Starting A Destiny
by Nightshade

Part 3

Neko the Salescat

Keven soon discovered what the sign led to - a purple house with a blue roof and pink front door awaited him, complete with a small flower garden. Walking on the path, Keven noticed that the flowers smelled familiar. "Catnip Drops!" he realized. Curious, he came to and walked through the door.

The inside of the house was a disaster area. Objects of all sorts covered everything, from floor to ceiling. Visible in the clutter a few beds and a counter with a purple cat behind it. The cat was organizing, or at least trying to, some helmets. The "salescat" seemed to be preoccupied, Keven took an opportunity to talk when the cat held up two helmets and examined them. "Hello there!" Keven called.

When the cat looked up, his expression was one of fright, but then was skillfully masked into one of smiles and plans. "How do you do, purr?" the cat said, "The name's Neko. I run an Inn and a shop. You look like you're worn out... do ya wanna sleep the night, purr? It's only 30GP."

Remembering the amounts he had collected on his way here, which were almost 500GP, Keven shook his head. "Sorry, I'm trying to save some of my money..." Man, this cat's a fast talker...

"Then what about buying? I've got the best selection of goods in all of the Lower Lands. Surely you must need something... " Neko looked his customer over, "That bandanna'll do you no good, purr."

Keven touched the piece of fabric he had bought in Potos and felt a little hurt. After all, it was all he had left of his village. "What's wrong with it?"

"It's not good enough. I'm not going to try to sell you out, boy, but take my advice - if you can afford it, buy the best armor you can find!" Neko's voice dropped to a whisper, "The times we live in are dangerous..."

"OK.... what do you suggest I get?"

"That would depend on many things... Is there any price range?"

"Yeah. Got anything for less than 100GP?"

Neko's eyes went big as he tried to suppress a choke. "You don't have much, do ya?" Keven nodded. "Well, I can't guarantee that I can find anything, but I'll see what I can do..." he turned around and started to go through his merchandise.

Keven found it amusing that Neko liked to talk to himself. However, it was the cat's way of figuring out his concerns.

Turning, Neko produced a small, worn out looking leather band, "I call it a Wristband. The best thing I can let go for under 100GP..."

Thinking a moment, Keven sighed. "Ok, I'll take it for 75GP."

Neko's head snapped up. "75GP?!!!" He shook his head. "No sir. Maybe 95GP..."

"Too high." was the reply, "80GP?"

The salescat thought for a moment. "90GP, take it or leave it."

Reluctantly Keven agreed, and he still believed that the price was much too high. Putting on the leather band, he said good bye to Neko and walked out. He was eager to reach the Water Palace, of which he had heard so much from the travellers that passed through Potos.

Neko, on the other hand, stood behind the counter with a puzzled face. "Purr... that guy looks a lot like Serin... I wonder..." After a moment, he gave up trying to reason and resumed his organization.

Major Dyluck and the Witch Hunters

After walking off Neko's property, Keven continued north as he wanted to reach the Water Palace by sundown, and it was already midafternoon. A few miles later, he found a battalion of soldiers camping out in a clearing. Not wanting to get himself involved in the affairs of others, Keven tried to slip around the camp and continue on a path he saw that continued north. The sound of falling water could be heard from that direction. Unfortunately, a soldier who was polishing a sword and some armor looked up when Keven disturbed some bushes. Not much older than the Potoan, he called out to Keven, "Who be you?"

"Keven." he replied, warily turning to acknowledge the soldier.

The man got up and walked over to Keven. "Dyluck." he replied smiling, extending his hand. Keven took it and they shook firmly. Dyluck looked Keven over and then gave him a puzzled look. He scratched behind the back of his head. "Ya know, not many people come out this way... something about the Water Palace. People say weird things about that place..."

"That's where I'm going." blurted out a wary, but nevertheless interested Keven. "What about you?"

Dyluck stared at him for a few minutes before answering. "You are brave to be going there... most never get passed the front door, let alone get out alive. Something protects that place from harm." he looked up into the sky and studied it awhile before addressing the question put to him.

"I am from Kippo Village, but I serve the Pandoran Army. I am a Major, and the soldiers you see are all the men under my command. My squad has been assigned to go to the witches' castle and try to find out what has been happening to the people of Pandora. It is some sort of plague in the city, beautiful Pandora, doing something to the people..." he closed his eyes in pain and shuttered at some memory. Then, shaking his head and seemingly gathering his wits, he looked at Keven and smiled. "I tell you this because I feel like I've met you before... oh, probably just my imagination. It's been overreacting since I was told about this mission."

Keven nodded in understanding. "Makes sense, considering it sounds like you don't know what you're going to find."

"Yeah... anyway. I believe I saw you headed towards that path going north? OK, all you have to do is continue up and along that north path and sooner than you think you'll reach the Palace. I sometimes go there and just look at the place... it is so beautiful... "

A soldier from the other end of the clearing called out then, breaking Dyluck's train of thought. "Major Dyluck! All set to go, everyone's ready. We will leave on your mark."

Dyluck turned towards Keven and gave him a look of sadness. "I've got to go... I really wish I could talk to ya further. Don't mind me... whenever I hear about that Palace, I just keep on talking. I hope you won't get mad for that. I wish I could come with you to the Palace... I've always wanted to see the inside of it. Maybe one day. Good luck, and remember what I told you, about how most never get past the front door." Dyluck linked forearms with Keven, then after a quick smile he turned around and walked over to his men. After a few words and commands, he led his men over to what appeared to Keven to be a teleportation device. Then, one by one, they vanished.

When they had all disappeared, Keven went over Dyluck's words, "Most never get past the front door." That statement provoked his well being. If no one was really allowed into the Water Palace, then who was Jema? Why did he know so much about the Palace? What was so special about the Palace, anyway? What guarded the Palace, if anyone did, and if so, why? I guess if I want to find out, Keven concluded, I'll just have to go there and find out for myself. So he left the clearing and continued on the north path.

Luka and the Water Palace

"Wow..." was all Keven could say. He had reach the end of the last path, and now the Water Palace was before him. A building many stories high, the baby blue outerwalls shone with a glow in the setting sun. With most of the Palace was beneath the Great Falls, and with no windows, because of the water, it was no wonder Keven hadn't seen it on the log bridge. The bridge wasn't even in view, but a few miles to the east. The Palace was about one mile square (the Manans use our system of measurement), and was the largest building Keven had yet to see, even though most was hidden from his perspective. He slowly walked forward, staring and taking every sight in, down a small stair, through a shallow pool that the Falls water collected in and that surrounded the Palace, and up a long, steep set of stairs that led to the main door.

Upon reaching the main door, he noticed a sky blue door knocker and decided that it would be the polite thing to knock. On the third knock, the royal blue door opened to reveal Jema. The old man looked over Keven and smiled in relief. "I was wondering when you'd get here." he grinned in a faint laughter.

"Hey, you're actually here!" he exclaimed.

"But of course!" was the reply, "I keep my word. You are a bit late, since it is almost sunset. Come in, and quickly!" and Jema disappeared behind the Palace door.

Following Keven walked in and took in the scene of many small cascading waterfalls that lined the hallway, as well as statues of sea creatures. Passing large torches that flanked the next door, he opened it and walked up some stairs. He soon came to platform that seemed to serve as a dead end, and since Jema had seemed to desert him, decided there was some way of getting around this. In a corner away from the stairs he saw and stepped on a switch, causing a stairway to appear. At the top of these stairs was another platform that held a pool that reached to the top of his foot. On the other side of this platform there was a dry platform accessible through a small stair. On this platform, which was very narrow and long, there were two switches. Thinking that it didn't matter which he chose, Keven chose the right switch and stepped on it. A long and steep set of stairs appeared before him, and since his curiosity was getting the best of him - he wanted to find out why it took so long to get to the end and where he was suppose to go, and to find out where Jema had gone - he climbed the stairs. When he did this, he was well rewarded, for at the top he saw a stage pyramid with a seed on the top of it, and Jema talking to a girl with aqua-green hair. She looked like she was younger than Keven, and wondered why she was here, and where her parents were. "Hey Jema," Keven called out, "I thought you'd left me back there!" he walked up to the two and nodded a hello to the soldier.

Turning, he looked the girl once over (which she seemed to be doing herself to him), and asked her in a stern voice, "Hey you, where's your parents? You shouldn't be out by yourself." When she didn't answer, Keven continued, "OK, so don't answer me! Do you know were in this Palace is this Luka person I'm suppose to so urgently meet?"

Jema's mouth dropped. "Don't be so rude! It is always best to address people you don't know with respect. As I was saying, it is nice to see you again, Luka." he directed to the girl. She nodded in understanding and acceptance.

It was Keven's turn to drop his mouth. "You're 200 years old?! Woah... what I mean is, you don't look like it at all!... " Yet all Sage Luka did was smile, and that was radiant like the sun. She could have passed for a girl of 12 or so, with her perfect complexion and sea-green hair and eyes. Her clothes were of different shades of blue, and when she spoke her voice seemed to be from a dream.

"All is well, child. I am born to look and be like this, and I will live for many years without aging a day. I have seen many things come and go, met many shades of people. And yet you are the strangest that I have ever met. To think, a child like you pulled free the Sword! And to win a surprise fight against a foe like the Mantis Ant for rulership of the Mana Sword..." she stopped and studied Keven. She liked the way he carried himself. Even with the number of soldiers she had seen, with the few exceptions, she sensed that he was different than them, that he would do anything required of him, though not having many muscles would hinder him for awhile. But muscles could be strengthened, and his maturity would have to increase if he was to survive, and yet... there was something oddly familiar with him... I have met you before, in a different disguise before, young child. You are so innocent, and yet... the Sword will take that away from you... So much strength, both mentally and physically, you will need to master the blade, and yet, is there anyone left alive who can teach you?... She kept her remarks to herself.

"Wait a minute!" Keven cried, obviously disturbed and puzzled, "Answer me this - how do you know that I fought that huge ant? You weren't even there!"

"Be calm. I do not mean to upset you. The ebb of water that flows through this Altar brings me news from wherever there is water, anywhere around the world. There is great Evil now in Mana, and it seeks your Sword. The Mantis Ant was the weakest one. If you want to protect yourself and keep the Sword as your own, you must learn how to use it and to restore it to its former glory." she turned to look at the Seed.

Seeing the boy's face was still puzzled, and now confused, Jema tried to reassure Keven. "Trust her. It is the only way you can understand what she says, is that you open your mind. Once, when I was younger, I was one of her students, and because of that I know much about the power of Mana. Just try to keep an open mind."

"Watch out for the Empire, Jema," Luka said suddenly. Both Jema and Keven turned to her in surprise, "There is something wrong in that country, and I deem that some force we not yet know of is at work there, and they are using the Empire, and it seeks to break all the Mana Seed's seals, which seal the Mana Fortress. If they succeed, they will raise the Mana Fortress, and all of Mana will be doomed."

"The Mana Fortress... isn't that the thing that was suppose to be a peaceful floating city that got turned into a killing machine and destroys the whole world in that fairytale?" inquired Keven.

Jema looked at him gravely. "Unfortunately, that's no fairytale. I was in the area because the King of Pandora asked me to visit him, and there are some nasty and dark rumors that are going around about the capital. Something's going on in Pandora, something strange. My first thought was that it could be the Empire, and now with what you told us, Luka, it doesn't put my fears to rest. I'd better hurry and check it out. In the meantime Keven, I want you to go to the Dwarf Village in Gaia's Navel. If you don't know how to get there, ask someone in Pandora - you'll have to pass through there on your way. The dwarves may be able to help you with that orb you've got, and may be able to tell you more about the power of the Sword. When you reach Pandora, meet me in Pandora's castle. Until we meet again, watch your back!" and he left.

They watched the old man leave, straight back and proud stride. Little did he resemble the drunk man that Keven had first met in the Potos tavern. After a few moments Luka turned towards Keven. "If you do not mind, I would like to ask you a few questions, to maybe understand why the Sword chose you." Keven nodded, for he was eager to learn the answer to that question too. "What are you scared of the most? The Fortress or the Sword?"

"The Fortress. I don't think I could ever be scared of the Sword... don't ask. Just a feeling."

"I believe you, for you are correct. Only those who use the Sword for evil are harmed by it. The Ancients created many things, but their most famous works that can still be seen in our times are the Sword and the Fortress. The Sword was made at the beginning of Time itself, and will probably live on until the end of Time. The Ancients may have created and used the Fortress in their final battle, believed to be over 5000 years ago. They realized too late that they, just like us, cannot control Mana. Many were killed, while some did still live, and rumors of them still walking were told as little as 15 years ago, during the Leadership War... but that, I feel, is a tale for someone else to tell you. Just take comfort in the knowledge that the Sword of Mana, which is now entrusted to you, ended the Fortress War before all of Mana was lost. If it hadn't, we wouldn't be talking now, and the world would be barren, and if anything still lived, it would be hideously altered beyond recognition. The Sword used the last of its power to summon you. Remember that it can only be pulled out by a great person in a great time of need. What I don't understand is that you are only a child, and... " as though a great idea was finally revealed, Luka looked at Keven and asked, "What is your lineage? Maybe you are from a great family and do not say so!..."

Keven shrugged his shoulders and his head. "I don't know my past... I was orphaned when I was an infant, and my mother disappeared... I would like to find out who I am, anyway. But I don't understand... why me? All I did was pull out a sword because I need to get home! Is this my punishment for trying not to get into trouble?!"

"I really don't know why the Sword chose you, and I wish I could help you find out your past. Listen to me - you are who you make yourself out to be, and your past means nothing - live in the present. But there is a rhyme and reason for everything... if you want my advice, you should follow what Jema told you to do, and seek out the Dwarf Village. They should know of someone who could forge and meld that orb to the Sword.

"There are 8 more energy orbs - like the one you have from the Mantis Ant - one for every Palace. Each weapon has 9 energy orbs, though where the 9th ones are is a mystery for me. There is an ancient legend that states to anyone who finds the Mana Tree that they will be granted awesome power and gifts beyond belief. Moreover, the Sword isn't the only weapon that you will find, for it is the weapon of the Balance Palace. There is a weapon for each of the Palaces, of which you have one. Find them all, for you shall need them!

"That is one way to repower it. The other way is to visit all 8 of the world's Mana Palaces, of which this is one. When you can, hold up the sword to the Seed in that place, and its energy will be directed to you and you only.

"Woah... thanks Luka! I guess I'd better start going!" Keven stated appreciatively, bowed towards the Sage and the Altar, and proceeded to leave.

"Wait! Hold up the Sword to the Water Seed! Don't forget that this is one of the Palaces you should visit." She reminded him calmly. Keven laughed at his ignorance and obeyed. When he stood in front of the Seed and held the Sword up, he was bathed in a blue aura and felt as though he had taken a long wash under a waterfall, and had cleansed himself and made himself ready for whatever troubles awaited him. He bowed to the Sage, and started to pass Luka and leave, when she stopped him and, seeing she had something else for him, waited. The Sage went behind the Altar and produced a plain-looking spear. "This is one of the weapons Mana warriors used during the Fortress War. Now, I'll be seeing you." she handed it to him, along with a sheath for it. When the spear was in place, they nodded at each other and Luka turned and proceeded to study the Seed.

Keven left quietly, not wanting to disturb the Sage, and trying to figure out and understand all that he had learned. It was almost sunrise - he had talked the whole night with the Sage, even though it had seemed to be only half of an hour. What he learned in there was certainly more than he had learned during his 15 years of Potoan folklore. Walking along he noticed the sign warning of goblins. Laughing to himself, he continued on. That's just all nonsense, anyway!

There was a sudden rustling in the brush around the bridge on the opposite side of the sign that jolted him alert. "Who's there?" he demanded.

"Jisfncis lakjif tl nef!" came a cry, and before he had a chance to react, a blow came out of nowhere to Keven's head, knocking him unconscious.

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