Secret of Mana
by Uftaki


It was hard to see in the dark and murky cave. Luckily, Janz didn't have to wade around in the water throughout the entire cave. Soon the small pool of water in the cave ended and there was dry, hard packed earth. Someone had been through here, because there were steps carved into the earth.

Janz looked into the blackness and shivered. If I wasn't scared of the dark before, he thought, I sure will be now. There were two bats flying around, and Janz knocked them aside with his spear. There was a goblin sitting in a corner a few feet away, sleeping. Its snores reverberated through the cavern. Janz took out his sword, and charged it up to power level one, which gave him a stronger attack. He edged towards the goblin, and just when it stirred and got ready to attack, Janz let loose with his power attack. The goblin was knocked back. Janz powered up the sword again. It was hard, because the goblin came at him swinging an axe. Janz sidestepped its clumsy lunge, then struck the goblin. Its bones splintered and broke, then it was gone. Janz turned to head further into the cave, then he stopped short in terror. What lay before him was nothing like he had ever seen before.

It was a large green sphere with eyes and an absurdly grinning mouth. Nothing more, nothing less. It wasn't completely solid, and flattened out sometimes, then stretched out. It was frightening. What was worse was that it chased after Janz. He sliced at it with his sword. One thing to Janz's favor was that it wasn't overly mobile. But just when Janz thought he was about to defeat it, it did something no one could have predicted. It flattened right down, almost like a drop of some sticky liquid, and proceeded to spit into two.

"It split!" shouted Janz, astounded and a bit daunted. How could he defeat a creature that split when it got injured? Gritting his teeth, he realized that getting to the dwarf village and the Underground Palace wasn't going to be as easy as he thought, and fought the green drop with all his might. Eventually he defeated it, but he was weary afterwards. In the next passage of the cave there were only goblins, and by fully powering up then sneaking up to them, the goblins weren't much of a problem. Janz went down a staircase that led to a lower section of the cave. He saw another staircase leading down in the open area the first staircase had led to, but his path was blocked by channels of hot lava. There was a raised section at the north part of the open area leading to the opposite side of the opening, but it didn't help Janz because the staircase was on the opposite side of the lava. Janz went along it anyway. In front of the raised path was a small pool of water held back by a row of thick stalagmites. Janz had to watch his balance as he fought off a goblin that was on the path to avoid getting a dunking. At the opposite end of the opening was a small cave. Entering it, Janz found a couple of goblins and he quickly disposed of them. But he didn't see anything that could help him; it was a dead end. Then he noticed an odd looking skull on the wall. Curious, he tapped it with his sword. The jaw bone dropped down but didn't fall off, and Janz heard an odd rushing noise out in the clearing immediately afterwards. Heading back out he saw that the stalagmites holding back the water had dropped down into the cave floor and the lava had, as a result, been extinguished, providing a clear path to the stairs. Going down them, he entered another open area. There was a small path to the east and a wider path to the south. There were small channels of water around here, probably from the falls up above.

After a while, Janz was really getting tired. He had no idea of how long he had been down in the caverns, since there was no way to tell. Going down another staircase, he came to an open area with no monsters, but there was no way to the cave entrance he saw up on a higher level. There was a staircase further on, and Janz went up that. It came up to the same area he had been in before, but on the other side of a group of boulders that had blocked his way. He saw another one of those skull switches on the wall, with a solitary goblin guarding it. Janz quickly defeated it, then struck the switch. A section of rock behind him fell through the floor. Confused, Janz went back down the staircase he had just gone up. The section of rock had landed beside a small staircase, and Janz saw that he was now able to reach the cave he had seen before. Tiredly, he went through it, wondering what monsters he would face now. He got a pleasant surprise. He had reached the dwarf village.

The dwarf village was a large clearing in the cavern, divided into different levels. Janz found himself on the lowest section. There was a circular space with stalagmites set around in odd intervals. The second level was just a bit north of this, two sets of staircases leading up to this on either side of the cavern. On the second level Janz could see a door on the east side of a cave wall that had a sign of an inn on it. Also on the east side was another staircase leading to a third level. Janz could make out a shop there and another door further on, but this one was unmarked. On the west side was a staircase to a third level, ending right in front of a door. There was a sign there, but Janz couldn't make out what it said.

There were all sorts of dwarfs walking around the village. Two came up to greet him.

"This is the Village of the Dwarfs," said one. The other hung back a bit.

"My, oh my! You from the surface? A while ago a sprite's child was washed down here. It's doing magic tricks," he said.

Janz realized that the sprite child must have been that kid the man above Gaia's Navel had seen being swept along in the floodwaters. Walking around, he came to two dwarves that looked quite worried. Janz asked them why.

"You can hear rumblings from even deeper than here. Sounds like digging," explained one.

"There are so many small earthquakes," said the other. "There, again!" As he spoke, the ground under them did shake slightly. Janz continued on. He asked one about the Underground Palace, and learned that it had been sealed for ages. That downed his spirits.

Sealed? Then how am I to seal the seed? he wondered. He continued up the steps to the door on the third level on the west side. He looked at the sign by the door. It read: Watts-Blacksmith. Janz smiled. Here was someone to reforge his sword and release more of its power. He opened the door and entered.

It was a square shaped cavern, with a natural fault with a small pool of lava that had been turned into the blacksmith's forge. The dwarf Watts was different than the others Janz had seen. He was the same size as the other dwarves, which is to say small, but even then, Watts was solidly built. What was different about him was that he wore some kind a bull-like creature's skull on his head. Janz approached him. Watt's attention was immediately drawn to his sword.

"Say, show me that sword!" he said. Janz handed it to him. "It's covered with rust! It'll break in no time!" he exclaimed. "I am Watts, the blacksmith. I'll reforge it for one hundred g.p." Janz checked his money pouch. He had more than enough to cover the cost.

"Please do," said Janz.

"Right. Wait a sec," said Watts, then got down to business. Janz went down to a bench on one of the side walls and lay down. Because he was so tired due to his ordeal in the caverns, Janz dozed off. He awoke to Watts' calls for him.

"It's done!" He said. "I've never seen a sword as fine as this one in my life! I hope someday I can forge such a splendid sword. You know, weapons are weapons, but very special, unique weapons are given names. I believe that this is one of those weapons. This is called the Broad Sword. Here."

Watts handed Janz the sword. Upon seeing it, Janz let out a low, amazed whistle.

"Is this the same sword?" he asked in astonishment.

The sword didn't have a spot of rust on it any more. The blade was slightly smaller than before, but a lot sharper. The hilt was made out of brass, the guard was a thin, flat strip that curved down slightly. The pommel was a round shape, and a thin, circular strip of brass came out from the pommel, headed out a bit, then curved up and joined to the guard, then continued on out slightly then ended in a small knob. The grip was much smoother and easier to hold. The blade was about as wide as the grip, it was about a meter long, and very thin. A small cord was tied to the bottom of the pommel and it ended in a bushy tassel. Janz tried out a few moves with his new sword, and was mightily impressed.

"Thanks a lot, Watts," said a pleased Janz.

"No problem," replied Watts. "Huh? What on earth..." he commented all of a sudden. "My hammer has started to glow..." Indeed it was. Dimly at first, but then the light grew brighter until it was a blinding white, then it dimmed into nothingness again. Watts soon realized what had happened. "Wait just a minute!" he exclaimed. "That must be the Mana Sword!" Janz just nodded. "Astonishing!" commented Watts. "Perhaps the power of the Mana Sword had seeped into my hammer. Great! I think I'll try making an axe with this. Come back in a while."

Watts didn't even say "so long", he just busied himself with getting all his materials together for making an axe before the power of the Mana Sword left his hammer. Janz smiled and left.

He decided to head up to the unmarked door on the third level on the other side of the village. The brief repose he had taken had refreshed him. Through that door, there was a small cave that branched in two directions. Janz took the right hand passage.

It led him to a small opening, which he went through. There was a table there, and Janz could see beds behind it. A dwarf approached him.

"Ha, ha, ha! Welcome to the Dwarf Village. Have you been next door? There are many curious things in this village. Why not take a look?" he suggested. Janz agreed, and exited then took the left passage. He found himself in a small room with a stage and a table just beside it. The dwarf had spoken to came up to the table. "Step right on in! It's the Dwarf Village's world famous exhibit hut! I run the show. Wanna see it? It'll be fifty g.p." Janz decided to take a chance and paid the dwarf. "The show's just starting!" said the dwarf, and whistled to someone offstage. "First, cast your eyes on this Rabiteman! The only one in the world!" A rabite appeared on stage, as well as a dwarf. "Take one rabite, and one man, and it's... Rabiteman!"

Janz frowned. He didn't pay to see corny jokes. He let out a loud shout.

"Hey, you! Pipe down!" snapped the dwarf. "And now, presenting an actual and very rare, Sprite Child!"

A very small, smaller than the dwarves, being appeared on stage front. Janz came closer to get a good look. Standing upright, the Sprite Child would only come to his knees, if that much. It looked at Janz sadly. "The poor thing," he thought. "How could a little thing like this survive being washed away in a flood?" The Sprite was clothed in a light green cloak. His collar was circular in shape and had two strips of a triangle pattern in alternating yellow and dark green triangles. In the center of the collar was a yellow circle with a round blue stone set in it. The cuffs of its sleeves were the same dark green colour as the triangles. The sprite's hair was an odd, pinkish-orange kind of colour, and it came down to its knees, wherever they were. It was fluffy and rose up high over its head. There were two, white, triangular things sticking up from it which looked sort of like animal ears, but Janz knew they weren't. In the center of these were coloured bands that pointed down and came together in the center. They were in three colours, and from top to bottom they went blue, yellow and red. Under its eyes were two, short parallel marks that followed the curve of its face. The top marks were red in colour and the bottom ones were blue. Its eyes were wide and a greenish sort of colour. Janz suddenly realized that in being able to make out all this, he must be standing very close and staring intently at this little sprite. The eyes of the sprite were filled with tears.

"Boo, hoo, hoo..." it cried. "Ah! Won't you please help me?" it pleaded.

"Yes folks, it's pure tragedy," said the dwarf. "Weep as you hear his story. This poor child has a fifty thousand g.p. debt to pay off! It's been here, working off the debt bit by bit. Oh please, gentle people. Please help him. Even one hundred g.p. will help," beseeched the dwarf.

Janz rubbed his eyes, and found he had been crying at the poor, tiny sprite's problem. He checked his money pouch. He had enough.

"Sure," he mumbled, and handed over the one hundred g.p.

The sprite suddenly doubled in size. He was still small though; he'd only come up to Janz's waist, at most. Nevertheless, it took Janz by surprise.

"Oh, joy!" he shouted. "Thank you! I'll take that, thank you so much!" The sprite and the dwarf then left, leaving Janz alone.

Janz exited the exhibit hut. For some reason, he wanted to go back and see the sprite, and went to the door on the right passage. He heard the two talking as he entered. What he heard angered him.

"Well, how was that?" the sprite was asking. "What an actor I am! That guy was even crying!"

"Well, I wasn't too bad myself," said the dwarf. "Ha! We're going to make a fortune!"

Janz had heard enough. He marched right up to the dwarf and the sprite. At seeing him, the sprite jumped a foot into the air in shock.

"Aiee! Did you overhear what we just said?" he asked.

"P..please forgive us!" whined the dwarf. "This child really is a sprite child. It used to live in the Sprite Forest, but a flood brought it here. I thought I'd help it earn the money to return home..." The dwarf's voice trailed off.

"Good idea, huh?" said the sprite, smiling.

"Hey!" snapped the dwarf. "You have to apologize too!"

"Harumph!" snorted the sprite. "Okay. I was wrong!"

"I'm ashamed of myself. I'll return your money. Sorry." The dwarf handed back Janz his money.

"Didn't mean any harm," mumbled the sprite.

Janz left the room and returned to the main section of the village. All of a sudden, the whole place started to shake violently. "What on earth..!" exclaimed Janz. To him, this was reminiscent of the earthquake that had rocked Potos before the Mantis Ant had attacked. If that's the case... thought Janz, running down the flights of stairs to the lowest section of the village. Something's coming! he told himself, and brought out his sword, ready for battle.

In the circular section of the lowest part of the village, inside a protective ring of stalagmites, something started to burrow up. Janz realized that as much as he wanted to use his newly reforged sword, he would have to use his spear to battle this monster.

What came burrowing up was some kind of closed plant-like thing. It was roughly a cone shape, and along its individual, closed "petals" were rows of small spikes. The thing shook, and opened up to reveal the monster. It was basically just a neck and a head. The neck looked like a pinkish pineapple with a large gathering of leaves at the top. The head was a yellow colour and pear shaped, with large, slanting eyes and a small tuft of hair.

Janz spun his spear in his hand and pointed it at this creature. Then to his shock something grabbed him around his ankle. He looked down to see a vine wrapping around his leg. It originated from a small plant, close to the monster. Janz sliced the vine away and concentrated at the monster. The thing tilted its head back and spit out something round and orange. It looked like a pumpkin. Janz was confused until it landed a few feet away from him and exploded. Then he made sure to dodge these things. Building up his spear's power to level one, he edged as close as he could to the creature, and when it cocked its head back, Janz attacked. He got in a good shot, but he was weak after the attack and couldn't dodge the Pumpkin Bomb. The explosion knocked him back a bit, and Janz had to scramble to his feet to avoid the Brambler. He looked around for the monster, but it had disappeared. There was a rumbling, and the monster burrowed up in a different location. Janz powered up his spear, making sure he sidestepped the bombs and the vine. He swung out again, and hit the monster, but also got hit again. Janz grumbled. He was making no headway here. He jumped to avoid the vine from the Brambler. That was a nuisance! Janz struck out at the Brambler, but was deterred by bombs being thrown by the monster.

Janz backed up to observe the situation. He guessed the only course of action was to keep hitting the monster and to try and avoid the bombs at all cost. Janz jumped towards the monster, ducking low so the bomb flew over his head, then striking at the creature. Janz kept this up for a while. Once, he had to eat a piece of his chocolate that he had collected on his way to Gaia's Navel, and while he did so, it left him vulnerable to attack. The next time Janz had to bring his strength back up, he waited until he hit the monster and it burrowed under the ground, for at that moment, he had some time to rest up, but not much.

Finally the thing stopped and exploded in the manner the Mantis Ant had done. Janz let out a sigh of relief. An orb was left in its place, along with some g.p., but before he could put his spear to the orb- for it was a spear orb- the dwarf and the sprite came up to him.

"Thank you so much!" said the dwarf.

"I didn't need your help!" grumbled the sprite.

"Hey!" snapped the dwarf. "Sorry about that," he apologized. "This child received such a shock from drifting here, it lost all its memories. It really is a nice child." The dwarf then got an exasperated tone to his voice. "He plays tricks on people sometimes though..."

The sprite laughed weakly. "Come on old timer! Give me a break. Take it easy!"

"Tropicallo broke out of a sealed palace," stated the dwarf.

Janz mulled over the name for only a second when he heard about the place. It must be the Underground Palace, thought Janz. He mentioned he was looking for it to the dwarf.

"There must be a way into it," said the dwarf. Then he turned to the sprite. "Your memory might return if you receive some power from the Mana Seed."

The sprite grew very excited. "What? Really? I'll go now, right now!!!"

"Not alone!" said the dwarf. "The palace was buried. There must be tons of monsters by now. Would you be so kind as to accompany this sprite to the palace?" the dwarf asked Janz.

Janz thought about it for a moment. It wouldn't interfere with his duty, and he would like company. "Sure," Janz said simply. The dwarf was overjoyed.

"What luck! Did you hear that, little one?"

The sprite came up to Janz. "Hey, "brother"!" Janz frowned.

" 'Brother' ? My name is Janz!"

The sprite smiled. "Okay! Say, why don't you name me, too. That'll make it easier on you."

Janz thought about it. He went over all the names he could think of, some common, some not so common. One name kept popping in his head. That must be what this little fella's name is, thought Janz. "How do you like the name, Taba?" asked Janz.

"Taba? What kinda name is that? Like, ah..." the sprite started to complain, then trailed off. "Nice to meet ya!" he said and put out his hand, smiling. Janz took it, and the sprite, Taba, hopped over to Janz's side. Janz smiled.

I think this little guy likes the name, he was just fooling with me. Anyway, he'll get used to it, thought Janz.

"You can get to the Palace by way of a hole over there," said the dwarf. Janz looked at where he was pointing. On a cliffside where the second level of the dwarf village stopped was a large opening. "But there is a lava field which Elinee made to seal the palace," continued the dwarf. "First you have to go to Elinee's castle to ask her to dissolve the seal. Elinee used to be a good witch, but she's not anymore. Go north to the Haunted Forest, find her castle and ask her to open the seal."

Elinee's Castle. That's the same place Lia was headed. Maybe I'll run into her. I sure hope she's all right.

"Here are a bow and arrows we found along with the little one. Take them." The dwarf handed over a small, plain wooden bow and a tubular, short quiver full of arrows to Taba. "That reminds me," said the dwarf. "Watts the blacksmith was looking for you. Visit his workshop. Please take care of the little guy." With that, the dwarf turned and left. Taba waved good-bye sadly.

"C'mon, Taba," said Janz. "I want to take a look at the Palace." Taba nodded, and followed Janz to the large opening. Janz entered and found himself in a small cavern. A large, flowing lava field blocked any further advance. On a raised section of earth was a mysterious, crystal orb. Janz went up to it.

"What's this Crystal Orb do?" he asked.

"Elder said the witch used it to seal off this place. We have to get her help," explained Taba. The two of them left the cave and proceeded up to Watts' shop. Watts was waiting for them. He didn't look especially happy.

"Well, I tried making an axe, but it's no good. Wonder why... Got a boomerang, huh?" asked Watts. Janz turned to look, and there, under the folds of Taba's cloak, a green boomerang was faintly visible. If not for two red, parallel bands on the end, it would have been completely invisible. "Wait! I know!" exclaimed Watts, taking the two by surprise. "Try holding this axe!" said Watts, holding the axe out to Janz. Janz took it, and for a second it let out a bright light. "That's it!" shouted Watts. Mana Power in these weapons doesn't work until you hold them!"

Taba leaned over to Janz. "What's he blabbering about?" he whispered.

"I'll explain later," said Janz.

"This axe is mighty special. You could even smash a boulder with it! Take it with you for one hundred g.p.," said Watts.

Janz looked the axe over. It was a rounded, wooden shaft, with a metal square with holes on one end tied onto it with strong cord. Tied to the cord were bushy tassels. It was a pretty small weapon, but it would be useful, and it was a Mana Weapon besides. Janz decided to buy it.

"There should be more Mana Weapons to find. Bring them to me. They need to be forged to release any Mana received from the orbs, and only I can do it!" stated Watts. "Now, let me show you a shortcut." He went over to the far wall and pulled a switch. A row of stalagmites dropped down into the ground to reveal a staircase heading up. "This will make it a lot easier on you!"

"Thanks, Watts," said Janz. "I have an orb for my spear, can you reforge it?"

"Of course. Thing is, do you have the money?"

Janz looked in his money pouch, and found out that he didn't. He then decided to head back to Pandora. Not only to get enough money to reforge his spear, but to buy better armor for Taba and himself. He and Taba started up the stairs. They were long, but finally the two reached the top. A surprise waited for them there. The staircase ended in a small cave, with a lower section filled with water, and resting on a dry part was Neko.

"Meow! We meet in a strange place," he said. "Need anything?"

Janz shook his head. "Not at the moment, but thanks." Then he and Taba exited the cave through an opening with water flowing over it. Janz found himself back on the lowest pool of Gaia's Navel, beside the right waterfall, next to the cave opening under the left waterfall where he had entered the caverns.

"All right," said Taba. "Are you going to tell me what Watts was talking about?"

"I'll tell you in Kippo Village. I want to sit down and see how long I've been in the caverns."

"We had clocks down there, y'know," muttered Taba, but he followed Janz anyway.

Janz was about to use his sword, then he stopped and turned to Taba. "How about I use one of your weapons, and you practice with mine. Start with the sword. It should go to power level two, now."

Taba shrugged and handed over the bow. "Here. I call this bow Chobin's Bow, since Watts told me a while ago special weapons have names when I showed him these." Taba then took the sword. As he grasped the hilt, the blade fell to the ground. "Urrk. This is heavy."

Janz smiled. "You'll get used to it. By the way, what do I do when I run out of arrows?"

Now it was Taba's turn to smile. "You won't. It's a magic bow. The quiver is always full. Also the boomerang will always return to the thrower, no matter what."

Janz stopped in his attack of a Buzz Bee. "They must be Mana Weapons!" he exclaimed. Taba frowned.

"There's that word again. What is it about Mana? What's going on?"

"I said, I'll tell you at Kippo. Now let's keep going."

Taba muttered and lifted the sword up to strike at a bee. Both found their new weapons a little hard to handle, but by the time they had left Gaia's Navel, they were getting used to them.

Sitting down at the inn in Kippo Village, Janz rested. Taba bounced over to him with a full bowl of fruit. "So are you gonna tell me now?" he asked. Janz nodded.

"How old are you, Taba?"

Taba wrinkled up his nose. "How old am I? What had that got to do with it?"

"I just want to know."

"All right, I'm twelve. In sprite years, that is. I have no idea what that is in human years. Can we please get to the point?"

Fine, fine!" said Janz snickering. "It all started when I pulled out the Mana Sword."

"You mean the one of legend? The sword I've been using is the fabled Mana Sword?"

"Yes," hissed Janz. "Not so loud. Anyway, I met a knight from Tasnica named Jema, and he introduced me to Sage Luka at the Water Palace. She gave me the spear, another Mana weapon, and told me that I had to seal all the Mana Seeds of the world to prevent the Empire from taking the Mana Fortress."

Taba gulped. He looked down at the apple he was holding. "This isn't a small, little trip you're taking. What if you don't succeed?"

"I don't even want to think about that," said Janz, reaching into the fruit bowl. His hand went about halfway down before he hit the fruit. Confused and surprised, Janz pulled the bowl closer to him. It was only about half full. But when Taba had come over to him only a few minutes ago, the bowl had been full. The look of surprise on Janz's face must have been clearly evident. "Geez, you were hungry," he managed to get out. Taba laughed.

"I'm a sprite, remember. I'm different than humans. I can put away more food than you, for starters."

"Yes, I see that," muttered Janz. He grabbed a couple pieces of fruit. "Anyway, that's my quest. I'll accompany you to the Underground Palace, since it's on my way. However, if you don't want to stay with me, that's fine. This is my fight, you don't have to get involved."

Taba said nothing. He just concentrated on eating his fruit. When they were finished, they collected their belongings and headed out again. Janz had collected enough money to buy Taba and himself some elbow pads, which protected them more than the wristbands did. During the trip back to Pandora, Janz had brought up the bow to power level one, and was working on the boomerang. Just before they entered Pandora, Taba got the sword up to power level two, and tried out the spear for a bit.

Once inside Pandora, Janz got the inkling to head up to the castle again. He headed up to the palace, Taba sauntering along behind him.

"What's with all the people?" he asked nervously, his step slowing. "They're all spaced out!"

"I don't know," replied Janz. "I heard my friend Jema is here. Maybe he can tell us what's wrong." Taba nodded, and followed Janz into the castle. Janz entered the door where he had seen Lia come out of when he met her. An older man sat on a sofa there, a very worried expression on his face. Janz surmised that this was Sir Elman, Lia's father. He didn't seem to notice Janz and Taba, and was moaning to himself.

"Oh dear," he was whining. "I suppose she's so selfish because she was raised by a man." Janz assumed that he was referring to Lia. "It's been tough since she hasn't had a mother. I wanted to make her happy on her wedding day. That's why I arranged for her to marry a young nobleman. But now she tells me she's in love with a soldier!"

Janz backed out of the room, dragging Taba along with him. He realized that Elman needed to be left alone, but Taba didn't. If Janz hadn't grabbed his cloak, Taba would've gone right up to him and ask him a hundred questions. Taba was a bit upset at being dragged out.

"What was that for? What was that all about?"

"None of your concern," said Janz. "All I'll say is that he is the father of an... associate of mine. Now come on. I think this is the throne room over here." Janz headed off down the hall until he got to some double doors, and proceeded to go through them. The room was wide, and down the center ran a bright red carpet. At the front of the room was the two thrones. The king and queen of Pandora were seated there, with a nobleman nearby, and a person facing the king who had turned to look at who came in was Jema. Janz stepped up to his friend, Taba hanging back a bit. Jema regarded Taba for a moment, then turned to Janz.

"Janz, you're here!" he said. "I suppose you've seen what happened to the people. The witch Elinee is draining people's energy. Those people are going to the ruins in the southern part of this town. I'll have a look around."

Jema left then, leaving Janz to ponder over what he said. "The witch Elinee is draining the people's energy?" he asked Taba, more to confirm what he heard that an actual question. "Everything is coming back to her. First, she captures the squad led by Dyluck, whom Lia wants to rescue, then she is the one who put the seal on the Underground Palace, and here she is draining people's energy. It seems like no matter what I do, I'm always being turned around in the direction of Elinee's castle in the Haunted Forest. I guess that's the next place to go." Taba nodded.

"It's the way to go," he mumbled. The king and the queen were both quite upset. He heard the queen address him, and immediately turned his attention to her.

"Jema has told us about you," she stated. "Expelled from your village?" The question was hypothetical, but Janz nodded all the same, a little upset at being reminded of the fact. "Well, this realm too, is having problems. It would probably be best if you also left this country right away."

Janz looked at the floor and frowned. "Geez, are you having some bad luck," whispered Taba beside him. The king also voiced out a concern of his, but to no one in particular.

"What a nightmare! The people in my kingdom are acting like zombies! The troops I sent to fight the witch were captured..." The king then broke off.

"Oh dear," muttered the gray-haired nobleman, a short distance away from the king. "Up to now this has been such a peaceful country!" Janz left the throne room then, Taba running along behind him. When they were back in the town, Janz let out a sigh.

"I can't help but feel as if all this trouble was my fault! If I hadn't pulled out that sword..."

"Aw, come on," said Taba. "How could that've started all this? Now cheer up! Let's just go to that witch and straighten out this mess!" Janz had to agree, but to Taba's surprise, he headed to a house on the southern bank of a river. He entered the house, and saw the nanny of the house that he had met before.

"The master and his daughter are upstairs," she said. Her statement was soon confirmed a second ago, as yelling was heard from above.

"I can't stand this! I'm going to find Dyluck all by myself!"


Lia came stomping downstairs. Janz pressed against a side wall to which Taba followed suit. He could tell that this wasn't a girl to mess with at the moment.

"Dad asked the king to make Dyluck lead the way to the witch's forest!!" she said - or rather, shouted - to the nanny, then she left the house, slamming the door after her. She didn't even notice Janz standing by the wall.

"Man," he muttered. "She must dislike her dad even more now, now that she's learned it was her dad that indirectly sent her boyfriend to the witch."

"This is getting more and more confusing!" piped up Taba. "Who is this girl? What connection does she have with this witch?!" Janz grabbed Taba by his cloak again and pulled him out of the house.

"Hey, enough!" he shouted. "Stop that! I'll follow you!"

"I don't want you getting any ideas about her. The story is that her boyfriend, Dyluck, went off to fight the witch and she wanted to go after him. She enlisted my help to do so, but I needed to get to the Underground Palace, and she wouldn't come with me, so she left. I didn't know at that time that I needed to go to Elinee's anyway. Moreover, her father doesn't like the idea of her boyfriend being a soldier, and she doesn't have a mother, so she's having a bit of difficulty at this time. Now let's head off to the Haunted Forest and find Elinee. The sooner we do so, the sooner Lia can find Dyluck, the sooner she'll stop draining the people's energy here, and the sooner we can get to the Underground Palace so you can get your memories back and I can continue with my quest."

"Then what are we doing standing around here talking?" asked Taba. "Let's go!" So the two headed off again. They wound their way through the path to Kippo Village and Gaia's Navel, except that instead of heading down into the valley, they headed north on a path on the upper, northern section of Gaia's Navel. In a small clearing Janz saw the same man that Lia and he had seen when they first entered Gaia's Navel. He was clearly disturbed about something.

"A witch lives up ahead in the haunted forest. Some poor girl went in there all alone! Oh, dear..."

Janz looked up at the path, then confusion crossed his face. The path led to a dead end. There were a series of parallel pillars lining the path, the same kind Janz had seen on the peninsula to the Water Palace. The two at the end were placed right next to each other. When Janz and Taba stepped between the last two parallel pillars, they felt an odd tingling sensation pass through their bodies. The foliage around them blurred and swirled around. When it cleared, both Janz and Taba got a huge shock.

They were no longer in Gaia's Navel. Instead, they found themselves in a dark forest, mist swirling around on the ground.

"This must be the Haunted Forest," said Janz nervously.

"What in the world was that?!" exclaimed Taba. His loud voice startled Janz.

"Yahh! Uhh... Some kind of transporter, I think."

The two edged their way through the forest. They soon realized they made the mistake of entering the forest without all of their weapons being fully powered up. Small, almost humanoid fox-like creatures wearing green, hooded cloaks that Taba identified as Chobin Hoods shot arrows at them, and Janz practiced with the boomerang at defeating them. They were a lot harder to fight than the creatures before. At times, large, thorny bushes blocked their path, and Janz used his sword to cut them down. He switched to using his sword, while Taba used the bow, having brought up the spear's level to one during his trip on the path to Kippo. Janz was nearing power level two and Taba was close to power level one with their respective weapons, when they reached a design set into the ground. Janz recognized it as the same pattern he had seen where Dyluck and his troop disappeared from.

"This must be another transporter," he said, and the two of them stepped onto it. There was a faint buzzing sound, then the colours of their surroundings swirled as they transported. When things cleared, the buzz was replaced by a shriek. The two of them found themselves in a small clearing. Two huge, wolf-like creatures were attacking a girl. That girl was Lia. Janz realized that as much will that Lia had, she wasn't strong enough to fight these two creatures off on her own.

"Come on, Taba. We've got to help her!" said Janz. With that, he drew his sword and lunged at one wolf. Taba shrugged. Then he pulled out an arrow and nocked it. Aiming at an oncoming wolf, he fired a direct hit. It staggered back, then kept on coming. Taba frowned.

"Janz!" he called out. "Let me use the spear!" Janz took the spear off his back and threw it towards Taba. He couldn't take much time because the wolf creature was nearly overpowering him. He noticed that Lia had retreated to a far corner of the clearing. Charging up their weapons to their highest levels that they could, the two used their power attacks on the wolves. It took a while, and the two of them grew quite tired, but finally they beat the wolves. What Janz didn't like was that no weapon orb was left behind. Lia came running up to him.

"Oh ho! I knew you'd come! Thank you! Okay, let's go. We have to save Dyluck!"

Janz smiled. She hadn't changed. Taba piped up from behind Janz.

"Now hold on a minute, girl. We're after the witch for our own reasons, not to help you with your love life!"

Lia fumed. "Who is this!" she snapped. "I ran into this guy to get his help first, though he left me! By the way, did you get to your Underground Palace?" she asked angrily.

"No," said Janz slowly. "The route there is blocked by a lava flow that Elinee made, and only she can undo it. We're heading to the castle to ask her to undo the seal. And this," Janz said pointing, "is Taba. I met him in the caves you didn't want to go into. He's lost his memories, and he could regain them from the Mana Seeds. Also, Elinee is the one responsible for the Pandoran's odd behavior, so no matter what the mission is, they all lead to Elinee."

"Well," said Lia, "I suppose I'll help you, as long as you help me."

"I guess we can do that, girl," said Taba grumpily. He wasn't too fond of this stranger.

"My name is Lia, elf," said Lia, annoyed.

"Elf?!" shouted Taba, insulted. "I'm a SPRITE!"

"Well, how'm I supposed to know?" said Lia. "I can't tell all you midgets apart!"


"You're all small, aren't you?"

"I'm not a shrimp, bossy!"


"All right, enough!" shouted Janz. He didn't want his two allies arguing over the entire trip. That would be too much. "Will you two get along?! We'll go to the witch, but first we're going to build up our strength and weapon levels, and I don't want to hear any arguing from either of you. Remember, without me, both of you will be on your own, and you won't be able to get what you want on your own, and I don't want to have anything to do with someone who will be arguing the entire time! Now let's go back to Gaia's Navel!"

Janz turned on his heel and strode angrily towards the transporter. He didn't know why, but the two of them fighting had really disturbed him.

From the time Janz had called for order, both Lia and Taba had been silent, surprised at his outburst.

"Gee, I haven't seen him like that!" muttered Taba.

"Yeah, me neither," said Lia. Then she looked down at Taba. "Hey, no offense, there. Sorry about what I said."

"Yeah, me too. Truce?" asked Taba.

Lia giggled. "Truce," she said, and bent down to shake his hand. "Now let's go to Janz before he yells some more. That doesn't become him, you know."

"Yeah, I know," agreed Taba, and the two sauntered up to a perplexed Janz.

Gee, he thought. One minute they're at each other's throats and now they look like best friends. You're in for one wild ride with these two, Janz, he said to himself.

Building up their strength and weapon power took the better part of the latter half of the day. Janz went into the Dwarf Village at one point to reforge his spear as soon as he thought he had enough money. He found out that he had more than enough. With the spare money, he bought better armor for himself and his new allies until they were equipped with the strongest armor available. Both Janz and Taba had on a Spiky Suit, Lia was wearing a Kung Fu Dress, they all wore the Power Wrist, Janz wore the Head Gear and Taba had on the Rabite Cap. By the time all their weapons had been brought up to their full power capabilities for each of them, and for their personal level of strength they were about equal, they found themselves at Kippo Village. They entered the village very tired, but very happy because they knew that the next morning they could go back into the Haunted Forest and search out Elinee for each of their individual desires.

Paying for their night's accommodation, Janz looked over at his two new friends. They seemed to be getting along pretty well now, despite their initial tiff. They were involved in some sort of game, and after Janz had said what they wanted for dinner, he sidled over to join in.

The game was some sort of card game. Taba had taken a deck of cards off a shelf in the inn, and the two had gotten involved in a very fast game of cards. After the rules had been explained, Janz played as well. When it was time to go to sleep, they decided that each would change individually in the washroom - to which Janz and Lia were frustrated that they didn't think of it the first time they shared a room, but they had been too tired that day anyway to think straight that night - with Janz taking the first bed, Taba taking the one beside him, and Lia occupying the one beside Taba. It was then that Lia and Janz learned another annoying fact about Taba, other than his jokes he sometimes played and his seemingly endless appetite. He snored. Albeit quietly, but he snored nonetheless. The two gave up trying to ask him not to; he was out like a light. Shrugging to each other, they settled down into bed.

All three had trouble getting up the next morning. The past day had been too big of an event for all of them. They all agreed that it had been an incredibly full day, and complained that they didn't want a day like that again.

Lia and Taba were all ready to head off to the Haunted Forest and find Elinee's castle immediately. Janz wanted to rest a bit, but he let the idea go since he was outnumbered two to one. Anyway, he thought, the sooner we see Elinee, the sooner she can dissolve the seal and the sooner I can continue with my quest.

The other two were also thinking about Elinee.

If that witch has hurt Dyluck, thought Lia, she'll get her own, fast! Don't fret, I'm coming. My dad, nor anyone else, will not stand in my way!

Taba was excited about heading out. As soon as she can dissolve the seal, I can get my memories back! I can't wait!

"Let's go, guys!" shouted Taba. "The castle of Elinee awaits!" Then he was out the door before the other two knew what had happened. Plus he forgot to grab his weapons. Lia was about to head outside and yell out to him, when he came sheepishly back. He picked up his bow and boomerang without saying a word. Lia decided to comment, though.

"If we're going to work together, we have to stick together! You stay with us, got that, Taba?"

Taba shrugged. "Yeah, yeah. I got that. But can we go already?"

"You bet!" shouted Lia. "Come on, Janz! Don't be a slowpoke!"

Lia called Janz this because he was sitting on his bed, collecting his weapons, an apple in his teeth while he attached his weapons belt. The belt was an extra thing that he had bought, where his scabbard and the holder for his spear were tied onto. He looked quite a sight like that, and the frown he made at being called a slowpoke just elevated the comedic look of him. Lia found herself giggling at the sight, and Taba was laughing hard. Janz finished strapping on his weapons and took the apple out of his mouth.

"Now, gah, that you've had your fun," he said irritably, "I'm ready to go. I suggest you get something to eat as well. Who knows when we'll be able to eat again."

Taba started to wheeze, he had been laughing so hard, and Lia smiled. "All right. We'll eat. You're in charge, after all."

The comment mystified Janz. "Me? In charge? I thought this was your expedition. And Taba's too, of course."

"Not at all. I'm searching for Dyluck, true. And Taba needs to get to the seed, the same as you. But both of us need your help to get to Elinee. You are the strongest of us, so I guess that puts you in charge." Then Lia said quietly: "But you're not that much stronger, so don't think you can boss us around."

"No, I'll leave that to you," whispered Janz, leaning towards Lia. Lia scowled. Janz just smiled. "I'm joking!" he said. "You're not that bossy." Lia straightened up, satisfied. You're just determined, that's all, he thought.

Taba had grabbed a couple of pieces of fruit, after Lia had wrestled the bowl away from him to ensure that she got some. She had obviously made a careless, offhand remark about Taba's appetite, because Janz overheard him comment back that he was no 'pig'. Janz came over and waved them apart, then said that it was time to go. Lia and Taba readily agreed, though not out of spite at each other. The two just wanted to get going on their mission.

Leaving Kippo Village, the three traveled north until they got to the strange pillars that marked the gateway to the Haunted Forest. Taking a deep breath, they readied their weapons and stepped onto the transporter, and were whisked away to the Haunted Forest.

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