Shadows of Evil
by Luna Manar


Malina gazed in wonder at the huge dragon before her. Aldora was huge, fifty or even sixty feet long, as large or larger than Flammie. In fact, she was like Flammie in almost every way.

Except one.

Aldora was not white. She was a cool sky blue. She wasn't a creature of Lumina, like Flammie was. She was a creature of Undine.

Aldora landed neatly (aside from some blown over bushes) on the edge of the mountain cliff. She took a moment to look over Malina, Brisbe and Joch, and, deciding introductions could be skipped under the circumstances, quickly turned her attention to the comatose Flammie.

With hardly a sound, she lumbered up to the injured white dragon. She prodded him and examined him with the careful skill of any human healer. She paused a moment, seeming to decide between two options. Finally, she chose one. Placing her paw over the white dragon, she began to chant quietly, seemed to go into a trance.

A blue light started to glow under her paw. Lifting her arm, the glow became an umbrella of blue light, seeming to protect the white dragon from an unseen storm.

Aldora spread her wings so that they almost encompassed the light. Tracing a star in the air with one paw, she started to rhythmically beat her hind wings. She moved the paw that had traced the star, which now trailed some essence of blue magic, over each and every one of Flammie's wounds, stopping the longest over the slash on his belly. Each one of the wounds healed after she passed it, and soon, the white dragon showed almost no evidence that he had ever been hurt. Almost.

The blue dragon made a swift, outward slicing motion with both arms, and the light disappeared. She slumped over a bit, as if exhausted.

No one blamed her.

Flammie, who had been unconscious for a long time, opened his eyes. He shuddered as he felt the remnants of Aldora's magic leave him, but jumped in astonishment when he realized that he was healed. He looked around dazedly, unsure of what was happening, and his eyes locked on Aldora.

He had never seen another of his kind or kin before, and he went absolutely ecstatic.

He began babbling in his dragon language, speaking so fast that not even Joch could understand him. He got constantly louder in his ramblings, until Aldora jerked her head up, glared at him and said,

"Shut up!"

The words were in human language, so that not only Flammie was surprised at her comment.

But the blue dragon continued, "How am I supposed to rest when you are making so much noise?! It was a little more than tedious to heal you, Cottonball."

Flammie growled softly at the insult, feeling hurt.

Brisbe and Malina stared. This, of course incredibly annoyed Aldora.

"What are you staring at? Haven't you ever heard a dragon speak before? Honestly, I seem to get this reaction out of everyone!" She bellowed in an alto, slightly ditzy, slightly raucous voice. She rolled her eyes for emphasis.

Brisbe spoke for the first time in an hour. "We apologize. We have seen dragons that could speak before, just not of, well, your kind. Flammie has been trying for years, and he still can't manage 'hello.'"

"By the way," he added, "Thanks for saving Flammie's life, we are grateful, of course." He smiled, looked up at the white dragon, who was smiling and nodding in agreement.

Aldora eyed the two of them. "You're welcome, and yes, we can speak human tongues, it's just a lot more difficult and takes guided practice. You'll certainly need lessons," she nodded at Flammie.

Joch stepped into the conversation. "Aldora, I'm sure our friends would love to hear all about dragon English-lessons, but I'm afraid we're running out of time. The Shadow Seed is weakening, and every second we waste is a second Thanatos or whoever is doing this has on his side.

"Brisbe, I believe you may learn more from Sage Luka. I think Flammie's well enough to manage a short flight....?" He gave the white dragon an inquiring look.

Flammie had been testing his wings for any kinks or soreness, and finding none, gave Joch a look that could be interpreted as "You betcha!"

Joch turned again to Aldora. "I want you to go with them."

Aldora balked. "Me? Why me? How could I possibly be of use? I've done my job here, and plus, I don't like adventuring."

"Besides," she added disdainfully, "It's demeaning to travel with a puffball on wings." She eyed Flammie disapprovingly.

Who promptly stuck his tongue out at her.

Aldora growled at the white dragon. "Blue-winged booby!" she spat.

Flammie returned with a sharp string of shrieks and barks in dragon.

Aldora snarled, "Well, I'd never!" She whispered a few words, and suddenly a small raincloud appeared out of nowhere over Flammie and began to pour rain on him.

The blue dragon roared in laughter at Flammie's soaked form.

Two can play at this game, thought the white dragon. Whispered words and three slaps of his huge tail brought the soft carpet of grass beneath Aldora's feet out from under her. She nearly flipped over backwards, landing on her back.

Flammie laughed so hard he fell over.

Aldora was not amused. She looked almost as if she would do something else that went beyond teasing, but for Brisbe stepping between the quarreling dragons.

"Stop it! Both of you! We don't have time to play games!" he shouted, "While you two are fighting, the Mana Seed is dying! We must leave for the Water Palace now!"

Malina was quickly by his side and calming the two dragons down.

After many minutes of arguing and persuading, Aldora finally agreed to come with them, though she insisted it was a waste of time. She said she should get back home. Malina was going to ask where her home was, but decided not to on account of Aldora's bad mood.

By evening they were on their way to Luka's palace, Brisbe on Flammie, and Malina on the ever-grumbling Aldora.

"D-doom, sir?" stammered Reddeath, "Doom of what, if I may ask?"

Thanatos smiled beneath his mask.

"Doom of Mana, Reddeath. You see, the pit of blackness you see before you is a form of absolute nothingness. Before the Mana Fortress was defeated, I found some of the great knowledge of the ancients in its technology. It was the formula for what the ancients called a 'black hole.' A fairly harmless name, but it's owned by a weapon of incredible power! The ancients also knew how to control it and shape it to their will. Using it, I will destroy Mana, and along with it will go the Mana Knight. The people of the world will be mine!" Thanatos threw back his head and let loose an evil, mocking cackle.

After the wizard's laughing subsided, Reddeath chanced a question.

"And what is my part in this? What if the white dragon lives? And what if the Mana Knight tries to stop you?"

Thanatos was eerily silent for a moment, then answered, "The white dragon is your problem. As for the Knight, leave him to me..."

Thanatos's spidery voice echoed throughout the hall.

Flammie screeched at Aldora's offhand comment about his mother.

Brisbe rolled his eyes. This kind of fighting had been going on since they had left. He had never heard any two people (or dragons) fight and argue so much in his life. They were worse than Drek and Malina! At least they were nearly to the Water Palace. Once there, they could settle their differences in front of Luka (who, of course, would never let them fight).

This thought in mind, he veered Flammie toward the palace, which they had just passed because of misattention produced by Flammie and Aldora's bickering.

There was a series of cries, screams, bellows, and screeches, some coming from the two formerly arguing dragons, some coming from the air directly above them. Flammie veered out of the way as a huge red dragon swooped passed them. Aldora dodged the attack of another.

Brisbe looked about him, startled and not quite sure what was happening. Instantly, his sword was in his hands. He steered Flammie closer to Aldora.

"What's going on?" he yelled at Malina, who had out her spear.

His answer came not from Malina, but from the wail of an enormous red dragon, that now hovered out in front of them.

"What? You, still alive?" the behemoth pointed a clawed finger at Flammie, "How is it possible? Thanatos was right! This time, white dragon, I will finish you off!" Reddeath motioned to four other red dragons to fall in behind him.

Four? thought Brisbe, we can't take on five dragons! Not now!

The Mana Knight pulled desperately on Flammie's yellow mane, trying to get the dragon to retreat and flee. They couldn't possibly win this battle, but they could outrun a bunch of red dragons any day.

But Flammie refused to budge.

"Flammie!" Brisbe roared in protest, "We must flee! We can't win this one!" Still the white dragon refused to move.

The Mana Knight took in the scene before him. He recalled the red dragon's words; 'still alive.'

This must be Reddeath! he realized suddenly. Filled with new fear, he again urged Flammie to move.

The white dragon turned his head to face Brisbe. Rage filled Flammie's eyes. Every fiber in his being told Brisbe, "No. I have to settle this, now. No matter what. And there's nothing you can do to stop me short of killing me."

The Mana Knight got the message. Loud and clear. He turned to Aldora and Malina, who were staring at them both expectantly.

"Go on!" he yelled to them, "Get out of here! Get to Luka's palace! We'll fight them here!"

At this, Malina's eyes widened.

"No, Brisbe," she screamed back, "You'll never defeat them all! Not by yourself! It's suicide!"

"Go!" screeched Flammie in dragon, "Or I'll kick your tail!"

Aldora flew back a bit, surprised by the white dragon's seriousness.

But she understood, now, this was the one who had injured the white dragon so badly.

Wheeling around, the blue dragon fled as swiftly as she could toward Luka's palace, Malina shouting protests and orders that fell on deaf ears. Somehow, she doubted Flammie wouldn't find his way out of this one.

He had, after all won the argument.

Brisbe and Flammie faced impossible odds, they both knew that. Even if Aldora and Malina had stayed, they still couldn't defeat all five red dragons. They would have all been dead. Now, at least, Malina and Aldora were safe.

Reddeath screamed and charged, the other dragons breaking off to the sides.

Flammie wailed and moved out of the way of the deadly dragon. Whipping around, the white dragon blew flame in Reddeath's direction. He missed.

Another dragon tried to attack from behind, and was met by the Mana Knight's slashing sword. The creature screeched, its wing torn, and plummeted to the ground. Four left.

Flammie flew straight at one of the dragons. At the last second, he veered to the side and stretched out his claws to the air.

He was rewarded with a bellow of pain from the red dragon as his talons bit deep into its side. The dragon retreated to a more defensive position.

Then they were all over the white dragon. Surrounding them, the dragons began to attack all at once.

Unable to defend against the terrible onslaught, Flammie howled in terror and pain.

Brisbe attempted to fend the attackers off with his sword, but there were too many of them. One of the dragons' wing claws caught hold of his shoulder and tore a deep gash. Brisbe gritted his teeth in pain, but kept trying to fend off the constant attacks.

There was a rumble, a dark shadow, and one of the dragons screeched in agony as a torrent of acid rain fell upon it. It dropped to the ground below with its comrade.

Another screech, this one triumphant, cracked through the air. A sleek, snow white, scaled figure passed the group of warring dragons. Another cry from a red as Flammie took the advantage from the diversion and rammed the dragon square in its massive chest. That one fell, too.

The snow dragon attacked one of the remaining red dragons. Brisbe strained to get a look at the creature's rider.

"Geshtar!" he gasped in amazement.

Geshtar smirked. "Who did you expect? King Truffle?" he yelled back, his dragon fighting fiercely with the red. It was having difficulty gaining the upper hand on the much larger beast.

Brisbe didn't have any time to think. There were only two dragons left. Flammie already had turned to face Reddeath, who was obviously surprised at how quickly his flight had disappeared.

But the red dragon unexpectedly turned on the white dragon and its rider. Flammie barely had time to move out of the way, Reddeath's spikes grazing his belly. Roaring more in anger than in pain, he turned to face Reddeath, who was hovering directly above them.

"I've got you, now," bellowed Reddeath. He went into a straight nose-dive, rocketing toward the white dragon and the Mana Knight.

There was no time to move.

No time to think.

Only time to take one action.

And Flammie made it. He flattened his ears and laid his fur and mane straight, exposing the jagged horns under and behind them that were usually so well concealed, no one noticed them.

But they were there.

Flammie lowered his head so that the points of the long horns were leveled at Reddeath's heart.

"No, Reddeath," he called out in dragon, "I have you."

Reddeath was unable to stop himself fast enough.

The remaining red dragon saw his leader fall, saw he was now outnumbered, and turned from its battle with the snow dragon, and fled.

Geshtar steered his dragon toward the victorious Flammie.

"Well, aren't you going to thank me?" he called out to the Mana Knight.

"What?" snarled Brisbe through clenched teeth, holding his right arm.

"Well, I did just save your neck, in case you didn't notice."

"It seems to me your dragon did most of the work," spat the Mana Knight in answer. He was beginning to feel dizzy.

"Oh, very well, if you must be that way. Consider yourself indebted, Mana Knight. Even you must admit, you would have been dragon barbecue if I hadn't came along. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be going."

He veered away, then turned and said, "Oh, and, like it or not, you've found yourself a new ally."

Geshtar and the snow dragon sped off into the horizon.

Too tired and in pain to care about what Geshtar had said, Brisbe commanded Flammie to get them to Luka's palace.

But he passed out on the white dragon's back before they even got there.

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