the woman had managed to triumph on account of sheer determination and by using the sword's ‘advantages' to combat the man's advantages. And it described those advantages.
Randi could barely contain his delight as he read them over. Then his initial joy began to change to resignation as he realized that they didn't apply to him. He sighed and pushed the book aside, deciding to look it over again later on. There were other books to see to.
/ You are worried. /
Purim looked up, glad for the interruption this time. The baby dragon was still waiting patiently, keeping a close eye on Keith. "I guess so. I just don't see any way that Keith is going to make it. I've only found one plausible way and it's beyond him."
/ Why? /
"It... needs a lot of practice. You need to be very strong."
/ Keith is strong. /
She grimaced. She knew that all too well. "I know that. But it isn't physical strength that he needs. He needs mental strength. There are people who devote their entire lives to attaining what he needs to perfect, just to survive. I don't think Keith has even a few days left. I can see the magic in him destabilizing even now. I don't think that trick I did with him is going to work a second time. Keith needs mental strength right now."
/ I know. Keith has a strong will. /
"You don't know what you're talking about."
/ If you knew, you wouldn't be so worried. /
She glared at the baby dragon. "I don't care how young you are. You're no baby."
/ My kind matures rapidly. /
"Whatever. If you're so certain that Keith's tough enough, what do you think we should do about him?"
/ Tell him. Keith is not afraid to die. He thought he was going to die a long time ago./
"If I wake him up now, he might just loose it again. We could be vaporized before we can even start to run."
/ I should be dead too. Keith saved me before. /
Purim sighed, wondered how the dragon was going to feel when it finally realized what Keith was really like when he was sane. "Do you really think he can do anything to help?"
/ He has nothing to lose. Maybe perfection of this... mental strength... isn't needed. Maybe just an effort will suffice for now. /
Purim sighed. She was finding it hard to argue with this creature. While she was right, it did have a point. Perhaps a conscious effort on Keith's behalf would buy the sprite more time. He sure didn't have much as it stood. She tossed aside the book. "This is ridiculous. I'm actually considering helping someone commit suicide. And effectively committing suicide myself."
/ He is waking up. /
"What?!" Purim jumped back in alarm.
True to claims, Keith was beginning to stir slightly. His ears were twitching slightly and his fingers and toes were curling and uncurling as if testing to see if they still worked.
/ He is in much pain right now. /
"I can believe that," Purim agreed, mind awhirl. This wasn't going right. If Keith saw her, he might go right into his attack mode again. She had to keep him calm and semi-rational. So she did the only thing she could think of. She remained motionless, not even breathing loudly.
Keith's face was screwed up in a grimace of pain, even as he staggered to his feet. On the first attempt, he simply collapsed on the ground again. The second time he tried, he managed to stay on his feet, clutching the sides of his head in agony.
/ Stay calm, / the baby dragon's voice was heard to say. / We are safe here. /
Keith gasped for breath. "You... okay?" he asked hopefully.
"I am quite fine. We are in Matango now and I have been given food."
The expression on the sprite's face was almost pure bliss in spite of the painful grimace. "Good...to... hear. You... stay... here, ‘kay?"
/ Why? /
"Gotta..." Keith seemed to hesitate for a moment before trying to smile. "I... gotta go... t'the... bathroom."
Even if Purim wasn't fully aware that Keith's natural functions didn't include such things, it was such a blatant lie that she almost wanted to laugh. Only the thought of a semi-crazed, magic-using sprite kept her silent. What on earth was Keith doing? The sprite hadn't even noticed her yet. Intrigued, she kept silent, wondering how to break her presence to Keith peacefully. Even when the sprite was sane, they didn't get along very well. In his current state of mind, there was no telling how Keith would react if he caught sight of her.
/ You should not go anyway. You are very ill. /
"I'm... strong ‘nuff. Back soon... ‘kay? Real... soon."
/ You should not... / The baby dragon trailed off as it saw Purim shaking her head insistently. Although no words were being spoken between them, it seemed to realize that it was pointless to argue with the sprite. / Please be careful. /
Keith managed a weak grin before doing his best to stagger towards the door. Purim still didn't move. If Keith gradually noticed her, it would be the best way to announce herself to the sprite. But her surprise, the sprite didn't even notice her. In slow motion, he made his way out of the room.
Purim lowered her eyes, feeling rather ashamed now. She didn't know whether the baby dragon understood what was going on or whether it was simply too immature to have much of a will of its own. But she understood more clearly than she would have liked to. Keith's happiness over the baby dragon's safety; his half-assed lie; his immediately desire to leave the dragon... Keith knew he was going to die. With the dragon safe, he was now going to get as far away as possible before he finally lost control altogether.
She swallowed and desperately tried to decide how to confront Keith. All she needed to do was tell him to try to repress his emotions. Even though he didn't even have a hope of even beginning to accomplish such a feat. She knew that she should just leave him be. The sprite was doomed, even after all that had happened. The best that could happen now would be if he was far away from anybody when he finally... lost control.
After what seemed like an eternity, Purim looked up to see that Keith was gone. Whether through a burst of strength or sheer willpower, he had managed to leave the room. She got to her feet, feeling even shakier than Keith had looked. She would... follow the sprite. If he happened to hear her... that would give her a chance to talk to him. Noiselessly, she crept towards the door, careful not to make any noise, knowing that every such step she took carried Keith one step closer to the end...
Randi slowly walked across the compound, needing a break from the intense reading. He still hadn't found anything useful to him. Maybe he just needed a break. He would go see how Keith was doing. Perhaps Purim had discovered something new to work from...
He stopped short as he saw who was approaching him. He reached for his sword, but stopped himself. Keith looked like a zombie. It was possible that Keith didn't even see him. A short distance behind him, Purim was quietly following from a distance, looking downright petrified.
It didn't take a genius to figure out what was happening. Keith had woken up, and he was still dangerous to anything nearby. And the sprite was now heading straight for him. What did he do? Purim's frantic gestures suggested that he should be getting out of the way very quickly. Obviously, she hadn't been able to talk with the sprite about anything.
"Keith?" he heard himself ask. "Where are you going?"
For an answer, the sprite only pointed to the side, indicating for him to get out of the way.
"How are you feeling right now?" he persisted.
"Move," Keith said, magic beginning to flare around him.
Right then, Randi was tempted to dive out of the way and let the sprite go by. Then he checked himself. He wouldn't have gotten as far as he had without Keith. He had been outcast by all his friends. He wasn't going to let any new ones go to waste. Taking a deep breath, he sat down on the ground, a mere three feet from the sprite. "How are you feeling?" he asked again.
"M-move..." Keith insisted, the magic growing brighter. "Or you... gonna die!"
"I'll take that chance," Randi acknowledged. His mind was whirling. It was a fairly safe bet that Keith was feeling something along the lines of frustration, anger and sadness. Give him something else to feel. "You're not giving up, are you? Don't you have a bunch of buddies back in Dwarf Village? They'll never forgive you if you don't come back safe to tell them all about this story."
The magical aura began to fade slightly.
"Purim's been working overtime to learn how to help you," Randi continued. "You don't want to disappoint her, do you? And besides, you promised that you'd help train me, right? How am I going to stay alive with this sword unless I get someone to train me who knows what they're doing?"
The magical aura was beginning to fade slightly. Evidently, Keith realized this too, staring in frustrating at his hands. "What the hell is going on?" he hissed in disbelief, even as his magic began to flare up again.
"Listen to me," Randi ordered, feeling surprisingly calm. Somehow, the fact that he was within touching distance of a magic bomb that had historically destroyed whole cities... had been regulated to a background concern for the moment. "Purim figured out why your magic is acting funny. It's connected to your emotions. Do you understand me? You need to try and calm down and not feel anything. That should-"
Without warning, Keith suddenly began to laugh. "‘motions? Heh heh... is that all it was... geez I'm stupid... so stupid..."
"Keith?" Randi inquired with dread. Had the sprite finally gone insane? Was this the end?
The magic around the sprite suddenly began to fade until it was completely gone. "So stupid... so stupid," Keith kept repeated giddily.
"What's are you doing?" Randi asked, hardly daring to believe what he was seeing.
"What... do you think I am doing, idiot? I'm not feeling anything!" A look of bliss began to come over the sprite's face. "Oh... geez... is this ever sweet..." Without another word, he collapsed backwards on the ground, a look of relief on his face.
Randi edged forwards worriedly. Keith didn't seem to be dead... but he wasn't breathing. "Keith?"
"Shut up," the sprite muttered. "The pain's all gone now. Let me enjoy myself."
"You're not breathing," he pointed out, silently hoping for some confirmation that he wasn't arguing with a corpse.
"I never breathed before either, idiot. Now shut up before I make you feel what I was feeling before."
Unable to think of anything else to say that wouldn't make him sound like an idiot, Randi sat down and shut up, trying to understand what was happening. Minutes ago, Keith had been a giant magic bomb. And now...
Purim finally made her presence known, looking a little shaky as she approached. "What on earth did you do, Keith?"
"Shut up, Princess. You're the smart one who figured out how I'm cured, aren't you? What do you think I did?"
She shook her head in disbelief. "Whatever! Nothing's that easy, freak! You don't just decide not to feel anything! It's supposed to be impossible for sprites!"
"So now you want me to stop not feeling anything?"
She swallowed. "Well, if you put it that way..."
"Good. Now shut up and lemme ‘lone."
"I guess... that's that," she agreed sadly, turning to leave. "Have a nice sleep, freak."
But Randi could tell that her heart wasn't in the insult this time. Wordlessly, he watched her go back to the building and shut the door behind her.
Keith evidently heard the door shut himself. "Hey, buddy?"
"I think I owe you big for this one."
"Don't mention it. If we don't help each other, who's going to?"
"Got a point, I guess."
"It was Purim who first said that, you know. I think she was really concerned for you. Don't expect her to admit it or anything. But she was the one who figured out everything that was happening. She was the one who disabled you in the cave before too, if you don't remember."
"That's sort of a blur right now. But I think I remember..." Keith's cheeks reddened. Obviously he remembered enough. "That little hussy! I'm tellin' Dyluck all about that!"
"Give her some credit, Keith. She might not be quite as tough as either of us, but she more than makes up for it with some smarts. Trust me when I say that I never would have been able to figure all that out."
"I guess she's useful now and then," Keith grudgingly admitted.
"So you're okay?" Randi asked, wanting confirmation.
"I feel swell now. I can't believe I never realized this before. You can go if you want. I'm fine now. I just wanna sleep for awhile. I'll get training you when I wake up, ‘kay?"
"Uh, no problem."
Upon entering the buildings, Randi looked around for Purim. She was nowhere to be found. Making a guess, he headed to where she had been frantically reading books before and where the baby dragon was still sleeping. She had looked a little sad before, he reflected. But perhaps it was simply showing now that the crisis was over. He himself felt a little drained after what he had just done.
True to expectations, Purim was seated in the room, surrounded by all the books she had read through before, hoping for answers. She didn't seem to notice them now, as her head was bowed low.
"Purim?" he asked curiously.
No reply. But Randi had gotten close enough to notice something. There was a small stain on the arm of her shirt. Another drop of water fell from her face and added to it.
"Purim?" he asked quieter, kneeling down beside her. "Hey. What's wrong?"
She swallowed audibly. "After all that, it wasn't enough. He should be dead now, you know. He's alive because pure dumb luck. He's alive because what I read in these books was wrong. He's alive in spite of what I did..."
"Don't talk like that," Randi admonished. "How were you to know that Keith was able to do that?"
"He shouldn't be able to. And nothing else I had learned was any help. When it comes down to it, I didn't do anything. When he woke up, I just sat there. He was leaving because he knew he was going to die soon. I didn't even try to stop him. I just gave up completely."
"Don't say that. Keith's alive because of what you did before."
"What I did before was just prolonging his life. When it came down to it, all I did was make him suffer a little longer. The one who saved him was the person who had the courage to try and stop him even though he could've been killed in the process. No matter what I try to think, me doing that just isn't a reality."
Without warning, she began to sob again. "This whole time... all I could think of was that I didn't want to be some... stuck-up heartless... snob... like Keith always says I am."
"You're nothing like that!" Randi protested sharply.
"I wanted to be someone who did something nice to someone else, even if was Keith. I wanted to be someone..." she sobbed again. "...someone who deserved Dyluck."
Randi put an arm around her. "Purim... there's nothing wrong with wanting something like that. But you can't torture yourself over it like this..."
"But..." Purim was crying again, despite her best efforts.
Without any warning, a finger slid itself under Purim's chin and lifted roughly. She stopped crying as she found herself looking into Keith's eyes.
Without warning, the sprite drew back and backhanded her across the face. Not quite a full blow, but hard enough to make her gasp. Before she could even react, Keith had affixed his hand to the side of her face, forcing her to keep looking at him.
"We're all a lota things," he stated calmly. "You're Pandorian ex-royalty, he's some back-woods Potos boy and I'm a Dwarf Village scrapper. We all gotta deal with it, like it or not. But we shouldn't hafta deal with people tryin' to be stuff they ain't. And none of us three is a one-person team."
Without another word, the sprite left the room again, as quietly as he'd entered, leaving the other two speechless. Purim mindlessly fingered her slightly-reddened cheek where she'd been hit.
Randi was the first to speak again. "He's right you know. Isn't that the reason we're working together in the first place? None of us would have gotten this far on our own. Between the three of us, we've each done what we could and managed to pick up the pieces of each problem. I don't think any of us should feel bad for doing the part that the other two never had a prayer of doing."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." Purim hugged him tightly. "I don't know what's with me these days. I just can't seem to keep myself together..."
Randi swallowed, somewhat over-aware of the hug. "Well... we're all a little out of sorts, I guess. Things have been real weird lately, right?"
"That must be it," she agreed, mercifully releasing the hug. "Just the same, thanks Randi. Maybe I'll thank that little freak later on too. Maybe I'll hit him back too, just out of principle."