Chapter 1: Fear of the Heavens
All throughout Mana the cherry trees were in full bloom. Their flower buds blossomed like a butterfly breaking free of its crysalis prison and spreading its brightly-colored wings for its first flight. The pink petals fell ceaselessly to the ground among the passing villagers of Potos. Children beamed with excitement as they tried to capture one of the drifting petals within their hands while the adults merely admired their sweet aroma. These particular trees had always been known as symbols of love, tracing back to the ancient beliefs that the Mana Goddess herself had once taken the shape of a cherry tree long, long ago.
Randi leaned up against one of their great trunks with a faint wisp of a sigh. And then he smiled.
There was something special about these trees, he noted. Perhaps it was the fact that they could seem so beautiful at one moment and then so sorrowful the next. Just like human beings. But all plants had always seemed that way to him. They contained personalities and emotions all their own, just as unique as the soul of any human being. It was as though he could read their attitudes. If they seemed happy, he could feel their happiness.
<But you're so sad,> Randi thought as he touched its trunk. <Why?>
Withdrawing his hand from the tree, he turned his attention back towards the many passing townsfolk -- youngsters chattering, couples laughing, the exchanging of greetings between each and every one of them. Potos was such a small town that it was natural for all of its inhabitants to be closely aquainted with each other. Randi was also familiar with all of them, and he felt strangely at ease when he spoke to them, despite his shy nature. But he had been raised that way. After all, he was the elder's foster son, and as such, the elder had always found it his responsibility to show him off as though he were some kind of rare jewel.
Randi never felt that he was something special to take pride in. He was a rather plain boy of fifteen years, with deep brown eyes. He wore a bandanna around his forehead to hold up the spikes that made up his brownish-auburn hair, and he usually wore an assortment of overalls and tunics. Yet he always carried an unfaltering expression of honesty, an expression that always gave truth to his words. It was one of the only remarkable things he ever saw in himself.
Sighing, memories flooded through him -- of the day when the elder told him the truth behind every lie that he had been told about his past, that he was abandoned, that he was never wanted. There were times when he wished he could have lived the rest of his life never knowing that cruel reality. He would have rather lived off of lies and been happy than to grow up the way he had, constantly questioning himself on his own value, wondering why it had been so easy to cast him aside.
<Why did they both leave me?>
Shaking the thoughts away, Randi focused on the villagers passing by once again. He gazed at a particular couple in envy, watching them smile at each other with the sweetest of affection as they embraced. They held each other tightly, seeming to shut out everyone else in the world. And every time he saw them it made the same realization snap within him.
<I want to be in love with someone... I want someone to love me.> A cherry blossom floated down to him, landing perfectly on the palm of his out-stretched hand. He grinned weakly as he clenched his fist around it and closed his eyes. <You understand, don't you?>
<You think that you want to be loved by someone...> Randi sat up, startled as he heard a soft voice echo within his head. <But remember that love can choose a sad result of many possible futures.>
<What was...?> Randi looked around himself; all of the villagers were up and about, attending to their own business, not even noticing his presence beneath the cherry tree. Sighing, he slumped back against the tree trunk. <Probably Bob and Nase playing with my head again...> he thought irritably, remembering his so-called "friends'" amusement in teasing him. Not only that, but they were the most adventurous little mischief-makers he had ever met. He, on the other hand, had always been an obedient boy -- never breaking the rules, always doing as he was told. And if it weren't for the sake of trying to fit in with everyone else, he never would have agreed to accompany the two little devils to the falls. Time after time the elder had warned him to stay away from there, and now... <How did I let them talk me into this?>
<It is your destiny to go there, Randi. You cannot change it...> the mysterious voice returned, throbbing painfully in his brain now.
<Who...?> He eased out his fingertips, staring down at the single pink petal that still lay there, then looked back up at the branches of the tree. <Are you the one talking to me?> He closed his eyes once more, touching its trunk with his free hand. <I've never heard a plant with a voice like yours. Who are you?>
<I cannot tell you now,> the voice told him, <but we are fated to meet someday.>
<Yes, there are many threads of fate, all of which connect to one event in time. Different emotions or actions alter those threads and choose the one that the course of your life will follow. And I can see that you will have a difficult future because of your wish to be loved by someone. You must be careful about what you wish for,> it answered.
<You can see my future?> Randi questioned to it silently. <What's going to happen to me because of my wish?>
<I cannot tell you... and there is nothing I can do to alter your future...> the voice whispered. <But I will do whatever I can to make Mana a place where you can be happy. And if you can be happy, Randi, than this world will surely have a bright future.>
"Randi!" Randi's eyes snapped open, startled as two young boys came running toward him. "What's holding you up? Let's go!"
"Oh, Bob, Nase... I'm sorry." Randi stood up from his position at the foot of the cherry tree, dusting the dirt off of his overalls, embarrassed. "My mind must have been wandering..."
"No kidding! We called for you many times!" Nase, the younger of the two boys, snapped indignantly.
"Must've been daydreaming. Did you get yourself some cute girlfriend you didn't tell us about?" Bob added in slyly, smirking as Randi blushed furiously.
"D-- Don't be ridiculous!" Randi stuttered, finally finding his voice. "You don't want to get caught, right? The elder is going to be finished with the town meeting soon if you don't hurry," he said offhandedly, trying to change the subject. "Let's go see if this ghost that everyone is talking about is for real."
"You actually believe in stuff like that?" Nase laughed as he jumped ahead of the two, leading them down the path out of town. "They only say that to scare you, Randi. You really listen to what that old geezer tells you?"
Randi followed attentively behind him, staying silent as though Nase had said nothing at all. He quickened his pace up the path to keep up with the other two boys, knowing that they would have to be quick if they wanted to make sure that no one would see them leave. It was strictly forbidden for any of the villagers to even set foot near the falls. The elder had made it perfectly clear that anyone who dared to disobey that rule would be severely punished. He cringed at that thought. The elder had always been harsh with him after he misbehaved, and that was something he didn't want to ever have to experience again. And here he was, risking going through it all over again just to impress two jerks that he wanted to believe were his friends. But he knew deep down that it never would be true. He had never had any friends...
/"Hi! You wanna play?"/
Randi froze in his tracks as memories surfaced within him, the vision clouding out the surrounding countryside from his view. There he was, young again, facing a group of children, beaming happily at them. And the children would start screaming at him, shattering the little pride he still had left within him.
/"You outsider! You don't belong here! You were abandoned! No one wants you!"/
Randi looked up, the hateful words fading from his mind as he gazed up at Nase and Bob, who had already ascended to a log bridge stretching across the top of the waterfall, waving down to him impatiently. Randi just stared a moment, amazed how someone as chubby and slow as Bob could actually make it there before him. <What's wrong with me today? Something just doesn't feel right...>
Looking up at the mossy slope they had climbed up to make it there, he carefully placed his hands on two of the rocks molded into the wet mud, and pulled himself up. Using the small footholes his friends had imprinted into the mud first, he diligently made his way up, his eyes staying focused on the bridge above. If he looked down, he was sure he would choke and fall. Gulping hard, he made a last striving effort and hauled himself up the log, examining his clothes for any traces of mud that might have smudged on them.
"Wait up, guys!" Randi called to them as he saw them carefully step across the bridge to the other side. He stretched out his foot timidly, feeling the slippery surface of the damp log. He inched toward them, nearly losing his balance with each step. His muscles tensed as he let himself fall on his hands and knees, clutching at the wood beneath him for support.
"Be quiet," Bob commanded him in a hushed voice. "You know better than any of us how much trouble we'll be in if he finds us."
"You seem really distracted today, Randi. I knew it wasn't a good idea to invite you along..." Nase sighed impatiently. "What we need to concentrate on is finding the treasure that my grandmother told me about. She said that there was something shiny near the falls -- something really special!" His voice cracked with sudden excitement, his expression brightening.
"We don't have much time. Come on, Randi!" Nodding, Randi slowly lifted himself up, feeling his left foot slip on the wet surface of the log. He could feel himself falling, his mind going into complete shock as his hands groped helplessly for the log. He gripped tightly into the wood, using every ounce of strength within his arms to try to pull himself back up. He could just barely hear the roar of the waterfalls beneath him over the pounding of his own heart, which seemed excruciatingly loud within his ears. He breathed heavily, his knuckles turning white as he grasped even more tightly. Tears were forming at the corners of his eyes as fear traveled down every nerve of his body. If he fell... he was going to die.
"Guys, help me!" he screamed desperately, feeling the slickness of his sweaty palms against the damp log. He looked up, watching as they frantically came towards him, his fingertips dropping inch by inch every second.
Randi gasped as a female voice shouted fearfully within his head, throbbing painfully within his brain. Startled, his fingertips finally gave way and lost their hold on the bridge. Wind rushed past him as he felt himself falling, falling... And visions flashed through his mind. The clashing of swords, blood oozing achingly from wounds that would heal into scars upon the flesh, and then of another figure falling from these very falls as he was now.
<I'm dying...> Randi thought fearfully, his heart feeling as though it were going to burst. <I'm going to die...>
Luka gasped outright in fear, clutching at her neck as though someone were trying to choke her. She fell limply to the floor, pain overtaking her. She looked over the surface of the water, watching the images that were forming within it. Colors flooded her mind as she saw him falling ceaselessly down toward the bottom of the falls. She closed her eyes and bit her lip against the tears welling up inside of her, but his screaming kept pounding fiercely in her ears.
<Oh great Goddess, it's just like when Serin...>
"Stop it, please!" Luka begged. "Undine, please..."
<This time...> Luka heard her guardian whisper to her through telepathy. <This time I can save him...>
And suddenly, everything went still. The sage fought for breath as she wiped tears from her eyes. She bent back over the pool of water, watching as the young boy lifted himself up. He gazed around himself, sitting there numbly for a moment before he stood up, his clothes and hair now soaking wet.
<He's alive!> Luka smiled weakly. <This must be the fated day. The one that the Mana Tree spoke of...>
<Luka.> The sage was thrown out of her reverie as she heard her guardian speak to her once more. Relunctantly, she let her eyes wander away from the confused boy and lifted herself up from the ground, turning her attention back to her mistess.
She listened to the water drizzling lightly, echoing off of the grand stone walls of the Water Palace. It poured over the edge of the platform that she stood upon, forming in a large pool below. There were stones shaped into the marble floors, glistening as the mass of clear water came up over them. The stones, if stepped on, would trigger different staircases to appear or disappear, finally leading to the highest level where the Mana Seed was kept. She watched two blue flames blazing on either side of the Mana Seed, which was already illuminated in the light of its own power. A small golden staircase led to the platform where it slept through eternity. A gorgeous stained glass window stood behind it in the stone wall. It pictured the guardian of the palace, Undine, the elemental of water's creations, in the center. Surrounding her were other various images of happenings throughout Mana's history.
The woman slowly lowered herself to the damp floor, bowing to the seed with her highest respect. She brushed her long blue hair back from her shoulders behind her golden head ornament that she wore around her forehead, decorated in many different colors of beads. She settled her silk blue and purple skirt beneath her comfortably as she closed her dark, yet beautiful eyes, and clasped her hands under her chin, praying to the greater powers around her.
<Thank you, Mistress Undine. For saving him for us...> her thoughts extended gratefully to the water elemental.
She looked up, seeing the soft face of her guardian smiling at her within the pouring waters. Undine sat in her cave dwelling just outside the Water Palace, connecting herself to the waters of her palace. Undine gave her follower a satisfied look as she linked her mind with the sage and spoke.
<Serin is calling him. He is drawing the sword,> Undine told her calmly, her expression never faltering from its smile.
<That can't be! He's too young! He's not ready yet!> Luka insisted. <It's unfair to cast the responsibility of becoming one worthy of the Holy Sword on him at his age! He couldn't possibly...>
<You know as well as I do that this is Serin's will. Everything is going exactly according to fate. The Mana Tree is never wrong in her predictions. Everything will settle itself out in time,> the guardian assured her.
<I understand... Mana is growing weak. Serin's spirit must have used the last of the sword's power to summon Randi. It is his duty to restore balance to the world's Mana...> Luka sighed. <He's just a boy...>
<There's also something strange happening to the villagers of Pandora. And I think that the Empire may somehow be involved...> Concern swept over Undine, her expression blackening. <Luka, I am going to go to the Moon Palace to ask Luna if she knows something. I have felt disturbances in her elemental energies lately, and I haven't heard from her no matter how many times I try to contact her telepathically. I believe something may have happened to her...>
<Do you think she was somehow imprisoned by the Empire?>
<I do not know...> The elemental looked at her thoughtfully. <Watch over the palace for me. If I send the ebb of my spirit to Kakkara, I won't have enough power to keep the seal on the palace up. Be careful, and I will return as quickly as I can.>
<Thank you, Mistress.> Luka watched silently as her guardian's hair flowed into the water, her entire body eventually fading within it as she disappeared.
Undine's pale body formed into the darkness, levitating among the glittering stars that created the moon guardian's palace. She could see Luna's servants floating about as restlessly as usual, their little black eyes shifting to Undine as she swiftly glided past them. She looked down upon the other elemental with sympathetic eyes. Luna was kneeling over a glass sphere, her hands positioned on top of it in such a way that she could rest her head on them. Her eyes were closed, little streaks of tears dripping down from her thick lashes. Her hair, which usually shone even more brilliantly than the stars of her domain, had dimmed into a faint glow. The color of the shell around her had also faded -- the shell that constantly kept the moon goddess confined. Within it, she looked like a shimmering pendant fit to be worn around one's neck.
<Luna, can you hear me? Why haven't you contacted me for so long?> Undine asked her through their telepathic link. She floated down beside her friend and watched as her tear-stained lashes slowly rose to reveal her pair of melancholy eyes.
<It's been fifteen years since Serin's death...> Luna's soft voice echoed within her mind. <For fifteen years I have slept. It's been fifteen years since I've spoken to anyone... I'm so glad to see you, Undine...>
The water elemental gave her a questioning look. <Fifteen years... Has it really been that long since... Serin died?>
<I remember... that you didn't want to tell the rest of the elementals about his death, because you feared that they would blame you for not protecting him. I could sense your guilt -- that you were too late to save him... Jinn also failed in summoning up the winds to push him back up. We all failed...> Luna raised her head up slowly, gazing at her friend eerily. <Undine, do you remember... that man... the one that sold his soul to the underworld to become the guardian of death? Because of him, hundreds of people died. Hundreds of people's souls became his to feast upon. And you felt that if all of the elementals combined their powers together we could seal him away for eternity within this very desert...>
<But you were wrong... None of us were powerful enough. We couldn't save Serin. We couldn't keep Vandole from conquering each of the lands and killing those who resisted. We couldn't keep the last of the demon shapeshifter race out of his clutches. We couldn't keep Thanatos confined. And we can't protect Mana either...> Luna told her, gritting her teeth against the new tears that were forming at the corners of her eyes. <We can't do anything!>
<Luna! It can't be...!> Undine's eyes widened in disbelief, her mouth agape in terror as the moon goddess' voice screamed savagely within her mind.
<I saw it! Vandole has a demon -- a shapechanger! Thanatos escaped us! He escaped! The Empire found his statue buried here in the very place where he was sealed fifteen years ago! The demon boy dreamed of his revival! It's over!> She hid her face in her hands, sobbing uncontrollably over the crystal. <What we did has only weakened his body! He'll possess a new one and collect more souls! And the more souls he takes under his control, the more powerful he becomes! Don't you understand? We can't save Mana! The Mana Knight can't save Mana! The strings of fate are being altered! We can't-->
<Luna, control yourself,> Undine cut her off sternly. <Your emotions will disturb the world's balance if you don't stop.>
<This world will soon cease to be...> Undine gasped as she felt Luna's magical forces smash into her. <Leave me alone! You don't know anything!> Anger rose within the water goddess as Luna continued to try to shove her away, screaming as loudly as she could all the while. She concentrated on the energies of her own element to fight back against Luna's spell before she heard it. <You let Serin die!>
Undine slowly opened her eyes, finding herself back within her own dwelling, the cave just outside of the Water Palace. Waterfalls surrounded her, the cold ice walls dark and cavernous around her. So Luna had managed to push her spirit back out of the Moon Palace after all... If she hadn't let herself become vulernable over what Luna had said, she could have...
<Luna... What happened to you? Is what you said really true?> Undine closed her eyes and focused forth her power, her heart becoming one with the waters. <Tell me...> She silently spoke to it. <Have you seen the demon boy? Please show me what you have seen.> And as the last word of her request flowed through her mind, an image spread before her, clouding out everything else surrounding her.
Undine watched as rain poured heavily down upon the earth, seeing through the water's eyes. She was at a grand stone palace overlooking a large city. It was North Town, the imperial capital. She gazed dazedly over the palace garden, observing a group of people, all of them draped in black cloaks, standing around two identical coffins. Their mourning was lost within the howling of the wind, their tears lost within the rain as cold mist encircled them. And there was the young boy Luna spoke of, his purple hair matted down into his eyes from the rain. He was hunched over another small figure, holding the other child securely in his arms. The green-haired boy curled up close to him, sobbing uncontrollably into his shoulder. "Please don't be sad, Geshtar. I'll be with you..." she heard the demon boy whisper soothingly into his ear. "We'll both become soldiers here, and we'll be together. So please don't cry Geshtar. Geshtar..."
And abruptly the image shifted to another, jerking the water elemental out of all conscious thought as she saw through the demon boy's own tears. Everything was so dark as he cried, and then...
Undine shrieked as the vision shattered around her, her heart coming out of synch with the waters. She felt the waterfalls of her domain gently pour down upon her, relaxing her as she recalled what she had seen of the shapechanger. And then she cried.
Pamela sat atop the high stone gate of Pandora palace, the wind whispering through her long, blue hair. She sighed, waiting patiently for any sign of her best friend. Purim was always running off when people needed her the most. It was almost the appointed time for her meeting with the noblemen from Gold Isle. Of course Purim had every reason to run away from that. How could her father have done such a thing to her?
It came as a surprise, even to Pamela, that Sir Elman had arranged his daughter's marriage to a rich nobleman she had never met before. Pamela had never seen her best friend so distraught over the past couple of days when her father told her the news. Even more so, she was furious. Pamela should have expected her to run off and do something rash just to get on her father's nerves when he angered her as she usually did.
But Elman always got his way. Always. The king always listened to him, always submitted to his ideas. Like his request to send Dyluck away to challenge the witch Elinese, in the Haunted Forest... Dyluck's life was in danger all because Elman was trying to get him out of the way for the marriage meeting. It wasn't fair!
<But if Purim gets married to that noble, then Dyluck will...> Pamela shook her head, shame washing over her. <What am I thinking?>
"Eh?" Looking up, Pamela saw her friend rushing frantically towards the palace, her blonde hair flowing behind her in the breeze. As she drew nearer to the gate, Pamela could hear her panting exhaustedly. "Purim..." Pamela hopped down from her place on the gate, standing before her best friend with sympathetic eyes. "You were almost late..."
"I know," Purim answered between deep breaths. "Wait for me at our usual meeting place, okay? I'll be there as soon as I can." Without another word, she dashed into the castle, leaving the other girl behind.
Sighing, Pamela walked through the palace entry behind her, observing the many people that passed her. Most of them already appeared to have been claimed by silence, as her own grandmother had. She could hear the other villagers shouting at them, doing anything they possibly could to break them out of their stance.
<It's no use...> Pamela thought. <I know. I /know/.>
Passing by them, she ascended the staircase spiraling upward, making her way to the throne room. The castle seemed so dreary ever since the recent occurences. It was always dark, the flickering torches just barely giving off enough light to see, and it was mysteriously quiet throughout every chamber. The palace was usually so eventful, so full of life, but now...
Pamela emerged up to the next floor of the palace, observing the three doors before her. The middle one was a grand door made of the purest gold. The room to the right of the throne room she knew was being used for the marriage meeting. The one on the left was a room that she and Purim had used as a meeting place for several years ever since they were children.
Pamela stepped into the cozy little room, shutting the door quietly behind her. This place felt like a second home to her. On cold days, a fire would be blazing in the grate at the center of the room, though now that it was spring, it was left unused. An assortment of books were propped up on the wooden shelves on the wall, most of which Pamela had already read. Reading had always been one of her favorite pastimes. When she was little, she would sit out in the living room of her home with her two grandparents, all of them curled up with their own book during the evenings.
She sat down comfortably on the floor, trying to think of something to take her mind off of things until Purim got there. Lately, she tried to always keep herself busy doing something or the other. The longer she thought about the disease spreading through town, or Dyluck's departure to the Haunted Forest, the more she would begin recalling all of... those times.
When she was younger she could remember watching the soldiers train from the castle roof with the rest of the palace girls. They would swoon and admire them, calling down to them encouragingly as they practiced. Particularly, they had their eyes on Dyluck, the swordsman prodigy that had been put into knight training at only the age of seven. He was handsome, with deep, sea blue eyes and golden blonde hair that messily framed his face. There wasn't a doubt that he was the best looking of any of the other boys in Pandora, or that he was by far the most popular.
Pamela remembered how jealous the rest of the village boys felt towards Dyluck. From time to time, she would hear them chatting with each other in the palace.
/"He came from Kippo village, right? He moves here and all of a sudden everyone loves him! It's not fair! He's just an outsider!"/ Their bitterness only grew as Purim, the most beautiful noblewoman of Pandora, also fell head over heels for the handsome knight recruit. What was worse was that she was the only girl of all the admirers with the courage to even speak to him. And Dyluck's growing fondness for her built up the same amount of agitation among the girls.
But Purim had always been that way. Purim was never afraid of anything. And that aspect of her personality always made Pamela feel so far away from her. She had always been shy and reserved, shutting out all of her feelings and opinions from everyone else. Purim was exactly opposite. She always knew what to say, always spoke her mind about any situation that came up. And her love for Dyluck was no exception...
<Purim, you must really care for Dyluck...> Pamela pulled up her legs, resting her chin comfortably on her knees. <But if she finds out that Elman had him sent to the Haunted Forest, she'll go after him for sure...> Pamela closed her eyes. <I can't tell her... I can't. Purim, I really am selfish,> she thought. <Because... I love Dyluck too...>
Pamela bit back tears, her heart feeling as though it were going to burst. Why did she have to fall for her best friend's lover? As it was, she never could have gained his love. She was just a plain commoner while Purim was the loveliest noble of Pandora, with bachelors from all over the world seeking her hand in marriage. But it hurt... so much.
"I can make my own decisions about /my/ life!"
Pamela opened her eyes, startled as she heard Purim's furious voice screaming at the other end of the hall. And then came some kind of crashing noise before the slamming of a door, and then footsteps approaching the small room she sat in. Purim flung open the door, tears forming within her flaming eyes. She closed the door quietly, seating herself beside her best friend, saying nothing for a long moment. Then, "I hate him... I /hate/ him."
"Purim, I'm sorry." Pamela placed a comforting hand on the other girl's shoulder. She had very rarely seen Purim cry, and anything that could bring the noblewoman to tears she knew must be serious. <You're strong, Purim... So much stronger than me...>
"Why did he leave me, Pamela? He said that he loved me more than anyone else!" Purim sobbed. "I couldn't find him anywhere... I kept searching, but..." She clenched her teeth, hissing angrily. "It's my fault! Father had him sent away because of me! They sent him to the Haunted Forest to challenge Elinese -- I know it! Dyluck's life is in danger because of me!"
"That's not your fault..." Pamela began, her voice trailing off. <So she knows...>
"I hate Father! I wish that I wasn't born of noble blood. If only I could be free like you..." Purim's voice faded into a whisper as she wiped the tears away from her eyes and faced her friend. "I've got to find him. I have to help him."
"Purim, you can't..." Pamela stuttered nervously. "You wouldn't stand a chance on your own out there. Getting yourself killed won't help Dyluck."
"So you want me to just wait here?!" Purim stood up, her eyes gleaming. "I /know/ how to fight. Dyluck taught me martial arts and gave me a claw weapon to use for battle. I'm going." She turned, her back facing her friend as she reached for the doorknob.
"Pamela, if Father asks about me... tell him I'm sorry." With that, she dashed out of the room, leaving Pamela sitting alone.
"You can't both leave me!" Pamela shouted after her, warm tears running down her cheeks. "Both you /and/ Dyluck can't leave me! Purim, don't go!"
/I met a strange girl today on my way back from the Water Palace. I was caught by a mob of goblins. It would have been nice if Sage Luka, as wise as she is, could have informed me that goblins roam the area. They tied me up in the center of a large pot, which was hotter than hell to make it worse. The girl helped me escape from them, and even she called me an idiot for getting caught. It's odd, but I feel like we've met somewhere before. When I got a look at her in full detail, she looked like an angel. She was the most beautiful person I've ever met, with long blonde hair and pink clothes. And she took off without even telling me her name. I wonder if we'll ever meet again.../
"Bro, whatcha' doin'?" Randi looked up at the curious sprite child that was leaning over him, watching him write with intent eyes.
"It's a journal. I use it to record what happens to me," Randi told him with a smile. "I still have a long way to go to catch up with everything that's happened. Today has been so exhausting..." He slumped against the cave wall lazily, watching the tiny little dwarves wander about town to attend to whatever business needed to be done.
"Watts said that your axe is finished!" Popoei told him excitedly, his expression beaming. "After we get it, we can go steal that witch's magic, right?"
"Of course," Randi reassured his new companion. "I made a promise. I'll help you get your memory back no matter what."
Purim wandered endlessly through the thickets of the desolate forest. The mist was thick, clouding her vision as she tried to make out which direction she should go. Her body stiffened as she heard the faint rustling of leaves nearby. She brought up her arm in a defensive position, the claw strapped around her wrist poised for action. She hadn't encountered very many monsters so far, but the few she had were far stronger than the ones that had challenged her along the path of Gaia's Navel.
Her muscles tensed, blood rushing to her brain as she watched two werewolves emerge from the bush. Their fur was a pure silvery gray except for a patch of hair atop their head, which was tinted blonde. They stood up tall on two legs in the same fashion as a human, their paws covered by a metal claw much like her own. They grinned at her. /Beastmen!/
"Oh shit..." Purim hissed under her breath, biting her lip nervously. Instinctively, she turned and ran as quickly as she could into the midst of the fog. <I can't outrun a Beastman. Not in a lifetime...> Throwing herself down to the ground, she ducked behind another bush, her heart pounding violently against her chest. She could still sense them coming -- could hear them trying to sniff her out from her hiding place. And if they did find her...? She wouldn't stand a chance against Beastmen, not on her own anyway. And if she couldn't fight them off, than what would they do to her? <If they're like the rumors say, they'll probably try to rape me or something...> Purim cursed silently to herself.
She froze, her skin paling as the two wolves leaped in front of her, bearing their fangs hungrily. Screaming, Purim scrambled to her feet, using her claw to block the first attack they launched at her. The force of the punch still sent her flying backwards from the pressure, however, causing her to slam painfully down on the ground. <They're too damn strong!>
She looked up, wiping sweat out of her eyes as she saw a blade plunge through one of the Beastmen, causing it to growl in pain. It fell limply to the ground, blood leaking from its corpse as the blade was withdrawn from its body. The other wolf yelped as the mist cleared to reveal a young boy with another smaller figure at his side, holding the bloodied sword up, ready to fight off the next one. Retreating cowardly, the remaining Beastmen scurried away into the depths of the forest.
"You're..." Purim looked up at the familiar boy, the realization finally snapping within her. "You were the one at the goblin camp." She slowly stood up, thoroughly embarrassed. "It looks like you saved me this time around."
"Wow! She's cute! You know her, Bro?" Popoei piped up excitedly, gazing up at the taller girl.
"Kind of..." Randi paused a moment, then asked, "What are you doing here?"
"I'm... looking for someone," she replied, the thought of Dyluck paining her with more worry than she could bear.
"The same one that you mistaked for me?"
She nodded. "Yes. His name is Dyluck."
"Just look at that, my pretty..." The guardian of death smirked in an amused voice, watching the three warriors through his crystal ball. He looked down upon Dyluck with glowing eyes. The boy was draped over his knee, his head resting there, eyes closed, as Thanatos ran cold hands through his messy, blonde hair. "Did you hear her? She's going through all this for you. I'll hate to see her disappointment when she reaches Elinese's castle, only to discover that you are no longer there." The man smiled maliciously behind the mask. "You are mine now. For once that foolish witch was actually of use to me..."
He smoothed down the boy's hair once more, admiring his beauty. "Your spirit is mine, and in time your body will also belong to me. Yes, when the time for the ceremony is right..." He grinned. "Vandole wants me to return to the Empire, my pet. But I'd much rather watch the anguish in your dear Purim's eyes when she sees you here. They'll come. I know they will. And when I see her heart shatter before me, then we shall return to the Empire as he wishes."
Using his magic, he shifted the image of the crystal ball to Pamela. She sat at the edge of one of Pandora's lakes, her knees drawn up underneath her, deep in thought. She watched her reflection in the water, her expression a pure essence of loneliness.
"Indeed..." Thanatos laughed quietly, lifting Dyluck's chin up to face him. The boy opened his eyes, staring back at Thanatos with emotionless eyes. "She wants to see you, Dyluck," the death guardian informed him, nodding to the image of Pamela within the crystal. "Why don't you oblige to her request?"
Pamela watched the still waters of the Pandora lake, fighting against the tears welling up within her. <They both left me. They don't care about me at all.> She withdrew an envelope from her pants pocket, staring at it as though it were some kind of demon. <Purim, I thought that if I just didn't give this to you... if you didn't know... that you wouldn't leave.>
Tears dripped from her eyes onto the paper, her heart aching more than ever.
"You can't leave like this!" Pamela insisted as Dyluck strapped on the last of his silver armor. "They have no idea how powerful the witch Elinese is! What if you--" She cut herself off, the thought poisoning her mind. If Dyluck ever...
"I'll be fine. If we don't go now, more people will be in danger." He managed a weak smile as he extended a white envelope to Pamela. She timidly accepted it, examining the Pandoran crest that sealed the back of it. "Could you... give that to Purim for me?" he asked, turning back away from her to take down his sword that was mounted onto the wall of the Pandoran knight's quarters.
"Wouldn't it be better if you gave it to her?"
"No... If I did, she would know where I'd be leaving to and she'd never let me leave. But if she sees that after I leave--"
"She'll follow you for sure, and you know it!" Pamela interrupted. "She's always been stubborn!"
"I know..." Dyluck brushed his bangs out of his eyes, sheathing the sword at his side. "But I think that letter may just change her mind. Just give it to her. Please..."
"I'm sorry, Dyluck..." Pamela bit her lip, sobbing over the letter that she dreaded more and more everytime she read it. And those three words that ended the letter that she had grown to detest. "I love you."
<I'm so selfish... He trusted me, but I couldn't...> She bit down on her bottom lip more forcefully, causing it to bleed. And then she threw the letter into the lake. <Why does the one I love have to be unattainable? Why did he have to choose her over me?> She looked up at the village streets through her tears, the colors swirling together like an abstract painting. <Even Pandora has dwindled down to nothing. My grandmother hasn't spoken a word for weeks and there isn't even anything I can do for her. And there isn't anything that I can do for Dyluck either. I can't do anything...>
Pamela gasped as she heard her name being called in that familiar voice, tilting her head back to see Dyluck approaching her. Another sob caught in her throat as she lifted herself up on shaking legs, trying her best to walk towards him. Relief washed over her as she felt his arms come around her quivering body and held her there comfortingly, stroking her blue curls for a long moment as she continued to sob into his shoulder.
"Dyluck, you're safe..." she finally managed to say, the words only the faintest whisper. "I was so worried about you... Are you alright?"
She felt his hand clasp around her chin, lifting up her face to look up at him. His touch felt so cold against her skin, almost like frozen ice. His eyes were emotionless, blank as he stared at her for a long moment, saying nothing. His arms tightened around her as she tried to pull away, drawing her securely to him. Her heart throbbed against his chest, her breath catching in her throat. "Where's Purim?" she finally asked.
"She's not here..." Pamela could sense the danger in his voice, could sense that whoever she was speaking to was not Dyluck. And as she struggled within his grasp, he leaned down toward her, catching her lips in a deep kiss. Pamela let out a small muffled yelp of surprise beneath the kiss as everything around her began to fade, consciousness slipping from her.
"Dy... luck..." She fell over limply in his arms, her body going pale as she whimpered his name.
<That girl will be extremely beneficial to me. There is nothing Purim can do when I have the two people that she cares for the most within my grasp...> Thanatos grinned to himself, observing the blue-haired girl before him. <I will allow you to be with your beloved Dyluck, my dear. I will give you your wish.> He looked over at Dyluck bowing to him beside the sleeping girl, licking his lips as he stood up from his thrown and leaned down to eye level with the boy and kissed him.
<I will make you mine...> The glowing red eyes behind the mask that concealed his face glimmered. <Did you predict /this/ thread of fate, Mana Tree? Didn't you know that I have the power to control fate as I wish? You truly are a foolish creature.> His eyes narrowed as he swiftly moved across the floor to his crystal ball, Dyluck following attentively behind him. He levitated his hand over the crystal for a brief moment, an image beginning to flicker within it at his command. He sat down before it, holding Dyluck close as the boy curled up in his lap.
<Such an obedient pet... How I do like you.> He stroked the golden head gently before watching the vision he had created within the crystal, gazing three years into the past.
A large stone palace, soldiers armored in black lining the walls, homes stretching out across the distance -- North Town. Three teenagers beamed excitedly as they dashed through the castle garden, laughing fondly as they chatted with each other. A girl with red hair wrapped her arms around the shoulders of a boy with long purple hair, a green-haired boy standing beside them. Thanatos leaned back in his chair, sneering as the thoughts of the three figures came to him, echoing in his head through telepathy when he touched the glass sphere.
<So that's how it is...> His eyes narrowed slyly down upon his new slave. <Those three are a lot like you, pet. You, and Pamela, and Purim. Their love for each other will drive their friendship apart and destroy them. And we will be there to watch the show, my pretty. Won't that be fun?> The death guardian smiled sadistically. <You chose foolish lieutenants, Vandole. Because I will change their fate, you see...>
"Pamela!" The girl's clear eyes suddenly flashed open as her name was called, her eyes now a complete match with Dyluck's. She sat up on the floor, looking over at her new master holding Dyluck at the other side of the room. "Purim is coming to see you. Don't keep her waiting."
As the last words of his request reached her, she screamed, feeling her mind slipping from her, everything around her smearing together into nothing.
"You may act a bit crazy at first, my dear," Thatatos smirked as he watched her slam herself against the ground over and over again, screaming deafeningly. "It's just the effects of first possession. It happens to all of us." The mask gleamed threateningly. "Now go to her. Go see your best friend."