A/N: The beginning of this chapter sucks, because I needed to use the dialogue straight from the game. There wasn't much I could do to change it, because it contains necessary information.

Guest: *blinks* Whoa, a review. Well, it's not like I'm complaining :o) Welcome to the novelization of Sword of Mana! Thank you so much for leaving a review; I really appreciate it. I'm not gonna change Willy's personality, per se . . . I guess he's still gonna be same old Willy, just a bit different. The biggest difference is gonna be the way he talks. If you don't like the changes, though, you can tell me what you don't like, and I'll change it back. As for Kevin's POV . . . yeah, you're gonna have to be a bit patient for that one; he makes his first appearance in this chapter, but the next chapter's gonna be in his POV. I really hope you enjoy this chapter :o)

Disclaimer: See Prologue for disclaimer.

...

Chapter One

Abby

Five years later . . .

My eyes flew wide open as I screamed an ear-piercing screech. My breath caught on a sob, and my scream died down as I come more aware of my surroundings. As I gradually regained consciousness, my eyes frantically darted around the room, looking for any oncoming danger, any sign of heretic hunters trying to capture me, any sign of deep red eyes trying to devour me. I didn't find any; only the wooden walls of my room and the muffled sound of the waterfall that could be seen through my bedroom window a few ways away.

No danger. No creepy dark masks. No sinister smirks. Nothing.

I fell back onto my pillows when I knew that I was safe, but I could feel my heart pounding dangerously fast in my chest, making my ribs ache with every beat. My breathing was laboured, and I tried to slow my racing heart.

I was still trying to calm myself down when Bogard stormed into my room.

"Abby, are you alright?" he asked, sounding panicked—which wasn't a normal way for him to sound, as he was always so calm and collected.

"I'm fine," I gasped out in between struggling to breathe right. "Just a bad dream."

Bogard nodded, heaving a huge sigh of relief, the panicked expression disappearing with the retreating breath. He came over to me, where I had slumped back down on my bed, and kneeled beside me.

"Still having nightmares?" he asked softly.

I looked at him, nodding.

"Still the same dream?"

"Yeah," I whispered, nodding again.

Bogard sighed. "No matter what you do or where you go, the memory comes back to haunt you, doesn't it?"

I pressed my lips together and stared up at Bogard as I tried to keep moisture from filling up in my eyes. He knew this expression well; it was the same guilty expression I'd been wearing after every nightmare, every memory. It represented the same intense self-loathing that I felt whenever I get reminded of that night, of that boy, of his parents.

"Abby, you have to understand that you have to move on. Nothing you do now is going to change the past."

"But," I started, still whispering, "it's all because I abandoned him!" Bogard knew exactly who I meant by him. We'd had this conversation countless of times before during these past five years. "I left him and his family to die! I could have helped him and I didn't!"

"Don't be ridiculous," Bogard scoffed. "You had to get out. You couldn't fight a losing battle; what use would that be? It wasn't the right place or the right time. There was nothing you could do."

"But—"

Before I could get a word out, Bogard said, "There are some things that you can do by yourself, but there are also things that you can't—and when you can't, you have to let it be. If you don't understand that, then you are no different than Dark Lord."

"What? Me? Like Dark Lord?" I demanded. My voice rose a few octaves higher, the shock of being compared to that monster pushing away any guilt that I might have felt. "I'm nothing like him," I hissed, hatred dripping from my tone. No, I wouldn't kill hundreds of innocent people for no apparent reason. I wouldn't capture and imprison them. I would never hurt people for my own personal gain.

"You need to judge yourself rationally, Abby. Dark Lord strives to change things that are beyond his control, even at the cost of other people's lives. You torment yourself for not being strong enough to save your village, though there was nothing you could have done even if you were stronger."

Almost instantly, the anger seeped right out of me, and I looked down, avoiding his eyes. He was right. Deep down, I knew that there was nothing I could have done, no matter how much I wished otherwise.

"I just want to know what happened to him," I finally murmured quietly. Yes, if I couldn't have saved my home, I at least wanted to save that boy. That boy, who had tried to save me. The one who had known, in a way, that he'd never see his parents again.

"If you think that you could handle the truth, than I suggest that you find out for yourself. Do you remember that kid's name?"

I flinched a little. Bogard had never asked me a direct question from those few days. And thinking back, searching for specific pieces of information like that—it still hurt. I usually blocked out anything too painful to remember, but the knowledge was still there—even though details like people's names were blurry, as we'd never even had a proper meeting in the first place.

But still I squinted, trying hard to recall the boy with the dark blonde hair's name.

"I don't know," I said after a few seconds of thinking. "I think it was Kelvin or something like that. Something with a 'K'. I don't remember."

"Kevin?"

I perked up, smiling despite myself. "Yeah, that's it. Kevin. I think his mom called herself Carolina or something close to that."

Bogard's face paled—another unusual thing for Bogard to do, as he was usually completely neutral. "Carolina?"

I nodded, frowning at Bogard's reaction. "Yeah, Lina. She told me to call her Lina," I said, vaguely recalling the woman's kind voice. My frown deepened. "You knew Kevin's mother?"

"Not well. I spoke with her a few times; her husband used to be one of my closest friends."

"Kevin and his mother, Lina—were they the ones from the estate?" I asked, getting a little excited about this new bit of information. Maybe Bogard could help me search for him, maybe he knew where they might be . . .

If, a voice in my head said, he is alive. I banished that thought.

"Yes," Bogard said. "His parents were . . ." His deep voice trailed off, and I felt my heart drop all the way to my feet.

"Killed?" I finished his sentence for him.

"I'm not sure," Bogard said hesitantly, but truthfully. "I didn't see how it all ended that night."

"Oh." That night. That horrible, fateful night. The one where I fled to save myself, effectively killing everyone who dared to help me. The one where everyone I knew had died.

"Cheer up, Abby. They're probably doing just fine, living a happy, full life right now, away from the war."

I was quiet for a moment, considering, trying to wrap my mind around that possibility. Not likely, but also not completely unlikely. I mean, Bogard and I were staying peacefully out of the war, weren't we?

Or, at least, as peacefully as we could, with foul memories still haunting us.

"Well, then," Bogard said after a while of uncomfortable silence. "Are you ready to go?"

I felt my forehead crumple into a frown. "We're going somewhere?" I asked, climbing out of bed and stretching. I didn't really care that Bogard was seeing me in my PJ's; he was like a father figure to me. I leaned against the headboard of the bed and started nibbling on a sandwich Bogard had probably prepared for me when he'd woken up.

Bogard sat on my bed and watched me levelly, his eyes guarded. "Aren't you sick and tired of being haunted by your past here?" he asked. "Maybe if you went out to find answers, you can finally go on with your life, somewhere where this war does not reach. You might not like what you'll find, but you won't be able to go on with your life unless you face the ghost of your past."

"I guess you're right," I mumbled. I studied the peanut butter and jelly coating that was starting to drip off of the sides of my bread. Trying to avoid Bogard's eyes. "But where would I go? Where do I start?"

"You'll have to decide that for yourself. I will help you, but first there is some business I have to take care of. You will be alright by yourself for a while, right?"

"I think so," I said, squinting. I didn't really know all that much about the world—or even the area, really. I only knew the way from our cottage to the village close by, but that's basically it. My geography was pretty much as low as it used to be before this whole mess had started. I'd probably get lost in the first forest I set foot in.

"You'll be fine if you take a map," Bogard said, seeming to read the distress in my face. As he spoke, he got up and headed over to my closet, then started tearing through it, looking for something. "I might meet you back here, but I don't know how long I would take." Leaning back again, he retrieved two backpacks. He threw one at me, and I caught it. "Start packing. Take only the things you need. It'll be easier if your bag is lighter."

I got up and started packing clothes into my bag, not really caring what I took along. I grabbed the small money pouch that I kept under my mattress and shoved it in with my clothes. There wasn't much in it, but it could prove to be useful later.

Bogard gave me two bottles of water, and a few bread rolls covered in brown paper.

"Pack that in. It's fresh, purified water—it should keep you a few days if we use it cautiously. The bread should last long enough for us to reach the next town."

I nodded, and slid the two cold bottles of water and the bread rolls into my bag.

Bogard gave me some privacy, and I quickly slid on some comfortable clothes; a soft, blue dress that was short enough to be a shirt, and shorts. I put on some boots that covered most of my lower legs, and then I slung my backpack over my shoulder. After brushing my hair, I tied them into a single ponytail, getting them out of my face.

With one final glance around to make sure that I had everything, I started to head for the door, but hesitated.

After barely even a second of thought, I turned back and stumbled over to my bed, lifting one edge of the mattress up.

I knew that I really shouldn't, but I also knew that I couldn't just leave the very few things that reminded me of the good times back home for someone else to find.

So I grabbed the small, silver bracelet Willy had given to me all those years ago, and also the silver pendant Mom had given me before I left for what was supposed to be my dream come true. As an afterthought, I grabbed the staff that was leaning harmlessly against the wall next to my closet and tied it around the decorative belt around my shirt.

And then I turned and headed out of my room, without another backward glance.

"Are you ready?" Bogard asked me when I joined him in the small kitchen of our cottage.

"Yes."

"Let's go, then."

I followed him outside.

The fresh air hit me like a slap in the face. How long has it been since I've tasted fresh air? The waterfall on the left side of the cottage sounded noisier when I was standing outside than it was from the inside, but somehow, it was kind of soothing. The flowers around me were as colourful as the rainbow, and their beautiful smell invaded my nose.

Sheesh, how long has it been since I'd been outside? It feels like I hadn't left the cottage in years, though it couldn't have been more than a few days . . . or weeks.

I took a deep, slow breath, feeling the fresh air making its detour to my lungs. I could almost taste the dust motes and the sweet aroma of the wild flowers around me. I held my breath for a few seconds, savouring the taste, and then blew it out slowly through my nose.

"Do you need to know how to use magic?" Bogard asked, interrupting my thoughts.

"No, thanks. There's a guy in the village who taught me the basics since the . . . um . . . since we got here. I'm all set."

Ever since that horrible occurrence in my hometown, when my mother had used magic in front of me for the first time, I had been studying magic. The books in Topple were limited, but they were enough to teach me everything I needed to know about anything worth knowing, including magic. The librarian's son often helped teaching me the basics of magic; not enough to defend myself completely, but enough to scare off any small monsters that tried to attack me. He had given me the staff, claiming that it was to help me with my magic because of the stone that was held firmly at the tip of the staff by some material that was apparently called mythril—a material, my teacher had said, that held the essence of the lost spirits of the elements.

With magic aside, Bogard had taught me everything that I couldn't learn in Topple's small supply of books, and, when I wasn't in the mood for studying, he even taught me how to defend myself physically if I happened to get myself into a sticky situation. Again, not enough to make me a master, but enough to scare away small creatures.

I hadn't even known that magic existed before five years ago; the children of my clan had been taught about our ancestors that could use white magic to heal the weak, and black magic to scare off our enemies. But, according to our legends, magic had died out of our blood over time as we didn't use it anymore, and our magic had become weaker and weaker, until they found that it could no longer be used. Knowledge of how to reawaken this magic in our veins had been forgotten over time, and they couldn't teach our traditions mother to daughter, brother to sister, and father to son anymore.

Or, at least, that's what they had told us.

Which, obviously, wasn't the case.

The truth, according to Bogard, is that the Mana Clan was forbidden to use magic within the town after the Vandole Empire, to prevent people from turning against each other for power. Those who knew how to use it were forbidden to teach the children, and the children who had the potential to use magic never learned how.

My mother was one of the very few who were granted permission to use their magic, so that she could protect the key to the Mana Santuary—and, apparently, me. Though, for the latter, I've yet to figure out why she needed magic to do it. Whenever I asked Bogard, he'd just shrug and say, 'Maybe you'll find out someday.'

"Good," Bogard said to my earlier confirmation, distracting me from my distant thoughts. "I still have something to do here. We might need some supplies from Topple, so you can head into town and meet me back here. The blacksmith is a really good friend of mine; he might be able to help you."

"Okay," I tried to say, but before I could get the whole word out, Bogard had already disappeared back into the cottage.

I headed straight for Topple village. It wasn't far—it was actually right around the corner . . . or tree branch. The trail that lead to the village made it easy to find, and it wasn't long before I could see a sign that said: WELCOME TO TOPPLE VILLAGE.

I hesitated just before passing through the border of town. Though it had been a really long time since Bogard and I had moved into the cottage, it was still hard for me to set foot into the village. It still reminded me so much of the Mana Clan . . .

It stung just thinking the name. All of my friends . . . Willy . . . Kaseem . . . Mom . . .

I jerked my thoughts away from that direction and pushed myself forward into the village as a distraction. No need to reopen old wounds.

I headed toward the blacksmiths. The owner of the shop, Chris, recognised me immediately when I entered through the door—not that it was really all that hard to recognise somebody in a small town like this one.

He dropped what he was doing and headed over to me, extending his arms.

"Abby," he sighed as he hugged me. "I don't see you around anymore. How are you?"

I hugged him back for a second before pulling away. He was probably the closest thing I had to a friend in this town, even if he was actually more Bogard's friend than mine.

"I'm good, I suppose," I said. "I guess I just lost track of time, so . . ." I trailed off. It was really a lame excuse; we both knew that that wasn't the reason why I hadn't been into town lately.

But he didn't say anything. And if he wasn't gonna say anything, neither was I.

"So, what can I do for you?"

Honestly, I didn't really know. Bogard had just sent me here—he hadn't exactly told me what I was doing here.

"Well, Sir Bogard and I are leaving. The walls of that cottage are really starting to taunt me—I had to get out of there. Sir Bogard suggested a journey"

Not one hundred percent the truth, but not a lie, either.

Chris chuckled—but I could near a nearly indistinguishable sad undertone in his chuckle. "So you two finally decided to leave the nest, huh? I was wondering when you might get sick of this small ol' town."

I was about to reassure him that it wasn't the town, that it wasn't that it was too small—that I was already used to small towns and that I grew up in one—but I bit my tongue. Nobody really knew where I had come from, as the existence of the Mana Clan was still supposed to be a secret; all they knew was that I had come from a bitter past, a past that left me scarred.

Besides, I actually liked this place. Or would have, that is, if it weren't for the nightmares and the memories.

Instead, I put on a shocked face and peered into Chris's eyes. "You knew we'd leave?"

"I actually thought you'd leave sooner," he said. "No outsider's ever stuck here for long before leaving for the city. You were the ones that stayed the longest."

The word "Oh" slipped out of my mouth. I didn't really know what I was doing here in the first place, and I didn't know what else to say. To be completely honest, I had thought of running away from this place before. I had thought of disappearing without a trace, to see the world as I had always dreamed to, to pretend that I was thirteen again, and only just starting to fulfil my dream . . .

But fear kept me locked firmly into place.

I released a huge puff of air. Now that I was really, actually leaving, now I didn't know what I was supposed to do.

Chris seemed to know otherwise, though.

After heaving a huge sigh, he disappeared through a door at the back of the shop without warning. I heard the sound of stumbling, accompanied by the sound of breakable things falling. I heard Chris curse once, and a few more ruffling noises in the back room.

I frowned and tried to peer through the door that Chris had disappeared through. "Chris?"

No later had I called his name before I heard a muffled "Aha!" and then he came stumbling back toward me with a triumphant smile on his face. I looked at him in confusion.

"Bogard gave me this to keep," he explained, holding up a long, flat object to me. "He told me this day would come, he just didn't say when. He gave me this sword so that I could give it to you."

I blanched. "What? Why couldn't he just give it to me?"

He shrugged. "Dunno." He held out the sheathed sword to me. "Here. Take it."

I shook my head frantically. "No, no, no, no. I can't take that! I don't even know how to use it yet!"

Sure, Bogard had taught me a bit how to fight. But not with a sword!

"Then you're gonna need to learn how to use it some time, else you won't be going anywhere."

He had a point. The woods outside of Topple—the woods that I had never been to before since after I came here—was prowling with monsters. Dangerous ones, at that.

So I reached out hesitantly to take the sword. I held it by its covered blade and pulled it out of its sheath by the hilt.

It was actually a plain sword, really. It had a shimmering silver blade with a hilt that rested in my hand comfortably. I didn't know all that much about weapons, but I just knew that this one would be really easy and comfortable to fight with.

"Use it wisely," Chris said. I nodded and thanked him. It was quite easy to tie the sword to my belt, next to the staff used for my magic. It slid into place easily, and, when I exited the shop after bidding Chris farewell, it swung innocently—with cloaked deadliness—next to me. It wasn't as annoying to have it plastered to my side as it had always looked with Bogard.

So, as I strode though the town that wasn't my home—but had served as my sanctuary for the past few years—with no idea what I should be doing next, I heard a strange sound. There weren't all that many people out today, so it was no surprise that no one else noticed.

I looked around the town that was barely even familiar to me, searching for the source of the sound, until I found it.

It was coming from behind a small shack, in one of the very few places in the village that was obscured by the shadows of a few trees. Under the tree, leaning against the wall of a nearby house, was a little girl, with her knees pulled to her chest and her face pressed to her knees as she sobbed. I frowned at the sight, quickly looking around myself.

No one else seemed aware of the girl, just sitting there, sobbing.

I headed over to her.

She didn't notice me until I knelt down and tentatively touched her shoulder. She jumped at the touch and looked up at me with eyes red from crying, cheeks tear-streaked. She couldn't have been any older than five or six years. I didn't recognise her, though it wasn't much of a surprise to me since I was the only one who wasn't friends with everyone in the town.

"Hey," I said softly. "What's wrong? Are you lost? Do you need you Mommy and Daddy?"

I knew it was silly of me to ask that; it was impossible to get lost in a town as small as this one, even for a little kid. But the girl looked like she really needed some help, and I wasn't going to just leave her alone.

"A-are you an a-adventurer?" she managed through her hiccups. I tried not to be surprised by her question, especially since I was technically not a traveller yet. But then, by the looks of my clothing and my equipment, it probably looked like I was.

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I am." My voice sounded unsure, even to me, but my answer seemed to be enough to perk the girl up just a little.

"C-can you h-help me?" she asked hesitantly, her hiccups were still there, even though her tears had dried up.

"Sure," I said, smiling kindly at her. "How can I help you?"

She smiled back at me, a dazzling smile that revealed a little dimple in both of her cheeks.

"See, I was playing in the forest," she started, "and, while I was playing, a monster roared at me." I almost laughed at her choice of words, but tried to hold it in. No need for me to make her cry again.

She was still explaining to me in her small, child's voice. "I ran away as fast as I could, and it didn't follow me. But-but when I came home, my mommy's bracelet was gone!" Tears welled up in her eyes again, and she was sniffling, making it hard for me to understand. "My daddy is gone somewhere, and I'm too scared to tell my mommy. I tried to go back for it, but I was too scared." She was sobbing again, and I hated seeing such a small girl be so sad at this early age.

Admittedly , it wasn't a very good reason to be crying like this, but she was probably afraid of getting yelled at by her mother.

I sighed. Surely Bogard wouldn't mind me taking a few extra minutes, would he? Besides, I knew first-hand the sentimental value something as small as a bracelet could hold.

"Do you want me to go get it for you?" I asked with another sigh.

Her eyes snapped up to mine. "Will you?" she asked, and, before I could smile and nod, she threw her small arms around me. "Thank you, thank you!"

I was shocked by the sudden contact, but laughed nonetheless, prying her arms from my neck.

"It's alright. Where can I find it?"

She looked at me and frowned, "It's in a meadow—I think that's what my mommy called it—in . . . in . . .," she struggled, looking annoyed with herself. Finally, she pointed behind me. "That way."

I followed her pointing finger. "South-west?" I asked.

Her face lit up again. "Yes! That's it! South-west." She said the word as if tasting it on her tongue, her big, green eyes shined up at me. "Can you please bring it to me?"

I couldn't say no to a face like that. I nodded and smiled, heading out of the village and in the direction the girl had pointed me in.

As far as I knew, monsters didn't usually come out all that often in the day. It was still light out—bright and early—but, despite that fact, there was an unusual amount of monsters prowling about between the trees. I tried my best to sneak around them, only using magic when one spotted me, and only awkwardly using the sword Chris had given me when it was absolutely necessary.

I eventually found a place around a bend between the trees, close to a magnificent, shimmering lake that started where the bright green grass ended. It was a small little tropical-looking meadow, surrounded by trees. The grass was quite long—something as small as a bracelet could easily disappear in it.

This had to be the place that girl had been talking about. There were no monsters here now; the one that had attacked her was probably just looking for some water from the lake.

With no better alternative, I bent down and started to looking. It would be next to impossible for me to find something as small as a bracelet between grass and mud and Mana only knows what else, but I could still try. I didn't want to see the girl's disappointed eyes, glassy with tears.

So I did the only thing I could do; I searched for a needle in an endless stack of hay.

I wasn't searching all that long before a deep, booming voice behind me demanded, "Who are you?"

I froze. The voice sparked at my memory, and a shiver of cold fear crept down my spine.

Slowly, I turned around.

The man I saw looked strangely familiar; he was clad in long, thick clothes, despite the stifling heat of the sun, with a long, red cloak slung over his shoulders. His face was pulled into a cruel sneer, and he had blazing red hair. And his eyes . . . crimson, deadly eyes.

I could recognise those eyes anywhere. It was the colour of the monster that lived in my nightmares. It was the colour of my fear.

In a matter of seconds, everything came back to me.

"You!" I gasped, unable to manage anything else.

The man rolled his crimson eyes and held out his hand, a small ball of electric energy seeming to form out of nowhere on the palm of his hand.

"Cone, come, now," he sneered. "My master would like to know your name before I kill you. Now, I don't have all day."

I shook my head, as if it would help shaking my memories away. Without realizing it, I stepped back, closer to the dark trees at the very back of the meadow.

"You're the guy who destroyed my village." It came out as a whisper, but the man cocked his head to the side in curiosity nonetheless, the ball of energy burning out into nothingness in his hand.

"You're going to have to be more specific than that," the man—who I vaguely remembered as Julius—said, smirking. "There has been many."

My hands shook. My whole entire being shook, as he stepped closer to me, closing the distance between us in quick, long strides. I turned my head as far away from him as I could as he neared me. He was getting so close—so close, that I could almost feel his breath on the skin of my neck.

He chuckled darkly. "Oh, now I remember! You're that little snip from the Mana Clan, aren't you?"

I could tell that he was playing with me—the way a cat would play with its food before actually eating it. I knew he could remember it all as clearly as I could.

"Fancy meeting you here, hmm?" His lips were now at my ear, his cold breath making me shake even more with fear. He chuckled. "I didn't think there were any survivors."

A gasp escaped my lips, and my chest tightened with pain.

"You mean . . . they're all . . . Willy, Kaseem, Mother, and all of the other townspeople—they're dead?"

I could feel his mouth tilt up into another dark smirk against my skin.

"Every . . . last . . . one."

That gave me enough strength to shove him away. Somewhere, deep inside me, I had always known that they were gone. But still, a small part of me still hoped, still wished . . .

But now that small lingering piece of hope was crushed.

I knew I was going to die here, right now, so there really was no use in just standing there, waiting for it to happen.

"You killed them all?" I whispered, tears coming to my eyes. Willy . . . Mother . . . No! "You monster!" Hatred dripped from my tone, and I knew that my eyes would be flashing resentment at him.

Julius, however, seemed unaffected—in fact, my hatred and fear—my pain—all of it mixed together seemed to amuse him.

"Me?" he asked innocently. "I didn't kill them; the Realm Soldiers did. I just stood by . . . and watched." He smirked.

"It's all the same. You let them all die!"

"Oh, but is it really our fault that wretched village was destroyed? Or was it because your precious Goddess abandoned you?" His crimson eyes shone with amusement. He was enjoying this.

I shook my head, closing my eyes. Please, I begged with my mind. Please, just kill me now. Take the pain away.

But the killing blow never came.

Instead, I heard a muffled voice call from the path to the meadow, saying, "Master Julius! Dark Lord calls for you!"

Julius growled. By now I had my eyes open, and I watched the figure of my family's murderer ball up his fists in anger. There was no more resistance in me; I didn't care if he killed me now out of frustration. I welcomed it.

Julius looked at me, crimson red eyes flashing dangerously at me. "I will be dealing with you later." He turned to leave, then paused and smirked back at me once more. "Well, that is, if there's going to be a later." He then reached out his arm, calling attention to a small, innocent-looking bunny that looked totally harmless. A sickly green aura surrounded Julius's arm, and started then reaching out between the distance from Julius's fingertips to the bunny. I watched as the poor little thing's eyes turned a horrible shade of dried blood. Its mouth opened in a grimace, revealing long, sharp teeth, and I could see claws growing on its soft, white paws, making them look more deadly than I had ever thought the paws of a rabbit could look.

It turned to me, murder in its eyes.

"So you control the animals now, too?" I asked. I could hear the tears in my voice, and I was too weak to manage enough hatred to strengthen my resolve.

Julius turned without saying anything and left, his cruel, sinister laugh following behind him.

I didn't have anywhere to run. The bunny—which was now turned into a monster, thirsting for my blood—was blocking my only path away from the forest, and the trees behind me were too thick and dark to consider any safer than this.

The resignation was slowly fading from my muscles as rational thought returned to mind again. My eyes darted around the small area, trying to look for a way out of here as my survival instinct—that had been completely absent earlier—kicked in.

There was none.

With next to no other choice, I removed my sword from its sheath. I held it awkwardly, trying to imitate the way I remembered Bogard holding it.

The monster came closer. I closed my eyes.

"Watch out!" a voice suddenly yelled. My eyes flew open in time to see a boy lunging out from between the thick trees behind me, holding a thick, heavy-looking sword out in front of him.

"Were you really planning to attack it with your eyes closed?" the boy asked before jumping at the monster. I opened my mouth to answer, but thought better of it as I watched him scare the monster away.

As soon as he was sure that the monster was gone, he turned to me. "How did you manage to get into a fight with that little critter? Did you trim its tail or something?" he asked, smirking slightly. This smirk wasn't like the cruel one Julius had worn—no, this one was amused.

I opened my mouth again to say something, but the words got stuck in my throat when I met his eyes.

He was tall, and wore clothes that looked tight and uncomfortable. It was covered in tears, and looked incredibly old. His hair was a dark blonde colour, and it was long, just brushing his shoulders. It looked dirty, just like the rest of his face and clothes. His face was tanned, and he had a strong chin with a perfectly straight nose and high cheekbones. His eyes were a deep sapphire blue that looked older and wearier that he seemed to be, like they had seen way too much, way too soon.

His smile, though, was perfectly dazzling as he looked down at me in concern.

And I felt a pang of recognition as I studied those eyes, that smile.

"Are you alright?" he asked, sliding his bloodied sword into the sheath that I hadn't noticed before.

Bloodied sword . . . Was he one of the Realm Soldiers?

"Are you hurt?" he asked again when I didn't answer.

I looked away from him; anywhere but those deep, dazzling blue eyes.

"Oh, um, y-yes," I stuttered. "I-I mean, no. I'm fine."

"What are you doing here all alone?" he asked. "If you can even pick a fight with so much as a bunny rabbit, then I'm sure you don't belong here in the woods all alone."

I ignored his question, looking over his clothes again. His sword caught my eye, and I looked back into his sapphire eyes, trying not to get lost in them.

"You're from Granz Realm, aren't you?" I blurted, and, even as I said it, backed away as far from him as I possibly could.

He just rolled his eyes, though.

"Do I look like I'm from Granz Realm?" he asked.

I quickly gave him a once-over.

Honestly—he didn't, not really. Soldiers from Granz Realm had very different attire, which was always well-kept and clean.

But, as my eyes caught sight of that huge sword strapped to his belt, I looked away from him again.

The boy sighed. "Look, if you need some help, I'll take you where you need to go," he offered.

I put one of my hands on my hip and cocked my hip to the side.

"I don't need your help," I said stubbornly, jutting my chin out and looking him straight in the eyes. Those eyes . . . so familiar . . . "I can get back home by myself, thank you very much."

"By the way you're holding that sword of yours, I'd say otherwise," the boy said, looking pointedly at the sword that I had almost forgotten about.

I quickly put it back into its sheath.

"I don't need your help," I insisted, stomping past him, back the way I had come in.

"And what if you get attacked by another monster?" he called after me. I stumbled a bit, but quickly regained my footing.

I snorted, and, without looking back at him, said, "I won't."

He didn't say anything after that for a while, and I just kept on heading back toward the town.

But, before, I could get very far, the boy suddenly cried, "What's that?"

I froze and spun around, instantly afraid.

"What?" I gasped.

But I only turned to find the boy laughing at me.

I frowned at him. So I was shaken by my earlier encounter with the devil. What did he know?

"Fine!" I snapped. "If you could take me back to Topple, I would be very grateful."

His face lit up. "Topple? Great!" he said. I frowned. Why was he getting all excited by Topple? "I was just looking for it myself—we can go there together."

I hesitated.

"You're not . . . from here, are you?" I asked him. He looked away, gazing at the clear, clean water of the lake before looking back at me,

"Not exactly, no."

I nodded. I could see that, despite his cocky attitude just minutes before, this subject made him uncomfortable.

So, instead of asking him to elaborate like I was tempted to, I said, "Alright, then. Topple is north-east from here."

He smiled gratefully, back to the cheerful mood he'd been in earlier. He stretched his hand out toward me.

"My name's Kevin. What's yours?"

My heart probably skipped a beat or two right then. Kevin? He has the same name as . . . No, it must be a coincidence.

I eyed his outstretched hand for a second before grabbing it.

"I'm Abby," I said, absently marvelling at how warm his hand was. "Nice to meet you."

He smiled another one of those dazzling smiles before releasing my hand. He didn't say anything else, but I could see a clouded look in his eyes as he gazed curiously as me.

"Um . . . North-east?"

"Yeah."

"Let's go, then," he said, ducking his head. I frowned at his weird behaviour, but complied nonetheless.

"Oh! Wait!" I said abruptly, remembering why I was here in the first place. Kevin stopped and looked at me inquiringly.

"A girl from the village asked me a favour," I explained. "She lost her bracelet somewhere, and asked me to come and look for it. Can you help me, please?"

"Yeah," he said, and we both kneeled down to search through the grass.

Finally, Kevin leapt up and said, "Got it," holding one of his hands up in the air. In his other hand, he had his sword clutched firmly, with the grass around him slashed around his feet. Now, why hadn't I thought of that?

Looped around his finger was a silver bracelet that sparkled in the sun.

I smiled. "That must be the one. Let's go."

The journey back to the village was a silent one, but by no means awkward. Kevin fought monsters that blocked our path, and I used magic whenever it was needed. We came to the southern entrance of Topple village without so much as a scratch, and the sun was just starting to position itself right overhead.

I turned to Kevin.

"Thanks for taking me this far," I said. He was gazing around the town, with a strange, peaceful look on his face.

"It was no problem. You helped me, too, so . . ." He trailed off.

"So I'll see you around?"

I looked at him carefully, studying his face.

His hair certainly would be longer, shaggier . . . Lighter, maybe. His face, harder . . . But then, my memories of the attack of the Mana Clan were foggy, inaccurate. And I'd been blocking them out of my mind for such a long time . . .

"Yeah," he replied to my earlier statement. He glanced at me—giving me a quizzical, inquiring look—before turning and running off without another word.

I stood there for a few seconds, gazing after him.

If the Kevin from my past had survived all those years ago, he'd probably be around this one's age . . .

I shook my head. Enough, enough! I scolded myself. No more letting the past control you.

I sighed, knowing that it was useless trying to just let it all go.

With another shake of my head, I headed back to where the girl had been to give her bracelet back to her.

...

A/N: And there you have it :o) I've realised that Abby is a bit mopey the whole time and keeps obsessing over the loss of the Mana Clan. I'm sorry for that detail. I know it's annoying, but it's a little necessary for now. After Vinquette Hall, it's gonna stop, I promise. You'll just have to be a bit patient for another two or three chapters.