Legend of the Jumi: Part III, Chapter 1
by The Mana Priestess

PART III: PEARL (Both P/S versions)

Chapter 1: The White Pearl

     White, pearly flakes of snow covered the earth, lightly dusted the path leading into the town that lay in the valley near the sea-cliffs. Most of the doors inside the town were shut tight against the frozen winter night; it was almost ten o’clock, and all the shops were closed. The small, dimly-lighted inn at the edge of the town was about to be shut for the night as well, and the innkeeper was performing the last organizational duties around the wooden counter, when a knock sounded on the door of the inn.
     He opened it slightly, just a crack, for the hour was very late. A young man was standing on the steps, holding a woman in his arms. He was extremely pale, his eyes dark, and his color was cast into a sickly hue in the yellow, melancholy glow of the lamp fixed above the door; he was also shaking in the chill, for his long-sleeved shirt was light rather than warm.
     "Please—" his voice was hoarse and fatigued, his accents strained— "I need a place to stay."
     The innkeeper opened the door wide and peered at the woman. She was wrapped in a green cloak and lay in the young man’s arms perfectly still and white. Her skin had an aspect of an unnatural pallor, her eyes were closed, and her long hair streamed over the young man's arm, nearly reaching the floor. An ugly slash across her neck, dark with dried blood, seemed to partially explain her condition.
     "What happened?" he asked.
     "We were— attacked by bandits." The vague, guilty flushed that stained the young man's cheeks at this lie was luckily masked by the dim atmosphere. "She is my traveling companion. I have been carrying her in my arms for several hours now. I have some money, innkeeper…"
     The innkeeper raised his hand to halt the young man’s warily-uttered request. "Please come in,” he told him, opening the door wide. The young man entered into the warm room, and almost immediately collapsed into a nearby chair, his legs seeming to refuse to hold him any longer. He maintained a tight grip on the woman, however. The innkeeper eyed him curiously, but made no comment. “We have one free room," he told the young man, "but only one bed."
     "I'll sleep on the floor. She needs immediate care."
      To the young man's relief, the innkeeper made no further inquiries, and only said, "I'll provide an extra blanket. Follow me."

     Elazul ascended the short, rackety wooden steps the inn to the second floor of the inn and entered the tiny room indicated by the innkeeper. A small white bed and a chair, both seeming to shine with a comforting, homelike glow, provided a welcomed sight to his exhausted body and worn spirit. He carefully deposited Black Pearl onto the white sheets and then, relieved of the burden, he seated himself into the chair, passing his hand over his eyes. For a moment he seemed to struggle to collect himself again, but then he turned to the innkeeper, who had followed him into the room.
     "I'll need some hot water and clean bandages to care for her wounds," he said. "Is there anyone in the house at present— a maid— who could tend to cleaning her?"
     "The two maids are gone for the day, but we have a girl who sometimes helps me clean the inn at after hours," answered the innkeeper. He stepped out of the room for a moment and Elazul could hear his voice raised in a shout: "Rachel! Come here for a second!" Entering the room again he said, "She's a good, responsible girl, and she might be of use to you."
     A few moments later a quiet-looking girl of about thirteen appeared at the door. She had a pale, oval little face and dark, melancholy eyes; shortish dark hair framed her white countenance in feathery strands that reached no longer than her jaw. She paused at the threshold, her eyes taking in the sight of Elazul and the woman lying on the bed, but she displayed neither surprise nor dismay, and her gaze went to the innkeeper in passive expectancy for further orders.
     "Rachel, this man will need a bowl of hot water and some soap, as well as bandages. The woman is injured and needs to be washed. Will you be able to do it?"
     The girl nodded a silent assent, and Elazul intervened. "I'll need some water and soap myself. Please bring another bowl of water, and two towels." He rummaged in his bag and withdrew some silver pieces, which he placed in the innkeeper's palm. "This is the deposit for three nights. Also, I just thought of something; she has  no replacement clothes. Do you think you can find a clean nightgown for her?"
     The innkeeper turned to the girl again. "Rachel, run down to your mamma and ask her if she can sell us some clothes from the shop. Get us two nightgowns and some undergarments." Rachel said nothing, but nodded again, then turned and left as soon as he ceased speaking. Elazul, his face suffused with a faint tinge of embarrassment, said, "Thank you for your help."
     "No need to thank me," answered the man. "If you need anything, just tell me." His eyes ran speculatively over Black Pearl, but he made no remark, and left.
     Elazul let out a sigh. His gaze went to Black Pearl, who was lying on the white bed, the cast of her countenance nearly as pale as the sheets. He felt the strain of fatigue overtaking his whole body and wondered how long he could stand the wait; an urgent need to lie down somewhere and rest rose in him. The aftermath of Black Pearl’s attack had passed, but a slow, laborious march of almost two hours in the freezing winds with the woman’s body in his arms has sometimes exhausted him nearly to the point of fainting.
     A few minutes later Rachel entered with the bandages, as well as with a wooden bowl of water, a towel and a soap; and she perceived the young knight leaning forward, one arm against his knee, the palm of his hand supporting his forehead, his eyes gazing down with a blank, abstracted expression. He was roused at the noise of her entry and straightened, turning his face towards her; but he said nothing. Their eyes met, and a moment later she deposited the items she had brought on the small table at the side of the bed without comment, then turned and vanished again.
     Elazul, fighting against his fatigue, was roused to action again. He took the clean, cream-colored towel and dipped its edge in the warm, scented water. He gently passed the wet cloth over Black Pearl's face, clearing away the dust and the sweat. He proceeded with a careful cleaning to the various cuts and bruises on her face and shoulders and arms, paying careful attention to the lengthy wound across the lower side of her neck; then he withdrew the bottle of purifying distillment from his bag. He doused the wound with some of the liquid, and then, as he was unrolling the bandages, a thought suddenly occurred to him— the danger of discovery of Black Pearl’s core.
     With deft fingers he unlaced the shirt at Black Pearl's neck, and the incriminating sight of her core met his eyes; but it gave Elazul a momentary and unexpected pause. The dark jewel was shining faintly, but it had an odd aspect; instead of the impenetrable black Elazul was used to seeing, there was a faint glimmer shining within it, as if a small, pale star had formed in the center of the core.
     Elazul had no time to deliberate over this strange phenomenon for he thought he heard a noise from downstairs. He quickly passed the wet towel over Black Pearl's neck and shoulders, cleaning them, and then he unrolled the bandages and wrapped them around the upper part of her chest until they concealed her core completely. He then bound it securely and waited for Rachel to enter. She came in two minutes later, carrying the second bowl of water which contained a sliver of green soap floating within, and a large towel. "For you," she said with a soft voice. She turned and left, but came back a moment later, carrying some packages, which she placed the side of the bed; Elazul could recognize the pale lacing of a nightgown.
     “I’ll need to bandage her stomach wound again,” he told Rachel. “The previous bandage had become soaked. Do you grow sick at the sight of blood?”
     Rachel gave her head an adamant shake. Elazul, taking it for a consent, begun to issue instructions which Rachel followed with careful precision. They unwrapped the cloak from around Black Pearl’s body, and Elazul pulled the corners of her shirt up. He untied the expertly-bound bandages, that were now drenched with a slowly spreading red stain. The deep, gashing wound met his eyes, still oozing a small amount of blood; apparently it had re-opened— doubtlessly, Elazul reflected without remorse, due to his own action. He cleaned the blood with water, then doused the wound with the purifying tonic; finally, with Rachel’s aid, he wrapped the clean bandages around it.
     His mission done, he withdrew a clean shirt from his traveling bag and took the bowl of water and the towel. He rose to his feet and turned. “Please clean her and replace her clothes,” he told Rachel over his shoulder. “Be very careful not to move her too much.”
     He then went to the corner of the room, where a curtain closed off a small area designed for dressing. He entered and shut the curtain. Placing the bowl on the floor, he seated himself in front of it with his legs crossed; then he leant forwards and dipped his hands in the water, splashing a quantity of it on his face, and then over his head and neck. This action refreshed him somehow, and he proceeded to clean himself.
     When Elazul finished washing he said, slightly raising his voice: "May I come out?" A quiet voice answered him, "Yes," and he put on his clean shirt, automatically buttoning it to the neck in a habitual gesture of precaution. He drew the curtains aside and came towards the bed, his travel-stained shirt bundled in his hand.
     He found Rachel sitting by the bed by Black Pearl. Black Pearl's blood-stained clothes had been replaced by one of the nightgowns Rachel had brought from the shop. Rachel was sitting at the head of the bed; the bowl of water was placed on the table, which Rachel had moved close to the bed. Rachel had gathered Black Pearl's long tresses and placed it into the water bowl, in which they now floated like golden seaweed; she was applying a fragrant liquid, pale peach in color, that generated a soapy foam which she proceeded to disperse across the long threads of hair, cleaning them carefully and thoroughly.
     Elazul came to sit on the side of the bed and watched Rachel's work without interrupting her; she did not look towards him, but suddenly she said, with a wistful voice: "Her hair is so beautiful. I wish mine was this pretty. I brought new water to clean it especially," she added.
     Elazul smiled at this unexpectedly artless remark; it was like a little girl that had found some wonderful new doll. Rachel finished to clean Black Pearl's hair and doused it with water, then dried it with the towel. She then stood up and begun to gather the items she had brought in, but Elazul rose to his feet and approached her.
     "Thank you," he said. “You provided me with an invaluable help.”
     Her dark eyes looked at him for a moment without a change of expression; she made no reply, but after gathering everything she pointed at the bed with her finger.
     "Your blanket," she said.
     Elazul noticed a second blanket draped across the edge of the bed, and he suddenly laughed, the first spontaneous sound he made for a long while. The laughter seemed to disperse the lingering shades, and lightened his spirits a little. "Yes. Thank you for remembering."
     A faint smile flitted across the young girl's pale face, but she said nothing and left the room, closing the door behind her quietly.
     Elazul seated himself in the small, uncomfortable chair again. He draped the blanket across his shoulder and watched Black Pearl. There seemed to be no perceptible change in her; her eyes were still closed, her face still white.
     He wondered to himself whether she was in some sort of a shock which added to her condition, and recollected the vision of the blinding flash that the sword has emitted. Then he recalled how Alex vanished over the edge of the cliff, blood oozing down her body, and he turned his eyes away from Black Pearl, passing his hand over them. They burned and ached, chafing against their inability to shed tears. Elazul stood up and removed the chair to the corner of the room. He wrapped himself well in the blanket and lay on the wooden floor besides the bed, closing his eyes.

     He opened them again to gentle sunlight. Slowly he rose to a sitting position, passing his hand over his face to remove the trappings of sleep from his eyes. A stirring at his side, on the bed, caught his attention, and he turned his face quickly towards it.
     Lady Black Pearl was sitting on the bed and looking at him. Elazul, who had meant to rise to his feet, suddenly became perfectly still and stared at her with stunned silence.
     She was sitting in a pool of the cool morning sunlight that diffused through the window; and it took Elazul a moment or two to fully grasp the strange alteration that had overcome her. Black Pearl's hair, whose color had previously been a rich dark gold threaded with flaxen threads, had altered to a uniformly pale, light gold, the long silken waves framing her face and body in a glowing halo. The large eyes were no longer black; their color had turned into a deep, clear turquoise. It was a subtle change, but it seemed to alter her aspect thoroughly; instead of shining darkly she glowed with a bright light, pale and pure in the white gown of satin and lace.
     It took yet another moment for Elazul to understand this impression, perceive that the change was not only physical. Black Pearl's countenance was not frozen into its usual calm expression, but was, instead, relaxed and somewhat wary; her eyes didn't seem opaque and penetrating, but looked at him with a strangely undetermined expression, seeming to receive his gaze instead of repelling it.
     After another moment Elazul collected himself with an effort and flushed faintly at a realization that he had been staring at her. He hurriedly rose to his feet, attempting to act as casual as possible. "How are you feeling, Lady?" he asked, keeping his tone neutral; his expression, however, was obdurate, the lines of his face harsh.
     She opened her mouth but for a moment no sound came; then she answered, "I don’t know.”
     Elazul seated himself on the side of the bed, looking down at the white sheets to try and avoid staring at her strangely transformed appearance. Many conflicting feelings crowded in his mind as it coursed over the turbulent and precarious career of their acquaintance, but his instinctive reaction had always been to protect a woman in a susceptible situation, and he was unsure what to do or say. He decided to leave the conversation to her, for he had never known Black Pearl to lack for words. He found himself struggling between his deep anger and his present indecision, and wondered whether she was doing the same; and upon that thought he suddenly realized that she had said nothing. The prolonged silence grated his nerves, and he looked upwards again.
     To his slight chagrin he found that she was still looking at him with the same uncertain expression in her eyes. A thought entered his mind that she still hasn't recovered completely; and this recalled her wound to her memory. “You shouldn’t be sitting up,” he said grimly. ”It could hurt your wounds.”
      "My wounds?” she echoed, her voice very low.
     "Yes." Elazul did not pay attention to her words, but looked at her with a frown in his eyes, reflecting that she was certainly sitting with a poise that indicated comfort rather than pain. He could discern the faint cantor of the bandages through the white gown, and they did not seem to be stained with blood. A good sign for her; he wondered whether the wounds were not as grave as it seemed before.
     She now spoke again. “There was a pain in my stomach and chest, around here—“ she placed her fingers lightly on the bandages— “but I put my hand onto them and the pain disappeared.”
     Elazul eyed her somewhat doubtfully, perplexed at her strange way of speaking, and a puzzled expression entered his eyes. “The pain vanished?”
     “Yes.” She lowered her eyes before his intent gaze, seeming disconcerted for a moment. His astonishment deepened at this uncharacteristic reaction on her part. Something was certainly wrong with her; it was not only the physical transformation that alerted him to it. "Lady," he said, "what do you recall?"
     After a lengthy pause she looked down before his direct, searching gaze, her fingers smoothing her nightgown with a strangely restless gesture. "I— don't know," she said, and her melodious voice, that has always been clear and precise, was low and soft in its tones. "I can't recall anything, just..." he brows came together in a momentary effort, and her fingers halted their nervous activity; "a white light.” Her eyes returned to Elazul, wary, but also filled with some other emotion. “Did you… did you rescue me?”
     Elazul had been too confounded by this strangely-uttered speech from Black Pearl to respond for a moment. He then realized, with a sudden flash of understanding, that this was no longer Black Pearl as she once had been; he had guessed that she might have lost her memory, but this was no mere memory loss. It was a complete and utter transformation. Perhaps, he thought with a strange verve, some hidden aspect to Pearl had surfaced and displaced her previous persona— which might mean that what I once felt, that something that I sensed glowing from within her core had been there— I was right!
     He still couldn’t understand what she meant by the pain in her wound vanishing when she placed her hand to it. Somewhat more gently, he said, “Can you please describe to me how you made the pain in your stomach vanish?”
     She averted her face again, her color heightened, and stammered, “I— I don’t know. My hand glowed white and the pain vanished."
     Elazul recalled Black Pearl’s treatment of him, her hand surrounded by a dark glow, draining his core, her own black core glowing as it weakened him and drained his energy; and what she now said about her hand being surrounded by white light, the pain disappearing; and he thought of her strange transformation, dark beauty to light; and then Elazul was up on his feet, kneeling on the bed, leaning towards her, his hands grasping at her nightgown. Her eyes widened and she shrank away; all at once he realized how his action might be interpreted by her and he paused, his face flooding with red; but his mind was racing with anticipation for the confirmation of his suspicion, and he said, quietly, "Don't worry! I won't harm you, I, I just need to replace those bandages." He straightened, falling back a little. "If you wish it, you can undo them yourself."
     She looked down at her nightgown, her fingers passing over the bandages about her chest. "These? I should take them off?"
     Elazul nodded. "Please do, quickly. I— I shall turn my back, if you so wish." He turned around and sat on the edge of the bed, his back to her. "Now, please unbind the bandages. Quickly!"
     "'I— I will," was her hesitant answer. Elazul thought, she is definitely changed; Black Pearl never obeyed anyone's command; and he waited impatiently. Finally, she said "I have done it," and then she uttered a short exclamation of surprise. "Oh! What's this?"
     He turned around. The first thing he could see her eyes looking into his with consternation, and heard her voice saying, "I— why do I have this— what am I?"
     The next thing Elazul saw was Black Pearl's exposed core, and he stared at it, torn between amazement and the realization that his theory, so vaguely founded, had been right beyond his wildest dreams.
     Black Pearl's core had become completely white.

Comments: Now, I bet you didn't see this one coming.
I hoped you liked the guest appearance by Rachel. She’ll appear again later.

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