Leanne Smith stopped and stomped her foot pettily in frustration. Her search for her boyfriend, Dyluck, had led her to almost the Water Palace doors, but the clearing in front of it ran the trail cold. Since her quest was getting nowhere, she now wondered what course of action she should take. Going home wasn't much of an option, since her father would punish her severely for running after Dyluck. Of course, he didn't approve of the Major. He had wanted the best for his daughter, or so he told everyone as his excuse. Leanne knew the truth - that her father had seen in her an opportunity to get rich and so was going to force her and Dyluck apart so she could be bought and bartered for by a no-good loser named Clarence just so he could gain more land and money. Clarence had always had an eye out on her, even though she had told him in not kind terms to leave her alone. And since he had no interest in military, he and Dyluck had never gotten along to begin with, and when they both started to get involved with gaining Leanne's eye, they turned into bitter foes. Her father had told her truthfully that he really did believe that she would do better with someone like Clarence who was stable and could be counted on to be dependable. Dyluck was bold and brazen, gone from Private to Major in less than six months, and Lord Elman had said that he wasn't stable enough to be counted on to be a father. But Leanne was in love with the Major - who let her be her own person and didn't care what anyone said about him; Clarence was the kind of man Leanne dreaded, mainly because he was like to her father, and would keep her on a leash so she'd stay out of trouble. Sighing she looked around and rolled his eyes. "Oh, why can't I just marry someone that loves me for who I am?!" she wailed to the air, and to hopefully, no one.
A goblin's cry and a man's pain-filled grunt pierced the air and reached her ears. Leanne seized up in fear. Someone got caught! Well, I've got nothing else to do right now. If I only have one person happy with me today, why not have it be this idiot? Hey... maybe this idiot's Dyluck! I can tease him so much when I meet up with him!... So she followed the voices, not to mention the smell, to where the monsters had gone onto the main path. A few miles further into the forest and Leanne stumbled onto their village. She watched behind a conveniently-placed tree - providing the perfect viewing point - as two goblins untied the man and dropped him into a seemingly boiling cauldron of water. The cauldron was located in the middle of the village, which contained about seven huts all in a circle. As Leanne couldn't see who the prisoner was, she just listened in and tried not to cringe at the conversation.
As soon as the man hit the water, he seemed to wake up. He looked around frantically for help, but saw no one but two guard goblins. "Ouch! Where am I?! What?...Ah!" the man cried helplessly.
"Look! Our supper's here and awake. And looking tasty, too!" one goblin remarked hungrily.
"You can wait like the rest of us. The festival will be on the whole night, and supper's not 'till midnight. C'mon, I think I see the dancing's started!" the one next to him replied.
The two guards walked away loudly, laughing about something concerning their new luck and alliances. When the two left her view, Leanne crept up to the cauldron. The man was still looking around frantically, and his features were still shadowed to her. "Hey!" she crept right up to the boiling-hot cauldron. "Hey you!" she whispered loudly.
The man turned around. He had brown hair tied back with a blue bandanna. He's not Dyluck! she thought sadly, and shrugging her shoulders she smiled, Oh well, I guess I should save this stupid man from the goblins. Maybe I should ask how he got here... nah. Maybe not. "What do you think you're doing in that pot?" she remarked jokingly.
The man turned around and saw her. By his expression on his face, he hadn't taken the joke lightly. "Help me!" he pleaded, and Leanne noticed he had brown eyes.
"Fine. I don't know why I should help you... here." sighing she grabbed the back his shirt and flipped him out of the cauldron and to safety, without catching the goblin's attention. Amazed, Leanne waved to the man to follow her. "C'mon, let's get out of here before they find us!" and they raced through the trees, out to the place where Keven had been abducted. Without looking at the gracious man she had saved, she simply said, "There, now you should get on your way home, it's too dangerous for anyone to be alone out here. I am going home, and please don't follow me." Leanne, with a heavy heart hurried off to the end of freedom as I know it. It may be sunrise, but I only have all day to myself. Tonight's the night dad's going to make me marry that sleaze Clarence.
Keven, after shaking his head and realizing what he'd just experienced wasn't a dream, he stared in disbelief at the girl who rescued him run off. "She didn't even tell me her name!" he muttered. Walking in the direction the girl ran, which was back the way he came to the Palace, he soon came upon the sign with four directions, and it claimed the Kingdom of Pandora was to the south of the spot where he stood. Turning south he continued walking, getting very tired from all miles of exercise. About mid-morning he happened upon a massive silver gate that the path narrowed through, making the only way to get by was through the gate. A soldier standing guard suddenly walked from the other side of the gate and looked at Keven skeptically. Keven stiffened under the scrutiny. "Who be you?" the guard asked as Keven after a few minutes of shared silence.
"My name is Keven. Sir... I am looking for Pandora. A guy I know named Jema told me to..."
"Pandora? Say no more. You are in luck, if you indeed be searching for Pandora. This gate represents the boundary. Sir Jema sent you, you say?
"Yeah. He told me to see him here... "
"You have a Potoan accent, though very vague... Sir Jema is in the castle. He came through last night around midnight, very rushed and winded, and he told me to let you in if you came. You do fit the description he gave me... forgive my rudeness earlier. Any friend of the Sir Jema is welcome in the Kingdom of Pandora.
"Thank you." Keven replied thankfully and tried to proceed through the gate. The guard stopped him, though. "Is something wrong?"
"Actually, yes. Sir Jema didn't tell you anything about our problems, did he?
"No, he said he only had heard rumors... "
"So it seems. There are strange things going on. People have been acting like they are possessed or worse... be warned! If you see anyone who looks or acts strange, chances are they are infected with some disease. It gets worse every day. Just don't talk to the sick! And if I were you, I wouldn't stay in town for long, lest you be infected yourself. Be seeing you!" the guard turned and resumed his watch.
The city of Pandora was on the trade route that spanned the length of the Lower Lands. The path started at Potos and The Water Palace, joined and went through Pandora, passing Kippo Village, winding past Gaia's Navel and ending up in the Haunted Forest, where the Witch Elinee lived. Pandora was considerably larger than Potos, for it was full of merchants, tradesmen and Lords. The houses here were in grid-like patterns, and so it was easy for Keven to find the store and the Inn. Deciding he had better look around more before booking a room, he went around town some more. A path, well worn, led south to the Ancient Ruins of Pandora, of which, one old man told him, the origins of the buildings there were of a complete mystery, and were dated before the Fortress War, and that the only other city that could boast the same prize was the capital of the Empire, Northtown. This was a lot of information for Keven to handle all at once, for he was never learned in the lore of anything else other than the campfire tales of Potos, and they were laughed at for the most part. The one thing he did notice as he walked around was the fact that when he tried to find someone to talk to, most citizens seemed to be in a trance-like state. He remembered the guard's warning about no talking to them, but wondered why the people walked around like they did. I guess every town has its own problems, not just Potos... but this is the weirdest I've ever seen or heard of! Noticing a path that led northwest, he decided to follow it and came upon a grand structure, which was probably the castle. The Elder of Potos had always warned Keven about the dangers of Pandora, that it was a corrupt society with no morals like the Potoans, but now seeing everything for himself, he decided that Pandora wasn't as mean as he was always told. The merchant in Potos always tried to back up the Elder's story by saying that Pandora had so much murder, crime and severe poverty that it couldn't possibly be better than living in quiet, peaceful Potos. And he always seemed to be glad to return to Potos whenever he did business in Pandora.
The castle of Pandora was a perfect square from the outside, with a very tall wall that Keven couldn't guess the size of. It was blue of color and anyone could walk on its roof, for there were two stairs leading up to the roof. All this fascinated Keven, for he had never seen a castle before, and was amazed by everything he saw. He was also surprised to find that, except for the entrance gates, Pandora wasn't guarded. So there was no one to stop him from going into the castle. Once inside, the castle took his breath away and awed him. Its high ceilings and tapestries amazed Keven, because all he had seen in his life were farm huts. A soldier dressed similar to the one at the gate greeted him politely, and Keven remembered once that Timothy had wanted to become a knight, and he could see why. "Welcome to the castle of Pandora." the soldier greeted him with a bow.
"Thank you." Keven bowed back. The soldier smiled and walked out the main door.
There were many people in the castle, and it seemed that almost everyone that didn't act like zombies had congregated here. Everyone was eager to talk to him, because Keven kept an open mind about things, which enabled him to learn more of the witch that Dyluck had said he and his battalion that were in front of the Water Palace were going to meet. The witch's name was Elinee and she was known to be very cruel by the Pandorans. Half the townspeople were zombies because of her, and their number was growing every day.
As he neared the stairs leading up to the third floor, he met a girl with purple hair that was about his age. She told him of a giant tree that every city had a legend for, and the tree that was commonly called the Mana Tree, and that it kept all life in balance by balancing all the evil and good in Mana so that everyone could prosper. Keven remembered a similar version of the tale, and told her the Potoan version. The girl stared at him in amazement when he recounted the way a maiden had to give her soul up to protect the innocent of Mana.
When he was done, the girl shook her head and smiled at him. "I've never heard another version... you have a nice voice." she giggled and left the room.
"Don't mind her," Keven turned to find a small girl, no more than three years old, looking at him, "She is just boy-crazy. Everyone her age is, except Leanne... but she's taken..." she smiled at him, jumped up and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You do have a nice voice, though. You should be a storyteller... really! Bye!"
Keven waved his goodbye and pondered on what had just happened. There were no girls in Potos, unless you counted the five year old Clara. Everyone else seemed to be over thirty years old, and they were expecting the three teenage boys to provide the future of the village. When they had found that out, all of them had thrown up for a week and couldn't be forced out of their houses.
As he made his way up the steps to the third floor, he thought he heard a familiar voice. When Keven couldn't remember who the voice's owner was he decided to see who owned it. So when he had reached the top, he witnessed a sight that would change his life dramatically, forever. The same girl who saved from the goblins had just exited a room and slammed its door. She looked frustrated and angry, and exclaimed loudly so that the people on the other side of the door could hear her, "Tough! It's not fair that you get to run my life! I can make my own decisions, and I don't have to listen to you!" She then leaned against the door and continued her quiet crying.
Keven walked over and bent down. "Hey there, don't cry!..."
Looking up she then noticed Keven. Almost immediately she brightened up. "Hey, lookie here! It's the guy I saved! I'd never have expected ya to be here..."
"Well, I kind of have to see a friend... " Keven hadn't planned on meeting up with anyone, especially someone to whom he owed a favor to...
"A friend? Let me guess... ya haven't found him yet, right?" She looked at him skeptically.
"Yeah, I guess. All I have to do is find the... "but he wasn't allowed to finish his sentence, because somehow the girl had found out he was carrying a sword.
"Wow, you never said that you're a swordsman too?!"
"I never needed, well, I didn't think... "
The girl looked like an idea was forming in her head, which seemed to scare Keven somewhat. "I'll tell you what... my boyfriend's gone missing. If you help me find him, we'll be even. So, what do ya say?" She put her hands on her hips, smiled triumphantly and waited for his reply.
Keven took the opportunity to study his savior. She wasn't what he'd call drop-dead beautiful. Compared to most girls he had seen around town she was quite stocky and plain, with broad shoulders and her height almost matching his own. She was wearing a pink and yellow matching top and pants, which made her look like a tomboy. But there was something in the way she had her blond hair pulled up in a ponytail, and those big blue eyes of hers daring him to answer her challenge... "Well, I don't know..."
"What do ya mean, I don't know?!" she practically screamed, but just enough so that her father wouldn't hear her in the next room. She did her own sweep of Keven, and figured the guy had a lot of nerve and was probably a lunatic. He scared her somewhat with his long unkempt brown hair over his sleepy, yet amazing alert brown eyes, his face had just a hint of peach fuzz and needed to be cleaned up and a few cuts taken care of. This guy looks like he's just been fighting in a war, or something close to it...
"Well, I'm going to go to other places that probably be too dangerous for you, and they're far from here." she returned in time to hear Keven say this. It made her even more determined.
"Oh, don't you worry. I've done my share of fighting, and I'm not scared of much. My grandpa was a brilliant general, and he taught me everything he knew before he died. He said I was really good, and even gave me the family heirloom, this here glove." she held up her right hand, which was covered with a glove covered with spikes.
Keven eyed the glove, and felt a peculiar sensation go through him. That's one of the weapons Luka was talking about... I need to get that somehow! "What do I do to get that glove?" he asked warily. The girl had already proved to be high strung and strong-willed - he didn't want to hear what she would say to his offer.
Joy! I'm finally getting through to him! I can't stay here in Pandora - dad would kill this guy for even talking to me! Now I can go after you, Dyluck, and even have my freedom at the same time too! "If you want the glove, you have to take me with you, and you've got to help me find my boyfriend." she announced confidently.
Keven had to stop himself from laughing at her. She was really persistent. She seems to want trouble, so she'll get trouble. "Fine. But I won't be responsible if something happens to you. If you come with me, you're responsible for your own well-being."
"Deal. The sooner I get outta here, the better." she extended her hand and smiled, "The name's Leanne."
"Nice to meet you, Leanne, my name is Keven." he took her arm and they shook roughly. It seemed to Keven that Leanne wasn't used to shaking hands, because she kept on trying to out-do him.
After a few moments of silence, Leanne spoke up, her shaky voice reflecting her emotional state. "I want to speak to the King. My boyfriend's in the Pandoran Army... I have a feeling the King knows where he is."
Keven just shrugged his shoulders and extended his arm to let her by. "Lead on, since you seem to know the way and what to do." Leanne shot him a warning glance and walked down the hall heading left of the stairs. Soon they came upon a great door as tall as the ceiling and wide as a house. "This is the throne room." murmured Leanne.
"I have to go inside... what are the King and Queen like?" asked Keven.
Leanne rolled her eyes. "They can be selfish and snobbish, depending on their mood. Don't tell me they sent ya here?!"
Keven was keenly aware of Leanne's gaze. "Don't worry. Some guy named Jema came to Potos and asked me to meet him here." and he opened the door to enter the throne room.
"Sir Jema? Potos? Keven... wait up!" Leanne ran up to him and tugged on his shoulder.
Leanne turned his head so that she could talk to his face. "Sir Jema is a good ally of the King, but they aren't very trusting of each other... some old fight, I guess. You never said you were from Potos."
"What of it?" he asked, with a bit too much sharpness in his voice, because Leanne shrank back.
"Just wondering. There are a ton of rumors about that place, that it's haunted, and that it keeps a fantastic treasure all to itself... "
Keven smiled at her ignorance. "Don't worry. They are only rumors, and nothing more. I've never seen anything haunting before... " he stopped short. Remembering the ghost-knight and what Elder had said about the Sword made him almost cry. Thankfully Leanne was too busy to see the tears.
"Come on! We'd better get this over with." and so they continued through the long hall that was the Throne Room. The first thing that caught Keven's eye when they reached the end of the hall and the thrones were placed was the tall back of a soldier clothed with familiar garments.
"Jema?!" he inquired a little too loudly. Jema turned around, as well as everyone else in the room, and smiled at Keven. "Well, I knew you'd come. I now know I can count on you."
"Well, I've got nothing else to do... what's up?"
"I was just heading out myself. Something's going on in the ruins, and I've just agreed to check it out. I still want you to continue on to Gaia's Navel and seek out a blacksmith. There is a legend that they know where the Underground Palace is."
"Sure thing... and good luck!" Keven replied as Jema walked off.
The old soldier looked back and nodded. "Good day... to you both?!" and he walked out of the hall, trying to figure out how and why Keven had brought with him a companion. I know Mana works in strange ways, but this is one of the strangest things I've ever seen! I wonder if that was Lady Leanne... watch out, Keven, if that is her! he prayed that things would go for the good for Keven.
After Jema had disappeared from the hall, Queen Rainy studied Keven for a few minutes while King Storama asked Keven how Potos was fairing in the trouble times that Mana were in.
"Potos is doing OK, and no one's bothered us... " Keven said confidently.
Suddenly the Queen spoke up. "Why are you here when all is well in Potos? I have heard a rumor that a young man has been banished from Potos... is that you? And if so, why," she turned towards Leanne, "why are you traveling with him? Why are you not preparing yourself for your wedding?" she said with a sly grin.
Leanne stared at Keven while he tried not blush with anger and frustration. He had not expected the news of his banishment to get to outside ears so quickly. "Yeah, there was a bit of a misunderstanding, and so Elder... "
"Ah... so you are the one we were warned about... " the Queen's voice was now not so polite. "Well, we've had problems here, too. I think it would be best if you left here before more bad luck comes our way. We don't need any more than we have now..."
"Ah, yes!" replied the King sadly, "The problems here are getting worse, I can't seem to keep a handle on things. And the troops I sent to ask the witch to remove the spell haven't sent word or come back..."
Leanne perked up. "I thought the witch hunt was voluntary? Don't tell me... you and my father! Always scheming! You both set up the witch hunt so I would my father could make me marry Clarence! I will find Dyluck, and there's nothing you can do to stop me!" angrily she grabbed the back of Keven's shirt and dragged him out of the room.
The King and Queen looked at the scene in horror. It had seemed that no one had talked to them in that manner in many years, and yet they stayed the guards and bade them not to punish the two children. "If they don't watch out, they will get themselves killed." sighed the King.
"Why, thank you so very much. Just what I need on a first impression!" Keven commented sarcastically when they were out of the room. He turned to find Leanne staring at him in disbelief at his rudeness.
"How dare you talk to a woman like that!..."
Keven put a hand to her mouth to shut her up. "I have a few questions to ask you. Where can we talk privately?"