LoJ: Part III, chapter 5B (Pearl V.)
by The Mana Priestess

PART III: PEARL (Pearl Version)

A hero's dream burns blue
The people sleep forever

- The Wanderer of Time (Final Fantasy: Pray).

Chapter 5B: Burning Blue: Dreams

    The man clad in pale, flowing robes sat inside the hot blue evening, his gaunt figure bent over some parchments. He was writing, his emaciated hand clutching a white quill between its bony fingers, the thin, spidery scrawl flowing steadily over the cream-colored paper. The darkness was alleviated only by the ghostly glimmer of a candle, but it was an insufficient relief, and served nothing to illuminate the man's features. Instead, the light seemed to throw them into greater shadow, deep within the hood of his cloak.
    The darkness moved, the blue heat intensified a little. The man seemed unaffected by it. He continued writing, and only said, in a soft, unpleasant voice:
    "Yes. The report?"
    A figure stepped from within the shadows; a tall, thin man, with long hair falling onto his shoulders. From his silhouette it could be gathered that he was an archer, the bow and arrows slung at his left shoulder. His figure remained swathed in darkness, a shadowy outline.
    "He's yet to be found," he said, in response to the pale man's calm inquiry. His tones were even, his voice emotionless.
    The man in white paused in his writing, seemingly in response. But after a moment, he dipped the pen in ink, and continued to write without appearing to regard the archer's news as important.
    "I have seen him in town only a few days ago," he said, his soft voice unruffled. "How it is that you have managed to lose him?"
    "He vanished, Sir," the archer answered, with a similarly detached, cool tone. "It appears that his decision to leave the town was made in haste, and upon impulse. We were not prepared for it, and so we lost his tracks."
    "Unfortunate," remarked the man in white, without pausing in his task. "And yet, it seems to cast a definite suspicion upon him. Almost as if he sensed that he was under surveillance."
    "That, Sir, I cannot tell," responded the archer.
    The man in white finally halted in his ceaseless toil. He leant forward a little and tapped a thin finger against his desk, apparently in thought.
    "He could not have known about me," he said, meditating. "Unless he was deeper into Sandra's confidence than I suspected. From his reaction to the mention of her name in that bar, it seems that he was surprised at the news that she was at large."
    The tall archer said nothing. The man in white directed his gaze towards him.
    "It's vital to track him down again," he stated. "You, man of the forest, would be best for this task."
    "I would be sir," said the archer coolly. "And yet, we've much on our hands lately."
    The man in white waived his thin hand.
    "That signifies nothing," he answered. "What could be more important to me, pray, than finding Sandra?"
    The archer was silent. The man in white tapped his finger on the desk again, then dipped his quill in more ink, and resumed writing on the crisp paper scroll. As he did so he spoke in a smooth, measured tone:
    "I wish you to track down this man, and report to me of his movements. I want a full, precise, and detailed account of his exact doings. This might be the key that will aid me to gain the upper hand on Fox and that Sandra of his."
    His silky voice was now peculiarly venomous. "That little bitch Sandra had once aided the Fox to set me a trap, that almost betrayed me to the Authorities. I will not forget this little trick of theirs any time soon. I am determined to find the Jumi jewel before Sandra does. If she is as keen on it as she's rumored to be, I think that she will go to some pains to regain it from me. And I have a peculiar feeling that this man might be the key to knowing more about Sandra and her goals; perhaps even about the Jumi jewel. But first I must find out more about him."
    The archer bowed.
    "I will do as you wish, Snake," he said. "Expect a full report as soon as possible." And upon these words he turned and left.
    The man called Snake continued his scrawl upon the paper parchments, a thin smile pulling his mouth. It was a rare occasion where he was proven to be wrong. He knew that his instinct would not err this time; but only when he finds this man, Elazul, he would know the exact truth for certain.

    The hot evening deepened into an equally hot night, and in the city of the Jumi, the light of the jewels acquired an eerie glow, their rich aura bleeding into the hazy atmosphere.
    In the towering southern spire of the royal palace the glimmer of a soft orange light at one of the windows denoted that the occupant was still awake. This person, a slender little woman clad in white robe of silk, was standing by the window. She was framed on either side by the lacy wings of a gauzy curtain that stirred lightly in the warm breeze that occasionally drifted past the open shutters. The trickling orange light came from a sparse oil lamp, its light turned low.
    The woman stood motionless for what seemed like a long while, contemplating the hot night and the misty beauty of the winking jewels spreading on levels upon levels of the gracefully curved balconies below. She seemed to be waiting for something, or someone, and time seemed to stand still around her, as inert as her own motionless figure, absorbed into her stillness.
    Then the door opened, slowly and quietly. The wait ended, and the hours of the night once again slid into motion.
    The woman turned to regard the man who stood in the doorway. She was clad in her night's robes, but he was wearing his costume of duty. He had been apparently working into the small hours of the night.
    "What news?" asked the woman.
    The man stepped into the room, for a moment not answering. He approached the woman and came to stand near her, by the window.
    "I thought you were asleep," he said. "It's almost three o'clock."
    "I know," she answered. "The news, Rubens."
    He seemed to sigh, but he read the poised intensity of her body, and answered without ado.
    "He's dead, Diana. Murdered by Jumi hunters."
    She was silent, but then said, her voice steady: "I suppose that's what I expected, as we haven't heard from him for this week and more."
    "Another emissary dead," she added after a pause. "Risks taken, lives lost to no avail. It baffles me, how one woman managed to so thoroughly fool us all."
    "At least the children are safe," Rubens remarked quietly. "Our most careful inquiries did not yield news of a Jumi Core which might resemble their cores on the Black Market."
    He approached her, laying his hand on her shoulder. She stood motionless, her gaze fixed ahead of her- it seemed to him as if she had not attended his last remark at all. "Come, Diana," he said with great tenderness. "Please sit down. You must be fatigued."
    She shrugged without seeming to notice his concerned gesture. "Fatigued? Me?" she said, over her shoulder. "And what about you, who's been working ceaselessly for days now?"
    He made no answer; and she nevertheless obeyed him, seating herself into a great chair not far from the window. Rubens took a chair of his own, pulling it close to hers and sinking into it gratefully.
     "I must admit that you are at least partly right," he said, since Diana remained silent, staring at her hands, now folded in her lap. "Ever since the rumors about Sandra begun the situation became much more difficult. I suppose that it's lucky that Jumi children leaving the city had been previously unheard of. It's the reason they remained safe."
    "Sandra," Diana echoed, the name drawing her attention. Her voice was laced with bitterness. "This hateful- this vile little tramp- this Sandra. Something inside my heart had warned me about her from the very beginning, Rubens. I knew that she would be our bane."
    "Do you believe the rumors, then?" asked Rubens softly. "That she is hunting for Jumi jewel? It's monstrous, Diana. I won't believe it. It must be a mistake. Someone must have heard that she is associated with Jumi, and drew the wrong conclusion."
    "I do not put it above her to do anything by now," answered Diana, her voice cold now. "After all that she has dared, I think that she is capable of anything. But the poison she had set loose eats deeper than her rebellion."
    Her gaze was still concentrated on the darkness, and she did not shift it to Rubens; but he sensed that her thoughts finally gained a greater focus.
    "Her rebellion is unprecedented," Diana said. "She has defied us all, sought to make us fools by flouting the city's rules. And now some call her act a daring and spirited gesture."
    Rubens remained silent, and Diana continued: "But suppose the Alexandrite's rebellion is forgiven, as some would have it. We must next consider her taking away of the Clarius in the middle of a severe plague. Is there any honor in this act? No. It has caused many more deaths than we would have suffered otherwise. And the blame for every life that had been lost since then lies at the Alexandrite's door."
    Rubens countered, but very quietly: "True, but please consider that she wished to save Florina, Diana."
    But Diana continued relentlessly: "Yes. Some even say this. Then let us heed their voice, and suppose that this act of hers is forgiven. We must then consider her next deed, Rubens. Whether or not Sandra is truly hunting for a special Jumi jewel, the mere rumors about her doing so caused the Jumi hunters to re-emerge. Several of our emissary knights died at their hands. Their deaths, Rubens, is Sandra's fault, as surely as if she herself killed them." She paused another moment in morbid meditation, but then she said, her voice harsh: "And thus, Rubens, with every additional consideration of each of the Alexandrite's actions, more deaths weight on her soul, and her deeds amount to unforgivable proportions. I cannot, I will not forgive her! I will blame her, Rubens, blame her for all she had done, whether or not she intended the results."
    She halted in her severe stricture, and became silent. Rubens said nothing. After a pause, Diana said:
    "And as for her love for Florina, her excuse for that so-called rescue, I cannot accept such a strange and distorted affection from one woman towards another, that precludes everyone else. As in all else, it makes the Alexandrite a strange, perverse creature, one whose mind works in ways that I care not to divulge or understand. She should reserve that kind of love for a man."
    Rubens finally interrupted Diana. "She is not in love with Elazul?" he asked. "They were such close friends, I thought that.--"
    Diana made a gesture of dismissal with her hand. "Perhaps," she answered, not appearing particularly interested in the answer. "Though if this is what people call love, I pity Elazul for being the recipient of it. She never treated him with any kind of kindness or consideration. She was attracted to him, I suppose; but I would hesitate to call the attraction that they had for each other love. In my opinion, she did not love Elazul any more than he loved Black Pearl. No; the only love I could perceive in her- that true, consistent, supportive kind of affection- was reserved only for Florina.
    "As for Elazul," continued Diana, "it's doubtless that he was attracted to Alexandra; but that attraction was not love either. The hold that she had over him, the kind of attachment I perceived between them, was a fascination born of a mutual purpose, a similar nature. The Alexandrite, for Elazul, embodied the spirit of rebellion he possessed against the city. You may say that he molded her so she could act his secret wishes out. This is why he trained her to become the best knight of their generation except himself. He recognized that they both shared the same spirit of defiance. A dangerous, destructive sympathy.
    "It's doubtless, though," Diana said, after a short pause, "that at least one of them fancied himself or herself to be in love with the other, for at least a little while. Which one of them it may be, I care not to know. I do, however, pity Elazul for his toleration Alexandra's callous treatment of him. The affection she bestowed on him was not the true kind of love."
    "Perhaps he felt it to be so," Rubens suggested.
    "Perhaps," Diana answered. "But then again, his father was such a man that I suppose that he eventually learned to tolerate hurt from people he is attached to, perhaps even taught himself to accept it."
    Rubens said, wearily, "Elazul is not like his father, Diana. His father was a fine knight, but a hard man. I always thought that he is more like his mother."
    "In physical appearance, certainly," answered Diana. "Or in coloring, at least, he is very like his mother. And he is certainly much better-looking than his father ever was. But I always thought that he inherited his father's personality. He displays the same reserve, the same unyielding stubbornness, the same quick temper his father possessed.
    "Certainly," she continued, after a short reflection, "he is much more capable of true affection than his father. But it's his mother's memory that keeps him this way. A softening nostalgia, you may say, that causes him to control, or perhaps even deny, that hardness that he had inherited. I have heard him speak of his mother with love, of his father with something akin to loathing. I can understand the reason, but I think that his father had been a greater influence on him than he cares to admit.
    "And as for that Alexandra," added Diana, a barely concealed loathing in her voice, "she is an exact replica of her own father as well. Not physically, perhaps, but her personality is of the rebellious, mendacious thief that her father had been. We should have never have let 'Alex', the dissenter's child, continue on his quest to knighthood; but, alas, we needed all the knights available, and we relaxed the rules too much. I suppose that we did not expect such gross deceit and dissimulation among our own kind. It was Black Pearl who decreed that justice must allow the dissenter's child to be accepted back into the city, no matter what the sins of the father may have been.
    "It's strange," she added, after further meditation. "I had always thought Black Pearl's notion of strict justice odd; it's at once severe and impartial, so that it possessed a strangely fair side to it. As in this instance: let not the child suffer from the sins of the father. And yet, it was that very fairness, that generous side of her severe policy of justice, that brought her downfall."
    Rubens thought that Diana sounded unusually acidic and unforgiving that evening, and it was a side of her that he did not like. He leant forward and placed his fingers on her folded hands, caressing those cold little hands, a soothing gesture.
    "Let us leave the subject of Alexandra aside for a while," he said gently. "And as for Elazul, if he indeed resembles his father but would not follow his father's conduct, then he merits our respect for refusing to submit to the worse part of his nature."
    Diana finally looked at him at this quietly reproving remark. Unexpectedly, she smiled.
    "I deserved that," she said. "I haven't been easy to deal with lately, have I, my dear one?"
    Rubens returned her smile, his own possessing the characteristic warmth and kindness that flowed through Diana's soul like a rich draught, soothing and warming the cool, empty spaces of her heart. She had surprised even herself at the vengeful loathing she felt towards Alexandra, of which kind she had never felt towards anyone. But Rubens' natural ability to forgive always mellowed the poison, diluted the rancor.
    Would it that I could stay this way, she thought. If I ever lost Rubens, I would lose that better part of me. I do not wish to know what would happen then.
    And she wondered, as she did often before, why is it that I hate the Alexandrite so much? Is it because she exposed my own inability to act upon my guilt regarding Florina's predicament, because her actions made me feel almost equally as guilty as I know her to be?
    At her side, Rubens spoke.
    "I'm afraid that your mood of charity with me will not last for much longer this evening, Diana," he remarked, his tone somewhat wry. "I have been accosted by several councilors about a very particular proposition, and they insist that I discuss it with you."
    Diana suddenly straightened in her chair, and became very still. "What is it?" she asked, cool and rigid again. "I have heard of these murmuring among them. Yes, you must speak of it now, so I can dispose of it quickly."
    Rubens watched her as she sat thus, her gaze fixed on the darkness, looking like a statue of white marble, inflexible and unyielding. He had anticipated this reaction, and he reflected that the council would never succeed in convincing Diana. It must fall to me, he thought, to find the middle-way solution to satisfy them all, to prevent a breach.
    He proceeded to speak, with a carefully measured, neutral tone.
    "I will not say that I perfectly agree with their proposition myself; but it must be discussed, Diana. It's about the ill Jumi. The plague may not be as bad as it used to be, but, as the councilors pointed out, we've had periods of relief in the past. It might come back with renewed force at any time. They wish to find a way to increase the number of healers before the Core Waning returns."
    "We already conducted a thorough search," replied Diana with terse, clipped accents. "There is no healer is as good as Florina. Even Sapphire's help, had she not been lost to us, would have been meager in comparison to Florina's powers. Florina was our last true healer."
    Rubens said softly, "Out of the adult Jumi, Diana."
    She became even more straight and rigid. "No," she said. "I won't hear of this outrageous proposal, Rubens."
    "A middle-way solution would suffice, Diana," said Rubens quietly. "As some of the councilors proposed, we can tap into the healing powers of the younger Jumi. But on a very limited basis, without choosing a Clarius, even if one of them is sufficiently strong for the position. A limited participation by everyone would suffice to afford relief for the ill Jumi."
    "This is how it will begin," answered Diana. "But it's not how it will end. Can't you see, Rubens, that if I allow the council to do this, they may propose something even more drastic next, insist on pushing that participation by younger Jumi even further? And how can I allow them to do this, without knowing for certain what future effect it might have on those children? What if such a burden reduces their life-span, or their ability to have children? The harm caused in the long-run will be greater than letting the ill Jumi die."
    Rubens said nothing for a moment. Then, very quietly, he answered,
    "I cannot say that I do not agree with you, Diana. But you must prepare yourself to what the council would say."
    "Without Black Pearl's support, you mean," said Diana with a bitter smile.
    Rubens did not respond to this remark. He watched her, a still, white form in the blue evening, the gauzy wings of the pale curtains flowing around her in gentle ripples. She sat thus for a while, a rigid, inflexible figure. Then, unexpectedly, she lowered her head.
    "Never before had I felt how much my powers depend on Black Pearl's support," she said, with unusual softness. "The council grows agitated because of her strange absence. They say that the Alexandrite and the Lapis Lazuli, either by themselves or together, had managed to kill her. They dare to defy me… how dare they! But when she returns, order will once again be restored to this city."
    And Rubens, watching her, thought, stricken with sudden remorse, it is I who aided Elazul to escape. I don't believe that Alexandra by herself could have hurt Black Pearl, but with the aid of the Lapis Lazuli, perhaps she could- but no, Elazul would not let Alexandra kill Black Pearl, he thought at once; I do not believe it. Yes, he could not regret this action of releasing Elazul from an unjustly harsh punishment. And still, Black Pearl had not returned; and if his actions resulted in an unforeseen damage, it was him who must remedy it.
    And then he knew what he must do to repair it.
    "Diana," he said quietly, "I am going to leave the city and look for Black Pearl."
    Diana raised her head with a sudden movement, fixing her eyes on Rubens.
    "The dangers, Rubens," she said, quickly. "Do you think that…"
    "I can withstand the dangers," he interrupted. "You forget, Diana, that I had once been a prized knight."
    Since she said nothing in reply, he added: "We sent some of our finest young knights, and they have been murdered. We need someone older, skilled in the way of the world. I know the human world, Diana. I shall know what to do, and I am well able to defend myself. Do you think that I will fail to survive, where the youthful Lapis Lazuli had succeeded? The only one that can kill me, Diana," he added wryly, "is Black Pearl herself."
    Diana shook her head, and her hand shot out and gripped Rubens' in a forceful grasp.
    She knew that he was doing it because he knew that she needs Black Pearl for the city; she thought, he is doing this to restore me to my previous position, he is doing it for my sake, for me, and me only…
    And another thought occurred at once to Diana. If anything happens to Rubens, she knew, it would be the result of her own ambition, her need for power. As always, he was allowing her to use him for her own purposes, because of his love for her.
    And she knew that if she said only one word to detain Rubens, if she pled to him to stay, to support her, instead of sending him on this mission, he would comply and stay.
    But Diana also knew that Rubens was the one person who will be able to succeed in this mission, to find Black Pearl and restore her to the city… thereby restoring her, Diana, to full power.
    And so, Diana clasped Rubens' hand between her fingers, quietly savoring the warmth and strength it gave her…
    And said nothing.

    The atmosphere of the dark blue night flowed in warm ripples, sultry and almost unbearably hot. It was only two hours to the dawn.
    Elazul had not managed to fall asleep. After he retired from his nightly duty he lay in his bed, half-dreaming, too fatigued to either stay awake or fall asleep, swimming in a world of warm blue shadows, a world where ethereal shapes and forms took life and meaning of their own.
    Eventually he rose from his bed and walked down a corridor of the inn, walking inside dim, warm shadows. Slowly, after what seemed like a long stretch of time, he realized that the corridor seemed to continue endlessly on. He then realized that he was no longer inside the inn, but inside a strange, misty blue world.
    He could see that he was inside a great palace, whose long, narrow halls swam in flowing, hot blue mist, and he knew that he was looking for someone, though he knew not who or why.
    Gradually he realized that vague forms of people were walking past him in the corridors, misty shades, their features indistinct, jewels glimmering on their breasts. These bright jewels were the only distinct objects in the burning atmosphere; and Elazul knew them to be Jumi, and felt that he had dreamt this dream before.
    He walked past the great library again, and he saw, as he somehow expected to see, the figure sitting there, a little more distinct than the others. He now knew it to be Snow, and he also knew, though he knew not how, that the reason that Snow was identifiable rather than a vague shadow was that he was closer to death than many of the others, because of his illnesses, and his flawed jewel…
    He continued towards the exit of the Palace, still seeking that unknown figure, and as he expected, when he came to the garden, he could see Sapphire standing inside the flowing blue mist, her figure clear and distinct, its brightness a damning beacon that indicated her damaged core. She stood leaning against a hedge, looking at nothing, and he passed her quietly, recalling, somehow, that she would not answer him even if he spoke to her. And still, he could not help stealing a glance at her and, greatly to his astonishment, he could see that her eyes were focused upon him, as if she could identify him. But she said nothing, though her expression seemed sad; and he passed her by, not attempting to speak to her despite it, knowing that it was not she whom he was looking for.
    He advanced further into the maze, and the feeling that the object that he sought was in the middle of this garden intensified. Another turn through the labyrinth, and another, and then he was in the middle of the garden, near the flowing fountain, whose water sparkled clearly amid the blue mists, like tiny dewdrops.
    But the dais was empty, and the figure he expected to see, the ethereal, burning form of the angel, was not there.
    Elazul knelt, his head hung low. He knew that he was reiterating something he had done before, but the gesture was empty, one of defeat instead of reverence. He knelt listlessly, not knowing what to do, and remained sitting still for a long while- he could not quite tell for how long.
    Then a voice spoke, quite clearly, recalling Elazul from his lost reverie.
    "Lost," said the voice softly. "Gone… lost."
    Elazul raised his head. Sitting at the bottom of the dais was a pale, ghostly form of a girl; and all at once he felt that she was familiar, that he had seen her before. And somehow he knew that she was the one that he had been looking for.
    He rose to his feet and approached her. Her features were pale, indistinct; but as he watched the long, waving hair flowing down her shoulders and back, he finally identified her, and knew who she was.
    "Why are you lost?" he asked, quietly, seating himself at her side. "Why? Tell me."
    The girl sat with her head hung low. She replied to his question, speaking with a strangely empty, sorrowful voice.
    "I cannot tell you."
    "Please," Elazul said, trying to peer into her lowered features, struggling to see them clearly. "Please speak to me. Please- let me help you."
    But she only shook her head.
    "You cannot. I have failed. You must not fail. You must do as you were bid, turn your thought to the heavens, forget the earth and its creatures. I could not, and so, I forgot what the heavens had bid me. But you must not forget."
    "You… you are the failed messenger, aren't you?" Elazul asked softly. "The one the angel spoke of."
    She seemed to tremble in response. After a moment she only said, her voice immersed in sorrow:
    "It matters not. I cannot find my way anymore. This is my punishment."
    "Please," said Elazul quietly. "You cannot continue this way. Let me help you."
    "You cannot," she answered. "Please… please do not speak to me anymore. The angel… the angel, it…"
    "What?" asked Elazul. "What is it? Please tell me. Where is the angel?"
    "It's… it's with us," said the girl. "Once we are imbued with its essence, we cannot escape it, not matter how much we try…"
    To Elazul's amazement, the girl's form begun to dissipate slowly, to vanish into mist. His heart aching for her, he leant forward, trying to catch her in his arms, before she disappears completely; but she was as ethereal as light, her figure insubstantial. Only her last words flowed sorrowfully towards him.
    "I did it for my people, but I have failed them because of my pride, and now many sleep in death. But you must fulfill your destiny, lapis lazuli… so you will not become like me."

    Elazul jerked awake. A dream, again. He had fallen asleep, he knew not for how long ago, though it seemed for no more than a few minutes.
    A warm, flowing spring dawn greeted him. He watched it wearily, thinking of his dream, knowing that it had recurred not only once, but many, many times. Somehow, he could only utter one word when he tried to recall it, one name that floated up from the rapidly vanishing traces of the dream…

Comment: I am stating the obvious here, but Snake, the thin man in white, (Fox's rival) and his band are invented plot device characters. He was the figure cloaked in white in the bar, in PIII/Ch2, who watched the fight between Elazul and the four men, and then asked the bartender if Elazul knew Sandra.

Interestingly enough, Rubens is wrong. In the fight of Black Pearl v. Elazul and Alex, Elazul was mostly useless, and it was Alex who managed to seriously injured Black Pearl, and would have killed her, if Elazul did not intervene. That part of the fight actually kind of bothers me, now that I think back on it. I made it too easy for Alex to hurt Black Pearl, even though it was due to an element of surprise, because Black Peal did not expect Alex's core to resist her runic magic. Still… I suppose Black Pearl just shouldn't have been THAT easy to topple.

Someone commented upon the time scheme in the story, so I think that perhaps I didn't make it clear enough how long the story takes, though I am usually careful about marking down the time period of a chapter.

To put it in perspective: the entire Parts I and II span exactly one year. Alex meets Elazul in late December or so in Part I, chapter 1. By the end of chapter 1 it's Spring, i.e. March or April. The summer tournament occurs in chapter 2. From there on many events occur in the few short months of the fall/winter, especially November and December, in Part I, chapter 3 to Part II, chapter 2 (with Amber, Sapphire, etc). Then Black Pearl returns; chapters 3 and 4 of Part II occur within a few days, and Elazul leaves the city in the last day of the year. Part II, Chapter 5 is about 2 weeks later, in Mid-January. Thus, Parts I and II span a little over 1 year, December to January.

Part III begins in March of that year, 3 months later, and continues to the middle of May. Part IV is going to span only the last two weeks of May; and Part V will occur in the first two weeks of June. The whole story occurs during a year and a half.