by Luna Manar
A NECESSARY EVIL
NO POINTS FOR SECOND BEST...
Zerlina watched in horror as the net of energy beams enclosed around her two feathered friends. She had been watching the battle from a safe distance, with the promise that she would do whatever she could to help if either creature were to become grievously hurt. Now that they were trapped inside this field, they couldn't move, and it was unlikely they could cast any spells of relevance, seeing as you had to make wide movements to do so in this case.
What should I do? she asked no one in particular.
The answer came to her in her mind.
Go for help, Zerlina!
It was Joch. He was speaking to her through telepathy.
Anyone you can think of! Just hurry!
Why? What has happened? What is going on?
It will take time to explain.
Warren's dying. It is a result of being deprived of the Mana Sword for too long. It was knocked from his hands when we were captured. I have no more time to explain. Good luck. Although I fear...we may not have enough time...
But there was no answer. Zerlina thought for a moment. Who on earth could help in a situation like this? She could only think of one...
The unicorn turned and sped northwest.
Uziel awoke in his hidden cave deep in the center of the pure land. He could hear the troubled whinnies of a unicorn – Zerlina.
Uziel looked inside himself to the heart of Mana that brought him all the knowledge of Mana there was. Yes. This was serious. The Mana Knight was dying, separated from the sword of life. The white dragon, the griffin, trapped in a deadly snare. The companions, held at sword and spearpoint if they make one false move. Only the unicorn remained. They needed his assistance. It was clear.
Thinking quickly, the Mana Beast thought of anything, anything at all he could do. Attacking the ship that held the knight was out of the question. In his uncontrollable battle rage, Uziel knew he would likely destroy it, and the Mana Knight with it. The unicorn, bound by her oath to Lumina, the elemental of light, could not fight, was forbidden to.
There was little he could do. The Mana Knight needed the sword back, but to get it...
The idea was ludicrous, the very notion insane, but it was the only option.
The Mana Beast stood, started for the opening of his hidden cave.
There was only one thing that could be done.
And he was about to commit the ultimate evil by doing it.
"Uziel!" called Zerlina desperately. She had to find the Mana Beast before all was lost. She knew she had little time.
The Mana Beast was the only one who could help. He alone had the power to destroy that ship, or disable it, or – something.
She did not see him, but she saw the disturbance caused by his great wings as he broke through the mist above her. She knew he had answered her call. She flew up after him in his wake.
As the unicorn broke the outer surface of the great mist, she found herself staring face-to-face with the Mana Beast.
Uziel studied her for an instant, then said,
"I am here to help."
Zerlina gazed up at him with her huge green eyes.
"Uziel. It's the Mana Knight, Warren. He's–"
"Dying, yes I know. I have a plan in mind," the beast interrupted.
The unicorn looked confused.
"Plan?" she asked, "But, can't you just attack the ship, disable it, and–"
"No, Zerlina," interrupted Uziel again, "If I attack the ship, I will lose myself in battle rage, and will likely destroy it before your friends can escape. Now, you should go back, to help them as much as you can. I have a task to do." He turned to leave, but Zerlina stopped him, flying in front of him before he could move.
"What are you going to do?" she demanded.
The Mana Beast scowled down at her and snarled.
"The Mana Knight cannot live without the sword. Even though I cannot get it to him… there is one who can." He tried to pass her again, but again she moved into his path.
"Who?" she persisted.
Growing angrier, but trying to control his short temper, the beast again glared at her, but did not attack or make any move to get around her. Suddenly, his angry face faded into one of complete blankness.
"Only the Mana Knight can wield the sword..." he said solemnly.
Without warning, the beast regained its scowling face, disappeared, and reappeared on the opposite side of the unicorn, then started off in a southeasterly direction.
Zerlina chased after him. What was he planning on doing? Why was he trying to avoid her? What could he possibly have meant by....
Sudden realization washed over her. Realization and fear. Not only was his idea crazy, it was wrong! He couldn't possibly!
Straining her wings to pump yet harder, propel her yet faster, she brought herself in front of Uziel once more.
"No, Uziel!" she screamed at him, "You can't! It's crazy!"
The Mana Beast pushed past her.
But she blocked his path once again.
"Uziel, there must be some other way! His time is over! What you're going to do is wrong!"
"It's necessary!" roared the Mana Beast in anger. "There are two ways this can end, Zerlina. I choose the one of life!"
With that, he pushed past the unicorn again, and this time, she did not bother to stop him.
The Mana Beast soared high over the southern continent, over Matango, the Upper Land, the mystic forest.
He stopped at the Potos falls. He hovered over them now, the rhythmic flapping of his wings causing the water to ripple. Slowly he landed in the shallow water, then looked to the falls, stared at them.
"Mana Knight Brisbe! I know you are here, so show yourself! Your son is in grave danger, and there is little time! I must speak with you, Mana Knight!"
The beast roared, a huge, deep, angry roar that could probably be felt in Gaia's navel.
Brisbe shimmered to existence a few feet from the falls. He looked up at the raging beast.
"Lovely voice. Calm down. What's the problem?"
The Mana Beast stared at the knight, who gazed up expectantly.
"Your son – Warren, is dying. He has been deprived of the Mana Sword, and is held by force and cannot get it back on his own. I will help him… if you help me," the beast finished.
The former Mana Knight frowned. He understood the gravity of the situation. Because Warren had made the blade and the hilt of the newly-forged Mana Sword one, he had created a link between himself and the legendary weapon. With it, he would eventually become the strongest fighter in the land. Without it....
"But how do you expect me do anything? I can't do much more than appear to him as an apparition. Believe me, I want to help, but I don't know if I can."
The beast stared down at Brisbe, considering what he was about to propose. Only this Mana Knight could help, and he knew it. But how to get him to agree?
It was only two words, but Brisbe suddenly understood what the beast was suggesting.
"What?" he breathed, "How?"
The beast looked away from the knight's intense stare, but answered,
"I do not know exactly how this was possible, but, then I am not sure how anything is possible anymore. When you died, Brisbe of the Mana Tribe, you died because of the supposed death of Mana itself. But now, it seems, Mana was not completely destroyed, for it has mysteriously revived itself. I do not know how I know this, but because you were linked to Mana in such the way that you were, though you died, like Mana, your lifeforce never truly disappeared. Completely."
The beast turned to Brisbe once more.
"I cannot bring you back to life, Mana Knight, but I can enhance that remaining lifeforce within you. For one hour, you will breath life once more, and that should be just enough to get the Mana Sword and get it to your son before it is too late."
But the Mana Beast hung its head in sudden despair.
"You do not have to consent to this, Mana Knight. It is your choice. But I warn you; the only other option is for me to attack the ship in which your son is trapped, and that, as you well know, will mean certain death for all on board."
Brisbe took this all in, considering. He didn't know what kind of consequences it would bring to have two Mana Knights alive at the same time. To his knowledge, there had never been such a case.
But he also remembered his own words:
Just because you're the Mana Knight doesn't mean you're gonna die in two years!
Or four days, he decided.
"One hour?" he said.
Uziel looked up as if surprised at the answer. Then he nodded.
Brisbe suddenly found himself feeling cold, then looked down to realize that the water of the pool was seeping into his pants. It was a second more before he remembered to breathe.
It was the strangest feeling after being on a different plane of existence for over fifty years. Not only could he control himself, now, but he could actually feel the things around him, the chill of the pool, the sensation of the warm air flowing through his lungs, the rhythmic pulse of his own heart...
But he had little time to think much about it. He had a job to do.
The Mana Beast offered its wing, and the Mana Knight quickly climbed up on the beast's back. As Uziel launched himself into the air, Brisbe considered if what he was doing was right. It certainly wasn't in Mana's rulebook anywhere...
But, he thought, Right or no, I'm alive for now, and, Mana be damned, it's my son.
The five companions were thrown into a holding cell on the Trinaut. There, Donovan had said, they would wait until he could figure out what to do with them.
Drek was seriously considering if he shouldn't just cast some sort of powerful spell to bust them out of there, but even he knew that without Flammie, Arno and Zerlina, they would have little chance of escaping, especially if the Trinaut were to go out of control.
It suddenly clicked in Drek's mind that the unicorn wasn't among the trapped. Turning to Joch, he poked the sage on the arm.
"Joch!" the sprite hailed him. The bird-man, who had been doing his best to tend to Warren's broken wrist, turned.
Drek stared up at him with wide, excited eyes.
"Joch, what about Zerlina? Couldn't she have gone for help? She wasn't trapped with Flammie and Arno," he said, sudden hope flickering through his mind.
"She's gone for help. I contacted her after Flammie and the griffin were trapped."
Drek was confused. Contacted her?
"How could you do that?...... Oh," he said, suddenly realizing. Joch probably did have telepathic powers or something. "So, where's she going?"
Joch shook his head.
"I don't know. I only had the strength to tell her of Warren's condition."
He looked over to the Mana Knight, who was seated against the wall.
Warren was awake, now, and fairly calm, but he couldn't stand without becoming incredibly dizzy. Now he sighed. He wasn't doing a very good job of this Mana Knight business. Already, he had managed to get....what? A split shoulderblade, a lost Mana Sword, a broken wrist, and he had gotten his friends all captured all in the course of a few days.
Now he was lying here, dying, in the depths of Donovan's dungeon.
Ain't life wonderful? he thought coldly.
Suddenly, he found himself thinking of Brisbe. The former Mana Knight had seemed to have so much faith in him. He couldn't let his father down. What of his friends? He couldn't just let Donovan take his wrath out on them, too.
What of Flammie? And Arno? They couldn't hover in one place forever. If someone didn't get rid of those ships soon, they'd fall and the Trinaut's laser net would carve them up like a roast.
A yelp came from the werewolf guard outside the door, then the heavy thud of a large body hitting the floor.
Everyone turned to the huge steel door of the jail cell.
The lock clicked. The door swung open.
There stood a tall woman with raven-black hair. She looked over the companions, then beckoned to them.
"Don't be afraid. I'm a friend. Hurry! If we're going to stop Donovan, we must do so now! I don't know how long that guard will be out, and your beast friends can't hold their strength for too long." She gazed down the corridor, as if afraid that someone was watching, then looked again to the companions.
Dirk stood up, faced the woman, a look of skepticism in his eyes.
"Who are you?"
The woman looked at him. It was obvious that these people weren't going anywhere without knowing who she was. That was understandable, but all the same, she wished they could just trust her. It would save time.
"My name is Briana. Donovan was holding me here.… I escaped when I learned that the Mana Knight was here, thought perhaps I could help." She glanced down at the unconscious werewolf. "Believe me, if we've ever needed a Mana Knight, it's now. If you will just come with me, I will explain everything."
But Dirk was still uncertain.
"How did you escape?"
Briana rolled her eyes in frustration. This guy was so paranoid!
"Let's just say that if Donovan has a weakness, it's forgetfulness! Now let's go!" she started down the corridor.
Joch stood up, as did Drek, who ran up to the much taller woman, gazed up at her.
"If you are really here ta help us, that's fine, but you should know that Warren here is not in the besta situations right now. He can't even stand!"
The raven-haired woman turned back and gazed at the group.
A young, red-brown haired youth lay against the wall, watching her with a look of mixed feelings. He seemed slightly confused as to what was happening, but had a sort of calm purpose about himself, as if he knew exactly how all this was going to turn out. His eyes....
Briana looked away. She had never seen or met anyone with such a piercing gaze as his. It was like he could see right through her.
A lean, green-haired youth stood just in front of him, his arms crossed, regarding her with cynicism. His hawk-like gaze was powerful in itself, probing, witty. It reminded her… of her brother.
The other two caught her gaze and held it. She had never seen people such as this before.
An old-looking cat, clad in long leather and cloth robes, gazed at her intently. His face was kind, perhaps sly. He didn't seem like the kind that would get himself into this type of situation.
Next to the cat stood what looked like a kind of half-bird half-man creature. It was stout and stocky-looking, but seemed to possess a special knowledge all its own.
Turning back to the sprite before her, who looked on with wide, expectant eyes, she sighed.
"Well, we can't just stand here and wait for that guard to wake up. We either go or get caught!"
Warren, hearing this, made his decision. Mana Sword or no, he couldn't just lie back and die while Donovan took control over whatever he pleased.
Taking a deep breath, Warren attempted to stand. Fighting the vertigo that suddenly overcame him, he managed to bring himself to his feet.
Dirk and Neko were instantly beside him, helping him to stand. Without any further conversation, they walked out of the cell and into the corridor, where Briana began to lead them through the twisted tunnels of the Trinaut.
Zerlina flew in close to the huge tri-ship. Evidently not expecting any more trouble, no one came to stop her from flying about the outside of the ship. She couldn't fight, she knew, but she had decided what she could do. Quietly flying to the top of the ship, she found Flammie and Arno hovering inside the deadly cage of beams that had surrounded them. The white dragon was doing quite well for the time being, hovering and trying his best to think of anything he could do to free himself of the deadly entrapment. He had long since given up dragon flame. The tiny tri-ships were hovering tantalizingly just out of range. He had tried every spell he could think of that didn't require movement, but had little effect on the ships.
Arno was not doing so well. Panting heavily from the exertion it took to hold himself in one place, he had already dipped down a bit twice, burning the end of his tail on the dangerous array of beams.
Zerlina quickly cast an invisibility spell, then carefully maneuvered her comparatively small body between the green laser beams. She could just get through.
Flammie must have heard her, for he turned his head in her direction. He was not surprised when he heard her speak quietly to him.
"How are you holding up? I'm here to help, but I must know how to get inside. I don't suppose there is any chance I can just go through the 'front door'?" she asked, making a sound toward the huge hole below them.
Flammie shook his head. No, she couldn't go through that way. Even with her invisibility spell, there were enough creatures in there to realized her whereabouts.
A sudden idea crossing his mind Flammie turned to the invisible unicorn next to him, then started speaking in a low, guttural language.
Zerlina realized at once what he was doing. He was speaking to her in dragon. She knew only a little of the incredibly complex language of snarls, grunts, coos and whistles, but she knew enough know what the white dragon was saying.
"Tell me you can understand me. If I start speaking in human, even softly, those wolf-things will know something's up."
Zerlina took a moment to translate this, then answered, in kind,
"I understand. How do I get in?"
She didn't sound quite as low-pitched and guttural as the dragon before her, but she was able to put her meaning across.
"You can't go through that opening there," explained the white dragon, "But there's a side opening I saw while I was attacking the ship. It must be a ventilation opening of some kind. It looked small, but it's the only other opening."
"Where is it?"
Flammie motioned slightly with his snout, trying to look to the werewolf pilots like he was becoming unsound.
"On the other side, near the underside of the ship, near the center."
Zerlina turned, unseen, toward the net of green lasers, and carefully made her way toward the other side of the ship, hoping she could get inside before Arno used the last of his energy.
Uziel soared high over the Upper Land, where he knew the Mana Sword lay, somewhere. They had been searching the forest for over fifteen minutes, using Brisbe's intuition and "strange feelings" to guide them to the lost legend.
Suddenly Brisbe pointed.
"There! That house, it's down there, I'm sure of it!"
The Mana Beast turned and sped downward to the spot where Brisbe pointed to. He hovered over the small abode, searching for a good spot to land. Finally, he set himself down in front of the house, let his wings down.
Brisbe climbed down, jumping half-way, and gazed around for the weapon that he knew he had to find.
He found the Mana Sword lying inert by a clump of thorny bushes. He stared at it, strong memories suddenly rushing over him. He remembered the blade's perfectness, the strange inscription at its base. No one knew what the strange letters meant, not even the oldest of the Mana Knights...
Bending down, Brisbe hesitantly grasped the hilt. It pulsed with a green light, then faded, leaving only the warmth of its life behind. Brisbe wondered for a moment if it was truly his right to hold the powerful blade again, but then thought of Warren. The youth wouldn't make it if he didn't get the sword back quickly. It wasn't his time, yet. No, it couldn't be. The Mana Beast would not be making a trek like this if it was.
Brisbe found himself recalling to his mind that last fateful day.
The huge Death Beast had struck him with all the force of a stampede of buffalo. He had felt the essence of pure nothingness shoot through him, had fought it, pushed it back....
And watched helplessly as the Mana Sword had shattered.
He had been thrown back, searing pain had racked through him. He had let go of the sword's hilt. He had felt the life begin to seep away from him, found it a bit frightening. He had known, though, as he had gazed up into Malina's teal eyes, the final sight he had seen before his death… Somehow he had known that that would not be the last adventure he would have.
He turned toward Uziel and hurriedly climbed up the beast's wing again.
It was time to save a life.
Dirk and Neko helped Warren up from his third fall in the twisting corridors of the Trinaut.
"Maybe we should rest," suggested Briana, up ahead, "You're not getting any better."
Warren shook his head stubbornly and leaned on his friend's shoulders, refusing to give in to the dizziness that now attacked him.
"Sorry," he said, "But I don't give that easily."
Dirk huffed under Warren's weight.
"Give?" he snorted, "Oh, no, we wouldn't want to do that, now, would we? Just have to put all our Mana-danged six-foot weight on our good friend's back. Yep, he'll hold us up, all right. Warren, why did you have to be so doggone heavy?" the youth snarled.
Neko smiled at Dirk. He was probably having twice as much trouble as the youth and still hadn't uttered a sound.
They continued on, Warren leaning on the silent Neko and the ever-grumbling Dirk, and slowly began their way through the halls again.
Joch chanced a question as he walked beside Briana.
"If I may ask, how do you know your way around all these corridors? I thought you said you were Donovan's prisoner?"
"I have a cartographic memory. I see maps of my surroundings in my mind. When that wolf-thing brought me down here, I just remembered where I had been, and what it took to get me here. It's hard to explain."
Drek, who had been behind her, spoke up.
"'Down here?' Um, miss, in case ya didn't know, we're 'bout a hundred-thousand-million feet up right now, or something like that," he said, not quite sure how to tell the woman this. In his mind, if she didn't even know they were airborne, and thought she could lead them through a hundred-thousand-million twisting tunnels (or something like that), then they were in trouble.
Briana turned at the statement.
"We're in the air?" She gazed down at Joch, who nodded. Raising her eyebrows, she thought for a moment, smiled at what must have been an inside joke in her mind, then continued forward, mumbling something about; "What next? The stars?"
Zerlina hovered near the opening Flammie had seen and told her about. It definately looked like a ventilation shaft of some sort. There was a problem, though: it was no wider than a cardboard box and no taller than a small shrub. Definaltely not big enough for a flying unicorn to get into.
Thinking for a moment, trying to remember her teachings when she was young, Zerlina pried her mind for an answer.
Yes! Yes, that would work, she thought, then hovered closer. If what she was about to try was to work, she would have to be as close as she possibly could to the opening. Speaking words of magic, she felt Luna's magic course through her.
Moon elemental, aid me in helping my friends, she thought to the secretive elemental of the heavens.
The unicorn dissappeared.
A tiny white mouse scrambled up the side of the now huge ventalation system. Without turning back, Zerlina scampered down into the huge Trinaut.
Donovan stood up and stared at the two entrapped creatures above him. The white dragon was beginning to babble in a strange, nonsensical manner, as if becomming psychotic from its deadly predicament. But Donovan couldn't help noticing that it seemed to be repeating certain sounds over again, as if...
As if they were words.
Donovan whirled on one of his werewolf servants, his black cape whipping about him as he spun, and yelled for increased security on board. The ships would also be ordered to close their net around the feathered beasts, to finish them off. If the dragon was speaking telepathically, he could be talking to anyone aboard. He would not allow for a breach in his plan. He was too close. After reshaping the piece of the Mana Fortress they had found underground, they were just beginning to get into what the ancients called "computers." All the knowledge of Mana could be stored on them. They were making progress, beginning to unlock its secrets....
And after they did, they could begin searching for the great source of Mana.
They would not fail.
Uziel came within veiw of the mighty Trinaut. Hovering at a safe distance away, under the cover of his invisibility spell, he looked over his shoulder at the Mana Knight seated on his strong back.
"I don't think I can fly you over without being detected, but I can use a transport spell to get you in there. You of course realize that I don't know what's in there, so be ready if you appear inside a busy room."
Brisbe nodded his approval, held the Mana Sword ready in his hands.
Before he could say a word, he was inside the twisting corridors of the Trinaut. Suddenly he heard the Mana Beast's voice in his mind;
You have twenty minutes, knight. After that, I shall waste no more time waiting. I will attack the ship.
This understood, Brisbe began to slink cautiously through the corridor. The halls were long and twisted, but vaguely familiar. In fact, they looked almost like...
The west wing of the Mana Fortress.
Suddenly realizing what the ship was, where he was, Brisbe found a fork in the hallway and turned right, heading for what he remembered to be the main control room.
Zerlina scampered down the winding hallways of the Trinaut. She was close to her friends. She could sense their presence. In fact, if she was right they were right around this...
The white mouse peeked her head around one of the many corners in the ship. Sure enough, there they were, creeping down the corridors, probably trying to find a way to get out, or to find the center of this whole devious operation.
A creature slinked out from behind a corner. Werewolf. Silently, it began to creep up on the companions.
Oh, no, thought Zerlina, terrified, They don't see it! What can I do? Not enough time to cast a protection spell....
The wolf creture came with amazing speed and stealth behind Dirk, such that even Neko did not hear it.
It raised a dagger...
Sudden anger raced through Zerlina's body. No! She had almost been the cause of one of her friend's deaths. She wouldn't hesitate and be the cause of another!
Acting instantly, almost without thinking, the tiny mouse uttered strange words, and suddenly she was a unicorn once again. Her single horn grew white hot.
With a raging whicker, she charged the wolf-beast.
The werewolf turned at the sudden eruption of sound behind him, and the last thing he saw was the majestic white and silver unicorn charging toward him. Zerlina's gleaming horn speared the creature through its stomach, and the werewolf gave a choked yelp, hung in mid-air for a few seconds, and vanished.
Zerlina looked up at her friends, who were all staring at her with looks of surprise, relief, and concern on their faces. The unicorn was so startled at what had just happened, she was utterly speachless.
"I....I..." she began, almost in apology, but she knew what was to come next. There was no escaping it. She had made an oath to Lumina, and she had broken it. She had slain....
Her punishment was nearly instantanious. A violet, glowing orb suddenly surrounded her. She lowered her head and wings in submission. She knew what was to happen, was ready.
The orb darkened, slowly, from violet to black, then seemed to explode about her, though it didn't appear to harm her. Then, in a dark mist, it faded away.
Everyone was silent with sheer shock.
Zerlina was no longer white. She no longer had the magnificent, silver mane that she had once borne.
She was black. Everything, from nose to tail to the ends of her wings, was a complete midnight black. Her eye, once that beautiful emerald green, were now a deep, dark brown. Her once spiraled horn, at one point the purest silver, was now a bronze, gleaming metalic spike.
She belonged to Shade, now.
Sinking down to her knees, Zerlina began to sob her sorrow. She was no longer of the elemental of light, was no longer the Pure Land's keeper. Another would be chosen in her place, and she knew that from now on, should she ever come across one of her own kind, she would be seen as an outcast and treated as such. Her name, which meant in itself, "pure one" was now a mockery.
Dirk, slipping out from under Warren's arm (which nearly caused the Mana Knight to pitch over backward), strode over to her, knelt down by the sobbing unicorn, laid his hand gently on her neck.
"Zerlina... what happened?"
The black unicorn gazed at Dirk with huge, sobbing brown eyes.
"I have... broken my oath to Lumina, and have suffered the consequence... I now belong to the power of darkness. I have slain another, and among my kind it is the ultimate offense... I am no longer the Pure Land's keeper. It is no longer my home. I... no longer have one," she tried to explain between snuffling sobs.
Dirk was joined by the rest of the companions, including the bewildered Briana.
He tried to think of anything that could comfort the unicorn.
Zerlina started to shake her head.
"I am evil..."
But Dirk suddenly frowned.
"No, you're not, Zerlina! If it haddn't been for you, that wolf would've cut me up into tiny pieces! You did the only thing you could do. You saved my life, Zerlina. That doesn't make you evil."
The unicorn looked again into Dirk's eyes, then up at the rest of her friends, noting for the first time that there was someone new among them.
"You... for...forgive me? Even if I am dark, now?"
Neko suddenly spoke up.
"Of course, we do, Zerlina! It doesn't matter what color you are, or what elemental you serve. You are our friend, and you have sacrificed a lot to save one of us."
"And for that I am grateful."
Drek skipped up to the unicorn, a gleeful smile on his face.
"Yeah! I wouldn't care if you were purple and blue and orange with pink polka-dots and a corkscrew for a horn (though that would be pretty funny). I'd still like ya!" he ruffled the unicorn's black hair playfully.
Warren, trying his best to stand with only Neko holing him up, smiled.
"We're all friends here, right?"
A unanimous "Right!" was his answer.
"And friends stick together," added Dirk.
"To the end!" piped Drek. "Even the old ones," he added, motioning to Neko. The cat smiled, slightly embarrassed.
"Then let's find Donovan and show him what we're made of!" continued Warren, "We won't let him get away with this without a fight!"
Numerous nods from all showed him of a unanimous agreement.
Finding new strength, Zerlina stood, resolute, as Dirk walked back to help Warren and Neko again, and Briana started to lead them down the pathway once again.
Brisbe peered around a corner of the labyrinth of hallways in the Trinaut's heart. Six werewolves were standing at an open jail cell, and speaking in a sharp, barking language to one of their own who was seated against a wall, rubbing the back of its neck.
So, thought the Mana Knight, They escaped. Which must mean they're heading in the same direction I am. Or trying to.
He had to find them, find Warren, but to do so would mean he'd have to get past these werewolf guards. That wouldn't be a problem.
Uziel flew in a wide circle around the menacing Trinaut. Ten minutes. He had ten minutes.
After which all hell would break loose.
Finally, after countless twists and turns, the companions reached the main chamber. Briana, in the lead, peered around the corner. Donovan was not ten feet away from the door at which they stood, speaking quickly and fervently to a wolflord who stood next to him. He seemed to be giving orders of some kind
Warren, using the wall as a supporter, dragged himself over to her.
"What are they saying?"
Briana shook her head.
"Donovan's telling that wolf-thing to order the ships around your friends to close in, finish them off. The wolf seems to be arguing with him, though. They're whispering. It's hard to tell exactly what they're saying."
Warren suddenly stiffened, as if to attack the two head on. Briana put her hand on his shoulder.
"I must tell you now, if I'm ever to tell you. I may never get another chance. Donovan has but one weakness. Although you'd never know it to look at him, he's blind in his left eye. If we attack, it would be best to blind-side him."
Warren gazed at Briana, a thought rising in his head.
"Briana, how do you know so much about Donovan?"
Briana, surprised by the question, hesitated before answering. At leangth, she said,
"He's my brother."
Brisbe continued quickly down the twisting paths of the Trinaut. He had made short work of the werewolves. They barely had time to even see their attacker, before each of them, in turn, vanished. He hurried now toward the sound he heard. Someone, probably the Donovan he'd heard so much about from Uziel, was yelling at someone else. Who, Brisbe did not know, nor care. He had one objective, and one only, and he was running out of time. He quickened his pace down the long halls of what once was part of the Mana Fortress.
Uziel stared aprehensively at the Trinaut. Nothing had seemed to have changed. Five minutes left.
The Mana Beast began to circle closer toward the Trinaut. It would not be long.
"Fine!" bellowed Donovan at the wolflord, Lirax, "If you won't, then I will!"
Lirax only crossed his arms.
"I'm telling you, it's foolish. If you kill the beasts now, then they will only fall on top of the ship, and that would make things a bit difficult, don't you think?"
But Donovan would have none of it.
"We'll dump the pesky little things off, then. Really, Lirax, if you can't follow orders, then I will find a lowly werewolf that can." The raven-haired man stalked up to a wall near the door, where he flipped a strange-looking switch, and talked into it.
"Tri-pod One, this is Donovan, you are ordered to –"
But he was cut short by a shout to his left side.
Warren threw himself at Donovan, to stop the order. Using every ounce of energy he had, he bowled into the startled Donovan, who haddn't seen him in the first place. It was true. Donovan was blind in his left eye.
But Warren was hardly in a position to struggle. It had taken all of his strength just to throw himself at the raven-haired man. Now, Donovan quickly racovered, threw Warren back against the wall.
Another shout from his left caused him to whirl.
"Briana!" he cried in surprise, "How... how did you get out?"
The black-haired woman smiled.
"Next time you storm off like that, you should remember to lock the door."
Donovan stood in terror as he saw what was behind his sister.
The tenacious Dirk, who was glaring at him with the direct hatred. A black unicorn, whose every look told Donovan he was in trouble. The sprite, who obviously had a powerful spell ready, from the looks of his stance. An old cat, whose bared claws and fangs made him a fearsome sight in itself. A short, stocky bird-man, whose glare was piercing, almost hypnotizing.
His werewolf servants were attacking in an instant. Thirteen of them, all snarling and snapping viciously, attacked the group at once. Two took on Dirk, who skillfully began avoiding them and kicking out at them when he could. It was a shame he didn't have his daggers. He could show them a thing or two.
Five crowded about Drek, who calmly smiled, mumbled arcane words, and pointed at the group. Elemental magic raged.
Four attacked Zerlina, who reared and kicked out at them. She wasn't white anymore, but at least she could fight, now.
The remaining two attacked Briana, Neko, and Joch, only to find themselves outnumbered. Neko attacked one head on, his teeth bared and claws out. The two wrestled for a moment, but Neko was larger than the panicked werewolf, and his strength soon won out, slamming the werewolf to the hard floor and knocking the air out of it. The battle raged.
Donovan ignored the armageddin that was suddenly erupting on his ship. There would be one thing that would stop this, and only one thing.
He unseathed a sword he kept hidden beneath his cape, and lunged for the dazed Warren.
And was met by a sudden blow to the side that sent him sprawling.
Hitting the cold floor, gasping for the air that had been knocked out of him, Donovan slowly got up and stared at his assailant in astonishment.
Brisbe stood before his son, a cold expression on his face, the Mana Sword in hand.
Both Warren and Donovan stared at Brisbe in shock.
Donovan was the first to regain his composure.
"Well, this is certainly interesting. I was under the distinct impression that you were dead, sir knight."
Brisbe's expression hardened yet deeper at the man's words. He said nothing, but only stared straight at Donovan.
Realizing what he was trying to do, the raven-haired man turned his blind eye to Brisbe.
"Oh, I doubt that, knight. I am not that foolish. I will not be conned into one of your infernal staring games." He took a step towards Brisbe.
Before Donovan could even take another breath, the older Mana Knight was in front of him with the sword to Donovan's exposed neck.
"Don't try anything, Donovan," he snarled, his fiery voice freezing the amber-eyed man in his tracks, "Or I swear, I'll cut you to pieces myself."
Slowly, the Mana Knight backed away from Donovan, then turned to Warren, who lay, dumbfounded, against the wall of the Trinaut. Kneeling down next to his son, he smiled.
"Surprised to see me?"
"'Surprised' may not quite fit. More like shocked."
Brisbe whirled around as Donovan lunged for him with his sword, not only catching the man's blade in mid-swing, but also knocking it out of his hands, disarming him. Again, Brisbe had his sword leveled at Donovan.
"You're lucky I didn't just kill you, that time. Take my advice, Donovan. Don't go there. You won't win. Give up on what you're trying to do here. You're beaten."
Donovan only snarled.
"And if I don't?"
Brisbe smiled slyly, lowered his voice, but somehow, lowered, it seemed even more dangerous.
"Then.... I will be very, very irritated," he said, giving Donovan an "And I'm not kidding" look.
Donovan stopped his advances.
Turning again to his son, Brisbe held out the sword to Warren.
"Here. I do believe you need this."
Warren, still only half-believing what was happening, slowly reached out and touched the sword. It was real. He reached out and took hold of it by its hilt.
The strength that he had lost suddenly rushed through him again. He felt stronger, his head cleared.
He looked up just in time to see the wolflord lunge at Brisbe, knife drawn.
Brisbe bellowed in pain as the wolflord's dagger thrust itself into his side. Whirling around, he struck out with his right hand, landing the creature a punishing blow to the jaw. The wolflord yelped, fell back a bit, but continued to attack.
It all happened even before Warren could pick himself up from the floor.
The wolflord lunged again, attacking Brisbe head-on, knife raised in preparation for its second use. The two wrestled, Brisbe trying to force the creature's arm away, but the wound in is side weakened him. The creature won the struggle, stuck Brisbe in the ribs.
Brisbe fell back against the wall, still trying to fight, but too injured to do so. The wolflord loomed over him.
Was practically cleaved in two by the Mana Sword.
The creature screamed, vanished. Its dagger dropped to the ground.
Warren ran to his injured father.
"Brisbe!" he called out uncertainly. He wasn't sure he should call this man by his name, or just "Dad." He thought of him as such, now.
Brisbe looked up at Warren, gritten his teeth from the pain of his wounds. The wolflord's blows had been punishing, and now he bled profusely from the deep gashes.
Warren worriedly gazed at his father. Did Brisbe come back... only to be lost again?
"Can you get up?" he asked, staring back at where Donovan....
Warren looked hurriedly about the room, but Donovan was nowhere to be seen. In fact, not only had Donovan vanished, but also the werewolves that they all had been fighting. Now, the companions walked, tired and panting, to where Warren knelt beside Brisbe. Dirk gazed down at the older Mana Knight, then up at Warren.
"By Mana, Warren! He does look like you!"
"Warren," asked Zerlina, "Who is that?"
Warren gazed up at his friends, then slowly back to his father.
"This is... Brisbe. He's... he's my dad," he said, smiling for a moment at Brisbe, who smiled back.
A shout broke the air.
"Bris! Bris, what're you doin' here? Flammie told me you were dead!" Drek pushed through everyone else and stood over the older Mana Knight. "Oh, no, Bris! What happened to ya?" the sprite frowned.
Brisbe stared, wide-eyed, at Drek. He had had no idea that the little sprite was still alive, or, at least, on this plane of existance!
"Well, I was dead, Drek.....and, in a little while, I will be again." He caught Drek's worried stare, and continued, trying to speak fast. He didn't know how much time he had left.
"Uziel – the Mana Beast, which I think most of you have seen, came to me at the falls. He told me about you, Warren," he said, turning to his son, " And told me he could bring me back for exactly one hour, just to get the sword back to you. How could I refuse?" he finished, gazing up at Warren.
Warren looked saddened.
"So... you would... dissappear anyway?"
A horrific screech came from outside, and the companions watched as the Mana Beast attacked, swatting the ships that held Flammie and Arno away as if they were mere flies. There were cries of joy at being released, and another scream of anger as Uziel crashed into the side of the Trinaut, sending it reeling. The room shook, and Brisbe turned to Warren once again.
"Uziel is attacking the ship. You've got to leave!" he urged, "Flammie and Arno should be free, now, they'll take you home. Now hurry up and get out of here, before the beast destoys this place!"
But Warren shook his head.
"I can't just leave you here! You'll die. Again!"
"I'll die, anyway! One way or another! Don't worry about me. Get yourself out of here before it's too late!"
Warren still protested.
"Now!" yelled Brisbe, "Don't worry. Come to the falls later. I'll be there. I promise, this will not be the last time we speak."
Warren held his father's hand for a moment. It would be the only time he would ever see Brisbe, living and breathing. He stored this moment away in his mind. It would be something they would share forever.
Then, turning, still holding his broken wrist, Warren led his friends out of the rip-roaring Trinaut.
Brisbe watched his son and his friends leave, watching Drek, with a sad, backwards look, go out last.
He felt the ship rock about him under the Mana Beast's attacks. He no longer paid attention to his injuries. They were of no consequence.
The far wall of the room caught fire, roaring its seeming agony as the flames claimed it.
Brisbe thought only of those last living moments with Warren. He knew that it would not be the last time they would speak, but he knew it would be something that they both would treasure for all eternity. Not since history was first recorded had a Mana Knight ever actually touched his son's hand, or fought side-by-side with him. It would be a moment for the history books, he knew, but more importantly, it had been a moment of truth between he and Warren.
And even as the beast's spell finally faded, and Brisbe drifted back into the depths of death, he knew that there would always be one thing in common that would link them, biologically or not.
They were of the Mana Tribe.
Warren looked back at the Trinaut as it exploded under the force of Uziel's attacks. He turned away, a knot welling up in his throat. He found Drek's hand on his shoulder, and turned to find the sprite a bit teary-eyed, as well.
"We did it, Warren. We stopped that nasty ol' Donovan."
"Yeah, we did, Drek. But," he added, "We couldn't have done it without him." He turned once again back to where the Trinaut had been, where now was only a huge cloud of smoke.
"Oh, but I wouldn't worry 'bout Bris. I'm sure he's already beaten us to the falls."
Dirk grinned from atop Arno.
"In that case, he'd better be willing to wait for a while."
Drek stared down at the youth, who was riding with Briana on the silver griffin.
"Because we have to make a little stop before we go to the falls."
Drek pondered, not exactly comprehending, then realized suddenly.
"Oh she's still here? Oh, boy. After fifty years, I can just imagine!"
The sprite burst into hysterical laughter as Flammie, Arno and Zerlina swerved north and headed for a certain mist-covered island.