Author's Note: Just an exploration of theories regarding my beloved Mana series, really. Contains some original characters and blends my favorite Legend of Mana with the rest of the Seiken Densetsu series.
A Shaman's Tale
I can provide you with everything!
I am love.
Find me and walk beside me.
Rundle's hazel eyes fluttered open, lazily sweeping the homely room, which was freshly lit by the rays of the dawn streaming in through the lattice. He turned over in the Topple sheets, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "That voice..." he muttered. "Who was she?" Pushing off the Oak nook with his legs, he swung his feet down to the floor, running a hand through the wavy brown strands that framed his young face.
He listened to the bustling activity already filling the streets just outside the inn for just a moment, half in a daze. Suddenly, however, he seemed to realize something of importance and sprung to his bare feet, lunging for the door. If he could just make it before...
"Rundle!" a woman shouted, rapping firmly on the notched door.
The boy froze, his mana falling sharply. Listlessly, he crept to the door and swung it open; careful not to bash the irate woman he knew to be standing on the other side. She regarded him with a scowl, though a familiar kind gleam shone through in her caramel eyes.
"Hello, Meimei," Rundle said with a nervous smile.
"Such a grin!" Meimei scoffed blowing a cloud of smoke out of her mouth. She wore a lavender dress that stretched down to her ankles but hung so low on her breasts that half the time Rundle wondered how it managed to stay on. "Do you realize what time it is?" she continued. "I pay you and all I ask is you go and gather the produce I need for the day. In order to show the future, fruit has to be fresh you know."
"I know, I know," Rundle muttered half heartedly.
"Hey..." Meimei said, concern evident in her voice as she gently traced his cheek with a delicate finger, bringing his eyes back up from the floor. "How about we go into the market and find some breakfast?" she asked with a smile.
Rundle nodded, pulling on his boots and joining the woman out the door, closing it behind them as they descended the stairs.
"Hey, Meimei!" a cheerful voice called out as they rounded the banister. "That Rundle sleeping all day again? That won't pay the bill your bills," she teased.
"Afraid so, Miss Yuuka," Meimei greeted the plump creature in turn. "How has Pewee been?"
"Just the other day, I bought an elixir for the poor dear from a merchant passing through," Yuuka replied. "He said he was a member of the Guild, traveled here all the way through Luon. Cost a bit to be sure, but it certainly was lucky to meet such a charming fellow. I think little Pewee is looking much better, don't you?"
An exasperated sneer escaped Moti's dark lips at the counter.
Meimei's eyes narrowed as she regarded the inn keeper carefully. "Was this traveling merchant named Niccolo by any chance?" she asked.
"Why yes! That was the fellow's name," Yuuka exclaimed. "Do you know him?"
Meimei sighed, looking over at Moti, who merely averted his eyes and pretended to adjust his turban. "Miss Yuuka..." she began, her voice trailing off. "Not to ruffle your feathers, but I would stay clear of that Neko if I were you. They say he's quite the unscrupulous swindler."
Yuuka looked down to the floor, shuffling awkwardly as a pout came over her face.
Nodding to Moti, Meimei turned to leave but suddenly realized Rundle had left her side.
"Rundle!" she shouted in exasperation, dashing out after him.
In the market place where Meimei normally practiced her divination, Rundle was eagerly devouring some Bellgrapes he had bought, wandering around the dusty streets lost in thought.
"I thought my purse felt a bit lighter," Meimei muttered accusingly, emerging from behind the young man. Her gaze fell on the vacant corner where she would normally be hard at work interpreting the signs in the fruits. "Well, now I have the day off I suppose. Ah well. So tell me what made you sleep so late?" the fortune teller inquired absently.
"I was...dreaming," Rundle managed.
"About what?" Meimei pressed.
"There was this woman calling out to me," Rundle replied.
"Thinking of your mother, again?" Meimei said knowingly.
Rundle paused, taken aback. "No, it wasn't my mother. She was...different," the boy managed.
"Oh? Is that so... Well you are growing into a young man. It's only natural," Meimei mused suggestively, yawning.
"I suppose so," Rundle agreed, if only to end the conversation. "Listen, if you won't be needing anything, I think I'll go for a walk through Luon. I could use the fresh air. While I'm there, I'll see what I can gather for you to use tomorrow."
"Fine by me," the fortune teller said with a wave of her hand. "But don't start dreaming again and fall into a ravine or something. That place can be treacherous."
With that, the young boy left Meimei and headed for the outskirts of town. After a brisk walk, the lush, rolling hills of Domina gave way to rocky cliffs and thorny brush. Rundle took a deep breath of the musty air and, espying a nearby spot which looked perfect for a quiet sit, took his arms to the jutting rocks and stretched his feet out in search of footholds. It did not look far, only a short climb up.
Just as he thought, Rundle was pulling himself up in no time, surveying the rocky slopes and dry foliage below. The wind began to whip at him, throwing his brown strands to the side.
"I wonder if I shouldn't hire myself out to merchant... At least I would get to travel and see some interesting places. Around Domina it's just the same old stuff." As he was about to take a seat against the withered trunk of a dying tree, he misplaced his foot and began sliding down the slope. He threw back his arm to catch hold of a hanging root but couldn't grab hold. Loose stones and jagged rocks cut into his arms and his hair was quickly matted with dirt. Finally the slope cast him down onto a path of sorts below. Amidst a family of dry brambles. He cried out in pain as his leg met the ground, bent at its awkward angle.
As he sat up, dazed but alive, he regarded his leg suspiciously, unable to move it for some reason. And it stung like fire.
Using his arms and other leg, he rolled himself out of the thorns, dragging his tattered form across the ground and into the waning light. This wasn't good at all. Vicious beasts of all sorts were known to come out in the darkness of the night, making it unsafe to stay out during those times unless accompanied by trustworthy armed companions. Not to mention the bandits that were rumored to make camp somewhere among these cliffs.
As he kicked himself inwardly for failing to heed Meimei's warning, he caught sight of a vicious stinger flying towards him, its poison reservoir no doubt ready to fill him with a single strike. The boy's eyes widened and he thrashed about on the ground wildly, beginning to panic. "No! Stay away from me!" Rundle shouted as the creature neared him, the rapid movement of its wings filling his ears with a nauseating buzz.
"Gnome, Spirit of Earth, as one chosen by the Mana Goddess, lend me your crushing might and ground this unfortunate creature!" a rich, tranquil voice uttered, the words echoing throughout the canyon as they were carried by the wind.
Suddenly Rundle thought he perceived a small, stocky woman with wild, coarse hair appear in the cliff face followed by two smooth stones breaking off from the ridge above and tumbling down to the ravine below. They landed perfectly atop the stinger's clear wings, pinning it to the ground. It let out a shriek as it tried to use its limbs to claw its way out from under their weight, but to no avail.
Rundle's mouth hung agape in awe of the strange manner of his salvation. Turning his head, he saw a man striding over to him. He was tall and rugged, with wild red hair that fell to his shoulders beneath a faded wide brimmed hat that a family of aerials actually appeared to be nesting in. He was clad in odds and ends that appeared to be strewn together from the wild and he smelled strongly of smoke as if he had been imbibing from a pipe. Perhaps most remarkable of all, in his aged hand he gripped a gnarled, wooden staff from which still sprouted an assortment of flourishing leaves and flowers.
Walking forward carefully, the strange man knelt down to the side of the insect, his hands passing carefully over its leathery shell. He appeared to be whispering something into its antenna, his mouth making a series of unintelligible shapes and clicking noises.
"Hey, what are you doing?" Rundle demanded, propping his back up against an over cropping stone. "Its sting is poisonous-" but his words were cut off with a sharp wave of the man's hand.
Carefully drawing forth a brightly shining lump from his pouch, he gripped it firmly in one hand, whilst placing the other on the creature's forehead. The substance seemed to glow faintly and then suddenly the man gently removed the stones weighing down the creature's wings and stood to his boots. Likewise the stinger fluttered into the air, swirling around them eagerly.
Rundle suddenly noticed how beautiful its soft green skin was, speckled with flakes of gold. Shocked to witness such a vicious creature become docile, however, the boy rattled off, "You saved me. How did you do that? Who are you?"
The man turned his attention back to Rundle, who thought to himself how kindly his gaze looked. "That fall down the slope has certainly taken its toll on your leg there," he muttered, stooping down and placing his palms against the injured limb and Rundle was surprised by how warm the tips of his fingers felt. "I am simply called Roland, by the way, and merely happened to be passing through."
"My name is Rundle," the young man explained, his eyes darting around, wary of the encroaching darkness.
"A pleasure to meet you, although more pleasant circumstances would of course be preferred," Roland replied wryly. "Now if you could please keep quiet for just a moment, I will attend to your leg."
"Are you going to use that crystal thing?" Rundle asked excitedly.
Roland shook his head. "No, I am going to pray actually. So please, close your eyes with me."
Rundle look puzzled, furrowing his brow skeptically, but he nevertheless obeyed.
Taking a deep breath, Roland outstretched his hands upon the boy's broken leg and closed his eyes. "I beseech you beloved Mana Goddess, provider and sustainer of all through your holy Song, hear my prayer," he intoned, his voice inflecting sharply with emotion. "You are the Mother of all the living, and from your lofty imagination come all who tread upon your ground. Aid me now then and grant me your healing power so that this boy may walk again. Let your glory be now displayed so that no doubt may remain."
Inexplicably, Rundle suddenly felt a surge of warmth flowing from Roland's hands into the skin, muscles and even bones of his leg. All pain left him and he felt it growing firm once more, his strength returning. He bolted upright in utter astonishment, standing to his feet once more as if nothing had happened. He turned toward Roland in shock, his eyes wide. "This is... this is...incredible!" the boy exclaimed, struggling with the words. "How can you do all this?"
"I am but a shaman," Roland replied. "The power you feel is that which the Mana Goddess has seen fit to give in her abounding love. Be well and give thanks to the Goddess."
"I do. I give thanks!" Rundle repeated vigorously, looking up toward the emerging stars.
"Tell me friend, where are you from?" Roland asked suddenly.
"Domina," Rundle replied, his eyes straining to pierce the long shadows that had fallen over Luon with the advent of night.
"The hour is late and night is upon us," Roland muttered. "It would be best to take shelter here for the night rather than attempt the journey back to your town," he added, pointing a finger to some nearby caves.
"But there are...worse things down there," Rundle protested.
Roland smiled. "Don't worry, we shall stay near the cave entrance and keep a fire going. Nothing will trouble us tonight, you'll see," he assured him, heading off toward the caves, leaning his body upon his staff. "Bring that log over there along with you. Do you think you can lift it?"
"No problem," Rundle assured him, struggling to heft the beam along. Managing to drag it into the mouth of the cave after him, he eagerly let it fall to the ground and took a seat.
"Watch out," Roland urged as he hefted his leafy walking staff into the air and struck the log hard. Incredibly, the staff appeared unscathed while the log was split apart. Raising it once more, he brought it down upon the remainder of the log a few more times, each splitting it into more pieces. Taking several deep breaths and wiping the sweat from his forehead, he dug out a hearth of earth and arranged the pieces of wood into a neat pile inside.
"How can a wooden staff split logs?" Rundle asked in disbelief.
"This log appears to be common Holly, but this staff is not from just any tree. Tis from the legendary White Forest of Dior. It is rich in mana but hard as Dragon Scales," Roland explained. "You will not find such material for sale anywhere in Fa'Diel, for many who go in search of it merely find themselves lost in other, less noble, woods, and they leave convinced the place is but a myth." Setting the staff upon the dry stone floor, the man crossed his legs and took a seat before the hearth he had fashioned. "Please excuse me for a moment," he added, drawing forth a grimy vial from his pouch. Carefully pulling it open, he dumped its streaming contents atop the logs, setting them afire. "Salamander, Spirit of Fire, as one chosen by the Mana Goddess, accept the sacrifice of this wood and give us your warmth throughout the night."
Within the flickering, dancing flames, Rundle thought he perceived a woman with blazing hair appear. "Who is that?" Rundle asked, pointing towards the fire.
"You can see her?" Roland asked, impressed. "She is Salamander, the Spirit of Fire, one of the Elementals who was born from the Goddess before the creation of the world. She has charge of fire and displays the Goddess' volatility, fierceness, and all consuming power. It is said only those with strong hearts can perceive the Elementals."
Rundle grinned, entranced by the Spirit's fiery dance. "You're a mage, aren't you?" the boy demanded excitedly. "I've heard stories of the powers of mages and how spirits obey them."
Roland grimaced. "No. As I told you, I am shaman," he countered. "Mages charm the Spirits through special music played from carefully crafted instruments, enticing them away from the Song of the Goddess and coercing them to perform some alteration of the land according to the mage's will. They worship none but themselves and in their arrogance, they have wrought much misfortune upon the Goddess' other children."
"What do you mean?" Rundle asked, sliding closer and stretching his hands out over the fire.
"Remember the stinger?" Roland asked, clearing his throat. "None of the Goddess' creations roamed the land like monsters in the ancient days. Like they do now. In their foolishness and ambition, people of the races stripped parts of the land bare, wasting it on their petty technology for no better reason then profit and power. The mages sought to enslave the Elementals to their will and waged war upon each other in their dispute, destroying the harmony of the land. But worst of all are the despicable blood sorcerers. They stole mana from the creatures that needed it, killing them in the process and even made abominations of wood, stone and metal to terrorize the land in their thirst for conquest. Their practices disrupt and divert the flow of mana throughout the land, creating shortages. When once peaceful creatures are starved of mana, they become savage monsters and lose their minds, roaming the land and devouring other beings simply to absorb their mana. As a shaman, I have been charged with restoring the flow of mana and protecting it from those who would seek to exploit it."
"Where does mana...you know...come from?" Rundle asked awkwardly.
Roland look at the boy in surprise. "Have you not been taught?" he asked.
Rundle looked down, feeling slightly ashamed. "I'm an orphan and in Domina all I hear are the voices of the merchants haggling over a sale," he replied. "Of course, there was Nouvelle who tended a shrine to the Goddess up on the hill, but now he's gone and the shrine is always empty."
Roland nodded. "I know Nouvelle. He is faithful, though a bit strict in his views. Some of us tend shrines in populated settlements, protecting the flow of mana there while others like myself are called to wander the land and restore it abroad. It seems Nouvelle has been called away to the wild. You see, all living things are imbued with mana. Indeed they owe their very life and essence to its energy. Breathed out by the Goddess, it flows through the world, pooling in places flourishing with life. She gives of her mana to us prior to birth, in differing amounts according to the needs of our racial longevity, and we draw upon it to live out our lives. But it is only borrowed, and afterwards she draws it back to herself, taking with it the memories of the beings which it had filled and reuniting them with herself in bliss. This mana is then breathed out once more, continuing the cycle. Mana is the Goddess. It is her incarnate presence in the world, though she also exists outside of the world. She is everywhere."
Rundle stared at the shaman blankly, feeling his eyes grow heavy as the night stretched on.
Roland smiled. "Imagine it like this: mana is a web that connects all living things. The more strands which attach to a particular entity, the more strongly they can perceive changes within its flow. And likewise, the more powerfully they can in turn exert their influence upon it. But make no mistake, mana is also a person. Someone you can talk to and know."
"Alright," Rundle replied, nodding his head. "Hey, I heard there is a great temple all the way up in Gato," he added. "Are they like you?"
"No, I'm afraid not," Roland replied. "Their Temple of Healing was built to honor Wisp, Sylph and Salamander, the Spirits of Light, Air and Fire, not the Goddess herself."
"Why would they worship the Elementals instead of the Goddess?" Rundle asked in confusion.
"Hahahahaha," Roland laughed heartily, his cheeks turning a rosy flush and his eyes twinkling. "I have asked them that very same question. In truth, most of their congregants are simply following the tradition of their ancestors. Their region is affected most by wind, fire and light, and so they pray to receive their blessing upon the land. But their priests, knights and nuns often have formal pacts with one or more allied Spirits, promising generational servitude in exchange for the ability to invoke their power. They exhibit extraordinary abilities of mind and body in accordance with the nature of their patron Spirit and are granted favor that neither the mages nor shamans could ever procure."
"But why would the Elementals themselves do that? Don't they also serve the Goddess?" Rundle pressed.
"Another good question," Roland quipped, taking out a Judd pouch and offering the boy a drink. Rundle eagerly took it to his lips, guzzling down the cool, refreshing liquid inside.
"I'm hungry," Rundle complained, handing the pouch back to Roland.
"You're right," Roland agreed, pulling up a large sack from his side. "Here. There's an assortment of freshly picked produce inside. Let us pray first."
"Alright," Rundle said, closing his eyes tightly.
"Mana Goddess, as your children, created according to your exceeding wisdom, we must drink your blue water and eat your green skin," the shaman uttered solemnly. "We are all fed by your generous stores and for this we give thanks. We pray that our feet will always kiss your face and our steps match the beating of your heart. Carry our bodies through time, for you are our salvation from the emptiness of the Void. Let not malice corrupt out hearts nor taint the mana which you have given to us and thereby hinder us from returning to you and force us to wander the land as specters."
With that, Roland opened drew the string and opened the sack handed it to the boy, who eagerly sank his teeth into a plump Apricat, its sweet juice running down his chin. "So...go on about the Elementals," Rundle urged, despite his mouthful.
"Well," Roland replied, peeling off the skin of a Springana and chewing the unwieldy fruit bit by bit. "Because each one is only a partial emanation of the Mana Goddess, and thus only able to understand a small part of her, they all foolishly desire to release their element upon the world, supreme and unrestrained, regardless of the physical consequences to Her children. For example, imagine what the world would be like if it were covered in perpetual darkness. Or so bright you went blind for that matter. Or if everything was constantly swirling around through the air. But in their primordial war, they have sought out scores of followers among the races, organized into various opposing temples, shrines or cults, whom they make pacts with to grant their tremendous natural powers in exchange for generational service, usually involving assuming qualities amicable to that element, stamping out the followers of an opposing spirit, and tending places favored by that element so that they flourish."
"Why do they come when you summon them then?" Rundle asked.
"It is not without grudge, I assure you," Roland replied. "But as a shaman chosen by the Goddess, I am responsible for them just as I am for all of her other children. I aid them when they are in need and protect their regions from harm. In truth, they would love me if I did not treat them all equally, for some of them cannot stand each other. If they are around, they will come when I call, but they will exert only the tiniest effort on my behalf."
"I had no idea any of this was going on," Rundle mused incredulously. "Domina is so boring."
"Tell me, Rundle," Roland began slowly. "What were you doing in such a remote place to begin with."
Rundle fell silent, feeling as if he had no answers that would make sense. "I...had a dream," he began with difficulty. "A voice in my head. A woman I think. Her voice was...beautiful. She told me to...'find her and walk beside her.'"
"I see," the shaman replied, nodding as he had just realized something. "It was not mere chance that brought us together."
"What do you mean?" Rundle inquired, suddenly confused.
"It seems the Goddess is calling you to learn the ways of nature and become a shaman yourself. Tis a rare and trying calling. She has chosen you to be an instrument of healing upon the land. And it seems, I am to train you," Roland explained dryly.
"It can't be!" Rundle exclaimed in disbelief. "Me, a shaman?"
"It is not something to enter into lightly," Roland cautioned the excited boy. "You will be hated by many for your staunch defense of the land. Sometimes even attacked by mages or spiritists. And hunted by the blood sorcerers."
"It sounds exciting though!" Rundle exclaimed with a wide grin.
"I think it is time for you to go to sleep, Rundle," Roland looking shuffling the logs in the fire. "It has gotten fairly late. We can talk more tomorrow. I must commune with the Goddess and inquire about you."
"Aww, alright," Rundle replied, sinking down to his back and turning over.
"Here," Roland said, tossing his mantle to the boy. "Lay your head upon this."
As the aging shaman watched the young boy lay there, he began to whisper. "Shade, Spirit of Darkness, as one chosen by the Mana Goddess, cast your shadow over this boy's eyes so that sleep comes swiftly to him."
Rundle quickly dozed off to sleep, lulled by the flickering flames. Roland regarded him carefully as he drew forth a long, smooth pipe from his cloak, made from the abandoned shell of some creature, beautifully colored and shaped. Dumping a few clumps of some kind of flowering top into the pipe, he scooped a burning spark from the fire into the mixture, setting it alight and filling the cave with its sweetly acrid scent, while he poured water from his pouch into the bowl curving on the bottom.
Taking the tip into his mouth, he inhaled deeply, blinking his eyes rapidly. His gaze was focused on the flame, but the periphery of his vision began to sparkle and oscillate with beams of light. And sweet, powerful music began to swell in his ears, the sweetest sound he had ever heard. The more he inhaled, the more profound and intense the sound became, until his mind was swarming with noise and light. He saw the streams of brilliantly shining liquid flowing all around him. Touching down upon, extending out from him in beams of bluish green light. He shook his head, unsatisfied and inhaled once more. His surroundings began to fade away as if they were nothing but mist, replaced by a blasting warmth. Roland laid back and felt a familiar terror grip him as he lost all sense of place and almost individuality. An intricate, dancing pattern of enormous branches and leaves began to fill his eyes, growing and flourishing. It was the Pureland. Suddenly the tree ripped open and he was sucked inside the void. He imagined reaching out and a woman took his hand into hers and kissed it soothingly. She was there. She would protect him.
"My Goddess," Roland muttered.
My beloved servant Roland... How are you my child? My lover. Her sweet, seductive voice was like a waterfall of musical notes cascading down on him.
Roland sighed in relief, almost beginning to laugh uncontrollably. He began rocking back and forward, undulating with this intoxicating reality.
"It is about this boy, Rundle," Roland heard himself speak. "Are you calling him to become one of your shamans? Am I to teach him your ways?"
I have chosen him. Very soon you will return to me and we shall be one. But you must teach him my ways and introduce him to my spirit.
Roland's eyes widened, his lip quivering. He bowed his head low, but felt delicate fingers, their nails like glass, gently lifting his chin. He was enveloped in a warm, all consuming embrace as arms enfolded around his back and bountiful breasts pressed against him. Kaleidoscopic eyes in which the entirety of Fa'Diel were contained reflected back into his. His body went rigid and still as he felt her lips press against his, enveloping his mouth with the taste of every kind of succulent fruit. He breathed her in deeply, closing his eyes in reverence.
Remember my love. I am with you always. Split wood I am there. Lift a stone and you will find me there.
And with that she disappeared, seeming to melt into him as the Pureland faded away and the cave returned dimly.
Roland exhaled deeply, dumping the ashes from his glassy pipe into the fire and returning it to his belt. He laid back, breathing heavily as he positioned his head just outside of the cave to stare into the stars glittering in the night sky, beams of light that had become frozen high in the air. The man smiled and closed his eyes as sleep took him.
fin (for now)