by Nightshade

Something hit her face. A white point in the darkness. Purim slowly opened her eyes in expectation of her pain. But her leg gave no discomfort, and the tension that the Mana Beast had brought wasn't there. Curiousity of where she was overcame any fear, and she opened her eyes.

The landscape was the sky, or so she believed at first. Turning her head to the left, she saw a small fire and a few provisions about it. She turned to the right and winced at the pain in the back of her head. As she kept her eyes closed at the sharpness of pain, something moved beside her. A hand brushed some hair out of her face, and lifted her head gently. The feeling of a warm cloth made her open her eyes. The sight was of Randi, bent over, trying to heal her with limited knowledge. "Randi?..." she whispered.

Her voice startled him. He quickly searched her face, then let out a sigh of relief. "Hey there, oh lame one." Randi tried to make light of her predicament, and Purim smiled to herself.

"What happened? Where?..." she tried to talk, but lost her whisper in the cold and howling wind.

"Shh. Don't talk, you're too weak." Randi paused, then looked around and continued. "Remember the flash of light?" Purim nodded. "Well, that was both the Fortress and the Mana Beast being destroyed. I think it's safe to say for good." He closed his eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and continued.

"This snow is what's left of the Mana Beast. There's nothing left of the Fortress. I... I can't find Popoie? Remember what Grandpa Sprite sad, about this not being the sprite's world?" he asked her uncertainly.

Purim nodded slightly. "Yeah, isn't it something like they live in a separate world, and if all the Mana they feed off is gone, they disappear."

"Yep. They're all gone.... so's Dyluck." Randi stopped and studied her. "Sorry, I shouldn't have said that..."

"Don't worry. To tell you the truth, I think it wouldn't have worked out anyway. We... had different ideas for the future. It couldn't have worked out, I mean... well..." she closed her eyes as she searched for the words and reason. "Anything could work if worked at. But he used me to make contacts and rise in the ranks, and I, well... I wanted to prove to my dad that there were soldiers out there 'good enough' for me." Purim looked at Randi. "I don't know what he'd say about you... but I hope he doesn't blow up the next time he sees you." she sighed softly.

Randi studied her for a moment, then chuckled. "What's so funny?" Purim asked confused.

Randi kept on chuckling, and when he looked at her, his brown eyes were laughing. "Hmm... so he may not like me? Just because of some stupid, obviously old grievance? Just because I'm a poor peasant from Potos, you wouldn't be able to see me?"

Purim shrugged. "No see, that won't matter if we stay friends. He just doesn't like the idea of me dating a soldier - even you, the legendary Mana Knight."

Randi nodded silently, his eyes still laughing. He got up and walked over to the fire. Purim found she could now move her neck with no pain. Slowly she got up and looked around. They were on a snowy plateau in the Imperial mountains. To the northwest was Northtown, to the southwest Southtown. Small villages and towns dotted the landscape, their names unknown to Purim.

Slowly she got up and reeled with the feeling of the cold wind blowing through her hair. Noticing that Randi was packing up everything and preparing to leave, she became afraid. "You were going to leave me, weren't you?"

Without looking at her, Randi replied, "Nope. We've been here three days, so I thought it's time to go. I can carry you, don't worry. I'm not going to suddenly turn bastard and leave you here by yourself." he continued to pack.

Purim smiled to herself "He's sweet.... Dyluck would've left me here...." Silently she walked up from behind him, and tapped him on the shoulder. He got up, as though suspecting an intruder, which made her smile even more. Suddenly she couldn't help herself, turned him around fast enough so he couldn't react, grabbed his face and kissed him lightly on the lips.

"Thanks, for everything." she silenced him with her finger. "I've been meaning to do that for a long time. I owe you a lot, you gave me my freedom, let me see the world." Purim paused to look at his face closely. It had changed greatly since she first saw it, more adult and less innocent. "I... I owe you my life. Thank you."

Randi just stared at her in amazement. Then, slowly, he smiled. "Well, glad to hear you're over Dyluck... maybe I do have a chance..." he grinned as Purim punched his left shoulder.

"Don't tell me you're going to think like that now!" She cried exasperated.

Randi laughed. "Don't worry, I don't plan on it." he walked away and over to the campfire. He put it out and picked up two bags that Purim hadn't seen before. Walking back he handed her one of them - the lighter of the two. "We should be going. The next town is a few miles away, and we can make it by sundown." He started down a snow-covered path. Purim followed, glad that even with all the pain she'd felt and been exposed too, she felt happiness that only true freedom can bring.

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