by Luna Manar
Brisbe slowly lifted his head at the sound of wingbeats in the air above him. He strained to focus on the figures above him. He was too cold to move, too tired to call out. He just hoped that if the figures saw him, they were in the mood to help.
"See, now? What did I tell you?" Geshtar's raucous voice said, there were a few muffled answers, some in disbelief.
"Now do you think I'm lying?"
Brisbe felt soft feathered wings brush against him, as three bear-sized figures landed next to him. A thick blanket was draped over he and Malina. Then he felt a taloned hand upon his shoulder, felt himself being lifted up. Malina was clutched in the other hand.
They were flown to a hovering Cyrus and placed on the back of the snow dragon, who shifted uneasily under their added weight.
"Well, now, aren't you two a cute couple?" chided Geshtar (amazingly, there was no sarcasm in his voice). "Cyrus! Take us to the abandoned city! There's no time to lose!"
It took only minutes for Malina to wake up under the warm blanket. When she did, she found herself on the back of Geshtar's snow dragon, Brisbe was speaking to Geshtar in a hushed tone.
She groaned a bit as she sat upright, and Brisbe was immediately aware that she was awake. He turned around to her. He looked as though he'd been stuffed inside a glacier. Ice caked his long red-brown hair. His shirt creaked with stiffness as he turned.
But his eyes told a different story. They were filled with alertness, decisiveness, and determination.
"Malina! Are you alright?" he asked, deeply concerned.
Malina nodded. "I've been better, but I'll be fine. What happened? What's going on?"
"Geshtar found us, with a little help. That I'll explain later. I wish we could rest now, but we can't. We've got to get to Thanatos's hideout as swiftly as possible," he explained quickly.
"Why? What's happened?" she asked, fearful of the answer. Her fears were well-proven. The worst of them.
"Pandora's been attacked."
Malina caught her breath. Shaking her head in disbelief, she asked the Mana Knight,
Brisbe caught her eyes, sorrowfully shook his head.
"Whatever attacked them....it tore the castle clean off its foundations..." He stopped at Malina's heartbreaking cry. " I-I'm sorry.... I really am. I wish I could do something about it right now, but the only objective now is that we get to the lost city and stop it from happening again!"
He stopped for a moment, then added, "We're stopping once to bring our, well, our troops with us. You can get off there, if you want to."
She shook her head. "No. If it was your fight before, it's my fight now, too. I can't ignore this. My home has been destroyed."
Brisbe shook his head. "The houses were left untouched. It was just the castle. They can build another castle–"
"But not the same! No, Brisbe, Thanatos has to pay for this. If you fight, then I fight, too."
Brisbe wished for all the world that she would change her mind. He knew he couldn't do anything about it now, though. It would be foolish to try. He didn't want her there when...
They came within view of their short stopping point. There, they could see their "troops."
"Kimono birds?" breathed Malina questioningly.
Geshtar heard her, and answered, "When I saw you were lost, I went to the only army that had ever been in my command (besides those foolish soldiers that always tag behind me). I knew I couldn't possibly find you on my own. I suppose you could say I 'went for help.' On the way back, I heard of the attack on Pandora from a passing Matangoan beast. Fortunately, the Kimonos accepted to help us and, trust me, they make a formidable army."
Cyrus stopped and hovered low over the Kimono birds' camp. He bellowed something to them in a language that was not dragon, but neither was it human. What looked like the head of the camp started squawking out orders to the others in the same language.
Before long, fifty or sixty Kimono birds were in formation behind the snow dragon.
They set off in the direction of the ancient city.
Within minutes they reached the old city. It looked much like the ruins in Pandora and Northtown, but was in considerably better condition. Surprisingly, no counter attack rose to meet them. The Kimonos broke formation behind the snow dragon and took up positions surrounding the city.
Cyrus landed at what appeared to be the front gate to the city. The Mana Knight, Malina, and Geshtar got off, and the snow dragon went to join the Kimonos.
Both Malina and Brisbe had warmed up by now, and they both drew their weapons, spear and sword. Geshtar withdrew a crossbow the Kimono birds had given him.
Brisbe looked at both companions.
Malina and Geshtar nodded.
They entered the gates.
Inside, all was quiet. Dead quiet. Nothing moved, nothing made a sound.
The breathing of the three warriors echoed through the hall.
Slowly, they crept down the corridor. It seemed to go in one direction. Still nothing obstructed their path.
Brisbe could feel the trap from a mile away. He just didn't know what it was, or where.
Geshtar proved his usefulness. Halfway down the long hallway, he put his had on the Mana Knight's shoulder.
Brisbe looked at him, eyed him skeptically for a moment, then stepped back.
Geshtar raised his crossbow and aimed at one out of hundreds of floor tiles. He fired.
The bolt struck a tile, and a thin spike at least as tall as Geshtar himself shot with blinding speed from the floor. Immediately after shooting up, it retracted itself back into the floor.
Brisbe stared in shock. That tile had looked exactly like all the others. He would have never seen it coming. He gazed at Geshtar in wonderment.
Who only smirked. "Now aren't you glad I came along?"
The second after he said that, the walls around them blew open with fantastic force as huge metal creatures burst forth from them. Steel scorpions.
With a shout, Geshtar dodged one of their blows and shot the robotic creature in its glowing red eye. The creature shuddered, then collapsed. Another followed the first, pointed its steel tail at Brisbe, and shot a projectile from its tail. The projectile was small, incredibly fast. It whizzed by Brisbe's left shoulder, missing by millimeters, hitting the wall behind him. It happened so fast that the Mana Knight couldn't move to avoid it. He couldn't dodge one if it was aimed true.
Malina came in from the side of the steelpion, impaled it with her spear. It, too, shuddered and collapsed.
There were two more. One attacked Brisbe head on, its claws snapping. The other attacked Malina. The steelpion overpowered her, knocked her down, then turned directly toward the Mana Knight, who was fending off the attack of the third steel scorpion.
It aimed directly for the center of the Mana Knight's back.
Getting between the defenses of the third steelpion's defenses, Brisbe stabbed the red, glowing eye. He turned to see the last steel creature aiming directly at him.
Everything happened in slow motion, or at least, it seemed to. Geshtar, seeing the steelpion before anyone else, lunged for Brisbe, bowling into him and pushing him out of the way of the steelpion's line of fire. Brisbe fell to the ground.
Geshtar was thrown back by the force of the bullet that the steelpion fired.
As he, too, fell, Malina, who had regained her footing, jumped the steel scorpion and thrust her spear directly into its eye. The robot shut down and collapsed.
Brisbe got up and moved over to the fallen Geshtar. Malina joined him at his side.
Geshtar feebly opened his closed eyes. The steelpion's bullet had struck him directly in the center of his chest. He smiled, a strange, contented smile neither Brisbe nor Malina had ever seen on his face.
"Well, I think I've made a name for myself now, haven't I?" his voice was a hiss, barely audible.
Brisbe nodded. That he would never deny.
Malina started to murmur the words to a healing spell, hoping she could remember them, but Geshtar reached up and took hold of her arm.
"No," he commanded, "I've done my part. I've made a difference. Go, find Thanatos. Stop him. You no longer need me."
Malina stopped. She wanted to help Geshtar, he had changed. He had become a good and noble man. But he was too far gone. Not even Luka could help him now.
Geshtar shifted his gaze to Brisbe. "
"Mana Knight. You showed me friendship, forgiveness, and true courage. You gave my life meaning where no one else had. I ask only one thing. Give me some credit, huh? After this is through?"
The Mana Knight nodded. "Of course."
Geshtar's smile expanded for an instant, then faded. His eyes closed. He was gone.
He had made a difference.
Is that all he ever truly wanted?
The Mana Knight and Malina stood, gazed at each other, then continued swiftly down the long corridor, hoping that that was the last of the traps, both knowing that their nemesis waited beyond the doors at the end of the hall.
Flammie and Aldora strained their huge platinum chains in Thanatos's chambers. They couldn't escape, nor had they been able to for hours, ever since the huge red ball of magic had brought them here. They had tried everything, from spells to tooth and claw to dragon fire. Nothing worked. The chains had powerful protective spells cast on them, and would not break.
They were held captive next to a huge pool of water. They had both seen the true manifestation of the pool only once, seen the hideous weapon Thanatos had created come forth, then set off to destroy the Pandora castle. They both knew its dangers, but were incapable of doing anything about it. Aldora couldn't speak. She had a huge metal band around her snout.
They both stopped struggling at the sound of fighting in the corridor that led to the room they were in. Thanatos raised from his seated position at the edge of the pool.
"Good," he croaked, "They're here." He turned to the dragons.
"And now, before you die, you will have the pleasure of watching your Mana Knight die a slow, painful death, while I triumph over the earth!" His mocking laughter was more triumphant than it had ever sounded. The sounds in the corridor ceased.
Brisbe reached the doors to what he knew must be Thanatos's chamber. He stopped at the door. Malina stopped behind him.
They could hear the familiar, horrific, mocking laughter of the evil wizard.
Brisbe's brow furrowed, he set his jaw, gripped the Mana Sword in his right hand and pushed through the door.
There he saw Thanatos, alive, mocking, evil. Flammie and Aldora were chained to the far wall in front of a large pool of water.
The wizard turned to face the Mana Knight.
"So, you've finally come. Have a nice night in the freezing cold of the Ice Country?" He laughed again.
Brisbe ignored the wizard's jeer. "Let them go," he snarled, his sword raised and ready. His eyes burned with an inner fire.
Thanatos casually crossed his arms. "I do not think so, Mana Knight," he stated in a suddenly serious tone. Suddenly, he began to grow, larger, and larger, until he was nearly as large as the dragons he held captive. His skull mask turned into his face, his arms thinned out until they were nothing more but bones. His robes split, revealing only an empty cavity – except for the blue, dark, pulsing heart that was Thanatos. He was the Dark Lich.
Brisbe narrowed his eyes. This wasn't how Thanatos would expect to get rid of him, he had already failed that way once. What was he hiding?
The Mana Knight shifted his gaze to Thanatos's empty eye sockets. He held his stare. Thanatos, caught by surprise by this action, tried to avert his own gaze. He froze. He couldn't move. Sudden fear washed over him. He then berated himself for his stupidity. He had been fool enough to look into the eyes of the Mana Knight. The gaze caught him, and for all his power, he could not break the stare.
He couldn't move, but he could speak.
"Death beast! Come to me!" he called, and the waters of the pool swirled and became a whirlpool.
"Now, Mana Knight," Thanatos bellowed, "Meet your doom."
The whirlpool became larger, faster, until it encompassed the whole pool.
Pure nothingness leapt out of the whirlpool. The nothingness was a void, huge, menacing, deadly. It soared up through the ceiling, taking the roof with it. In a weaving pattern, it seemingly devoured the roof, leaving the room open to the early morning. It was overcast, mournful, resigned.
The void lowered itself to only a few feet from the ground. Brisbe nearly stopped breathing as he saw it take a form, a shape.
It shaped itself like a Mana Beast.
But a mocking, horrific, lifeless Mana Beast. It gazed at Brisbe with its hollow, soulless face.
It was death.
And at Thanatos's command, it charged.
It dove straight for the Mana Knight, its depthless mouth open in a silent scream. Brisbe rolled out of its way, and the creature enveloped half of the wall, and the wall vanished.
With suddenly more weight to bear, the other walls of the building shuddered and creaked.
The Death Beast turned to attack again.
Brisbe didn't know what he could do. The creature destroyed anything it came in contact with. How could he possibly defeat such a monster?
A thin line of electricity ran up the Mana Sword's perfect blade.
He had his answer. He knew what he had to do.
Holding the Mana Sword in front of him, he leveled it at the charging creature.
The Death Beast struck.
There was a blinding flash of pure light, and explosion of the essence of everything. The Death Beast vanished.
The Mana Sword shattered.
The Mana Knight fell.
Thanatos laughed as the Mana Knight fell motionless to the cold stone floor. He had destroyed the Death Beast, that was true, but Thanatos himself was still alive.
He threw back his hideous head and cackled.
And screeched in pain.
A blinding light clouded his vision. He shuddered as the lucent beam coursed through his undead body.
When the pain subsided, he turned in fury.
Malina stood before him, her arms raised, her spear in hand. Yes, she was a problem. But not for long....
Brisbe weakly lifted his head. He heard the sounds of a battle, of magic against magic. He knew Malina must be fighting Thanatos. He also knew she couldn't win alone.
He tried to lift himself to a crouch.
Pain racked his body, stabbed through him like a knife. He felt like he was being torn apart. The Mana Sword lay in pieces a few feet away. It was dead. He knew. He had felt it die.
He heard the sounds of battle cease, and Thanatos's mocking laughter.
"What have you now, little girl?" he cackled, "Your Mana Knight is gone, his sword shattered. Your magic just died with him. What will you do now, foolish little human thing?"
Brisbe painfully reached for the only weapon he had left, Drek's boomerang. He forced himself to rise on one arm, fighting the urge to scream out in pain. Carefully, he took aim.
Geshtar, he recited in his mind, Pandora, the Mana Beast, Dyluck, Drek, the Mana Tree, the Mana Sword, Serin...
But not Malina.
He threw the boomerang with all the strength he had left.
Hearing the sound, Thanatos spun around.
The boomerang hit straight and true. It plunged into and through Thanatos's dark heart.
With a roar of anguish, hatred, pain, terror, and defeat, Thanatos crumbled into a pile of black dust.
Brisbe slumped to the ground.
Malina ran as fast as she could to where he lay. She turned him over to face her.
"Brisbe!" she yelled, shaking the Mana Knight vigorously, tears streamed down her face.
Brisbe's eyes opened feebly.
Malina's next word was but a whisper. "Mana Knight..."
Brisbe reached out as much as he could. Malina grasped his hand.
"Peace," he said, "And love."
His hand dropped. He closed his eyes.
The last Mana Knight was gone.