Chapter 24: Turning Up the Heat
It was some time later that Randi found himself alone again. He wasn't sure where Keith had wandered off to, and Purim had resumed her research, saying that with the first obstacle over with, it shouldn't be hard to deal with Keith's problem. Randi decided to turn his attention to other issues. Such as the next palace. Although it was easy to forget after all the chaos that had recently ensued, finding the location of another palace had been the original reason they had come here for. After getting some directions, Randi found his way to where King Truffle was eating a meal.
"Hello, Mana Knight!" he boomed cheerfully, looking up from his meal.
Randi winced at the title. Stupid sword. "Uh, hi, your majesty. We seem to have Keith's problem under control, so I don't think we should stay much longer."
"It's your decision, but you're welcome here as long as you want!"
"Thanks, but time isn't something we have much of. The real reason we came here in the first place was to get a location of another Mana Palace."
"Of course. Well, that shouldn't be hard. You said that you'd already been to the Wind Palace?"
"And the Water Palace and Underground Palace."
"Well, I can name the locations of a few," King Truffle mused. He looked up. "But the easiest one to reach would be the Fire Palace, especially if you're willing to take a rather unusual means of travel."
"Do you know what a cannon is?"
"Yes..." Randi agreed cautiously.
"Then you know what cannon travel is. It's exactly what you're probably thinking."
"I hope not."
"Well, it's fast and quite accurate, I'm told. The Fire Palace is up somewhere in the Kakkara desert, so you're looking at a very long trip any other way. Most of the other palaces can't even be walked to. Whether you walk there or get shot there, the Fire Palace is your closest palace."
"Well... we'll keep that in mind. I'd like to stay a day or two more just to make sure Keith's in top shape, and I think Purim wants to look over some more of your books."
"By all means. Treat your place like your own."
"...and after that, we headed over to Matango to get directions. Then everything got screwed up for me."
The baby dragon took in everything with little change in facial expression. But there were other things that told Keith that gears were turning. Mental gears, that was.
The dragon and the sprite were engaging in a casual stroll through the nearby forest, both finding obvious common ground in the fact that they were somehow alive. Keith had just finished related the general sum of his adventures up to now.
/ You have been through a great deal of trouble / the dragon finally observed.
Keith briefly let himself enjoy the feeling of hearing the creature’s thoughts. It was almost like a warm breezing blowing across his face, except that it was completely mental. Even the dragon didn't quite understand how it happened, but it seemed to be the normal way it communicated with anything. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. I guess I got really peeved over something or the other and stomped off to the caves. Then my magic started to go nuts. I guess I shoulda expected something like that to happen."
/ How could you have ‘expected' it to happen? /
"It's one of the rules of the world, buddy. I got taught it a long ago by one of my teachers in Dwarf Village. He said that no power worth having can be used without learning control. Magic is pretty cool, but if I don't keep control over it, I'll kill myself in the process of using it. Right now, I don't even understand it properly."
/ Your friend seems to understand it. /
"Who? Princess? Yeah, I guess she knows more than the rest of us. But I've tried following her directions and they don't work well. It seems to work for her, though. And I know I've got more mental control than her, so something's wrong."
/ You are a sprite. She is a human. /
"Probably. She couldn't find any books on how sprites use magic. Probably ‘cause it was illegal. Good thing too, I guess. I'll just have to learn it the hard way."
/ I have many things to learn too. /
Keith nodded. "Yeah, but at least I can try to teach you a few things. For starters, you need to learn how to catch food. You eat more than I do, I think. And that's saying a lot."
/ Catch food? /
"That's right. Animals. Maybe you can even eat plants. But I have a better idea. We're going to try to catch us a monster. Lots of those around these days."
/ Eat a monster? /
"Sure. I do it all the time. Lots of dark meat, y'know. Now we'll start with the basics. I'll bet that you have pretty good senses, just like me. First, we'll learn how to move quietly..."
Randi knocked quietly on the door that separated him from the room where Purim was studying and sleeping in. They have decided to spend a day or two in Matango before moving. There was a wealth of book knowledge to be had, Purim had determined. Besides, they wanted to ensure that Keith was healthy. And Keith wanted to ensure that the baby dragon was healthy.
After several moments, "Come in."
Pushing the door open, he saw Purim seated on the floor, surrounded by mountains of books. She seemed to be wiping her eyes at the moment.
"You okay?" he asked in concerned tone of voice.
She smiled. "Yeah, just... really nice story. You should read it too."
She nodded. "Really... emotional, I guess."
Not really his type, Randi decided. But perhaps he would humor her. Privately, he decided anything that could make Purim like THAT had to be something extreme.
"Find anything?" she wanted to know.
He grimaced. "Nothing."
"Nothing at all?"
"Just a whole bunch of horror stories about the Mana Knight. You wouldn't believe the types of things that Mana Knights have done in the past. Even if you count some exaggeration in... it's really scary. My only comfort is that I'll never be strong enough to do any of it."
She nodded understandingly. "I've seen a story or two myself in these books. Mana Knights weren't good people to go up against, I guess. Not that the current one is a weakling either!"
Randi mirrored her lopsided smile. "I'll bet they actually wanted to be the Mana Knight."
"Maybe. Maybe not. Can't you just imagine what it must have been like for them? Especially at first? Being forced to choose between being human or the Mana Knight? Being forced to put the greater good in front of everything they held dear. Feeling like their entire world was being torn asunder..."
Randi raised an eyebrow. "Well... I guess that's one way of looking at it. Yeah, I think maybe I can a little."
Her face briefly lost the glazed look. "I guess you can, can't you? But it's really something, you know. It must have been a crushing experience every time for them..."
"Don't take this the wrong way, but... are you feeling alright?"
She looked a little taken aback. "What makes you say that?"
"Well.. like I said. Don't take this the wrong way, but you've never struck me as someone who could be brought to tears by a story. And you sound like you're drowning in the descriptions you're giving me right now."
She gave the matter a little thought. "Uh... I don't think I struck myself that way either. But read the story! You'd have to have a heart of STONE not to feel something."
He shrugged. "Well, if you put it that way, I guess I'll read it over."
The creature skittered along the ground, moving from bush to bush, always careful to avoid being noticed. It looked like it had once been a mouse. Now it was twice as big, had teeth the size of a dog's and its fur had been slicked back into a coat of shiny scales.
Abruptly, its entire world caved in violently and it found itself crushed into the ground by another creature that outweighed it by several hundred times.
"Good," Keith approved. "But you're going to be eating dirt too. It was only a little creature, so you didn't have to be so violent. If you let your other three legs take more of the landing, your meal won't be as messy."
/ I will remember that next time, / the baby dragon agreed, extracting the once-mouse creature from the footprint and swallowing it in one gulp.
"You're getting pretty good," was the sprite's opinion. "The important thing about monsters is that you have to watch out for new ones. Lots of them have nasty little tricks to throw at you. That's why you want to sneak up on them whenever you can. You have to remember that you're smarter than them and use that."
/ You have a lot of experience. /
Keith looked a little grim. "Yeah, I guess I do, don't I?"
/ You do not like that? /
"Shit happens, buddy. I grew up in Dwarf Village. You learn to fight there really fast. Now I'm aiming to take down the Empire. More fighting."
/ Because of your village? /
Keith nodded, looking sad. "I guess so. I mean, if somebody doesn't stop ‘em, they're going to do it again somewhere else. But I ain't like that, really. They hurt me, I'm gonna hurt them back."
/ That seems logical. /
Keith nodded, but his face softened. "You really are just a kid, aren't you?"
/ You know that. /
"You sound a lot smarter than your age."
/ I do not understand. /
"You thought that it made sense to want to hurt the Empire back."
/ What is wrong with that? /
Keith sighed. "Nothing. Nothin' at all. Makes perfect sense."
"You've got a heart of stone! That's the only explanation!"
Randi shrugged. "I'm telling you, there is nothing in that story! It's an announcement! You tell me what's in this that's so special!"
Purim brushed aside the comment. "You MEN! You just read the words. You have look underneath the surface. Can't you just SEE it? The pain, the hardship, the suffering they must have endured to get together like they did..."
"Not really. It doesn't imply much here in the first place, you know."
She sighed. "Forget it. Your loss."
Randi nodded, setting the book aside. This was the second incident. Although he hadn't actually said anything, he was beginning to wonder if Purim was alright. She seemed to be behaving... differently. He was willing to concede that she wasn't the ice-queen she had first seemed. But she had been doing almost a complete about-face recently. Even more significant, she didn't seem to be making a conscious effort to do so. Aside from getting somewhat over-involved with the various stories she read concerning the Mana Tribe, there was the incident before where she had actually began to cry over her inability to help Keith. He saw nothing wrong with wanting to help the Sprite. He did too. But he didn't think he'd come anywhere near an emotional breakdown.
Maybe he was simply imagining things. They'd all been under a lot of stress lately.
King Truffle looked a little surprised. "Care for the baby dragon?"
Keith nodded. "Yeah. He can catch his own food. But do you think you could give him somewhere dry to sleep? He can't come with us, especially if we use that cannon travel thing you mentioned before. He's really well-behaved and friendly and all..."
The mushroom king nodded. "That sounds like a great idea!"
It was the sprite's turn to look surprised. He'd expected an argument. Caring for dragons wasn't necessarily a favorite thing for people to do. He doubted such a question had been asked in a VERY long time, really. "You mean, you will?"
"Of course! Just what our kingdom needs! We'll be the only kingdom in the world that gets to take care of a dragon. We'll be the Mushroom Kingdom, home of... he needs a name, you know."
Something was amiss, but Keith wasn't sure what. Maybe the Mushroom King was psychotic. No problem. "I guess a name would be nice."
"And I have just the name! Flammie!"
Keith blanched. "You can't be serious!"
"Of course I am! How you do you like the name, Flammie?"
/ I like it. /
"There you go! It's perfect. You can't argue with the one who gets the name can you?"
"It makes him sound like a baby," Keith muttered.
/ I am a baby. /
"You don't sound like one. And some day you'll be grown-up, you know."
"It's perfect!" King Truffle announced, ending the debate. "From this day on, Flammie will be welcome in the Mushroom Kingdom whenever he chooses!"
/ Thank-you. /
Keith groaned, but a faint smile was on his face. So the name was a little corny. If the dragon didn't mind it, he would be happy with it too.
"You're doing the right thing, Keith."
The sprite started as he heard Purim speak behind him. He turned to face her. "What're you blabbing about, Princess?"
She gave him a smile. "You're helping Flammie get on with his life and doing your best to shield him from the fighting you'll be doing."
Beside her, Randi was rolling his eyes in exasperation. Keith gave her a level look. "Uh, hello Princess? I'm arranging for a place for him to stay. That's called normal, okay? You been smokin' any birch bark lately?"
Purim glared at him. "Fine, be that way, you little freak!"
Randi rolled his eyes again. Now things were back to normal.
It was some time later that Randi and Purim were back in the guest room, surrounded by mountains of books. Both were scanning rapidly, looking for likely sources of information. King Truffle had suggested they take some of the materials with them to look over in detail. That had been a godsend. They could now travel and research at the same time. Their only holdup now was the fact that Keith was getting a good night's rest before they set out again.
"I wish I could get a picture of the freak," Purim said with a laugh. "All curled up next to the baby dragon. He's got a real soft spot for the dragon."
"You think so?"
Purim nodded. "Just look at the two. Try insulting Flammie. Keith will rip your tongue out. Who would have guessed the freak had it in him?"
"I... think it's good."
"Of course it's good. Although... I haven't seen Keith use any magic since the mix-up. I hope he didn't get scared of it."
"You think so?"
"Are you feeling alright?"
Randi looked surprised. "Sure. What's wrong?"
"You act like you don't care."
"Of course I care. What makes you say that?"
Purim dismissed it. "Nothing. Nothing at all."
"Alright, anybody gotta go to the bathroom?"
"It's okay to be nervous," Purim said comfortingly.
Keith gave her a strange look. "You're definitely smoking something, Princess!"
"Fine, don't listen to me," she replied haughtily.
"Don't worry, I wasn't!"
"Thanks for everything," Randi said again to King Truffle.
"The least we can do for the Mana Knight," the mushroom king replied easily. "Besides, we must be the only kingdom in the world to have a dragon!"
"I guess that's a good thing," Randi agreed cautiously.
"It's a great thing!" Keith informed him matter-of-factly. "See ya later, Flammie! I'll come back as soon as I've kicked the Empire's ass!"
Randi nodded. Nothing short of being personally eaten by a dragon was about to sway Keith's mind set about dragons at the moment, he knew. But it was harmless enough...
Purim nodded also. Keith was quite adamant in his opinion, but there was no harm in it. After all, it would probably be healthy for him to have something to occupy his mind besides vengeance on the Empire for the destruction of his village. Obsession on only one thing could potentially be very dangerous to the mental state of someone...
All three of the travelers had some very vocal doubts upon reaching the way they were supposed to travel north. It was bad enough to be told about cannon travel. Actually SEEING the cannon was even worse. Expecting something elaborate had obviously been a bad idea. It was nothing but a giant cannon, aimed in a northern direction.
"I dunno about this," Keith muttered.
"You said it," Purim agreed.
"It'll take several months to get North otherwise," Randi reminded them, but doubt was in his voice as well.
The owner of the cannon travel, a rough-shaven short man, was greeting them. "Hi there! Where are you headed?"
"Back home?" Keith muttered under his breath.
"Uh... the Kakkara desert," Randi replied.
"All the way to the desert, huh? No problem!"
"You haven't shot that far before, have you?" Purim accused, her voice indicating that she wouldn't even hear otherwise.
And judging from the reaction, she was right. "Well..."
Randi raised an eyebrow, more than a little curious about how she had known that.
"This is nuts!" Keith growled.
"But I've shot people to the Ice Country, and that's almost as far!" the man insisted.
Randi sighed. Nothing could ever be easy, could it?
"Do you have a map?" Purim asked. "Let me see what happens if we miss."
The man produced a large map. It was blank in many areas, but it seemed to be well done in the areas they were concerned about.
"If we go too far, we have to swim," Purim muttered. "But if we fall short of the village, we'll land in the mountains. Left and right, we're probably just looking at a longer walk.
"Are you sure about this?" Randi asked her.
She nodded. "If normal people can do it, then we should be able to survive an accident. You're strong enough to survive the landing, Keith won't fall as quite fast because of his lighter weight, and I can use magic to make myself stronger."
On that comforting note, they were hustled into the cannon.
For the longest time, there was silence and darkness. Then...
"Princess, you need to brush your teeth!"
"Well, you need a bath!"
"SHUT UP, both of you!!!"
With a tremendous roar, the cannon was fired.
It was a strange sensation. It was as though gravity had suddenly been magnified beyond calculation. Every bone in their bodies was pushed together by a force that could only be described as crushing in nature.
Then there was light. The world below them suddenly began to shrink before their eyes, even as it blurred by underneath them at a speed faster than they'd ever traveled before. Now the crushing force was in front of them, caused by the sheer mass of air their bodies were cutting through.
After their descent had begun to slow, it gradually transformed into a feeling of weightlessness. Slowly but ever faster, the ground began to get closer again...
They all hit the ground harder than a human was ever meant to hit another solid object.
Randi felt like he had after falling off the waterfall so long ago, except worse. He was bouncing and flipping and spinning and crashing in what must have surely looked like a drunken man trying to do gymnastics at high speed. It was all he could do to tuck and tumble with the impact and try to keep from breaking his neck in the process.
Purim immediately did the sensible thing before hitting the ground, using every ounce of magic she possessed to strengthen herself against impacts. Unfortunately, this only kept the impact from harming her. The instant she touched the ground, she was subjected to a series of sensations much like a cat playing with a mouse. Blood began to trickle from her nose as she was whipped around like a slingshot, only vaguely feeling the impacts against the ground, but living up every gut-twisting snap and shake to the fullest.
For his part, Keith simply spread-eagled himself until the last moment. At the last moment, he twisted, feet downwards. A hard thud jarred his thoughts as he hit the ground, his knees immediately buckling into a fast roll born of experience. After coming to a stop, he got to his feet and shook his head to clear it. The dizziness gone, he began to look around for the other two.
"You're just a bunch of wimps!" Keith smugly informed his two traveling companions.
"You... don't know... what you're talking about," Purim retorted, still not trusting herself to stand up. She wiped her nose with her sleeve. She now felt a certain kinship with people who received bloody noses after standing on their heads too long. "You weigh a lot less than Randi and I do, therefore the air resistance cushioned your fall more than it did for us..."
"Give it up, Purim," Randi suggested weakly, still lying on face up on the ground. Her explanation was making only a little sense at the moment. "Shut up Keith, or I'll make sure you don't miss out on what I'm feeling right now."
"There is no way a regular person could have survived that," Purim growled, finally staggering to her feet. "That cannon-ma must have screwed up beyond belief! I'll kill him if I ever see him again!"
"Forget it. Which way is North?" Randi asked, gingerly sitting up and looking around.
"I dunno," Keith, looking up. "Sun's directly overhead, so I can't tell which way is East and West."
"That way," Purim informed them.
"How d'you know?"
She pointed at the long landing pathway inadvertently made by herself and Randi. "Because we were fired North by North-West, and we came from that way. Any more questions?"
"Yeah," Keith muttered. "How long are we walking for?"
"Supposedly, we've got two or three days of walking," she guessed. "But we could be looking at as many as ten days if he missed the target by enough."
"What if we walk by the village?" Keith persisted.
"The village should be visible for miles in any direction with this kind of land," she estimated. "And Randi and I can see Mana, remember? Remember the way we found Matango? We saw all the Mushroom people and the Mana that makes them up. We should be able to do the same thing with Kakkara."
An hour of walking was more than enough time for the three to become acquainted with the joys and pleasures of desert travel. The overhead sun had not gone unnoticed by the ground below, and it was quite literally scorched beyond life. Occasionally, a cactus could be seen, but even those were scarce. Rocks and bleached bones were somewhat more common, though even less cheerful to see. The loose sand beneath their feet was hot enough that it even soaked through Randi's boots to a degree of discomfort. Purim's lighter soled walking shoes were even worse. Keith's bare feet were worst of all. It was Purim who finally realized that they were all in different types of agony, however.
"Randi, are you sweating?"
He glanced back at her briefly. "Well, you sure are."
"You expected otherwise in the middle of a desert?" she replied, before noticing the slightly sarcastic tone of voice. She looked down at herself and flushed. With her cloak and over shirt tied around her waist, it was blatantly obvious that her undershirt had soaked up a great deal of moisture...
"Pervert," she growled. Honestly, if she hadn't known that one of her traveling companions wasn't a social deviant and the other wasn't even human, she would have endured the stifling heat for eternity before abandoning her modesty enough to shed her cloak and over-shirt.
"So why'd you even ask it in the first place?" Keith growled in the same tone of voice.
"Because he isn't sweating," she pointed out.
Randi looked down at his own shirt. He felt it curiously. "Hey, you're right. I never noticed that."
"It's the stupid sword again," Keith guessed. "Probably makes him immune to desert travel."
"That's okay by me," he decided cheerfully, even as he finally noticed the accusing glares being sent his way. "Hey! It's not my fault, okay?"
"I am burning my ASS off!" Keith snarled.
Purim smirked at she looked at Keith's completely dry face. "Sprites CAN'T sweat to cool off, can they? You must feel like you're on fire right now!"
"Damn straight I do!" Keith yelled, his face noticeably flushed.
"Well, if yelling at ME is going to solve your problem, keep on yelling. Just be glad that you're dry, okay? I'm going to need water soon."
"Tough luck, Princess," Keith informed her. "Looks like we'll just have to leave you here to die, huh? Should we whistle for the vultures? Maybe we can teach them a few tricks."
"Don't be ridiculous. You've got water magic, don't you? You can just cast some ice spells to provide water."
"And I'm going to do that because..."
"Because I said so, Keith," Randi pointed out.
"Easy for you to say!"
"Quit whining, you guys," he said firmly. "You're just wasting your strength. Things should get nicer once the sun sets. And we don't know how long we're walking for. If that cannon guy didn't aim right, we could be walking for a long time. I don't feel like dragging you all behind me, got it?"
"Yeah, yeah, no prob, fearless leader," Keith grumbled.
They trudging a long in silence for an indeterminate amount of time before Randi broke the silence. "Have either for you two heard anything about desert travel?"
"Well, I hear it really SUCKS when you're a sprite..."
"Shut up, Keith. I'm serious."
"Dyluck did some desert traveling," Purim informed them.
"What did he say about it?"
"Well, aside from there being no food or water to be found anywhere, there are some other problems too."
"Well, sometimes you get sandstorms, which are really dangerous if you're not ready for them."
"What's so bad about a sandstorm?" Keith wanted to know.
"For starters, you can't see anything further away than twenty feet, Dyluck said. Even the sun is hard to see. It completely covers your tracks too, so unless you know how to navigate, you can get lost really easily. Secondly, it can kill you from exposure."
"Choking?" Randi guessed.
"No. Windburn. It's like walking into a giant piece of sandpaper. A sandstorm will eat away at anything that's not metal or stone. Even wood is vulnerable. Clothing and skin don't stand a chance. You can get the skin eaten right off your bones if you're not protected."
Both males shuddered at that.
"How often does that happen?" Keith wanted to know.
"Not too often. By the way, Dyluck also said that a big sandstorm can bury you alive if it goes on long enough."
"Just peachy. I'll take the bloody sun."
Nighttime was a welcome arrival for the three, if not all for the same reason.
"I think I can feel the difference," Keith griped. "I only feel like I'm standing on a fire, not burning up in it."
"It must have been a whole hour since you two last complained," Randi observed.
"Shut up," Keith warned.
"I need a water break just the same," Purim announced.
"You just had one an hour ago!"
"Well, I think I've sweated off that drink by now!"
Randi stopped walking and dug his cup out of his pack. "Have a drink," he agreed.
Purim accepted the cup, holding it out in front of Keith. The sprite made a face, but brought his hands together, summoning a small amount of water magic. Some brief concentration, and a stream of icy water fell into the cup.
"Crap, I hate this," the sprite muttered.
"What's to hate?"
"Well, the last time I used magic in any amount, I almost died, okay? Maybe I still don't have a frickin' clue what's going on with my magic?"
"Well, once we reach civilization, we can try reading some of those books," Purim soothed. "I want to know more about my magic too, but we just have to be patient."
"Hmph. Never thought I'd hear the likes of you sayin' that, Princess."
Purim shrugged. "Are you saying that I'm wrong?"
"You're just actin' funny," Keith corrected suspiciously. "You hit your head or something?"
"I'm feeling fine!" she finally retorted. "Can't a person act civil without you getting on their case? Just because you never learned how..."
"Shut up, you two," Randi ordered. "Or I'm leaving you both behind. I mean that, too."
Purim made a face as Keith used his magic to fill the drinking cup with water. Keith returned the face. Randi made a similar face towards both of them.
Purim drank the water, gagging slightly as she did so. "This water is hot! I can barely get it down!"
"Well, I can barely make any water appear, Princess!" Keith snapped in reply. "You think it's easy makin' all this water appear?"
"You're telling me you can't even manage a cup now and then?"
"It's getting harder every time, Princess! Just be happy for what you get!"
"I'm going to die of thirst at this rate!"
The timely placement of the Mana Sword between the two quieted them down long enough for Randi to cut in before a fight broke out. "Thank-you," Randi said, a humorless smile on his face. "Now, why don't you two make a decision? You can fight each other out here as long as you want. You'll both die eventually, I think. If you keep this up, I don't think I'm going to care. I don't need water, and I don't need rest. If it gets to the point where you two can't walk, then I'll carry you if I have to."
He took a deep breath. "BUT NOT IF YOU KEEP FIGHTING LIKE LITTLE BRATS!!!"
Both stared at him dumbly.
Randi sheathed his sword and continued talking. "Maybe I'm the only person thinking clearly here right now. Purim, look at Keith and tell me what you see."
"I'll tell you what I see..."
Randi clamped a hand behind Purim's head and forcefully turned it so that she was staring at the sprite. "I'll say it again. Look at Keith. Weren't you the one who said sprites are made almost completely of Mana or something like that?"
Purim's eyes opened wide after a moment. "Keith..."
"What?" he demanded.
"You're... something's wrong with you right now..."
"You look like you're made completely of Fire Mana," Randi filled in curiously. "Purim? Any idea why?"
Her face quickly calmed down, changing into one of thoughtfulness. "Fire Mana..."
"Well, I feel hotter than hell right now," Keith informed them disgustedly.
"That's all that's around here," Purim stated matter of factly. Seeing the looks of confusion on the other two's faces, she continued. "He's using the Water Mana in himself to provide water, but there's nothing in the desert to replace what he uses except for the Fire and Earth Mana that makes up the hot sand here. Eight years of living in Dwarf Village, near the Underground Palace means that he's already got Earth Mana in him to spare, so the Water Mana he uses is being replaced with Fire Mana....
"I don't think this is good," she concluded wearily.
"Your water supply is running out!" Keith interpreted smugly.
"We'd better find something soon," Randi worried. "You're already looking bad, Purim."
"Like you'd look any better in my place," she muttered disgustedly, starting to trudge forwards again. "Come on. I'm not dying out here like this."
Wordlessly, the other two began to follow her.
It wasn't for another day that Purim finally reached her limit.
"Uh... Randi?" she whispered.
"What?" he asked.
"I... don't... think... I... can..."
A muffled thud was all that completed Purim's sentence.
Randi and Keith both turned to see her sprawled facedown on the desert sand, unmoving.
"Oh crap," Keith muttered, already at her side and rolling her over. He looked at her face intently for a moment. Her lips were several stages beyond chapped and her sunburned skin had a rough look to it. "She ain't walkin' any further, fearless leader," he muttered. "Dried out and sun-stroked, prob'ly. Surprised that she didn't drop an hour or two ago."
Randi sighed, stooping down and carefully picking her up. "Then I'll carry her. I'm still okay. How are you?"
"I feel like I'm taking a bath in a lava flow," the sprite replied, his voice rather pained. "But nothin' like I was feeling before with my screwed up magic. Let's keep going. There's gotta be some shelter somewhere out."
Randi nodded, but the grim look they shared suggested that both were somewhat doubtful about the odds of actually finding a shelter. Wordlessly, they continued onwards across the sea of sand.
Night travel was something of a relief for the travelers, even Randi. Despite the fact that he didn't seem to need to drink water or eat food, the lessening of the sun was noticeable to even him. Keith was more than vocal about his relief, however.
"This is insane, man! If I have to go one more day in that frickin' sun, I'm going to turn to dust, I swear it! There's gotta be some shelter somewhere we can use during the day!"
"I haven't seen any yet, so good luck. We've got to be getting close to the village by now."
"Or maybe we walked right by it," Keith grumbled.
"If we did, then we missed it by a long way. And the ocean was supposed to be only a day or so beyond the village, so we can at least cool off."
"I think I'd prefer the ocean to the village right now..."
"Tell me about it," Randi agreed somberly. He looked down at his burden. "Hey Keith, take a look at Princess. She doesn't look too good. Even worse than before, I mean."
Keith looked at her. "Yeah, she looks pretty low right now. I think she's dehydrating. Never had the problem before, but I can remember seein' a Dwarf or two who had the problem after getting lost in the underground caves."
"So how do we fix it?"
The sprite smirked. "Give her somethin' to drink, of course."
"Real funny, Keith. How about something we can do out here? Are you sure you can't make any more water?"
"I'm tellin' you, I'm outta water or something. I dunno. Looks like Princess ain't adapting as fast as you did. You're the Mana Knight. Any way to speed it up?"
"Like I'd know anything about it! She knows more than either of us about this stuff!"
"Yeah, well she's talking as much as a corpse right now."
"Hey, I've got an idea." Randi unsheathed his sword. "Here... wrap her hands around the sword."
Keith worked the presently limp hands into a passable grip. "Think it'll work?"
"I don't know. I'll hold the sword too. Maybe that'll do something."
"Princess is going to have some readin' to do when we reach the village," Keith decided, forcing Purim's hands to grasp the hilt of the Mana Sword.
"No kidding. We've all got some reading to do, I think."
"Um... right," Keith agreed, making a face. "C'mon. There's got to be something out here besides dirt."
The next hours were peaceful, if nothing else. Unfortunately, that was about the only positive thing about it, Randi forced himself to admit. The quiet was probably on account of one of his partners being unconscious and sun-stroked and unable to argue with his other partner. Honestly, some aspects of this adventure were just lose-lose all the way...
"How's Princess lookin'?" Keith wanted to know.
Randi lifted his traveling cloak that had been draped over her prone form to help keep the sun doing any worse to her. He look at her face critically. "I think she's a little worse..."
"She still breathing fine?"
Randi swallowed. "Yeah, she's still breathing okay."
"We gotta find some shelter, buddy. You know, if you wanna be picky, that thing about the sword making you stronger..."
"What about it?"
"It never really kicked in until you were done takin' the pain, right?"
That was a nasty idea. "You mean, she's not going to adapt until we get her out of the sun? But what about me? I'm not sweating, am I? I haven't gotten out of the sun."
"But you don't even need food and water in the first place, right? You don't take nothing in, you don't put nothing out, right? Like sweat. She still takes stuff in, so she puts stuff out. You see where I'm going?"
Randi sighed. "Yeah, I think so. I was already immune when I came into the desert here. But she was still eating sometimes. That means..."
Keith nodded grimly. "Yeah. Things could get really messy if she's a bed wetter..."
Randi briefly glared daggers at Keith. "I'm telling her you said that! Seriously! We've got to find some shade."
Keith made an elaborate show of looking around. "I sure don't see nothin' around here. Do you?"
"Why don't you make something out of rock? A wall or something? Use Earth magic?"
The sprite shuddered. "No way, man. You know how much magic that would take? I ain't touchin' any magic that big until I figure out what the heck's going wrong with it for sure. I might just kill us all trying to make a shelter, y'know."
Randi sighed, but acknowledged the point. If Keith was openly admitting to his inability to do something, it was probably fairly serious. "Then let's keep going. We've got to find something sooner or later."
"The sun's going go down eventually."
"It's not even noon yet!" Randi replied. "Is she going to last that long?"
The sprite swallowed. "I dunno, man. I grew up with dwarves, okay? I don't know nothing about how well humans get around without water to drink. You tell me."
Randi bit his tongue, looking down at Purim's still unconscious form. "I think we'd better find shelter really soon."