The Search for the Alchemist's Secret

The sun was just peeking above the hills of the West Carmagh horizon when Master Brian, magician's apprentice, blinked the sleep out of his eyes. He drowsily blathered out of his bed and saw Princess Flora, daughter of King Scottfort, rise as well.

Locating his staff he had set down the previous night, Brian picked it up and prepared for another endless day of his quest. He saw that the hotel rats had gnawed a good portion out of his staff. Oh well. Wordlessly, he ate a light breakfast and downed a portion of Morning Dew.

After Flora had finished eating her barbecued rocks, she gave a small sigh and said humorlessly, "Here we go again."

The day began much like the six previous ones had. Brian would pay the innkeeper more than the stay was worth, and the duo would begin their seemingly pointless search. Only there was one difference today. Brian and Flora had found a small lead on the elusive "Alchemist's Secret," a legendary talisman that could supposedly grant unimaginable power for its beholder. Naturally, no one had ever seen this presumed "charm," so it was not known if the Secret was a spell, a potion, a sword, or a piece of leather.

A few months after defeating the evil and immortal beast John "Ha Ha" Mammon, Brian was asked by King Scottfort to locate the Alchemist's Secret. Upon hearing of this news, Princess Flora begged her father to go with Brian, as she yearned for adventure. Flora was normally kept under constant house arrest because her father didn't approve of her talking to other people. But reluctantly, the king gave in, and permitted his daughter to join Brian in his second quest.

Now, almost a week later, the pair had found but one small mark that might pinpoint the location of the precious icon: the gradual increase of monsters originating from the North. If indeed someone had found and abused the Alchemist's Secret, then the steady stream of demons was sure to be a sign.

Brian and Flora had just started walking about three yards when the latter yelled out, "Bubba, look out!"

The pair suddenly stopped walking and a second later one big Gloom Wing fluttered into view. "For the last time, my name is – oh what the hell. Watch out. These things can cause your resistance to drop," Brian warned. He knew it was a warning that would make no sense, since one can't reasonably quantify the term 'resistance' anyway.

They stood, waiting for the Gloom Wing to make the first move. Then, without warning, it struck out at Flora. Three fireballs emerged from its body, and they were hurled at the princess. Nimbly, she rolled out of the way of two of them, but one hit her body dead on and caused her to tumble to the ground as she yelled out in surprise and pain.

Brian moved in closer. When he was in range with his crumbling staff, he swung the weapon. The giant Gloom Wing tried to move, but it was caught. The mutated butterfly was knocked several feet backwards before it was destroyed. Dust flew from the staff. He wished it was magic dust, but it was just the decay of the wood.

After the battle, Brian ran to Flora. Her legs had been singed and she was unable to walk. Fortunately, Brian had taught her some rudimentary healing magic and soon she was cured. Still a little weak, Flora was supported by Brian, until they stumbled across a huge field of about ten Were Hares.

"Maybe you should sit this one out, Flora, I can take these annoying things easily," Brian advised.

After Flora voiced her dissent via a high-pitched squeal, Brian gave in and allowed her to fight.

Seeing that five or so of the rabbits were in a clump, Brian quickly ran into the middle of them. Before any of the monstrosities could react, he cast Avalanche, and instantly this pack was wiped out.

Flora preyed upon one hapless Hare by stabbing it viciously through its eye with her sword. Before disappearing, the unfortunate rabbit tumbled over.

Drawing upon the element of Wind, Brian's Wind Cutter sliced through the remaining monsters.

"Brian, this is starting to wear on me," Flora called out suddenly. "Day after day it's this same stuff. How did you do it on your last quest? I couldn't last a week. And you did it a month?"

"I agree, it is sort of repetitive. But if you try to think beyond the monsters, it goes a lot faster."

Flora shook head, as if she had no idea what Brian was talking about, which in fact was the case. "So what's our destination? Larapool? Cull Hazard? Windward Forest? Brannoch Castle Town? Brian, I'm really wondering whether or not this quest is going to succeed at all."

"You must remain positive to succeed, Flora," Brian admonished her. Dammit all. He thought. "As of right now, our destination is Normoon. To get there, we can pass through the Windward Forest or Cull Hazard. I would prefer the Forest, because it's shorter.

"Okay, that's fine with me. Hey Brian? This is bothering me though. What was a Gloom Wing doing way out here in West Carmagh? From what you've told me, it only appears in the Baragoon Moor. I am a transparent plot device whose only purpose is to poorly and hastily inform readers of bad things through dialogue."

"I've been wondering that myself. I guess that's more evidence that someone has the Alchemist's Secret. We're almost to the Forest. Keep an eye out for stronger monsters," Brain replied, ignoring her odd last sentence.

They had reached the Forest by now, virtually unharrassed by demons. They had entered by way past the lumberjacks' house and over the bridge to the Windward. Brian fervently hoped they wouldn't encounter either of these lumberjacks. Not that he didn't like Keybreath and Trailface, they just displayed odd mannerisms that made him uncomfortable. Now Brian and Flora were in the area of the forest where there was a cliff on one side of them and a hill on the other side.

Suddenly, Flora exclaimed, "Look, Brian! An Element!"

Brian had no idea what she was talking about until he spotted what she was running toward. Recognition showed in his eyes. During his first quest, he hadn't referred to it as an "Element," so for lack of a better word – and imagination – he just called it a "Spirit Thingy." But a Spirit Thingy in this part of the forest? Something wasn't right. It was right next to the edge of the cliff, and in his previous quest, there wasn't one here. Crappy reasoning, but there it is. "Flora, I don't think—" Brian started. But it was too late. Flora was already standing over the mysterious Element. Suddenly the ground started to shake, and the cliff rocks started to crumble. Brian rushed over to Flora, who was losing her footing next to the bluff.

Brian reached her just as she fell. Brian dove and he caught her hand just in time. "I got you," he breathed.

"Please Brian, don't let me fall," Flora cried.

"You're not going to fall," Brian insisted, straining.

Suddenly, just as Brian was about to pull her up, a large ant called the Termant (a clever name implying doom) challenged him to battle. Brian, not knowing there was an enemy behind him, still tried to save Flora from certain death.

The Termant's deadly Wind Cutters slammed into Brian's back, causing him to lose his grip on Flora's hand. Flora's faint scream faded as she fell deeper and deeper down into the abyss.

Blinded by anger and hatred, Brian whirled around to face Flora's killer. Drawing upon the powers of Fire, Brian cast his most potent magic: Extinction. Directing the spell with his staff, the crazed magician focused it at the Termant. Rather than expanding and turning into red light, the demon was sucked into the ground, never to be seen again.

Brian ran back over to the edge of the cliff, calling Flora's name. No response. Nor did he expect one. Cursing vehemently, Brian searched his spell inventory for any kind of spell that would allow him to fly or float. Suddenly his eyes came across something. Not quite what he was looking for, but it might work: Magic Barrier. If it protected against magic attacks, would it protect against physical damage? Probably not, since the name itself was an indicator of the sorts of things it would deflect, but Brian had little patience for such inconsistencies and decided from now on he would be the one to name his spells. It was time to find out.

With orange light enveloping him, Brian cast "Deus ex Machina," took a deep breath and leapt into the pit. The fall was longer than he expected, but soon he found himself at the bottom, with no harm at all! Wow to the extreme!

There was a heavy mist in this chasm, but Brian could see that it was littered with rocks. If Flora had landed on one of these boulders, she would be dead for sure.

There! There lay the form of the crumpled Flora. She had not landed on a rock, but still, she looked dead. If there was any spark of life in her, he could use the Spirit Light he had obtained from the Frog he defeated in Dondoran. A very rare occasion, to speak of it. There is no skill involved when gaining an item from a normal enemy; getting a Spirit Light is almost unheard of. Brian was thankful he still had a Spirit Light. His last one he had horribly squandered in a fight against Zelse, the Wind Jade keeper. Zelse! Brian thought with revulsion.

Anyway, searching her seemingly lifeless body for any signs of life, he saw with dismay that Flora had not landed on a rock; worse, the beautiful princess had impaled herself on her sword. The tip of her blade was sticking out of the middle of her chest.

Cursing, insulting, and offending every Spirit and Spirit Tamer who had ever lived, Brian carefully rolled over the fallen princess and pulled the sword loose. Gaping at the hole the sword had left, Brian proceeded to call the Grand Abbot every slanderous word he could think of. Well, the bastard deserves it anyway, he thought offhandedly.

Then Brian got out his Spirit Light and hoped it might work. He gave a sip of it to Flora. Nothing happened. As soon as the goblet was empty, a ghost appeared behind Brian.

"Fool. Anyone who falls into the Valley of the Dead will never wake," it said.

Brian whirled, amazed at how unoriginal such a proclamation could be. To his horror, he discovered this ghost was one he had vanquished long ago: Guilty. Even more to his horror, Guilty's ghost used some invisible magic and behind him, Flora's lifeless and broken body was picked up and thrown farther down the narrow valley. She landed on the ground a few yards away, and she tumbled and rolled a few feet more.

Brian's eyes flashed with malice. "You scum-sucking bastard!" He yelled. He was mad, and daring to show it.

"Mortal names can not faze me, 'Spirit Tamer,'" Guilty said, mocking Brian's title. "Even though that did piss me off. Now the only way you can escape is defeating the Keeper of the Dead: me."

It was a long and grueling battle, with both sides exchanging brutal hits. Brian was forced to use all his healing supplies. A shame he had given his last Spirit Light to Flora in the false hopes that it might revive her.

Brian's bread all gone, his strength diminishing, and magic reduced, he felt he was going to lose. Downing a Hero's Drink, he got some of his magic back. Damn cheap store-bought loaf, he cursed. Shoulda spent the extra copper piece on a brand name.

Then Guilty struck with a mortal blow: the well-known Large Cutter attack. It was prohibited on the island of Bankatank, but that did Brian no good here. This razor sharp wind boomerang sliced through Brian. He fell to his knees, trying feebly to get up.

Then Guilty ceased his attack on Brian, and moved to where Flora lay. To Brian's surprise and joy, Flora leaped off the ground and joined the battle. It worked! The Spirit Light worked!

Flora sliced viciously with her sword. Guilty reeled. Retaliating, the ghost fired a beam of green light from his hands directly into Flora. Flora screamed with pain as the beam seemingly sucked the life out of her, bit by bit. What Brian saw last as the darkness closed around him was Flora's beautiful face contorting in agony. Then he slumped to the ground.

Flora knew her attack was useless. She saw Brian die, and then Guilty stopped the beam of death. Instantly the princess fell. Then Guilty grabbed her with invisible hands, and tossed her against the wall. The invisible force plucked her sword out of her hand and it came to rest in Guilty's hands. With all of his strength, he hurled the sharp blade at Flora's chest. The power with which he threw the sword made Flora slam back into the ground, and she too, closed her eyes for the final time.

However, there was one thing that the Ghost of Guilty had not anticipated. Brian was a Spirit Tamer, thus sealing the fact that all Spirits would watch over and defend and protect him, regardless if he was still alive. All of the past Spirit Tamers held a council in the sky and determined that despite Brian's earlier blasphemy, he should be returned to life with the exception that he would be given two left hands in return mockery.

Green light enveloped Brian's slumped form, and soon he was back on his feet, a wicked smile on his lips. With lightning speed, he dashed to the dead Flora, and, pulling her sword from her chest, he launched it at Guilty's dumbfounded face.

In an explosion that rocked the cliffs, Guilty blew up into the sky, body parts spraying everywhere in a spectacular fountain of gore. Brian laughed like a maniac as pieces of the body rained down upon him, splattering him with the viscera of his foe. He laughed harder. He knew his grip on sanity was slipping, but it was JUST SO FUN.

Letting out a huge sigh after realizing he couldn't laugh anymore (he wanted to), Brian dropped the sword and knelt by Flora. Blood was seeping out of her mouth, the huge guttural wound in the middle of her chest still flowing with blood. Wait a minute! Brian thought excitedly. If blood is still flowing, that means her heart is still working! She's alive! Now where's my damn Spirit Light? He glanced around. There one is! Lying not two yards away, a full Spirit Light was just waiting to be picked up.

Hurriedly, Brian gave the supposedly dead Flora a sip of the Spirit Light. Slowly, the gaping hole in her chest and stomach closed, and Flora's eyes snapped open.

It was about two hours later, and finally Brian and Flora emerged from the deadly Windward Forest and into the community of Normoon. It was founded by a man named Norman, and he insisted it be called Norman's Normal Normoon, but he died one night under mysterious circumstances and the town thereafter was called Normoon.

"I've got a friend who lives here," Brian explained. "Goes by the name of… dammit. Now is it Alexander or Leonardo? I can never remember. He told me quite angrily in Beigis' Castle once, I just can't seem to recall. Oh well."

They proceeded for the inn. One of the windows was broken and the door screamed in protest when moved beyond a 56˚ acute angle, but aside from that things looked to be in fairly decent repair. Sure enough inside, there was the magician Brian was talking about. "Brian!" He exclaimed heartily.

"Hey! It's…… Leonardo!" Brian knew his chances were half-and-half of getting his name right, so guessing was the best option.

"You remembered my name finally!" At those words, Brian breathed a sigh of relief.

"Uh, yeah sure," Brian said, eager to be off the unpleasant subject and onto more important things. "Say, you wouldn't happen to have any more leads on the Alchemist's Secret, have you?"

"Now Brian, how in the world could I have gotten any farther than I was a few months ago? I've practically given up on that piece of garbage."

That was all Brian needed. "Okay, thanks, see ya." With that, he and Flora left.

"Brian, what the hell was that all about?" Flora demanded when they were outside. She stomped repeatedly in the gravel, as if to emphasize how irritated with her partner she was. "We come all this way, cheating death and all, and then you say to the only person who may have any small lead on our quest: 'Okay, bye.' Just what were you thinking?"

"Ah, but you are wrong. Well let me tell you something. I just happened to get all the information I needed out of Alexander. Leonardo. Alexander." By now, the duo had entered Cull Hazard, a series of caves interlocking to provide for a huge underground labyrinth.

"Oh yeah?" Flora persisted in an unnecessary high-pitched scream that rattled nearby windows and caused skulking wolves to turn their heads at curious angles. "Like what?"

"He knows where the Alchemist's Secret is located," he said matter-of-factly. At Flora's skeptical look, he continued. "You must be observant. Remember, he said two things. First, he said he hadn't gotten any farther than he was a few months ago, right?"

"Correct. That must mean that he gave up on the search, which is exactly what he said after the first statement, idiot."

"Ah, my lovely Flora, you did not see through the deception. Where was he a few months ago?"

Flora huffed in disgust. She hated when Brian forced her to play these stupid games, playing into his ego. "He was in the Highland, probably. Brannoch, to be more exact."

"Very good," Brian congratulated.

"Don't patronize me," Flora said tersely.

"Shut up. You don't need to underline words when making an emphasis. Italics will do." Flora raged inside. Brian continued: "Now, he said that he had given up on the search. Why would he just 'give up' on something that he has been searching his whole life for? He came all that way, and then gave up? Peculiar, I'd say. It is not possible that he has the Secret in his possession; it is more likely that he knows where it is. Fine distinction, but an important one. Remember, he said he gave up. If he had said, 'I don't know,' that'd be different. In my experience, saying you gave up means you had failed at something, especially in this case. It's a pride issue, I assume. Now, how could you fail at something when you didn't even find what you were looking for yet? Something must have caused him to fail, or 'give up,' as he put it. The reason why I say that he knows where it is, is because he stopped searching months ago. He stopped searching because he either failed or succeeded at the quest. But remember, he said he gave up, so he couldn't have succeeded. The only way he failed at the quest was because something intervened and caused him to fail. In the Highland, might I add. That something, or more likely someone has the Secret now. And Leonardo knows who has it."

"You know what, Brian?" Flora began scathingly. "You don't need to go on and on with these little speeches everytime you explain something. It's immature. I mean, you did the exact same thing when you found that dead bat the other day. Like it's some big mystery! How are my italics, Brian? Do they suit you?"

Brian tuned her out while he fingered his dagger.

It was several hours before they appeared at the other end of Cull Hazard. They had decided they should venture into the Highland first. On foot it was a journey of two weeks, so they stopped at Larapool, gathering supplies and items that would be required to enter Baragoon Moor. They also stayed the night at the inn, and, in the morning, they were ready to begin their quest.

Within 15 seconds of their departure from Larapool, Brian and Flora arrived at Brannoch Castle Town.

"I still don't see how those Wings work," Flora said, mystified. "…but I'm not going to ask you to explain it to me."

"It's better just to know that they work rather than question how they work. Applies to everything in life, if I might say so. Universal philosophy, mine. I should write a book." Suddenly Brian became pissed. The word 'book' held bad connotations for him, ever since his little… 'incident' last month.. "Now be wary, we are approaching the Castle of the Sword."

The late King Beigis' castle was a huge, towering fortress, with spires seeming to penetrate the clouds. The gates were monstrous, more than thrice Brian and Flora's height combined. Beigis had commanded the architects who designed the castle to shape his fortress in the likeness of a giant sword. Flabbergasted, they had tried to convince the king of the extreme absurdity of this idea, so they were all executed. He hired new men, and Beigis called the building the 'Castle of the Sword.' Nowadays people refer to its name in confusion.

Just then, a little monster known as the Rocky interrupted their awesome trek toward the citadel.

Brian shook his head in exasperation. "These things suck, Flora, watch yourself."

The Rocky moved toward them, which took forever. "C'mon, hurry up! You're going to die anyway!" Brian screamed. Eventually, the Rocky came within striking distance. But before Brian could attack, the enemy struck with one of its spells: the Rock Shower. Which was fine with him, because he hadn't bathed in a while.

Expecting the attack, Brian swiftly rolled out of the way. Flora, however, was not as quick, and pebbles slammed into her from all sides. She began getting knocked around from the force of all the impacts, and soon, she staggered to the ground in a bruised heap.

Brian laughed at the situation. "It is time to die, you piece of cement," Brian stated. With his left hand, he swung his staff in a ring around him and pointed it at the Rocky. He raised his other left hand and and pointed to the sky, calling upon the Element of Wind. His Wind Cutter sliced into the Rocky multiple times, leaving nothing behind.

Brian sighed and walked over to where Flora had toppled. "You are really taking a beating on this quest, aren't you?" He speculated. "First you get your legs burned half off, you're stabbed multiple times with your own sword, and now this."

"Shut the hell up, Brian. Help me out," Flora retorted.

"Well, nothing's broken, as far as I can tell. Perhaps I should waste a Honey Bread on you?" He said sardonically as he pulled Flora to her feet. "Or maybe another Spirit Light! You're suckin' those things dry, my friend!"

"I said shut the hell up! I'll be fine."

The two arrived at the tower without predicament. Before they reached Brian's intended path the duo was assaulted by yet another Rocky. Enraged, Brian meticulously sliced of each of the enemy's fingers, toes, arms, legs before he could allow it to die.

The pitiful thing evaporated slowly, a low, pathetic moan escaping its lips of stone as it did so. As its solid entrails finally faded away, a shining goblet was left in its place: a Spirit Light. Brian picked it up, studied it, and put it away. He shook his head. Another Spirit Light…. Eh.

Working around to the secret back entrance Brian had discovered last time he was here, they both made their way into the castle. It was deserted. There was no one there. They traversed the whole castle, which was only slightly more tedious than having to navigate it the first time, and eventually they made their way onto the top of the castle, the precise spot where Shannon had given Brian the Eletale Book on his last quest.

"Okay, now what?" Flora asked. "We are as far north as there is to go in Celtland, and no Alchemist's Secret!" Suddenly the princess screamed loudly in feigned frustration, possibly in an attempt to convince Brian that she had a vested interest in the success of this quest. Brian understood why her father kept her away from other humans. Briefly he wondered what it would be like to stand amidst falling pieces of her body. He banished the thought. Those sorts of ponderings generally were not typical for one of sound mind. AND BRIAN KNEW HE HAD A SOUND MIND.

He stared at her for a few seconds, then said, "Follow me." They went through one more tunnel, and they emerged at a spot at the end of the castle. Brian turned to Flora, "Through this portal lies the World of Mammon. I bet the Secret is in there. Do you want to go in?"

Flora had heard stories about the World of Mammon. It was a realm from which one could not escape. Her eyes widened with fright, and she shook her head as she slowly backed away. "I'm not going in there!" She started toward back the way they had come.

Brian was fast. He bounded toward the escaping Flora, and with one arm around her waist, he literally dragged her into the portal. The princess put up a fight, but still, she was sucked into the other dimension.

"What have you done, you rock?!" Flora screamed. "We'll never escape from this prison!" She looked behind her, and through the way they had come, a shiny silver door stood. "I'm finished with this quest, Brian. Come out when you've found the Secret." She started toward the door. Despite knowing there was no escape, this story's author had a momentary bout of not-caring and wrote this inconsistency anyway.

"It's a trap!" Brian warned, but it was too late. Flora had already stepped through the door. "Dammit!" He followed her through the door, but just as he expected, Flora was nowhere to be found. The World of Mammon was a maze. Stepping through a door in this dimension randomly placed its tourists into another place. The government considered this a great public attraction, until they realized no one was making it back alive. Now Flora was truly lost. The only way for him to find her now was to stumble upon her by sheer blind luck.

Stepping through the door, and cursing his father for no apparent reason, Brian began his search.

Flora walked through the door, but to her despair, she was not led out as she expected, but into a land that looked as if a piece of Celtland had been transformed and stuck here. A pinkish mist surrounded everything. It looked as if she were in one of Celtland's forests. There were trees growing here (due to its nature as a forest), and two bridges. Far off, she could just barely make out the outline of another silver door. She headed in that direction.

Almost before she reached her destination, she was stopped by a huge stone statue. Flora was confused, until it attacked. Suddenly the huge piece of stone became animated. A huge hand came sweeping down and swung her off her feet. The enemy now had Flora in his hand, suspended high off the ground. Diggle diggle wordsy mouth.

Flora's whole body was being compressed and she felt that she would suffocate very soon. She kicked and writhed inside the squeezing fist, but it was no use. She could not break it. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, the statue vanished, taking Princess Flora with it.

She couldn't think when she disappeared. Her eyes told her that the scenery was whizzing past her extremely fast, but her stomach told her she was developing an appetite. She was still held in the fist of the stone giant.

Then everything stopped moving, and Flora was released. She fell not too far, but it was far enough. She landed with a thud and she struggled to breathe. She was sprawled on her back panting hard when she heard the voice.

"Foolish Celtlander. Anyone who delves into my dimension will never escape." Flora searched around for the speaker, but could not see anyone nearby. "You will not escape my domain." Flora understood that certain villains liked to make ominous-sounding statements, just like Guilty did back in his precious 'Valley of the Dead.' She had seen the remains of Guilty when Brian had healed her. She suspected that the source of this equally-threatening but nevertheless-laughable voice would meet a similar fate.

Brian moved as fast as he could. He was flying through the different parts of the dimensions. To his chagrin, he had never truly mastered this art of 'flying' that was generally reserved for creatures with wings, but dammit, that didn't stop him from taking a leap from a skyscraper every now and then. Avoiding as many enemies as possible, he finally arrived at the place where Flora had disappeared. Again, the stone giant appeared, and attacked Brian the same way it had attacked Flora earlier.

However, unlike Flora, Brian had a magic staff, and, clutching it in his free hand, he struck out against the iron grip. The pressure against him released.

Flora glanced around at the sound of the strange voice. It was extremely deep and forbidding. She was in a huge open place. It seemed as if she was in outer space, with stars all around her. However, these stars were all sorts of different colors. She was on a platform, and winding down away from her was a pathway, leading to a small silver door.

As fast as she could, Flora sprinted down the path toward the door. Then she tripped on something invisible, and she tumbled down the rest of the way, and landed in a crumpled heap at the foot of the door.

Slightly bruised, Flora reached for the handle, but before she could touch it, a red lightning bolt speared out of the blackness and lanced through the princess. It was a little more than a mild current, nothing extremely deadly, but nevertheless, the twisting shaft of ruby light continued to bore into her body. Then, suddenly it disappeared, and it left Flora nearly unconscious from the prolonged exposure to the electricity.

What garbage is that.

Brian continued on after the attack from the stone giant. More doors he went through, and most of time he found himself back in the same place he had already been in at least two or three other times. Damn dimension!

Then, by sheer chance, he passed through a door, and he found himself in a place he had never been before. Save for once. It had been months ago, but Brian still remembered vividly the vicious battle which had taken place here.

The magician looked down, and there, at his feet, lay a charred and seared Princess Flora. It looked as if she had been hit by lightning. She was breathing at least, a ragged sound. Summoning the Water Element, he cast Healing about a hundred times. By then, it was making a difference.

"Next time," he said bluntly, "you don't come with me. How many times have you almost been killed? I can count them."

Flora, healed enough, shakily stood up and said angrily, "Brian, you ass! I was almost killed! You save me, again, and then you yell at me for almost getting killed. You don't even ask if I'm all right. Big man," she mocked. "Brilla ficter cor RATCHET!"

Brian kept his anger in check. But he could hold it no longer. Releasing all his frustration at once, he let it out in the form of a smack. Not a slap, no, not an open backhanded slap, but a closed-fisted blast. Brian may have put magic behind his attack, he wasn't quite sure. He struck as hard as he could. As hard as he could. Letting out an ugly-sounding howl, he smashed Flora's perfect face. The princess hadn't even seen it coming. One second she was standing there, accusing eyes shining into Brian's; the next she was sprawled on the ground, totally blacked out, blood pouring from her nose and mouth profusely.

"Great, I killed her," Brian uttered. He sucked on his aching hand, hoping the pain would go away. He had hit her pretty hard.

Slowly, inexorably, the reality of what he had done sunk in. He knelt down by the fallen Flora. He lifted her head off the ground, hoping it would revive her. To no avail. Her cheekbones and been smashed, and he feared if he had hit her any harder, her face would be jelly. Strawberry jelly! He let go, and her head and neck thumped back down to the ground. He lifted her limp arm in the air, and let go. Same result. He rolled her onto her back, for, if she were still alive, the blood covering her face would have suffocated her soon.

Brian said out loud, "That's the second time she's died on me here. Where's a Spirit Light when I need one, dammit?" Suddenly, he saw something glowing at the top of the pathway, on the platform above. A Spirit Light!

Brian raced to the top. A bone chilling laugh stopped him, "Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha," it said. "Fool. I warned you the last time you were here, Master Brian, you would never be rid of me. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha—"

"Whatever, Mammon. Are you just pissed that you turned out to be an extremely disappointing and one-dimensional villain?" He grabbed the Spirit Light and leaped back down to where Flora lay.

He reached her, and poured the Spirit Light into her. A few minutes later, she was awake, partially healed, again. However, this time she was not grateful. What she did next was astounding. Pulling from her pouch a packet of golden dust, she flung it in Brian's eyes. He yelled in annoyance, brushing the blinding powder away.

"Okay, so that's the way you want to play, Princess," Brian muttered, enraged. He did a series of backflips, and landed a ways back, putting some distance between him and Flora. Calling upon the Water Element, he directed the potent spell Walking Water in Flora's direction. The pillars of water were powerful, and Brian expected them to plow through Flora. When they were upon her, a large white word appeared above her head: Miss!

"You just aren't the kind of guy that I thought you were, Brian," Flora seethed. "You without a doubt have no regard for me or anyone else but yourself." With that, Flora hurled another packet of dust at Brian, but this dust was red. The shower landed in a ring around the Spirit Tamer, and, upon landing, the powder sprang up into monstrous pillars of fire, thus trapping Brian inside the ring.

Using the Ice Wall, he quickly quelled the deadly fire. Turning to face Flora's direction, he was surprised to barely block a mortal thrust from her sword. She had closed the distance between them extremely quick. Flora backed off then, and quickly she sprinkled a handful of blue dust onto the blade of her sword. Now it began to glow a dull hue.

Flora struck out again, and this time Brian was there to meet the attack with his staff. To his surprise, however, the Magic Staff was cleaved in two from the enhanced magic of the sword. Flora aimed to cut off his arm, but all she got was a piece of his cloak.

"No magic for you anymore, Spirit Tamer," Flora hissed. "Now what'd ya gonna do?"

"Bitch!" He yelled. Faster than she could follow, Brian rushed forward and kicked her in the stomach. As she doubled over, Brian grabbed her wrists and flung her off the narrow catwalk on which they had been battling.

With lightning reflexes, Flora equipped a grappling hook from her satchel, and, as she was falling, flung it up towards Brian. The hook wrapped itself around his arm, and reflexively he jerked back, resulting in Flora's swinging underneath the catwalk and swinging onto the opposite side, landing on her feet.

"A nice trick," Brian observed. "Although pointless." It was pretty cool though. With that, he unwrapped the hook from his arm and flung it in Flora's direction. He threw it with such ferocity that the cord had coiled around her several times, pinning her arms to her sides. Unable to keep her balance, Flora fell to the ground. Brian walked over to where Flora lay pinned on the ground. He hauled her roughly up.

"What are you?" Flora said, her voice laced with venom. She had taken some of the black viscous liquid and applied it to her words moments before, so that anything she said thereafter would have the added punch of venom! Ouch!

"I told you not to come with me, Princess. But you disregarded my warning. You have been nothing but an annoyance and hindrance to me on this quest. I didn't have the nerve to tell you when we first set off, and I gave you every opportunity to leave when you could have. I dragged you into Mammon's World because my previous sentence was nothing but a lie. Anyway, you are far too reckless, getting yourself into trouble all the time. How many times have I rescued you? Let's count, shall we?

"Let's count, shall we?" He repeated immediately because he forgot he had already said it. Before Brian could begin ticking points off his fingers, a large explosion sounded rather loudly behind him. Both he and Flora gasped at the exact same moment. A giant purple horror of a thing materialized out of nowhere, juggling several dozen Spirit Lights in each of its two hands.

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Greetings, Spirit Tamer! Thought you destroyed me, did you?"

Brian, forgetting Flora for the moment, turned slowly and looked at the great spirit before him. "Mammon," he said with menace. Brian's eyes went to the numerous Spirit Lights sailing in mesmerizing circles through the air. He squinted in puzzlement.

"Oh, I'm sure you know what these are, fool. Don't you remember them appearing at the whim of your mind, whenever you wanted one, or thought of one? Think, and realize the full implications of this! Everytime you received one of these precious things, do not doubt that you had previously wished, consciously or otherwise, for one beforehand."

Brian was silent. Flora stirred. She opened her mouth—

"Keep silent, fool of a girl!" Mammon roared. "Now, Spirit Tamer, let us take this a step further! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Be prepared for some crushing irony!" A large piece of metal, probably iron, fell from the sky and crushed the ground behind them. With that, the Spirit Lights in Mammon's hands changed shape. They became…

"No," Brian heard himself say. In place of the Spirit Lights, he saw all the important items he had used on his quest, chiefly: Honey Bread, Wings, and Magic Potions. Then the final horror hit him. The items changed again: into the elemental stones. Many duplicates. Many for each element. The very four stones he had to recover from their four keepers on his last quest.

"Oh, yes! And I'm not finished, fool of a fool of a fool!" Mammon, chuckling, and obviously pleased with that comment, changed himself. His shape changed to that of Solvaring, Zelse, Nepty, Fargo, and finally to his original form. "I sincerely hope you are making connections here, wee laddie boy wee wee laddie wee boy wee wee!!!"

Brian couldn't believe it. Deceived! It was Mammon all along he had fought throughout his quest! He didn't want to believe it, but he had to. Mammon had never meant for him to fail. He had been guided all along, used. The four precious stones of the elements he had fought so hard for were nothing. Merely tools to convince Brian of his valour. He had been drawn to Mammon since the beginning… Suddenly, a thought came into his mind.

"And the last battle?"

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! Thought you beat me pretty good, eh? Tell me, young fool, of the rewards you received, the recognition you received, upon your safe return with the sacred Eletale Book in your hands?"

Brian did not answer. He couldn't. Mammon knew, knew! Brian received nothing of the kind. No one had heard of his quest, no one had realized it had been him that had retrieved the elemental stones, fought immortal beasts, cheated death, become one with the Spirits, and recovered the book. No recognition. None! No one had given a second thought to Brian's adventure, to the perils he faced. He thought bitterly of what was supposed to be his triumphant return to Melrode Monastery, of walking proudly up to the Grand Abbot, presenting the Eletale Book with a shining smile on his face… he remembered as if it was yesterday…

"Holiness, I have recovered it!" Brian took a deep breath, knowing he had finally completed his terrible quest.

The Grand Abbot, whose back was turned when Brian came, suddenly turned around with a fury never before seen. "Drop the book now! Did you at all open it?!"

"No, of course not." Brian was a little confused and frightened by this strange behavior.

"Get out of my sight, you fool! Never come to this place again! Never think about the book again! It will corrupt your mind, your soul, your heart. You are even now at risk! You are nothing, your quest is nothing! Away!"

Brian fled, chased all the way down the sacred mountain by the Monastery guards. He finally came to the village proper, seeking the help of Rufus, a friend he had made in Dondoran. When Rufus saw the guards in close pursuit, he closed his door on Brian's panicked face.

"Get away from me, you thief! How dare you steal anything from his Holiness, the Grand Abbot? Six monastery guards!" Rufus yelled through the door. "I don't care what it was you stole! It must be something terribly important if sixguards are on your tail! Never ask me for help again, you sacrilegious robber! You're far worse than Solvaring!"

"Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!! I see the pained look of memory in your eyes, foolish fool!"

"Enough! You…" Brian's voice broke before he could dish out a carefully selected insult chosen from his list, which he had unfortunately left back home.

Flora, completely forgetting her deadly anger with Brian earlier, jumped in his defense. "You're lying, you liar! How dare you say these terrible things! Don't listen to him, Brian! He's a mere shade, a ghost of what he was. The only way he can harm you is through words! None of it is true!"

Brian turned towards Flora, and, ignoring Mammon's repetitive laugh, with tearful eyes said, "No, Flora, it is true."

The horror of this solemn admission went right to her core, straight to her being. She was shaken to the very foundation of her self. "…how?" She whispered, unable to bring her voice above that.

Brian took a deep breath, getting extreme control of his emotions. This time his voice was stronger. A hint of anger was traced there as well. "The Spirit Lights," he said simply. "If that part is true, it all is. It ties it all in. And it's true!" He kicked the ground, a feat of which not many are capable. With that, he picked up the two pieces of his cloven staff, put them together, and charged up the narrow spiraling walkway which led to Mammon laughing his insulting laugh.

Flora was right behind Brian, her animosity and murderous rage completely forgotten, now convinced the fight between them had been the result of dissension caused by Mammon himself.