by Luna Manar
"– But isn't there anything you can do?" asked Malina helplessly.
"Not from here," said Luka sadly, "Right now the only thing we can do is hope..."
Malina sighed in frustration. She should've never left Brisbe and Flammie out there alone to fight...but she knew that, even if she had stayed, they would have never won. Not against five red dragons.
It had been over twenty minutes since she and Aldora had made it to the Water Palace. There had been no sign of either Flammie or the Mana Knight, and both Luka and Malina were beginning to fear the worst.
But they could've fled, could've made it...
Who was she kidding? For some unknown reason, Flammie had refused to leave...so they had stayed and fought-and probably lost...
Luka couldn't do anything about it. The battle was too far away. Though powerful, Luka's magic had limits.
A loud crash echoed through the chamber. The walls shuddered from the force of a huge body crashing its way through the doors.
Was it the dragons, thought Malina, are they going to attack? She readied her spear. The crashing sounds came closer. Malina raised her weapon, while Luka stood in the background, a magic spell in her mind and ready.
Flammie came, roaring, through the (now broken and torn to bits) doors. He bellowed something in a panicked, nonsensical manner, as he quickly stopped himself just short of bowling into the pyramid that held the Water Seed.
Malina rushed up to him.
"Flammie! You're alright! We were worried sick! What's the matter?" She caught the troubled look on his face. "What happened...Where's Brisbe?" Malina suddenly knew that they had not fared as well as she had hoped.
A low groan came from the white dragon's back.
Flammie lowered his wings, which had been raised and tense, to reveal the Mana Knight, sprawled across his back.
Both Luka and Malina hurried to the injured Brisbe, who lay clutching his arm, half-conscious on the back of the white dragon. The two carefully guided his six-foot form to the floor next to Flammie. His shoulder had been slashed by a dragon claw, which had cut deep and dangerously close to the bone. His sleeve was soaked in red. Malina looked up at Luka worriedly.
But this was not a problem for the experienced healer. She had treated many a wound like this in her 200 years of life.
Whispering magic words and motioning with her left hand, Luka cast her spell. A blue light appeared over the Mana Knight's semi-conscious form, then split into three orbs, then six, all of equal size. The orbs enveloped Brisbe in a waterfall of healing magic, and for a moment he was awash in their brilliance. When they faded, the wound was gone, the sleeve was mended. It was as if the slash had never been there.
Brisbe's eyes fluttered open. Shaking his head to clear it, he looked, confused, at his surroundings. For a moment, he wondered how he got there.
Then recollection washed over him. He remembered the red dragons, the fight with Reddeath, the fiery pain in his arm, Geshtar...
Oh, Mana, he thought, How am I going to explain this one?
He smiled inwardly.
Turning his attention to the worried looks of Malina, Luka and Flammie, he carefully picked himself up off the ground and stood shakily.
"Are you alright?" asked Malina.
"I am now," he answered bluntly. He turned to the busted door and hole in the wall where Flammie had bowled through. "Though I can't say the same for the wall."
Malina wasn't interested in humor right now, though. All she cared about was:
"What happened? Did you win against those dragons? How?" Her questions came so fast, Brisbe had a hard time comprehending them. After a few moments of silence, both collected their thoughts.
"What happened?" repeated Malina, less emphatically.
The Mana Knight smiled. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Oh, yes she would!" Aldora's voice boomed through the hole in the wall.
Malina had forgotten all about the dragoness. She could not even recall where Aldora had gone after they had arrived at the Water Palace.
Aldora continued. "And after you tell her, come outside and look what I've found!"
Brisbe, Malina, and Luka all exchanged looks. They hurried out to see what it was Aldora had "found."
Thanatos slammed his fists down on the stone table when he heard the red dragon, Tennax, report the loss of Reddeath and three other red dragons.
"Fools! It was imperative that you destroyed that white dragon. With it, the Mana Knight can move around the world in a matter of hours! He can chase me, hunt me, find me, and meddle in my business.”
Tennax lowered his head in subordinance.
"But, sir the Mana Knight was with the white dragon."
Thanatos snorted. "You still could've taken him down."
"But then we would have had to destroy the knight. Everyone who has attacked him with his death in mind met a deadly combination of sword and skill. He took one of us down with a single blow!"
Thanatos snarled at the dragon's impudence. "You'd be surprised what the Mana Knight can survive. He lived through my beasts, my machines, even a blast from the Mana Fortress. He survived the breath of the Mana Beast! I do not expect a group of red dragons to kill him. Just to kill that pompous puffball of his!"
"But, no matter," said the dark wizard, "I shall deal with the white dragon on my own. I will not waste anymore precious time on you. The black void is almost fully generated."
He paused for a moment, then made a decision. He turned to Tennax.
"Return to your normal post. This matter is no longer any concern of yours."
The dragon bowed its head, and obediently turned to leave.
Flammie, Brisbe, Malina and Luka all stopped dead in their tracks at the sight they now beheld.
They had run down toward the entrance of the palace, over the spring suspended over a void, down the long tunnels and through the (busted) front gates.
Before them was a sight they'd never forget.
Aldora was standing in the most dignified position she could, considering she was holding down a small snow dragon with her tail and held a struggling, cursing Geshtar by the collar in her mouth. She was doing her best to hold down the other dragon while Geshtar bellowed.
"Put me down, you overgrown blueberry! I didn't attack your Mana Knight! I saved his neck! You can ask him!" The embarrassed warrior glared hatefully at the blue beast that held him.
Brisbe stifled a chuckle. It was ludicrous, but true, that Geshtar had given he and Flammie the means of escaping. Of course Geshtar had some sort of debt in mind, but that would be paid off right now.
"Put him down, Aldora."
Everyone except Aldora and Geshtar looked at the Mana Knight as if he had finally flipped.
But Brisbe shook his head. "I guess I've got a lot of explaining to do, don't I?"
Aldora roughly dropped Geshtar onto the wet ground.
"That you do," she answered Brisbe's question, "That you do," she said as she released Cyrus, the snow dragon, who quickly got up and moved into a protective position over his master. He didn't seem to notice that both Aldora and Flammie were nearly twice his size.
Such loyalty could be spent on better people, thought Aldora. Instead she said simply, "Well?" She glared at the Mana Knight, as did everybody else.
"Well...." started Brisbe, falling back under the multiple stares, "As strange as it may seem, uh, Geshtar saved our lives..." he gritted his teeth trying to think of a good way to explain. "We were surrounded by the dragons, there were too many of them for us to hold off. He – well, he created a diversion –"
"And saved your neck," finished Geshtar. "And you have a debt to pay, Mana Knight!" He crossed his arms.
Brisbe raised an eyebrow. "I consider it paid."
"What?" snarled Geshtar, "You –"
"Could've told that 'overgrown blueberry' to eat you," smiled the Mana Knight triumphantly, "but I didn't."
Geshtar scowled ferociously. He wouldn't be out-maneuvered this easily.
"I won't leave until I know exactly what's going on," he stated bluntly. When no one answered, he continued, "I've been having strange dreams and feelings up until the point you pulled the sword out of its stone. I've found out a little from a few scattered resources, and I know enough to know that I'm not the only one who had those feelings and that it concerns Mana.
"Since the fall of the Mana Fortress, I've been reduced to a lowly position, and I'd be a fool to think that what's been happening is nothing more than 'natural phenomena.' Call it being nosy, call it whatever you want, but I am not leaving until I know what's going on! Then, and only then, will I leave and bother you no more." He stared defiantly at Malina's skeptical look.
Brisbe eyed Geshtar. In all the days that he'd known the unpredictable man, he'd never seen him this serious. He had a feeling that what Geshtar had said was true, but that he was also holding something back. Geshtar's sarcastic mask didn't always hide everything. He considered the consequences of telling him of the dying Shadow Seed, of Thanatos.
He didn't have to. Luka stepped forward.
"You might as well know," she said, then turned to Brisbe and Malina. "I was going to tell you that Geshtar, the new emperor Baird, Sage Joch and I have been having the same dreams you have, Mana Knight. Sage Joch recently sent word to me that the Shadow Seed is dying. So, too, is the Water Seed. He told me that the dragon named Reddeath attacked Flammie and sent him with the message that Thanatos was alive. There is no doubt in my mind that he is draining the seeds of their energy somehow. I know this much; whoever or whatever this evil is, it's coming from the far reaches of the Ice Country. You must find out where he is and stop him! I am almost sure he's found something that could mean destruction of the entire planet. Perhaps something even stronger than the Mana Fortress itself."
Geshtar furrowed his brow. "Ice Country?" he asked, "There's an ancient abandoned city up there. I knew Thanatos well enough to know that that's exactly the kind of place he'd hide out in. If he's there, he's probably expecting you to try and stop him. He'll be prepared. You won't be able to get through the city without a guide."
At this, Brisbe sneered. "He's tried to stop me before. He didn't exactly succeed," he pointed out.
But Geshtar only snorted at the comment. "Mana Knight, you know nothing about Thanatos. Back then, he was focusing on taking control of the world. He only put guards and a few traps in your way because he underestimated you. He thought you wouldn't be a problem. He was wrong. He paid for that mistake. But his focus now is totally set on you, Mana Knight. After his defeat, he won't make the same mistake twice. He'll be expecting you and will have thought of traps even you would not be able to tell were there. I know those traps, however. I know many of his tricks. He won't be expecting me on your side. Believe me, knight, you'd do much better with me with you."
Malina took a step toward Geshtar. "How do we know you're not lying?"
"What would I have to gain? I'm not idiot enough to try making an alliance with Thanatos again. He'd dispose of me the second he knew I was still alive. I have no grudge against you. I realized a long time ago that the loss of Mana would mean self destruction. You might even say I'm on Mana's side this time, hard as it may be to believe. Of course my interests are for myself, you know that, but what's power when you're living in a dead world?" Geshtar's question hung in the air. No one had an answer.
"Fine," said Brisbe suddenly, "Come on, but I've got my eye on you."
Gee, thought Geshtar as he watched the Mana Knight walk up to Flammie, That makes me feel so much better.
It was night before they set out for the Ice Country. The Mana Knight had discussed the likelihood that Thanatos was actually alive. Everything seemed to point to it. They had taken a look at the Water Seed. It was in the same condition, if not worse, than the Shadow Seed. They couldn't take time to rest long, they had to get moving right away. Now the three of them rode on the backs of their dragons, two white, one blue, toward the Ice Country. They flew swiftly, amazingly Cyrus, Geshtar's dragon, could keep up with the two others. Within an hour they were over the snowy Ice Country. It was difficult for all but the dragons to see the ground far below them. Geshtar was familiar with the territory, however, and guided them toward the ancient city.
A while passed without any of them saying anything to each other. Malina was the one to break the silence.
"How did you survive the blast from your mechcycle the third time we fought you?" she asked Geshtar, "We saw it explode with you on it." The question was not derogatory or sarcastic, but curious. Geshtar was startled at how calm she sounded, in fact. No one had ever spoken to him so casually.
But he wasn't about to reveal any of his secrets to her.
"I have my ways," he said, "When Thanatos raised the Mana Fortress, it started to devour the world's Mana like candy. I realized then the extent of Thanatos's powerlust. He was crazy to think that he'd ever get away with what he was doing. I tried to reason with him, but of course, he wouldn't listen. I will tell you this: The Geshtar you destroyed wasn't me."
He was about to say something else, when Brisbe called out from Flammie.
"Look! Up ahead! I see something!"
Far in the distance, a red light gleamed, it seemed puny now, but, if Geshtar didn't know better, he'd say it was getting bigger...
The truth dawning on him, he commanded his dragon.
"Cyrus! Climb, now! Climb! That goes for you, too, Mana Knight!"
But he was already too far away to hear.
Before either Flammie or Aldora could react, the red light expanded and rushed with amazing speed toward them. It hit the dragons with a deafening roar.
Flammie and Aldora disappeared.
Brisbe and Malina fell through the icy air.
Brisbe's heart pounded in his ears. That was close. Too close. Only about ten feet from the ground, Malina had cast some sort of transport spell and they had appeared with their feet on the ground. But where?
Malina hadn't had enough time to think of a specific place to transport to, and they had appeared in the center of a dense forest of crystal trees. They were lost.
Malina was too busy worrying about Flammie and Aldora to care, though. The dragons had vanished from beneath them. Who knew what happened to them?
But the Mana Knight, though he had the same worries, knew they had a bigger problem right now.
It was freezing. Neither Brisbe nor Malina were dressed for such cold weather. On the backs of the dragons, they had been warm, comfortable on the animals furry backs. But now, Malina was already beginning to shiver. But she hardly noticed the cold.
"Flammie...Aldora.." she murmured. "Oh, Brisbe, what happened to them? Could they be...."
Brisbe walked up to her and put his arms out to her. To his surprise, she accepted them readily.
"I don't know." was all he could say.
Malina was broken. She shuddered with cold, tears streamed down her face.
The Mana Knight's blood boiled. No one should have to live through this. Thanatos had gone too far. It wasn't just a fight for peace, anymore, it was a fight for lives, lives that could have been so much less traumatic, but that were crushed by the evil wizard's doings. It was personal, now.
The Mana Knight realized himself for the second time in his life. He admitted his love for Malina to himself, now, knew that if he had a choice, he would choose her over the world. But she had lost almost as much as Brisbe had. She shouldn't have to. Thanatos had crossed the borderline. He would pay for what he had done, Brisbe vowed that to himself. Not later, not next time. This time. He would see to it.
But in the back of his mind, he knew the price he himself would have to pay would be just as dear.
Geshtar cursed under his breath as he watched the Mana Knight and Malina disappear, only a few feet from the ground. A teleport spell, he recognized it. Thanatos used it often. But though he knew little about the stronger magic spells, he knew enough to realize that she wouldn't have had time to cast the spell correctly, and she could be anywhere in the forest. The two couldn't last there long. Not without the dragons. He knew he would never be able to find them himself, not in time, anyway. What could he do–?
It was ludicrous, but it just might work.
Geshtar turned Cyrus around, heading to the southwest as fast as the dragon could take him.
Brisbe and Malina had trudged aimlessly in one direction for hours, and still there was no sign of Geshtar, Flammie, Aldora, Cyrus, or anyone else. They had searched endlessly for any sign of human life or otherwise. All they could see was an endless forest of crystal.
Malina tripped and fell in the snow. Brisbe moved to help her up, but she couldn't even stand.
"I can't go any further, Brisbe," she whispered through clenched teeth. She shuddered as a gust of cold wind blew against them. "Go on without me. You have a better chance than I do. I'll only slow you down." She pushed away from him, but he pulled her back.
"No, Malina!" he protested, "I won't leave–"
"You have to!" she shot back, "If you freeze to death, who will fight Thanatos?"
Brisbe looked her in the eyes, which, despite the cold, were as bright and full of life as they had been when he met her. He knew she wasn't ready to die yet.
"I won't freeze," he said stubbornly, but somehow, he truly didn't think he would, not if...
"And neither will you," he said, and lifted her up to her feet. He knew she couldn't travel, but at this point, it didn't matter. He guided her over to a crystal tree and she sat down. He sat down next to her. They would wait.
Unexpectedly, he found Malina clutching his arm.
She was cold beyond belief.
The Mana Knight put his strong arms around her and held her close. He remembered what Dyluck had asked of him, what Serin had said. He had promised to keep her safe. That's exactly what he was going to do.
The Mana Sword glowed softly at his side.
Malina laid her head on Brisbe's chest. She could think of nothing now except how cold she was. He seemed so much warmer. She shivered again as a gust of wind blew, biting into her flesh.
She tried to concentrate on the warmth that was still left in her. But she couldn't. The cold was too strong, she couldn't fight it.
But Brisbe could.
She knew he would now, as he always did. He had always been there for her, had never let her down. He had always stood strong against the most hideous beast, against Thanatos, born the pain with dignity when his mother had died at the wizard's hand.
And so he stood strong now. She could hear his heart, which had survived so much torture, beating in his chest now.
Slow, strong, steady. It was the pulse that kept him going, the fire of Mana giving him the strength to stand up to anything.
She knew then that they wouldn't die.
They would make it.