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Legend of Mana

Invisible Tears
By Chudah [ 08-25-01 ]


The little sproutling looked precariously through the window. How kind that girl was. Not only had she shown him compassion, but in this swelteringly hot weather, she took the courtesy of sharing some of her precious water with him. He liked water. It made his leaves perk. If only that man hadn't come to take her away, he would have shown his appreciation, somehow.

Now, as he peered through the window of the tavern, he could see her sitting there with her head bent low, staring at her dainty fingers as that man paced back and forth. He was upset at her, but the sproutling could not understand why. Then again, sproutlings could never understand much of the ways of humans.

* * *

"Pearl..." The young man paced back and forth, his long green cape flapping behind him. "How many times do I have to tell you not to leave the inn?" His voice was filled with aggravation, and tinged with a hint of concern. "It's not safe out there, or anywhere for that matter."

"Oh Elazul, I know. I just couldn't help to watch that poor sproutling suffer." She brushed away the strands of long blonde hair that fell onto her face. "And it was only outside of the door, not far at all."

Sighing in frustration, "Listen to me, I'm only doing this to protect you. As your Knight, it's my duty." Finally sitting next to her, bending his head low as well, "There are so few of us left. We have to be careful."

Pearl raised her eyes to gaze out the window. A frown shadowed her face as she looked towards the setting sun. The final rays disappearing behind distant hills, she suddenly felt her heart drop away as Elazul's words rang in her ears. "What are we to do? What am I to do?" She could feel the tears well inside of her, but could not cry. Part of her wondered if it was because she did not want to or because she did not know how. The last rays of sunlight shone across her face, highlighting the sadness that overcame her delicate features.

"I'm tired of running away, of hiding."

"I know, and one day we won't have to run anymore. I promise."

There was a silence as they both watched the setting sun together.

"I wish I could remember it Elazul, the Bejeweled City. It must have been so beautiful." Lowering her sight once more, she wiped at a tear that wasn't there and wondered if she'd ever remember anything again.

"It was as magnificent as you can imagine it. Even more so. One day you'll remember, I know it." Pushing his chair back and beginning to rise, "But now is not the time. We need to make plans. We've stayed here too long. We have to leave Domina."

"But I like it here. Everyone is so kind, and it's such a nice little village. I feel safe here."

"We're not safe anywhere, Pearl. Anyway, I have to keep looking for the others. I don't know how many Jumi are left, but I need to find them." As Pearl gave him a nervous look, Elazul lowered his voice. In his excitement he couldn't help but raise it, and mentioning the Jumi was a mistake. What if someone heard? Glancing about the tavern, he noticed only the fairy-like waitress tending the tables. Thankfully, she seemed uninterested in their conversation. "We leave tomorrow."

"But to where?"

"I'm not sure...maybe Polpolta. We're almost out of money, and all I have left are the gems. Maybe we can find someone who's interested in buying..." cutting his words short as the waitress made her way to their table, Elazul gave Pearl a quick glance signaling the end of the conversation.

"Are we all set, sir?" The girl's voice was very soft, almost shy. "Will you be needing anything else?"

"No, no…this is fine. We'll be leaving shortly, so I'll be paying our tab."

"Oh..." Looking curiously at the two, "Well then, I'll be back in a moment." Walking to the bar, the fairy-girl began totaling what they owed.

Reaching into a pouch, Elazul sifted through the contents looking for what lucre they had left. After a minute's search, his brow furrowed as he silently swore to himself. "This is not good."

"Elazul, what's wrong?" Pearl began to worry.

"We're out of lucre. All I have left are the jewels." They had been living off of the few gems he managed to spare before the fall of the City. He had been careful not to let people know about them, pawning them when he could, usually getting less than half of what they were worth.

The waitress was heading back. Placing a slip of paper onto the table, she waited as the man silently looked at it. A fortnight's stay cost barely ten silverlings, yet the smallest gem in his bag was worth far more than a thousand lucre. It would be robbery. But, as a man of honor, Elazul was not about to leave the little tavern without paying his debt. Sighing in resignation, he reached into his pouch and procured a medium-sized ruby which he offered to the waitress as her jaw dropped.

Almost stuttering, "S-sir...I'm sorry, but...this is way more than you owe."

"I know, but this is all that I have."

Taking the gem into her hand, the girl examined it for a moment. It was beautiful, far prettier than any she'd ever seen or heard about. Almost trembling, she held it to a torch, and dozens of crimson shards sliced across the walls, illuminating the room in their warm glow.

"I'm sorry, but I can't accept this."

"Why not?"

"A gem like that doesn't belong in a town like this. Anyway, what would a girl like me do with it?" Handing it back, "Listen, I've heard of a place in Geo. A small jewelry store, but the owner sells the most exquisite gems. You may be able to sell it there." Taking the paper from him, "I'll keep this until you return. You can pay me then." She quickly bowed then hurried from the table. But before she could disappear behind the counter, Elazul called out.

"Miss?" She stopped. "May I ask your name?"

Blushing as she turned around, "Rachel...it's Rachel."

"Thank you, Miss Rachel."

* * *

"Are you sure taking the Highway was a good idea? Maybe the forest would have been better." Pearl hurried to catch up to Elazul. She couldn't help but feel like they were being watched. With all of the stories of highway robbers and thugs along these roads, it made her feel uneasy. If that were not enough, the bare, colorless trees that lined the paths, combined with the desolate landscape and dirt road, gave a sense of foreboding she could not shake.

"This is the quickest way to Geo. Besides, I'm here to protect you." He looked back, flashing a reassuring smile her way. "Nothing's going to happen."

A crack of a branch behind them and Pearl stopped, frozen in her tracks. "Elazul, I heard something." Walking back and taking her hand, he continued forward.

"It's probably a rabite, nothing to worry about."

As the sun began to set, the trees cast strange shadows onto the road ahead which disturbed Pearl even more. She'd been watching the trees, expecting anything to pop out at her, but could see nothing and heard only the faint rustle of the breeze through their skeleton-like branches. It would be night soon, and they'd have to set up camp. For now they were stopping to rest, and as Elazul sat upon a large rock, something whirled past his head and smashed into the dirt before them. An axe...

Jumping from the trees, three goblins landed on the path. One approached Pearl while the other two stepped cautiously towards Elazul, weapons raised. Springing to his feet just before two axes crashed onto the rock, he rushed sideways, ramming into the goblin standing before her. Unsheathing his scimitar, he stood in front of Pearl as the angry monsters neared.

"Pearl, run!"

She slowly backed away, too scared to leave without him.

"Go! Now!"

Fear overtook her, and she fled. The last image she saw before turning was the goblins pouncing upon him. Her heart sank as she imagined the struggle and the possibility that she may never see Elazul again. But he was her Knight, sworn to protect her at all costs. He would have to come back. He had to. And what about her then? She was a Guardian, right? Just as he had sworn to protect her at all costs, it was her duty to heal the wounds he would receive in battle. But with what? Her precious tears? Every Jumi teardrop was a piece of their life forever lost. But now after so many years, those who had been sworn as Guardians could no longer cry the healing tears for those in need. If needed, she could not promise the tears that she was bound by duty to shed for him.

Pearl did not know how long she'd been running. If not for the glowing light of her core that illuminated the path ahead, she would not have found her way. After what seemed an eternity, her legs gave way and she fell to the ground. Gasping for air, she prayed to the Mana Goddess that Elazul would come back to her, that he would be okay.

* * *

Elazul was in quick pursuit of Pearl. Having disposed of one goblin, the other two were close on his trail. He didn't want to lead them towards her, but the only other path lead deep into the Luon Woods where he'd run the risk of getting lost. Besides, there were other, more dangerous creatures hiding there.

Unable to lose the pair, he spun around, scimitar poised in one hand, the other clenched as he waited. This time they did not rush him, but slowly approached while grunting incomprehensible commands to each other. Stopping nearly twenty feet away, they stood glaring. What were they waiting for? Did they want him to attack first? Growing impatient, Elazul took a step forward, careful not to underestimate these vile little creatures. The left one nodded and the other flung himself at Elazul, bringing his axe down behind him. Taking a swing with his scimitar, he sliced the handle then brought his elbow down on the creature's head, knocking it unconscious. Before he could look up the other swung its weapon, narrowly missing him, but came close enough to tangle in his cape. The knight swiftly whipped around, kicking the monster to the ground. Tearing the axe from his cape, Elazul thrust it into the trees. Without his weapon, or his companions, the goblin grunted a few last words then made a hasty retreat. Not fully convinced it was gone, Elazul stood there for a few minutes before finally lowering his sword.

This was not what he had been expecting. Sure, there had been rumors of thieves along these paths, but goblins? It seemed as if the world were turning inside out these days. If he had such a hard time protecting Pearl, what would happen to her if he were gone? His heritage, his duty demanded that he protect her. It was the only way the Jumi had survived so long. Yet, how long had it been since he found her alone, unprotected, cold, so close to dying? Alone himself, finding Pearl was finding a reason to continue on. He had someone to fight for. Pearl was different from anyone else he'd ever met. Caring, sweet, innocent...like an angel.

Returning from his thoughts, Elazul realized he'd been wasting too much time contemplating the past instead of searching for his Guardian. The fallen goblin was coming to, and the Jumi was not prepared for another fight. He was tired, and he needed to find Pearl. Quickly searching the creature, he found a pouch holding a few coins and a small bone dagger. Ripping a piece of cloth from his now tattered cape, Elazul bound the hands of the goblin then set off to find Pearl.

* * *

Sitting with her back against a tree, Pearl began to shake. While the days could be extremely hot this time of year, the nights were often brisk and chill. However, she suspected her nerves were more the cause of her trembling than the cool night. The woods were curiously quiet, and yet she could not hear him coming. Now and again she would look to the huge, oddly shaped cliff overhanging the path's edge. If she hadn't known better, she could have sworn its shape changed each time she glanced at it. Tilting her head back as to gaze at the stars, Pearl closed her eyes, wishing that Elazul were there to watch over her.

She couldn't remember how long she had been sitting there when she felt a hand touch her shoulder. Frightened, she screamed, and the shadowy figure placed its hand against her mouth as it whispered into her ear, "Pearl, it's me." Taking a moment to realize she was safe, she flung her arms around him. He was here. He was okay.

"Oh Elazul, I was so scared. I didn't think you would come back."

"Of course I'd come back for you. Are you okay?"

"I'm fine." Finally letting go, "What do we do now? It's night, there could be others out there."

"We'll stay here. It'll be safer traveling in the morning."

"But it's dangerous. What if there are others? What if..." He placed his finger to her lips hushing her, then surveyed the area. Finding a small clearing between two trees, Elazul took off his cape and laid it across a patch of grass.

"You rest, Pearl. I'll keep watch."

Lowering her head to hide her face, "But...I'm scared..."

Elazul knelt beside the girl, taking her hands into his and gazing into her eyes. The look on her face, one of fear as well as embarrassment, broke his heart. No matter how much he fought to protect her, it meant nothing if she did not feel safe. Taking her into his arms, he held her tight.

"It'll be okay, I promise."

* * *

The first rays of morning shone across Elazul's face, his green hair shining brilliantly in the light. Pearl's head lay nestled in his lap as she quietly slept. Opening his eyes, he faced the rocky cliff. Vision blurred by sleep, he rubbed them to clear his sight.

"Ahh, he awakens." The loud, yet benevolent voice boomed down on them, and Elazul instinctively reached for his scimitar. "There's no cause for alarm, young one. Rest easy." Glancing around, he tried to locate the voice, but they were alone, Pearl and he. On the cliff perhaps? The voice was coming from that direction. Pearl began to stir, obviously awoken from her sleep.

"Mmm…did you say something?" her voice groggy from the night's rest.

"Shhh..." Slowly getting up, "Stay here." He began walking cautiously toward the cliff. His vision had cleared, yet he still could not make anyone out. Maybe he was hiding. "Whoever you are, show yourself!" No answer. Moving closer, examining each crevice, Elazul began to question whether someone was there at all. After a moment's inspection, he turned back to Pearl. It was then that he saw the expression of awe and fear across her face. Turning again to the cliff he saw something he never imagined possible.

The cliff was alive. Cracks, crevices, and jutting projections formed a huge face that grinned down at them. In shock, Elazul stumbled back, almost losing his balance.

"Do not be afraid," the rock spoke. "I wish only to greet you."

Gathering his courage, the Jumi stepped forward. "Who, who are you?"

"Ahh…it is very sad indeed. I hoped you had come for the wisdom, but it is clear you are only passing through." Pausing a moment, it noticed Pearl trembling beneath the trees. "Do not fear, little one. Come, the sun shines brilliant today, especially for a girl without a past." She lifted her head and meekly stared at the cliff. How did it know? Perplexed by all of this, Elazul came to her aide.

"What would you know of Pearl's past? I demand an answer, monster!"

Laughing heartily, "You are a hot-headed one, Elazul, Jumi of Lapis Izuli. But it saddens me that you do not know of me. I am Gaeus of the Seven Wisdoms. Wisdom of the Earth."

Realizing the mistake, Elazul lowered his sword but continued to glare cautiously at the Wisdom. "You know my name, and that we are Jumi."

"It was once written, 'Children of the earth, all Jumi shine their brilliance upon this world.' I do not need the words of the Great Poet Pokiehl to know who stands before me. Your cores shine bright young ones." Elazul looked to his chest where the lapis izuli stone sparkled in the sunlight. This was the essence of a Jumi's life, their spirit within. If it were damaged, or in some cases stolen, the Jumi would surely die.

Finally, placing his sword on the ground, he fell to one knee. "Gaeus of the Seven Wisdoms, I extend my dearest apology. I ask for your forgiveness."

Laughing once again, "Humility does not fit you, Elazul. And I do not ask for your reverence, just a kind word of passing along this long forgotten road. And perhaps I may lend my wisdom if you so desire it."

Embarrassed, the young man stood straight again while brushing off his clothes. "We do not wish to bother you, and will be on our way shortly…"

"My past…I know nothing of my past. Please, I ask for your help." Startling both Elazul and Gaeus, Pearl had emerged from the trees, arms wrapped tightly around her, and was now pleading with the Wisdom. Elazul placed his arm around her shoulder in an attempt to calm her, but she jerked away, to his surprise. "Please…"

"Jumi of Pearl, there is a sadness within you. It is your past you seek?" She nodded eagerly, but remained silent. "There are reasons behind the ways of the world as well as a time for all things. Are you certain you wish to know?" Again, Pearl nodded, yet said nothing.

"Your past lies within the darkness of your core. It is here that you will find yourself as well as your future, and that of all Jumi."

"We did not ask for riddles," Elazul shouted. He was growing impatient, and Gaeus' answer was less than sufficient.

"And neither do I give them. I do not offer to solve one's problem, but to help one to see the truth. In pursuing that truth, the answer becomes much clearer and more meaningful than anything I may say of it."

Becoming too frustrated to continue talking to this rock, Elazul grabbed Pearl's arm and began leading her down the path. "We're leaving."

"You must learn to cool your hot blood. It will bring you nothing but grief, Jumi."

Already halfway down the road, Elazul made no attempt at acknowledging the statement. But before they left the Wisdom's sight, it called out one final time.

"If you remember nothing else, little one, remember my words. They will bring you the answer, and your past will be the prize."

* * *

Never in her life had she seen a city like this. Her senses were overcome with the sounds of children laughing and the smells of the warm bread and fresh fruit of the marketplace. Her eyes were treated to a cocktail of colors as storefronts and tented kiosks lined the streets with brightly dressed shoppers scurrying from one to another. This was Geo, home of the Academy of Magic as well as the countless merchants and travelers it drew to it. Brimming with excitement, Pearl could barely help but stare in amazement. She wondered if this was what the Bejeweled City once looked like.

Having spent hours in search for the small jewelry store, they were becoming discouraged. While Pearl spent most of the time taking the sights in, Elazul spent just as much escaping notice. Although there were more than enough travelers to blend in with, the gems on their chests would give them away had anyone suspected.

Stepping in and out of small shops, wandering from one street to another, Elazul feared they would never find this jewelry store. But it had to be here. What would that waitress gain by sending them to find a store that didn't exist? Rachel seemed sincere enough, but he never truly trusted anyone. He'd give the search until sunset. After that, they would have to find a cheap enough inn, then set off for Polpolta in the morning.

"Oh Elazul, did you see? That shop over there has the most beautiful flowers. Can we stop there, just for a moment?"

"We don't have time to spend shopping, Pearl. I'm not sure if we'll have enough money for an inn. Those copperlings I found will only get us so far."

"But it'll only take a minute." For the first time since he met her, Elazul could see an excitement in her eyes that he could not resist. After everything that happened on the way here, letting her look at a few flowers was the least he could do for her.

"Okay, but only for a few minutes. We don't have much time before night sets."

Hugging him, "Oh, I promise, only a few minutes."

Running down the street, Elazul had to race to keep up with her. They reached a tiny shop just off the gateway entrance to what appeared to be some sort of palace. At last he caught up to her, although he was quite out of breath.

A small shop, it consisted of but a few barrows filled with bouquets and small arrangements of silverbells, lilacs, tulips, and other blossoms. An old woman stood watching the booth while Pearl studied the arrangements. Smiling as she whiffed a few especially beautiful bouquets, the girl seemed to burst with life. Elazul couldn't help but notice how much the flowers brightened her spirits. Just looking at her like this he felt something within him, almost like the fluttering of wings. The more he looked at her the stronger it grew. To his own amazement, he did not want the feeling to stop.

"They certainly are beautiful, aren't they?" The old woman gestured toward an arrangement of silverbells of which Pearl was particularly fond. "Will the young gentleman be interested in buying such a pretty girl flowers?"

"I'm sorry, not today, Ma'am." Turning to walk away, "C'mon Pearl, we have to go."

"But I sell only the healthiest of buds. You will not be disappointed, I assure you." Rounding the cart to grab a handful of the flowers, the woman approached Pearl with them as if to convince the young man to buy them.

Instantly, Elazul thrust himself between Pearl and the old woman, his hand on the hilt of his scimitar. Startled by this unexpected intrusion, the woman toppled back. As the last rays of sunlight hit his chest, her eyes were drawn to the dark blue stone that rested there.

"You're Jumi!" The words were as much a surprise to the woman as they were to Elazul. As he grabbed Pearl to lead her away, the woman grasped her hand. "There are smarter things than frightening an woman, Jumi. Bad things happen to your kind here."

Gasping in fear, Pearl tried pulling her hand away, but the woman held tight. Finally, Elazul pushed her back and she lost her grip. Without thought, he spun on his heel and began pulling Pearl away. Ducking into an alley, the Jumi searched for an open door, an exit, anything that would lead them out of sight. They finally reached a small wooden door. It was tightly shut and securely locked, but he could see no light within the window and decided it was the best place they could hide, at least until it seemed safe enough to leave. Ramming into it with his shoulder, it gave way and the Knight shoved the girl inside, then slammed the door shut behind them.

Pearl was sobbing, her eyes stinging from tears that would not fall. The woman was the final straw before she lost control. He'd never seen her this way, and Elazul was not sure how to calm her. But before he had a chance to think about it, the inner door flung open and the shadow of a woman's figure, silhouetted by candlelight, stood glaring in. As the light streamed into the room, the walls began to sparkle.

"Who's in here?" called out a voice.

Elazul placed his hand against Pearl's mouth to silence her, but although muffled, her sobs could still be heard.

"Damn it! Whoever you are, show yourself before I call the guards."

They remained silent.

Walking from the door, the figure returned a moment later, this time carrying a glass lantern and a jewel-studded sword. "Okay you two, out! I don't need any riff raff causing trouble."

In the darkness, the light was blinding. Pearl hid her eyes in Elazul's arms while he attempted to talk them out of the situation, something he found extremely difficult.

"I'm sorry, we must have mistaken your shop for another." Cringing at how ridiculous it sounded, he slowly inched his way towards the back door, ready to make another dash for it.

"You expect me to believe that?" The figure entered the room, "I'm not an idiot, and this isn't the first time I've been broken into. Now get out of here, before I decide to run you through instead."

With the door open, Elazul beckoned Pearl to follow, but she stood there, statue-like in her fear. "Pearl..."

Walking further into the room, the woman neared the girl, obviously intrigued by these two intruders, but prepared to defend herself with sword readily in hand. "Listen, you leave without any starting any trouble, and I won't say anything, okay?" Her voice began to soften as she realized Pearl was shaking.

Elazul rushed to the girl, placing his arms around her and whispering into her ear, "It's okay, she's letting us go." The lamp's light shone on the two, as well as the rest of the room, and for the first time Elazul was able to examine his surroundings. They were encircled by jewels.

* * *

Alexandra handed a cup of warm tea to Pearl. The girl was still trembling, and the shop owner added her own blend of herbs that were known for their calming effect. All three sat in a small anteroom to the jewelry shop. It was quaintly furnished, as well as quite hidden from the showroom entrance.

"Being a jeweler, I can tell you there aren't many who sympathize with you Jumi. Your cores are worth far more than your lives." The short woman pushed her spectacles up onto her face. "It almost hurts my business that I don't deal in them. I could make a fortune, I'm sure, but I don't have the conscience for it."

"And here I thought all jewelry stores were morgues." Eyeing up the room as he spoke, Elazul was still unsure if he could trust this woman. He couldn't let his guard down. "Maybe I was wrong."

"I know you don't fully trust me, and I don't blame you. You can leave anytime you want. But after your entrance, I thought you might need a place to stay, at least for a little while. Word on the street has it that a Jumi robbed an old woman's flower cart. Whether or not you wear a core, the law is very strict in Geo, especially with the Academy here. They're looking for you, and crimes are not treated lightly."

"Then why don't you turn us in?" He was becoming increasingly agitated.

"I don't know. Call it a gut feeling, but you two don't look like thieves to me. And with all the news of this jewel thief, any commotion may get her attention."

"Jewel thief?"

"Yes. Luckily my shop hasn't been targeted, yet. But it's said she only steals the most precious gems, Jumi cores included."

"She?"

Laughing, "You're really not from around here, are you? This has been the biggest news for weeks! Yes, she. A young redheaded woman wearing flowers has been spotted just before each crime. Inspector Boyd instructed the citizens to keep an eye out, especially after another note is found. She likes the attention she receives from the heists, leaving a note before she strikes. It's quite alarming really. I fear the day I'll find one on my door. She goes by the name Sandra, but little else is known about her." Standing up and walking towards a large chest, "However, it seems her attention has shifted toward the Jumi. In the last few weeks, several have been murdered, their cores taken. The inspector doesn't believe the thefts and murders are connected, but I have a feeling they are."

"That's so horrible…" Pearl sat gazing into the tea, watching the leaves swirl in her cup. "I couldn't imagine what it would be like, it's all so frightening."

Facing the pair again, "I know you don't want to stay here. I can understand that. But if there's anything I can help you with before you leave?"

Taking the pouch from his belt, Elazul poured the contents onto a small table. Rubies, sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds splayed across the surface, almost glowing in the dim light of the room.

"We need money."

"You need money?" Alexandra blurted incredulously. "You have a fortune in jewels right here!"

"We can't buy a room with these, nor eat from them. And like you said, we can't afford to attract the attention of this Sandra. We're not asking for much, just enough to get us along for the next few weeks."

"I may be a jeweler, but I'm no thief." Sifting through the gems, Alexandra picked out a large emerald, the artistry of the cut amazing. "I'll give you two thousand lucre for this one. No less."

"Two thousand?" Pearl was on her feet jumping with joy.

"Won't you make a profit?" Elazul was collecting the other stones and returning them to his pouch.

"On the right ring, a gem like this could sell for three times as much."

Cracking a slight smile, "Then it's a deal."

* * *

Pearl could see the rooftops of Domina in the distance. The journey back to the small town was a lot faster, and less harrowing, than the way out. Although both were overjoyed at the luck they had in selling the gem, uneasiness hung over them as the news of the jewel thief remained on their minds.

"Elazul?"

"Hmm?"

"I've been thinking a bit. You know, about what Gaeus said to me about my future."

"Pearl, please don't tell me you're actually thinking about that nonsense. If everyone listened to rocks I think we'd all be in a lot of trouble."

Looking away, she said nothing. Elazul was the one person she could talk to, and sometimes even he wouldn't listen to her? Not only was she frustrated by it, but hurt as well. Continuing to walk on, Pearl tried not to think about things, but her mind kept flooding with thoughts she wished she'd never had. Unable to keep it in, she stopped and stood looking to the dirt road beneath her.

"Pearl, what are you doing? We're almost there! C'mon."

"I can't...I, I don't know what's wrong with me. I just know something horrible is going to happen, Elazul. I can feel it in my core."

"What are you talking about? Everything is fine. Now let's go!" The Knight grabbed her arm, but she would not move. It was her core that caught his attention, a dark black haze enveloping the creamy whiteness of the pearl. Something was very wrong indeed.

"It happens, every time I think about that jewel thief. I know I shouldn't be so scared, but why should my core change like this?" She placed his hand onto the pearl that lay on her chest.

"It's freezing," Elazul whispered, more startled than amazed.

Turning away from him, "I keep thinking of what Gaeus said, that my fate is that of all the Jumi. What if he meant that my core will be stolen, just like those other helpless Jumi who were slain by that awful jewel thief? Why else would my core darken like this when I think of her?"

Elazul was at a loss for words. What if she was right? And if so, what could he do to protect her, if anything at all? No! He would do whatever it takes, even give his life. Looking at her like this, an overwhelming feeling came to him. To hold her, to take away the fear and pain, to bring the beauty back to her face as it was the day he watched her gaze at the silverbells and tulips and lilacs and…and he wanted her gaze to at him the same way.

Touching his finger to her face, he drew a line, tracing a tear that would never fall. "I'm sorry." It was all he could say. Even if he could prove to her that the Wisdom was wrong, he didn't have the strength to say it.

Wrapping her arms around him, Pearl buried her head in his chest, silently weeping invisible tears for herself as well as for all the Jumi whose lives had been stolen. Holding her in his arms, Elazul stared to the distant Domina as the evening candles lit up, one by one.

* * *

Rachel was paid two hundred lucre in appreciation for her kindness. In return the doors to the inn were opened to them to stay anytime they needed. That night they slept in a small room far from the excitement of the tavern.

Long after the laughter had died and the last candle blown out, Elazul kept watch over Pearl. Even in her sleep the sadness and fear clung to her. And for the first time in his life, he could feel the sting of tears that would not fall.



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