by Luna Manar
Donovan paced restlessly in his underground chambers. Where was that dragon and his wolves? They should have torn the Mana Knight to pieces by now. What was taking them so long?
His thoughts were interrupted by a quiet knocking at the doors. He whirled irritably to face them.
"Come in!" he said loudly, almost shouted.
The door slowly opened a crack, and a battered and dirty werewolf peeked his head through.
Not good, thought Donovan.
"Well?" he said, losing patience, "What happened? Report." He stepped briskly up to the panting werewolf, his long black hair fluttering behind him.
The werewolf opened the door wider, stepped in.
"We have a larger problem on our hands than we thought, Master Donovan," he wheezed, trying to catch his breath. "The Mana Knight has already figured out who he is, and is aided by a white dragon, who took out our leader. We would have destroyed the boy, but for the ghosts… specters..." His voice trailed off and he shivered at the memory of the vines reaching out to ensnare him, waves of water to envelop him.
But Donovan was in no mood for memories.
"Hurry up, wolf! What happened?"
The werewolf came out of his daydreaming.
"The ghosts… they were... Mana Knights from the past. They attacked us, protected the boy. We were unable to fight against them. We tried to flee, but… I was the only one to escape." The animal again shuddered.
Donovan had heard enough, though. If the Mana Knight was under the protective influence of his ancestors, he could be very difficult to destroy.
Very difficult indeed. Donovan guessed, however, that the falls were most likely their limit of contact with this world.
Donovan's amber eyes narrowed, he smiled wickedly. It would take more time, more effort, but there would be no stopping him.
The Mana Knight would die.
"What?" Warren gaped, not believing what he had just heard. "Thanatos's spellbook? I didn't know he had one."
"I didn't know the Mana Sword was still intact until now. Life's just full of surprises, isn't it? Especially nasty ones like Donovan. He's the one who found the book. He's a.… historian, if you will. He's been obsessed with the workings of evil magic for Mana knows how long. A few weeks ago, I caught wind from some Tasnican soldiers of his discovery. They're already taking measures to protect the buried pieces of the Mana Fortress. They don't think he'll try anything, because they don't know that Mana's back, yet. I don't think they're prepared for a guy like this. I would tell them myself, but they would never believe me for… well, reasons I'd rather not say. Anyhow, since then, I've been looking for Donovan's stronghold, when I found you and that.… thing," he finished, motioning to where the blue spike had last been (or, more accurately, not been).
Warren considered for a moment. If this Donovan learned even a few of Thanatos's ways or tricks, he could be a very dangerous man. Warren wasn't quite sure that Dirk had told him everything he knew, but he had told enough to convince him that there was a problem.
"Alright," he said at last, "I'll help you, but first we have to make a stop somewhere else. There's someone I need to see."
Dirk raised an eyebrow.
"Where are we going?"
"Some island up north. Ask Flammie, he knows more about it than I do."
The green-haired youth turned expectantly to the white dragon.
Flammie sighed. Why did he always have to explain everything?
"It's an island called Tana. Most people know it as the Pure Land, though. It's not a long ways away – that is, not for me, and not for Mister Jewelry Box over there." He jabbed a claw at the silver griffin.
"Alright, then. Let's go. The sooner, the better." He motioned to the silver griffin. "Arno! C'mon, we're leaving!"
The silver griffin walked toward Dirk, whacking Flammie with his tail as he passed. He smiled inwardly at the white dragon's quiet snarl.
Arno stopped at his master, lowered his wing so that Dirk could climb on. Flammie did the same.
The two flying beasts then turned to the sky and took to wing, soaring in a northwesternly direction.
The white dragon and Arno soared high over the ocean. The wind whipped their mane (feathers) about their faces. Arno had developed an annoying habit of surging ahead of Flammie, who in turn sped up and back into the lead.
"What's the matter, Flim-flam?" jibed Dirk atop Arno, "A little too fast for your tastes?"
To which Flammie would snap,
"No. I simply need to lead because I'm the only one here who knows how to get to and into the island."
"Tana is enshrouded by a thick mist that is visually impenetrable to all but dragons, such as me. Not even the keen eyes of an eagle can cut through it. Any one else who enters it is doomed to be lost for hours. Only I can lead you through." He cast a triumphant look at the silver griffin.
Strike one, he thought.
Then, there it was. In front of them, an island covered by an enormous mist appeared over the horizon.
Warren's pulse quickened as he watched it come nearer. For some reason he could not explain, he felt drawn to this place, suddenly yearned to be there, to find… something… even though he had never before been there, he felt as if he'd left something behind there long ago. A part of himself.
Flammie slowed as they approached the island. He came to a position directly above the cloud, then turned vertical, and dove straight into its center.
Warren, unprepared for the sudden move, took to heart Flammie's suggestion:
Warren clung to the white dragon's fur as the endless grey fog whirled past him. He wasn't so sure they were going down anymore, though he had noticed no change in direction. He couldn't see anything in the grey mist, and the speed they were going at made him queasy.
Warren's mind was bordering on vertigo when they came to the other side of the cloud.
The Mana Knight caught his breath in wonder. All around him was a paradise of green. Every plant imaginable grew under the ceiling of mist, creating a thick canopy of oaks, birches, maples, willows, pines, redwoods, firs, and any other tree you could think of. In the distance, Warren could see a tall, crystal clear waterfall billowing over a huge cliff face.
Flammie surged out of the way as the silver griffin, with a screech, broke through the mist above them. His rider, who was looking a bit dizzy, cursed as they plummeted at full speed toward the emerald canopy below. Arno was barely able to stop himself before he hit the trees.
Strike two, thought the white dragon.
As Arno brought himself back up to Flammie's level, the Mana Knight grinned and turned to Dirk, who was still holding the silver griffin's feathers in a death-grip.
"Are we having fun yet?"
Dirk only sneered.
The four continued toward the waterfall in what might have been a southwestern direction. It was no longer possible to tell for sure. They flew slowly now, Arno only slightly behind Flammie, not wanting to make another embarrassing mistake. They reached the falls, which must have been hundreds of feet tall, and set down on the riverbank at the base of it. There, the white dragon let his wing down for his rider. Arno did the same.
Flammie turned to the two youths, a serious look on his face.
"You two wait here. I'll go find the person we must meet." He turned and began walking toward the falls. Warren was about to run after him to protest.
"But why–" he started, but never finished. Flammie's sudden snarl caught him off-guard.
"Stay… put," he said, a dangerous edge in his voice. Warren stepped back. He had never seen the white dragon this serious.
"Fine," he said, and stepped back. The white dragon continued toward the falls, wadded in the water at their base, then entered them, disappearing into what must've been a hidden cave behind them.
The griffin, Mana Knight, and Dirk were left alone.
Flammie stepped out of the waterfall and quietly entered the cave beyond it. He wasn't particularly wet at first, his waterproof coat had made sure of that, but it was uncomfortably moist in the cave, and water vapor condensed on his feathers, soaking him anyway. He lumbered slowly down the cave corridor, welcoming the dryness of the deeper chambers. Though no sunlight found its way into the cave, it was lit with a strange, inner light that never dimmed, never got any brighter.
He came to a point where the cave turned. Here he stopped, looked around the corner. The cave ended in a large chamber here, a chamber that was furnished the way any house would be. Someone lived here. The someone that Warren was to see.
Flammie poked his head into the chamber, which was only a bit too small for him to fit himself into. He called out to the cave's only inhabitant.
There was a pause, then a soft but firm voice answered.
"Flammie? Is that you?"
A woman who, despite the fact that she must have been over sixty, was quite energetic-looking and whose teal eyes shone with a life that did not look any older than twenty, appeared around a corner, which must have led to another chamber beyond view. Her shining silver hair, which had at one point been the same shining gold, was worn loose about her shoulders. She was tall, almost six feet, and had a commanding aura about her. Her visage brightened further at the sight of her old friend, who hadn't changed much in fifty years. Dragons rarely do.
But Flammie, as much as he wanted to, couldn't take the time to engage in pleasantries.
"Malina, it is good to see you. It has been a long time. Seven years, I believe?" he started. Malina nodded, and the white dragon continued.
"I wish it were under other circumstances, but I… someone needs your help. You see… um, well..."
How could he explain it to her? She couldn't know about the return of Mana.
But Malina only nodded again.
"It's alright Flammie. I know. He's here, isn't he?"
Flammie's eyes widened.
"You know?" he breathed, "How?"
"I'm not sure," she said softly, "I just know I do. I have known for a long time, now. About fifteen years. I just… had a feeling." She paused for a moment, then asked, "What's his name?"
"Warren, and Malina, you wouldn't believe the resemblance..." his voice trailed off, a slight catch of sorrow in it.
"Warren. That means 'protector's son', doesn't it?"
"Where is he?"
The white dragon motioned behind him.
"Wait here. I have to get something."
Warren sat on a rock near the falls, absentmindedly turning the Mana Sword around and around in his hands. Dirk sat a few feet away, poking at the ground with a stick. Arno was sleeping. They were all bored.
Warren suddenly thought of a question he had had in the back of his mind. He turned to Dirk.
"Where's you find that griffin? I was told they were all extinct, and I've certainly never heard of a silver one before."
Dirk looked up, shrugged.
"He came wandering around my house a few years ago. Who knows where he came from? He was weak and half-starved, so I brought him in, thinking I could raise him as a work or guard animal and sell him for a fair price. Problem was, I kinda… became attached to him." He glanced over at the dozing griffin. "He refused to let himself be used for work of any kind, so I gave up on that. When it was clear I wasn't getting anywhere with him, I tried to let him go back into the wilderness. He wouldn't leave. He only followed me back home. It got to the point where I chained him to a rock and left him there. There wasn't anything else I could think of doing. But the next morning, I hear a scratching at my door, and – lo and behold, there he was. He had worked through the thickest iron chain I could find just to come back to me. Maybe it was because he had nowhere else to go. I dunno. We've just been stuck with each other ever since. He can be quite annoying sometimes, but.. well, you learn to love him."
Warren pressed the subject.
"Can he talk? I haven't heard him say anything since we met."
Again, Dirk glanced over in Arno's direction.
"Yeah, he can talk a little. But, I don't blame him for not saying much. With a parrot-voice like his, I wouldn't want to talk that much, either."
The two chuckled.
There was a splash, and Flammie poked his head through the waterfall. He walked half-way through, then spread his wings under the waterfall to make a make-shift umbrella for a woman who stood next to him. The tall woman strode carefully under his wings, then waded out across the pool, the white dragon following close behind. Her shining silver hair made her look almost young, despite the wrinkles of not only age, but also of wisdom, joy, sorrow, and love on her face.
Stepping gracefully out of the knee-deep water, Warren was surprised to note that she didn't appear wet. Flammie, on the other hand, was soaked despite his weather-proof fur, and shook himself like a dog (carefully away from anyone else) after he got out of the water.
Warren paid him no mind. The woman was advancing towards him, gazing at him intently, almost wonderingly. She walked up to him, continued to look him over. She took note of everything; his height, his posture, build, his hair, the sword.
But she stopped at his eyes. She stared at him, a piercing stare that few could match. Warren found himself staring back. Before long, the woman looked away.
He was. She was sure now. She had all the proof she needed.
Looking back up at him, careful not to look him straight in the eyes, she spoke, almost to herself.
"You look so much like him. It's unbelievable." Then, embarrassed, she looked down again. "I'm sorry, you probably don't even know what I'm talking about."
"Yes I do," he told her, "You're talking about the last Mana Knight, the one I… saw at the falls."
The woman looked up again.
"You saw him? Brisbe? When?" She was excited.
"Early this morning. We… talked. That's when I discounted any possibility of living past forty."
The woman scowled at him, but said nothing. She couldn't argue with him. It was a sad truth that few Mana Knights had very long lives. Most of them had died protecting Mana. Brisbe himself was the youngest to have lived. But there was no point on dwelling on that, and she could see that Warren knew that, too.
"Why have you come here?" she asked instead.
Again the shrug.
"The ghost told me to. Said there was someone here – you, I guess, that could tell me more… about myself."
The woman was surprised at the answer, though she didn't know what she had expected in the first place.
Why me, she thought, Brisbe, why did you send him to me? What could I possibly give him that you couldn't?
The next thought came, unbidden, to her from an unknown source.
The thought had the same blunt note in it as the previous Mana Knight's voice, and it was like an afterimage of his personality, imprinted forever on Malina's soul.
Of course. That's what.
She reached into a pocket in her old-fashioned robes, pulled something out. She held it in front of Warren.
Nothing but a nondescript, blue head-bandanna.