Part One: The Past's Future
He awoke in a soft bed, burning up because of the fever which haunted him. The first thing he felt was pain, nothing but pain that seemed to lurk everywhere in his body. Each of his limbs was numbed by dozens of wounds. Even remaining conscious was hard: he lacked the strength to keep himself from slipping away into his dreamless sleep. Deeper and deeper he fell, into the darkness that his mind had become. All sorts of questions came into his thoughts: "Who am I? Where am I? Do I belong here?" But he had no answers... yet...
- "Oh, Seyma, he's waking up!"
- "Good work, mother. Do you think he'll fully recover?"
- "I hope so... That piece of scrap hit the soil real hard. Maybe he'll have amnesia."
- "Oh, that wouldn't be good. Wait, he's trying to say something!!"
His lips moved, forming three words. Every letter seemed to deliver him great anguish. And Seyma, the young woman whose mother had healed his wounds, heard them: "Cleanse... Geshtar's... soul..."
Seyma felt a shiver running down her spine. Geshtar was a name well known in the world: he had committed hundreds of atrocities as a mercenary in service of Emperor Vandole. Also being a master mechanic, he had built great war machines for the Empire's conquests. But, luckily, his machines were obliterated by Lorima's missile attack, and Geshtar himself was smashed by the Mana Knight and his friends. "Maybe this man was Geshtar's last victim?” she thought. He WAS found in a pile of broken machinery... He HAD been seriously wounded... But why that sentence? Why did he need to cleanse Geshtar's soul?
The wounded man slowly regained consciousness, thinking of only one thing: the phrase he had spoken. Geshtar had a familiar sound to it, but why? And why did he need to cleanse this man's soul? He needed to find out who he was, first. "Knowledge is power” a single thought came to him. Yes, he had to find out as much as he could about himself. Then he could go search for this Geshtar and help him.
Seyma saw the man slowly making progress. He was already eating good, healthy food (if baked Rabite with Healing Herbs could be called healthy...) and he was able to speak again. One night, as she came to bring him his dinner, he grabbed hold of her arm.
- "Tell me how you found me. It was you who found me, or wasn't it?"
- "Yes, I did find you. One day, after the Mana Knight Hopper had defeated the Mana Beast and smashed the opposing Imperial forces, I..."
- "Wait! Tell me about these Imperial forces!"
- "I suppose you know of the Empire, a large country not so far from here. Well, the Emperor was called Vandole. He was very ambitious, but wouldn't have resorted to using the Mana Fortress as a means to obtain total dominion by himself... No, Vandole was a man who sought power, but rather by bribing and diplomacy than through violence. All of that changed when he hired his four bodyguards: Thanatos, Sheex, Fanha and Geshtar. Sheex was an Underworld Demon, his real name was Aegagropilon. His summoner and lover, Fanha, was an archmage that had gone bad. Her powers existed through her ability to metamorph her body. Then, there was Thanatos: a vile wizard that was black to the bone. He was a spirit of many millennia in age, surviving by obtaining host bodies. And the fourth one, Geshtar, was a very extraordinary one. He possessed a great aversion of magic, so is said. He was a master mechanic, and a mercenary of the worst kind. When the Mana Knight went to the Sunken Continent, he met them. First, he faced Sheex, who was defeated when in his true form: a demon, a huge mouth on two thin legs. Then, he found the Emperor Vandole, dead, on the stairs to the Mana Seed. Killed by Fanha. When the Continent was rising, he faced Fanha, who fought him in a highly annoying form. She fought as Hexas, a naga woman mage. Not that it helped her: she too was defeated. Then, Geshtar showed up, fighting the heroes as a giant mechanical knight: he too was smashed. But it wasn't until the very last moment that the Mana Knight faced Thanatos, who had been forced to turn into the ultimate manifestation of his dark power: the Dark Lich. The Mana Knight fought valiantly and defeated him. Thus the root of the evil was extinguished. And when the Mana Beast fell, so was the main consequence of that evil."
- "Wow, I didn't know all this. I'm really learning. Now, you were saying how you found me?"
- "Uhm, yes I was. So, one day after the defeat of the Mana Beast, I went to enjoy the snow. It has snowed for two weeks, you know... I went outside, since it was very pleasant in the desert. And near the Fire Palace, I found you. You were nearly buried alive under a big heap of snow, metal and sand! I quickly dug you out and dragged you here... You were so gravely injured, I really thought you'd never recover. But my mother has taken very good care of you. She healed you, fed you, washed you..." Seyma saw the man blush. "You don't need to be shy, my mother has four adult sons, you know. My father has taken your armor and weapons with him for repair. He's gone to Gaia's Navel, where the dwarves live. They're master blacksmiths."
- "Thank you for all this care. Without you, I'd surely be dead."
- "Hey, it's my pleasure. You looked so vulnerable, I couldn't let you die out there..."
He started yawning, so she said good night and went to her mother. Two hours later, she went back to look. He was still awake, so she sat down next to him. He sought for her hand as he turned around to face her.
- "Why are you still up? Are you thinking of your history?"
- "I wish I could, I don't even remember my own name!"
- "Hey, tomorrow my father will be back, and he'll know what you can do and where you can go. He's a wise man, my father, he's a caretaker for Salamando and the Mana Seed in the Fire Palace. Salamando has gifted him from birth on with a character of flame."
- "You judge characters by Elemental? Tell me then, what kind of character would I have?"
- "You... I know, either Water or Nature. I think you're more like a Water type than a Nature one, because you have soft, small hands and greenish hair. Maybe you come from a family of Water characters?"
- "I wish I knew..." And after saying that, he softly fell asleep, still holding her hand.
- "Goodnight..." she whispered. His hand hadn't loosened its grip on hers, so she was stuck sitting in that room. Her eyelids quickly became heavy... so heavy...
He dreamt he was young, dressed as a water spirit but feeling more like a water demon. He cried, while in front of him stood a woman, well shocked. Next to her, a mermaid-shaped spirit. Undine, the Water Elemental. His eyes were filled with tears, and all he could do was look at his hands, which were encased in a thick layer of ice...
Ice... Undine... Water... Pain! His hands were shaped like big claws, curled up in the layer of frost. He saw everything as if covered by a heavy fog. And, gathering all the air in his lungs, he screamed...
Seyma awoke from her deep, deep sleep by the man's cry. His face was pale, in his eyes stood terror... and pain.
- "There, there, you must have had an awful dream... Screaming like that... Tell me, what was it that made you so scared?"
- "I... dreamt of Undine, and a woman, who were looking at me. My hands were frozen, it hurt so much, so very much..." he gasped.
- "Undine, hmmm... That woman might have been her caretaker, Luka. She has been a sage for over 200 years, born in the night after the first Mana Beast attacked. It was Luka who uncovered the "Veedios” and who sought out the Elemental of Water, Undine. She's a good woman and I'm sure she wanted to help you in your dream."
- "I... I don't know anything anymore. Maybe she appeared in my dreams to clarify my mind. Hey, it might also be a memory of my youth! I seemed to be only fifteen or so..."
- "You do seem about twenty-five, you know."
- "Yes, I'm amazed of it too... I must be around that age, I guess..." He shivered, because his hands looked exactly like the claws underneath the ice from his dream: every muscle tensed, the utter energy pulsating through them, as though to cast...
- "Brrrrrrrrrr... I HATE MAGIC!"
- "Huh?" She looked into the stranger's eyes, who showed anger and a deep hate that made them glow like stars... "Stars in the darkness..." she whispered.
- "Huh? What did you say?" He looked like he could fall asleep any minute.
- "Oh, nothing. Go to sleep now, you need to rest."
His sleep then remained dreamless, and he awoke the next morning with a deep calm in his mind. Although he wasn't fully assured that the dream he had that night was a good thing, it didn't trouble him that much anymore. Seyma's mother came in to bring him breakfast: a good portion of Silktail milk, some toast and a little egg on the side. It was the first breakfast he enjoyed eating in months, he realised. Sure, he could remember general things, like what day it was, the world and the Elemental powers, the many monsters... But his personal history was blurred. His conversations with Seyma had taught him many things he couldn't remember, such as the atrocities committed by the Imperial forces. Especially the four bodyguards had done many of those acts of evil (he remembered Seyma saying : "Geshtar had assaulted a young girl in plain sight, I know because the Empire guards confessed that after the siege of the Fortress. Sheex had laughed when he tore away her clothes and... well, he didn't let her live to tell, anyway. Geshtar slit the throat of an innocent girl because he wanted to have fun, without Emperor Vandole or Thanatos knowing it." He still shivered, the Geshtar she talked about was a cruel, cold-blooded, black-hearted man. He was glad that that monster was smashed by the Mana Knight.) and the worst one of them appeared to be that man called Thanatos once: a lich with powers beyond darkness. And he had also learned the names of those Mana Heroes: the Mana Knight was called Hopper, his two allies were a girl named Nasha and a sprite called Stine.
Suddenly, the conversation of the past night flashed up in his mind. He had exclaimed that he hated magic... It was a subtle but strong hint towards his personality and past. If he hated magic, surely he wouldn't have used or approved it in the past? Or did he?
Seyma's father had returned in the meantime, and of course he visited the wounded man rescued by his daughter. Seyma accompanied him to the room where she had put him up. Her father's first reaction was fear, she could tell by his step back and the terror on his face. What was wrong? Her father, however, wanted to say nothing about it.
- "Ah, you must be that young man my daughter has saved..."
- "Yes, indeed I am, sir. If I remembered my name, I would tell it to you."
- "Hmmmm... A temporary name would be handy, that's for sure..."
- "Ah, yes, you do have a point there, kind sir. Call me Geshtar."
Seyma saw her father flinch once more: then he shook his fear off.
- "Are you sure you want to be named Geshtar? It isn't a name with much good attached to it... Surely Seyma has told you..."
- "Yes, indeed. She has told me of the Imperial lieutenant named Geshtar. But I assure you, I will give that name honor again!"
- "Ah, but are you sure that you can restore it to its former glory?"
- "No... but I will give it all my effort."
Seyma made her father come to the point. She wanted him to hurry his little meeting with Geshtar, so she could ask him why he had flinched twice in a row about him.
- "Dad, you brought him his armor and weapons, remember?"
- "Why, yes, I'd almost forget! Here, these are the armor and weaponry that we found along with you. They must have belonged to you, they do now anyway. Go ahead, try them on!"
Geshtar took the armor and slid his torso in the breastplate: his arms and legs were quickly done after that. Last but not least, he putted on the heavy armor plates that protected his hips and other weak spots between loins and thighs. At least those spots still unprotected by his chain mail, which he already wore (the armor plates seemed there only to hide the small, but awfully hideous laces which held the leg armor in place). The sword and its sheath were beautifully crafted (he wondered where he had gotten those), and all of his stuff had the same bluish-green color, like waters from the sea. This confirmed his thoughts: he had been living in or near the Water Palace. Maybe he should go there: Luka might know an answer...
- "Seyma, tomorrow I'll be leaving, I have got to go to the Water Palace."
- "I already know you have to go. I knew from the moment you put on the armor. You're one of Luka's kind. Maybe a disciple or something... Who knows?"
- "Maybe... Will you help me pack my stuff tomorrow morning? I'll leave real early, but not before dawn..." - "Why wouldn't I help you, Geshtar? See, you made me have good faith in that name already. Now the rest of the world!" He laughed about that, because she still seemed uneasy to hear the name. But it was kind of her anyway, to reassure him like that. She was a very nice girl, he had figured. But young... a little too young for him... That night, Seyma talked to her father outside, so Geshtar couldn't hear them. Her eyes gave away her concerns, and her father immediately realised she had seen him stepping back and flinching. His face was expressionless nonetheless.
- "Father, why did you fear Geshtar? What's wrong with him?"
- "Dear Seyma, you... I have seen this man before, more I cannot tell. Salamando knows of him, go seek him tomorrow and you will find out what's wrong with this Geshtar of yours."
- "Father, I can see by the look on your face that it isn't a pleasant thing. Accompany me tomorrow, I will return by myself. Salamando's all-seeing eye is great, but the things he'll tell me are going to be a real burden, I can tell by your expression."
- "Good, I will go with you. Now, go to sleep, Geshtar wanted you to pack his stuff."
- "Fine, I want to leave tomorrow at noon."
Geshtar awoke the morning after with a feeling of great relief he was going. He was finally setting out to find answers! Seyma came in with a big cup, filled with nice hot tea made of palm leaves and coconut milk. He looked around: all of his stuff was already packed! How long did he sleep?
- "Hey, sleepy! I wanted to wake you up, but you just had that peaceful look on your face. It's been an hour since sunrise!"
- "Oh, dear, I must hurry! Well, you did a great job: all is packed in one bag!"
- "You didn't have that much with you: your armor, weapons and some personal stuff." She leaned over to him and whispered: "I've secretly put in some underwear. You, erm, hadn't got any on when I found you..." She blushed when she thought of her mother's remarks about... well, about that. He blushed too, ashamed of himself.
- "Oh, dear... You haven't, errm, you know... seen... anything?"
- "No, thank Heavens I didn't!" His face didn't change. She couldn't bear telling him that she once DID see. The mere thought made her shiver, more of fright for him being shy than him being angry. He was better off not knowing.
- "Well, it seems allright then. Imagine that, a girl like you..."
- "Hey, keep quiet, my parents are awake too, you know!"
He grinned: "Oh, yeah, and the protective father isn't supposed to know that his daughter took in a guy that didn't even have underpants on..."
- "Indeed, although he has probably heard all the details from my mother. Which makes me wonder if my mother really had no problems seeing you... You're not one of her sons, and not even acquainted to her until you awoke!"
- "I felt uncomfortable when you told me she, well, saw me: but your mother is one tough chick!" He didn't bother to talk about it any more. The subject was not exactly suited for his savior and not even for him: he was ashamed of himself, covered with wounds as he was. He got up and dressed himself (Seyma turned around wisely, she had already seen enough...) so he could leave. After saying goodbye to Seyma's parents (he told them he'd send them a reward for their services, but they declined, saying it was merely their duty), he went outside. He had known he was in the desert town, Kakkara, but he didn't know it was that beautiful. The palm trees glistened in the light of the sun, that was already high in the sky. Dew covered their leaves. The sand was sparkling: it looked like a sea of jewels was put under his feet. Two little ponds lay calmly in the city, and their water was amazingly clear. He watched his reflection and noticed that Seyma had been right: he had a very calm, smooth face, with green hair like water from a high mountain spring. His hands seemed fragile. He wondered again if he REALLY hadn't used or approved magic. But the thoughts vanished as he heard Seyma's voice behind him.
- "Hey, Geshtar, shouldn't you get moving? It's almost noon..."
- "Yes, but I was just marveling the beauty, the infinite splendor of this desert city."
- "Hey, the Water Palace is hundred times more amazing!"
- "Why did you come? You saved me for a reason, I know: I can tell by the look in your eyes... And why was your father so shocked by me yesterday?"
- "My father says that we both will find out our own way why he was shocked. And I came to see you off. And to tell you that you're always welcome in our house. Come to visit us once more when you've found the answers... And when you need help finding them, I'll be glad to be of any assistance."
- "Seyma, you are a great girl. I'll return, but stay out of trouble in the meantime. I'll bring you a present..."
- "Oh, you're trying to impress me? Don't need to do that, you know... We're friends already, I was your friend from the moment I saved you, you were mine from the moment you were so polite and suave."
He smiled, he felt the great warmth of friendship spread through his soul: he knew he'd have a friend for life. And she felt the same way. As they said goodbye to each other, they embraced. Seyma felt, oh she felt... love? friendship? She didn't know... "Don't be ridiculous!" she said to herself as he flew off from the Travel Cannon, "He's way too classy for you, and you have no idea of his past!" She turned around, towards her waiting father, and headed for the Fire Palace.
Geshtar landed in front of a mansion, that was so familiar he started crying. Once this house had belonged to his parents. He even remembered their names: Gerbert and Malyssa. The memories flooded back into his head...
- "Mommy, why do I have to go to the Water Palace?"
He saw himself as a young boy, maybe aged eight, ten? His mother stood in front of him, her beautifully dark hair loose and flowing around her head like clouds around a mountain peak.
- "Because you were born with green hair, and all green-haired are destined to serve Undine."
- "I know, Luka has green hair too. I think it's beautiful!" He scratched through his hair, which was the same bluish green it still was. But at that time, it was short and curled slightly.
- "Dad, do I have to? Really?"
His father came in: a strong but vivid man, with very muscular limbs. Streaks of grey were hidden in his dark brown beard and hair. The look on his face was emotional.
- "Yes, you have to. Although I'd rather not put you there..."
He ran towards his parents, hugging them once more. "I'll miss you! Oh, I'll miss you so much!"
He noticed he was crying, and he wiped away the tears. At least he had figured out who his parents had been, and that he was destined by green hair to serve Undine. So maybe Luka WOULD know the solution to his problem! He quickly found the Water Palace (hard to miss it, a big bluish-green palace in the middle of nowhere). But, by now, it was evening: the Cannon Travel had taken him long, thus he needed to rest. He went back to the old mansion, which had become an inn called "Neko's" and was aptly run by a cat. He fell asleep immediately, dreaming of Seyma and her good care...
In the meantime, Seyma had travelled to the Fire Palace with her father. He was one of the only ones who knew the way through the palace. Travellers who sought to see Salamando were blindfolded and then transported there by her father. The same happened to her. Her father wrapped a black piece of cloth around her head, so she couldn't see where she was taken. And he did not remove it until they arrived at Salamando's room. Her father respectfully greeted the Fire Elemental, introduced her and explained why they had come.
- "Salamando, I seek to find out the man I saved, who he really is."
- "Very well, young Seyma, you shall see who he is. Do you know who are on this picture?"
- "Yes, it's the Im... Oh, dear, no... That's him... No, it can't be! It CAN'T!!!!"
Geshtar awoke early in the morning by a little bird that was chirping next to the window. It gave him a feeling of great relief. Seyma had often told him that the world was nearly destroyed. Afterwards, he had enjoyed waking up again...
His thoughts quickly turned towards Luka and the Water Palace. He decided to wear his armor, so he'd look his best. He found a little note pasted on the back of his breastplate: it was from Seyma. He read it and soon his cheeks turned deep red.
"Dear Geshtar, I think it's highly unfair that I didn't tell you. I did see you. And you don't need to be ashamed of yourself, your wounds don't lessen you. You're handsome, and you need to know that. I'm waiting for you to return. Yours truly, Seyma." She had...? She, so many years younger than him, thought him to be handsome?! He wasn't surprised, because he somehow seemed to be younger than he was, but she...? He felt his mind slipping to her image: a slender woman, about twenty years old, with the most beautiful sun-bleached brown hair. Her skin was also tanned: she had told him he'd get a tan too if he came back on a vacation (she really wanted him to return, and he wanted to see her again, too).
His mind came back to dressing himself and going to the Water Palace. Within twenty minutes, he stood before the great gates to the mighty palace. They opened easily when he pushed them, and he entered a hall so great and amazing he nearly didn't dare to breathe. The water, running down from the walls, glittered in the light of the big bowls of holy fire placed on either side of the walkway. Every wave cast sparkling little lights throughout the hall, and his armor reflected some of them. He was like a spirit in a spirit world: he fit in. He belonged in this palace. His armor shone brightly in the holy light: the gods seemed to welcome him again. Again, because he knew he had once lived and worked here, with Luka. The question was, what had happened between his time here and the present.
He proceeded, and reached the Chamber of the Mana Seed: a huge room, filled with the sound of tingling water and rushing streams. A voice, soft but soothing, resounded.
- "Proceed, Geshtar. I knew you were coming. Please, step forward. Surely you'll remember how you create the bridges..."
And he did, the switches were well hidden but easily found. He came across a big pond, then he stepped onwards, over the second bridge. There she stood, in front of the Seed, her one hand clutching a spear. Luka, his mistress... once. He kneeled, his head downwards.
- "Luka, I come here to seek my past. I have..."
- "I know what has happened. I know your past, but am not allowed to tell you anything directly unless you ask me."
- "Well, then at least grant me the honor of being taught by you again."
- "Why, that would be MY honor! Come here and sit down, Geshtar. Let me tell you the legends of Mana again."
Quietly, he sat down and listened, like he knew he had done before... Luka started to tell him of Mana:
- "Once, when the gods were restless, they created this world out of the spirit essence called Mana. Beautiful trees came from the tree spirit, seas and flows from the water spirit, the moon from the lunar spirit, the stars from the light spirit, the night from the dark spirit, the sun from the fire spirit, the air from the air spirit, and the earth itself was made from the earth spirit. The spirits settled down on this world to ensure it never ceased to exist, and in order to ease things, they named themselves: Undine of Water, Gnome of Earth, Sylphid of Air, Salamando of Fire, Shade of Darkness, Lumina of Light, Luna of Moon, and Dryad of Nature. And indeed, for many millennia this world lived in ease. The spirits, then called Elementals, were honored by the humans and chose from amongst them servants. For example: we, Undine's servants, are chosen by natural hair color: this bluish green. But this world had its problems: humans became more and more self-centered, greedy of power and possessions. They wanted to defeat all above them: and, using the spirits' essence, Mana, they created their ultimate weapon in the battle against the gods: the Mana Fortress. Of course, the gods did not permit that: they sent their beasts to smash the threat. The most powerful and fearsome of the beasts, aptly called the Mana Beast, pushed the Fortress under the ocean, where it could be held. Then, afterwards, the Beast eradicated all humans except for those in the Elementals' grace, from which the new humanity was born. Among those was I, born in the night that the Beast had left. On the island now known as the Pure Land, he first planted a seed. It became the Mana Tree, controller of all good and evil. It produced three things: firstly, a set of eight Mana Seeds, in which all Mana Power could be locked away; secondly, a family of Mana Keepers, the men to become Mana Knights in times of trouble, the women to attend to the Tree; and last but not least, the Tree made from it's own powers the legendary blade forged and maintained by the spirit essence: the Mana Sword, only to be held by the Mana Knights. The world knew peace for more than hundred years. Humanity evolved in the same way again, this time only much more dangerous: the Empire tried to use the Mana Fortress to smash the kingdom of Lorima, but was stopped by Lorima's missiles destroying a great part of the lands and the destruction of Lorima, above which the Fortress already hovered. It was pushed back on the same place, but this time the Beast had pushed it less deep. Maybe he knew that the Fortress was soon to be resurrected again...
Anyway, that last time, before the beast could destroy the entire world, the Mana Knight named Serin arose and took the blade in his hands. He slew the body of the dragon and thus gave humanity a chance to learn from its mistakes. He was still young then and hoped for the best. But nearly fifty years later, he was slain by the evil lich called Thanatos in the war between Tasnica and the Empire. Even then, he knew that his blood line wasn't extinct: his wife, main caretaker of the Mana Tree, had given birth to a young boy. The woman knew well that he couldn't grow up in the Pure Land, that he had to grow up near the Mana Sword, so she sent both the Sword and her son to a small village called Potos, near the Water Palace. Serin's spirit went there too, to make sure his son took the sword when the world was in need. And so, when Mana was fading away and the Empire was up to trouble again, he made the sword sparkle, so Hopper (his son) went there and took it. Hopper was cast out of Potos because his removal of the Sword made monsters live again. But he knew well enough, and I brought that knowledge into his conscious mind, that the monsters had awakened because of the fading Mana and the mischievous acts of the Empire. He proceeded, gained the support of each and every Elemental, sealed every Seed, found two allies on his path and defeated all the evil he encountered. But he knew he had to defeat the root of that evil before he could gain the power to defeat the Beast itself. The Imperial Forces... He easily found them and defeated them. Then, after having defeated the true evil one, Thanatos, he was able to face the Beast." She paused, and then looked into the water. "It is evening already. You can stay here, Neko's is a little expensive for a man with no income. Your former bed is still here, just as you left it." She turned around and left him there. Weary of having listened, motionless and nearly breathless, to Luka's legends, he went down, to where he knew Luka had his bed installed. She was right, it still stood there without his sheets and pillow. He remembered what had happened, although a little faint...
- "No! I've had it here!! Undine has frozen my hands, Luka. They might never hold another sword again, do you realise that?! I'm of no further worth as a Palace guard!"
- "Geshtar, I want you to stay..."
A bright flash came then: Luka stared at him at first, but then lowered her head and started crying.
- "F-fine, Geshtar... Go and return i-if it pleases you... Ne-never forget m-m-me... promise me that!!"
- "Luka, I'm sorry if I hurt you by doing this, but I feel like it's destined that I leave this Palace."
- "Geshtar... i-it is... Go now and search your fate..."
He took the sheets and pillow with him, looking back only to see Luka once more. He saw her crying, he cried too...
Luka came into Geshtar's room very late, and was surprised to hear him crying his eyes out. She silently walked over to him and whispered:
- "It's alright, you're safe here..."
- "Luka, what happened when Undine froze my hands?"
She bowed her head, he saw tears glitter in her eyes. "You had gone out and returned early in the morning, drunk. I was with Undine at that moment, so when you didn't find me in the Palace, you came to the cave where Undine resides. When you reached Undine's room, she was a little upset: she didn't know what had happened to you. She had no idea what drinking did to your body, and felt a little offended. Suddenly, you tripped and touched Undine's shoulder when she didn't expect it. The moment you touched her, she froze your hands out of fear. You were immediately sober, and all you could do was look at your hands and cry. I took you into the Palace, called upon the warmest of all streams and waterholes to warm your hands: the desert ponds in Kakkara. When they touched the ice, it melted... but the water became steam and thus couldn't return to the desert. That's why the two ponds were empty for a long time. Luckily, Hopper saved them: he found a Sea Hare's tail and brought back cool water to the desert." She stopped to wipe away the tears from her cheeks. "You were so upset because of it, you left. When I wanted to stop you, Undine's image came before me, telling me not to stop you from leaving. She said you would return after you did your other tasks in the world. And you did." She raised her head again, her light blue eyes peering directly into his deep green ones. "Go to sleep now, tomorrow we'll continue our lessons."
And they did so: the next morning, Luka spoke of the services of the Elementals and the rituals in summoning one. Geshtar listened and learned a great deal. Then, after they had had lunch, she took him to a mirror behind the Water Seed's pedestal.
- "This is the mirror I use to communicate with Undine. I'll show you how to use it. You hold the mirror and say her name in a clear and loud voice. Like this: Undine!"
The mirror's surface flickered, then showed a beautiful mermaid, holding a trident and floating in mid-air.
- "Hello, Luka, my friend, what brings you to speak to me like this? Usually you just visit me..."
- "Not today. I was explaining the use of the Mirror to my disciple."
Luka stepped back to reveal Geshtar, who bowed and said: "Greetings, Undine."
- "Geshtar?! He did return after all..." she said to Luka, and then she turned to Geshtar: "You once were Luka's disciple, but you left because..."
- "I already know, Undine, and you don't need to be ashamed of it. I know that you did it because you were afraid of me then. But now I have a question to ask of you."
- "Yes, but remember that I cannot tell you anything unless you have remembered yet another part of your history."
- "No, this is about a flashback. When I came in that morning, long ago, drunk, how did you feel?"
- "Well, I felt afraid. I didn't know what had happened to you: you walked as if you were dizzy, you spoke very loud, and your breath smelled awful! I thought someone had put a spell on you or something... Then you grabbed hold of me, and I thought you were going to attack me. Instinctively, I used my magic to freeze your hands. But I felt sorry for it immediately. And when Luka told me, explained what had happened to you, I felt really ashamed. You had left already and didn't even say goodbye to me..." She bowed her head. Geshtar wished he could pat her shoulder through the mirror.
- "I don't know either why I did that... not saying goodbye... I feel terrible about that too, you know. But now I'm back, and I have no intention of remaining mad at you forever."
- "Thanks, Geshtar. I feel a lot better now that I know you've forgiven me. Well, I hope I was of assistance, Luka. Teach your disciple good, and next week he may come to visit me. Goodbye for now!"
- "Goodbye, Undine” Geshtar and Luka said at the same time, each of them chuckling for their odd synchronity. The mirror was put back where it belonged and Geshtar continued listening to the Mana Rituals.
The week between that day and his visit to Undine's cave went real fast. Geshtar learned all the things he had known before, which was very frustrating in fact. The only thing he enjoyed doing was the sword fighting lessons he got. He didn't learn a single thing from Luka there, HE learned HER new tricks. He had gotten some minor memories about fights, but they were always very vague and never of any help in uncovering his real identity. Often had he tried to get some information from Luka, but to no avail: she kept on saying him he had to uncover it himself. She always comforted him, though, telling him he'd find out real soon. He also cried: because he felt powerless in his own life, because he feared he'd never find the solution himself, because...
Because of something he didn't even remember...
And that kept him awake at night, it haunted him, crept into his mind while he slept. But never could he remember it when he awakened, never was he more sad than after such a dream. He longed to know what it was that made him sweat so much that his sheets were nearly soaking... He wondered why Luka and Seyma's father had been so shocked to see him... What was it about him that struck fear into other people's hearts?
- "Hey, Luka, there's a party in the city of Pandora. Care to join me?"
Geshtar had gathered all of his nerve to ask Luka to come with him. He didn't look at her as a teacher: no, she was more of a friend to him. She smiled when she said yes, her face was enlightened. He then gave her the present he'd saved for (he had done some chores at Neko's in the evenings, because then was his only time off from lessons. Neko paid him very good for doing such hard work: moving heavy crates from the wagons to the storage rooms): the classy soiree dress.
- "Oh, Geshtar, you shouldn't have..."
- "No, no, don't say it! It was such a pleasure thinking of how you'd be amazed of the dress when you'd get it... And besides, I want my friend to look her very best when going out with ME!" He showed her the outfit he had bought for himself (he needed special clothes to go to that party: his armor was out of the question), and after having finished their lessons for that day, both went to their rooms (in fact, it was one room, separated by a curtain) to dress and get ready for the event.
Geshtar thought of his new achievements. He had started off from scratch, saved from certain death by a girl who didn't even know him; then, she gave him clothes, food, comforted him, became his friend; she directed him towards Luka, who had now become a very close friend of him too... What was next? He had no idea of what he was going to do when he'd found out who he was: but he didn't know what to do when he wouldn't find out, either. Maybe he'd... No, he knew what he would do. He'd stay there, in the Water Palace, and serve Undine together with Luka! He knew he was destined to serve the Water Elemental, and he also was sure of his friendship with Luka, Undine's main caretaker and closest friend. That seemed to be enough... Or was it?
He immediately put those thoughts aside when Luka entered. The dress looked more than beautiful on her: it made her look radiant, extraordinary, superb, outstanding, supernatural! Her eyes sparkled more, her hair was adorned with glistening green stones, the same stones as she wore as earrings, and as a necklace. He was baffled: he couldn't say a thing for a while. Then, carefully approaching her, cautious not to break that frail beauty, he took her small, pale hand and kissed it.
- "Oh, you seem to be a goddess descended from the heavens. Will you escort me to the party tonight, my goddess?"
Luka laughed, for the first time since he had come and taken back his place: it sounded like the soft tinkling of a mountain stream. "Why, you look stunning yourself, as if you have been gifted by the gods. I will escort you, my handsome Geshtar. It would be an honor."
They went outside, where Luka closed the Palace with a spell. He took her hand and the went onward, to the city. On the way, they talked about themselves, about general things mostly. They laughed. Luka loved to hear his deep, warm voice and to feel the warmth of his hand on hers. She shook off those thoughts immediately. What WAS she thinking?! Her heart was beating like crazy when he looked at her... "Love? Not a chance!" she said to herself. But one look at him, at his soft eyes, his hands... told her she was hopelessly lost.
Finally, they arrived at the hall where the party was being held. Geshtar gallantly opened the door for Luka, allowing her to step in and check the situation. She had feared the presence of the Mana Heroes, Hopper and Nasha, but none of them were there. She and Geshtar had great fun: they danced all the time, and he had bought her very tasty drinks... She felt very light-headed when the party was over and they returned to the Water Palace. Twice had she fumbled the words for the spell over the Water Palace, before Geshtar helped her. Inside, her legs seemed to have lost their strength and she fell to the floor. He picked her up and carried her all the way to her room. She had rested her head against his chest and had fallen asleep after muttering "Geshtar, you know I can't stand those drinks...". Very careful not to wake her up, he put her to bed, after removing the stones. He then staggered to his own bed, where he fell asleep immediately...
- "Geshtar, Geshtar, wake up!"
He slowly opened his eyes and was struck by the headache. It was his own fault, he shouldn't have drunk that much. Luka was standing beside him, her hair a mess, hastily dressed and barely awake.
- "What's the matter, Luka?"
- "We were supposed to visit Undine today, remember? C'mon, she hates laziness!"
He dressed himself in a hurry, combed his hair and told Luka to do the same. Looking into her mirror, she blushed and took the comb. After another five minutes, they were outside the Palace, going towards the cave where Undine lived. Luka had warned him to carefully put his feet down, for every little stone was slippery. He slowly stepped forwards, avoiding the shiny stones: those were the most slippery. Nevertheless, he slipped slightly, but was able to hold on to a stone in time. He took his hand away and saw it was covered by a sticky green plant with all colors of flowers on them. It made him remember... long ago...
- "You're doubting too, aren't you, Geshtar?"
A beautiful red-haired woman, wearing a red dress and mantle. Her hands were frail, her fingers slender: it gave away her profession... magic-user. Her face showed concern, pain and fear. She looked like a spirit in the cold, nightly darkness.
- "Of course I do. Thanatos showed us yesterday that we're mere puppets to his cause. Poor Sheex, despite the fact that he was a demon..." He bowed his head. "He was a great man, although he was only human pro forma. His heart was filled with the wrong thoughts, put there by Thanatos I presume..."
- "Geshtar, I was just thinking... How did Thanatos convince you?"
- "He promised me just the right thing: pleasure. Drinking, gambling, danger, women. Of course, after I had signed my contract, he didn't allow me to have all that. I'm still ashamed of myself for... doing that... t-that innocent y-young woman..." He started crying, and his female companion comforted him. She now stood next to him, her arm put around his shoulder, the warmth of her skin radiating through the armor he wore.
- "For me, he told me he'd kill me. I have the potential to far more power than he'll ever have and I posed a threat. My father, the Archmage of Tasnica, was already killed by him in that foolish war fifteen years ago. And when I had Sheex, he used me to keep Sheex loyal and vice versa." She also cried, and this time, Geshtar comforted her, putting his hand on hers, feeling her silky skin. She shouted into the night air that surrounded them: "Damn you, Thanatos! I'll foil your plan, even if it means my death! You won't destroy this world! For all of us: for me, for Geshtar... and for Sheex..."
- "Well, Sheex would surely appreciate your sacrifice for good. He was, naturally, a demon, but he had his creator's advantages. One of which was his will to do good. He'll wait for you wherever he has gone to..." Geshtar said it as friendly as he could, but he felt jealousy of the love his friend felt for that Sheex.
- "Oh, Geshtar, you're such a great friend. Tell me you'll stay by my side until the last minute."
Geshtar had turned toward the young woman, taking her hands, which were covered with a green, sticky plant. Their hands were pasted together, and she asked him: "Will we always stick together, Geshtar?"
- "Yes, we'll always stick together, just like our hands do now, my dear Fanha!!"
Geshtar must have passed out, for he awakened in Undine's cave, watched by a concerned Undine and a very pale Luka. Still shocked because of the flashback, he looked at them with such an expression of fear that even Undine stepped back.
- "Luka," Geshtar said, calming down, "you once promised me to answer my question only when I had remembered my true name. It is Geshtar. I have seen who I was, and I ask you again: what do you know of the person I once was?" He emphasized the "was". Undine nodded silently at Luka, who sighed and walked towards him.
- "You were a man of great atrocity, although you were forced to commit those crimes by Thanatos. He had bound you to him in blood, you had no choice but to listen. You had turned away from magic because of that accident with Undine. When you had left, you became a mercenary. You hired your swordsmanship and, when at it, learnt the ancient mechanics. Thanatos had taken advantage of your weakened spirit and your knowledge of Mana and its rituals... I wanted so badly for you to return to the path of Light again. But... Underneath all the evil you did, you must have been the same man you are now... I can tell you no more than this, it is all I know."
Geshtar shivered as he saw his reflection in the puddles of water in the cave. He then realised what he had to do. "Luka, Undine, I want to ask your permission to travel around the world. I will disguise myself and find out more about what has happened. I will examine myself and the other Imperial bodyguards: both character and deeds, reasons and skills will I find out. But I will need your help in disguising myself. And if you can help me find a way to travel..."
- "Why, Geshtar, I have the perfect way for you to travel! Undine, I will come again tomorrow for his disguise. Till then, goodbye!" With a smile on her face, Luka dragged Geshtar to the Water Palace. Instead of heading inside, she took him to the left side of the Palace, where she took a little toy from underneath her robes.
- "Just wait and see...” she told him, as she used the hand drum. Faster than even the wind could blow or the lightning could strike, a white dragon neared them, landing in front of Luka.
- "Rrrrrrrraaii... Hello, Luuka, what can I do todaay?" Then, the dragon noticed Geshtar. "Graaaaaaaaa!! This is Gesshtar!! He's eevil!" She raised her front right paw, with its enormous claws, to tear him apart.
- "Wait, Flammie! You're a Mana Dragon, then use your Dragon Vision to look into his heart!! Dragons can see the real inner feelings, remember?” Luka screamed. Flammie nodded and looked at Geshtar with her melancholic purple eyes. Their depths seemed to pull him down into himself... He fell into his own mind, seeing things he never expected to see: cruel facts, dark spells and strong feelings lurked in his past. Yet, no trace of malevolence ever crossed his mind... It occurred to him that he must have been spellbound, like Luka had thought... Flammie smiled, she turned away and faced Luka.
- "Rrrrrraaaaaaii... You werrre rrrrrright, Luka. He is a man of gooood heart. I will take him with meee..."
- "Oh, my! May I say something?” stammered Geshtar, who had heard the name Flammie and recognised the dragon in front of him.
- "Why, sure, talk to meeee!" Flammie turned towards him again, her glazy purple eyes peering straight into his clear green ones.
- "Well, since you're Hopper, Nasha and Stine's dragon, you must know them..."
- "Rrrrrrrraaaaaaaii... Yeees, I know them. Hopper is a grrrrreat kid, he has become sixteen just a few weeks ago. Nasha and Hopper arrrrrrre still good friendsss. They visssit each other once orrrrrrrrr twice a week."
- "And Stine?"
- "Iiiieee... Stine became a ssspirit... He had used up all his Maaaaana essence to defeat the Dark Lich..."
- "THANATOS! That demon!" Geshtar's face turned red, his voice filled with a hatred so harsh, so deep and meaningful, that both Luka and Flammie were shocked.
- "Geshtaaar, you shouldn't speak that way! Poooor Luka, she's shocked... Why do you now hate Thaaanatooos?"
- "When I remembered my true name, Flammie, I remembered something else. Both me and Fanha were tricked into Thanatos' service. I was fooled with false promises: drinking had made me weak. Thanatos promised me pleasure, and I was too dumb to see the trap... Fanha, on the other hand, was threatened with death if she didn't join. He made her summon a demon, that would be always truthful to his owner: that demon was Sheex. She fell in love with him and thus, Thanatos didn't threaten her anymore about her life... he said he'd take Sheex' life."
- "You werrrre tricked into this? Well, I wouldn't believe it if I didn't see it myself..."
- "Huh?" This time, Geshtar was baffled. Flammie had seen it? "How?"
- "I was taaaking my flying lessons (from a good imp, mind you...) when I flew over the Imperial Castle... I saw Thanatos, the eeevil lich, talking to yooou... You were angryyy, and then he told you thiss: "Go down to Northtown and have some fun, then." I saw him moving hisss hands in an evil spellll... Then, afterwardss, I heard the story of that young girl toooo..."
- "Woow! You knew it?!"
- "Yes, I did... but never did I guess yoooou weren't evil nevertheless. Had I known Thanatos forced you and your friiiiends..." She bowed her head, gently letting her wings slither over each other. "Forrrrgive me my prejudice, Geshtarrr..."
- "You haven't done anything wrong, my dear Flammie!” he said determined. His hands patted the soft feathers in her neck, when he caught Luka's eyes.
She hadn't said anything anymore since Geshtar started talking to Flammie. Until he had arrived, she had lived a peaceful life. Her heart was broken when he had come to the Water Palace, a year or so ago, with evil words and soldiers of the Empire... and a twin-headed hydra he called Jabberwocky. She saw blood pouring out of Hopper's wounds, while the Mana Heroes fought to protect her. She had cried, then, for Geshtar's betrayal was bitter. But what was to say when he had been under an evil spell? What would he himself have thought that day? She had burst into tears when the story about the murdered girl had reached Undine's ears... and hers. But then, after she had thought him dead and her hate for him never-ending... He stood before her, like he once was, had been. She loved him, she forgave him immediately. Would her heart be spared this time? What were the chances of him returning a good and honest man? And what would he find on his road? Her tears flowed gently over her pale cheeks. She ran inside, but couldn't help noticing Geshtar looking at her. Averting her eyes, she ran, and ran, until she sank to her knees in front of the Mana Seed, screaming in blind sorrow...
-"Why?! WHY?!!! He's just come back to me, and he's leaving already!! Why in Mana's might does it have to go like this?!"
Geshtar had seen Luka run away, crying. He quickly explained his problem to Flammie, who told him she'd be glad to assist him in his quest to himself. And she added a quick remark before flying off: "Go to Luuuka now, she needs yooour presence and your comforting." He didn't hesitate a moment, rushed into the Palace and heard her scream to the Seed, her words filled with a gloom even beyond his own. He rushed towards her, his face pale, his eyes glittering: he knew why she cried. He knew all too well. But when he was nearly beside her, a blinding flash lit the Seed's pedestal. A fully winged angel appeared.
- "Fear not for your heart, Luka, for he has been touched by the great warmth of Mana. The Mana Tree is not the only one watching over this world: we aid her, giving people the appropriate destiny. Geshtar is destined to serve Undine, and he will do so until he dies. You Elemental Servants are gifted with eternal life: that is why he survived the crash of his armored machine." The angel waited for Geshtar to come near. "You two are bound to each other in more than one way. Your service of Undine is one, but more are yet to come... Well, remember my words of wisdom, and do remember my name, for it will appear again... I am Solar, a revoked ninth Element, now being the Elemental of the Gods..." She vanished, her light slowly fading into the Seed. Luka turned around, her eyes turned red by crying... and to her surprise, Geshtar's eyes were red, too...
- "Geshtar... You're going away... Just when I-I..." She hid her face in her hands, but he took them away.
- "Luka, don't cry over me. I will return, and when I do, I will never, EVER leave again! You heard Solar, didn't you? Well, we ARE bound together! Not only by our service towards Undine, not only by our kindred spirits, not only by our devotion towards Good, but by love!" He blushed, he had said it even before he realised what he had said. Luka looked at him, her eyes containing all the love she had... all for him... He didn't say a single word no more; neither did she. They kissed each other, forgetting the departure of Geshtar towards himself, forgetting Luka's sorrow, forgetting hate and Mana and the rest of the world... the overwhelming feelings they had for each other carrying them away to their own, private heaven...
- "Hello, wake up, sleepy... You have an appointment with Undine..."
Geshtar's hair was wiped out of his face by Luka's soft hand. He didn't resist her touch, and neither did she when he touched her cheek.
- "I know, I'm awake already... Had a good night's sleep?"
- "Yes, if any. And my dreams were delightful, that's for sure! You make miracles happen: I had never thought you'd return... and suddenly, there you was. When I didn't expect your love, you gave it to me. You are mine now..."
- "... and you are mine. Luka, you loved me before, like you did last night, didn't you?"
- "Well..." She didn't actually show it to him, but somehow he had figured it out. "Yes, I did. You were growing up into the handsome, strong man you are now. I saw it happen, slowly but wondrous it was to see, and... I loved the man I saw before me when you listened to me, followed my hands when practicing the rituals and gestures for summoning Elementals..."
- "I have seen you as a teacher when I came here: severe, strong and cold. Then, I started seeing you as a sister: I noticed after a while you did care for me and my problems. You did your best to comfort me here. But after a long while, I started growing up. All my feelings, all my thoughts... were mixed and changed, twisted and turned in my soul. My vision of you changed. The sister was gone: before me stood a beautiful, attractive woman, her heart within my reach... I always had hoped we could become closer..." He looked out the window to see a splendid morning: the reflection of the golden clouds made him smile.
- "We should get dressed, Geshtar... Undine doesn't like to wait." She had already put her clothes and shoes on. His armor and clothes were softly handed to him, and five minutes later, she took him to the cave.
- "I'll be back when I'm finished. I have some things to take care of..." After kissing him on the cheek, she went back.
He opened his eyes, the tingling feeling flowing away, slowly, from his limbs.
- "There!” Undine said, "No one would still recognise you!!" She admired her work: his skin was tanned, his armor replaced by flowing apprentice robes, his sword turned into a wooden staff. His hair and eye color had become darker too, looking very much like Luka's. Where was Luka, anyway, she wondered... "Now, if you say "Drop!” the disguise will drop and you will look like yourself again..." She saw Luka enter her cave. Something about the way she looked at Geshtar was strange... She didn't greet her, not until she had seen Geshtar's new looks completely. Hastily, Undine continued: "... and when you say "Glance!" the disguise will re-appear. Hello Luka!"
- "Hello Undine, I have seen the results of your wonder works already. My, my, you make miracles happen!" Half an hour ago, I said the same thing to Geshtar, she realised.
- "Well, I know... What time will he leave?"
- "Flammie said she'd be here around noon... Oh dear, she's probably waiting already!!! Come, Geshtar!"
Undine watched as Geshtar took Luka's hand and led her out of the cave. It suddenly hit her what was going on... She was very much upset, for she had never noticed it happening. How could Luka throw away her sense of decency like that? How could Geshtar care so little for her to drag her with him in his downfall? How could it not be prevented? Did they know the punishments for a relationship between Elemental Servants? All of a sudden, a bright ray of light, coming through the ceiling of the cave, drove away her thoughts. Before her stood an angel which was only supposed to guide the Elementals from Heaven. It was...
- "Solar, most gracious Ninth Elemental!! What brings your presence in my cave?"
The beautiful angel looked down onto her. "Your prejudice brings me here. You think that relations between Elemental Servants are punished. In fact, they are even encouraged to grow! Your misjudgment of Geshtar makes you blind for their happiness! See things that are bound to happen!" She raised her hands and Undine collapsed.
Undine wasn't unconscious, she just saw things. Geshtar and Undine in front of the altar in the church of Pandora; Geshtar holding a baby in his hands, looking very proud; Luka brushing her daughter's hair... She saw herself, surrounded by children, playing with them... She saw happiness... When she awakened, Solar held her.
- "Solar... I-I..."
- "Say nothing, I feel you are relieved of your prejudices. Remember this: the gods have approved of their being together. More still... the gods gave me the right to come here to watch over their love. Don't resist it, Undine: for Destiny is at work here." She departed, her light going back out through the ceiling of the cave, leaving Undine alone in what seemed to her a tremendous darkness.
Geshtar and Luka went to the spot where Flammie had landed the day before. There she stood, her light pink wings brushing against each other as she saw her friend and Geshtar nearing.
- "Hellooooooooo, Luka. God morning, Gesssshtar. Are you ready to leave?"
Geshtar looked at Luka. She had guessed what he would need, and had packed several stuff in one of her own leather item bags.
- "Here, Geshtar. This contains soap, some towels, and other useful stuff. Should come in handy..."
- "Sure, it will come in handy. Thanks." He took the bag, touching her frail hand gently.
- "Shall weeeee leave then?” Flammie asked, "Say goodbye to Luuuka first. She'll missss you, and your love is still sssso young..." Her gleaming purple eyes gave away that she knew what had happened the day before. Geshtar nodded and turned to Luka. They didn't speak: just a warm embrace and a gentle, loving kiss. Flammie cried, her Dragon Eyes weren't necessary to see the great love, the tight bond between these two souls. As Luka and Geshtar let go, she lowered her immense body so that Geshtar could get onto her back.
- "Geshtar... be careful. I want you to return!” Luka whispered as Flammie took off, her majestic wings heaving her heavy torso into the clouds. Tears ran down her cheeks, her heart was beating in a rhythm she knew. It was Geshtar's pulse in her soul, it was Geshtar's warmth in her heart. And as she returned into the Water Palace, Undine was standing in front of the Water Seed's pedestal, her tail touching the first step, whispering: "Mighty gods, protect Geshtar from all harm. And protect Luka from Love's agony. Their future is so bright, don't let them fall into dark times now..."