Legend of the Jumi: Part III, Chapter 3 (Pearl Version)
by The Mana Priestess

PART III: PEARL (Pearl Version)

Dedicated to StarDragon. ;)

Chapter 3: Earth Painting: Glowing Blossoms

      The month of May burst into scent and flower with intense verve and hue. The earth painted herself like a vain woman, girdling herself with multitude of sunny blossoms; and she danced with the soft yellow of buttercups embroidering the green meadows of her dress, the starry brightness of daisies shining in her eyes, the blood-red poppies staining her lips, and the dark, fiery orange of sky-reaching sunflowers ornamenting her head, boasting her beauty to the blue, watchful sky.
      The figure of a young woman, twenty-five years of age or so, stood inside this warm splash of color, her bright eyes watching the azure flame of the skies over-arching the valley. She stood very quietly, as if she was lost in a momentary meditation, and the soft breeze played with the gold-trimmed edges of her knee-high, green dress. Her gloved hand clenched momentarily, as if she was deliberating upon something; a decision, perhaps, that she was unsure of. But then her fingers relaxed and a faint smile played about her red mouth, as if she was reminiscing upon something that she found particularly pleasing or particularly amusing. She passed her hand over her hair, smoothing it into place, fixing the shortish chestnut strands around her cheeks in a careless gesture. Finally, she spoke.
      "I am sorry, Elazul," she said. "I would like to see you again, but I have my own purposes to think of; and I cannot have you intruding into them with your incessant questioning, your intrusive evaluations and criticism; intrusive because they almost always ring true, and make me too aware of what I don't like looking at in myself. They tell me that you found peace at last. Let me do you this small favor, then, in repayment for all the trouble that I caused you. Let me not disturb your repose for a little while more."
       She turned her head and something flashed into her vision, like a calling sign, a summon; the orange fire of a cluster of flowers growing near the side of the road. Then she laughed, a merry sound that flowed through the hot spring air.
      "You are vain, little flowers," she said. "As vain as I! You shall be a fitting trademark for me, pretty ones."
      She bent and plucked two particularly large and glowing blossoms, and trimmed them of their broad, silky leaves. Then she pinned the blossoms in her hair, one over each ear, securing them into the thin tiara encircling her head.
      "There," she said, straightening. "We're all set now for our next conquest."
      She cast a final, fleeting look towards the dark form of the town nestled inside the green valley.
      "And when we meet again, Elazul," she said, "beware of the troublesome Sandra!"

      The sun sunk a little in the thick blue skies as afternoon approached, and the town was hushed a little, perhaps because the heat became oppressive and suffocating that moment in the middle of May. It was a day that smelled of the oncoming summer, hot and heavy and sleepy, a day that made everyone's blood flow a little slower, turned even the most practical of people into lethargic, silent dreamers.
      The thin figure of a man was sitting inside a small, shaded bar, hunched in the deeper shadows in the corner, perhaps to escape the burning heat. The man was slightly bent over his drink, the hood of his white cloak pulled over his head. Though his bony fingers were clutched around his tall glass, he rarely seemed to partake of the drink; from inside the shadows of his hood, strangely pale eyes watched the ongoing in the bar.
      There were few other customers in the bar that day; the only others besides the white-cloaked man being four men who had been drinking steadily for some time, in an apparent comradie. The barkeeper, a middle-aged man, stood at the counter arranging his bottles. He glanced at his customers occasionally with seeming disapproval, but did not address them directly, and upon their request for another bottle he obeyed, setting it on the table silently and immediately returning to his occupation behind the counter.
      The drinks were apparently beginning to have an effect on the men, and they spoke louder now, in what seemed a budding argument.
      "I'm telling you," said one, slapping his palm down on the table, "that it WAS her. It was Sandra, I say. Green dress and orange flowers in her hair and everything. So don't you suggest that I was drunk at the time."
      His heated declaration was greeted with jeering contradiction.
      "I'm sure."
      "Don't make me laugh."
      "Yeah. Few people actually seen the sly little bitch, you know."
      "Though many claim they did, of course."
      The man, turning red, gestured towards the bartender.
      "He'll affirm it, I say!" he said, his voice becoming louder. "He saw her once. Didn't you, bartender? You saw Sandra, the jewel-thief, two weeks ago around the town."
      The barkeeper glanced over his shoulder, pausing for a moment in his arrangement of the glasses on the shelves; but any reply that he might have prepared was cut off by the door pushing open.
      The newly-arrived customer was an uncommonly handsome young man with dark hair. He was clad in what seemed to be his work clothes, plain grey and stained with sooty marks of fireside labor; and though he cleaned his face and hands, he was obviously coming directly from his work. The four men at the table paused in their conversation and watched him as he walked towards the counter, with what seemed to be an unfriendly silence. Deprived of their argument for a moment, they proceeded to drain the bottle given to them by the bartender. The figure at the corner table watched the young man as well.
      The young man paid no attention to any of them. He reached the counter and, addressing the bartender, requested two bottles of beer.
      The barkeeper regarded the young man with an expression far friendlier than he showed any of his present customers. "Nothing for you?" he asked good-humorously.
      The young man responded with a slight smile. "No, thank you. My employer sent me on a a little mission, a break from work, so to speak."
      The bartender nodded. "I already know the type that he particularly likes. Hold on; I'll fetch it from the cellar."
      There was a short silence after the bartender departed through a side-door. Then one of the four men at the table spoke. "Hey, I know why you looked familiar. It's the new smithy-boy."
      "Of course it is," another man said, a smile, not particularly pleasant, curling his mouth. "Didn't you recognize the pretty face of the new smithy's boy?"
      The young man glanced over his shoulder briefly, but he said nothing in response, and the gaze he flickered towards the men was uninterested.
      "Nothing for the smithy's boy, I see," said another man.
      The men, as in agreement, now joined the parade of taunts.
      "The smithy's boy doesn't drink."
      "Too good for drinking, or not man enough?"
      "With that pretty face of his, I'm surprised his father didn't think that he was a girl."
      "He must have, and so he forbade him to drink."
      The young man's shoulders seemed to hunch a little, his mouth became somewhat grim. But he kept his eyes on the counter.
      The bartender had returned by now, and he heard the last few remarks. A slight frown creased his brow, and his eye flickered towards the young man. But he said nothing, and he set the two bottles on the counter.
      "There you go," he said. "Are you sure you don't want anything yourself?"
      Before the young man could reply, one of the men at the table called out, "Of course he won't! I forbid him from having a drink, like his daddy said."
      "It's all right," the young man said calmly, in response to the barkeeper's look. "I don't care about the opinion of some drunken idiots."
      "Drunken idiots, he says," echoed one of the men with an unpleasant tone.
      The four men rose to their feet now.
      "Maybe he thinks himself too good to talk to us," said one.
      "Hey, smithy's boy. You think you're too good?"
      "We're not the ones taking care of some strange woman," put one of the men in.
      "Oh yeah," said another, with a sneer. "Isn't he the one taking care of that crazy girl?"
      "One who talks to spirits."
      "Yeah; just last week, I saw her walking in the town square, talking to spirits."
      "Hey, smithy's boy, why don't you take better care of your woman?"
      "Letting her wander around town like that."
      "Are you the crazy woman's lover, or just her nursemaid?"
      "You know," the young man said to the bartender, "I'd like to have a drink after all."
      The bartender glanced at him uneasily, noticing the grim look in the young man's eyes; but he obeyed without comment, filling a glass and handing it to the young man.
      The four men, meanwhile, advanced towards the counter and stood in a close semi-circle around the young man.
      "He's not taking good enough care of his woman," said one.
      "So she's looking for other forms of consolation," put in another.
      "Hey, smithy's boy, tell your pretty woman that I'm ready and willing, if she's looking for a real man, instead of a nursery maid."
      "Tell her I'll be there tonight," put in the first man. The other men laughed.
       The young man turned around slowly, finally facing the men. He was holding the glass in his hand.
      "Don't worry," he said. "I'll take care of it."
      Before the men could respond, he leapt forward all at once, dashing the drink in his hand into the face of one of the men. The man fell back, trying to wipe the stinging alcohol out of his eyes, but the young man's fist, landing a powerful blow just beneath his jaw, sent him reeling backwards into the table behind him. The table overturned, crashing to the ground with the man.
      The young man had already turned towards the second man. He ducked, avoiding a punch, and crashed his fist into the man's midsection, just below the heart. The man doubled over, deprived of breath, and was knocked to the floor with a swift kick.
      The two remaining men, acting in unison, attempted to catch the young man between them; but they had just consumed a vast amount of alcohol, and their opponent was in much better possession of his senses and balance. He managed to avoid them quite easily and immediately turned and punched one of the man squarely in the face. The man retreated, crying out, and covered his bloody nose with one hand. The young man delivered a a hard kick to the man's knee, causing him to lose his balance. He fell heavily.
      The last man was the one who told Elazul he would visit Pearl on that night. He showed Elazul the knife in his hand.
      "Not so fast, pretty boy," he said. "I'll make you less pretty yet, if you come any closer."
      The young man made no response, but advanced. The man retreated and then, with a cry, leapt at the young man.
      Eyes flashing coldly, the young man brought his other hand around, the hand still holding the wine glass, and drove it into the side of the man's head. The glass broke, sharp edges tearing at the man's skin. Blood streamed down, and the man screamed, the grip on his knife slackening. The young man caught it. Then his arm shot out and he closed his fingers around the man's neck.
      The man's hands tore at his neck, and he gagged, suffocating because of the iron grip locked around his neck. Blood streamed from the cuts on his forehead, dripping onto the young man's hand, staining the grey sleeve red. The young man, smiling grimly, tightened his fingers a little.
      "Now, listen you all," he said, retaining the deadly grip on the man's neck, and speaking quietly above the man's choked gasps. "If I see any of you anywhere near my house— anywhere near HER— I'll kill you all, one by one."
      He released the man. The man fell to the ground, reeling and gulping air, his hands around his neck, where the red marks of fingers could be seen. The young man straightened, surveying the four men. They were slowly rising to their feet, eyeing him with hostility.
      "Anyone thirsting for more?" asked the young man, the slight smile still bending his mouth.
      The men glanced at each other, but made no answer. The young man threw the knife in his hand to the floor, at the feet of its owner, with a contemptuous gesture.
      "You're right about one thing," he said. "I not am very much like my father. His punishment for your stupid insults would have been much less pleasant than mine. Now, get out of here."
      He turned his back to the men, and leant against the counter again. The bartender, who had observed the scene in silence, marked that the smile had vanished from the young man's lips, and that the grim look returned to his eyes. The men avoided looking at each other; one by one, they filed and straggled out of the bar, nursing their various injuries. The figure in the corner watched them as they passed by, a mirthless smile pulling its thin lips.
      The young man's face was still lowered over the counter, when the bartender's voice sounded. "Very protective of her, are you?"
      He received no reply.
      "It's all right," said the man kindly. "They got what they deserved, in my opinion. They should be doing something else than sit here and make stupid arguments like whether they saw that jewel-thief." He indicated the young man's sleeve with his finger. "You would probably want this washed," he told him.
      The young man looked at his bloodstained fingers and sleeve edge, but said nothing for a moment. The barkeeper handed him a clean towel, dipping it in water first. The young man cleaned his hands of the blood. Then he turned around. "Thanks," he said flatly, his voice tired. "But all I did is cause a mess in here." He straightened the overturned table and chairs, then picked the two bottles, and after thanking the barkeeper again begun to make his way towards the door; but then the man's voice, speaking musingly, reached his ear. "I wonder, though, whether Sandra was really here a few days ago. I saw her once, you know."
      At this, the young man's aspect underwent a sudden change. His paused in his tracks, then swerved around sharply and, with three wide steps, he was near the bartender again, his blue eyes searching intently, a troubled light in them. "Sandra," he said. "You said you saw a woman named Sandra?"
      The bartender nodded. "Yes, her name is Sandra."
      "When did you see her?" The question was quick. "What did she look like?"
      The bartender seemed surprised, narrowing his eyes. "Well, I'll tell you," he answered. "But first settle down and have something to drink. I really do think you need it. You sadly wasted the last one."
      The young man straightened, seeming to flush a little, and said, "Yes, please tell me. I need to... to know what she looked like." He obeyed the bartender, settling himself in a nearby chair. He looked down, fingers clutched on his knee tensely, but he listened with attention as the bartender took a glass and begun to polish it, and in the process spoke with a meditative tone.
      "Well, Sandra is, if you don't know, the partner of the famous bandit-leader, the Fox. Seems like she saved his life once, a few years ago, and then she joined his crew and become one of them herself. It's strange, for they say she actually used to be a nun— nun at the great shrine— I suppose this explains how she saved the life of the Fox. But she became as good as any of them, even better. They say she and the Fox are lovers—" at this the young man looked quickly up, but he did not seem surprised, and he made no comment. "I'm not quite sure if that's true, however."
      "I saw her a few weeks ago," the bartender continued, uncorking the wine bottle and pouring a little of the ruby liquid into the polished glass. "Just for a moment, which is more than others can claim, for she comes and goes as quickly as light. She was a good-looking woman—very fetching, with pretty features, white skin and chestnut hair. She wore a green dress, and what a fine figure she had; rather taller than the average woman, and very slender and trim." He rounded the counter and came over to the young man's table, settling the drink in front of him. The young man took it without comment, but drank nothing, listening instead with his fingers clutching around the stem of the glass.
      "Her eyes," he prompted. "What color were her eyes?"
      The bartender was thoughtful, straining his memory. "They were dark," he finally answered. "But I've seen her for such a fleeting moment, I'm not quite sure."
      The young man maintained his silence, and the barkeeper continued. "There are many stories about Sandra. Some time ago she and Fox embarked upon some pretty crazy exploits that made Sandra instantly famous. The most notorious of them is that one in which Sandra arranged to rob Kristie's Palace of Arts in the university out of its entire stock of antiques. When morning came Kristie's servants found almost nothing in the palace except a few statues; how the thieves managed to get beyond the complex security system is anyone's guess. Kristie, of course, raised a huge racket about it, for even though most of her items are so exclusive and famous that most people would have had a hard time selling them on the market, she was still pretty upset, as you may guess. But on the very next morning she found all her stock back in the palace, with a note inscribed as following: "Dear Madam: this was done as a bet between Fox and myself, and everything is returned to the last item. If you need anything, just call me. No hard feelings!" Sighed by Sandra. From that day on Sandra and Kristie became friends, and they work according to a kind of a mutual bargain to aid each other. Sandra brings to Kristie any antiques and rare commodities she finds in her exploits, and Kristie's servants are always at Sandra's disposal if she needs any special work to be done." The barkeeper chuckled. "After this one, there's almost nobody who doesn't know about Sandra. But there's plenty of new rumors about her lately; rumors that have to do with Jumi cores."
      The young man looked up. "What?" he asked, rather sharply. "What are they saying?"
      The barkeeper shrugged, his brow creasing. "Well, I'm not sure. But Sandra's name had been somehow linked to the Jumi, as if she's been looking for Jumi herself. They say that she's looking for a special jewel, the most bright and beautiful jewel; what else may they mean besides a Jumi core?"
      The young man said, a little unsteadily, "They... they are saying that Sandra is looking for a Jumi core? But that's..."
      He halted just in time, averting his eyes quickly before the barkeeper's look of surprised inquiry, and the expression in his downturned countenance was a mixture of simmering, unspoken feelings. After a brief pause he suddenly rose to his feet. "Thank you," he said abruptly, "for all your help. This is all I wished to know." He turned around and made way towards the door.
      After the young man left the bar, the white-cloaked figure sitting in the corner rose to its feet and approached the bartender. It lay a few coins on the counter and said, in a peculiarly unpleasant, soft voice: "Bartender. Does this young man know Sandra?"
      The bartender looked the figure over, his eyebrows coming together. "I'm not sure. He never spoke of her before, but he does seem to take an uncommon interest in her. Why are you asking this?"
      "No reason," answered the figure, its bloodless lips curling into a thin smile. "It's just that Sandra is an... acquaintance of mine, so to speak. And I take a great interest in her activities."
      The bartender stared at the man; but before he had a chance to reply, the figure turned around and left the bar.

      Pearl drifted inside the hot May evening, wading gently through the wafting heat trapped between the houses, inside the warm blue shadows. The heat swallowed all voices, and the orange of the lanterns hung at door-posts burned without noise. The woman's long hair lost its color, turning as blue as the shadows of the town, and in her white gown she looked like an ethereal phantasm, moving inside a rippling haze that blurred her world until forms had no meaning for her.
      She walked in a hazy dream, saw and perceived nothing around her; all she could see was the vision of the bright forms beckoning to her from a distance, burning like white flames inside the empty blue world, leading her towards her destiny, their silent fire promising her truth, an answer, an end to the uncertain mist of her existence.
       Something held her now, arrested her. She halted gently, like flowing water, unresisting. There was a whisper of voices around her, and the burning forms in the distance wavered suddenly, like streams of white fire on a curtain of blue flame. The whispers intensified, consolidated into one word...
      Pearl... Pearl... Pearl.
      She now perceived the hazy shadows crawling around her, glowing faintly through the blue fire, but they were grey and unsubstantial and lacked meaning for her. She continued on, drifting past them.
      But then she noticed that the bright forms in the distance had vanished. She could no longer see them. And the heat sunk slowly around her, engulfing her.
      The world turned dark, and Pearl was left empty and alone. She slid to her knees, shuddering. The mist intensified, the grey forms consolidated around her in the sweltering heat, sought her with their whispers.
      Pearl covered her face with her hands.
      "Stop," she said. "Stop following me! Stop telling me your stories of death. Leave me alone!"
      She combed her trembling fingers frantically through her long hair, down her face.
      "I do not wish to remember," she whispered. "I do not wish to know."
      She was sitting thus for what seemed a long time, the slow, humid night streaming around her. Then a hand touched her arm, a firm grasp, a living touch, and a voice spoke her name, asked her a question; but the words seemed blurred, indistinct. She shook a little but said nothing.
      The voice spoke again; but she remained sitting, not responding. Then she sensed that someone was near her, kneeling at her side, peering into her face. She raised her eyes, and the figure seemed a faint shadow inside the blue night, and she could see nothing beyond.
      "Please leave me alone," she said. "Leave me alone. I do not know who you are."
      But the figure uttered her name again, and its fingers touched her face; and then it seemed like a curtain of haze tore before her eyes, and she could see distinct forms again. And then she knew that it was the young knight that had once rescued her, who had known her in the past she could not, was afraid to recall; and she leant forward, her forehead touching his shoulder, seeking the only support she had ever known, seeking that reassuring, living touch and presence. His arms encircled her, and he said, "Pearl, you must not leave the house like this anymore. You promised me."
      "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I... I forget."
      She recalled his name now: Elazul. She kept forgetting it, then recalling it, then forgetting it again... like she did everything else. But every time she felt lost, every time she forgot, he always came and found her, and reminded her of the living world again.
      And as she rose to her feet and followed him though the warm, quiet streets of the town, Pearl sensed a great dread overcoming her. She suddenly feared, she knew not why, that one day he would forget her as she forgot him; that he would forget to return her to the world, and then she'll be left to wander amid the grey phantasms, seeking the ever-retreating, silent white forms that called to her, seeking futilely until she became one of the grey phantasms herself.
      "I won't let you leave me," she whispered. "You can never leave me. I won't let you ever leave me, Elazul."

      Another memory visited Elazul, a memory flooded with light.
      He had taken Pearl to the woods on that day, and they walked through the soft sunlight, inside the green spring, inside a forest full of drifting leaves and dotted with a million tiny white flowers like stars descended to earth. There was a large lake in the middle of the forest, whose waters were a profound, clear, beautiful violet; and the waters reflected the trees and the sky, looking like a living painting drawn in liquid colors upon glass.
      Pearl had been fascinated by this vision, and Elazul watched her as she sat at the side of the lake, her own white form joining the picture inside the violet waters. For a moment she became part of that dreamlike world, herself a creature of the forest, her golden hair a ripple of sunlight, her gown a multitude of drifting white flowers, her form shimmering and merging into the green and violet and white of the forest. It was a beautiful vision, a peaceful image amid the chaos of his life.
      And somehow Elazul knew that, with the mention of Sandra's name, the repose had been abruptly cut short, the liquid painting upon the glass shattered with a brutal blow.
      As quickly as it begun, his brief interim of peace has ended.

Comment: Yes, I couldn't resist writing up the dead-common stereotyped situation, "silent and stern handsome young man punishes punks". Well, a least Elazul's character fitted it well.

"Earth Painting" is the memorable Jungle music. For some reason I always associated it with Sandra, even though she NEVER showed up in the Jungle. Must be because the tune is very upbeat, and because the Jungle is so green.

I think everyone should recognize Lake Kilma...

Someone mentioned the impression given of the Jumi city and its particular atmosphere. I was really trying to create a little of the haunting feeling of the Jumi city theme, "Sparkling City of Ruin", though I probably made it more sinister, while the melody was actually very melancholy, lyrical and nostalgic. I suppose that it's because the city serves a different function in this story. In a way, I suppose I can say that it becomes almost a character of its own; so its jewels are like eyes that 'follow' and 'judge' Elazul; it kills its own denizens, the Jumi, at the same time that it protects them; and it even changes Alexandra against her will. A city as 'a character' is always an interesting aspect of a story; for example, Tiphares and the slums in the manga 'Battle Angel Alita', or Midgar and the slums of FF7; these cities are almost like characters on their own, and thus very memorable in their particular stories. I was not trying to consciously create a character in the city, but the Jumi city had so much potential, with its particular setup and the story of the race inhibiting it, that I think that it was inevitable that it would turn out seeming this way a little.

Now that you know this, take this poll: Themes in LoJ.

Chapter 4