by Luna Manar
Flammie, Arno, and Zerlina emerged from the thick cloud that covered the fabled Pure Land.
"So," said Warren, "Where to?"
Zerlina hovered for a moment in mid-air.
"One moment," she answered.
For a minute she seemed to fade into a trance, closing her eyes and slowing the beats of her wings. For a fleeting moment Warren was almost sure she would fall from the sky, but then she opened her eyes once more, and turned to the south.
They flew straight for fifteen or twenty minutes, conversless.
Finally, land came into view. Kakkara Desert.
But they flew over it, never slowing. Obviously this was not where they were to land (not that anyone was complaining).
At the end of the desert they turned in a southeasterly direction. They weren't going to Matango.
Flammie was contemplating where it was they might be headed when Zerlina slowed and began to descend.
The Upper Land.
Now who lived there that could help them?
Sudden realization washed through Flammie. It couldn't be.… could it?
Pulling closer to the unicorn, Flammie chanced a question.
"This 'person that is to help us' wouldn't happen to be a – um, powerful magic user, would he?" he asked hesitantly, afraid of the answer.
But Zerlina nodded.
"Yes… he is..." She was about to ask Flammie how he knew when he emitted a low groan that could be interpreted as an "Oh-NO."
One repeated phrase swirled around and around in the white dragon's head:
"No, way! It's my turn to fly 'im!"
This was going to be a long day.
The three flying creatures hovered low over the Upper Land. Warren assumed that this was where their destination was, but he saw no village or building of any kind. What he did see was more interesting, though. The trees around where they were hovering were divided into the four seasons themselves – winter, spring, summer and autumn.
Zerlina slowly flew around and through each season, from spring to winter.
As they approached spring once again, there was a high pitched sound to their left. As they watched, the trees to their left fell away as if they had never been there. Inside the opening they revealed was a huge palace, seemingly made completely out of limestone, marble, the pillars around its sides studded with fist-sized aquamarines.
Before this great palace was the remains of what must once have been a bustling town. They set down in the middle of the now desolated village.
Dirk looked up toward the great palace a ways ahead of them.
"Is that where we're going?"
The unicorn shook her head.
Which was followed by a sarcastic "I wish." from Flammie.
Zerlina ignored him, walked to a seemingly nondescript tree in a corner of the village.
She bowed her head down, closed her eyes, and concentrated.
Mana, she thought, Help me to call upon this great one. Surely you have enough power to bring him from his sleep.
Her one horn glowed a bright white, then changed – so it emitted a black aura, then again, it changed to a dull bronze, then blue, then red, then yellow, sky-blue, green, a rainbow of colors. The colors swirled brightly in her spiraled horn, then ran down her white neck, through her silver mane and wings, until it encompassed her entire body. The lights were directed to a spot just in front of the tree Zerlina stood before, made one last bright flare, and were gone.
But in their place....
"Woah… talk about flashy entrances..." a small sprite with long, flowing red hair thought aloud in a high-pitched, shrill voice, "Now, what the heck am I doing here? WOAH!" he exclaimed when he looked up and saw the lovely unicorn in front of him. He seemed momentarily bewildered, but looked around, took in his surroundings. He was under a tree, in his old village, with a beautiful unicorn standing directly in front of him, a few meters away was a silver griffin that should be extinct and....
"Well, who'd have thought?" he said to himself again, now completely ignoring the unicorn,
"Flammie! What're you doing here? What am I doing here? Who are these people and what's her name?" he pointed to the unicorn, who watched, dumbstruck.
Flammie rolled his eyes, he didn't really want to admit it, but he'd missed Drek's childish psychobabble the past few decades.
"And who's this?" continued the young sprite, not waiting for an answer, "Ya'know, you look a lot like that guy I traveled with. Who're you?"
Warren was as confused as most of them, but he looked down at the sprite.
"Warren? Nice name! Much better than 'Brisbe' don't ya think? Much more heroic sounding! Say, Flam, how is ol' Bris these days?" he looked up to the white dragon, who could barely keep up with Drek's questions.
But he understood this one. Was surprised by it, actually. Didn't Drek know?
"Not… so well, Drek," he said sadly. Even now, he missed his brave old friend. They had been connected in a special way.
"Waddaya mean, 'not so well'? And when did you learn to talk?" the sprite egged him on.
Seeing this was something Flammie and the sprite had to discuss alone, Warren shooed Arno and Dirk back toward the other side of the ravaged village.
Flammie lumbered over to where Drek was standing, and spoke in whispered tones.
"He's dead, Drek."
The young sprite didn't say anything for a long moment. Dead? How could this have happened? How long had he been gone? How long had Brisbe been gone?
"How? What happened? Why didn't I know?" he asked in a cracked voice, "How?" he repeated.
Flammie sighed. It wasn't a moment he enjoyed going over in his mind. But Drek had the right to know.
"Thanatos happened. Apparently, he wasn't destroyed the first time like we had thought. He created some sort of Death Beast – a creature that was made of… absolute nothingness. Brisbe was able to destroy it, but – the thing shattered the sword, and him with it."
Drek shook his head.
"He didn't die...instantly. He was able to defeat Thanatos, with a single blow. A boomerang – your boomerang. But, after that, Mana faded, and when it was gone… he was gone."
Drek fought back tears. Then he looked back up at the white dragon.
"But me? How am I possible? And what about that Warren kid over there? He's holding the sword right now! It doesn't look shattered to me!"
Flammie looked over the Mana Knight, who was discussing something with Dirk.
"He found what was left of it, and brought it to the dwarves. They forged it again. Plus, you were never dead. Don't ask me how, but that unicorn over there – Zerlina, brought you back, gave you Mana."
But Drek didn't care. All he could think about was the friend he'd lost. He no longer cared why he was here, what had brought him back.
"If only I could speak to him again..." he sniffed.
"There is a way."
The sprite perked up immediately.
"Really? Oo, oo, how? I wanna talk to 'im!"
But the white dragon shook his head.
"Not now. Right now we need your help, but after this is over we'll go to see him."
See him? This was sounding better and better all the time.
"Promise?" Drek said with glee.
The white dragon's smile widened.
Drek jumped with glee.
"Yippee!! Let's go, then!" he cried shrilly, and ran to leap up on the white dragon's back.
"Hey! Hey! Not so fast!" the dragon said, and raised his wings out of reach. "You haven't met anyone, yet!"
Drek put his hands on his hips.
"Yes I have! That's Warren, that's Zerlina, that's a silver griffin, and that's..… a guy with green hair! So there! Can we go now? Hey! You guys! Stop lollygagging and let's get a move on!"
Warren, and Dirk turned around, surprised at the sudden commands being given to them by the sprite. This "powerful magic user" was nothing more than a child. How could he possibly be of help?
But Flammie also motioned for them to come over, and soon the group was standing next to the white dragon and the tiny sprite.
"Um, I'd like all of you to meet Drek," Flammie said, motioning with a paw to the red-haired sprite. "He traveled with the last knight during the last Mana Fortress war. Despite his appearance and his tendency to be irritating, he's probably the strongest magic user on the continent."
Drek sneered at the white dragon's remark about his annoying nature, but smirked at the part about 'strongest magic user on the continent'.
"Yep! That's me!" he proclaimed happily, "The powerfullest magic user in the world! Have been, and always will be!" He grinned proudly.
"Right," Dirk scoffed, "Let's see one of your weely neeto magik twiks!"
But Drek only smirked, uttered a few words, and snapped his fingers.
Two tiny vines sprouted from the ground, entwined themselves around the astonished Dirk's ankles. There they held him and no matter how hard he struggled, he couldn't get them off.
"What the...?" began Dirk, but he was too busy trying to pull up his legs to finish. Just as well.
The sprite smiled triumphantly.
"Now what do you think of my 'weely neeto magik twiks'?"
Dirk sighed in embarrassment.
"Alright, I'm sorry that I made fun of you. Now can you please tell these things to lay off?"
But Drek wasn't finished yet.
"You're sorry and?" he persuaded.
"Better get down on your knees now, Dirk. He's not going to stop until you grovel."
"Well?" Drek asked impatiently.
"I'm sorry and you're a nice friend and I like you. Now can you get the things off me?"
Drek beckoned with one finger. The vines grew taller, up around Dirk's legs.
Dirk growled. This was getting extremely irritating.
"I'm sorry and I like you and you're the most wonderful person in the world. Now please take these things off!"
The vines grew up around his waist.
"What's the magic word?"
Dirk glared at the annoying little sprite. This was no longer irritating, it was downright embarrassing!
"I said the magic word! Please!"
The vines grew up to his chin.
"Be inventive," said the sprite.
"Drek," cautioned Flammie, "I think that's enough–"
"Shut up," the sprite shot back, "I wanna see if he can figure it out."
Warren had an idea. Making sure Drek wasn't looking, he mouthed,
Dirk got the message. It was worth a shot.
The vines vanished, and Dirk fell over backwards. Scrambling back up, he dusted himself off, grumbling.
Drek fell over laughing.
Zerlina stepped back. This was the wizard who was to help them? She had heard tell of his powers, but never had she dreamed that he was a sprite child! Despite herself, she, too giggled a bit, both at Drek's antics and at the irony of it all. Great wizard, indeed.
Briana crept around a corner in her brother's underground hideaway. She knew that she was lucky to be alive, and she must have been made of fortune to actually get inside her brother's stronghold.
Footsteps. She heard footsteps. Backing up into the shadows, she froze and remained absolutely motionless as two wolf-man creatures prowled by on guard duty. Only a few minutes after they had disappeared down the corridor did Briana even chance to move a muscle.
For years, now, she had known that her brother had been up to something. Only recently had she discovered that his intentions were not at all good. He was seeking power, and Briana knew more than anyone that Donovan had a way of getting what he wanted one way or another. She had expected him to have a hideout, but she never dreamed that he had become in control over so much. With this kind of power, and his type of ambition, she knew her brother could become a very dangerous man.
She had to stop him. Had to find him and reason with him. What could he possibly think to gain by all this military?
She brushed back her shoulder-length jet black hair from her face. Her brother, she wasn't too afraid of, she could talk to him, but what if one of his creatures found her? Already she had seen numerous werewolves, steel insect creatures that paced back and forth in a repetitive manner, and she thought she had caught a glimpse of a huge, reptilian creature – perhaps a dragon, or drac.
Until a few months ago, Donovan had not seemed particularly secretive about his studies. He would stay up all night and into the morning, studying ancient legend, about artifacts, mythical creatures, magic spells, alchemy, and the like.
But then he would start taking long "walks" and not return for days at a time. When he did come home, he would refuse to tell his own sister what he had been doing, and was often so weary from wherever it was he had been, he was too tired to speak altogether.
This kept up for weeks, then months. Finally, Briana had chosen to follow him the next time he had returned.
She was astonished to find that her brother, right under her nose, had raised what could've been an entire army in three months. She was aghast at it. He could do practically anything with the forces he had now, even attack a major city – Pandora, Northtown, Tasnica. She wasn't at all sure how she had managed to get in, and she had the eerie feeling that she was walking right into a trap.
Darting across the shadows of the hallway, she made her way to the room into which she had seen her brother disappear. Approaching it cautiously, she gazed around. No one seemed to be watching her. It was too easy.
This in mind, she opened the door, and entered.
"So, lemme get this straight," Drek was saying atop Flammie's back, "This guy Donovan has gotten ahold of Thanatos's book of notes and jot-downs, and you guys are looking for him but can't find him and you want me to find him for you?"
"That about sums it up."
The sprite smiled.
"That shouldn't be too much of a problem."
They were flying slowly low over the outstretches of the Upper Land, still trying to decide which way to go, where to look first. This Donovan's hideout could be anywhere. Anywhere at all.
A green beam of light slashed through the air and nearly hit the silver griffin's wing. Arno screeched, and turned to face his assailant. All eyes turned to the sky.
The sight above them was astonishing. Three triangle-shaped objects hung menacingly in the air. It was unclear what kept them afloat, for they had no visible flapping wings. They were each made of some sort of bronze-colored metal alloy. The front of the objects were split slightly, and one of them smoked from the powerful beam it had just emitted. Each of the flying objects was no bigger than a large horse, but there was a window at the top of each one, and inside...
"Werewolves!" Dirk called out, "What are those things they're flying?"
"Not good!" answered Drek, as the three ships broke their formation, two heading to the sides, the other coming straight for the companions.
"You can bet Donovan did this!" Dirk called, "But, hey. If he wants a fight, I'll give him one!"
Dirk pulled Arno into a vertical climb, then the griffin turned over and swooped for the lead ship, shrieking its challenge. Arno raised his talons, and grasped the small attack ship as he went by, his curved claws slashing into the cold metal. With a second screech, this one of triumph, the griffin released the triangular ship, which plummeted to the ground, its mysterious propulsion system obviously inoperative.
Flammie and Drek took the second ship. Dropping low, almost touching the trees, Flammie came up under the second ship and let loose a fiery blast. The ship began to move out of the way, but its angular wing was caught and set ablaze. Trying desperately to regain control of his ship, the werewolf pilot fired blindly and in a panicked manner. One of his stray beams hit the end of the white dragon's long tail. Screaming more in rage than pain, Flammie twisted around, trying to find a way to extinguish his smoking tail, which for a moment looked to him as if it was on fire.
But a panicked whinny from Zerlina aroused his attention. The last ship was attacking the unicorn (whom Warren was riding and trying to calm), attempting to hit the confused and frightened creature with its wing, flying in tight circles around her.
"Harumph! I'll fix that!" Drek proclaimed proudly. He let his mind focus, concentrated on the triangle ship. He let the magic take over. What keeps that ship going? he thought, And where is it?
Finding the answer in his mind, the sprite smiled, mumbled words in a language only those who know magic can understand, and pointed at the underside of the ship when it came into view.
"Now, you might want to watch this, friend Dirk, because this is what I consider..… really cool."
The sky darkened, and for a moment, it seemed as though there was no sun at all.
A sudden inexplicable storm of cold wind rushed toward the werewolf's ship. It dove under it, turned upward, and hit the underside of the ship square on. The entire bottom half of the ship cracked and groaned as thick ice covered it's surface, freezing its engines. The metal triangle shuddered once, then began dropping to the ground below.
But the werewolf had seen the spell coming. Before the blast of wind hit, he was able to exit the top of his ship, and leap off.
He landed on the back of the unicorn.
The weight of two people was too much for the frightened Zerlina to bear. Though she attempted to stay airborne, she could not pump her wings hard enough, and she slowly began descending to the ground.
Warren turned at the fearful creature that had just landed behind him. Snarling evilly, the werewolf lunged at him, flailing with its deadly claws.
Out of what must have been instinct or reflex or something more mysterious that he couldn't take the time to contemplate now, Warren engaged the animal in close combat, trying to get his balance for a good swing of the sword, while simultaneously trying to catch and block the werewolf's relentless attacks.
But it couldn't be done. The weight and length of the Mana Sword in one hand held him down, and the wolf's attacks were getting more vicious as it gained more balance. Plus, he was in a most uncomfortable position indeed. The sudden impact of the unicorn hitting the earth jolted him forward, exposing his back to his enemy.
The werewolf saw this slight advantage and took it. Lashing out with its knife-like claws, it hit the Mana Knight in an off-blow behind the right shoulder. Warren cried out as the beast's claws slashed through his shoulderblade. The pain was unbearable. He thought for a moment that he might black out, but he knew he had a bigger problem. Switching the sword from his right hand to his left, he blindly struck back at the beast. A yelp from behind told him that he had hit his mark, and the werewolf fell from the unicorn and vanished.
But Warren's troubles weren't over. Zerlina, totally unaccustomed to being in this kind of danger, spooked and reared, dumping the Mana Knight off her back. In a panicked frenzy, she flew off into the sky, whinnying. Warren looked up in time to see the others follow her.
They must think I'm still on her, he thought through a haze of pain. He tried to get up from his position, but did not have the strength. His right arm was useless. It was all he could do to turn himself into a more comfortable position.
Evening was now giving way to night.
Somewhere, an evil voice laughed.