Legend of the Jumi: Part III, Chapter 2 (Sandra V.)
by the Mana Priestess

This chapter is dedicated to Maz and Lurial, for their selfless support. ;)

PART III: PEARL (Sandra Version)

Take my hand
You know I'll be there…
I'll cross the sky for your love.

U2, Drowning Man

Chapter 2: Drowned Dreams: Pearl

     The coral-colored ledge of the cliff curved against the glittering April sea, shadowing the bright sands beneath it, banishing the gently diffusing sunlight. The peculiar arch of the coast at that point closed off the arm of the ocean beneath it into a widely curving, u-shaped body of water. The coral ledge was a unique little structure, a watch-point rising above the level white shore, affording a full view on the luminous blue vista spreading to the horizon. Visitors liked to ascend the steep path leading to its summit, to take advantage of the beautiful view.
     A shadowy blue structure of a three-story building, an inn, was constructed upon the shore on a collection of red rocks, just above the u-shaped pool. Overshadowed by the inn and the flanking cliff, the color of the surging currents of the pool was deepened into a profound blue hue. Only in mid-noon of very bright days, when the sun was balanced high in the sky, did it manage to lance a luminous ray that penetrated through the dark waters, making them shimmer with a gentle light like the inside of a beautiful blue jewel. The waters of the natural pool were very profound, plunging deep beneath the rocks, and though their glassy surface was constantly disturbed by the streaming sea, it masked depths that swallowed all light, and were dark and silent like the inside of a grave.
     The figure of a girl walked along the shore that day, her bare feet washed by the cool surge of the mid-day tide. Long hair rippled down her slender back, and her large, wistful eyes surveyed her surrounding scenery somewhat absently. The girl's skin possessed an unhealthy pallor that seemed natural, but the heat of the day brought out a pleasant color in her white cheeks, and she seemed to relish in the beauty of the day and in the warmth of the gentle sun.
     She coasted the shoreline for some time without much more purpose, it seemed, than to enjoy her walk; and she rounded the edge of the cliff, her steps leading her to the carved path that led towards the shadowy inn, when suddenly she paused.
      A tall woman was standing near the coral cliff, in a pool of bright sunlight. She stood with her back to the meandering girl, and did not seem to notice her silent approach. The girl's attention was caught by the woman's golden hair that tumbled down her back in thick waves, over which the sun threw a shimmering, luminous net. The woman was clad in a cream-colored dress, its full skirt embroided with a crimson border that rippled through it like a thin thread of blood, and her long legs were encased in white boots adorned with gold lace. Though the girl could not see her face beyond the curve of the pale cheeks and slender neck, she guessed that it would be beautiful as well. The woman stood with her back straight, slim and elegant in her billowing dress.
     The girl approached the young woman slowly, almost as if she was afraid to disturb her silent repose. She seemed to hesitate as she gained a clearer view of the woman's face, and halted again. The woman's eyes were fixed on the horizon with a vague expression, and she seemed to contemplate the blazing sea without much attention, as if she was deeply absorbed with her own inner thoughts.
     But the girl had seen her face and she started suddenly with an almost nervous gesture. Her thin hand rose to her mouth, covering it, her eyes widening with shock.
     Still, the woman did not hear nor see the girl; she stood as silent as a statue, stillness incarnate.
     The girl's hand trembled visibly. She uttered a small sound; and the woman, catching it, finally stirred and turned.
     The girl became very quiet under the woman's gaze. She found herself looking into eyes of a profound turquoise color, shadowed by long lashes. She stood with rigid poise that seemed to indicate that she was waiting for something, a signal of recognition from the woman, and that she was dreading it at the same time. But the woman said nothing to the girl; and after surveying her for a moment without much interest she turned her head back towards the sea.
     The girl was astounded at this gesture, and her shock doubled. For a moment she seemed at a loss, not daring to do anything, as if afraid of the consequences of speaking. She seemed to undergo a brief struggle, wrestling to overcome a naturally timid nature, but finally she garnered her courage and spoke.
     "Lady," she said in a quiet, hesitating voice, that still had something in it; an anxious anticipation of a backlash for her action. "Lady, I—"
     The woman seemed to finally take notice of her. She turned towards her again, this time fully.
     "Did you come for them?" she asked.
     "Them— Lady?" faltered the girl.
     The woman moved her hand slowly, as if seeking to encompass the full vision of the sparkling azure sea, of the warm, golden day. "I dreamt it was raining this morning," she said, the rich notes of her voice lulling like a slow, beautiful melody. "A bright curtain in the sunlight. And I…"
     Her quiet voice trailed off. The girl, staring at her with wide eyes, said nothing. The expression in the woman's dreamy eyes turned soft.
     "I could see them through the curtain of rain."
     The turquoise eyes focused on the girl for a moment, then wandered away from her, and after another pause the woman turned slowly towards the sea.
     "It faded, and the sun rose high the sky," she said. "But they called to me. So, I…"
     Once again, she trailed off at mid-sentence. Her eyes looked towards the glittering, changeable sea. "I followed them here," she finally continued, her voice very low. "But then, I…"
     She became silent again. The girl said nothing. Her eyes were fixed on the woman steadily, with a strange expression.
     The woman never finished what she was going to say. After a short silence she suddenly moved restlessly, as if struck by a different thought.
     "I must go," she said absently, her voice regaining its usual tones. "I lingered too long, and…"
     She looked towards the girl, noticing her presence again for a brief moment. "I will be missed," she finished simply.
     Without another word she begun to move down the coast with an elegant, steady gait, and the warm winds played with her long hair, rippling soft shadows through it in the sunlight.
     The girl was finally roused into action at this, and suddenly begun to ran after the white-clad figure of the tall woman. She came before her and dropped to her knees onto the bright sand.
     "Lady!" she said, her voice quick, full of emotions. "Lady, I know not what— but— oh, Lady, why do you not recognize me?"
     The woman had paused, watching her in slight puzzlement. But her bewilderment faded presently, and her eyes wandered away again, towards the calling horizon. She said in a soft, vague voice,
     "I… I'm not sure. I often forget."
     She was about the turn again, seeming to lose interest in the girl. The girl, noticing her intention, rose to her feet and grasped her hand.
     "Please," she said. "You must, must know me! I know not what happened, but you cannot, you cannot have forgotten me, Lady Pearl! It is I, Sapphire."

     Upon his arrival to town, and on the days that followed, Elazul was thrown into a black fever of restless activity. Impatient, restless, almost mindless with his need to do, to know, he left the inn and Pearl sitting in that closed little room and went to the shore of the sea; and there he quested, embarking upon a long, weary, determined search that lasted for days and proved futile. He found no body brought ashore with the cold winter currents; nor did the villagers and fishermen going about their business near the cliffs find anyone matching the description he provided. Once, a young sailor who died in a shipwreck several days earlier was washed to the coast with the grey tides, and Elazul, informed of it, hurried to the scene with a sickening feeling of anticipation; but he knew it not to be Alex, and turned away from the decomposing body with a feeling of revulsion, nauseated by the spectacle of corruption and death.
     Of Florina there was no trace. She vanished as if she never existed.
     For a whole week Elazul kept up his search for Alexandra's body, questing with characteristic tenacity, torn between hope and despair; leaving the inn at dawn, coming back late at night, weary, dirty, exhausted, throwing himself at the bedside with barely a taste of food, and immediately falling asleep, never noticing that Pearl, huddled in the little bed, was always awake, her eyes open in the darkness, waiting for him. Usually she rose in the bed after Elazul would fall asleep, watching him; but she would neither say nor do anything, and after a little while she would simply vanish into the depth of the bed again, like a white, silent ghost.
     Sleep brought no solace to Elazul, but black, tormenting nightmares. He dreamt that he was drowning inside a bottomless pool, his breath strangled, his body slowly sinking through the endless darkness; but though the imminent feeling was that any moment now he would die for lack of air, death never came, and instead he descended slowly, persistently, trapped in an endless moment of deep and abiding hopelessness. He would wake up bathed in cold sweat, his heart wrenching with an elusive, inexplicable dread, feeling as if he had known this feeling, had been there before. Death closed him upon him, though he knew not whose death; his own, Alexandra's, Florina's, or the terrible knowledge that in the city, Jumi were ill and dying with little solace.
     All that time, Elazul's thoughts turned on Alexandra. He recalled bits and visions of her, the memories surging up constantly, already obscured by a haze, a curtain of mist that placed them in the past, flowing backwards upon the ever-moving currents of time. And at the same time the haze softened them, blurred the images. Now that Alexandra was gone, Elazul begun to feel the pangs of an aching longing, the sense of lingering regret. It was a natural reaction, a response to the shock over her death; but Elazul begun, perhaps with much less clarity than he did in the case of Black Pearl, to forget everything that he had been wary of and even disliked in Alex, and his mind dwelled instead on the times when true harmony and affection existed between them. He recalled the admiration he always felt for Alexandra's best traits, her staunch loyalty and keen intelligence, and the warm feelings he experienced every time she understood him without the necessity of saying much. Sometimes he had the strange sensation that they had been, in some ways, twin souls that found each other, drawn together for some purpose despite their differences, and wondered at himself for always seeking to cut out the most difficult path for himself, not gathering to himself love where he found it. His need for it re-surged at the memories, so strongly sometimes that it made him feel numb, struggling under a lingering ache that became a nightmare in itself, rendering him sleepless and restless, and causing him, when grey dawn arrived, to continue his search with a hopeless kind of determination, his desire fueled by a strange feeling that finding anything, even a clue to solve the mystery, will enable him to hold on to something instead of sinking in the hopeless sense of his lack of knowledge, as he blindly fumbled through a darkness similar to his nightmare. He desperately fought to recapture a fragment of the rapidly vanishing past that was already becoming a memory, blurred through the idealizing re-construction that his feelings had built around it. But the answer never came.

     His fruitless search was cut off abruptly. Elazul soon learned that he was no longer master of his own time. When he returned to the inn on the evening of the sixth day he was informed by the innkeeper that Pearl was gone.
     Pearl had spent most of her days closeted inside the little room. She took no interest in anyone or anything, and Elazul had to leave instructions to Rachel to serve her with food; otherwise, he feared that she would forget to eat. For the most part she did not speak to anyone, and Elazul had little time to understand her new persona. He had seen enough of it to know that she lost her memory, and was no longer the same; but the over-riding need to hold on to the past, to find Alexandra's body, to find Florina, overcame everything else, and he forgot Pearl.
     He called her, quite simply, Pearl; but he seemed to feel nothing towards her at this point. She was a strange, different person, one that, he sensed, required more time to understand than he had to bestow. The great anger that he had felt towards Black Pearl for killing Alexandra seemed oddly inappropriate with this new woman, and it melted quietly away after that first morning; but at the same time, he no longer felt any of the burning longing that existed in him when she was Black Pearl, exuding power and allure, challenging his self-worth and strength of will. He felt some pity towards her; but nothing beyond.
     It was doubly strange; because now that Pearl's hidden persona, the glow that Elazul had sensed from within her, surfaced and proved him right, it left him feeling listless. Perhaps it was because Elazul had wished to draw it out while she was still Black Pearl, wished her to display a weakness that will enable him to overpower her. But it came out in a way that was unexpected, and transformed her completely. Black Pearl, possessing the profound power, the fine instinct to discern hidden motivations within her fellow beings, sensed Elazul's unconscious wish to master her and resisted it; and her resistance produced the energy that stimulated Elazul's need. As Black Pearl, she deconstructed the feelings of others, reflecting them back at the person who projected them, using her understanding of them as an effective weapon. But now that she was Pearl, receiving and absorbing feelings, she received Elazul as he was without resistance; and Elazul, left with no challenge at all, lost interest in the battle of wills that no longer existed. This did not mean that he understood her better than he did Black Pearl. Indeed, her effect on him was one of a strange sense of sinking, lost in something that he did not quite understand, and was, perhaps, a little afraid to.
     So Elazul pushed the need to understand Pearl away from him, and concentrated his energies on his quest; but her actions soon proved that she would not be quite an easy subject to handle as he thought she might be.

     She had stolen out unseen on that evening, as quiet as a shadow, and no one could tell her whereabouts. Elazul had no rest on that night. Following upon clues from night-time passers, he walked through the light rain and the sinking dusk. It took him nearly two hours to trace Pearl to the far edge of the town, where the village met the wilderness.
     He found her sitting at the edge of a vast meadow, staring into the dark clouds that raced across the pale face of the moon. Eerie shadows chased each other across the earth, swift and silent, and the winter night was full of whispers. Sitting in her white gown against the dark background, the figure of the young woman seemed to Elazul like pale shadow haunting the lonely wasteland. He was chilled and weary, and a feeling of loneliness and despair filled him all at once. For at that moment he knew that his search for Alexandra and Florina was over. The past was slipping away again, melting from his grasp, as it had always done. Nothing was left to him but Pearl.
     He came behind Pearl and touched her shoulder, indicating that she should get up. To his surprise, she understood the silent summon and obeyed, rising to her feet. Unwrapping his green cloak from his shoulders, he covered the thin gown that clung to the young woman's form with the cold, listless rain.
     "Let's go, Pearl," he said.
      She turned a little, and her large eyes watched him silently; she made no response. Then, lowering her head, her steps stumbling a little, she stepped besides him. He wrapped his arm around her, and she clung to him, shaking. Walking slowly, they made their way through the silent streets towards the inn.

     When they reached the inn, Pearl was shaking badly, and it was clear to Elazul that she was not well. He supported her up the stairs, and she collapsed into the small bed, huddling under the covers. Laying his hand on her forehead, he discovered that it was burning.
     "Damn it," he muttered.
     His worst fears were realized as the night wore on. Pearl tossed in the bed, feverish and restless. Her eyes were open, but Elazul, who sat in the small chair and watched over her, could tell that she did not see him. They were fixed, it seemed, on something unseen, and sometimes she shuddered and muttered words in what Elazul thought might be the Runic language.
     He attempted to go downstairs to fetch some cold bandages to lay on her forehead; but as soon as he moved from his seat she suddenly rose quickly and her hand caught his arm.
     "No!" she said. "Don't leave me!"
     He gently tried to explain to her that he was going to get something to make her better; but her fingers tightened around the lapel of his sleeve with surprising force.
     "You can't!" she repeated. She was breathing quickly, her eyes fixed on his face, and there was something strange in them.
     Elazul said nothing, but slowly sunk to his seat, obeying her. Pearl, relaxing, sunk back into the bed and drew the blanket over herself, staring at the wall.
     Elazul remained sitting with his hands clasped together, sometimes watching Pearl, sometimes staring absently at the black night through the small square window. He knew that, for that one moment, he had been commanded into obedience by Black Pearl.

     The night wore on. Elazul had been used to hard conditions during his travels, but he had recklessly wasted his energy that past week, and he was paying the toll. As the hours ticked by slowly, the little room begun to blur before his eyes, and his body seemed melded into that small, hard chair. Pearl's frantic shuddering subsided a little after some time, and she eventually closed her eyes. Elazul took advantage of her subdued condition to slip away and retrieve a bowl of cold water and a cloth, which he applied to her forehead. After a while he was too exhausted to continue with even that simple task, and he sunk into a sort of a waking dream, the night hours swimming around him listlessly, seemingly without end.
     He was jerked into attention by a sudden cry, and realized that he fell asleep, though he could not tell for how long. The cry repeated; Pearl's voice.
     "Stop it! Don't do this to me! Oh please, stop! Stop! STOP!"
     Elazul became alert at once, and he leant over Pearl. "What is it?" he asked, quickly. "Is something hurting you, Pearl?"
     Pearl was lying in the bed, her wide-open eyes fixed on some undetermined point in the opposite wall, breathing quickly and shaking. Feverish sweat ran down her face, and her fingers clutched frantically at the white sheets, trembling uncontrollably. She did not answer Elazul's question, seeming unaware that he had spoken.
     Elazul, guessing that she was experiencing a waking nightmare, felt a little relieved, though he pitied her distress. He applied the cold, moist cloth to her forehead, smoothing her hair down with his hand, as if she was a child. After a little while this seemed to have an effect, and the trembling subsided. But then she held onto his hand again.
     "Don't leave," she said. Her voice was different that her earlier, harsh command. It was low and weak, a piteous entreaty.
     "I won't," he answered.
     There was silence, and Elazul pondered the situation. He knew that he had best call a healer, but Pearl's distraught emotional condition made it impossible for him to leave her.
     Inert with indecision, Elazul remained at Pearl's side for a little while longer. Exhaustion was beginning to overcome him again, when, all at once, he was roused by a sudden memory that seemed to offer a solution. He pondered it for a little while, then decided to try this new idea.
     "Pearl," he said, very gently, leaning forward. "Pearl, can you hear me?"
     There was no reply, and for a moment Elazul thought that she finally fell asleep. But then she turned her face towards him, fixing her eyes on him. She did not say anything, but she seemed to be listening.
     Elazul was relieved to see that she was receptive to him presence. "Listen, Pearl," he said, quietly, not sure whether his guess will work. "Do you recall that first day, when you awoke from your faint, and unbandaged your wounds?"
     Silence, then: "Yes," she answered softly.
     It was a meager chance, but Elazul clutched at the hope it offered. "You healed your own wounds, Pearl. Remember? You told me that you channeled a light from your core to your wounds, and they healed."
     She said nothing, too dazed, perhaps, to follow his thoughts to their conclusion. Elazul clarified it for her.
     "You are ill, Pearl. But you might have the power to heal yourself, as you did then. Can you heal your fever, Pearl?"
     He fervently hoped that she will reply in the affirmative; but after a short silence, during which Pearl lay inert, milling his words over in her mind, she only shook her head.
     "I can't," she said. "I… I don't know how I did it."
     "Can't you try?" he asked. "Try to see if you can, Pearl."
     But this suggestion threw Pearl into a strange fit of panic. She held tightly to Elazul's hand, and buried her face against it.
     "I cannot!" she said, in a stifled, distressed voice. "I— I don't know what happened!"
     Elazul heaved a sigh. He knew that Pearl was not in conscious control of that new healing power that seemed to be a part of her core, and he had hoped to goad her into assuming control. But he could now see that it will not be easily achieved, because Pearl had no memory of how to wield that innate powers.
     "I understand," he said, wearily. "But if you only could, Pearl, you would feel better. You have the power to heal wounds, Pearl."
     But Pearl only shook her head frantically, her voice muffled.
     "No!" she said. "I have no power!”
     Elazul did not know what to make of this answer, and he gave it up. He was too tired.
     "Go to sleep, Pearl," he said quietly. "It will be for the best."
     She said nothing, but edged close to him, her head coming to rest near his knee. Her fingers retained their grip on his hand. Then, cradling her cheek against their laced hands, she closed her eyes and became silent.
     Elazul was locked into a position that was, if anything else, even less comfortable than before. He adjusted himself to it the best that he could manage, trying to ignore his weary, sore muscles.
     How ironic, he thought wearily as he carefully settled himself back into a somewhat less trying position in the chair, how ironic it is that she, Black Pearl, had reproached me for never taking responsibility, because I refused to become a guardian's knight. And now, she is forcing me into it without meaning to.
     He couldn't tell when he fell asleep, but it seemed only a moment later when he jerked awake at the sound of a soft tapping at the door. A maid entered, bringing them food. Elazul asked her to summon the doctor.
     The doctor administrated a herbal remedy, but it did not seem to do Pearl much good, and the next three nights afforded little rest for Elazul. He took care of the feverish Pearl, doing his best to assuage her suffering, without much success.
     And then, on the third afternoon, Elazul woke up to see a strange thing. The room was full of gentle sunlight, that slanted upon Pearl's little bed— which was empty.
     Alarmed, Elazul rose at once and looked around. He immediately spied the young woman's white-clad figure, sitting a little further away, in a corner of the room.
     He rose to his feet and approached her. She was sitting with her back to him, perfectly motionless, seeming to lean over something that she held in her lap. Her long, wavy hair flowed around her face, concealing her expression.
     "Pearl," Elazul said quietly. "Are you feeling better?"
     She made no answer. Elazul approached her and stood over her, looking down at the object she was holding.
     It was the ancient sword. Pearl was holding it over her knees, and Elazul, seeing it, became very still at the sight of sunlight rippling across the luminous blade.
     It's beautiful, he thought. He had completely forgot the strange sword that had brought Black Pearl's downfall. Something about it made him uneasy, and now he found himself suddenly wary of Pearl's interest in it. He wondered whether it signified something important.
    "Why are you holding the sword, Pearl?" he asked.
    She looked up; and to his astonishment he discovered that she seemed much better. Only yesterday morning she was still feverish and restless, but now her green eyes regained their usual, serene depth, and her skin was no longer flushed with fever.
     "I had a dream, Elazul," she said, in a strangely absent tone. "I dreamt of sunlight, and something called to me. And I… I felt better, then."
    She rose to her feet slowly, her fingers leaving the sword. It cluttered to the floor, but she did not pay any attention to it, and went back to the bed. Huddling inside, she drew the blanket over herself, and closed her eyes. After a few moment she fell asleep, and her breathing was serene, regular and deep.
     Elazul remained, looking down at the sunlit splendor of the shining sword. Pearl's words echoed in his mind.
     Sunlight calling to her; and her fever healed. Just like her wounds have healed with light flowing from her core.
     But Pearl's frantic utterance returned to him.
     I have no power, she said.
     Elazul knelt and examined the sword. I have no weapon now, he thought to himself. I might as well use this one.
     He had a vague, uneasy sense that he ought not do this, ought not to try and wield this strange, mysterious weapon…
     But the sword's light called to him, and, without realizing it, he obeyed the call.

     That day, a plan formed in Elazul's mind. He knew that he could not continue this way. He must find a house for Pearl and himself, and find a temporary occupation to keep them both.
     He consulted the innkeeper about this matter.  The innkeeper, after a short meditation, advised him to acquire the help of Rachel's mother, Jennifer. Elazul agreed, and the two met that afternoon.
     Rachel's mother was a practical-looking little woman with long, thick, light brown hair, and wide eyes that seemed to stare at people in a disconcerting fashion, as if she was constantly taking their measure. She took to Elazul at once in an easygoing, friendly manner that seemed natural to her.  She was as voluble as her daughter was silent, and seemed to know everything about the people of the town. She conveyed much of her knowledge to Elazul as they quested for a house together.
     Elazul did not have much money at his disposal, and the only dwelling they found that fitted within his budget was a run-down little cottage at the edge of town. Rachel's mother surveyed the house's dark, dusty interior with distaste; but she immediately assured Elazul that this could be remedied with some cleaning. Elazul could see no other option, and he took the place. He asked Rachel's mother whether her daughter could help with the initial ordering of the house.
     "Of course, dear," said Jennifer briskly. "We'll be glad to help you."
     Elazul felt grateful for her generosity; and he recalled something else. A little embarrassed, he said, "I was also wondering whether you would aid Pearl to choose some new clothes. It's just that she has only one suit, and she needs more; she's a little absent-minded, and probably can't be relied on to choose properly for herself."
     Jennifer, who's seen Pearl during the first quarter-hour of meeting Elazul, said at once, "I would love to select some clothes for your lovely friend! She is as tall and beautiful as a princess, and some of the gowns we have will look remarkable on her."
     "Thank you," said Elazul. "I was also wondering about something else, however. I'll be soon getting some work, and Pearl will… well, she will need taking care of, someone to stay in the hours with her when I'm gone. I was wondering whether Rachel could come and watch her for me for a few hours during the afternoon, at least at first. I'll pay well," he added.
     Rachel's mother nodded, as if he was confirming something she had already understood. "I think Rachel won't mind doing that. From what I've seen of your friend, she does seem somewhat… fragile. I hope you don't mind me asking, dear, but did something happen to her, or was she always like this?"
     "No— yes," answered Elazul, caught off-guard by the question, and unsure of what to say for a moment. "She experienced a shock recently, and it changed her a little, so I— I'm taking care of her."
     "Is she a relative of yours, then?" asked Rachel's mother, raising an eyebrow.
     "She's— no," answered Elazul, a little quickly; but he added no further explanation. Rachel's mother stared at him for a moment with her disconcertingly steady gaze, and Elazul changed color.
     "He's a precious one, isn't he?" the little woman remarked to no one in particular. "Well, don't you worry your head about it, dear. I'll take care of everything."
     And so, the next afternoon Elazul met a vision of Black Pearl as he had never seen her before. Rachel's mother certainly selected beautiful clothes for her; their general array of gold and white seemed to fit Pearl's new persona well. But at the same time, it was a little unsettling for Elazul to see this tall, majestic woman decked in somewhat childlike clothes. Pearl made no objections, and her complete oblivion to the indignity inflicted upon her made him feel strangely disconcerted, the true realization of his situation pressing upon him again, his new reality somewhat unsettling and a little sad.
     He spent the next day questing for work, and he finally found an afternoon's work at a smith's workshop. The wages were just enough to keep up the rent for the house and feed Pearl and himself, and Elazul discovered that he liked his new work, that taught him much about the process of weapon-forging and maintenance.
     Rachel met him at the door of the house when he returned in late evening on the first day. Elazul was pleased to discover that the house had been meticulously cleaned, the dust and cobwebs swept away, the floors and cupboards washed. The house had been fitted with new furniture, selected by Jennifer, that appeared both practical and tasteful, without being too expensive.
     He thanked the silent child that proved so much help for him, and escorted her home. Returning to his own house, he washed himself and went upstairs to check on Pearl.
     Pearl was asleep, and seemed peaceful, almost childlike. Elazul watched her, and wondered at the change his life had wrought. He only left the Jumi city some three weeks ago, but it seemed like a space of months, even years.
     And he reflected, my life is finally going to settle into a quiet and comfortable routine; who knows how long it will last, but I need this space of silence, a space to live quietly and forget about everything… for at least a little while.

     Sapphire was setting a table in the restaurant of the blue seaside inn, spreading a white cloth map across it, and carefully arranging the silverware and china upon it. She continued with her task, moving from table to table, until the entire hall was arranged for the upcoming dinner.
     She glanced outside the large windows, and observed the rich golden rays of the lowering sun pouring into the hall. Evening is nearing, she thought. Perhaps I was wrong? Perhaps it was not—
     Just then, the door behind her flung open, and the innkeeper entered. "Sapphire," he said. "There is a man here that wishes to see the woman you brought today. You told me to ask you first, so here I am."
     "Yes, thank you," said Sapphire at once. "Where is he?" She had already begun to move towards the door, but then a young man stepped through. "Where is that young woman who found her, then?" he asked; his voice was terse, brusque.
     Sapphire recognized him at once. Then my guess was right, she thought. "Elazul!" she said softly, moving towards him, barely disguising the tremor of happiness rippling through her voice at seeing him again. "I'm so glad you're here. I—"
     He seemed astonished to see her, and halted for a moment; but then he strode quickly towards her. "Sapphire!” he said, his eyes searching her intently. “What are you doing here?"
     She bestowed a faint smile on him, seeming amused at his crestfallen expression. “I left the city,” she said, quite simply.
     Elazul looked at her searchingly for a moment; but then, shaking himself out of his momentary stupor, he said quickly: “Then, of course, you saw—“
     Sapphire lowered her eyes. “Yes. I found her on the beach.”
     Elazul, looking down likewise, said quietly, “Then you know. Where is she now?”
     Sapphire indicated the stairs with her hand, moving towards it, and Elazul immediately begun to follow her. They ascended the small, narrow staircase, that led to the third floor, where most of the inn’s rooms were located. Sapphire pushed open one of the doors. “My room,” she explained.
     Pearl was standing with her back to the door, watching the sea through the open window. The unceasing waves flung against the rocks several stories below, three floors of the inn and the full height of the red cliffs. Elazul, approaching her, noticed that her eyes were fixed on the opaque darkness of the pool flowing below. Perceiving Elazul, she shifted her gaze to the floor.
     “Elazul,” she said, softly. “I— I tried to go home, but…”
     “It’s all right, Pearl,” Elazul said immediately. “Come here; sit on the bed. You’ve met Sapphire, right? She is a friend of mine.”
     Pearl fixed a vague look on Sapphire, who returned it mutely; but no flicker of interest or recognition moved in her eye, and she proceeded to obey Elazul, moving towards bed with slow, almost weary steps. Elazul seated himself besides her.
     “Listen, Pearl,” he said gently. “I need to talk to Sapphire. Just rest for now.”
     She nodded, saying nothing. After gazing at her for a little while more, Elazul indicated Sapphire to come sit near him at the window-seal.
     “Speak softly,” he said, quietly. “I don’t wish her to hear what we are saying.”
    Sapphire nodded in understanding. Elazul took her hand, pressed the thin fingers. “I am truly glad to see you again,” he said. “But tell me everything that happened, Sapphire. How did you come to live in this place?”
     The smile she gave him was warm and genuine. “I am glad to see you, Elazul… so very glad. And I will tell you the story.”

     "I always wanted to leave the city, Elazul,” Sapphire said, her eyes fixed on the sea outside her window, her soft voice slow, but clear in tone as she begun her narration.” You know that I did. Remember that time when we visited the town not far from the city together? It was my first time outside the city and it was…” she slowed for a moment, and finished, “it made me realize how much I wished to leave it.”
     Elazul made no comment, but waited for her patiently to continue.
     “Snow and Emeralda felt the same way that I did. You know that Emeralda always wished to leave for the university city, and Snow was ready to join her. She was very angry at everything that the council did to you. So… she gathered both of us, and we made plans for our escape. Which we executed about a month after you left.”
     “Sapphire,” Elazul interrupted her now, “please tell me— how is the city?”
     She glanced at him, noticed his strained expression, and seemed to understand it.
     “It’s… not as bad you might think it is, Elazul,” she said. Almost on impulse, she leant forward and took his hand in hers. “Please don’t look so worried, Elazul! Diana and Rubens are taking care of everything. And as for the healers… they managed well, even without Florina. The number of sick actually dwindled in the weeks after you left. I don’t know what the situation is like now,” she added. “But, Elazul…” she stammered now, her white cheeks flushing as she uttered her observation, “Florina was in a bad shape… I knew that she was. The city would have been in the same way even if she stayed because… of her condition. Elazul… please don’t trouble yourself over the city. I think that everything is all right, at least for now.”
      Elazul said nothing, but his eyes stayed on Sapphire. Though she had not known it, her manner affected him as deeply as her words.
     She changed, he thought to himself, not a little astonished. Sapphire changed. She is actually exerting herself, speaking to me… trying to comfort me!
     Since Elazul maintained his silence, Sapphire, after examining him and feeling reassured at his expression, continued with her story.
     "It took almost two weeks of traveling, for Snow, Emeralda and myself, and it wasn't easy, but we were together, which made it better. And when we reached this inn, and this little, beautiful harbor, we decided to stay for a while before continuing, and I...”
     Sapphire became abruptly silent, a soft look stealing into her eyes. “I simply had to stay here,” she said, in a low voice. “So… I engaged to work here as a waitress. And I've been here ever since; for over two months now."
     Elazul covertly examined Sapphire as the girl narrated her story with a quiet, flowing, even voice. The rays of the dying sun that streamed through the window of Sapphire’s bedroom were orange and warm, and the soft evening wind caressed the young woman's long hair, stirring it around her white face. There was a relaxed expression in her eyes, an air of serenity about her, and of quiet contentment.
     Yes, he thought; Sapphire has changed. It was a subtle change, but it was there, for anyone who cared to observe. She seemed happier, much more open, much more... sure of herself. I don't know what brought this change, Elazul reflected, but it must be this new, quiet life. She seems happy, as if she found her niche, her calling...
     "Why did you stay here, Sapphire?" he asked.
     "I love the sea," she replied, turning her face and watching the slow, steady surf beyond the red rocks. "I... I fell in love with it, Elazul." She gave him a rare smile, rare because it was a clear, genuine, warm smile that he had barely ever seen on her. Or perhaps nowadays it's not so rare, Elazul realized. "I had to stay. The moment I came here, I knew that I had to stay. Snow and Emeralda didn't deter me. I think that they understood."
     "So everything was all right?" he inquired, searching her expression intently. He had to make sure; he couldn’t rely on his instinct alone. "Do you feel comfortable with the place they give you, Sapphire?"
     "I had help," answered Sapphire. "A dancer that works here was very nice to me. Her name is Revanshe. She worked here for a long time, performing in the dining hall, and she's on good terms with the owners of the inn. The innkeeper was very kind as well. Revanshe helped me get the work, and made sure that they give me a good room. She's like a big sister to me."
      "I wish to meet her, then, and thank her for her kindness," said Elazul. "But, Sapphire, are you sure you don't wish to come live with Pearl and myself? I have a house in town, not far from here. You can stay with us."
     But she shook her head. "No, Elazul. I don't wish to live in town. I love the sea. I love it here... I love to be alone, relying on my own work… and to feel free. I don’t need much. Just a room to stay, and food. And I have both here."
     Elazul was silent. He saw enough by now to perceive that Sapphire, despite her compliant manner, would be adamant about this matter. Perhaps, just perhaps, if he ordered her, he could influence her to come and live at his side, where it was safe, where she wouldn’t have to worry about concealing her true nature. His eyes made an inevitable shift to the young girl’s shirt, closed to her neck. He knew that Sapphire understood the need to conceal her core. And still, he didn’t know if she would be safe enough.
     But then he looked up and gazed into the girl's large eyes, perceiving once again their expression of serene contentment, observing how she changed from the timid, nervous, sickly child of the city, and he could not find the heart to do it.
     Perhaps I myself will come live here soon, he thought. For a while, just to keep an eye on her. Yes, as soon as I can, I should come…
     Perceiving his silence, Sapphire repeated her previous statement.
    “I wish to stay here, Elazul.”
     Elazul looked down, refraining from meeting her gaze. “I understand.”
     As if wishing to change the subject, Sapphire said: “And what about you, Elazul? Please tell me all that happened.”
     He met her gaze with a mirthless smile. “You must guess some of it by now.” But then he proceeded to narrate all the events. When he got to Alex’s death he halted, slowing; and then felt Sapphire’s hand on his own again; a quiet, reassuring touch. And he recalled that she, too, has once suffered a loss in her life through death.
     He concluded his story, and Sapphire remarked quietly: “I could see that Lady Pearl has changed; now I understand why.”
     Elazul looked her intently. “You changed too, Sapphire,” he observed.
     She gave him a somewhat melancholy smile, but said nothing, and Elazul found himself returning to that recurring, troublesome reflection. If I leave her here, alone, and people find that she’s a Jumi…
     The apprehension troubled him, and he shook it off again. I’ll come back as soon as I can, he repeated to himself. He made a move, as if to rise, but suddenly Sapphire raised her hand to stay him.
     “Elazul,” she said, speaking in tones quicker than usual for her. “Please understand why I wish to stay here. I wish to… to spend the rest of my life here, where I feel happy.”
     “It’s everyone’s wish, Sapphire,” he answered. “I understand.”
     But she shook her head. Her fingers went to her neck, then touched the place where Elazul knew her core was hidden below the cloth.
     “You don’t understand, Elazul,” she said softly. “I… I told Snow. And now, I’ll tell you. My core is flawed. This is part of the reason why my tears aren’t very effective.”
     Elazul’s brows came together slightly, but he said, “Yes, I guessed as much from your aspect. Jumi with flawed cores often look unhealthy; like Snow.”
     She maintained her gaze on him, her eyes full of a strange emotion. “Then… you know?” she asked.
     Elazul begun to feel a little perturbed now. “Is something wrong, Sapphire?” he asked.
     Sapphire looked down, for a moment not answering. Then she said:
     “No, nothing is… not exactly. Elazul, you know that Jumi with flawed cores… they don’t live as long as regular Jumi. For some, it’s only a matter of few decades, but for me… Black Pearl told my mother that… that I shall live less than a quarter of normal Jumi life.”
     The knowledge that Sapphire imparted with a quiet, steady voice seemed to chill Elazul for a moment. He said nothing.
     “This is why I wish to stay here,” said Sapphire, softly. “I don’t have as much time as the other Jumi. We Jumi… we live long. Life flows around us incessantly, passing us without us noticing it. But I… I don’t have that leisure, Elazul. I must live my life more like a human. To make the most of it, as I wish, right now. Even now, I feel that I’ve been a child for too long.  A human my age is a knowledgeable adult in the middle of her life… while I am barely a child come of age… and I have barely twice the lifespan of that human.” She looked at Elazul fully now, her large eyes clear, full of emotions. “This is why I must stay here. Where I am happy… right now.”
     Elazul hung his head. He took the girl’s hand in his own, pressing it tightly.
     “I understand, Sapphire,” he said, quietly; because he did not know what else to say. She had said it better than he ever could.

     Elazul decided to meet the dancer Revanshe, whom Sapphire said had helped her so much, and judge whether she could take proper care of Sapphire. He knew he would not force Sapphire to come with him; but it would ease his task, make him feel less worried if he knew that she was properly taken care of.
     He made the request to Sapphire again, and soon followed her down the staircase again, into the inn’s second story, and into the same spacious hall of the inn’s restaurant. He had not noticed how beautiful it was before, but now he had time to observe it at leisure.
     The hall was decorated tastefully in soft shades of blue. Large windows overlooked the gorgeous vista of the sunset over the sea, and the small mahogany tables, overlaid with white maps and stubby candles set inside curved copper holders, gave it a pleasing air of quaintness.  There was raised platform in front of the tables, attached to the wall set with the windows; and a young woman, her back to the splendid view of the sea, was performing a dance on this stage for the nightly guests.
     Elazul seated himself at a table with Sapphire, watching the show. The young woman was clad in green, and held a long silken scarf in her hand, which she used to affect a flowing, water-like effect to accompany her graceful movements. After she finished the dance audience applauded her. Bowing, she left the stage, and, seeming to spot Sapphire, she made her way towards their table.
     She seated herself on a chair, and, her eyes on Elazul, inquired of Sapphire after his identity.
     "He's an old friend," Sapphire answered. "Elazul, this is Revanshe."
     Revanshe had taken off the veil that had concealed the lower part of her face, and Elazul found himself looking at a tall, willowy human woman of about twenty-eight. Her delicate face was attractive if not beautiful, with very white skin and high, strongly marked cheekbones, and her exotically slanted eyes were sky-blue in color. She had let down her yellow hair, that had been previous pinned away from her face in a tightly-coiled braid, and it fell down to the small of her back.
     Elazul made a gesture of welcome; but Revanshe did not take his proffered hand, and instead continued to examine him with her straight stare. At Sapphire’s answer she raised an arched eyebrow. "Friend?" she echoed.
     Sapphire nodded, and Revanshe leant back in her chair. "Hm," she said. "Well, child, if I had a man who looks like THAT passing off as my friend, and if some hussy inquired after our relationship, the first thing I personally would do is tell her that he’s mine. THEN I would find out the details about her precise intentions."
     Sapphire said nothing, but she smiled; and Elazul, not at all disconcerted, said gravely, "I’m afraid that I am more like Sapphire's brother than anything else."
     "I’ll take your word for it, then," Revanshe answered. "So, what's the full story?"
     Elazul related it, carefully omitting all details relating to the Jumi city, and hoping that it would sound plausible enough; but Revanshe did not make any embarrassing inquiries, and she waved off his expressions of gratefulness for helping Sapphire.
     "Nothing to it," she said briskly. "I could immediately tell that this child needs to be taken care of; and so I did."
     "Don't belittle your actions," replied Elazul. "I know of many that would do otherwise."
     She arched a brow. "I can think of several ways in which you could thank me."
     Elazul, meeting her gaze, finally changed color. A smile tilting his mouth, he said, "I thank you deeply from the bottom of my heart."
     Revanshe gave a dismissive sniffle and rose to her feet. "So he says. Well, Sapphire, I can see that you took a little time off tonight, no doubt to host your re-discovered friend. I would love to chat more, but I need to change, first." To Elazul's surprise, she leant forward and grabbed his hand, shaking it briefly; then, turning around, she made her way through the narrow paths between the tables and vanished through a small back-door.
     "Please don't mind Revanshe," whispered Sapphire, leaning forwards towards Elazul, and seeming a little apologetic. "She acts a little strange sometimes, but she's really very nice and kind to me."
     He smiled at her. "I think that you're in good hands, Sapphire," he observed wryly. “That woman certainly will never be at a loss for an answer to anyone.”

     A little while later, Elazul ascended the stairs towards Sapphire’s room. Much had happened that day, and he needed to re-organize his thoughts, be alone for a while. He will soon retire to the little room downstairs that the innkeeper and Revanshe arranged for him; but first he had to check on Pearl.
     He opened the door slowly, and could see that Pearl was standing near the window again, as she had done before.
     “Pearl,” he said softly, approaching her. “I’m back. Did you sleep?”
     She made no reply, and Elazul, coming to stand before her, perceived that her eye were fixed on the dark skies.
     “Pearl,” he said again, gently. She was like this sometimes; lost in her own reveries, oblivious to his presence… he put a hand on her shoulder and she shuddered a little, as if his abrupt gesture broke a spell.
     “They… are not longer calling me,” she whispered.
     She turned dark, troubled eyes on Elazul. “I… I must find them again," she said. "I have… I have lost them, Elazul.”

Comment: Revanshe had exactly two lines in Legend of Mana, and her principle role was to have lewd sexual advances made upon her by a talking fish with legs (whose role, you must recall, had an obvious relation to Sapphire). But she was related to the seaside harbor, and she was pretty cool. So I decided to give her a role in this story, which, while is still small, is better than to have her be the object of desire for a fish. At least, I would so guess.

What's up with the U2 song, you ask? (What's up with songs in general, you ask!) I tend to be inspired by music in my writing, and U2 are a great love of mine. The song 'Drowning Man' is one of my favorites, even though its lyrics are that of a fairly standard love song that sometimes make no sense ('I'll be there if you can'?). However, the song has absolutely beautiful music, very tragic-sounding, and this is why I like it so much. Plus, it has the whole love-and-drowning thing going on in it, so it's appropriate. Right? Right.

Anyway, prepare to be inflicted by some more songs in the future.

Chapter 3