Part Three: Future, Life's Blossom
Flammie landed next to the palace, spread her wings and laid her head on the soft moss.
- "Go inssside, Geshtar. I willllll sleep out here, sssso call me if you need meeee..." As Geshtar rubbed her forehead, she fell asleep, totally exhausted by the long journey. Geshtar smiled as he heard the soft melodious sound of her snores, and he stood there for a moment. The melody reminded him of something... but he couldn't remember what it reminded him of. Instead of thinking about it any longer, he turned to the Palace and walked towards it.
Suddenly, he stopped, just a few feet away from the palace doors. A strange power crept up his body, probing and searching his soul. He felt nauseous: after a while, he had to throw up. When he did, the strange feeling left him sickened. Geshtar wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.
- "Jeezes, what was that?! I feel like I've pushed my entire system out!" He stepped up to the doors, and pushed them open, causing his disguise to drop almost immediately. The Tree Palace was just like he remembered it: big, green, and empty... Dryad was nowhere around. And yet, while she wasn't in the main hall, her voice resounded through the halls, as timid and as girlish as he remembered it:
- "Geshtar Tirsh, man born in light and conquered by darkness... Proceed, I know why you are here..."As if it were automatic, he found the stairs to the Seed Chamber. He knew he had gone up those stairs before, but why? Another thing he could not remember... But his worries dissipated as he saw Dryad, who was sitting on the stairs of the Seed pedestal. Her luscious green hair, like palm tree leaves, was dew-covered and held in its upright position by a tough bandanna made of palm tree bark. Her body started like a young girl's and ended in a lot of roots and bark. Her face was still pale, and so were her arms: it looked like she wore a disguise. The greenest of eyes twinkled in that face, and she blushed shyly as she saw the handsome man approach her. But underneath that girlish look and that shy smile, Geshtar realised, a tremendous power and a great strength were hidden. He bowed in front of her, showing her the respect she should receive:
- "Greetings, Dryad, most gracious Elemental of Nature..." He paused when he saw her smile impishly.
- "Hello, Geshtar, just stand up now... I know who you are, and you know who I am. No need for calling a little girl like me big names... Err, maybe you want to hear a story?" She looked so enthusiastic, he just couldn't say no. "Listen well, this is a story known only by two persons still living, and one long dead. One day, long ago, mankind found an ancient energy. This energy was called Mana, the planet's natural life force. The gods watched over this energy, protecting it so the planets could all keep on existing. But humanity, so long ago, needed new and greater power sources. They had lost all respect for the gods, and they wanted to defy them: thus, they made the Mana Fortress, arming it with sophisticated weaponry and great defenses. The Mana of this planet was nearly depleted, and the gods responded to the human defiance. They created the Mana Beasts: beings with such tremendous powers, they could eradicate humanity with their fiery breaths and level the planet so Mana could regenerate itself. There were nine Mana Beasts: one for each true Elemental and one for our creator, the beautiful being called Solar, Elemental of the gods. Solar was, in fact, one of the gods once, the only female one. The most mighty god split himself in half: one female part, Solar, and one male part, that was called Celys. Solar became Elemental, by being granted the power to turn the spirits empowering this planet into semi-gods like herself. Celys didn't like that at all: the gods had made him into a full god and he felt a severe dislike of his "sister". Solar didn't care for his opinion: so when the Beasts attacked, she rode on her very own beast, together with the other eight Elementals. She made us like the images she had seen in ancient books: Undine as a women that was half-fish, a mermaid; Sylphid like a floating servant of the winds, a jinn; Gnome like a small and mischievous dwarf, a leprechaun; Salamando as a being of flame, a salamander; Shade as the dark night; Lumina as a star; Luna as a moon elf, bodiless and eerie; and me like the forest nymphs called dryads. She was cast out of heaven by her brother, ruler over the gods, but re-introduced as angelic Elemental of the gods. The beasts were beautiful in all their might... I believe I have a picture of them here..." She took a painting, which depicted all of the Beasts, with the Elementals. Geshtar looked and was amazed: he saw the magnificent bluish-green feathers of the Water Beast, the impressive fiery colors of the Fire Beast, the pitch black darkness reflected from the Night Beast, and last, but not least, Solar and her Beast... The beast itself was pink, with green wings, and had the deepest of burgundy eyes: Solar stood in front of it, her white dress flowing, ending in a mist-like cloud at her feet. Her face was near expressionless, except for a faint smile. From her back sprouted magnificent wings, in a very light shade of blue. In each hand, she held a sword: one was made entirely of silver, one of gold. Her hair, long and reddish, was adorned with threads of gold woven throughout it. She was devastatingly handsome, and yet as innocent as a newborn baby. He sighed as he put the painting down.
- "Dryad, who else knows this story, besides the Elementals and me?"
- "Luka, because she has been born as daughter of a sage; Sage Joch, for he is all-seeing; and the person who is now dead is Evan Thanatos, aka Thanatos the dark lich. He has witnessed the "birth" of the Elementals from up close: he stood high on top of the Mana Fortress when the Beasts came down and destroyed nearly everything. Only, like Luka surely has said before, the people and places chosen by the Elementals were spared. And Thanatos belonged to the chosen ones..." She sighed, her cheeks turning a sort of deep purple. "My servant was then called Mischa. She was a painter, she made this. When you look at it just now, you see rough strikes of paint. But there's a trick to it. You see, when the Beasts attacked, Mischa was struck by the immense light of the Light Beast. She was blind, the poor thing... So, look at it again. What do you think of it?" She gestured towards Geshtar, smiling gently.
- "Well, it's supernatural!" It was the only word he could think of; just the right word for the image. "What did she look like, that Mischa?"
- "She had long hair in a beautiful color: like the bark of a tree in the evening sun, reddish brown. Her eyes were empty and always gazing towards the horizon. I think she hoped for the return of her relatives, or of her husband. She was in blessed condition when the Beasts attacked. Her child was born in this very palace: it was the first time that blood was shed here. The stains cannot be removed from the tiles. I guess they have grown in... But enough about Mischa. You have come here for a reason. To see your past, is it? Well, I think I can help you..." She neared him, her roots brushing softly over the moss-covered floor of the Seed Chamber. "Close your eyes. I can show you anything you have questions about. Just relax and let me show you what you want to see... what you need to see..."
His mind became filled with memories.
- "Miss Luka! Miss Luka! Look what I've got!" He saw himself as a small boy, looking like he was ten years old. He held something in his hands, and ran towards Luka to show it to her. "It's a dragonfly. A very beautiful one, with luminescent wings. I wanna give this one to you, as a gift... It's as lovely as you are!" He handed her the timid little insect, and saw her whisper something to it before releasing it into the open air again. "Hey! You let it go! Why?"
- "Well, I've given it a message to spread around the world. If you make a wish and tell it to a dragonfly, it'll make sure your wish comes true..." She smiled as he caught another one and whispered his own wish to it before opening his hands and letting it fly away into the world.
- "Does it really work, Luka?" He looked at her with wonder-filled eyes.
- "Sure!" She smiled as he did. The boy was happy. Suddenly, Geshtar knew what he had wished for: for Luka to love him. The dragonfly had really fulfilled his wish, just like Luka had said...
Another memory came to him.
- "What's the matter, Luka, don't you like it?" He looked a lot older, about seventeen. His armor shone in the light of the holy fire. His hair flowed onto his back, and blended in nicely with the mantle. Luka stood before him, looking admiringly at him, her hands resting on her lap.
- "O-of course I like it, Geshtar... It looks so... radiant!" Her confused reply gave away her bewildered thoughts. Luka had told him she had loved him since he had grown up. Was that the reason for the hasty response and her sparkling eyes? He quietly wondered... until the next piece of his memory came forth.
- "Fanha, please... I need to know what Thanatos has ordered you to do. Tell me, please, I beg of you!" He stood in front of the red-haired mage, beckoning her to answer his questions.
- "I have been ordered to summon another demon. One of the Middle Order. The idiot is afraid to be killed by it, so he asks - no, commands - me to do it! The damn idiot! If I die, he loses his control over the demon I summoned."
- "Come on, Fanha, IF you are killed by that demon, I'll slay Thanatos faster than he can lift a finger! I'll avenge you..." His words became more gentle as he took the frail hands of the mage into his own rough ones. "I hold you very dear, Fanha, can't you see? I'd rather die than see you turn away from me... So please, don't do so. I'd die of misery!"
- "Oh, Geshtar... Thanks!" She hugged him and held him for a long time before going to her quarters. Before going outside his room, she turned around and said: "I'm very happy to have a friend like you!"
The next memory was different. He was spellbound and doing Thanatos' will.
- "Luka, just hand over the Mana Seed and no one gets hurt." His evil grin really hurt poor Luka, he could clearly see it in her eyes: filled with tears. Bitter tears of a broken heart...
- "It was stolen. You're too late. Now go away!" She spoke with a slightly too high voice.
- "Oh, but surely you've sent someone to fetch it? I'll just wait here... And when your servant returns, he'll hand over the seed. And die! Hahahahaha..." Luka sank to her knees, her head hidden in her hands, sobbing. Geshtar never knew what he was like when he was under Thanatos' dark influence... but now he cursed the day he agreed to follow the bastard. His own eyes filled with tears when he saw himself acting so icily around Luka in his memory.
The next vision made him feel a lot better. It was a vision of Fanha and him.
- "Fanha... Are you allright?" He held her hand as she awoke in the hospital bed next to his. "Another day in paradise..." he whispered towards her sarcastically as she took a look at her blood-stained dress, her arms and legs which were covered with wounds and bandages.
- "Seems like it, Geshtar,” she responded when she was fully aware of the situation they both were in. "Sorry for it all. I have to put you under spells and all... Thanatos will pay for that one day, I can sense it!" She cried, unable to wipe the tears off her cheeks. Geshtar sat up, pulled a few wires loose and wiped them away.
- "Yeah, he'll pay. For every tear you cry, dear Fanha, he'll pay ten times!"
Another vision amazed him. He saw himself, sitting in the meeting hall of the Imperial castle. Fanha and Sheex sat opposite to him: Sheex growled to him, and Fanha smiled her usual friendly smile. Emperor Vandole had a fit with Thanatos, who had left his mask in his room. Cold, empty eyes gazed at the emperor.
- "No, Thanatos, I'm sorry. I can not give you that much power! The Imperial soldiers, the demons, including this one-” he pointed at Sheex, who smiled sarcastically, "-they are enough! If you have insufficient manpower, summon more demons, lich!" The latter clearly and obviously shocked Thanatos.
- "Very well, Emperor Vandole. We'll count votes for it. All rise!" Geshtar saw Empress Algea raise herself from her seat, blinking naughtily at him; Raziel, captain of the Imperial castle guards and second-in-command to him, stood up too. And mayor Handsley was present too. "All those in favor of the Emperor, step to him. All those in favor of me, come to me." Slowly, Geshtar saw himself going to the Emperor, together with Algea, Raziel, the mayor... and Fanha. The expression on Thanatos' face was magnificent to behold: confusion, anger and defeat mixed together and smeared all over his face. He felt great as the images faded away.
The last of his visions... a devastating one...Geshtar saw himself arriving at the rising Fortress... just in time to see the Mana Hero plunge his sword into Fanha's heart. With a sigh, the naga form shifted into Fanha's own body again to die with a smile of relief on her face. He cried out in despair as the Mana Heroes stood before her cooling corpse.
- "No, this cannot be the end! Fanha, Fanha dear! Don't die now! Thanatos still hasn't received our revenge yet! No, don't die... Don't die... DOOOON'T!!!!!"
He hurried to avenge Fanha's death, hoisted himself into his Mech Rider armor again. Blinded by his tears, he confronted the Mana Heroes in a pitched battle he knew he couldn't win. All he could think of was revenge, revenge for a death that was too early. Geshtar saw the memory with a feeling of sadness growing inside of him. Of course, it was Thanatos who had killed Vandole after he had opposed him... Raziel had died "on duty": in reality, Thanatos had charred him. Mayor Langsley was thrown in a dungeon so deep and damp that he'd die within the day. And surely, he'd find a way to get to Algea too... But Geshtar, knowing he'd die anyway, cared little for his nearing fate. He just fought like a lion until the Mana Hero smashed the motor in his hover-cycle. It exploded, hurling him away into the open air. His last image was the Fortress, half-raised and shuddering as it continued to lift itself out of the ocean...
He opened his eyes again and looked at Dryad. Her face was a calm reflection of her thoughts about him: so you did evil things, but you remain human to me. He could nearly hear her thinking it.
- "Hey, how did you like the memories?" She reached out to him, but he declined.
- "I wish to sleep in a sleep of memory. I wish to remember everything from the moment I left the Water Palace to the moment I went to the Water Palace. Can you do that?" He saw her flinch, and blinked at her meaningfully. "I want to see whatever you try to steer away from. However it'll upset me. Please, I wish to undo the wrongs that I have done."
- "Okay..." She sighed as she enveloped Geshtar in a whirlwind of Sleep Flower petals. He dozed off...
His sleep filled with dreams immediately... He saw himself, sitting in a pub in Pandora, drinking away his sorrow.
- "Luka, poor Luka! I've left her for such a minor thing. But I feel like this is my destiny. THIS, not sitting around in the Water Palace doin' nothing. I wanna fight, goddammit! The demons are again roaming the lands freely again." He took his glass and drank it in one single gulp. After paying the bartender, he went outside, where he was awaited by a man who had seen and heard him.
- "Hey, guy. Want to fight, huh? Well, maybe you'll like my offer, then... I'll pay you ten thousand GP when you..." the man whispered lowly into his ear. "... when you make Sir Pollther have an "accident” get what I mean?" Geshtar saw his own disgusted reaction at first, but then his horror disappeared for an impish grin.
- "I get it. Tomorrow he'll have had the "accident". You just have those ten thousand coins ready!"
Geshtar dreamt, with rising disgust, of the "accidents" he had accomplished: sir Pollther was the first of many... Every single time, he was successful, got a great amount of money which he spent on drinking and gambling almost immediately. Women were attracted by him like moths by a flame. They all fell for him and made him their lover. But just like the moths, they all burned their hands and learned no lessons whatsoever. Until, one day... Until he met Fanha and Thanatos.
She was sitting all alone in Geshtar's favorite pub, the "Demonic Girl Inn". He stepped to her and asked flirtily:
- "Heeey! What's a pretty girl doin' here with no one to guide her?" He grinned as she shrugged.
- "Thanks for the interest, sir, but I can mend my own business. I'm pretty, but not weak."
- "You sure? If you want protection, I'll be right here." He smirked when Thanatos entered, his expressionless face and the cold eyes made everybody shiver.
- "Fanha, come on. We should get going, if we want to reach the border of your mother's territory before she finds out who took you... If she pursues us, the only thing she'll find is your dead body!" His voice was as emotionless as his face, and as dead as his eyes. Geshtar bowed over to the girl:
- "Nice father you've got there, Fanha..."
- "He's not my father. And you wouldn't want to get into a fight with him. He doesn't have any mercy."
- "Hah! What does a mercenary like me fear?! Death? Anger? I don't even fear a demon like him: I've killed hundreds and thousands of his kind..." He paused as Thanatos looked at him angrily "... and all of them with just my sword. I'm a skilled man in this." Thanatos' interests were getting more and more dense.
- "Young man, how would you like to join us? We are heading to the Empire. You will get the fame you want there, and be paid a solid amount of money..." He lowered his voice in an evil whisper: "There, I can guarantee you constant pleasure: all the liquor, gambling, danger and women you want..."
- "Allright then, I'll come with you." He took the pen in his hands, shrugged as it scratched over his hand and the tip was covered in blood. The dark red color blended in with the ink, he saw as he signed the contract Thanatos had offered him.
The dream went onwards, and he saw himself sitting in the Imperial Castle, at the meeting table, together with Thanatos, Fanha and Emperor Vandole.
- "So, you say you can help me gain total world domination? How?" The Emperor's low and hypnotising voice boomed throughout the audience hall, causing the guards near the doors to shiver.
- "Yes, I can give you my aid. I and my assistant Fanha here are high mages. I once served Shade until I was cast out of his Palace. This young man here has battle skills no one could ever match, plus he is a master mechanic: he knows everything there is to know of the ancient technology. Well, will you take our help - for a price of course..."
- "Wait just a minute! I want proof of your skills. Guards! Fetch me the very best soldiers! This man will battle them outside. What is your name, mercenary?" The Emperor spoke directly to him. Geshtar was, although he had never been spoken to by an emperor, very upset.
- "I prefer to be called SIR Geshtar... my Emperor." The latter, he spoke in a sarcastic tone.
- "Very well, Sir Geshtar, go out there and fight!"
And he did fight: he won easily against one, two, three, even ten soldiers at a time. He showed his sword, gleaming in the evening light, to the Emperor.
- "You have proven yourself. Now you, Thanatos. But first, remove that mask of yours!" Thanatos followed the order, took off his mask and showed his empty eyes and pale face. "Y-you are a.. a LICH!!” Emperor Vandole gasped.
- "You see, my powers are so great, they can even overcome death. Do I have to prove anything else?"
- "N-no... You have proven enough, lich. Now you, girly. Show us your worth... I know, summon an Upper Class Demon!" Fanha shuddered as she listened to the order. She looked at Geshtar, who blinked and nodded slightly.
- "Very well... but I will need to make preparations."
Geshtar helped her prepare the meeting hall: incense, magical signs on the floor, a protective circle around Fanha, and his ensuring presence right behind her. Fanha started the incantation, and suddenly the air grew cold and damp. A form materialised: an Aegagropilon, the most feared of the Upper Class Demons... Fanha asked it to name itself.
- "I am Sheex, an Aegagropilon, a shape-shifting demon. I can assume any shape you want me to assume... What is your name, my master?" His growling voice sent multiple shivers down Geshtar's spine.
- "I am Fanha Caina, I have total control over you. Can you become human, Sheex?"
- "Yes, Fanha my mistress..." He shifted into a beautiful young man with a kind of deep purple hair. "Is this form at your convenience?" She blushed.
- "Yes, it is, Sheex. Have I proven myself, Emperor?"
- "You have, indeed. You and your party are hired, lich! I can always use good fighters like your Geshtar, and good mages like Fanha." He shrugged, grinning evilly towards Thanatos. "You are a nice side-effect... lich!"
Thanatos shrugged as well.
- "Very well, you have it your way, Emperor Vandole. But do remember that I have these powers... and you don't."
The dream then went onwards. He saw himself helping the Empire invading the Gold Isle and taking it over; the many kills he had done for Emperor Vandole, the way he took the money for doing that: it all made him feel deeply disgusted by his former self. Then, an interesting part came.
- "Sir Geshtar? Are you still awake?" A soft woman voice from behind the door. Geshtar had, once again, drunk too much after seeing Fanha with Sheex again. He couldn't bear her friendship with a demon... and thus sought comfort in liquor.
- "G-g-go away, whoever it isssh... I'm not in the m-mood fer visitors!"
- "But Geshtar, I've merely come to talk to you! It's me, Algea!" the latter made him amazed: the Empress knocking on his door?!
- "Oh..." He opened the door for her and could easily see she had been drinking and crying too. "What’s wrong, dear Empress of mine?"
- "Geesh, call me Algea! I've come to say goodnight and to ask you if you'd do me a favor... My husband's gone again, to who knows what stupid country to play his childish game of conquer-or-destroy... I need comforting." She approached him: Geshtar could easily see her underwear through the thin fabric of her nightgown. He himself was also wearing very little. Her soft, slender body gently pressed against his when she hugged him.
- "Algea..." His throat was dry, his vision was clear all of a sudden. Desire for that beautiful woman hit him. "D'you know..."
- "I know. C'mon, don't hesitate! Do it while we can still blame it on the alcohol."
With that sentence, his dreams faded...
- "Geshtar... Geshtar, wake up! It's morning!" Dryad's soft voice awoke him from his deep and calm sleep. He raised himself slowly, looking through one of the windows of the Palace, and suddenly realised that he knew the Seed Chamber as the room where he had found Vandole's dead body... His eyes immediately went towards the stairs of the pedestal - the blood stains were still there. He shuddered, making Dryad sense his emotions and answer his unspoken question : "Yes, this is indeed the place where Emperor Vandole met his doom. I can not try to remove the stains: my Mana energy makes them grow into the Palace instinctively... But really, you shouldn't wait any longer now. It is a long journey to the Water Palace: why waste more time here?"
- "You're probably right, Dryad. I should get going now." He hugged Dryad, who was surprised, and kissed her on the cheek. "Thank you, Dryad! I needed to remember those things... Now I can go back and..."
- "Geshtar, declare to the world that you are not evil. Do not be afraid for the consequences, just do it! There have already been too many misunderstandings... Clear them all and your name with them!" Her cheeks turned a kind of glowy light brown when she added: "Luka's... lucky to have a lover like you..." She saw a blush on Geshtar's cheeks and wiped it away with a single swipe. "Don't be ashamed: I did see what has happened between you and Luka, but just... no details, okay? Now go, sir Geshtar, and never forget what I just taught you: in human life, there may never be guilt or shame about good things. Believe me, I know..."
- "Hey, what do you mean by that? Tell me what you mean..." He stood in front of the Elemental, his eyes questioning.
- "Allright then. When the Beasts struck this Earth, the Elementals had to be created. Solar was only a half-god and could not create us out of nothing. She... She used people's bodies, altered them and gave them power. I was once a little girl, and made into this. Most of my memories were wiped away, but the memory of my metamorphosis is still clear. I wore a brown dress, flowing around my feet like Solar's always does. My hair was a kind of deep golden brown, and it reached all the way to my waist. I remember feeling weird, a feeling that started at my head. My hair turned a dark shade of green, and stuck in strings to each other. When I heard the call of the Beasts, from a great distance, I went outside. My hair was by then already changed into these palm leaves. My dress stuck to my body, growing into my skin and turning into a tree trunk at the bottom, from my waist down. A small green plant grew immediately over my back to my arms. Then... I do not remember anything about what happened after that. But what I do know is that I suddenly stood face to face with the Nature Beast. He said nothing, heaved his head to cry his song of Nature's Mana... And I recognised the song, went to him and sat onto his back. The Mana immediately seeped into my body. I saw a boy burst into flames, a girl crying herself all wet... I saw Shade being born out of a dark-haired man, and Lumina out of a pale girl in pyjamas. I saw Sylphid and Luna and Gnome arising from what appeared to be only a deep slumber. But it wasn't pleasant to be this little girl forever... It renders me shy, unconfident, ignorant and naive..." She sighed, allowing Geshtar to think about that.
- "...But it also makes you fresh, energetic, and innocent: you are the Elemental of Elementals. Without you, the earth would be empty and rough. You are the queen of all living things... the beauty among all nature's creations. You, Dryad, would be the perfect ruler over all this planet. But you have a more important and heavy task. Indeed, a task not suited for a child... but your mature spirit and your Elemental nature make you greater than even the most mighty of men."
- "Thank you Geshtar..." This time, she was really speechless: his flattery had now made her whole tree-like body a deep shade of burgundy. "Wow... Thank you, so much!" She pointed outwards. "Go now, I bet you Luka misses you very much... and you miss her too, I can sense it! Go then, Sir Geshtar - hurry now!" She accompanied him back down the stairs and outside. "I'll come with you, to visit her. Wait while I seal the Palace. Green Turn Bright, Green Vanquish Intruders!"
The "wall" around the Palace became visible, illuminating the whole surroundings when its greenish glow turned bright and then dissipated back into thin air. "An enhanced version of my Wall power. Come, call Flammie. We'll be there very soon." She smiled, but stopped to when she saw Flammie, who flew towards them in a slumpy way.
- "Gesssssssssssshtar, will Drrrrrrrrrrrrrryad come withhhhhhhhh us?" Her voice sounded really tired, so Geshtar neared her and immediately rubbed her back.
- "Yes, she would love to come too... if you can carry her, that is."
- "Sssssssssssssssure, I'll carrrrrrrrrrrrrrrry herrrrrrrrrr..." The Elemental was aided to climb onto the sturdy dragon's back by Geshtar, gallant as he was. The dragon sighed heavy when she heaved herself into the air, her wings beating in an ancient melody that soothed Dryad's tensed mind.
And not far from there, two spirits accompanied by a girl dressed in a pink combat suit went towards the Water Palace, their feet moving to the melody, which now resounded clear and calming. Sprite sang the words to the song:
- "Mana, Mana Hara Nekha. Mana, Naya Lethe Daara. Mana, Mana, Drago Nalaa. Mana, Mana Hara Nekha...” and his voice blended in with the melody while Fanha's spirit shrieked once and a while in deep agony. The Water Palace was already in sight...
"Where IS he? He should be back by now!" Luka sat in front of the Seed Pedestal, polishing her ever shining spear. The tip was a little worn after the Mana Heroes had used it. Her skillful hands brushed the warm wooden shaft of the fearsome weapon - the dreaded and most wanted Daedalus Lance - when all of a sudden... Undine came rushing into the Palace.
- "Luka, what's going on? I feel a little sleepy..." Her deep blue eyes were half shut and darkened with tiredness.
- "Well, what's to worry.."
- "Luka, Elementals NEVER sleep! I never got this feeling before... It's as though I can fall asleep any moment, but am throbbing with power at the same moment... It's weird. It feels so soft inside of me, that drowsy feeling... Is it what it feels like to be sleepy as a human, too?" She gazed deeply into Luka's green eyes.- "Yes, it feels like that as a human, too. But how... How come? If Elementals don't sleep... What can be causing this feeling?!" She heard a melody, softly reaching inside the Palace, along with a song. Undine heard and translated it for Luka: her voice sounded like a soft spring bubbling in a silent night.
- "Mana, Mana lets me live. Mana, make the evil die. Mana, Mana, sacred dragon. Mana, Mana lets me live..." She even danced a little: her spear described circles in the air as she twirled it carefully. Her eyes gleamed with a kind of power that lived in her heart. Luka wondered if that was the true Mana Essence: the spirit of the Elementals, raised only in times of peace and prosperity. Her thoughts were abruptly broken off when a knock on the heavy Palace doors caused Undine to shriek.
- "Who is it?" Luka took her spear and positioned herself, ready for battle. She knew a few tricks from Geshtar: he had taught her well.
- "It's me, Luka... Hopper. I thought I'd come by and pay you a visit. The Mana Sword is resonating, it started to a while ago. I don't know what to do: I'm just a kid! Everybody expects me to do something about it, but how can I do something when I don't even know what's happening?!" Before her stood Hopper, his clothes slightly singed from using Cannon Travel. His hair still held together by the same bandanna, she easily could recognise him anywhere... except his expression was so serious today: and that wasn't exactly like him.
- "I don't know what it is, but Undine has been complaining too. What do you know of the strange behaviour of the sword?" She stepped towards him, inviting him to sit down on the stairs of the Seed pedestal.
- "It resonates in a strange rhythm. And it glows, as if Dryad casted...Mana magic?!" Hopper was very shocked by what he just had thought of. The Mana Beast... not too long ago it had made the sword resonate and sparkle in an unearthly light. Dryad had explained afterwards: the sword had opened itself up to her magic, to slay the beast... She had also told him the sword would instinctively destroy the Beast.
... But Hopper, still a little weary of his newfound knowledge, suddenly remembered what he had said when they first saw the Mana Beast...
- "So beautiful..." A tear ran down his cheek when he saw the beast.
- "What are you waiting for? Go up there and slay that beast!" Stine's bold but true words resounded in the hollow passageways of his mind.
- "I... I can't! It looks just like Flammie! Are Flammies not Mana Beasts?"
Flammie... the next Mana Beast? A threat to the world?
... Or a herald to a new future?
He had no idea whatsoever what the future still had in mind for all those people involved in the battle against extinction. But he'd not die running, that was for sure! The battle with the Mana Beast and the Empire had given him one thing: courage. He had survived thanks to his weapon skills and not by use of magic, like Nasha and Stine had done.
Suddenly, the company heard a sound outside: again, someone entered the Palace.
- "Nasha! Stine... and who's that? Isn't that...?!" The last thing Hopper expected was to see his two friends there again. The second floating spirit revealed herself to Hopper.
- "I am Fanha Caina, dear Mana Hero... daughter of Elinee... and once in service of the Empire. I was Geshtar's best friend, and had to put him under spells on Thanatos' orders..." She paused, for Hopper had drawn his sword. The Mana Sword didn't resonate when he pointed it menacingly at her. He scratched his head in amazement. "Yes, I am no longer under Thanatos' influence. When you last saw me, he had me caught in his dark aura. But enough of me! Do you know why we are here?"
- "No, I have no idea... Please, te-"
He stopped in middle of his sentence...
... for in the doorway stood Geshtar, his disguise lowered and his armor shining brightly in the holy fire. Dryad, her tree-like appearance as calm and childish as always, floated besides him: her aura became visible shortly when the two Elementals greeted each other. The Mana Sword didn't resonate when they neared the group, nor did it when he touched it, lowering it.
- "Geshtar! You're back!" Luka flung herself in his arms in front of the whole group. Hopper raised his eyebrows, not knowing what had happened.
- "I owe you all an explanation, I think." Geshtar began, but was stopped from speaking by the sound of metal over metal. Behind him stood Seyma, together with Salamando.
- "Geshtar! I have warned you once before not to harm anyone!" Her harsh tone caused Salamando to reprimand her:
- "Seyma, I will have none of that behaviour anymore! Either remain quiet or have me put you through another Elemental Purification to calm your fiery temper!!" He smiled when she turned white as snow, and then continued in a friendly tone: "I have come to tell you of a serious disorder. My Mana Readings indicate a strange fluctuation, preventing the planet's Mana resources to refill completely. I have no idea if you've noticed too... Dryad and Undine, you too must feel drowsy? Hopper, isn't the Mana Sword resonating? Stine, Fanha, you too must yearn for the end of your existence as spirits on earth?" He paused for a moment, letting his words take effect. "Well, all this indicates the rise of a new problem, namely... a new Mana Beast."
- "WHAT? So soon?!" They all were baffled by Salamando's guess. All... except Geshtar.
- "Dryad, describe to me the Mana Beast!" His voice sounded throughout the palace and resounded time after time in their ears.
- "Well, it's big and pinkish, with green wings and burgundy eyes. It hasn't got the ability to speak..." She stopped: Geshtar was already back outside. They all followed him - to be both shocked and surprised by what they saw.
It was Flammie, her beautiful feathers all pink and her eyes deep burgundy. Her roar resounded when she saw the Mana Sword in Hopper's hand. The Elementals were all hypnotised by it's looks, and they floated in mid-air - paralysed by it. Her roars resounded over the world... but she was silent when she noticed Geshtar, tears running down his cheeks.
- "F-flammie... You... you're changing into a m-monster..." He couldn't speak anymore, neither could she: but in his head, her voice resounded as clear as he used to hear it.
- "Geshtar... I'm changing! Save me! SAVE ME!!" Her voice was flawless, to his surprise, and her tones sounded even more human than they used to. He ran towards her, paying no attention at all to her sharp claws. His mantle was torn by them, and over his cheek ran a long wound. He hugged her, screaming to the dark blue sky:
- "I don't believe it... Don't die on me, girl! Don't! I'm here... I'll be right here... Solar!” he yelled as he addressed the mightiest of Elementals, the only one who could possibly help him, "I ask you: is there nothing you can do?!"
In a ray of bright light, the Ninth Elemental descended from the heavens, her face showed a single emotion: fear. She was actually moved.
- "Geshtar, the only thing I can do is lend you a part of my powers. You must understand that you can only save one person... and that you can die while trying..."
- "AAAAGH!!!" Both Flammie and Fanha cried out in pain. Geshtar realised he had a choice to make, and a hard one for that matter: his long-time best friend or his new best friend...
- "I am deeply sorry, Fanha. She's still young, and hasn't lived a full life yet...” he whispered as he put his hands, glowing with Solar's supernatural powers, on Flammie's head.
- "Geshtar!" Flammie's spirit was beautiful: she looked a lot like Solar, but she was more colorful and had a less radiant aura. Nevertheless, she moved towards him automatically, breaking her bonds. "You've freed me of my binding to Mana? Why?!"
- "You're my friend, that's why. I never let a friend down!" He gazed downward. "Fanha was less fortunate - I could only save one person..." A spirit tear ran down his cheek, and Flammie wiped it away. Her slender fingers were soft and warm, amazingly warm.
- "Geshtar, don't cry. You've done the right thing." Geshtar turned around, seeing Fanha's spirit floating in front of them. "You knew, didn't you? My place is now in Heaven, because I did my noble deed. You gave me a greater gift than a new life. You gave me eternal happiness! What more can I give to you than this?" She touched his armor, and her hand slipped right through, until it reached his heart. He touched her heart too, smiling. A warmth spread through them as they became one being for a short while. When they split up again, Fanha left a small part of her spirit in his heart and vice versa.
- "Geshtar, we should go on now. My place among the angels awaits me, and Luka's probably worried sick about you down there! Good-bye for now. I'll keep you a place right next to me... dear Geshtar." With those words, two beautiful wings sprouted from her back and she flew up into infinity.
- "Geshtar, we should get going, too. We do have a life to live, haven't we?" Flammie reached out for his hands as they went back to their bodies... and their friends, who would probably be waiting.
Luka stood there, numbed by a superior power. Geshtar hadn't hesitated to risk his own life to save Flammie... she sighed in relief as both opened their eyes and stood up. Geshtar staggered towards her.
- "Oh, Geshtar!" She kissed him, provoking surprise and disbelief for the others. "Are you allright?"
- "Just... a little tired, that's all... I'll be fine, I just need some rest." Luka accompanied him inside, leaving the rest with their amazement. Hopper was the first one to speak again. He sheathed his sword again as he saw Flammie stretch.
- "It can't be... Luka and... him?!" He shook his head, as if it was all a dream he wanted to wake up from. Flammie sighed.
- "Hopper, have yoooooou learned nothing at all? They love each other! Theeeeeeeey would risk everything to be together... And he isn't eeeeeevil anymore. Doesn't the faaaaact that he risked his life for mine prove that?" She smiled when he silently nodded. "He's not such a baaaaaaad guy. Drinking made him weeeeeeeak... and Luka made him strooooooong again! They already were in love for a loooooooong time... and now they're back togeeeeeeether! Be happy for them, Hopper, dear friiiiiiiiend. They'll finally be one hundred percent perfectly happy!" With those words, she left him, flying north towards the Upper Land Forest. In the meantime the Elementals weren't influenced by the Beast power anymore: they were happily playing in the afternoon sun. Salamando turned the water beneath him into steam, and Undine refilled the empty spots again. Nasha was also enjoying the calmth after all the trouble. She relaxed in the afternoon sun. Hopper neared her, laid himself down next to her and put his hands under his head.
- "You knew it all along, didn't you?"
- "What? That he wasn't evil or that he was in love with Luka?"
- "Mmmm...” Hopper pondered on. Eventually, he said: "Both."
- "Yes, I knew. I sensed it. I felt it. I read his mind when we met at my house. I asked Stine what to do, and you know what he answered me? "Give the man a second chance” he said. And you know, Hopper... I already gave him that before Stine told me to do so. Now you have to do the same..." She sighed as she sat up to look at the boy besides her. He had not only gained courage and strength in their battle against evil and the Mana Beast: his looks had changed from a big kid into those of a young man. His brown hair fell over his bandanna, his greenish eyes sparkled with a life force no one could imagine. His hands, roughened by the use of the weapons, carelessly played with a small pebble he had picked up from the ground. He appeared to be thinking about her words. "Hey, I wouldn't say those things if I didn't know he is a nice man, worthy of Luka's love. Come on, get up and tell him that you will give him a chance to prove his true good nature to you... No, not right now!” she said when he sat up too, ready to walk into the palace.
- "Why not?... Oh...” he blushed as he realised why he shouldn't. "I... guess I'll... wait. I won't ruin their moment together. That would be wrong..."
- "You're right. Come back here and lie down! I'll keep an eye on you, Hopper." She sighed as she saw Dryad chase Undine, while Undine chased Salamando and Salamando pursued Dryad. "Hey you guys, keep it quiet, will you?! Just take a rest together with us. You're so... energetic!" She shook her head.
- "That's because Mana is fully restored, Nasha. They can't help it either..." She turned around: that familiar voice had cleared her mind. Behind her stood Stine, fully colored and clearly visible. "I benefit from that, too... I have my physical life back!" Hopper raised himself again, running to the small sprite child.
- "Y-you're back to... I thought you'd never be... Welcome back!” he finally managed to whisper while he hugged his long-time friend and ally-in-battle. Nasha, too, came to him and tapped him on the head.
- "Nice to have you back, Stine. I knew it all along, you weren't going to keep away from us forever... I'm happy you're back."
- "Hey, I've told you guys before: I WASN'T going to kick the bucket! I was just out of shape..."
- "You can sure say that, Stine!" Hopper's grin showed he understood the word game. He gestured towards a small cloud, in which they both recognised a roughly shaped face. A well-known female face... Fanha's. "Hey, isn't that...?" He halted in mid-sentence, for a glimpse of metal shimmer caught his eye.
Seyma scraped her dagger over the stairs to the Water Palace. The Mana Heroes were always brave and courageous: they seemed to accept the fact that Geshtar was no longer evil a whole lot easier than she did. Maybe... All her thoughts had started with that word since she knew who the stranger was.
- "You're the girl that saved Geshtar from a certain death, aren't you? I want to hear what happened since he left. I would like to know how you liked him so much at first, and then hated his guts. I would love to know..." Hopper's firm hand, strengthened by the long use of the Mana Sword, on her shoulder made her awaken as if from a dream. She turned around and blushed when his deep greenish eyes peered directly into her brown ones.
- "My father took me to Salamando the very day he left. I had talked about Geshtar many, many times: he had been disgusted by it. Ironic, isn't it? That a man can be disgusted by deeds, committed by his own hands. He hated the words he had once spoken himself, he despised people he once had friendships or even relations with... Anyway, when my father returned with me and one of his friends that evening, he..." She paused to wipe away some tears from her eyes. "He... fell. Into one of Salamando's lava pits. His last words were: "Help save Geshtar, my little flame..." Salamando came to the rescue... it was already too late. I volunteered to take his place in serving Salamando. My Elemental Purification was barely completed when I came across Geshtar again. I nearly killed him: if Salamando hadn't stopped me, he'd be lying in a graveyard now." She looked up to the sky, a stray tear running down her cheek.
- "Seyma, girl, one of the most valuable lessons I have learned while wielding the Mana Sword is forgiveness. I came across many people who did evil, unaware of the consequences. I have learned to forgive those people because I know they did not fully realise what they did and how that affected the entire world. And another valuable lesson I've learnt is how to lose... and how to cope with a loss. I've seen Nasha and Stine die a few times. There was no time for mourning, and there was no place for sadness. Especially amidst enemies. But, and believe me when I say it, the worst thing in life is to lose a beloved one. Nasha lost her fiancé, Dyluck; Stine lost all of his friends and relatives, and eventually he died for the good cause. And me... I've lost innocence, my childhood, my carelessness, dozens of friends, hordes of innocent lives, and the list goes on and on and on. But the most valuable lesson of all lessons there are to learn, Seyma, is how to live. There is a way of life, suited for every person. There are millions of paths to walk... but only one path especially made for your feet. Geshtar has now found his path. It's about time you look around to see where you should set down your feet. Take one gentle step at a time and everything will work out." Over their heads whirled a dark shape at tremendous speed: Flammie, doing aero-tricks. Seyma didn't say a thing, she only took the hand Hopper had put on her shoulder. She understood and didn't need any words to say she did. Hopper knew as well as she did: the way of Mana is the way of the truth, the way of the inner strength and wisdom and, most important, it was a way of looking forward instead of backwards into time. It was the way that brought most benefit for humanity, and the ones that had opened their hearts to Mana knew how to listen to the voices that told the way, only the truly just and strong and wise knew how to walk that road. It was like a heavy burden fell off their shoulders. They both felt freed of all worries. There they stood, looking at the sky and saying nothing.
- "People, could you come here? I want to tell my story to all of you, so my name may be cleared of all blame." Geshtar held Luka's hand as the company gathered on the stairs to the Palace. "I, as all of you probably know by now, am Geshtar Tirsh. I was born in a family of middle-class salesmen. My mother was a herbs expert and my father a merchant in exotic healing items. He imported the first Cup of Wishes from the Gold Isle, then still known as the Light Island. My two sisters died before I came here to serve Luka at the age of ten. I served Undine for more than a hundred years, in which I was gifted with a very very long life: I physically aged about five years, mentally my evolution went at equal speed. That means my body didn't grow up as fast as I was supposed to, but my mind did. Anyway, fourteen or fifteen years ago, I left from here because of a little accident. Undine, feeling threatened when I had drunk too much, froze my hands and thus made me decide to leave. I went to Pandora, lived there for a year or so, making money by hiring my sword to the highest bid. A mercenary, if you will. But then, I met Fanha and Thanatos, who were about to hire their services to the Empire. Thanatos offered me a good amount of money if I were to join them. Money... and pleasure... I couldn't refuse, drinking had made me weak and I signed the contract. I faintly noticed a small wound on my hand, bleeding like crazy. The blood and the ink mixed perfectly. My fate was sealed: I had - unwillingly - signed a contract with the underworld and was bound to serve Thanatos. And another thing it granted Thanatos was access to my mind. He put several spells over me and made sure I appeared to be evil whenever I was outside the Imperial castle. But inside, I remained the same man I used to be. I also aged, because my Elemental benefit couldn't penetrate the thick layer of evil spells laid around my soul. Inside, I still yearned for Luka and Undine. That's why I did not kill Luka. I even made sure the Jabberwocky couldn't reach her in the Water Palace... my subconsciousness ordered me to grant her safety.
When I was serving the Empire, Fanha remained a close friend, who was always ready to comfort me. Thanatos had repeatedly forced her to lay spells on me, and she had no choice but to obey. She always apologised a thousandfold afterwards, crying her eyes out. I still don't know if it was Thanatos' doing or not, but I loved her. She explained it later on as "being a single soul, split up, never to be combined again: touching but never unifying". She was a great friend to me and she meant more to me than I dared admit to Thanatos.
When we had to do our "last job” Fanha disappeared. Shortly after the Mana Fortress had surfaced, I found her note. In it, she said she accompanied Thanatos to the Fortress, and begged of me not to follow her... because she'd find a certain death there. I, blinded by hatred and love for Fanha, rushed to the rising Fortress and arrived there just after you Mana Heroes had defeated her Hexas form. I saw my best friend dying in front of me. The only thing I can remember of my blind rage afterwards, was that I thought myself happy to be defeated before Thanatos had the chance to finish me off. When you hit the engine of my hover cycle, it exploded... but I did not die. Instead, the force of the explosion hurled me off the Fortress. Right in time, because the last thing I saw before losing consciousness was the rising of the Fortress.
You Mana Heroes, I have to thank you. Hopper, Nasha, Stine: I hope you can find it in your heart to look beyond what the Empire forced me to be... right into what I want to be. I saved Flammie because I didn't want her to die like Fanha did. I had already seen a close friend die right in front of my eyes: I risked my life to save her. True, I didn't feel any better than before. But it feels kinda good to know that Fanha hasn't really left me... she's right here." He silently touched his chest, where his heart was beating and sending warmth through his entire body, before he continued: "Flammie is a beautiful girl: her soul looks kinda like Solar. It looks that way because the soul she has, resembles greatly the Elemental she has to obey. Once, there were nine Beasts: one for each Elemental... and one for Solar. Flammie is a Mana Beast - or at least, she WAS one of those - and thus her soul resembles Solar, so she would never forget who she was bound to serve." Luka rubbed her hands over his. Before she even knew what came over her, Seyma asked:
- "Geshtar... What's with you and Luka?" She blushed, for it was surely obvious she cared for the tall, handsome man that now held Luka's frail hands with a loving look in his eyes.
- "Heh... When I first came here, Luka was very severe. I didn't like her that much. She was impatient, noticed all those tiny mistakes I made... But as time went by, and I knew more and more about Mana, she became more and more friendly. She had become a very good friend of mine. More and more, we both grew up bodily. When I arrived here, she still looked like a fifteen year old, you know. Now, I'd say, twenty-two or twenty-three. Anyway, we grew up side by side... and one day, when I entered my "bedroom” only separated from Luka's quarters by a curtain, I noticed her standing there. The light made her look kinda eerie. But inside of me, a new feeling rose: Luka was, besides a great friend and a heck of a teacher, also an attractive young woman. For me, a boy that was mentally further than the others of his physical age, love was a well known thing.
Luka was hurt when I decided to leave that one unfaithful day. Had I known... I wouldn't have left. But anyway, when Seyma found me and I got flashbacks of a past here in the Water Palace, I came here. When I first saw Luka again, that love burned again. I was touched by her beauty once again. And after a little while, we confessed our love to one another. I'm glad we did, because it is surely a good love when it lasted and slumbered for all those years."
Luka now stepped forward, addressing the Mana Heroes, Seyma, the Elementals and Flammie, who had just returned from her nap in the Upper Land Forest.
- "Hopper, Nasha, Stine: I suggest you all go to Pandora and organise a party. After all, you're all back together. You really should celebrate, you know... Oh, and invite us, okay?
Dryad, Geshtar will escort you home again. Thank you for coming! I hope you'll be alright. It has been a hard day for everyone and I can understand you want to go home.
Seyma and Salamando, you should be going back, too. The Fire Palace lies unguarded and all its treasures are an easy target for thieves. Seyma, I know you'll make a good Elemental Servant. Here, take these. For your father's grave. He would have liked it when I came, but I really can't..."
- "Maaay I interrupt for a moment? Stine, you have to come with meee to the Sprrrrrrite Village. Come oooon, Geshtar, Dryad, sprite chiiiiiiiiild, hop onto my back! Uuuup we go!" In a second, everyone was on Flammie's back, including Luka, Hopper and Nasha. Seyma and Salamando remained on solid ground. Salamando's burning sound reassured Seyma. So Geshtar loved Luka now... that wasn't so bad. She was happy for him! Nevertheless, she wiped away a quick tear as she turned around and followed her Elemental.
- "Stine! Stine! You're back!" A happy sprite child came running to the group.
- "Leena! Li'l girl! You're... back?! ALL sprites are back?!!" Stine wiped a few quick tears of happiness away from his cheeks. Leena, dressed in a green dress and wearing an ivy tiara, hugged him.
- "So... we're all back now... When will it take place?"
- "Wait a sec, okay? These are Hopper and Nasha, with whom I saved the world. This is Dryad, Elemental of Nature, and those two are Geshtar and Luka..." he paused briefly, "... two Servants of Undine. Group, this is Leena, my most gracious fiancée! We were to get married, but then that flood washed me away... And when I returned, Spring Beak had ravaged the village. I thought I'd never see you again... I'm so happy that's not true!" The group decided to leave Stine in the Upper Land Forest with his people. They flew to the Tree Palace, where Dryad took up her task as caretaker of the world balance once again. Then, Flammie returned all of them to the Water Palace
- "Geshtar, what were you whispering in Flammie's ear?"
The Mana Heroes had left for Pandora, to tell everyone the good news and to arrange it so Geshtar's chart was adapted. The world was peaceful once again.
- "Oh, if you would follow me..." Geshtar smiled mysteriously as he guided her outside, where Flammie was already waiting.
- "Oh, Geshtar, where are you taking me?" Luka asked, a little confused.
- "Patience, my dear, patience..." Soon, they arrived above the Mana Tree, where Flammie put them down on its dense leaves and branches. Geshtar pointed upwards, and Luka slowly followed his gaze...
... and was astounded by the sight. By sitting on the Mana Tree, they shared in its Mana power. The world below them was pulsating of Mana's steady energy flow. Above them flew tiny lights: fireflies. A soft melody flowed from the center of the Tree. Luka felt more happy than she had ever been.
- "Geshtar... it's beautiful..."
- "Luka, my dearest, I have thought of you a million times since we parted. There's no one in this entire world that can make me happier than you. You make my heart beat in the same rhythm as yours, you make my hands long for your soft skin under them... and now... Luka, I love you more than I could ever imagine myself loving anyone. Will you marry me, dear? Will you be my bride?"
- "Oh, Geshtar... I will, I wouldn't want anything less!"
They sat there for a long time, holding each other's hands, sharing the moment of their lives. And when the sun shed its light over the still sleeping world, their spirits were already illuminated. And as they went back home on Flammie's back, they knew their lives would be filled. Because they were happy. Because they were with each other.
Because they had never even been really separated.