Chapter 25: Desperate Measures
"This is bad, man." Keith looked uncertainly at Randi. "Isn't it?"
Randi swallowed as they both peered down at Purim's prone form. Her skin was an unhealthy shade of red now, and her breath was getting rather weak. The answer was fairly obvious. "Yeah, it's bad. We've gotta do something. We're only halfway through today. There's no way she'll ever make it."
"Well, what can we do?" the sprite demanded. "There's nothing but bloody sand everywhere. All we can do is hope we find something up ahead!"
"We could be nowhere close to Kakkara!" Randi replied. "Do you honestly think that we're going to find the village before she dies? I can't see any traces of Mana up ahead for a long way."
"So what are we supposed to do?"
Randi swallowed. "Can you make a shelter?"
"I already told you. I don't know if I got any control anymore! My magic's all screwy! I could kill you two! Be real easy to kill her right now. You might be super-tough, but she ain't."
"I'll try and protect her. Maybe I can suck up any extra magic with my sword. Just try to make a wall to block the sun with."
"I dunno man... I don't think you understand what I'm saying here..."
"She's going to die otherwise, Keith. You want that? I know you don't like her very much, but-"
"That's got nothin' to do with this!" Keith snapped quickly.
"You sure about that?"
The sprite gritted his teeth. "I just about went frickin' insane and died the last time I used magic, pal! Anything wrong with not wanting to do it again? Anything wrong with wanting to stay alive and sane?"
Randi glared at Keith. "She risked her life for you before, you know. Or did you forget about that already? You'd be dead if it wasn't for her!"
That seemed to strike a chord with the sprite. Keith clenched and unclenched his fists several times before finally replying. "Fine," he spat. "I'll try. Get back. Get way back."
Randi quickly obeyed, giving a wide berth to where Keith was beginning to concentrate. Would this work? The look on Keith's face had almost seemed... fearful.
Keith was concentrating intently, but truth be told, he had no idea how he was going to summon the magic. To actually make a big enough rock that it could be used for shade... he wasn't even sure if he could do something like that. Without going insane, anyway. He knew what he'd done the last time. Somehow, he'd tapped into a massive amount of knowledge and power. That it threatened his sanity was more than enough reason not to want to do it again.
So why was he doing this? Because Purim was going to die, and like it or not, he did owe her. She was annoying, over-talkative, too headstrong, willfully naive, and had no sense of humour, but a debt was a debt. And he always paid his debts. Always.
So how had he done it last time? What had been the trigger that had unleashed his magic in such a uncontrollable storm before? What was the fatal flaw that had almost been the end of him before?
Emotion. Or rather, too much emotion. That had been the reason behind his power. He had always taken what he felt for granted, but it had been rather scary to learn that the way his feelings worked could be so... deadly.
And how had he controlled that power?
Keith had absolutely no idea. He had simply 'known' how at the time. It had been as if he'd understood all about using the magic... Purim probably could have explained it. Unfortunately, she wasn't really available at the moment, so he would have to figure it out for himself. He knew that he must have known the knowledge at one point. How could he have 'known' how to do it at one time, and now forgotten it...
A slow smile began to form over Keith's face as the reason dawned on him. He probably had known about it a long time ago... before he'd ever lost his memory. Although he hadn't really understood what she had been talking about at the time, Purim had said something about Sprites being close to Mana... so it seemed to make sense that they would have known lots about how it worked. Being near his home in the Upper Lands, coupled with the intense memory exercises he had constantly done... had gradually brought back the knowledge.
So there it was, he decided. All he had to do were some memory exercises and get emotional over something. Brilliant. Even Purim would have been impressed, he was sure.
"Eat your heart out, Princess," he smirked, closing his eyes. Firstly, he needed to get emotional... but how? With a few rare occasions, he never really got really emotional over anything. Sure, he'd lost his temper once with Randi. And he'd let his temper get way out of hand again in Matango. But he didn't want to go down that road again. Randi had his problems, but he wasn't the enemy. The Empire was...
Keith's smile grew even bigger. Oh yes, he had something to get emotional over. The Empire would be an easy reason to start feeling angry. He was smart enough to restrain his feelings these days, since letting them out tended to produce rather disastrous results. But this was a good time.
The actual mechanics, Keith probably couldn't have hoped to explain. But as far as trying to remember things went, he'd had plenty of practice as of late. And he wasn't about to forget the image of his destroyed village as long as he lived. Or the one of Fanha's laughing face, flame and lightning mercilessly lancing out from the tips of her fingers...
"Hope you're watching, Fanha..." he growled, "...'cause this is nothing compared to what I'm gonna do to YOU!"
Magic exploded from his fingers.
A short distance away, Randi was crouched down warily. Purim was draped against his back somewhat inelegantly, his left arm holding her steady so that she wouldn't fall to the ground. His right hand held the Mana Sword, though he wasn't entirely certain what it was going to do to keep the two of them safe if something went wrong for Keith. Just another example of how little he still knew about the stupid sword...
Purim's breathing was sounding more and more ragged by the moment.
"Don't you dare die now," Randi muttered, doing his best to keep the sun off her.
Randi fixed his eyes back where Keith had finished yelling something. Earth magic was flaring out around the sprite's form, visible even against the overhead sunlight, looking like it was straining to escape or explode. A grimace of pain could be made out on the sprite's face, despite the distance between them. Randi wasn't sure whether the expanding aura of magic was a good thing or not.
A moment later, it was demonstrated to be A Bad Thing. With a yell of pain, Keith sank to the sand, his body suddenly too limp to even catch himself as he went down. Swallowing, Randi could feel the ground beneath him began to shudder.
Keith's vision swam. His head hurt, like someone had just set off a cart of dynamite inside it without any warning. The hairs on his skin were standing on end, something which he had come to recognize as a sign that, willingly or not, he was generating a disgusting amount of magic. And he'd just lost his control over it all. He had no clue what was going to happen, but it was going to be spectacular no matter what.
His body didn't want to respond to his commands. Maybe he'd actually done some harm to himself this time around. Not that he hadn't had an idea of the risks. But he'd always considered risks something to be overcome.
Too bad Purim wasn't around to fix things up.
But wasn't that why he'd tried in the first place?
Because she was going to die this time.
And it was his turn to fix things up.
So he was going to do just that, no matter what.
Maybe the magic was out of control, but nothing said that he couldn't give it a useful shove. It might work. It might not. Magic was annoying that way. He much preferred a normal weapon that only did what it was supposed to do, nothing more. But he'd started it, and he was going to have to make the best of the magic he'd used...
"Reach for the sky, y'stupid spell..." he muttered, putting even ounce of will he possessed into re-harnessing the magic he'd set in motion. In the end, it wasn't much. But it might just have been enough.
It wasn't for several minutes that Randi realized what was happening. Whatever Keith was doing, it was going to be violent. It was going to involve the sand they were on for about a quarter of a mile in every direction and who knew how deep. And it wasn't going to wait until he'd gotten clear-
Pulling Purim even closer, he jammed the Mana Sword into the ground. At the moment, he wanted the sword to do something about the sand underneath them. More specifically, he wanted it to not explode from underneath him. And he didn't care what the sword had to do to accomplish. Maybe just suck up all the energy. That seemed like a good idea...
With a final shudder, the entire world was turned to sand around him. His body flashed signals of pain as more sand than he'd ever seen in his life was blasted past him at explosive speed, mere inches from him and his charge. Was this what a sandstorm was like? Purim's warning about what a sandstorm could do echoed through his mind...
Venturing to open his eyes, Randi glanced down at Purim, quickly confirming that she was no worse than she had been several moments earlier. Although certainly no better.
Looking around his surroundings, it took some effort not to simply drop his charge. Everything was... missing. Where Keith had been previously, there was simply a gaping pit in the sand. At least fifty feet deep. With no Keith in sight.
No reply. Randi scanned the vicinity, frantically looking for some sign of life.
At the centre of the blast, a barely visible shape shifted position. Keith. The sprite had obviously used too much magic again, Randi realized with relief. As long as he was still alive.
Lifting Purim again, he began to make his way down the slope of the blast crater, only to be stopped by a pain in his right arm. Considering his recently-developed resistance to pain, it was probably bad. Halting, he turned his head to look at the wound, swallowing. The skin on his shoulder and arm had literally been torn away, with blood now flowing freely.
From the sand before, he realized. He'd been trying to shield himself and Purim, and his shoulder probably been outside whatever protection the Mana Sword had been offering... Purim hadn't been kidding when she'd told them what sand could do to a person.
Shifting his charge to his other arm, he clapped his hand over the wound as best he could. Judging from the blood still running down his arm, it wasn't helping much, but he would ignore it. He would see how Keith was doing. Whatever the sprite had tried to do, it seemed to have failed.
"Keith?" he inquired, wincing as he slid to a stop at the bottom of the pit. "You okay?"
Keith murmured a few unpleasant words. "Yeah man... just peachy. Shit, I hurt all over. Did I make any walls outta that?"
"Just a big hole. No shade."
Keith got to his feet, scowling as he alternated between looking at his semi-transparent form and Purim's prone form. Neither was source of much comfort. "Damn. The sand's still dry this deep. Dig a hole and pile the dirt in front of the sun."
Randi nodded, carefully setting Purim down on the ground. The pit, although not nearly steep enough to protect against the overhead sun, would make the task of creating shade a little easier, especially once the sun started to go down in the sky.
"What happened to your arm?" the sprite demanded.
"Sand," he muttered, giving up on putting the arm to use. His other arm would have to suffice. If this kept up, he'd bleed to death before any shelter was created.
"Chop off some cloth from your pants," Keith ordered. "I got an idea."
Pausing to obey, Randi carefully cut off a section from the lower leg of his pants, reducing the one leg to the status of a lengthy pair of shorts. "Can you even pick it up?"
Moving slowly, Keith placed his hands around the fabric. "Yeah, I can do it. Keep pushing dirt with your good arm."
Randi briefly winced as the rough cloth was pressed against the wound on his shoulder, but he stifled any protests as he continued to pile the sand up. Unfortunately, the sand was too loose to remain piled up for long. "What are you doing?" he asked the sprite.
"Soaking up your blood," was the answer. "I heard about this once back in Dwarf Village. Supposed t'be a quick fix for someone who's dried out."
Randi swallowed, but didn't inquire further. He wasn't quite sure that he wanted to know until it was too late. "This isn't working," he informed Keith. "I'll never be able to make anything tall enough."
"You wanna sit around until the sun goes down? I betcha princess doesn't have that long."
Randi kept digging.
Several minutes later, the sprite finally pulled the cloth away from the wound. "Take this."
Halting his work, Randi accepted the cloth. He was bleeding badly, he realized, if the amount of blood that the cloth had soaked up was any indication. Hopefully Purim would be able to use a healing spell once she was better.
"I'll open her mouth, you squeeze the blood in."
Randi blinked. "Excuse me?"
"I'll open her mouth, you-"
"I heard that. That's supposed to help her?"
"There's nothing else to drink out here, right? And I've heard of this kind of thing working. Put yourself in her boots. If she had a choice between dying and-"
"Alright, alright, I hear you. Open her mouth. This had better work."
"For her sake," Keith agreed, using two of his fingers to pry Purim's lips apart.
Swallowing his revulsion, Randi held the cloth over her mouth. It had been a long time since he'd been squeamish about blood and injuries - especially in lieu of recent events - but this was somehow... different. To say nothing of the knowledge that it was his blood that he was now attempting to wring into her mouth.
Some of the liquid didn't quite make it into her mouth, but he was as efficient as could be managed under the circumstances.
"Swallow," Randi whispered quietly. "Swallow..."
Keith closed up her mouth. "C'mon, princess. I ain't gonna go save Dyluck for you, y'know."
"You're sure this'll work?"
The sprite shrugged. "Hey, I've heard of it working before. And you didn't have any better ideas. Here, tie this around your shoulder. You don't need to lose any more blood right now."
Randi obeyed, using his other hand and his teeth to tie a crude knot to hold the cloth in place. "So how long is it supposed to take to work?"
"Beats me. Do I look like someone who knows medicine? For all I know, she's too dried out to take in the water in the first place. I've heard of that sort of thing happening."
That was a nasty thought. "But she's still breathing."
"So's someone on their death bed."
Randi scowled. "Do you want her to die? You sure sound like it right now."
Keith met the glare. "The hell I do! I'm just being realistic about this all! We're in the middle of a desert, we've got no water, you're bleeding all over the sand, I can barely pick anything up, and she's getting slow-cooked! What else do you want me to say?"
"You're not putting out any ideas either, y'know!"
"You're from Dwarf village! Shouldn't you know more about this kind of stuff!?"
"I've only got eight years’ worth of memories, dummy! You've got fifteen! And besides, Princess isn't as tough as a dwarf in the first place. A dwarf would still be walking right now."
"Well, she's not a dwarf! She's just human, and she's got no water in her. How else can we get water!"
"She's got water in her! What d'you think we just finished giving her! She's just too overheated!"
"So how do we cool her off out here!?"
"I don't have a frickin' clue! Do I look like someone who can suck heat out of people!"
"No, but-" Randi cut himself off, suddenly looking thoughtful. "If she doesn't have any water in her, what does she have in her?"
Keith shrugged, forcing himself to calm down a little. The two of them had already had a nice little spat after he'd lost his temper awhile back. They didn't need another one. "I dunno, buddy. Fire? She doesn't exactly look on fire, if you follow me."
"Maybe, maybe not. Remember what she said before about you feeling really hot? You were using up Water Mana, but it was getting replaced by Fire Mana... she'd been losing water, so..."
"It's getting replaced by fire?"
"Right! Not fire, but Fire Mana!"
"So what's that mean?"
Randi hefted his sword with a thin smile. "It's just Fire Mana. And this sword seems pretty good at sucking up Mana, doesn't it?"
Keith had clued into Randi's intent by this time. "You're going to suck the fire Mana out of her? Then what's going to be left? No water, no fire..."
"Ah... I have no idea. Maybe some Earth or Wind Mana will come along or something."
"How the hell can you say that with a straight face?"
Good question. "You got a better idea?"
The sprite reluctantly waved him on. "Go ahead, buddy. Just be careful, right?"
Randi sucked in a deep breath, laying the Mana Sword against Purim's arm. His idea sounded half-decent in theory. In practice, he had no idea what might happen. The first time that he'd tried to suck Fire Mana up, he'd heated the blade up so hot that it was glowing. Another time, he'd actually managed to freeze a patch of water. And now he was going to try and do this on a human being...
This situation just got worse and worse, he decided disgustedly, beginning to concentrate on Purim's prone form. He could see what they had guessed at before. There was a distinct lack of any Water Mana in her, and far too much Fire Mana. There was also some Earth and Wind Mana, but he figured that was probably normal. The trick would be to make the sword only absorb a little bit of the Fire Mana at a time. Purim probably would have understood this all better.
"You kill her now," he muttered at the weapon, "and I swear that I'll bury you in this desert."
Unsurprisingly, the weapon did not respond.
It only took a minute amount of effort to start the process. With only a small thought on his part, Randi could see the Fire Mana begin to start migrating towards the sword's blade. In its wake, he could also see some Earth Mana gradually moving in to replace it.
"I think it's working," he muttered, unable to keep the hope from his voice.
"I can't see nothin'," Keith replied after few moments, "but I sure hope you're right. Hey, your sword's starting to glow a little."
Randi pulled the weapon away, confirming the observation. "She must have a lot of Fire Mana in her to make the sword that hot..."
"So go use it on the sand or something to cool it off."
Randi stabbed the blade into the sand behind him, noting how the glow began to fade quickly enough. On a hunch, he refrained from touching the sand to test how hot it might actually be. "If I can keep doing this, maybe this'll count as cooling her off?" he suggested.
"Same thing, isn't it?" Keith agreed. "Lose heat, add cold. It sounds fine to me."
Randi held the sword up against her again. "So whose idea was it to go to the desert without any water in the first place?"
"I don't need water."
"I don't either."
"Sure," Keith agreed. "I guess we'll just blame her for that when she comes around."
"Hey!" the sprite yelled, leaning closer. "She moved!"
Randi promptly stuck his sword back in the sand, scrambling over until he was next to her. "She's moving?"
"Princess tried to move, buddy! That's better than we've seen for awhile, right?"
Randi shook her gently by the shoulder. "Purim? Are you okay?"
Her eyes opened weakly, rolling slightly as they tried to focus on the blur in front of her. The glaring overhead sunlight probably wasn't helping matters much either. Opening her parched lips, "... Dy...luck?"
Randi flushed slightly. "Ah, no..."
Keith slapped her lightly on the cheek. "Snap out of it, princess."
Her eyes darted back and forth several more times, apparently regaining enough focus to identify who she was looking at. "Freak."
Randi couldn't help laughing at the look on Keith's face. "I think she's feeling better."
"Hmph. She's got a real funny way of bein' grateful."
Purim seemed to be regaining her voice now. "I... think I... fainted."
"Yeah," Keith agreed. "Yesterday."
Randi helped her to a sitting position. "We were... getting a little worried about you," he understated. "How are you feeling?"
"Ugh. Terrible." She looked around slowly, eyeing the massive crater they were in, coupled with the still semi-transparent sprite, coupled with Randi's wrapped shoulder. "What happened while I was gone?"
"Nothin' much," Keith offered. "We just had to improvise a little, that's all."
Purim tried to interpret the statement for a moment before giving up in lieu of more relevant concerns. "Right. Did you find... any village yet?"
They shook their heads in unison.
"Anything at all?"
"Lots of sand," Keith offered. "How are you feelin'? You wanna start walking again?"
She inhaled, trying to stand up. After a few moments, she sat down again, her head spinning. "I'll... be fine. Just... give me a moment to get my bearings. My head feels like... it's going to explode right now. Which way were we headed before?"
They all glanced around, looking for some footprints. There were none.
"Nuts," Keith noted.
"I think you covered them up around here," Randi agreed with a sinking feeling.
"Covered them up? How?"
"Magic spell screwed up," the sprite informed her. "Where d'you think this pit came from?"
Purim looked at the crater they were in again. "You used your magic?"
"No, I used a frickin' shovel," Keith muttered. "'Course I used my magic."
"You do realize what a stupid thing that was, don't you?"
"Well, nobody else around here was giving any ideas, alright? We needed shelter, so I tried to make one! Ain't my fault that it screwed up a little."
"Well, don't do it again until we manage to understand more about how your magic works. There are better ways to kill us all, you know. And if you don't believe me, you can read a few stories from the books we brought along."
Keith scowled in response.
"What's your problem?" she demanded.
"For someone who almost croaked a few minutes ago, you sure are bossy."
"Can we just drop this?" Randi suggested. "If you think you can stand, Purim, we've got a lot of walking to do. And we don't even know which way to go right now."
She let the argument drop, managing to get to her feet this time. "You couldn't have covered up the footprints for too far. We'll just search the area until we find them. And then we keep walking."
"Are you sure you're going to be okay?" Randi persisted.
Purim shrugged. "It's not like either of us quite understand the whole process, right? We know that your body seems to try and adapt to weaknesses. It changed so that you didn't need food or water some time ago, and I'm guessing that's what makes you able to shrug off this sun. But this is the first time I've actually gone completely without food or water since starting this whole journey, so I haven't been forced to adapt until now."
"She's sitting up, isn't she?" Keith pointed out. "And a few minutes ago, she was almost vulture food. That means she's getting better, if you ask me."
"That's as good an analysis as I can come up with," she agreed resignedly. "I might be able to find something in the books we brought, but that will have to wait until later."
Getting to her feet, she was able to keep her balance this time. "I've recovered enough. Let's try and figure out which way we came from."
"You find anything yet?"
Purim shook her head as Keith's searching path intercepted her own. "Nothing yet. Either we haven't found it yet, or you covered more of our tracks than you thought."
"Maybe," the sprite agreed.
"What did you do, anyway?"
"Tried to make a wall appear to give a little shade."
"So why is there a giant pit instead?"
"Lost control and it all blew up."
Purim rolled her eyes. "You're just lucky that's all that blew up, you know. As far as I can tell, your magical power comes directly from yourself. That's why you fade away when you use too much magic at one time."
"Randi could hardly see me after it all screwed up, so I guess I pretty well used all my magical power up in one shot."
"Like I said, you're lucky that you didn't blow yourself up too."
"Geez, you're sure back to normal."
"Admit it, you're still scared over it, aren't you?"
"You're crazy, princess. Risks were meant to be taken. You want I should just let you die?"
Purim knelt down on one knee, now at eye-level with him. "That doesn't change the fact that you're scared. I can tell."
"You're crazy," Keith repeated. "Go bug Randi, why don't you? Go heal his shoulder while you're at it."
She raised an eyebrow in surprise. "He's hurt?"
"Geez, you must be blind or something. His shoulder's bleeding like you wouldn't believe. Hell, where do you think we found some water to give you?"
"Y-you..." Purim's eyes were all but bugging out at the statement. Finding herself unable to formulate a proper question, she promptly wiped her arm across her mouth. Her shirt came away dark red. "B-blood?..."
"Yeah," Keith confirmed, heedless of her facial expression. "Me and Randi figured out a little about that whole ‘adapting' thing he does. The changing doesn't actually happen until after you're done taking the pain. So for you to adapt, we had to get you cooled and down and give you some water, and-"
"You made me drink BLOOD?!?" Purim shrieked in disbelief.
"Well, Randi's shoulder was already bleeding real bad, and I remember a time back in Dwarf Village a few years ago where a mom and her kid got trapped in a cave in for almost a whole week and-"
"YOU MADE ME DRINK BLOOD!?!"
Randi was approaching them now. "What's the matter?"
Purim spun to face him, her eyes somewhat crazed. "You made me drink BLOOD!?!"
Randi backpedalled a step, glancing over towards Keith for some support.
"Don't look at me, buddy. I just mentioned it to her, and she starts freaking out like she is right now. I didn't think an amazon like her would be so squeamish about such a little thing, but now that I think about it, she passed out when she saw you with those broken ribs awhile back too- hey, what's wrong, princess?"
Randi turned back to Purim, who had gone from her previously hysterical state into a more comatose state, presently looking like she was going to swoon. "Uh... Purim?"
"Great, she's gonna faint again," Keith observed sagely.
She didn't, but that didn't stop her knees from giving way from under her.
Randi knelt down next to her, hesitantly putting his good arm around her shoulder. "Ah, Purim? Are you... alright?"
She made a half-hearted attempt at shrugging his arm off, but it was unsuccessful. "Don't... do that... again..." she whispered shakily.
"What?" Keith inquired. "Make you drink a bunch of blood?"
Purim whimpered slightly.
"Keith!" Randi hissed disgustedly.
"Just tryin' to clear things up," the sprite protested innocently.
"Are you..." Randi wasn't quite sure how else to put it. "...afraid of blood?"
She sucked in a deep breath. "Hemo... phobia..."
"Hema-what?" Keith wanted to know.
"I... don't like... blood," she elaborated, pointedly staring at the sand and away from any potential source of blood, especially Randi.
Randi swallowed. "Well... uh, that's... not that unusual, I guess," he offered. "I mean, I knew a couple of girls back home who would always faint when they saw blood..."
"But I'm not like that!" she protested weakly.
"Maybe you're just still under the weather," he suggested diplomatically.
"Maybe she's just got a weak stomach," was Keith's opinion.
"Easy for you to say," she muttered, her irritation briefly overpowering her stomach. "Considering what you'll eat raw, your opinion doesn't mean a whole lot!"
"Keith, why don't you keep trying to find some footprints?" Randi suggested firmly. "Aren't you the best tracker out of any of us?"
"Fine, fine, I know when I'm not wanted," the sprite agreed, playing the wounded-pride role to the hilt. Failing to get a reaction, he simply rolled his eyes and wandered off in a random direction.
"I'm not like that!" Purim was repeating, with more conviction.
Randi wasn't sure how to reply to that. "What do you mean?"
She lifted her head to meet his own, although she pointedly avoided looking at his shoulder. "I'm not like that," she insisted. "I've... never really been good with seeing blood, especially with people, but... it's been really bad... lately."
"You mean, your... fear of blood is getting worse?"
"I think so. Remember back in the Upper Lands? When Keith accidentally injured you? And I fainted when I saw it? I've never been that bad before..."
"What about..." Randi tried to think of another incident. "Back in the Haunted Forest? When I killed that giant cat. I was... practically drenched in blood. You seemed okay that time."
She nodded slowly. "I remember being... pretty repulsed. But it was nothing like this. I don't know what's coming over me these days..."
"Maybe you're just a little stressed out right now. It's been a rough few days lately, hasn't it? And even if you're okay in the desert, you could probably still use a little water, right?"
Purim managed a small smile. "Thanks. I'll go with that explanation for now. But I just really wish I knew why I've been so out of sorts lately. Let me try and heal your shoulder..."
Randi held off any objections. It wasn't that he was entirely unsympathetic to her plight, but if given a choice between having Purim faint for a while, and himself dropping dead from blood loss...
Placing her hand above the wound, although not actually touching it, Purim concentrated as she normally did. After several very long seconds, the wound slowly began to knit itself together, the blood flow gradually halting
"That should be fine," Randi assured her, noticing the strained look on her face. "Don't stress yourself, right? It should heal fine by itself now."
"My healing uses Water Mana," Purim noted. "That's in rather short supply right now, I think. Once we get to a town, I'll finish the job properly."
Under her breath, she added, "and wash up."
"Are you sure you'll be okay for now?" Randi insisted, having heard her well enough.
"I'll... manage. Distractions are good for me. Give me a distraction."
"Hey, guys!!!" Keith yelled.
Purim's smile grew. "Speak of the devil..." she muttered, before turning to face the sprite.
The sprite was running towards them at a hurried pace, his face looking a little worried. "Any idea what that is? ‘Cause I think it's getting closer..."
The direction in question was presently occupied by a large, dark, cloud. It had a somewhat earthy colour to it, suggesting that whatever it was, it wasn't a storm-cloud that had forgotten how to float in mid-air.
Randi's mind recalled something. "Hey, Purim... weren't you mentioning something about storms before...?"
"Dammit," she muttered, provoking a brief smirk from Keith. "Sand storm! Cover! We have to find some cover!!!"
"Where?!" the sprite demanded, backing up nonetheless.
"Back in that sand pit!"
"You call that cover?"
"You see anything better around here?"
"Back to the pit."
"You wanted a distraction, didn't you?" Randi yelled at Purim.
"I suppose you think you're being funny!" she retorted.
Within moments, the three had taken what shelter in the pit, although their shared expressions plainly indicated how much cover they felt the gently sloping sand was going to provide them.
"I think we're going to be eaten alive," Randi opinioned, briefly wincing as he recalled what had happened to his shoulder.
"Yay," Keith agreed sombrely, now attempting to tunnel into the sand. Owing to his present lack of substance, he was having only a small amount of success.
Purim elbowed Randi. "The Mana Sword. Use it to suck as much heat out of the sand as possible. Quickly."
Pushing aside the questions for the moment, Randi obeyed. Within moments, the sword was beginning to take on a light glow.
"More," she insisted. "Like it was back in Dwarf village when you froze that lava."
"You see any lava around here?" Randi demanded, making the effort nonetheless. Any idea was better than sitting around and waiting for inevitable death.
"Uh guys," Keith was saying. "That cloud is getting really close..."
Several moments later, the Mana sword was glowing bright enough to be visible despite the overhead sun. "This good enough?" Randi wanted to know.
"Only one way to find out," she decided, tracing a line along the sand with finger. "Try and melt the sand along here with the sword."
Randi shook his head, but obeyed, driving his blade downwards into the ground, then dragging it along the line. Judging from how the sand began to liquefy at the touch of the Mana Sword, he'd pulled a lot of heat out of the sand.
"Sweeeeet!" Keith crowed, having apparently figured out what Purim was planning. "Go and heat the sword up again, buddy. We're going to need to brace it or the sand will push it over."
"Says who?" Purim inquired.
"Says me!!!" the sprite retorted. "And I've lived in Dwarf Village for eight years!"
Randi tuned them out with a practised ease, running over to another spot in search of more hot sand. He didn't know what Purim wanted, but anything that kept them from getting sandblasted sounded like a good idea to him.
"We need to lay one at a right angle!" Keith was arguing, drawing another line in the sand.
"We need to protect three people!" Purim was retorted. She drew a line at a different angle. "This will provide a wider wall of protection!"
"And it'll fall over and smack us in the head!"
Randi stared up at the sky for a moment, wondering if some nameless god had it out for him. "Uh, guys?!? We're going to DIE really soon!? So if you could quit arguing...?"
By the time Randi had made several more cuts into the sand with his sword, the idea of self-preservation seemed to have registered more fully with the other two, who joined him in trying to stay alive a little longer.
"You really should have done this in the first place," Purim was saying.
"Shut up, princess," Keith suggested, doing what little he could to move sand.
"We probably would have thought of it eventually," Randi agreed. "Maybe even before it was too late, okay?"
"Don't take it personally. I'm just saying that it would have been a lot simpler than blowing a hole in the sand and trying to pull mana straight out of my body. Speaking of which, don't you EVER try something like that again! Do you have any idea what you could have done to me?"
"We didn't really see anywhere to go but up, you know."
"I know, I know, but for future reference-"
"There isn't gonna be much of a future for us if you don't start pushing more sand," Keith interrupted. "'Cause I only see room for me and Randi right now. Unless you feel like sitting outside of the shelter when all that sand hits."
"I'm shovelling," she muttered. "I don't see you moving much sand, freak."
"Like I even can right now! I'm like this ‘cause I was trying to save your butt, in case you'd forgotten already."
"Saving me how? By blowing a hole in the desert. It's beyond me how you even managed that in the first place, but we're all lucky to be alive right now!"
"I'm just special and smart," the sprite informed her matter-of-factly. "Hey, I even figured something out. I bet that I knew some neat stuff before I lost my memory. So now that my memory is sorta coming back, I can use all that stuff for real now! All I have to do is try to remember something that I've forgotten, then get pissed off over whatever the problem is. And you can kiss whatever that is goodbye. Piece of cake."
"Sure, Keith," Randi agreed. "Nice to see that you're being so humble about it all."
Purim's idea had dawned on Randi before long. Simply put, by melting the sand, then letting it cool, the sand could be fused together into a stone wall. Several lengths together would offer enough cover that they could crouch down behind while the sand blew over them. The trouble was, the walls created were effectively buried. So the sheltered side had to be unearthed. And to judge by the speed that the storm was approaching, it had to unearthed QUICKLY.
The hard-packed, wind-blown, and sun-dried desert sand had other ideas, unfortunately. It was only after Randi had put the Mana Sword to use did the sand move willingly enough, although that had cost them precious time. Although Randi had to admit to a perverse pleasure in seeing the present bane of his life reduced to the role of a garden hoe.
"Yes, Keith," Purim was saying. "I think that you demonstrated perfectly well the control you had over it all."
"You're just jealous."
"Get real - over what? Besides, that was all just a fluke. You can't just make something like that happen. You need to obtain the energy from somewhere..."
"I remember that part of the whole thing. I knew that I needed more power, so I just pulled it in from around me."
Purim stared at him. "How do you just ‘pull in' power?"
"I dunno that part yet. But it worked, didn't it? But I was careful, y'know. I only took power from the one direction, away from you guys. Fluke, my ass. It was pure genius from Yours Truly."
"From one direction?" Purim upped the intensity of her incredulous stare. "And which direction was that?"
"That way, I think." Keith pointed it out.
She narrowed her eyes. "Tell me, freak, what's in that direction?"
Keith looked over, wondering if he'd missed something. "Um... the desert? Sand? The sandstorm?"
"You idiot!" Purim yelled in disbelief. "This stupid sandstorm is all your fault! You pulled so much power from that direction, it's backlashing now!"
The sprite returned a blank look. "Huh?"
"You pulled a massive amount of earth and wind mana from that direction, right? Well, it's filling itself in now! It's like when you scoop water out of a tub! The water around it moves to fill the gap in."
Several moments of contemplative silence ensued, punctuated by Randi continuing to shovel sand aside. In the one direction, the sandstorm was beginning to become audible in volume.
Keith finally replied to the accusation. "Uh... oops?"
"Get down, guys!" Randi warned, following his own advice to the letter.
"If I die, I'm going to haunt you forever, freak!"
"But if you die, I'll probably be dead too, right?"
"I'll still haunt you!"
Out of all the ways he'd ever considered dying, Randi reflected, this was pretty far down on the list. It was either stand up and get eaten away by a giant sandstorm, or stay down and listen to his two teammates whine and yell at each other ad nauseam. And to think that in literature class, he'd never understand the storybook characters who fell on their own swords.
It was only when the air started to take on an energy all its own that the two debaters finally took notice and scrambled to get down behind their makeshift barrier.
"Man, that feels nasty," Keith observed, feeling the hair on his skin try to stand on end.
"I can feel it too," Purim agreed, trying to get even closer to the ground. "I think it's safe to say that what you just did before wasn't quite natural. It's no wonder sprites were never allowed to use magic..."
"Hey, you aren't gonna find me arguing..."
The leading blast of sand shrieked over their heads like a banshee, making all of them jump involuntarily. Small pockets of sand began to trickle over their stone wall, prompting nervous expressions on all their faces.
"Sure looked smaller from a distance," Keith ventured.
"There's absolutely no way this is a natural sandstorm," Purim stated. "Dyluck always said that they were dangerous, but he never described anything like this..."
"I wonder how long this is going to last," was Randi's concern. "Is this wall going to hold?"
"I can't imagine why not," was Purim's opinion. "We're technically underground, remember? The wind should just go overhead and deposit any sand somewhere far behind us."
"The storm's getting louder," Keith pointed out. "And I can feel this wall kinda shaking. You wanna explain that?"
"Just... freak resonance," she decided after a moment.
"It's like blowing over the top of a bottle. Depending on the diameter of the opening, a different note can be heard. If the opening is big enough, the note can be so low that you can't even hear it anymore. But that doesn't mean that you can't still feel it. The pit we're in is probably managing to act somewhat like the mouth of a giant bottle. You're just feeling the harmless vibrations-"
With a crack, the corner of the wall next to her head was blown off and whisked away into the storm.
"You wanna run over that last part again?" Keith inquired, edging away from his own side of the stone slab. "‘specially the ‘harmless' part?"
"Um, never mind. Maybe the wall was just a little weak at that point."
"Oh crap," Keith muttered, feeling the stone wall beginning to shift. A hairline crack began to trace its way down the one side of the slab. "I know sandstone ain't very good for strong walls, but...."
Randi quickly dug his feet into the sand, trying to brace the wall. "It feels like the wall is moving," he observed nervously.
"I think the sandstorm is digging our protection out from under us," was Purim's conclusion, even as she tried to steady the wall. "It must have already carved the sand out from the front of our barrier."
"Well, help me keep it in one place!" Randi suggested, feeling the stone slab beginning to push him forwards. The shuddering was becoming worrisome. Like something was physically pounding on the other side, trying to break through. To say nothing the feeling that the rock was actually trying to become airborne... "The wind's trying to pick up this piece of stone!"
"It's the air pressure. Try and angle the top of the stone forwards," Purim was saying, already doing so herself.
Randi did so, feeling the upwards force diminish somewhat. Although it did nothing to keep him from sliding forwards even further. He didn't want to imagine how strong the wind had to be to accomplish that, but he was fairly certain that the shelter was a good thing right now.
"Hey, we're heading down into the pit," Keith observed sagely, backpedalling to keep from being run down, all the while trying to stay low enough to the ground to keep from being exposed to the storm.
"Like we have a choice!" Randi retorted.
"It's grinding the frickin' stone away!" Keith yelled, his voice actually coming close to sounding scared. "What the hell kind of storm is this?"
A glance confirmed the sprite's warning. Slowly, but surely, the edges of the stone wall were being eaten away.
"You're the one who made it, remember?" Purim pointed out.
"Hey! Randi's the guy who shamed me into trying it in the first place!"
"Like you ever listened to me before!"
All three of quit their arguing upon hearing the fateful sound. Their sole protection against the sandstorm, the piece of stone, had just split in two. And those two pieces had just gone fluttering off into the chaos, looking like nothing so much as a pair of errant sheets of paper.
"Oh sh-" In a desperate attempt to protect himself, Keith flattened himself against the ground. A muffled thump signified Purim doing the same next to him. Both waited for the inevitable onslaught of sand.
It didn't come.
Purim glanced up after a moment, realizing that nothing was happening. "Randi?!"
He was presently facing into the storm, eyes screwed shut, with the Mana Sword held in front of him. Judging from the white-knuckled grip on his weapon, it was harder than it looked.
"Kick ass!" Keith crowed, seeing the lack of wind directly behind the sword.
"He's absorbing the Wind Mana into the sword," Purim realized, not without some relief.
"Cool. What make you think of that, buddy?"
He gritted his teeth, nervously opening his eyes. "What... do you think... I did before... against you?"
"Not bad. And here I was actually gettin' a little worried about everything."
"Uh, Randi?" Purim ventured, edging sideways so that she was better shielded by him. "Not that I'm complaining... but how long can you keep this up?"
"If I knew... I'd probably be afraid," he muttered. "I almost killed myself last time, remember?"
"Oh yeah, forgot about that," Keith muttered. "I guess we'd better do something soon, huh?"
"We need to make another shelter," Purim agreed.
"The Mana Sword's kinda busy right now, princess, remember? How are we supposed to melt the sand without it?"
"I'm thinking!" she snapped. "You might want to try that occasionally yourself!"
"Hey! Who's the one who decided to come to the desert without any water in the first place? You're the whole reason this whole mess started in the first place!!!"
Yes, Randi decided, there was definitely a nameless god upstairs that hated him. His one consolation was that as his sword continued to literally take the wind out of the sandstorm, there was a steadily growing pile of sand in front of him. At this rate, they'd probably wind up buried before long. Who would have thought there were so many different ways to die in the middle of a barren desert?
"How'd you survive last time?" Keith demanded of Purim. "You didn't have the Mana Sword to save your ass that time!"
Purim brightened. "That's right! I can redirect it!"
"Any time now... Purim..." Randi gasped. Thin tendrils of energy were beginning to snake along the sword's blade, looking like some bizarre form of lightning. "This...is getting painful!!!"
"Just hold on a moment," Purim urged, taking up position by him and bracing herself mentally. "Okay... try to let some of the sword's energy out... slowly..."
Hoping that his idea of ‘slowly' matched hers, Randi began to obey, feeling the pressure lighten almost immediately. Even as he did so, he thought he saw some flashes of lightning between his sword and Purim, but decided to ignore them. This would be a bad time to lose his nerve...
"Cool," Keith agreed, watching the energy jump back and forth between the two of them in ways that lightning was probably never meant to act. "Hey princess, how long can you keep this up?"
"Don't... bug me..." she muttered. "Randi... I can't keep using this energy on myself... We need to dump it somewhere else..."
"Can you handle this alone for a moment?"
Something about Randi's refusal to provide any details should have worried Purim. As it was, she was more worried about trying to shield against the sandstorm. "I... think so..."
"I think it's starting to die down now," was Keith's opinion.
"I'm going to try it now!" Randi warned her.
Already, Purim could feel the increasing pressure of the magic. If it continued for much longer- "Do it!" she agreed. "And hurry!"
All at once, Randi threw himself backwards, Keith barely scrambling aside in time. "Brace yourselves!" he yelled, jamming the Mana Sword into the ground.
All three felt their hair stand on end as the entire area was instantly electrified. Around the Mana Sword, a massive bolt of white-hot lightning surged between the blade and the sky, blasting Randi right off his feet in the process, colliding with Keith and sending both of them into a heap in the sand.
"Ouch," Randi groaned, trying to clear the funny coloured spots out of his eyes. Half of his body felt stone-cold-numb. The other half was loudly complaining about the abuse being inflicted on it. "Stupid idea..."
"Y'got that right," Keith agreed, briefly ensuring that they were still within the field of protection Purim was managing to provide for the moment.
"Randi!" she was yelling. "I could use some help here!"
Staggering to his feet, he made his way back over to her, holding the sword up to the storm again. "Take a break," he suggested. "I think the storm's getting weaker."
Purim sagged, stumbling back as she took Randi up on the offer. Unlike Randi, she had only been redirecting the storm. It was exhausting, but she didn't have to worry about what to do with any stored up Mana afterwards. "I think so too. Things are balancing out again in the area."
"Freaky," was Keith's opinion. "We gotta try some of this latter on."
She nodded slowly, relishing the chance to rest, no matter how brief it might be. "Later on. Much later on. Randi, how are you doing?"
"I... can manage," he decided, after a moment's consideration. "I bet... you can't wait to tell Dyluck about this, huh?"
Purim actually laughed at that, falling back in the sand so that she was staring up at the sky. "This is absolutely insane, you realize? We're going to kill ourselves at this rate. Never mind the Empire or any monsters. Right now, they're the least of our dangers..."
"No kidding," Keith agreed, giving his still-transparent form a resigned look. "Hell, we're dangerous to us. We gotta find the Empire and start hurting them with this stupid magic. Sooner the better."