Second Friends
by Uftaki

Chapter 1

The morning sun streamed in the window and a chorus of birds sung to greet it. Janz opened a sleepy eye and checked the time on his clock beside his bed. It was six o'clock. Yawning, he sat up, then turned around and opened the window above the head of his bed. Breathing in the fresh morning air, he smiled.

Beautiful day, he thought. He looked at the green foliage, and breathed in the warm summer air. It was early in summer, so thankfully the air was cooler in the morning than it would be later on. Flowers bloomed in brilliant colors everywhere. Janz remembered that before he and his friends stopped the Mana Fortress a year's time ago, there were hardly any flowers growing except for those in flower boxes, and natural wildlife had hidden themselves from the dangerous monsters. The forests had been green, but there had been hardly any other colors in any of the forests. It had been like that for years, quite possibly since the Empire's first attacks on the kingdoms sixteen years ago. When Janz, Lia and Taba defeated the Mana Beast in the final battle, a heavy snow fell upon all the land. That was the first snow of the winter season, and the snow cover stayed the entire winter. Many people didn't expect anything special to happen after the long snow, but something did. On the first day of spring, all the snow magically melted away all at once, flowers and bushes of all sorts of kinds and colors burst forth in full splendor, and all the wildlife that had vanished from the world returned in plentiful numbers.

The whole world truly seemed to be reborn, and there wasn't anyone who was not affected by this miracle. The people of the land had been without this much life in their land for so long, all activity in all of the towns stopped for a couple of days so they could embrace themselves in the glory.

The most visible of all the changes were the extensive renovations and building of all sorts of things. Tasnica was rebuilding its docks that had been destroyed in the Empire's first attack, plus there were many new sailing ships under construction while the repairs and reconstruction were being made. Tasnica wasn't the only place that was building a port, though. Pandora was building a fairly large one too, and Kakkara was building one to a lesser extent. Probably they would enlarge this when trade between kindoms increased. Ports weren't the only thing being built. Since the danger the lands had possessed was gone, many people were returning to sites laying either just in the outskirts of the town or deep in the forests and building houses. In the large towns, namely Pandora, Tasnica, Kakkara, Mandala and Matango, town squares were under construction where people could gather to talk, eat or just relax. The largest of these would be the one in Pandora, which would also be the centerpiece of their seasonal fairs. Their town center was planned to be in the location of the old temple. After the town's harrowing encounter with Thanatos in the ancient ruins, the people had decided to tear it down and build their town center there. A lot of it lay under the ground, so they decided to tear down what was above the surface, and to just fill in the hole that led to the rest of the ruins, since the extent of the excavations if they did take all of it out would be tremendous, plus it would weaken the soil above, leading to possible cave-ins. The delaying factor had been where to dump the rubble. Eventually the site of the ruins in Northtown was chosen as the place, and the construction work started only two months ago.

Another change that came after the winter snow was the food that became available to the people. After the Empire's first attack, monsters started to show their faces in the surrounding areas. They chased away all the local animals, so meat dropped down shaprly in everyone's diet until it practically no longer existed. No one would risk hunting the monsters, except for a few brave or foolish souls. And for those who actually killed the monsters, the hunt proved a waste of time since the monsters simply vanished off the face of the earth, so after a while the people just had given up. Crops also suffered during this period, though not quite as badly. By the time when Janz pulled out the sword, the only crops that grew in most places were the most hardy of all varieties. After the winter after the final battle, the crops seemed to sprout up out of the ground like weeds; rich and plentiful. Animals also returned to the lands in great numbers, and with the return of all this, the health of the people grew steadily, since it is hard to stay healthy with not much variety in food, and relatively easy when there is an abundance.

Basically, one could say the whole world seemed to vibrate with life, from the smallest plants to the largest kingdoms. And this had all happened just in the first few weeks of spring.

Janz smiled and sighed happily as he remembered all the happy feelings that the spring had brought with it.

With that, he slid out of bed and quickly dressed. He put on his favorite outfit: his old blue pants and top with his red serape. His belt and headband, however, had been replaced by a similar type, but black on one side and white on the other.

This was because Janz was still partially mourning over the loss of family and friends during the battle with the Mana Fortress about a year's time ago. In that, he had learned about the death of his father; the Mana Tree, habourer of his mother's spirit, had been destroyed; Lia's boyfriend Dyluck had died cruelly at the will of Thanatos; and Janz's good friend Taba had disappeared. At least the latter had not 'died' in the manner that Janz knew. That would have been too much. However, even though he had found out who his parents had been, Janz didn't say anything about it. To him, it wasn't necessary.

After he had washed up, he returned to his room with some bread and fruit he had snuck out of the kitchen. He laughed quietly as he reminded himself that Elder, whom he stayed with and who had raised him from a baby, didn't get up until eight.

That's why it came to Janz as a shock when he heard someone moving around downstairs a little later on. He lay down on the floor and listened carefully. All he heard were some mutterings until there was a loud crash. Following the crash, he heard a voice.

"Quiet!" someone hissed. "You wanna wake him up?!"

Janz was startled. That's Elliott! What's he doing up at this hour? And what's he doing here? he thought.

Opening the door, Janz slipped out into the hallway and crept over to the stairs, being careful not to make a sound so those downstairs wouldn't know he was up. As he was sneaking along, he heard another voice, this one feminine.

"Elder, what are you going to say about this?"

Timothy's mom now? What's going on? Janz asked himself.

Reaching the railing to the staircase, he sat down and peered over the side of the wall where the railing started, and looked down into the room below.

The room that Janz was looking into was the main living room, where people entered when they first came into the house. It was decorated with colorful rugs, drapes, paintings, a couple bureaus and a table and chairs. A fireplace was set in one corner, and small portraits were in frames on the mantle above it. The walls were painted a deep blue colour, done while Janz was away. When Janz noticed this- he didn't the first few days after his arrival home since he was so shook up and exhausted- he realized that the Elder must have missed him greatly to have painted the large room where many people came to sit and talk with others in such a dark, solemn colour. Now buckets of a lighter coloured paint were sitting in a corner, ready to be applied to the walls as soon as the room was cleared and someone could put the two of them up until the paint fumes could disperse.

At this moment, the room was crowded with all the people living in Potos. The Elder, Elliott and his family, Timothy and his family, even the Shopkeeper, Tavernowner and the Innkeeper. Janz was really confused.

What's everyone doing here? Why is there a meeting, and why wasn't I called? he pondered.

"Let's hurry," complained Elliott's grandmother, Tasha. "I've got my cooking going."

"Then let's get to the job at hand," said Elder. "What are we going to do about what Luka asked?"

The comment startled Janz. Luka? Something must be up, but what? he wondered.

Elliott's dad, Gerry, stepped forwards. "I think it best if we talk to the spirit of the Mana Sword."

"It's the spirit of the guardian of the Mana Sword," corrected his wife, Carol.

"WHATEVER!" he shouted. "I'm not interested in details! Let's just go!"

The kids were sitting on some couches next to the fireplace. Timothy's younger brother and sister, Kevin and Sarah, were so drowsy that they were almost falling asleep to be paying any attention to the grownups' talk. Elliott's older sister Patricia was gazing out of the window, also not involved in the conversation for her own reasons. Namely, a boy she was seeing in Kippo Village. Only Timothy and Elliott were listening, and at this moment, Elliott spoke up.

"Now wait a minute. Shouldn't we go ask Janz? It is, after all, what Luka wanted."

"Yeah," piped in Timothy.

Janz smiled. He knew he could count on Elliott to back him up. He was one of his best friends when he was young, Timothy being the other. Elliott was only two years younger than Janz, so when they were growing up, he understood Janz when not many others did. Timothy was a few years younger than Elliott, and backed him up fully at any time. He wasn't too thrilled with Janz sometimes, as was with Elliott too at times when they were younger, because Janz was so different than the others in Potos. The fact that Janz didn't have any parents caused had some uneasiness among his playmates. Now that Elliott and Timothy were starting to grow up, they were forgetting about those things. It didn't matter much to Janz; they had always been a great threesome.

For a second, Janz was saddened. He remembered another threesome he had been a part of. A fighting group, with a unbreakable friendship that had been formed. Something Janz had needed at the time, for that was when he was alone for the first time, and when he had to fight against monsters and the evil of the land. The "Mana Knight Team", as they had called themselves, had been made up of Janz, Lia and Taba, and it was the memory of their strong friendship that caused Janz to feel sad. He was still good friends with Lia, but she was so depressed over Dyluck's death it was hard to speak to her, and Taba was gone from their world, and that depressed him even more. The feeling only lasted a second though, as he focused on what Elder was saying.

"It's what Luka implied, not what she wanted. Janz is still young. I don't want him involved in anything... risky anymore."

Still young, thought Janz. Not anymore, Elder. But what is this? What would be so "risky" that Luka asked for the Mana Sword and me?

Elder opened the front door. "Come on," he said.

The Shopkeep, Tavernowner and Innkeeper all headed off to their businesses, Patricia sneaked off to head for Kippo Village, and the rest headed off to the Great Falls, the resting place of the Mana Sword. Janz watched them leave.

I'm gonna follow them, he said to himself. But first...

Janz returned to his room and lifted the spear and whip off their respective hooks on his wall. Who knows, he thought. I might need these.

Janz slipped the spear down his back and tied the whip to his belt. Then he exited Elder's house.

"Now to the Mana Sword!"

He left Potos by the northwest gate. He was walking casually down the path, but his mind was clouded as he wondered what he was going to say to the others when he caught up with them. A stray patch of bushes caught his attention.

Wait a minute! thought Janz. That's a freshly made path. And it's not to the sword, it's to the path that leads to the top of the falls! The kids must've made it and are heading for the log bridges! They could fall! he realized, scared. So much for finding out what the others are up to. The kids could hurt themselves! Funny... I never thought of it as dangerous when I was young. Janz remembered the time, just over a year ago when he went up to the falls often with Elliott and Timothy. As the eldest of the group, Janz was supposed to look out for the other two, and keep them out of trouble, but that never arose. When Elliott found a route up to the log bridges, Janz was all for going up to the falls as much as his friends. The grownups had said straight out that that area was out of bounds, but they went up to the falls anyways on numerous occasions. Even though Janz was the oldest, they had always seemed to be around the same age. The memory of the falls that burned in Janz's mind was the last time he was up there, and found the Mana Sword after he had fallen from the logs. His experience out in the world during that year had matured him. Not so much physically - though he was a whole lot stronger than he had been at the start - but mentally he had matured a lot. Now he understood the grownups' fears, and headed off down the path to make sure the children were alright. He stopped all of a sudden. He realized that in thinking this, Elliott was still just a child to him, and to the grownups as well, even though he was only a few years younger than Janz. Janz shook his head, fearful of the knowledge that he and his childhood friends were drifting apart. Janz took in a breath, then started off again.

Up on the log bridges that spanned across the sections of the Great Falls, the four young kids, Elliott, Timothy, Kevin and Sarah, were enjoying the view. The sun in the eastern sky made the falling water sparkle and the mists glisten.

"Isn't this great?" asked Elliott. "Look at that view!"

"Stay close, Sarah," warned Timothy, as he noticed his younger sister moving off along the logs back to the path. She stopped and turned around.

"This is beautiful! We're so high up!"

Elliott took a look down at the pool at the falls' base. He noticed a group of people a bit down one of the rivers.

"Look! There's Elder and the others."

Kevin looked at where Elliott was pointing and immediately regretted it. "Geez that's a long way down!"

Down below there was a lot of tension. The group had arrived at the Mana Sword, and being so close to the legendary sword was a bit unnerving to some.

"So how do we address it?" asked Gerry nervously.

"It's not an 'it'! It's a sword," snapped Carol.

"Why don't we just get out of here?" said Timothy's mother, Jatina. "This place gives me the spooks. And I don't want to see any!"

"Hey, mom!" came a voice from above. The adults all looked up.

"Hi down there," called out Elliott.

"Elliott! Timothy! Kevin! Sarah! You come down from there this minute!" scolded Carol.

"Aw, come on, mom! We're fine up here," complained Elliott.

"Sarah?" said Timothy, turning to her.

Sarah was kneeling on the log looking over the edge. "Lookit the view! It's great.... whoop! HELP!" Sarah shouted as she slipped on a mossy spot and tumbled over the side.

"SARAH!" screamed Timothy, and was able to grab her wrist.

"My BABY!" screamed Jatina.

"Hold on, Sarah," comforted Timothy, trying to sound positive so Sarah wouldn't panic.

"Timmy..." wailed Sarah, as she felt herself slipping out of her brother's grasp.

"SARAH!!" shouted Timothy.

Jatina collapsed into her husband's arms who mumbled out Sarah's name.

Sarah screamed as she fell, then suddenly she was falling more horizontally than vertically, and Sarah stopped screaming in confusion.

"Sarah," wailed Timothy on the logs above. Elliott was more confused that sad.

"Where'd she go?" he commented, since Sarah had seemed to just disappear in the fright.

"My baby... Where is she?" sobbed Jatina.

"Timothy, Elliott, Kevin, come down here, NOW!" ordered Arnold.

"Yessir," mumbled Timothy, grabbing Kevin by the hand and dragging him along.

Arnold was hysteric. "Where's Sarah?! Where did my baby go?!" he kept shouting.

"Easy, Arnold," said Elder trying to comfort everyone. "We'll find her... I hope."

A short distance off the path that headed down from the top of the falls, Janz held Sarah gently, trying to calm her down. She was sobbing uncontrollably.

"You okay, Sarah?" he asked quietly. As soon as he saw Sarah slip, he had just reacted without thought. He had yanked off his whip as fast as he could and flung it as far and as hard as he could. Luckily, his aim had been right on and the whip had wrapped itself around Sarah's waist and he had been able to pull her in. Now he was worried about the after effects of her fall and the whip stings. Sarah coughed a couple times before answering.

"Yuh... yes. Thank... kuh.. you, Janz. Thank you!" she cried, throwing her arms around his neck. Janz lifted her up some more, with her sitting on his left arm, and stroked her soft brown hair with his right hand.

"Easy there. It's okay, Sarah. It's alright now," he comforted. The quiet stillness was suddenly broken by the thumping of feet and quick short breaths. Down the freshly worn path ran Timothy, with Elliott close behind and Kevin taking up the rear. They ran straight by the two of them and headed out onto the main path. Sarah let out a giggle, to which Janz smiled in relief.

"They ran right past us!" she laughed.

At the base of the falls, Elder was giving the two older kids a harsh talking to.

"You see, that's why I didn't want anyone up there!"

"Easy Elder. They're just kids. They didn't know any better," said Carol.

Timothy was crying hard. "We're sorry. We wouldn't have if we'd... Sarah..." he sobbed. A small voice diverted all attention.



"Mama! Papa!" said Sarah, running towards them.

Jatina squeezed her tight. "My baby! It's a miracle!"

"Uf," was all Sarah could manage.

Carol grumbled. "Let's get out of here. Luka can worry about this problem herself! This place is putting me on edge."

"Agreed," said Elder. "Let's go."

Arnold looked around, but couldn't find what he was looking for. "Sarah, honey, how did you survive?"

Sarah smiled as she cast a glance into the bushes. Janz had asked her not to tell the others he was there so he could surprise Elder, and then talk to him alone. He lifted his head and flashed her a 'thumbs-up' as she passed. No one noticed.

"Well," she started. "Let's just say it's 'something' you shouldn't overlook."

"What did we overlook?" asked her dad.

"I can't think of anything," added Elder. He didn't get any further. With a shout, Janz jumped out in front of Elder, holding his spear out horizontally in front of him, blocking Elder's path. Elder gave a startled yelp and jumped backwards. The others turned to look at what had made the noise.

"Elder," asked Janz, "what was so urgent, so "risky" that you go straight to the Mana Sword and bypass me?"

"Janz! We didn't think it was necessary!"

"Wrong! You thought I was too young. I overheard you. Now what does Luka want?"

"Your whip stings, you know," piped in Sarah.

"Janz, we owe you for saving Sarah," said Jatina after a short pause.

"Save it," said Janz. "I just did what I could. Just let me speak to Elder alone."

"Of course," said Gerry, and ushered the others along.

Janz turned back to Elder. "Elder, what did Luka ask you to make you come to the Sword?"

Elder shrugged. "I don't really know. All she would say was that there was some problem and she needed the sword. And you."

Janz returned his spear to his back. "Go back to the village. I'll be there in a short while." Janz started to march off down the path with a determined look on his face. "I'm going to get the Mana Sword."

After Elder had left, Janz found himself standing before the sword thrust into the stone in the pool. While the others though the ghost here was the spirit of the guardian of the sword, Janz knew who it truly was.

Nervously, he approached the sword. "Dad?" he called out. "Luka asked for me and the sword. I need it. May I..." Janz grasped the hilt of the sword. Instantly there was such a bright light that Janz had to squeeze his eyes shut. When the bright spots disappeared, Janz opened his eyes and looked at the sword. It lay in his hands, and Janz was pleased to notice that it hadn't lost any of its power since its rest; it was still at power level eight. His spear and whip had remained at power level nine, and his axe, which was back home, also at level nine. With the sword in his hand, Janz quietly called out thank you, then slipped the sword into his belt and started to run home.

In Elder's house, Timothy and Elliott were awaiting Janz's return. Elliott hopped off the sofa where he had been sitting, looking out the window. "Here comes Janz; fast," he reported.

Janz pushed open the door and ran straight to the stairs and up them, nearly colliding into Elliott as he did.

"Janz!" called out Elliott after him. "Did you get the sword?"

His response was Janz's bedroom door slamming shut.

"Was that a 'yes' or a 'no'?" asked Timothy. Elliott shrugged.

Janz was busy in his room. Throwing some dirty clothes and some dusty books around, he rummaged under his bed until he found the scabbard he had used to sheath his sword before. He attached it to his belt, then he searched around again for the strap of leather that held the whip in place. It was a simple strip of leather that had a clip on one end, and a button hole on the other. The end with the clip was wrapped around the belt once and clipped to the strip where it touched, leaving a medium sized strip hanging down. Janz held that strip out and set the strands of the coiled whip on it. He pulled the end of the whip with the button hole back and slipped the hole over the ends of the clip. This held the whip securely in place and it was easier to take it out as well. Then he sheathed his sword, slipped his spear back into his belt and took the axe off its small metal loop on the wall and with the use of some extra leather strapped it to the outer right side of his leg, beside his shin. Then after some more thorough searching he found a pair of wristguards and put them on. After that, his room was a mess, but he was ready. He went downstairs and met Elder on his way out.

"I'm ready Elder. I don't know when I'll be back." Then Janz smiled. "So don't wait for me at supper."

Elder couldn't smile. "Be careful," he warned.

"I will," said Janz solemnly. Then he headed down the southern path that would take him to the Water Palace. He decided to bypass the Cannon Travel Center. It was a little too early in the morning to go shooting through the sky like a stone thrown from a slingshot. Besides, if Janz really wanted to fly, he would just call Flammie, the large white dragon that was a loyal friend to Janz, Lia and Taba during their journey. Ever since the three of them had rescued him as a baby, Flammie allowed them to ride on his back because to him they were a surrogate family. Even after their adventure, Flammie was still loyal to Janz and Lia, and would remain to be so as far as they could see.

Janz thought about the last time he went to go see Luka. Hm. I wonder what Luka wants? It's been... Ha! It's been a year since the Second Mana Fortress War started. Has it really been that long? It doesn't feel like it. At the fork in the road, just past the bridge, Janz stopped. He looked at a sign set in the bushes.

It read:
Water Palace ↑
Potos Village →
Kingdom of Pandora ↓

Hm, I wonder... Would Lia like to come? No harm in asking. She might need a change of pace, to raise her spirits, hopefully.

In the Kingdom of Pandora, Janz headed straight to Lia's house and rapped on her door sharply. The doorknob turned and Elman leaned out.

"Hello? Oh Janz! Wha... If you're looking for Lia, she's over at Phanna's."

"Thank you," said Janz, then headed for the house directly across from Lia's.

It was Phanna's grandmother who opened the door.

"They're upstairs," she said. "But I don't think they want to be disturbed." Janz shrugged and headed up the stairs. From above he heard muffled thumping and bumping noises.

What are they doing up there? he wondered.

In Phanna's room, Phanna was steadying a huge pillow that was suspended by a rope tied to a hook in the ceiling that had been previously used for hanging a potted plant. That plant was now on Phanna's desk. Her bright, sky-blue coloured hair was a little longer, but still held back with a hairband, this one a green colour. Her bangs were fluffed and fell over her eyes. She had on a light green, bra-like, strapless top and dark green pants with an even darker green belt with a dusty red clip. Her friend Lia was with her, dressed in her billowing pants with the alternating dark red and dark pink vertical stripes, a black sweater and her ponytail was tied with a triangular, black coloured clip. She also had on black leather boots that only came up to her ankles. Lia was using the large pillow as a punching bag, and as soon as Phanna had finished steadying it, Lia hauled back, ready to strike again.

"By the way," Phanna was saying, "where did you get such a large pillow?"

"I sewed up one of my blankets," responded Lia, hitting the pillow with a 'whump!'

"Oh," replied Phanna, as again she didn't get out of the way fast enough to avoid the pillow hitting against her with a bump.

"Your reflexes aren't that good, are they?" pointed out Lia jokingly.

"They'd be better if you told me when you're going to hit that thing," grumbled Phanna. The two friends laughed. Their laugh was cut short by a knocking on the door.

"Now who's that? If that's my dad..." said Lia with an annoyed tone in her voice. "Go away!" she shouted out.

Outside the door Janz scratched his head in confusion. He knocked again.

Inside the room Lia was upset. She went over to the pillow and started to undo the knot in the rope holding the pillow up. "He doesn't seem to get the point, does he? C'mon Phanna. Let's have a pillow fight!"

Phanna looked at her friend blankly, then a smile crossed her face.

"Oh, I get it! Right!"

Outside Janz was growing impatient. What could be keeping them? he thought. The door creaked open slowly. "Finally," he said. "Lia..."

A huge pillow was flung straight at him, hard, causing him to stumble backwards and fall over. He heard the girls giggle as the door shut behind them. Whatta welcome! thought Janz, dazed.

Lia was laughing. "Ha! I bet that'll teach him not to try again." She heard a voice behind her call out her name, and turning, she saw someone holding the pillow, although all she could see were just his hands grasping it. "He is going to try again?" whispered Lia to Phanna, who just shrugged. The person behind the pillow spoke again.

"Um... Lia, one question." He let go with one hand to point at the pillow, which caused it to drop slightly revealing her friend with a very confused look on his face. "How do you fit such a big pillow on your bed?"

Phanna's hand flew to her mouth to cover a shocked look. Lia was surprised and a bit embarrassed too.

"Janz! Sorry! I didn't know that was you!"

"That's okay," said Janz dropping the pillow.

"Hi, Janz," ventured Phanna, a bit embarrassed.

"Hi, Phanna." Then Janz got down to business. "Um, Lia... Are you... busy?"

Lia wasn't, but she wondered what Janz was getting at. "Maybe, why?" she asked.

Janz didn't have time to respond. Phanna cut in, confused and a bit worried. "Hey, Janz? How come you're wearing those wristguards? And you've got your weapons... including the Mana Sword."

Lia was very concerned now. Janz had come over from time to time to chat with her, and sometimes he brought over some of his weapons so the two of them could practice together, but for him to have the Mana Sword must mean that something very serious was about to occur. He wouldn't have it for any other reason.

"Janz, what's going on?" she asked, her voice full of concern.

"What's the problem?" added Phanna. Janz shrugged.

"I have no idea. All I know is that Luka wants me for something, and she asked me to bring along the Mana Sword. I was just about to head up to Luka's. I was hoping that you'd accompany me. It might be dangerous, but it's a change of pace."

"Wait here!" said Lia sharply, then she ran out of Phanna's room in a cloud of dust.

"Where's she going?" wondered Janz and Phanna just shrugged. Not much later, Lia returned. She now had on a belt with a strap that was attached to the left side of it and crossed over her chest, going over her right shoulder and back down to the left side of the belt again. Her javelin was resting in a holder on the back of this strap, and she had on wristguards and on her left hand she also had on her gauntlet.

"I'm ready!" she called out. Janz laughed.

"Here," he said, unfastening the whip. "You take the whip."

"Thanks," said Lia, fastening it to her right side. "Let's go see Luka."

Phanna led them out. "Good luck guys. Hurry back!"

"Now, onto the Water Palace," said Janz.

As soon as they had left Pandora, Janz turned to Lia. "It's nice to see you again. I just wish the circumstances were better."

"Oh, I don't mind," said Lia casually.

"What did you say to your dad?"

A mischievous look crossed Lia's face. "I didn't. I left him a note." Seeing the look of surprise on Janz's face, she continued. "It's not like I should have to ask him permission to go out. I can take care of myself. I could protect him, not vice versa!"

Janz laughed. He knew Lia meant what she said. And there was no denying she was a strong individual. Janz sure wouldn't want to be on Lia's bad side.

Soon they were at the Water Palace. Janz hung back a bit to admire the beauty of the palace, until a sharp shout from Lia stirred him back into consciousness. Nearing the seed stage of the palace, the two friends saw someone standing close to it with her back to them.

"That's not Luka," realized Janz. "It's Krissie!"

Krissie turned to look at her friends coming up the stairs.

"Janz! Lia!" she called out. "It's good to see you guys again!"

"It's good to see you too," agreed Lia. "How have things been going in the Empire?"

Krissie frowned. "Busy, hectic. Y'know, I almost wish that the Emperor hadn't died. At least there'd be less confusion that way."

Janz and Lia nodded. When they had reached the seed stage of the Tree Palace when the Underground City had risen, they had found out that his bodyguards had doublecrossed him, then Thanatos drained all his energy, effectively killing him. Then when Janz and the rest of his team had defeated Geshtar, Fahna, Sheex and Thanatos, there was no one left to take control of the Empire. It was here where the problems had started. No one was sure on which country was to claim responsibility for the Empire. King Manmon of the Gold Isle, since it was allied with the Empire, had put in his claim, but showed no real interest in leading the country. Tasnica and Pandora were debating over hold of the country, while some people in the Empire suggested turning the counry over to them, and they would control it. As an incentive, they promised that they would ally themselves with the Republic if they were allowed to gain control of the country, and that the hostilities would end. And right in the thick of the debates were the Resistance, Krissie especially. Many of her followers suggested that she lead the country during the debate, but Krissie declined, saying she was more happy leading troops than a country. The debate was still going on, and the weary face of Krissie told that it showed no sign of ending yet.

"So how does the issue stand?" asked Janz.

"Well, more and more people are supporting that the Empire becomes an independant country. There are already a lot of people willing to go into the government that they have established. I think in a matter of time, that's what's going to happen."

"You look relieved to be here. It must be a break for you. What are you doing here anyway?" asked Lia. Krissie shrugged.

"I don't really know. Luka asked for me to come here, and I readily agreed to get out of that hot house," she answered.

"And speaking of Luka, where is she? What's she brought all of us here for?" asked Janz. Krissie put her finger to her lips.

"Shhh. There," she said, pointing to the seed stage. "She's meditating... or something."

Janz approached the stage. "Luka?" he called out.

On the stage, Luka turned around. "Good, you're here. I called you all here because something very deadly is occurring," she said as she rose and flowed down the steps of the stage to their level. She was still as regal as ever, but her words put a chill down the spines of those assembled.

"Deadly?" all three asked at once.

"Yes," said Luka, nodding her head. "But not in this world. In a second, parallel one."

Janz turned up his nose in confusion. "A second world?! Would you mind explaining yourself, Luka?"

"All I'll say at the moment is that this world is in danger. Undine informed me of this. Now, Janz. Do you have your Flammie Drum?"

Janz was startled by this odd request. "Uh, why, sure. It's right here. Why?"

"Give it to Krissie," ordered Luka.

Janz pulled out the small circular drum and handed it to Krissie. She was just as confused as Janz.

"Why me?" she asked, her puzzled feelings shown in her green eyes. Luka didn't answer her directy, but instead elaborated on what she wanted Krissie to do.

"Head to Matango. Then call Flammie. King Truffle will help him get accustomed to you. When he has, bring him back here."

"But why..." started Krissie, but Luka cut her off sharply.

"No time. Go!"

"See you," mumbled a confused Krissie as she headed off down the stairs. Luka turned to face Janz and Lia when they heard Krissie's voice call up from the floor below.

"Just one thing!" she called out. "How'm I supposed to get there? The boat that brought me here left an hour ago! And besides, it's landlocked!"

Janz went to the steps. "Use Cannon Travel!" he shouted down.

"Cannon Travel? What's that?" he heard Krissie call back up.

"You'll find it close to Potos!"

Lia came up beside him and added a post script. "Make sure you don't have anything breakable on you, and watch the landing! It's rough!"

"Landing?!" Krissie's voice wavered up, filled with hesitation. Then they heard her mutter: "Oh man, what am I getting myself into?"

Luka turned to head back up the seed stage. "Prepare yourselves to journey to this world."

"Whoa! Hold it!" shouted Lia, throwing up her hands. "We don't know one thing about what's going on here! Could you explain yourself, please?!"

Luka took a deep breath. "It's hard to explain. I'll try my best. This second world is where the magic and life of our land is focused. Creatures of Mana such as the Mana Beast come from this parallel world. It is in danger. For some reason, things are dying there. If the world there dies, our land would die as well. The two are connected. The orbs that focus the power of the Mana Tree to the Mana Seeds and to your Mana Sword and other Mana weapons are tangible objects in that world. To save it, you must seal those orbs as you have sealed the seeds to stop the advance of darkness. Worst of all, the few humans there are assisting in the advance of the darkness in hopes that the force responsible will return them to our world. You must stop this! The fates of both worlds depend on you!"

Janz felt a bit daunted. "You mean we have to fight an entire world?" he asked.

Luka smiled. "Of course not. Those native to the land are also fighting to regain the life of their land. They can be your allies and help you immensely."

"Great," said Lia. "But what's the deal with Flammie?"

"You may need his help," explained Luka. "It'll be good to have him around. Now come. It's time to send you there. One thing that will help you is that things are set in basically the same place as they are in our world, so the Water Orb is where the Water Seed is, and so forth. Now wait here."

Janz and Lia stopped at the base of the stage, while Luka climbed up the steps to the seed. Janz leaned over to Lia.

"You scared?" he whispered.

"What do you think?" she whispered back. Their attention was drawn to Luka as they noticed a bright blue light emanating from the seed. The seed rose a couple feet into the air and spread its light all around. Janz shook Lia by the shoulder.

"Look!" he said, pointing.

A short distance away, a tiny pinprick of light had appeared, and bright beams of light came from the seed and met with the point, then proceeded to pull it into a wider and wider circle. Soon Janz and Lia could see scenery on the other side of the circle. When it was about six feet in diameter, the bands stopped pulling the hole open and wrapped around the circumference of it. Luka stepped up to it.

"This portal will be your link between both worlds. Lia, step forward." Hesitantly, Lia did so. Luka held out her hand. "If you wear this pendant at this point and repeat the words "Connect the Worlds as One", you can open the portal again when you want to return."

Lia took the pendant from Luka. It was a silver loop engraved in the form of a curled, wingless dragon, its tail meeting up with its muzzle, and in its claws it held a deep blue, oval aquamarine gem stone. Its eyes were red rubies and the chain was made out of gold. It took Lia's breath away as she held it. "Thank you. It's beautiful!" she breathed as she hung it around her neck. Janz nodded his head.

"Thank you, Luka. Let's go, Lia."

Slowly the two approached the shining portal and stopped right in front of it. Past the shining bands of light they could see a deep, dark forest.

"Good luck," wished Luka. "Flammie will follow you shortly, I hope."

Janz and Lia both took in a deep breath at the same time. "Here we go," mumbled Janz. The two of them held hands, then jumped into the disk.

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