Text in bold is directly quoted from Legend of Mana. Oh, and if I hadn't said so yet I'll say it now. I don't own Legend of Mana and am not writing this fan fiction for any monetary gain.
Yeah, I know, shirking my other stories again for this one... and it's probably going to be a three-parter at that. All I can say is, I'm having a hard time right now and I'm doing the best with what I can get out. I hope you guys enjoy this chapter.
The Clarius sat upon her throne and listened intently to the latest report from her pearl Knight. She allowed a tiny smile to slip past her lips as Lady Blackpearl brought more good news to her ears. In the past several weeks since the Jumi had been revived by Maya the Bejeweled City had transformed from a ghost town to a thriving, albeit closed, community.
Maya was the only non-Jumi allowed to enter the city for the time being while the city recovered and the minds and hearts of those betrayed by humanity slowly healed. It would likely be decades before anyone else was allowed inside. Even then, some progress had been made in human-Jumi relations in the form of trade. Esmeralda's sister Marina had set up a trade system with neighboring cities with the help of the Lapis Knight and Maya. The two would travel together from city to city and barter goods from Marina's inventory between the other jewelers. Maya was the sweet talker and Elazul was the watchdog seeking out cores. Fortunately, it became readily apparent that every core had been revived, even those held outside the Bejeweled City at the time so the Knight's concerns were quickly allayed.
Florina glanced at the Lapis Knight who stood at attention near Blackpearl. It was the Clarius Knight's duty to read over the weekly reports while Lucidia like Rubens listened in alongside the lower ranked reporting Knights like Elazul. In that way the Lucidia could ask questions of both the head Knight (Lady Blackpearl) and of the reporting Knights for clarification. Afterwards, further instruction was doled out to the Knights and they were thusly sent off for the next week. Florina knew Rubens wanted to give Elazul more intelligence assignments but she had other plans. She raised a small, delicate hand as Blackpearl finished her reading to direct all Jumi attention to her before anyone else could give instruction.
"Elazul…" She called out.
The Lapis Knight blinked, looked about the room for a few seconds, then pointed to himself as if to say, "Who, me?" The Clarius almost laughed at his expression. Rubens and Diana passed each other the slightest of grins to let the other know they had seen Florina's amusement.
"I hear your sprite friend is visiting the city today. Do say hello for me, will you?"
"Ah… Y-yes, ma-am I'll do that, thank you." Elazul flushed red and rushed out the door.
The Lapis Knight dashed out the door and down the stairs to the third tier of the Bejeweled City. He knew exactly where Maya would come looking for him: The Glowing Corridor, his common haunt. It was a large, open area near his house where Pearl occasionally appeared in her white form and updated him on the latest news of the recovering city, though mostly he spoke to her to be assured of her continual safety. Elazul navigated the glittering streets somewhat inexpertly on this tier. Before he had helped save the Jumi he had never set foot in the upper tiers; now he was called upon constantly on his return visits. Still, he did occasionally get lost and he cursed his lack of direction as he meandered his way towards Sappho's Gate.
When he finally saw the proud, glittering gate in the distance he very nearly gave a whoop of joy—that is; he would have, had he not nearly run over Esmeralda's sister Scarletta. The ruby Jumi gaped at the flustered Knight as he apologized in a gruff, distracted tone and made to head through the gate. He was stopped, though, by Scarletta's hand on his arm.
"Elazul, speak with me for a moment, will you?"
The Lapis Knight glanced towards the door, then back to the red headed girl several times before answering, "Can it wait? I'm in a bit of a hurry…"
Her hold on his arm tightened slightly, drawing his full attention, "No, I don't think it should. Tell me, you've been out and about in the world… Our powers have returned to our cores… But if that is found out, people might hunt us again! You have been out amongst the humans and beast men; tell me, do you think they will?"
Elazul sighed and shook his head, "There are many kinds of people in the world, some are dangerous and some are kind. I cannot account for the future; none of us can, save the Goddess herself." He paused to take a breath before continuing, "However, I have noticed that the memory of the Jumi hunt, and hence, the desire to hunt Jumi seems to have died over the generations that passed while we were hiding. There are only a handful of creatures left who remember the wars and it seems to me that most of them simply want to be left alone. I think that, perhaps, the desire to hunt Jumi died with the humans who hunted us. Their lives were too short to outlast our hiding. Still, that is simply what I have observed, I could never say for certain, but I think that, at least for now we are safe."
Scarletta was quiet for a moment while she digested his thoughts on the matter. Finally after a long pause she said, "Maybe I'm worrying too much… may our cores always shine bright. I'm sorry to have kept you so, go on then, please."
Elazul barely had time to chime a respectful note from his core to hers before he was gone through the gate and down the steps to the next tier. He was so certain that she would be waiting for him in the Glowing Corridor that he was stunned when he bumped into the pretty blonde sprite right there at the entrance to Sappho's Gate.
Maya wore a look of concern as she spun around to see who had bumped into her. "Are you okay? Oh! Elazul, it's you!"
The Lapis Knight sat on the ground in an undignified heap as he stared up into her shining emerald eyes. A blush heated his cheeks as he scrambled to get back up into a standing position before the girl offered to help him. It would look ever so embarrassing to have seen a lady helping up a Knight, after all. He coughed and dusted himself off and pretended to look like he hadn't just made a fool of himself and for the first time noticed the blonde Jumi peering around her shoulder. Elazul jumped at the opportunity pick up a conversation to lighten the awkward atmosphere he had just created.
"Ah, Citrine, how are you today?" His core chimed a greeting to Esmeralda's second sister.
Citrine was a bubbly girl and her giggle rang out, "I'm doing great! Guess what? I was just telling Miss Maya this but, Diana said I could go outside! Maybe I should go to the Academy of Magic?"
Elazul cracked one of his rare smiles; the girl's enthusiasm was too infectious not to. "That's good to hear. I assume you will accompany your sister when she resumes her studies?"
The blonde nodded her head vigorously in response. "Yep, yep, I sure will!"
Maya's laughter was like music to his ears as the sprite replied, "Well I wish you the best of luck. I'm sure it will be a great learning experience for you." With that, the sprite caught the Lapis Knight by the elbow and gracefully moved on.
Elazul was amazed at how easily she was able to extract herself from the conversation. Normally when he talked to the girl she babbled on and he felt trapped in an endless loop of dialogue with her.
He couldn't help but ask, "How do you do that?"
"Get her to stop talking so much." He elaborated.
Maya laughed again, "Honestly, you were my ticket out of there. She'd been talking my ear off about the city since I arrived. I'd been talking to her for twenty minutes already!"
Elazul grimaced, "My apologies. I should have gotten there sooner."
Maya made the sound of a raspberry, "Pfft! Please, it's not like you're my conversation Knight. Are you going to swoop in and bail me out of droll conversations if I cry for help?"
The Jumi rolled his eyes at her. "You're too smart mouthed for your own good, you know that don't you?"
Without a beat she answered. "Well someone's got to do the talking. You'll just end up sticking your foot in your mouth like you did with Rachael."
"Oi, that's not fair!" He griped.
Maya's laughter drifted about him as he did his best to look terribly put out. Pouting, he'd found, tended to reap the benefits of a tender kiss from his beloved. His theory was once again proven sound when he received said kiss upon his cheek. Several Jumi stared in shock at the public display of affection—with a human no less—but Elazul always ignored it. To the Underworld with them! He always thought. They could never understand how incredibly wonderful the sprite truly was.
His thoughts were interrupted by a tugging on his hand. Maya was urging him onward towards the glowing corridor. "Come on, Elazul, let's go! I want to talk to everyone I possibly can today."
"As you wish…" He replied as he was pulled down the gem-laced lane towards the Glowing Corridor.
Maya hummed a little tune as she dragged him through crowds of Jumi and he was entranced by the tune of it. It sounded heartbreakingly sad when it began and yet as it moved along it seemed to brighten into a wordless song of hope.
"Maya, what song is that?"
The peridot-eyed girl paused in her singing to glance back at him. "Oh! Was I humming out loud?" Her cheeks grew rosy with color. When he nodded in the affirmative the look in her eyes became distant. "I heard it here. I still hear it here. It's the artifact's song. We sprites always hear a unique song for every city we visit."
"That song is… our city's song?" Elazul murmured; surprise evident in his voice.
Maya's tone dropped a hair lower. "The first time I was here with Pearl that song was so sad to me. I almost cried right there on the spot. This city called for the Jumi… It was so terribly lonely." The sprite sighed and shook her head to clear her thoughts, causing her hair pipes to tinkle. "Oh, but let's not talk anymore about that… where the heck is the Glowing Corridor?"
Elazul suddenly realized where they were and groaned inwardly. At some point they must have wandered right past it in a big circle because once more they were back at Sappho's Gate. Maya seemed to notice as well because she suddenly spoke, "Oops." The Knight grunted and steered her back towards their original destination.
Upon arriving back in the Glowing Corridor they met with Diana. A smile flashed briefly across the diamond Jumi's lips, though she did her best to hide it behind her usual regal persona. The sprite, however, would have none of it and rushed towards her, capturing the stunned woman in a warm embrace.
"Diana, it's great to see you! How's the restoration coming?" She queried.
"Thanks to you, we were able to recover so much. Still, there is much to do. It will take some time to rebuild everything." Diana replied.
"I understand. This place was so beautiful when I first came here and it gets even more incredible each time I return."
The diamond Jumi nodded her head. "The city is coming along nicely, however the minds of the Jumi race will take much longer to heal from the atrocities we endured. I sometimes wonder if they'll ever heal..."
The Sprite took a slow breath before she spoke, "Well, don't lose hope. Eventually things will turn around. These things take time, don't they?"
A smile, though small touched Diana's lips, "Thank you, Maya. I will never give up on the Jumi again. There is nothing sad about being from a fragile race... Perhaps I have been through too much myself?"
Elazul's disapproving grunt announced his entrance into the conversation."If we were all scattered and on our own, and you were the sole leader of us; as it once was I would have agreed. Remember, though, you're one of many and you have plenty of shoulders to lean on, should you need them."
"I understand, Lapis Knight, thank you. From this day forward, I will work so that all jewels awaken from stone." Diana's smile grew a hair larger. "By the way, I think Rubens wanted to speak with you two."
Maya tilted her head in surprise. "Did he? Well alrighty."
Elazul sighed and nudged the sprite onward towards Sappho's gate. "Come along, then, let's get going. We'll see you later, Diana."
The woman continued to smile as she waved them off.
Elazul and Maya met fewer chatty Jumi as they ascended to the Lucidia level of the Bejeweled City; although the Lapis Knight grew wearisome of the constant talking regardless of the number. His lack of desire to communicate caused the Knight to find Rubens in record time. The firey-haired Jumi stalked back and forth outside of his home, prompting Elazul to ask.
"A wry face, as usual… Is it that tough to be one of the Lucidia?"
Rubens turned frowned at the Knight. "Yeah… We must protect the city and bring our friends together…"
Elazul shook his head and raised his hands in a sign which Maya recognized as a signal for his friend to relax, "Just don't overdo it, like Diana. Don't forget you have us, too."
Maya bobbed her head in ready agreement.
Rubens smirked, "Alright… I'll remember that."
Elazul made to leave but the sprite hesitated as she recalled something.
"Oh, hey Rubens, Diana said you wanted to speak with me?"
The fire-haired man blinked and scratched the back of his neck. If she didn't know better she thought the normally stoic and expressionless man seemed, well, embarassed. "Ah, yes. I've had something I wanted to tell you. As strange as it sounds, it's a feeling from my core, and we Lucidia are not the kind to ignore these things."
Maya turned towards him, intent on giving him her complete attention. "What is it?"
The ruby Jumi hesitantly pressed on "Maya, I sense sparkle from you… I sense a warm, strong light… That strength is what saved the Jumi. Do not lose it, that sparkle…"
Elazul watched as Maya blinked, confusion evident in her features for a moment, then the look dissolved into an expression that almost looked like understanding. She flashed him a pretty smile and reached out to pat his shoulder. "I'll do my best, Rubens."
The Ruby Knight grunted and brushed off her hand, his demeanor instantly sliding back into stoicism. "Hmph! Whatever. Get a move-on, you two, I've got things to do."
"All right, we'll leave you be." Maya laughed and reached over to clasp Elazul's wrist. She tugged gently on the confused Lapis Knight until he moved with her. "Let's go, Elazul, I wanna go see Florina before we leave anyway."
The swordsman sputtered but followed regardless, "You cannot go barging into the Clarius's chambers like you own it! The Clarius is a busy woman!"
"Oh, quit acting like an old stick in the mud!" Maya chided, "Florina can spare a few seconds."
The sprite continued to ignore her companion's protests all the way to the fourth floor. As they made their way up the bejeweled steps to the massive, ornate door to the Throne of the Clarius the two heard a faint hiss and click. Maya's heart nearly stopped at the noise and her companion's blue eyes darted about, seeking the source of the sound. Maya approached the small metal card impaled in the ground before them. As she picked the offending object up Elazul approached her slowly from behind, his hand hovering on the hilt. One glance at the flowery handwriting told him everything he needed to know.
"This means...!" He hissed, unable to finish the the sentence aloud.
Maya nodded and read Sandra's note aloud: "Take care of Florina for me!"
"So she was revived, too..." Elazul murmured, his hand rested gently on her shoulder.
"Should we tell someone?" The sprite asked, her stomach flip-flopping at the thought.
The Lapis Knight pursed his lips together for a moment in thought, then shook his head. "No. Now that the Jumi have been revived and the mana has been restored to our cores she has no need to hunt. Sandra the jewel hunter was thinking of the Jumi in her own way. Perhaps now that the jewel hunter is no longer needed she might be able to live out her life as Alexandra, once more... She has a second chance now. I think she knows that. We'll talk to Florina about it anyway; just to be safe."
"Right." Maya replied.
Thus, the Sprite and the Knight climbed the remaining stairs and entered the Throne of the Clarius. Maya's eyes immediately found the central figure in the room. Florina was perched on her seat above them all and looked nothing like the sickly, pale, and frail woman Maya had first met trapped in the jewelry box. Instead, the Clarius had a rosy tint to her cheeks, her completely healed core sparkled brightly, and the terrible cough she had long-suffered with was gone. Upon seeing the the Sprite and the Knight Florina flashed a faint, but joyful and waved them in. Elazul was quick to notice Blackpearl standing nearby; acting as the rightful Knight of the Clarius. The Lazuli Knight nodded his head respectfully to the Clarius and then her Knight in turn.
Elazul came right to the point, "Clarius Florina, we've discovered a note that appears to be written by Sandra."
Maya could see Florina's face flicker with a myriad of emotions and recognized confusion, relief, and sadness before it smoothed out again into a more neutral expression. "So then we can take this to mean Alexandra has been revived as well?"
"Yes, I believe so." Elazul agreed, then added. "The note asked that we take care of you. I think it was meant for Maya to give to Blackpearl."
Blackpearl strode forward and snatched the note from Maya's fingers. As her eyes skimmed the flowery lettering she mumbled, "Why did she not simply give me the note herself?"
"Hmph!" Maya snorted in an disturbingly Elazul-like way. "'Prolly because you would've attacked her."
Blackpearl scowled in apparent confusion at the blonde sprite. Florina made a sound that almost appeared to be a stifled giggle. "Maya does have a point Lady Blackpearl."
The hammer wielder continued to frown; which she now directed towards the Clarius. "Shall I hunt her down?"
Florina shook her head, her pale purplish-silver bangs shifting ever so slightly on her brow. "No, Lady Blackpearl. That will not be necessary."
"We shouldn't worry about Sandra. Her reason for taking the cores ended when the sparkle was returned to Florina's."Elazul concurred.
"I was thinking... No one in the city seems to know Sandra the jewel thief and Alexandra the Jumi Knight are one in the same. She really could return whenever she wanted, couldn't she?" Maya turned her querying green eyes on her Jumi companions.
"Yes, perhaps. But I think she has created for herself some sort of self-imposed exile." Florina added, then frowned. Her fingers worried the silken green folds of her dress. "Do you... You don't think she would do something worse to herself?"
Elazul and Blackpearl both shook their heads simultaneously, though the Lapis Knight was the one to allay her fears. "As long as you are here and she has need to watch over, and protect you, I think she will continue to do so-albeit from a distance. She'll be alright."
"You are right. I'm sure that she'll return to us someday, too. Thank you for that." For a moment, Florina looked lost in some past fond memory but she quickly shook her head and refocused. "Oh, but I've nearly forgotten, I called the two of you up here for a reason. Elazul, Blackpearl would like to speak with you for a moment."
Elazul blanched slightly, he had never gotten along terribly well with the darker half of Pearl's personality but as a Knight he had no choice but to obey a request when it was issued. Quickly composing himself he followed Blackpearl's retreating form; having wordlessly moved away with the obvious unspoken assumption that he should follow. Maya moved to follow but the hammer-wielding knight threw back over her shoulder.
"Do not follow us, Sprite. This is a discussion meant only for we Jumi."
The girl did as she was told and shot a confused glance at her male companion. Unfortunately, he looked just as lost as she and could only shoot her an apologetic look before disappearing into an adjacent room.
"What is it?" Elazul asked as soon as they were alone, irritation growing in his voice with every passing second. His precious time with the Sprite was wasted with every moment they were apart.
Blackpearl rolled her eyes at the impertinent question, but otherwise ignored it. "Have you felt different lately? From your core?"
"I...well, yes, I have, actually." The knight's stomach began to twist in a decidedly uncomfortable manner. For a while now, since their cores had been restored, he'd been feeling a distinct sense of ill-ease from his core. The mana that flowed through it carried a dull ache with it that he suspected did not belong to his soul. It was as if the mana itself was hurting.
"I think there is something wrong with our mana... everyone's mana..." Blackpearl continued, "You feel it, too, don't you?"
The knot in his stomach turned cold. "Then what should we do?"
"I think we should send a party to investigate the Tree of Mana. It is the source of our mana, after all." The dark knight fiddled with the pommel of her hammer, absently.
"Can we get up close to the tree? I thought it was impossible without the use of a..." That was when everything went cold. "Oh, no..."
Blackpearl finished his sentence for him. "...Without the use of a Sprite, yes."
Elazul balled his hands into fists. He wasn't quite sure why it alarmed him so much that Maya might be involved with the Tree of Mana. Yet, he could not get over the intense feeling that he could lose her to it. Was his core trying to tell him something?
"I should... I should go talk to her then." The lapis knight managed to get out.
"No. Maya should go to the Tree of her own will. It will not open for her until she is ready." The dark warrior shook her ash blonde locks in the negative.
"Then, why tell me?" Elazul was perplexed and worried, he certainly disliked either of those two emotions. He would have preferred to be left in the dark, yet somehow, his core murmured to him that he had held this feeling all along; and it was not news at all.
"Because, Elazul, you are her knight. You should be there when she is called." Her lavender orbs stared back at him pointedly. As if it should be so obvious.
Heat climbed into his cheeks, unbidden as he babbled frantically. "I-I am not her knight! I can't be. I'm-"
"-Yours?" Blackpearl interrupted. "Hardly. I have no need for a knight anymore. I am a knight. Pearl agrees. Besides, your core has already decided this for yourself and you know it. The Clarius has already approved your selection."
Elazul looked very much like a fish out of water at that moment. He opened and closed his mouth several times. Words rushed through his mind yet none of them were spoken. What amazed him most was that, behind the massive amount of shock, he was happy with the decision.
Blackpearl scowled at his foolishness, already bored of his antics. "Go on then, Lapis Lazuli Knight, go be with your Sprite. I grow tired of watching you gape."
With that, the Pearl Knight turned from him and stalked back out the doors they had originally come through to resume her position beside the Clarius throne. Elazul stumbled out a few moments later, still wearing a look of total shock and confusion.
When Maya saw her friend and his expression she rushed over to him. Concern evident on her features. She shot a questioning glance at Blackpearl when her queries as to what was wrong went unanswered but the stoic knight simply replied.
"He's all yours, Maya. Good luck."