I had a fit of inspiration after playing through Legend of Mana for the second time in a week and I couldn't resist writing up a little Elazul/Heroine action. So, here's what you need to know: Obviously, this story begins towards the end of the Teardrop Crystal quest. I've assumed a couple of things about the story here. One of them being that, while Drakonis has been defeated by this point in the story, that Larc has yet to be reunited with his sister. I always thought the ending where it says that they were "finally reunited" didn't make much sense if it happened immediately following the death of Drakonis. So that's why Larc is where he is in this story.
I liked writing this a lot (I hashed it out in two days, holy cow!) so I might go ahead and write a follow-up chapter to this one. I know Larc's situation hasn't been resolved here and I also found out that you can go back to the Bejeweled City and get a whole lot more interesting dialogue after the Teardrop Crystal is finished.
Let me know what you think.
"The Jumi are destined to die out…?"
Lady Blackpearl's voice sounded so terribly lost to Maya in that moment. The loneliness was amplified by the way her low, quavering voice echoed off the walls of a nearly-empty throne room that should have been filled with people. Maya could not help but feel the sorrow weighing down on her soul. So many races seemed destined to die out under her watch. The fairies were dying out. The dragons had very nearly been utterly destroyed and the only two remaining dragoon siblings could never touch each other again. The forlorn artifacts from wars long past wasting away in the Junkyard without a master. And now, the Jumi...? The sprite's sharp hearing picked up the whispered question from Blackpearl that had plagued her own mind for some time.
"How can that be…?"
That last question from the shell-shocked warrior sent Maya over the edge. Since the fight with the Lord of Jewels had ended she had been fighting the building pressure behind her eyes. No, that wasn't entirely correct. She had been fighting the feeling for much longer than that but had withheld the tears she had so freely shed for the other races she had not been able to save because she had to.
She had done it for them: For Pearl and Elazul. They had needed her help and by the Goddess she had sworn she would help them! Maya knew she could not save anyone if she were encased in stone. But like all the other times it seemed her help had always come a little too late. There she was at the Throne of the Clarius, staring at the last two people of yet another doomed race.
And finally, her heart could bear it no longer. Unbidden, the burn of tears blurred her vision and pressed on her lashes. Faintly, she could see the indistinct form of Blackpearl in the distance turn towards her. Maya could no longer see the look of horror behind the veil of unshed tears.
As one droplet slid to the edge of her lashes and wandered slowly down her left cheek Maya knew that it was the beginning of what had to be an eminent tidal wave of tears. But, for now, her anguish was still in the beginning stages; still desperately trying to remain contained. As thoughts of all those lost people filled her mind a second tear slipped away down her right cheek. The two drops joined beneath her chin just in time for Blackpearl's desperate shout of warning.
"Stop it Maya! You'll turn to stone if you shed tears for a Jumi!"
She shouted in the most authoritative tone she could muster under the circumstances, hoping to startle the sprite out of her precarious state. But it was too late. Even as the legendary words of warning about the Jumi and tears left her lips the droplets fell away from the girl's face and bounced onto the floor as a single shimmering jewel.
Earlier that day Elazul appeared in Olbohn's study. The wisdom barely batted any of his three eyes at the Jumi before having a yellow striped Shadole teleport him to the lower levels. The Lapis Lazuli knight found himself thinking that he seemed awfully peeved about something.
When he reappeared he was in a tiny room that contained a bed and an empty set of bookshelves carved into the far wall. For a second he smirked. It reminded him of the carved out walls of his home in the Bejeweled City, though Olbohn's sense of décor left much to be desired. The stone walls were the color of dried blood and Maya had said something once about finding the place quite depressing.
The thought of the golden-haired sprite caused Elazul to curse, suddenly reminded of his new objective. He needed to warn Maya and Pearl about the Lord of Jewels! The slimy, toad-like thing was working with Sandra! That was what had gotten the skilled swordsman killed in the first place. As soon as Maya and Pearl had left Elazul had decided to head back to Maya's home. Ostensibly, he had assured himself that he had chosen to wait for her there because he had wanted to keep an eye on the sprite's two apprentices. Secretly, however, he simply wanted to go. Her home had become a refuge for him. It was safe when all other havens had proven to be false. If he had to force himself wait for the two women then he would much rather do it in a place that made him feel at peace.
He'd been ambushed halfway through the Mindas Ruins, only a half day's walk from his destination. The strange, nameless man he and Maya had stumbled upon in Mekiv stepped out into the road. The purple-skinned man with puffer fish jowls bowed theatrically to him and waved him over. Perplexed, the Lapis Knight stalked over to him. He'd been interested in speaking with the mysterious stranger again ever since he learned from Maya that he had been the one to teleport them back home after Sandra had damaged his core.
"I am pleased to see your stone has mended quite nicely." He had smiled so benevolently at the Jumi it had made Elazul glance down at his core for a moment, distracted.
A silken female voice near his side had answered, "Then shall I take it, master?"
The Jumi had no time to react. The jewel hunter had already curled her fingers around his core and he stared into her dark green eyes. He was absolutely stunned.
"Yes. Just be sure not to damage it this time." The bloated purple man sighed.
…Master? His blue eyes turned to the stranger who gazed so morosely back at him. A heartbeat later he howled in pain as Sandra gave his core a vicious twist. He was immobilized instantly as his limbs seized up from the near-separation from his core.
"Now, tell me, knight…" Elazul had struggled to turn his eyes back to the woman who literally held his life in her palm "…where's the guardian and that pretty little watchdog of yours? Hmm?"
It had taken every ounce of energy he had to snarl back, "There… There's… No need… She and… Blackpearl… They will… They will… Crush your core!"
His lips curled into a smug smirk when he saw the jewel hunter visibly pale. She still feared the ancient warrior Jumi. Sandra suddenly growled and twisted the core once more, ripping it completely free of his body as she snapped back.
"…Not before I complete my duty!"
Elazul remembered the rapid spreading of numbness through his body as he watched Sandra hand his core to the beast-man and then heard her call him the Lord of Jewels. So that was his name… For some inexplicable reason his thoughts suddenly changed directions and where they turned had surprised him: they had not been about Pearl… but of Maya. Words tumbled out though he wasn't sure if he'd actually spoken them out loud or not—he couldn't feel his lips, couldn't see, and couldn't hear.
"Don't you know…? She'll cry…"
The next thing he knew he had been in Olbohn's study.
The Jumi knight growled and strode for the door even as he wondered why his thoughts had focused on the golden-haired sprite instead of Pearl. I should have been thinking about Pearl, am I not her knight? He shook his head at the traitorous voice that whispered no in his mind. He placed one palm on the door and pressed; when it did not give he cursed and placed both hands on the door. Still, the door refused to budge. Since when have there been doors on the Underworld rooms? His mind fussed. Maya had taken him down there at one point to speak with the dead Jumi once before after Pearl had spilled to her that he'd blamed himself for Esmeralda's death. He grunted, huffed, puffed, pushed, and pulled, but the doors simply would not budge. He swore at Olbohn for whatever he'd done to deserve such punishment at a time when he needed to get out. As if on cue; Olbohn's disembodied voice echoed within his prison.
"You shall not be allowed to tear up my Underworld anymore than your associate already has. For the time being, you must remain in this room."
Elazul ranted and raved at the ceiling for several minutes until his throat stung and his voice was hoarse. Olbohn made no further comment and the door remained firmly shut. With a frustrated snarl the Lapis knight stomped over to the small bed in the corner so that he might fume seated.
Now that he had all the time in the world to think more about his trip to the Underworld he remembered something else. There he had learned from Esmeralda herself just how much Maya had been hurt by it. Of course he'd confronted her about it as soon as they were back on the road and heading for home, warning her (for what had to have been the hundredth time) not to cry for the Jumi. She in turn insolently snapped back that she would cry for whomever she damned well felt like crying over, and then kept on walking.
His patience had vanished in an instant. He stormed forward and caught her arm in one gauntleted hand. He tugged on her so that her momentum twirled her around to face him just in time for him to release her wrist and clamp his fingers around her shoulders. Her glare never wavered for even a second while he shook her by the shoulders.
"You're so damned stubborn, Maya! What'd happen to those twins of yours back at home if you turn to stone, huh? What about Pearl? Pearl would blame herself for it; you know it. She'd be heartbroken! I can't protect her from something I can't protect you from!"
The stricken look on her face caused the rest of his frustration die on the tip of his tongue. Her eyes turned down to the ground and her face fell into a broken frown that made the bottom drop out of his stomach. He'd said too much, hadn't he? Just as he was about to beg her not to cry for his stupidity he heard the smallest of whispers spill out.
"I'm sorry, Elazul…" She looked up at him and nodded solemnly, "For you and Pearl… I won't."
He'd wanted to end their conversation right then but his core still felt clouded so he plowed on, "…But what if something happens to us?"
He was distracted from the feeling in his core when he felt a feather-light touch on the back of his hand. It took him a half second to realize it was her fingers curled over his. He blinked stupidly at her as a warm smile brightened her face and set his heart racing.
"Well don't do anything stupid and we won't have to worry about that."
As the memory ended Elazul groaned and pushed his hands up into his bangs, disengaging the hood of his cloak so that he could rake his fingers through his hair without restraint. She would cry when she learned he was dead. He knew it now. She had tried to tell him so in her own way at the time. Maya cared too much not to, after all.
The Lapis Knight made a distressed choking noise that he knew would have been a half-contained sob had he the tears to utilize it. He buried his head in his hands and silently begged the Mana Goddess to protect his most vulnerable friend.
*A few hours later…*
A loud banging on the door of his Underworld prison woke Elazul from a rest he had not realized he had fallen into. A gruff, gravelly voice shouted from the other side of the door. As he rubbed the sleep from his eyes he heard the nervous giggling of at least two Shadoles; apparently responding to the man.
He missed what the Shadoles said as he approached the door but not the animalistic growl that followed in response from the mystery man. Seconds later he heard the tell-tale zinging noise that could only be the sound of Shadoles teleporting away. Apparently alone, now the banging on his door resumed.
"Hey! You in there!" The man bellowed.
Elazul was in no mood to bother and he responded irritably, "Leave me be."
The growl sounded again and the Lapis knight wondered if the man had a pet dog of some sort with him.
"Are you the one named Elazul?" The man grunted.
The Jumi raised an eyebrow and instinctively reached for his sword… and then belatedly realized he'd given it to Maya and his normal sword was also distressingly absent as well. Instinctively he went on the defensive, though there was little harm any man could do to him, as he was already dead.
"… And what if I am?"
The man did not respond, instead the same zinging sound Elazul had heard from the Shadoles sounded again and a moment later a wolf-man stood in his room. That explains the growling I heard… Elazul thought absently as he took a step backwards to assess the potential threat.
The stranger was taller than the Jumi by a couple inches. His body was covered in purplish-silver fur except for a tan snout; he also sported a scaled red tail that was decidedly reptilian in nature. He was covered in spiked bloody red plates of armor that must have been specially-made for his unique physique. The reversed nature of his knees gave the beast-man's stature a hunchback look that Elazul was most certain belied his actual speed. A single silver battle axe was holstered at his side and the Knight hoped that it stayed there.
The wolf-man narrowed his ruby eyes at the Jumi Knight before him in brief study. Green hair, dark blue eyes, and a matching dark blue crystal right arm… Yep, it had to be him.
"You must be the one Maya spoke of…" Larc grunted; he seemed less than impressed.
The mere mention of the sprite's name brought Elazul to full attention. "You know her? Then help me! I need to get out of here. I must speak with her!"
Larc snorted, "I can't do that. That obstinate wisdom has you and the rest of your kind on lockdown."
Elazul was undeterred; he took a step towards the hulking beast-man. "But you can get out of here, can you not? Maya's in danger!"
Larc snarled and lumbered forward; he grabbed the startled Jumi by the shirt and hauled him forward so that his face was mere inches from his face. "Then why did you not survive long enough to tell her?"
The Knight grunted and latched on to the single claw that held him so easily in both of his hands. Larc had to admit from the smaller man's grip that he was far stronger than he had first believed, especially that crystal claw-hand.
Somehow the man managed to wheeze out, "I…was…tricked! My core… taken."
The wolf-man gave him a small shake, "By the jewel hunter the other Jumi have been griping about?"
"No!" He rasped. "Another… had helped us… before… I saw him… but… he was working …with the hunter!"
Larc released him with a growl. He understood treachery better than anyone. It was, after all, what had gotten him killed…twice. Elazul dropped to one knee and struggled to catch his breath. Larc knew the newly-dead often retained those little human traits—like breathing—that eventually vanished over time spent in the Underworld.
"So you were betrayed. I see… Well, I'm sorry, but I cannot leave the Underworld without Maya."
Elazul's heart sank. He was out of options. While the Jumi caught his breath he had a few moments to think about the man before him. It finally dawned on him.
"You're Larc, aren't you?"
The dragoon's muzzle pulled back into what Elazul imagined was a confident smirk; most people would have likely assumed he was getting ready to eat them. "She's told you about me, eh?"
The Jumi snorted. "Of course! She always speaks of her friends. I can't believe that crazy woman risked her own soul for your insane quest…"
"Likewise…" Larc retorted.
The dragoon thought it unwise to mention that he knew she had been less-than informed about her predicament when she had agreed to it. When she had realized what she would have to do in order to restore her soul to proper order she'd been more than a little angry. She'd cursed and ranted and nearly hollered Larc's sensitive ears to near-deafness. Maya had been incredibly distraught over most of the people she had been forced to kill, though she had hid it well. She mourned for all except Deathbringer. Knowing her obvious closeness to the Jumi he could understand that. Deathbringer had killed hundreds of Jumi in the past. As she had put it then afterwards, "That bone dragon deserved an ass-kicking." Larc had no further time to muse though as Elazul had not been through speaking.
"Have you been able to make any progress with the blood curse?" When Larc stared at him in shock the Jumi clarified. "Maya… told me that you had not been able to see your sister because of that curse."
"She told you that much, eh?" Larc stroked his chin thoughtfully for a moment before he sighed and looked down at the floor. "No, I haven't had much luck since we defeated Drakonis… How did you know?"
Elazul drew himself back up to a standing position and dusted off his pants, "After I found out about her little escapades in the Underworld I started accompanying her down there for her little visits with Olbohn."
Larc's gaze moved up to watch him, his head tilted to the side. "…Visits?"
The Jumi waved his crystalline hand dismissively, "That girl's been arguing for your release for weeks. She thinks the wisdom knows more than he's letting on."
The dragoon was stunned. He'd done nothing but drag the sprite into trouble for weeks! He had very nearly torn her from her apprentices and friends and she had barely survived the final confrontation with the Crimson Dragon. After everything he had done in the name of his misguided campaign of terror he had assumed her absence had meant that she had moved on with her life. Her end of the deal had been completed, after all. Larc suddenly realized the Jumi had been watching him intently the entire time and schooled his features back into a neutral expression.
"What a strange person…" The dragoon muttered.
Elazul's amused voice followed, "I've said the same thing myself many times. All I can say for certain is that she cares." He sighed, "That's what has me worried…" He paused and looked up at the hulking man, an idea formed in his mind. "Larc, you can't leave the Underworld but… can you at least get to Olbohn?"
One of Larc's ears twitched, the thought of speaking with the evasive wisdom did not appeal to him at the moment. "Yes, I can...Why?"
"Olbohn can talk to the other wisdoms… perhaps there is a way to get word to Maya if you go speak to him? I doubt he cares much about our race dying… but he might not know about the Lord of Jewels…"
"Hmm…" Larc mused. It was a long shot, but it was possible the wisdoms did not know about the elusive enemy. In his experience the wisdoms hated surprises… The wolf-man nodded and rolled his shoulders as he prepared to clear his mind for the necessary teleportation spell. "I'll see what I can do… I owe Maya, after all."
With that the dragoon vanished in a flash of light.
Elazul hoped it would be enough to save the sprite and his guardian.
Larc appeared in Olbohn's study a moment later. He scowled at the unsurprised expression he shot his way; as if he had been expecting him. The dragoon assumed the obvious: Olbohn must have thought he was there to bargain his release for the umpteenth time.
"Don't give me that look, wisdom. I have come for a different reason this time." He grumbled.
Olbohn raised three eyebrows simultaneously, "Is that so?"
Larc's temper shortened ever so slightly. For all he knew, though, Maya hadn't the time for such nonsense so he kept his attitude in check. "Yes, I have some information to share with the wisdoms."
Olbohn gave a bemused snort, "And what might the dragoon of Drakonis know that the great wisdoms do not?"
"Have you heard of a being called the Lord of Jewels?"
It took every ounce of energy in the dragoon not to laugh outright at seeing a surprised expression spread across the ancient swordsman's face. The look vanished as quickly as it came, even as Olbohn shifted one set of arms to cross over his chest.
"Go on." The wisdom muttered; his lips pursed into a frown.
Larc released a breath he hadn't realized he had been holding before continuing. "A recently-dead Jumi claims that this…creature… is the mastermind behind a recent string of Jumi deaths."
"The Jumi deaths were caused by a fellow Jumi." Olbohn waved a third hand dismissively.
Larc rushed to explain; concerned he was losing the wisdom's interest. He hadn't known the hunter had been a Jumi herself. Did betrayal know no bounds? "Yes, that is true that a Jumi is perpetrating the attacks… but she is merely a puppet…much like I myself was a puppet."
Olbohn was quiet for several minutes. When his three eyes closed Larc guessed that he was concentrating on something. Perhaps he was seeking contact with the other wisdoms? Larc did not have much time to think before the wisdom opened one of his eyes; the one that sat above the other two.
"Bring this Jumi witness to me. If what you say is true then I want to hear it straight from him. I will give you the necessary clearance."
Out of instinct Larc bowed to the wisdom and teleported out of the room. Thoughts filled his mind. His situation might not change but at least he could help out someone he could truly consider a friend. A heartbeat later Larc was in the Lapis Knight's room but to his utter shock and dismay the blue eyed man was gone.
* Moments before…*
The second Larc had vanished from the room Elazul's hopes had risen. His life might have been over, he might have been far away, but that did not mean he had to stop defending the girls he cared for so deeply. He paced the room as he waited for news from the dragoon. He was more than a little surprised when light filled his room only minutes later. Larc convinced Olbohn that quickly? He thought as he shielded his eyes against the light.
But the light didn't fade. It lingered longer than the teleportation spells he had witnessed. Hesitantly, he lowered his arm and squinted into the light. The Lapis knight was stunned to see Maya smiling back at him. The sprite was bathed in shimmering light as she hovered slightly above him. His jaw dropped, and he struggled to work his voice as the girl reached out her hand towards him. Something glittered in her hand and it hummed with energy. His deep blue eyes widened as he recognized the familiar chiming of his core.
"Maya…how…?" He burbled out.
She continued to smile and never spoke a word. Elazul stared in disbelief as she gently pressed his core to the gaping hole in his chest. The Jumi Knight tensed as he waited for intense pain to flood his body. Instead, he felt soft, pulsing warmth. He could also feel something else; a whisper of emotion that wasn't his. It was a feeling of heartbreaking sadness, pity, and regret. When he raised his eyes to the glowing specter before him he saw the tears glimmering on her cheeks he had missed when he had been stunned by her smile.
The thrumming of his core had grown so loud that he was certain she could not have heard his devastated whisper of, "…Why?" He squeezed his eyes shut against the light that seemed to grow brighter in response. When he did so, the humming suddenly stopped.
Elazul's eyes opened slowly in expectation of the blinding light he'd seen before. A chorus of familiar voices and cores hummed around him. It took him mere seconds to realize that he was no longer trapped in the Underworld but in the Bejeweled City—and surrounded by Jumi no less!
As he looked from familiar face to familiar face he breathed "It's a miracle…"
Diana's voice reverently added, "By thinking of the welfare of all races… a teardrop crystal is made…"
Esmeralda squealed happily amidst the crush of her sister's arms. He heard Rubens say something about being alive but the Lapis Knight was too busy scanning the crowd to pay attention. His eyes quickly fell on his guardian.
"Pearl!" He gasped; relief evident in his voice.
The brunette responded happily in kind until their eyes met. He could see it in her; she was incredibly happy, but something else was making her incredibly sad. Her face fell as she turned her pale gaze towards another. His eyes followed their direction and landed on a still, gray figure.
No… Not her… She didn't deserve this!
He took a step forward; shock and disbelief evident in his features. There was no mistaking Maya's hair pipes or the familiar spear sheathed at her back. Diana's words came back to him in a rush and he slowly approached the shimmering object at her feet. He picked it up slowly, as if it might shatter at any moment if he was not careful. He cradled the teardrop crystal to his chest and his core hummed in response. Immediately, the same feeling of heartache flooded his mind and tears burned in his eyes.
This is what she felt before she turned to stone?
The crystal began to chime the same way his core had. Every Jumi's face turned somber simultaneously. The Lapis Knight marveled at the feeling of connectedness that passed through him; stronger than it ever had been before. Pearl murmured that she had only experienced cores with such power in the early days of the Jumi when mana had flowed freely. Elazul wondered if all the Jumi at that moment were experiencing the same emotions he had been feeling from Maya's teardrop crystal. One quick glance around the room told him that they did. Clutching the crystal he strode forward.
"Everyone, listen! What you're feeling right now is from that girl over there." He gestured towards the woman then exposed the teardrop crystal in his hand. "She shed these tears for us. Her spirit restored us… but she didn't just bring us back to life… She brought the mana back to our cores!"
The Jumi turned their eyes to the statue. Elazul glanced at Florina for a moment. When she nodded her approval he continued. "She shed tears for us and gave us back more than we could ever have hoped. Now, could you all give me a little life, please? Give me the chance to restore her."
Everyone was remained silent until Rubens's voice answered, "You're going to give Maya a teardrop crystal?"
The Lapis Knight turned towards him and nodded. "It's the least I can do for saving our people."
Esmeralda wriggled out of the tangle of her sister's hugs to call out, "I think I can cry… she is my Knight, after all."
Diana cleared her throat. "You cannot ask our people this. Only the Clarius can make that call. What say you, Florina?"
The Clarius did not respond to the diamond Jumi, instead she addressed the whole crowd. "Everyone, bind your souls." A smile blossomed on her lips even as tears shimmered in her eyes. "Let's make another teardrop crystal."
Elazul heard Pearl give a tiny happy squeak, then sniffled. The air around had already begun to sparkle with Jumi tears of different colors. The tiny stone in his palm warmed as it absorbs the tears of the Jumi and he found himself drawing ever closer to her stone figure, as if the stone and his core called for her. Soon his face was inches from hers and he could see the look of pain frozen on her features. His eyes slid closed as he concentrated on the dual throbbing of his core and the stone in his fist. The air grew heavy with the flow of mana energy and everything seemed perched on the edge of excitement. Yet, for once, Elazul remained calm. He waited. Finally, his core and the crystal sang in perfect harmony, chiming that it was time.
Slowly he leaned forward and pressed his forehead to hers. Your skin is so cold, so lifeless. He thought as a single tear slid down his cheek, his fingers uncurling so that the drop landed on Maya's crystal. As the world went white around him he whispered softly, "Come home, Maya."
Outside the sky grew thick and heavy with dark clouds. At Maya's house the first drops of rain began to descend. Lisa, who had been picking Trent's fruit from his branches, gave a surprised squeal and scrambled for the house, nearly upending her basket of fruit in the process. She managed to dash for the safety of home before she got too wet. Bud was not so fortunate. The little mage had been caught out in the rain at the same time she had, only he had been feeding Maya's odd assortment of monsters at the Corral. He'd been forced to move all the grazing monsters inside the barn. By the time he had managed to get them all into the barn (without eating each other… or him) he was soaked to the bone. The soggy boy cursed and stomped his way back home where Lisa promptly chastised him for tracking mud into the house.
Elazul slowly opened his eyes as the thrumming in his core subsided. Relief flooded through him as he beheld Maya's closed eyes and pink cheeks. He'd never been so happy to see human skin in his life. Relief quickly turned to concern as the girl flopped forward into his arms, unconscious.
Pearl made a small distressed sound and hurried towards them. The Knight grappled with the boneless Maya for a few awkward seconds before he managed to swing her into a position where he could tuck one arm under her knees while the other curled securely around her shoulders. The guardian moved around the Lapis Lazuli Knight until she could get a good look at the woman. Elazul barely noticed her calm, assessing gaze that seemed much more similar to Blackpearl than the shy Pearl. Pearl placed a cool hand to Maya's forehead and concentrated on the flow of mana within her. For once, the guardian was glad for the vast amount of knowledge and experience contained within her. She was the only Jumi with the memory to sense the proper flow of mana in a sprite.
"Is she okay?" The desperation in Elazul's voice was palpable.
Pearl resisted the urge to giggle and instead chose to smile. "Yes, she's fine. She just needs a chance to relax… we also need to bind up her wounds."
"Wounds…?" The Lapis Knight queried. He hadn't seen any wounds on her when she was stone…
As if she had read his thoughts Pearl gave him a sharp look, "Yes, Elazul, wounds. You wouldn't have been able to see them while she was stone…" She raised one of Maya's limp arms to reveal a series of cuts and scrapes. "We did fight the Lord of Jewels twice."
Elazul nodded dumbly; he could not take his eyes off the latest news of Maya to worry him silly. Pearl rolled her eyes and tugged on his fawn colored cloak to coax the frazzled Jumi out of the Throne of the Clarius. Her tone was thoroughly Blackpearl's.
"Come now, Knight. Let us find your sprite a place to rest." She threw a backwards glance over her shoulder to the Emerald Jumi near by. "You should come, too, Esmeralda."
The girl nodded and trotted after the retreating pair. When they were safely out of the room and two levels down the younger Jumi piped up. "Why are we bothering to bind her wounds? We can shed tears for Maya."
Pearl opened her mouth to speak but Elazul beat her to it, "Because that stubborn woman would likely cry for us all over again—just to restore the tears we gave."
"That; or she'd brain Elazul into unconsciousness with one of her training staves." Pearl added.
Esmeralda blanched and remained quiet afterwards. They moved past several building until they rounded a corner and paused before one particular entryway. Elazul quickly recognized it as his home. He was about to ask Pearl what she was thinking when there was a flash of light and purple petals. Blackpearl stood before him, hammer in hand as she ducked inside the open doorway. Elazul made to follow but the female Knight poked her head out at the last moment and frowned.
"You stay put, Lapis Lazuli Knight, and defend Maya. I must clear this place of monsters. Esmeralda, would you like to assist me? I'd like to see some of this magic you've learned…"
The emerald Jumi was elated and bounced after the dark Knight while Elazul was left to sputter indignantly outside. He decided to vent his frustrations to the unconscious girl in his arms.
"How embarrassing, really, Maya. Do you see what I have to put up with?"
She, of course, did not respond. He sighed as lights flashed and flicked through his windows; a sign that someone was likely utilizing magic. When a plume of fire rolled through one of the windows he gave a disgruntled shout.
"Oi, you two, tone it down in there! Maya won't be able to rest if you set my home on fire!"
Emerald's breathy apology filtered outside a half-second later, followed by a disinterested snort from Blackpearl. Again, the Lapis Knight commented to his sleeping charge, "Blackpearl could care less about how my place ended up… she's using my home as a damned testing ground for a potential new apprentice, no doubt."
The sound of the dying shrieks of two animals caught his attention followed by the tell-tale flutter of purple petals. Pearl's sweet face poked out of the doorway a moment later, her cheeks flushed.
"Um… It's safe now, Elazul."
The Knight huffed and followed her in and immediately began assessing the damage to his tiny abode. Except for the slight scent of sulfur (most likely caused by Esmeralda's expenditure of magic) his home seemed perfectly intact. His home had always been sparsely maintained anyway. A bed was carved into the stone wall on one side of the single large room in his house, though the delicate fabrics that had once adorned it had long since been worn away or used as nesting for whatever monsters had occupied it. A carved fireplace sat against the far central wall to provide warmth for the rest of the space on cooler days while a small desk was carved into the opposite wall. Originally, he had kept several travel journals there; accounts of his many excursions outside of the Bejeweled City. The desk was bare, though, as he had brought all of his journals with him when he had been forced to leave his home for good.
He ignored all this though, as he carried the girl to his bed and laid her upon it. Belatedly, he wished some of his feathered bed padding had survived the years. He had little time to think upon it though as the two girls shooed him back out of his own home. They, of course, had to strip her down to tend to her injuries. When Elazul mistakenly complained that he had already seen her in various states of undress (while she self-treated her own wounds out in the field) the scandalized women squealed and threw him out.
He sighed and kicked the ground as he wondered for the third time that day when he had lost control over his own house. He listened to the two girls talk with each other as they cleaned and bandaged Maya's wounds with the supplies the girl had brought with her. He was able to glean that she'd suffered mostly minor injuries—light scrapes and scratches mostly to her arms and legs; though there was one rather nasty-looking gash in her side. Pearl sighed and explained that the blow had happened in the second half of the fight with the Lord of Jewels. It had tried to take out her core with his tail and Maya had jumped into the path of it.
"Crazy girl…" Elazul muttered under his breath.
He straightened up as he heard the girls finish up and waited expectantly until Esmeralda finally emerged, wiping blood off her hands with a dark strip of dampened topple cotton fabric. He tried not to think too much about how much of it was fresh. A slow, sly grin spread across her face and he wondered if she knew some sort of secret about the sprite that he did not.
"She's all patched up, Elazul. You can go in now… I'm going to go see about getting her a fresh change of clothes somewhere. What she's got is practically in tatters."
He barely listened as he brushed past her and into the room. He was relieved to find she didn't resemble much of the mummy she had when she had returned from her fight with Drakonis. He had to admit, though, that Esmeralda wasn't kidding about her clothes. The pink halter top around her neck had been hastily tied in a bow on her chest because there had not been enough left of the straps to wind back around her neck. Two of the pointed purple triangular pieces of fabric that made up the front part of her lower tunic had been ripped clean off. One of her fuzzy shin covers was gone while the other was folded neatly next to her shoes and fore-arm warmers on the fireplace ledge.
Pearl sat near the fireplace fussing with Maya's spear and desperately trying in vain to get the thing to lean up against the wall without tipping over. Elazul could not hide the amused grin that turned his lips upwards as he watched her cheeks flush red, her tongue stuck out past her teeth as she concentrated on getting the heavy metal weapon to do her bidding. He sighed and shook his head; moving to help her. After a few moments he had the spear resting length-wise on crystal hooks that were normally designed to hold various swords he had collected. Fortunately, it held her spear perfectly fine.
His guardian gave him a blushing thank-you before moving to settle at the foot of Maya's bed. Her face scrunched into a frown, "I can't believe she did that…"
"Hmph! You should be able to believe that easily enough. She's a stubborn thing and she cares too much." The Lapis Knight frowned at the sprite as if she were awake and could see his chastising look… which was likely a good thing because if she had been she would have thwapped him upside the head with her spear and told him to take his dirty looks elsewhere.
Pearl gave a small sigh and stood up, heading for the opening that would have been the door, had the wooden thing not rotted away years ago. Elazul's eyes tracked her movement, blue hues questioning. On cue, his gentle guardian glanced back.
"I have to go see to Florina. The Jumi will be looking for guidance right now… they'll need Blackpearl. Can you stay here and make sure no monsters come back?"
Elazul gave a nod of assent and his core chimed a good-bye. Pearl's core sang in response before she ducked back out into the street. The male Jumi sighed and took up a kneeling position on the floor beside his bed.
"I'll watch out for you this time, Maya. Don't you worry… "
As if she had heard him, Maya made a noise that could very well have been an amused snort. He raised a green eyebrow at her and grumbled, "She mocks me even when she sleeps…"
Elazul watched her face for several minutes to see if she had some wordless retort for that as well. When she did not he spent some time assessing the work Esmeralda and Pearl had done to her bandages. They appeared to be…acceptable… according to his fussy, over-protective standards, though he found new fault elsewhere: Maya had nothing soft to rest on. The Lapis Knight gave a disapproving tut and wandered over to her knapsack. He fished around in the leather bag until he produced her bedroll and proceeded to awkwardly work it underneath her.
He went back to the bag to look for a blanket and quickly groaned. Maya had left her blanket at home… again. Spring had barely begun and it was still quite chilly at night and in the early morning hours. Yet the impulsive sprite had frequently left out her blanket; complaining that it had grown too warm to necessitate bringing one. Often during these times the Knight had been forced to watch for her to fall asleep before sneaking over to drop his cloak atop her. She always fussed at him in the morning about it but then he quickly pointed out that he did not have the "weak" skin of a human which did not tolerate extreme cold or heat for terribly long. Maya would always retort that the Jumi had a funny way of carrying unnecessary things like cloaks for no apparent reason.
The memory caused him to smile ruefully as he reached for the clasps and ties of his cloak and unbound them. He draped it over her with practiced ease and returned to his kneeling position on the floor. Elazul was shocked, however, by what the sprite did next. She breathed in deeply for a moment; then made a tiny noise that sounded (distressingly) like a choked sob. Her bandaged fingers curled around the beige fabric and he watched in growing alarm as she pulled it close and buried her face into it.
"Elazul…" She whimpered softly, tears squeezed from the corners of her eyes and slid down her cheeks.
Panicking, the Knight moved to brush his fingers across her face in an attempt to dry her tears before she turned to stone again. He stared for several agonizing seconds until he realized she had not turned and released a shaky breath he hadn't noticed he had been holding. It seemed that Maya had not only unlocked the Jumi's tears but had also undone their curse as well. Behind him, Esmeralda cleared her throat. He whipped around with a surprised gasp towards the door and the emerald Jumi gave him a weak smile.
"I found Maya some clothes." The girl responded, holding up a folded set of clothes in various shades of green—likely from her own collection. When words continued to fail him for several minutes she added, "I used that teleportation spell Nunuzac taught me to go back to Geo and pick up some of my clothes…" She looked down and the floor and scratched the back of her head. "I, uh, would have gone to her home but I don't know where it is…"
He nodded dumbly and allowed the girl to shoo him out of his house once again. The Jumi was still too confused over the sprite's reaction to think clearly, just yet. A few minutes later Esmeralda re-emerged and beckoned him back inside.
"It was hard dressing her when she wouldn't let go of that thing…" She grumbled and pointed at the cloak still fisted tightly in Maya's fingers.
"Why won't she let go of it? Why is it upsetting her so much? Is that what you're asking?" Her deep green eyes bored into his.
He wordlessly let his head rise and fall again several times as he continued to stare at the sleeping girl for a few more beats before setting his gaze back on his fellow Jumi.
She got a far-off look in her eyes when she spoke. "If I were to guess, I'd say it's because it smells like you…" When he continued to give her a quizzical look she elaborated, "When my sisters went missing I still had a few of their things. They were small gems and bits of clothes, really…but… they smelled like them. They smelled like home. It always made me want to cry a little but, it made me happy too. Maybe she feels that way too..?"
"I don't smell like her home…" Elazul argued quietly, still somewhat confused.
"No, of course not, silly…!" The emerald Jumi batted him on the shoulder, "… But it smells like you, doesn't it?"
When he shrugged she rolled her eyes and padded over to the bed. "Men…" She grumbled as she settled down beside Maya and leaned over her to whisper in her ear. "Don't cry, Maya. We're all here now. Everyone's safe."
The sprite made a face and mumbled Elazul's name again into the fabric, as if unconvinced of what she might be hearing. Esmeralda tapped her chin in thought, then beckoned the Lapis Knight over.
"Talk to her, Elazul. Tell her you're alive. She probably doesn't know that, yet."
She doesn't know I'm alive? He thought as he shuffled over to sit beside the emerald Jumi. Their cores hummed quietly, which seemed to calm the unconscious girl somewhat. He remembered the time when Pearl had gone missing and he could smell her on various objects she'd left behind… did she feel that same pain, too? He leaned closer to speak in her ear, unsure of what to say but desperate to ease her suffering.
"Maya… I'm here now. Pearl and I are okay. I'm alive."
He didn't hear Esmeralda leave. All he heard was the upset whimper that fell from the sprite's lips. She did not seem entirely convinced so he kept talking, absently stroking her hair as he did so.
"Relax, Maya. Everything's okay now. Don't you remember? You gave me back my core in the underworld…"
Maya sniffled again and shook her head slightly. Was she in denial?
"You were there, Maya. I saw it." He urged quietly, "You were like an angel… all light and smiles. But close up you had so many tears in your eyes. Please don't cry like that again. I… I can't stand to see you like that."
The Lapis Knight failed to notice the tear that had slipped down his cheek to land with a plop on her neck. He ignored the humming in his core as the gem reacted and began to close the sprite's wounds. Instead, he gathered her up into his arms and squeezed her gently, burying his face into her hair.
The storm started up again, fiercer than before. From the attic Bud and Lisa watched the rain pelt the windows. Thunder storms always mad Lisa a little nervous. Bud, on the other hand, found it soothing and was already beginning to nod off from his perch on a bench just under the window. Meanwhile, Lisa babbled to ease her nerves.
"There's a terrible storm outside. It's like the sky is falling down!"
Bud shot her a look that indicated he thought she was being silly. Still, something tugged on the back of his mind. The feeling nagged him into a state of melancholy. Even though it was the beginning of spring it never did rain much like this… It reminded him of a story his father had once told him and without a thought he began reciting it out loud.
"They say that when a Jumi cries, the sky cries with it. Did you know that?"
Lisa shook her head and paced closer to the window. "I wonder if the pearl girl is crying… Or maybe it's the lapis lazuli guy…"
Bud wanted to worry, but his bobbing head and drooping eyes would not let him. He did manage to hear one thing from his sister before overcame his senses.
"Maya is late…"
"Please don't cry… Elazul… "
Maya's quiet voice caused the Jumi to raise his head. He found her jade eyes staring back at him. Soft fingers touched his cheeks, rubbing the dampness away. She marveled at his tears and mumbled quietly.
"It must be a dream… you can't be here."
It took him a few seconds to respond, drawn as he was to the feeling of her fingers on his face, "It's not a dream, Maya."
The stubborn side of the sprite blossomed again and she stuck her tongue out. "It is too. Jumi can't cry." She said pointedly.
"We can cry now. You changed that." Elazul argued back, his characteristic lack of patience starting to take hold once again. Gnome, bury it, but she could be stubborn!
"That's what you always say…" She countered, rolling her eyes and began ticking off a list of other things the apparent dream-Elazul had also told her. "Then you say I've saved the race. Florina won't have to waste another tear. Pearl's free to take whatever path she wants to in life. Esmeralda found her sisters. The world is saved, blah, blah, blah, and then we kiss."
"Did we now…?" He felt the color rise to his cheeks even as the smug, self-confident side of him proclaimed internally, Shade yeah, we would! Without thinking, his eyes fell to her plush pink lips.
She tilted her head to the side and gave him a look that asked, Wasn't that obvious? Although, admittedly, he'd never been this terribly shy in her dreams. "Well of course."
The Knight couldn't contain his curiosity, "…And then what?"
"Then I wake up." She finished with a small frown.
"I see." Elazul added, feeling foolish all of a sudden. He was still stunned by her admission that she dreamed of him…and they… they… kissed! Of course, he'd realized long ago that he had fallen for the golden-haired sprite but the thought that she felt the same way. But at the time he had known that telling her would push her closer to him and she was too close already. He had wanted to anyway; especially when death loomed ever closer with each lead they followed that ended with Sandra. If he did die, he reasoned, then at least she would know, but then he also argued that she could cry over it and then what would happen to Pearl or her apprentices. It had been that thought that had kept him silent. Besides, he had never been entirely sure she felt the same way. It was just a faint feeling in his core…until now… now she'd said it so simply. Was it really that easy?
"Elazul… Fa'Diel to Elazul! Hey, what's with you?"
The Jumi blinked a few times and answered with a very articulate, "Uh…?"
"Wow, this is the most awkward Dream-Elazul I've yet seen." She quipped with a grin. "Very realistic… It almost gives me hope…" Maya trailed off with a frown, her peridot eyes clouding over with sadness.
She huffed and let the feeling slide off of her with a shake of her head. Had Elazul been paying attention he might have been seen the stubborn set of her shoulders that would have warned him of her next move. Instead, he was too busy worrying over the wrinkle in her brow and the threat of tears that seemed eminent. Like many men, he was hopelessly lost when it came to women and crying. It seemed like such a terrible crime to let it happen…
But he had no chance to think any more as she closed the small distance between them. Her eyes fluttered closed. All the while she whispered, "Just let me have this dream for a little while longer, then I'll wake up. I promise…"
Her lips touched his so gently that had he not had his eyes open at the time he would not have believed she'd done it. His jaw went slack as he stared down at the sight before him. Her cheeks were flushed, her lashes thick, and her lips were soft, so soft. Her lips lingered on his upper lip and when they moved he lost his mind. One arm pulled her closer while his other hand climbed her back and into her hair to cup the back of her head as he returned her kiss.
Maya was the first to pause for air. She tilted her head against his forehead as she caught her breath. "Dreams… don't leave… you breathless." She observed belatedly.
"No, they don't and I haven't gone away, either. Now have I?" Elazul muttered wondering how the silly girl could still remain fixated on that dream nonsense. He was more interested in getting back to that kiss…
The sprite pulled away slightly to look up at him carefully, realization just beginning to dawn on her. "Elazul…? But how… why… where…?"
The Lapis Lazuli Knight could not resist the chuckle that slipped past his defenses. His hands moved to grasp hers. He rested them gently on her lap, though he did not let go of them.
"It's a long story…"
The twins woke the next day to discover something wonderful. Lights of all sorts danced in the sky in flickering waves. Lisa gave a delighted squeak and dashed for the front door. Bud followed shortly thereafter. They stood on the front porch drinking in the view when Lisa heard approaching footsteps. She turned with her biggest "welcome back" smile stretched across her features. It fell slightly when she noticed only Elazul and Pearl making their way towards them.
Elazul frowned and Pearl blushed and looked down at her fingers, causing Lisa's heart to sink even further. No… it can't be! Her mind begged, even as the Lapis Jumi approached her solemnly. Her knees gave out beneath her the moment he got close. She had seen that face before when a soldier had brought news of their father's death. Lisa didn't want to hear it.
She heard a shift in the ground near her as the Knight dropped down to one knee and sighed. It had to be bad news for sure.
"Lisa, don't be upset. Maya…"
The sound of a teleportation spell zinged in the air as the twins looked up simultaneously. There, coming up the path was the figure of their beloved teacher. Maya smiled as she struck a pose and called out.
Bud bolted for her first and clasped her waist in a tight bear hug. Lisa trotted behind, still trying to get her legs to work properly after they'd given out on her so easily. Elazul could be heard grumbling behind them.
"What I was trying to say was that Maya was supposed to be getting here ahead of you two."
Maya smiled sheepishly at him, "It took me a little longer than expected for me to figure out that teleportation spell Esmeralda taught me. Sorry guys!"
Lisa sniffed and huffed. "Master, you scared us half to death!"
The sprite shrugged and waved a hand, "Nah, I'm fine. Hey, what's for lunch?"
Bud began to babble as the twins each grabbed a hand and started to drag her inside the house. The two Jumi watched them from a distance, smiling. Maya probably wanted to spend some time with the elf twins, after all. Hair pipes tinkled in the air as the sprite turned her head to look back at her friends.
"Come on in you guys. You, too, Elazul."
Pearl didn't wait for her Knight's approval before heading in. Elazul shrugged and followed behind. "All right, all right, we're coming."