Secret of Mana
by Uftaki


When Janz awoke it was dusk. The setting sun cast a golden glow over the land, which blurred in Janz's vision due to the tears in his eyes. Wiping them away with his hand he stood up. His usually bright, blue eyes were now tinged with red from crying so hard. He had spent all of his emotions in the flow of tears that had lulled him to sleep, so he was relatively calmer now. He looked around, and for a while wondered why he was standing outside the gates to his village. Then he remembered, and where he was supposed to be.

"Oh, no, Jema! I forgot! I was supposed to be at the Water Palace hours ago. But where is it? And where does this path lead?" Janz questioned himself, looking at the small dirt road that headed west. He turned down it and started to run.

He didn't get very far. The small path ended in a small clearing. There was a raised platform of earth, constructed to form a squarish shaped area, with steps built into the side, and a very large but stubby cannon resting on the flattened top. Janz was wrapped up in the odd sight and didn't notice a shape moving up behind him. He gave a startled yelp when someone tapped him on his shoulder. He turned around to face a very small man, with messy, dark gray hair, green pants and a yellow shirt with a green vest, and sunglasses over his eyes. Despite his odd looks, he seemed very friendly, and smiled up at Janz.

"Hi!" he said cheerfully. "We the Cannon Travel brothers are building a global network!"

"Hi," said Janz back weakly, all his energy spent from the battle and crying his heart out. "This is a form of travel?"

"Yep! Cannon Travel! Where are ya headed?"

"Um... The, uh, Wa.." Janz stuttered, not sure if he wanted to try this form of travel.

"Going to the Water Place?" filled in the Cannon Travel brother. Janz nodded. "Jema's already left. He paid your way too!"

Janz looked at the man. He had been expecting him. And he sure couldn't go back since Jema kindly paid for his fare. "All right, I'll go," said Janz, more to himself than to the man.

"Great!" cheered the man. "Hop in!" he said, and led Janz up the stairs to the stubby cannon. On one side was a short staircase, and the man pushed Janz up them. "Don't get hurt, just slide into the cannon."

Janz did so, hesitantly, and wondered for the life of him what he was getting himself into. He heard the man talking to him outside. "Now when you're in the air," he was saying, "make sure you roll yourself into a ball. You'll probably do it automatically, but it does help flight, and the accuracy will be more on."

Air? Flight? What is this?! thought Janz.

"Get ready!" warned the man.

"Wait!" shouted Janz, his voice echoing off the dark, hollow metal interior. "I think I've changed my mind!"

Janz felt compressed air being forced into the cavity of the cannon underneath him, and something fizzing, then the next thing he knew he was being shot up into the air at very high speed. Without knowing it, he curled himself into a ball and squeezed his eyes tightly shut.

The sudden rising of his body churned his stomach and he struggled to override the desire to flatten out. Janz then realized that he was slowing down. "Have I reached the Water Palace?" he asked out loud, opening his eyes. Then his breath was taken away as he saw he was hundreds of feet above the Water Palace, and he was slowing down only because he had reached the apex of his trajectory. Janz sucked in whatever breath he had left when he began to accelerate as he fell. He squeezed his eyes shut as the wind whipped past him.

He crashed onto the soft turf of the ground and let out a grunt, for that was all he could manage out of his lungs. He lay winded on the ground until his breath returned. When he no longer felt dizzy from the wild ride, he stood up and looked around. The rivers of water from the falls that originated in the Upper Land collected into pools in this flatter area of the land. He was on a kind of peninsula between the land and a small lake, in which the Water Palace would be located, Janz reasoned. Close to him, Janz saw a group of soldiers standing at attention in a straight line. Janz recognized the soldiers' uniforms to be those of the Pandoran soldiers. There were four of them there, plus one other man, just slightly older than Janz, who wasn't dressed in a uniform, but held an air of authority, nonetheless. Janz approached the first soldier.

Janz didn't even say a word before the soldier turned and looked at him. The soldier smiled, then pointed at the other man. "That's Major Dyluck," he stated. Janz turned to look at that man. He was a little taller in height, and about a year or two older than Janz. He had short, scruffy blond hair, Janz could just barely make out yellowish coloured eyes under dark yellow eyebrows, and a good build to his body. He was dressed in a yellow shirt and yellow pants, but the shirt was almost hidden under a seemingly heavy, metal shoulder and chest guard. Then the soldier straightened up and put on a look of confidence. "This mission will be full of danger, but we'll do our best!"

Janz smiled back and headed off to another soldier. The second one seemed a little nervous over something. He glanced nervously at Janz but kept facing forwards. In a whisper, he said: "We need a whip to get through the short-cut to the castle of Elinee, the witch."

The third soldier didn't speak to Janz at all. He snapped his heels together, which the other three followed suit, immediately at attention. Then, in a loud, measured tone, he barked out to the head of the team.

"Major Dyluck! All set!"

The Major snapped to attention, then turned around to face west. "Right! Let's go!" he ordered. Then he started marching out, and the soldiers followed him. Janz was confused. He had seen what lay to the west when he landed, and all that was there was the end of the land and three pillars set in a kind of semi-triangular shape.

Why are they heading west? thought Janz. He turned around and decided to forget about these odd soldiers, when he heard an odd sound, one that he couldn't describe. When he looked back to the soldiers, they had vanished. Janz was startled. He knew that they hadn't walked back to the path that led to the south because he would have heard them marching past. Running over to the three small pillars, which were around his height, he noticed that in the niche that was created by the triangular shape, there was an odd, circular and triangular pattern marked into the ground. Feeling a little nervous, Janz backed away from the pillars, then headed back to a path that led into the lake, on the northern part of the peninsula-like part of land. Janz only guessed that it was the way to the Water Palace.

Running down the small path, the Water Palace suddenly came into full view, and Janz wondered why he hadn't seen it before. "I guess I was too wrapped up in those soldiers and still a little woozy from that landing," Janz muttered, rubbing a sore spot on his hip.

The Water Palace was a grand sight. It was very tall, and had a very commanding, ancient look about it. The whole Palace was surrounded by water. On the different levels of the Palace, water flowed along gutters and splashed down to the next level like waterfalls. The Water Palace was symmetrically shaped, and what was constructed on one side was mirrored on the other, except for the center, and Janz found it easy to take in all of the Palace if he just looked at one side of it. There was nothing to speak of on the ground level of the palace. There were stairs leading up to the second level, and a pillar on either side of the staircase to hold up the balcony-like second level. Janz noted that underneath the platform, he could make out the lower portion of the Water Palace. It was very plain, just a block structure of the blue-green bricks used to build the Palace. The stairs were wide, and long, pearly white banisters ran up the sides, ending with a semi-large white sphere. To each side of the staircase, the front part of the platform stretched out to just a bit beyond the pillars holding it up. On the sides of the platforms facing Janz, there was a pattern of three circles evenly spaced out, separated from each other by a thin vertical line, creating a three square pattern with a circle in the center of them.

The floor of the platform was some kind of material like stone, but had small stones set on it to created a sort of tiled effect, and the platform was bordered with a thin, slightly raised strip of lightly coloured metal, to almost match the light colour of the small rocks. Just a bit up from the staircase the walls stretched to just half the distance from the staircase to the edge of the platform. In the center of the wall, set so it just bordered the walkway from the staircase to the second square-circle pattern, was a small waterfall. At the top of the wall, just slightly down from the top of the wall, was a stone gargoyle that was a roughly diamond-shaped head, with curved things like antlers coming from the flat sides of the diamond and curving up and down, depending on what side of the face it was on, and two short, straight, stubby "antlers" at the very top of the head. The water flowed out from underneath this, and the waterfall was bordered on the walls by thin brick columns.

The floor beside the waterfall was bordered by the same thin metal that bordered the rim of the platform, and the water flowed down the balcony and off it into the lake below. On the other half of the platform, set back a bit from the end of the wall, was another wall that was set up exactly like the one just beside it. Everything was in the same place as the other wall, including the same kind of column holding this second platform up. The roof of these walls ended the same was the side of the platform did, with the square-circle pattern. The roof was also decorated with the small tile-like stones and bordered by the thin, raised metal strip. The roof of the first wall was the same too, except about a roof-sized distance back, another square roof was situated.

Janz now looked at the door. It was set further back from the start of the side walls, and was bordered by curved pillars made from brick, and a brick arch stretched from one side to the other, with a circular, pearly-white object in the center of it. Below this large arch, there were two smaller arches right together that rimmed the top of the door. The door was made out of a blue-coloured wood, and had strips of white wooden strips set horizontally across it with curved edges to follow the curve of the door. It was a double door. In the center of the curved pillars beside the door was a cavity, and in that cavity a small flame flickered. The top of the door ended in a flat roof, similar to the roofs of the walls.

The final roof of the Palace was very interesting, but Janz had a hard time figuring out what some of the things were, and what they were made of. Starting from the end of the second floor platform, right at the back, where the floor ended, a row of white, flat objects were set up at a slant, heading up. There were seven of these, the first four only reaching up to the top of the far wall's roof, where they ended. The other three were further along than the wall, and reached right up to the final roof of the building. The roof looked the same as all the other roofs, except it was a little wider, and it had small, thin columns leading down the front wall of it, which had started from the back corners of the base of the door's roof. There were also two very thin and small columns from the second roofs of the walls that stretched up from just a bit in from the edge of the roof to the ends of the squarish part of the top roof.

All in all, the Water Palace was a most magnificent sight.

At the top of the large flight of steps which led to the main door, Janz saw Jema there, pacing about, obviously waiting for him. Remembering the time, Janz sheepishly headed up the stairs.

Jema seemed more relieved than upset when he saw Janz coming up the stairs. "Let's go, Janz," he said, then turned and headed into the Water Palace. Janz followed.

When he entered, he stopped short. Jema continued on ahead, leaving Janz to gaze in wonder at the inside of the palace. They were in a long rectangular hallway, which was bordered on either side of the walkway with rectangular pools of water, and along the edges of the walkway, there were torches set up symmetrically on each side and evenly spaced apart down the hallway. The end of the hallway ended in a door, which held a staircase up to the second level of the Palace. Janz walked along slowly, and stopped to examine one of the torches. They were made of some kind of metal, which was engraved with all sorts of archaic patterns. It was sitting on a flat, not very thick but not thin either, squarish piece of metal, that was engraved with pictures that looked like a story along the narrow sides. The base of the torch was circular, and the edges curved up to a smaller circle, on which a bowl-like dish lay on top. At the base of the torch there was an engraving that looked almost like an eye, or a sphere. The bowl-like thing on top was filled with a mixture of something that kept the fire burning. Then Janz noted how odd the fire was. It was a greenish kind of colour.

Janz ran to the staircase and started up them. They were completely dark at first, since they were inside and there was no light at the door, but it ended in another open area, and light filled the room there.

When Janz reached the top of the stairs, he found himself on a square platform with a relatively medium-sized border around it, and on each of the four corners stood a torch. There were two columns, rising up from somewhere but holding up nothing around the middle of the area, one on his right and one on his left sides. At the far end of the platform, Janz saw a wall above him. There were four gaps in the wall, and water flowed out of them. The two outer waterfalls fell down to behind the outer corners of the platform, and the inner two fell down to behind the inner end of the torches. However, Janz saw no visible staircase leading up to the next level. He also wondered how all of this fit into the Palace, but let it drop as some kind of magic.

When he walked up to the edge of the platform, he noticed a square pattern on his left side, slightly off center. There was a large green circle in the center of the square, and four smaller green circles in the corners. It looked like some kind of control pad. Tentatively Janz stepped onto it. With a clunk, the circles turned from green to red and a staircase folded up from the side of the platform wall and rose to join with the floor of the next level in-between the two inner waterfalls. Smiling, Janz jogged up the stairs.

The third floor was like the platform, squarish and had a border, except that a large area of the center had been hollowed out, so the border area was like a rim of a pool. And it was a pool indeed for it had a layer of shallow water in it, fed by four other waterfalls on the far side of the floor, and emptied by the four other waterfalls beside the staircase. There were four torches on the corners of the floor, but also two others along the side spaced evenly in-between themselves. There was a small staircase down into the pool, and another one leading out on the far side. Janz jumped down the stairs and ran to the other end. On the far ledge, the two inner water falls fell beside the sides of the stairs, and beside the inner edge of the torches the other two waterfalls landed. In between the sets of waterfalls, there was another stair-pad. Janz went to the one on his right and raised the staircase to the next level, the staircase rising between the two waterfalls, and Janz surmised the same thing happened on the left side, since the Water Palace was amazingly symmetrical.

At the top of the stairs there was a small walkway to the next floor, since there was a channel of water flowing around the border of the top level. To each side of the stairs there was a hole in the wall that let the water run out into the pool below. The floor beside the stairs and on the outside edge of the channel was bordered the same way as the borders on the other levels, as well as the border of the floor on the inside of the channel. To the sides of each staircase, on the side towards the walls of the palace was a torch. Positioned in-between the two staircases was a pyramidal like structure. It was like someone had taken four, square, flat slabs of decreasing size and stacked them one on top of the other in decreasing size, with the smallest one on the top. There was a thin staircase leading from the base of the pyramid to the top of it. There were odd, bluish coloured bands that glowed slightly along the top sides of the layers and it looked like the light was flowing along. At the top of the pyramid there was a box-like object and placed in the small box there was a large seed.

Behind the pyramid the end of the wall was set back a bit from the rest of the wall. The entire wall was of the same blue-brick like everywhere else in the palace. On the wall directly behind the pyramid was a beautiful rose window in shades of blue near the roof of the palace. To the sides of this, the wall jutted forwards a bit, and had a lovely rectangular stained glass window with a curved top that stretched from the floor to just above the middle of the roof. The wall was thrust forwards again at the end of the window, so the length of the wall was the length of the window, and on this forwards part there was another stained glass window similar to the one beside it. The wall fell back then, on the same plane as the first rectangular window. This section of the wall was longer and in the middle of it there was a column. On either side of the column, near the roof were two more beautiful rose windows. At least, that's what was on the wall to the far side of the Water Palace. When Janz looked in front of him, he expected to see the same thing since everything in the Water Palace was symmetrical, but oddly enough this portion of the wall wasn't. On the side of the column heading towards the pyramid there was a rose window, but on the other side of the column there was the rectangular shaped window. Then Janz saw a staircase heading down just a few feet back from the wall, beside the top corner of the torch. Janz was curious about the only asymmetrical portion of the Water Palace, but put it out of his mind. The wall jutted forwards again, and close to the corner where it jutted out there was a column, and in the corners of the room there were the odd gargoyle-like statues that Janz had seen outside where the water in the channels flowed from.

Janz stopped at the top of the stairs and looked around. "So? Now what?" he pondered out loud. Then he noticed someone on the pyramidal shaped stage. On the steps leading up to the seed there was a young lady. She had on a flowing, shoulderless white dress with a v-shaped cut-out on the center of the neckline, and the dress came together at her waist by a golden coloured belt, and the dress was trimmed at the neckline with a thin, dark blue coloured strip. On her wrists she had the same dark blue coloured bands and attached to these bands were the corners of a piece of dark blue fabric that turned into a flowing cloak. Her hair was long, reaching below her hips, and a aquamarine kind of colour. Her eyes were the same blue colour as her hair, and so were her lips. She wore a golden tiara that came down in front of her brow, then branched out in three directions, one branch heading over the top of her head and the other two going off to the sides just above her ears. The two side branches then curved slightly down and met at the back of her head. The middle branch just curved slightly over the top of her head then stopped. She was quite a regal looking person.

"Hey, you," he called out, "where's Luka?"

The lady turned to look at Janz, and then Janz saw Jema coming up from the side of the stage. Janz wondered where he went to. He seemed a little upset.

"Hey how rude!" he commented in Janz's direction. Janz dropped his head and shuffled his feet. Jema turned to the lady. "Luka, it's nice to see you again."

The lady laughed. "Welcome! My, my... looks like you have the Mana Sword! How interesting. Ho, ho, ho."

Janz was taken aback. "What? You mean this girl is two hundred years old?"

"Over two hundred years old, and don't you know it's impolite to ask a lady her age?" Jema reprimanded. He then turned to Luka and got right down to business. "Luka, monsters are invading villages. He just fought one!"

Luka folded her hands in front of her and looked directly at Jema, a very serious expression on her face.

"I know. The ebb and flow of water brings me news from around the world." Luka paused, then continued with her narration. "Mana's power is growing weak. That's why this boy was able to take the Sword."

Janz grumbled. The other two either didn't hear, or they just ignored it. Janz didn't like to be referred to as a boy. He was in his mid teens. I'm no boy, he thought. Meanwhile, Luka continued explaining to Jema and him the implications of Janz's actions, and some problems concerning the world.

"When he did, the balance of Mana in this area shifted, and monsters revived. There are evil monsters working to steal away the power of the Mana Sword." She then turned to Janz. "By defeating those monsters, you can restore the Sword's Mana power. The power is kept in orbs. Looks like it regained some power from the Mantis Ant."

So that's what that orb was, thought Janz, recalling that strange sphere that the monster he battled had dropped. He shuddered at the memory.

"There must be more hidden orbs which hold Mana power for the Sword," continued Luka. "And you must find someone who can forge the Sword to release its stored power."

Janz remained silent for some time, contemplating what Luka just said. It sounded really daunting, but Janz realized that he had no choice but to do what Luka said. He turned towards Jema.

"Once I was one of Luka's followers," he said. "I studied the power of Mana which sustains everything in this world."

Luka turned again to Jema, her voice full of concern. "Jema, watch out for the Empire. It seeks to obtain the Mana Fortress."

The remark confused Janz. As far as he knew, the only Mana Fortress he ever heard of was the one of legend. "You mean the one that destroys the world in that fairy tale?" he asked. Jema's answer filled him with a sense of dread.

"That's no fairy tale. The Empire is trying to awaken it."

Janz was scared now. Things were a lot more serious than he thought. If the Fortress was real, then the world was in incredible danger. But what did Jema mean about awakening it? "How?" was all that Janz managed to say.

Luka glanced at Janz. "The Empire is going to unlock the seals from the world's Mana Seeds. A bunch of strangers have already started snooping around this palace!"

Jema approached Luka. He wore an upset frown. "Something is very wrong in Pandora," he said. "Could the Empire be involved?"

Luka dropped her head down and then shook it from side to side. When she raised her head again to look at Jema, Janz could tell that she was unsure, and not at all happy with that.

"I don't know. Jema, see the King of Pandora and tell him to be cautious."

Jema straightened up. "Right. I'm on my way." He nodded to Luka, then turned to face Janz.

"Janz, you go to the cave called Gaia's Navel. Dwarves live there. They make good weapons and know all about weapons. They may know somebody who can reforge and empower that sword of yours. As your sword's power and skill level increase, so too will your ability."

With that, he turned sharply on his heel and marched down the stairs and exited the Water Palace. Janz watched him go down the stairs. Then he turned towards Luka, but he hesitated at saying anything. Luka regarded him kindly.

"Janz, what are you so scared of?" she asked gently.

Janz looked down at the ground. Truthfully, he didn't really know. He rested his hand on his scabbard, then his fears became more focused.

"It's the sword. I..." He cut off, not knowing how to describe his thoughts.

"That is the Mana Sword, but its power is gone! It used its last ounce of power to summon you."

"Why did it chose me?" asked Janz. He really didn't know why he was being put through all of this, and wanted some kind of an answer. Luka frowned and shook her head.

"I don't know, but now you must re-energize it!" She sighed, then looked down at Janz. "Eons ago the ancients used the Mana Fortress in their final battle. But even they could not control Mana. In the end, it was your sword that saved the world. Survivors rebuilt the world to honor Mana. Janz," stated Luka very strongly, "the Empire must not restore the Fortress! Regain the sword's power or all is lost!"

Swallowing, Janz looked up at Luka. "What should I do?" he quietly asked.

"You must become a hero who is worthy of the Sword!"

Janz wasn't sure he could, but he knew he had to try. He started to say something, but not knowing really what he was going to say, he just mumbled out some meaningless gibberish, with some words like "sword", "fortress" and "me?" coming out more predominantly.

With a flourish, Luka moved flowingly down off the staircase and swept her hand up towards the seed.

"Enough! Hold the sword up to the seed!"

The command was quietly spoken, but there was power in it, and Janz didn't want to disobey the command. He almost unconsciously carried out her request due to the assured way she spoke it, and thought of how impressive Luka was.

He climbed up the staircase to the top, and stopped and looked at the seed. He noticed that on the right corner of the box that the seed rested in was an odd point that was sticking up. It looked kind of like a knife blade, about as long as his open palm. It confused him, but he brushed it off and concentrated on the seed. It was a lot larger than normal seeds, but other than that, it didn't look like anything special. It was an oval kind of shape, with pointed corners. The bottom half was a dark brown colour and the top half was a lighter, tannish colour. Janz unsheathed his sword and hesitantly held it straight up, pointed only slightly towards the seed.

A bright, light bluish colour emanated from both the sword and the seed. Majestically the seed rose about two feet into the air and hung suspended for a while. Janz could feel power flowing through his body. The seed floated slowly back to the stage and Janz slowly lowered the sword. Just as slow, he turned around and headed back down the stairs, allowing Luka to take back her place on the steps. She seemed quite excited.

"For a moment the sword and the seed became one! You have sealed the Mana Seed with your Mana Sword. Now the Mana power from the seed will be sent only to you and your sword! You'll be able to gain power from the Mana seed wherever you are!" Luka paused for a moment, then continued on at a much more serious and controlled manner.

"The world has eight palaces. Visit them all and receive the power from them all!" Luka turned and walked up the stairs to the seed stage. She lay her hand on the top of the box, and the odd point that was on the forward right corner started to wobble, then it rose up on a long wooden shaft. When the pole the point was attached to was around four or five feet long, it stopped rising. Luka grasped it by the middle and lifted it out. Janz suddenly realized what it was. It was a spear. Luka turned around and headed back down the steps. At the base she stopped and held the spear out to Janz. "Take this spear with you. Mana Guardians used it long ago."

Janz reached forwards and ran his hands along the smooth wooden shaft of the spear. Getting the feel of it, Janz swung it around a bit, then, with a bit of difficulty, he slid it down his back with the point near his head, and made sure it tucked into his belt.

"It will grow and regain its power just like your Mana Sword," Luka explained. "There must be more weapons like this spear in the world. Find them!"

Janz nodded. Luka raised her hand towards Janz.

"I'll restore you," she said, and even though he wasn't weak at all, Janz could feel that if he had been, his strength would have been returned somehow. He didn't ask Luka about it. He wasn't sure that he would understand her answer.

Luka raised her hand in a southern direction. "First, head for Gaia's Navel like Jema said. Look for the Underground Palace. To reach Gaia's Navel, head south through the realm of Pandora."

Janz nodded again. "Thank you, Luka, for all your help." Luka just smiled. "I'm scared, but I think I'm ready. I'll see you later." With that, Janz turned around and headed back down the stairs, lowering them as he left, and exited the Water Palace.

It was twilight, almost night when Janz shut the door to the palace. The moon and a few stars were already out. I'll have to find some place to spend the night. There's no way I'll be able to reach Gaia's Navel, or even Pandora before nightfall, thought Janz as he walked along the path leading south. I just hope there is a place to sleep.

Rounding a hillside that was between the peninsula leading to the Water Palace and the land, Janz saw a rabite bouncing up and down in the dim light. He almost had his sword out of his scabbard when he changed his mind and instead pulled out his new spear. He lunged at the rabite and he knocked it away easily, but much to his dismay and embarrassment, the metal blade of the spear got lodged into the soft turf. Grunting, Janz pulled the spear free and swung again at the rabite which disappeared and left a few gold pieces.

Janz was walking along not expecting anything when a large pink flower bit him. Startled, Janz hopped back, and looked at the flower. It had a beak-like mouth in its center which had been camouflaged by resembling the center of any flower of its kind. Janz was even more startled when the flower started moving towards him, chomping away.

Swinging his spear around he caught the flower and knocked it back. When he did that, Janz noticed a sign, barely visible in the shadow of twilight behind it. Janz struck again with the spear and the flower wilted, then went and looked hard at the printing on the sign.

Janz could barely make out the words "Welcome to Neko's" printed on the sign, and an arrow pointing to the left. Janz looked in that direction and noticed two rows of stones set up outlining a path, and then two side walls made of high poles lashed together to keep the vegetation back. Janz walked down the path, and came to a small clearing in the forest.

There was a single building in the clearing. It was fairly large for a house. It was a long rectangular shaped building with two smaller squarish shaped additions on the nearer side to Janz opposite each other. The roofs were peaked and the shingles were a rusty red colour. The walls of the structure, like any other building around, were white, and some vines had climbed up the sides of it. There were numerous potted plants along the side of the building, and two signs. One read "Shop" and the other read "Inn". Above the signs on the longer part of the building were two windows, and above them two other dormer windows in the attic of the building. In the squarish part of the house, on the section pointing south, was the entrance to the building. A small lamp by the door shed the only light now in the gloom of early night. Happy that he stumbled upon this inn, Janz ran to the door and walked in.

It was spacious inside, although he couldn't see much. Candlelight was the only light now, and it cast a friendly, flickering shadows over the objects in the building. Directly opposite the door was a counter, and sitting behind it was someone that looked human, but not entirely. As Janz drew closer, he realized what this creature was. It was a human-like cat. Its fur was a purplish-pink kind of colour, and it had a white pattern around its face. It was dressed in a yellow shirt with a brown vest, and green pants. Around its shoulders it had a tan blanket draped over them. It had both its eyes shut, and was very close to sleep.

"Um... Neko?" ventured Janz quietly, not wanting to disturb this cat. Sleepily the cat opened one eye, took Janz in, then opened both of his greenish yellow eyes and focused his attention on Janz.

Yawning throughout his speech, he attended to business. "Yep. I'm Neko. This is yawn... my place. Need anything?"

Janz nodded in the affirmative.

"Really? Nya ha! Yawn. What'll it be?"

Neko's yawning was almost causing Janz to yawn too. "I'd like to stay for the night, please."

"Thirty g.p. per night would be purrrfect. Meow?"

Janz frowned. Thirty g.p. was pretty pricey. But he realized there was no other place to sleep, and he had enough gold pieces. He also was a little amused at how Neko rolled his r's.

"Sure, here," Janz said, emptying out the amount onto the desk.

"Great," smiled Neko. "Breakfast is half an hour after sun-up. The beds are over there." Neko pointed to the western, longer part of the inn. Janz could see rows of beds set up there. He walked over and picked the closest one to the desk and rolled back the sheets. He unstrapped his scabbard and his belt, undid his headband and pulled off his red serape. Neko looked at the scabbard. "Hey, kid," he started.

"My name is Janz."

"Janz," continued Neko, "that looks like a very worn scabbard. Can I see it?"

Hesitantly, Janz looked at the scabbard, then unsheathed his sword and handed the worn scabbard over to Neko. Neko rubbed his hand along it and frowned.

"This is very old and the fabric is all gone, but it's still good leather. Tell you what. You give me fifteen more gold pieces and I'll fix up your scabbard, good as new. How about it?"

Janz smiled as he dropped the coins on the desk. "Thank you! Good night."

Neko nodded and turned around examining the scabbard. Janz returned to his bed and finished up getting ready for the night. He picked up his sword and instead of fear and hesitation, the thoughts that were running through his head were pleasant ones.

This is the Mana Sword, he stated, reality finally sinking in. The most powerful sword in the world, and I have it. I don't know any of the stories, but I've heard that it's been honored and respected in many legends. Wow. The Mana Sword, the strongest sword in the world, and it's mine, thought Janz lazily as he slipped it underneath the mattress and settled down into a deep sleep instantly, due to the exhausting day he just had that changed his life forever.

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