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New Testaments: Secret of Mana
#11
[align=center][SIZE=3][B][FONT=&amp]Chapter 10:[/FONT][FONT=&amp] [I]Trydon
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#12
[FONT=&amp]Chapter 11:[/FONT][FONT=&amp] Defiled Sanctuary[/FONT]
By Claude & Onslaught



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#13
[FONT=&amp]Chapter 12: [/FONT][FONT=&amp]Hour of the Wolf [/FONT]

by Nikovich

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#14
Chapter 13: The Chosen One of Earth

[FONT=&amp]By ClaudeLv250[/FONT]

The seed gleamed with the pure essence of the earth. Its glow was warm and inviting to Terran. His worries, his wounds, they all seemed to melt away as his eyes were fixated upon such a welcoming sight from his position on the floor. It was as if the seed had been placed there just for him, and was currently longing for his touch as much as he longed for it right now. He sat up as it felt like the battles and hardships from before had never occurred, and that nothing else would ever happen again until after he got his hands on that seed.

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#15
[FONT=&amp]Chapter 14:[/FONT][FONT=&amp] The Kingdom of Pandora[/FONT]

By ClaudeLv250 & OnslaughtRM

The quartet stepped through the wooden gate entrance into the town of Pandora. The two guards immediately recognized Dae by the cerulean locks tied behind her head and greeted her.

Coming in from the western entrance gave a much better view of the town, they were almost completely unaware of the guards from the sight they were allowed to behold. From where they were, they could see that the town itself, while much larger than Kippo, contained mostly medium sized homes ideal for similarly sized families. The town was inadvertently split into subsections by the flowing rivers. And rising in the distance were the pearly white walls of Pandora Castle, majestically reflecting the morning sun upon the town and all it overlooked and protected.

The walk to Dae's house wasn't long as it was close to the first river. Looking around, the only distinctive features were the green drapes and the sea green flowers growing beneath the windows. Niko and Terran would have never been able to find it on their own, and even having visited it before, Claude would have had trouble finding it himself.

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#16
[FONT=&amp]Chapter 15:[/FONT][FONT=&amp] Metallic Skies[/FONT]
By ClaudeLv250


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#17
[FONT=&amp]Chapter 16:[/FONT][FONT=&amp] To New Lands and Beyond[/FONT]
Arc II: Abroad – A Search for Kin
[FONT=&amp]By ClaudeLv250[/FONT]

“Have you seen Dae?”

“No...she went to her room last night,” Terran mentioned groggily, his vision blurred as sleep still held a tight grip over his body. He let out a short yawn which ended up hindering more than helping.

“So...where is her room?” Claude asked, walking through the corridors of the Water Palace. “She knows we're supposed to be leaving early. So where is she?”

“Maybe Luka knows...” Terran leaned his back against the wall and let his eyes drift shut. He silently thanked Dae for the extra few minutes of sleep he was about to enjoy.

“What are you doing?” Claude said, suddenly appearing in front of Terran and startling him awake. “Help me look for her!”

Claude jogged down the corridors calling out for Dae as Terran moaned and lagged behind. After a few minutes, he gave up and went to the pedestal chamber to look for Luka. He was surprised to find her there and waiting as if she had never left, and though he wanted to ask if sages slept, he shelved the idea and went with his original question.

“Hey Luka. Where's Dae?”

“I'm right here,” her voice said from behind. Claude whipped around to find Dae peeping out of a doorway he swore wasn't there before.

“This is my room,” she said knowingly and ducked back inside. “I've only got to get a few more things and then I'll be ready.”

Claude and Terran took a look inside and were entranced by what they saw. The room was small but tranquil. The early morning sunlight was peering in through the single window. Across the room was a bed covered in green linens. In the right corner was a small pool of water reaching out of the wall. A small stream rolled down an open crevice and into the pool, giving it the appearance of a fountain. Several lily pads floated aimlessly in the water, accompanied by a few plants growing along the rim of the pool.

Between the bed and the pool was a white dresser with a few miscellaneous items atop it, including a photo of the Ripple family. Dae opened one of the drawers and grabbed a set of arrows tied together.

“I made these myself,” she commented, placing them into her backpack with care. “Don't want to run out in the middle of the Upper Lands, right?”

“This room is amazing,” Claude said, taking it all in.

Modesty overtook Dae. “I'm sure it's nothing compared to a room of pure gold,” she said with a smile.

“No, I think I like your room better.”

“I'd think that both of your rooms were better than mine,” Terran stated clearly, the view knocking most of the sleep out of him.

Claude leaned against the wall with one arm. “Okay then, if you're ready...wait, where's Niko?”

“I'm right here!” Niko proclaimed happily, bouncing into the room behind them.

Claude looked hopelessly to the fox. “Where do you all keep coming from like this?”

“And why are you so cheery and energetic this early in the morning?” Terran found that annoyance certainly helped fight off whatever grogginess was left.

“Cheer up, Terran!” Niko playfully slapped Terran on the back. “We're going to the Upper Lands! Who wouldn't be cheery about that?”

“It's just too early to be jumping around.....and that hurt.” Terran rubbed the back of his shoulder begrudgingly.

“This is exciting!” Dae exclaimed, slipping her arms through the shoulder straps of her backpack. Niko's mood was at least infectious for her. “I've never traveled this far away from the palace before.”

The quartet left the room and the doorway closed behind them, appearing as an ordinary wall. They looked back with confusion.

“Safety precautions,” Dae explained. “There are some...unwanted guests that visit the palace from time to time.” That was understandable.

They met back up with Luka in the pedestal chamber. She gave them a good morning smile but her crimson eyes betrayed her as they had welled up with sadness.

“Luka...” Dae whispered and her heart sank when she realized just what the sage was going through.

She had been through it with her family. She understood it, expected it, and came to terms with the separation before she left Pandora the day before, but they had come to learn how to live with Dae being gone for long stretches of time.

But for Luka, this would be a first.

They wordlessly hugged and Luka found herself stroking Dae's long hair. “You come back alive, okay? I still need a new sage to take my place when I'm gone. And that goes for all of you. I've watched over each of you since we first met, and the ebb and flow of the water shall tell me all about your adventures abroad. But it's nothing like having you all here in the flesh.”

They each nodded and Terran scratched the back of his head. “It's not like we're going to be gone for good. We'll be back once it's all said and done, right?” There was a chorus of agreement in response to him.

Luka had escorted them to the entrance of the palace. The double doors opened, bathing them all in the warm light of the rising sun.

“The Cannon Travel service nearby should get you to the Upper Lands,” the sage informed them, a lot of the sadness having left her tone.

Niko suddenly froze up. “Cannon Travel?”

“How else did you think we were getting there?” Claude said, slightly amused. He led the way down the staircase.

Luka stood in the doorway and watched as the quartet left for new lands. Even after they had disappeared into the forests, she had stood rigid, thinking of them, praying for them.

“They'll be okay, Luka,” the small voice of Undine assured her.

“I know. I know...”

-----

“I crave. How did you let them escape?”

“You will be silent,” Sheex snapped, looking through the glass of the bridge of the airship and down to the ocean below. Once monitored by many in times long since past, the ship was now running on an autopilot program. Though the ex-lieutenant would never admit that he didn't completely understand how to run the ship, it came as a relief when he finally discovered how to get the ship to run and maintain itself.

“Those children would have been quite tasty morsels. I sensed extra levels of mana within two of them, and then there was the boy that bested you...”

“A fluke,” Sheex said dismissively to the disembodied voice. It cackled in reply.

“I think not! That was the accursed power of Lumina that repelled me! Do not underestimate them again! I do not enjoy being inflicted upon with searing light!”

Sheex had had enough. He snatched the sword from the console it had been resting upon and looked at what he presumed to be a face of sorts within the black crystal embedded into the weapon. “You listen and you listen well, dark spirit. I am in charge and you will do well not to forget this. The fact that you can feed off of any energy is nothing more than a perk! You are a tool and here to serve my purposes, now do as I say or I will return you to the sunken ruins from which I found you, where there will be no living being with mana to fill your unwavering appetite!”

There was no response. Contented, Sheex placed the blade within a sheath around his waist and turned his back to the oceanic view.

“...you can at least let me feed on the woman,” the spirit remarked disappointedly.

“Impossible. She is too important to become part of your diet.” Sheex took a long stride out of the room and down a dimly lit hallway, the spirit protesting every step. He detested when it would act as more than a sword. He only needed the weapon's power and not its attitude.

“How can you be so sure that this woman won't escape and attack again? Her mana lifeforce is unusually strong. I'm sure she would be quite...delicious.”

“Because,” Sheex started, stopping in front of a door that automatically slid open in his presence. “She is very much secure now.”

He stepped into the room, occupied by the sound of whirring machinery and the pulsating of the green barrier keeping the blonde woman inside within stasis; a forced sleep that Sheex had complete control over.

“She will serve her purpose. And once she does...then I'll think about her ultimate fate.”

-----

“You've never used Cannon Travel before?” Dae asked, looking towards Niko in mild shock as they crossed the lake using the bridge. “Like...ever?”

“It's not like it's that big of a deal,” Claude cut in. “I didn't use it until recently, when I left Gold City.”

Niko opened his mouth to reply but was shut out by Dae. “Yeah, but you lived on an island. It's not like you had to get around.”

“How could you not use Cannon Travel?” Terran asked, leaving Niko interrupted once again. “Didn't you live in the Kakkara desert? I heard it's pretty big.”

“I never went that far from my home,” Niko finally got a word in, feeling exhausted from fighting to have a say in a conversation about himself.

“Well...I guess that makes sense.” Dae shrugged to herself. She still couldn't imagine life without it or the unruly-haired brothers that ran the worldwide service.

Claude stopped. “Wait. If you didn't use Cannon Travel, how did you get here from Kakkara desert?”

“I walked!” Niko announced blissfully.

They all stopped and stared.

Terran raised a brow incredulously. “You're joking, right? That would take days. Weeks even.”

“And that's a lot of land to walk,” Dae added on. “You didn't run into any trouble along the way? With the increasing monster activity and all...”

“Well, I mostly walked the coastline,” Niko recalled. “Then I had to walk around the mountains to get here.”

“I see,” Dae said thoughtfully. “So the path you took was pretty discreet.”

“Monster alert!” Terran cried out suddenly, swinging the spear off of his back. He lightly poked at the pink flowers lining the path they were walking. When none of them snapped back, he sighed in relief and returned the spear to his back.

“False alarm,” Claude said with a bit of relief of his own, allowing his hand to slide off the grip of his sword. He led them around the bend and off the Potos trail. Their footsteps clattered along the cobblestone-laced path with the heavy sense of anticipation in their every step towards the cannon in the distance.

“Customers!” The short caretaker of the cannon screamed at the sight of them. He smiled broadly, enough to shake them all with a bit of uneasiness as he hobbled over to them as quickly as possible. “Come, come!” He squealed gleefully, grabbing part of the robe around Dae's arm and pulling her back to the cannon. They all sped up to keep up.

“Where are you going today, Miss Ripple? Hmmm?” The cannon brother asked, bouncing up the plateau and grabbing a box of gunpowder. “Going back towards the Water Palace with your friends?”

“Oh, no. Not today. We need to go to the Upper Lands.”

The cannon brother did a double take. “That's unusually far away for you.” The stumpy man was curious, but he didn't want to chase his customers away by prying too much so he left it at that.

“Can you get us close to the Wind Palace?” Claude asked. The little man grinned in response, which Claude felt was a little creepy.

“I remember you from the other day!”

“Oh yeah,” Claude murmured, looking towards the sky. “That was after Potos, wasn't it...”

“I'll try to get you all as close to the Wind Palace as I can!” The man's grin grew even broader (if that was possible) as Claude took the allotted amount of gold from the pouch around his waist and paid him.

The cannon brother adjusted the cannon, following a series of calculations on paper while turning a wheel that made the large and majestic cannon slowly rotate. Through the process, Terran noticed Niko fidgeting.

“Don't tell me that you're scared,” he said in a dull, expecting tone.

“So what's Cannon Travel like?” Niko asked, and to Terran's dismay, was oblivious to his earlier tone.

“It's like getting shot several hundred feet into the air by a cannon,” Terran stated flatly, watching Niko for a reaction.

That didn't help.

Claude eyed Terran. “Are you trying to scare him, Terran?”

Terran shoved his hands in his pockets and looked away. “I'm just being truthful with him. There's no reason to sugarcoat it.”

“Uh huh...” Claude uttered skeptically, raising a brow. “Alright Niko, whether you're scared or not, it's not going to last that long. All you really need to worry about is the landing...”

“It's ready!” The cannon brother announced, and they made their way to the cannon. Terran was the first to roll inside while Niko looked into the mouth.

“And we're all getting in here at the same time...?”

“It will support all of you!” The cannon brother stated. Niko climbed in, as did Dae and Claude. It was a little cramped, but it was the only way to travel.

The cannon brother lit the fuse on the back of the cannon and began a countdown.

“Five...four...three...t-”

BOOM!

The cannon launched earlier than expected, sending its occupants high into the sky whether they were ready for it or not. The spinning sky grew as the ground below them shrank until even the cannon was nothing more than a black blip on the land.

It wasn't until they reached the height of their flight and began to plummet back to the earth that the screaming began, cutting off the short but awing sight of the dense sea of forests known as the Upper Lands. The trees were heading towards them at breakneck speeds and within seconds they were engulfed in branches.

Wood cracked and splintered as they each rolled and tumbled painfully through the trees before being caught completely in the branches. A minute passed before shuffling in the treetops gave signs of life.

“Is everybody okay?” Claude called out, attempting to untangle himself from the two branches that propped him into the air.

“I'm stuck!” Niko cried out, hanging upside down by a leg jammed between the split of a large branch.

There was a short shlick sound as Claude swiftly removed his sword from its sheath and made a quick swinging motion in his awkward lying position. One branch was severed and the other gave way without the support for the weight, letting Claude drop into the tall grass below.

Niko shook around before reaching up to free his leg from the branch. Just as he bent upward to grasp the tree, his leg slipped free and he plummeted as well.

“I think that went better than than my first time,” Claude said, stretching his back until he felt a small crack. “I ended up in a river. I think.”

There was a short cry when a branch snapped, leading to an avalanche of branches and twigs crackling and popping as Terran tumbled through the tree to the ground below, landing at Claude and Niko's feet in a heap.

Claude folded his arms in amusement. “Wow, Terran...bring the whole tree down while you're at it,” he joked. Terran shot him a dirty look while untangling himself from the remains of the tree.

“Sooo...” Terran began, “what did you think about cannon travel, Niko?”

“I think that I don't want to do that again,” Niko replied flatly.

Terran laughed. “I knew you'd be scared! Not so happy anymore, huh?”

“Terran, what are you talking about? You were screaming louder than all of us,” stated Claude with a chuckle. Terran scowled.

“I was just going along with the ride,” he replied sourly.

“Whatever you say, oh Chosen of Earth,” Claude responded wryly.

“Umm...guys! Don't forget about me!”

They looked up to find Dae completely tangled in the branches above. Her robe gave the tree much more to latch onto and she was finding it difficult to escape.

“She's pretty high up,” Claude commented.

Terran's face brightened as he got an idea. “We can control the elements outside of spells, right? It's what Undine said.” He wasn't really looking for confirmation from Niko or Claude so much as reminding himself.

He whipped the spear from his back and closed his eyes. 'Let this work,' he thought to himself, jamming the spearhead into the earth. The ground slowly but surely began to rumble before escalating into a quake. The trees shook violently. Leaves and fruit rained down from above, prompting Niko to collect food.

The branches broke, leaving Dae free to collapse onto the ground. Terran retrieved the spear from the earth and returned it to its resting place on his back.

“Terran, you know I was only joking earlier about bringing the tree down, right?” Claude was even more amused now.

“Har har,” Terran responded, glowering in the process.

“I'm glad you're both amused because I was expecting at least one of you to catch me,” Dae mumbled from the ground.

Claude and Terran traded guilty glances and were at her side immediately, helping her up as she brushed dirt and twigs off of her robe and out of her hair.

“Sorry,” they apologized together.

“Well, on the bright side, we have more food,” Niko announced with arms full of fallen fruit, dumping them into Dae's backpack.

“So...uh...which way is the Wind Palace?” Claude asked, suddenly realizing how deep in the wilderness they were.

“I thought I saw it while we were in the air but...the landing was so disorienting...” Dae trailed off, slightly disappointed.

“So we're lost in the Upper Lands?” Terran's voice cracked a bit. He was fighting off the panic.

“Not totally. I'm sure the moogles know the way,” Dae replied assuringly.

Claude got a flashback to old times in Gold City. “Oh yeah, I did read about moogles before. They only live here, right?”

“So does anyone know exactly where they live? Terran asked.

He sighed when there was no reply.

“We won't find anything if we just stand around talking about how lost we are,” Claude stated, scoping the area. “At least we can try this path that looks...vaguely like a trail.” He led the way down a small clearing and they walked the path for a few minutes before noticing that the trees were rapidly changing to a bronze color. Leaves were falling to the ground periodically, prompting Terran to pick one up and it examine it. As he rubbed his thumb over the brittle leaf, it crumble in his palm.

“Okay, I know it's the beginning of autumn but...did the trees change a little too fast for anyone else?” Terran asked. Niko was not familiar with the phenomenon known as the season of fall outside of Kakkara and watched the trees with a newfound curiosity.

“What's happening to them? Are they dying?” he wondered aloud.

“The trees do that in the fall and are completely bare by Winter,” Claude said. “That much I know from the books. The trees don't do that in Gold City though...being made out of gold and all.”

“Well there's no doubt about it, we're definitely in the Seasonal Forest,” Dae informed them.

“Is that a good or a bad thing?” Terran asked meekly, afraid of the answer he might receive.

“A little bit of both, actually,” Dae admitted and Terran moaned. “Well, it's sort of a maze but the moogles live in a village somewhere around here and they could lead us to the palace,” she quickly said as reassuringly as possible, but the damage had already been done.

A chilly breeze picked up and blew the tattered remains of the leaf out of Terran's palm. He rubbed his exposed arms for warmth. As they continued to walk, it felt like it was getting colder by the minute. His suspicions were confirmed when a lone snowflake drifted through the air and landed directly on Niko's snout.

“What was that?” Niko asked, his eyes crossing as he tried to see the rapidly melting flake on his nose.

“Snow!!” Claude exclaimed, pointing instead to the road ahead. The environment between the fall and winter sections of the forest were such a stark contrast to each other that it seemed surreal. An invisible line marked where one part of the forest ended and the other began.

“I'm not dressed for this!” Terran whined as they stepped into winter head on.

“Gah! It's so cold!” Niko yelled, leaping out of the snow and onto a boulder. Dae and Claude laughed.

“Snow is cold, but it can be fun,” Claude said. A devious grin crept along his face when he saw that Terran was still hugging himself for warmth. He scooped snow off of the ground and rolled it into a ball before lobbing it forward.

The snowball splattered across the back of Terran's neck, who would have screamed had the sharp intake of freezing air into his lungs in reaction had not subdued all of his senses. He simply turned around and gave the most menacing look he could muster under the current weather conditions, which made him look more drowsy than anything.

No sooner had Terran turned around when another ball struck him in the head, spilling a clump of snow atop his brown hair. “S-stop it!” he bellowed, whipping around. Claude shrugged while Niko looked preoccupied with hoping his foot paws didn't freeze off.

Terran narrowed his eyes. One of them was faking and he would figure out who it was. “Don't do that again,” he warned, turning his back once again.

The light crunch of snow being rolled into a ball alerted him, and he turned to find the culprit...just in time to be pelted in the face with another snowball. However, his jaw was left agape, but not from the intense cold.

“Dae!?” Terran wailed.

“What's the matter, Terran? Afraid of a little snow?” Dae teased, juggling a second snowball in her hand with the slightest twitch of temptation.

“You...why...argh!” Terran's fuming quickly changed as he grabbed a fistful of snow himself. “You won't get away with that, even if you are the Chosen One of Water!”

Dae let out a playful shriek as she dove behind a tree to avoid the incoming snowball. Before Terran could reload, his back was pummeled with snowballs from the assailants he had forgotten. While the boys were playing, Dae found a nice hiding spot behind a few bushes and pressed her hands against the snow. She wasn't sure if it would work, but she tried anyway.

A wave of snow rolled along the ground and suddenly knocked the guys off of their feet and half buried them with its presence.

“Hey, no fair!” Claude protested while digging himself free. “You used your powers!”

Dae giggled as she walked around the bushes. “It's not my fault not all of us have mastered magic just yet. Consider it...payback. For not catching me earlier.”

“I didn't realize we were the assigned woman-catchers,” responded a bitter Terran. Niko on the other hand found the opportunity to further experience snow by playing with it after having been half-submerged.

“Hey, what's that?” Niko asked gingerly, looking up. Terran rolled his eyes.

“We told you already, it's snow.”

“No, Terran,” Claude said, spotting what Niko was talking about. “There's some kind of bird in the trees. Don't think I've seen that one before...”

Dae, on the other hand, recognized the blue feathers that lined its body and the crimson feathers along its face, lower body and inner wings. It's wide eyes appeared harmless if not overly curious and a bit unsettling. But she wasn't fooled.

“It's a Nemesis Owl,” she told them, swiftly pulling her Chobin's Bow out from her backpack along with an arrow. “They can be quite dangerous!” Her friends followed suit as she let the arrow loose, missing the owl by inches as it took off just as it realized what was going on.

“It came with company,” Claude warned, turning around once he heard scuttling along the grass. Two Crawlers had approached, their green bodies protected by hard shells lined with a single layer of spikes down the middle of their backs, ending in a tail used for walloping foes. Behind the Crawlers was the pink variety of the Rabite known as a Silktail.

One of the crawlers curled itself into a ball and launched forward, rolling through the middle of the party and spreading them out as they dodged. Terran decided to take out the other crawler before it did anything similar, only for the thrust of his spear to result in the spearhead sliding across its armor. The shell was harder than he originally thought.

The Nemesis Owl took the opportunity to fly above the frosty trees, alarming Dae. She couldn't quite see what it was doing up there, but she had an idea once it began to move and flap its wings erratically. It was summoning mana for a spell, no doubt.

“Guys, watch out! I think it's casting a spell!” Dae's warning to the others was useless as she soon found out. The Nemesis Owl was targeting her.

A ring of white spheres surrounded Dae before exploding into a cloud that engulfed her.

“Don't breath it in!” She continued to warn her friends. “It'll silence you!” Unfortunately for her, it had already started to take its toll. She coughed hard and a lump formed in her throat. Her voice was silenced and her magical prowess suppressed. She felt dizzy and slightly confused; she could see the battle taking place before her but could do little to help the others.

Niko took a deep breath and dove into the cloud, guiding Dae out of it as best as he could. Not long afterwards, the spell died down and the silence cloud began to dissipate, but Dae could still feel its dizzying effects.

“You okay?” Niko asked quickly, setting her next to a tree and away from the battle. Dae opened her mouth to respond, fighting the spell, but no sound came out. After a few seconds she gave up and nodded.

“Terran, the underbelly!” Claude shouted, parrying the Silktail that launched itself right for him and countered with a hard kick.

Terran knew what Claude meant. His battle with the Crawler was not going well. It's armor was simply impenetrable with his current weapon. Now it was time to adapt a new strategy.

The crawler swung its fortified tail right for Terran's shins, an attack that was easily avoided with a short leap. Terran retaliated by shoving the spearhead under the creature's body and pushing down, propping it up into the air and flipping the Crawler onto its hard back. The monster's multiple short, spiny legs kicked wildly at the air to no avail; it was stuck. It's fight was over when Terran shoved the spear into the exposed stomach.

He turned around just in time to see the second Crawler knock Claude down from its rolling attack and move in his direction. Taking advantage of the distance, Terran held his spear above his head and spun it into a blur before making direct contact against the rolling Crawler with his Mighty Thrust technique. The impact broke a hole into the Crawler's shell and blew it into the side of a tree, but the actual hit wasn't fatal. Its thick armor was tough and protected it from the collision.

Dae was determined to help her comrades and set her backpack down in an attempt to search through it for a medical herb. Despite her blurred vision, she knew she saw something dart between two trees in the distance, and its bright pink nose confirmed her suspicions. Its white fur hid it well against the snow, but Dae knew the only creature fitting that profile that lived anywhere in the Upper Lands had to be none other than the elusive Moogle.

All vocal communication would be pointless, so she pointed to it in hopes of getting her friends' attention. Unfortunately for her, the Nemesis Owl was proving to me more of a Nuisance Owl as it dove at Niko and Claude with the silktail mimicking its attacks from the ground by throwing its spinning body and floppy ears as well.

Her only resort was Terran, awaiting the recovery of the Crawler he had sent into the tree earlier. Dae lumbered forward through her dizziness, fighting the growing nausea, and nearly collapsed on Terran's arm. He was a bit shocked that she reached him, but she did manage to divert his attention by pointing in the moogle's general direction.

“Hey guys!” He called out. “There's a moogle! I think Dae wants us to follow it!”

Upon hearing Terran's voice, the moogle turned tail and darted deeper into the depths of the Seasonal Forest.

“Forget about the monsters!” Claude yelled to Niko, who had planted his heel into the Nemesis Owl and sent it spiraling into dirt and snow. “We can't afford to lose that moogle!” He sheathed his sword and ran into the direction the moogle had fled.

Dae managed to retrieved her backpack, but her condition had only improved marginally in the meantime and she found it hard to move at any sort of speed without tipping over. Terran saw her struggling and secured the spear to his back before scooping her up into his arms and following Claude and Niko in pursuit of the moogle, just avoiding the lethal downpour of acidic rain that ate away the snow, courtesy of an Acid Storm spell by the silktail.

The moogle dashed between trees, its path and movement erratic in nature. It was obvious that the moogle was trying to lose its pursuers, but was still heading to its ultimate destination.

Winter changed back into Autumn as the snow came to an end and the trees returned to an everlasting state of orange. Terran was lagging behind due to the extra weight, and by the time they reached Spring, Claude and Niko had almost left him entirely behind during the chase. That was, until he spotted them both hiding behind a tree.

“What happened? Did you lose the moogle?” He asked, setting Dae onto her feet. She immediately ruffled through the backpack. The reason she had not found the medical herbs was because they were packed towards the bottom. During her repacking back at the Water Palace, she must have carelessly set more items atop some of the most vital of them all.

She remedied two problems at once, grabbing all the the medical herbs by the leafy tops and taking a bite out of one of them. The herb was raw, bitter, and a tad bit spicy, but she could feel it working the second she swallowed the plant. The knot in her throat disappeared and her vision cleared up; the curse was broken.

“Feeling better?” Claude asked.

“Much!” Dae replied, relieved. “So what did happen to the moogle? If we lost it, we might not find the village...”

“Actually, that's why we stopped,” Niko said, then he pointed around the tree. Behind the foliage, they could see a small pathway leading towards part of a clearing enshrouded by thick trees on all sides. “The moogle ran in there so we were waiting for you guys.”

“You think this might be the village?” Claude inquired, looking towards the clearing himself. “I mean, it doesn't look like much of a village to me if it is one.”

Dae hoisted the backpack onto her back again. “Well there's really only one way to find out.”

“We're just going to barge in there? Won't they run away?” Terran aired his usual doubts with a twinge of concern. “They might even attack us!”

Dae, on the other hand, seemed completely at ease. “Not likely, the moogles are quite passive and peaceful. They don't attack unless provoked. So you shouldn't be worried about anything if you don't offend them.”

“Which, in Terran's case with the werewolves, includes just breathing,” Claude commented with a smirk.

“I would say just existing,” Niko added on.

Terran said nothing in reply, but made sure to give both a mean scowl. They snickered behind his back as he followed Dae out of the woods and onto the path.

As the quartet stepped into the moogle village, they realized that Claude was initially right. There wasn't much to the 'village,' but rather a large, open area bustling with moogles. The trees that covered the expanse on all sides was like a natural wall of defense, and even then the outer rim of the area was laced with boulders. Not much would be able to get through without using the entrance.

But what was most curious about the site was that all moogles great and small had continued going about their routine. The party had been, quite frankly, ignored.

“That's odd,”Claude scratched his cheek. “They're not even a little bit scared of us. After the way that one moogle ran from us, I thought we might cause a stampede.”

They took their chances and stepped further into the village, and if anything their presence was nothing more than a nuisance to the more active moogles. Terran could have even swore that one moogle passing by pushed him out of the way.

“Are the moogles used to visitors?” Niko asked. It wasn't entirely out of the question.

“Kupopo.”

The group was all puzzled by the strange language, but even more puzzled by the moogle that had suddenly appeared dead ahead of them. It was a little larger than the others and its chest fur had traces of silver. It did not take much to realize that this was perhaps the elder, or at least the leader of the moogles.

“Niko, do you know what it said?” Claude asked the fox.

“Why do you think I would know? This is the first time I've ever seen a moogle!”

Claude shrugged. “You're the only one of us that's not human so there might have been a chance...”

Terran sighed. “If we can't communicate, how are they supposed to lead us to the Wind Palace?”

“Kupo. Kuppipipo.”

Dae knelt down to eye level with the moogle. She smiled and asked softly, “Can you understand us?”

“Kupo,” the moogle chirped with a bounce. It puffed its chest and extended the two white wings on its back.

“Seems like a yes to me,” Terran murmured.

Dae continued. “We are travelers on an important mission. Can you show us to the Wind Palace?”

“Kupoppo!” the elder moogle uttered in a heavy manner. Dae was taken aback, but the moogle nodded, which seemed to be a confirmation.

Dae stood up with some weight lifted off of her shoulders. “Looks like we might have a bit of luck today.”

When the moogle yanked on the leg of Claude's pants, however, there was only confusion. He was being pulled further into the village. They had no choice but to follow in order to really know what the elder moogle wanted.

They trekked towards the far back corner where a lone moogle with pink wings and a similarly colored tuft of fur on its chest was perched upon a rock. The elder finally let go of Claude only to confront the other moogle.

“Kupo? Kupi kuppopo!”

The moogle upon the rock made no response or even movement that suggested it was aware of their presence. Nevertheless, the elder moogle proceed to, what they presumed, chew it out.

Kupo!

That did it.

The moogle slid off of the rock, gave a weak “kupo,” to the larger one, and turned to the four visitors with a long, hard gaze. It's eyes were full of sorrow, but its gaze was a strong questioning one, almost demanding a reason for why these outsiders were here, disturbing it. The stare and silence was starting to make everyone uncomfortable, as they shifted and played with their clothing.

“Kupo,” it said one more time in what barely qualified as a whisper, and walked away and beyond them, making no effort to avoid the livelier moogles as they pranced about the village.

After about a minute, the elder moogle shoved Claude abruptly in the direction of the pink-winged moogle that was already leaving.

Claude reacted. “What?” The moogle only pushed him again. “Do you want us to follow?”

“I think they understood us after all!” Dae squealed in realization. “That moogle may be showing us to the Wind Palace!”

When that dawned upon the quartet, they broke into a dash through the village to catch up with the moogle. They all looked similar in appearance, but it was the depressed demeanor that was the moogle's most recognizable trait. It only gave a glance behind to confirm that the outsiders were following, and proceeded out of the village.

“Hey, wait up!” Terran called as they all followed it back into the maze-like depths of the Upper Lands.

Lying in wait behind a few bushes were four individuals surveying the event.

“The humans and their beastial companion have left, boss!” One entity squeaked, its voice sounding as if run through a mechanical filter.

“We should have no interferences now!” Another spoke, slightly lower in tone but still with that same odd superficial quality.

“Excellent,” replied the deeper voice of a human female. “Activate the bot!”

“Right, boss!” The two others responded in tandem.

The fourth individual behind them suddenly whirred to life, standing upright and rigid. A high-pitched, mechanical whine emitted from its body as its beady eyes flashed red for a split second, confirming its activation.

“Now go!” the woman commanded. “Infiltrate the village but don't forget what I programmed you to do!”

[FONT=&amp]The being stepped forward, its mechanical limbs draped in fur and its steps heavy with metal. It plowed through the bushes that was formerly their hiding spot and trampled plant life in its wake with little recognition of what was once there in an unbridled beeline to the village of the moogles.[/FONT]
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#18
[FONT=&amp]Chapter 17:[/FONT][FONT=&amp] The Chosen One of Wind[/FONT]

[FONT=&amp]By ClaudeLv250[/FONT]

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#19
Homg, it's alive? Yes, yes it is...it's more than that, actually, but that news will have to wait for another time.

--

Chapter 18: Sea of Sands


Dae
[Image: MegaManSSB.gif]
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