by Glarryg

Chapter 1

The sun could have easily awakened him. As it lumbered across the horizon, its rays stabbed through the windows of his mansion, striking him right between the eyes with keenly sharpened ribbons of light. But a din on the street outside had already roused him from his slumber by the time the sun could attack. Some sort of argument near the entrance to his manor grew to a mild scuffle, from the sound of things. Shoving the thick blanket off of himself, the king pushed onto his feet and left his appropriately-sized bed.

Leaning a sluggish left hand on the gilded post at the foot of his bed, he nearly slipped. His palm was slick. The irritated grunt that slipped from his mouth woke the woman still resting in his bed. Roughly blinking the sleep from her eyes, she sat up and watched him wander to the nearest window.

"What's the matter, Manmon?" the queen asked.

"Nothing," he dismissed, "go back to sleep."

He brushed the gold-laced curtains from the window, feeling a slipperiness on his fingertips. Curious that his hands should be so sweaty, considering none of the rest of him felt hot. Squinting against the sunlight, he distinguished five people gathered not far from his front door. Eventually, he recognized two of them as the Imperial guards that stationed themselves at the buildings he owned. The other three wore uniforms that he barely remembered from some years ago. They appeared to be the ones facilitating the argument. Muttering curses to himself, he stalked back to his bed, seized the robe draped over the foot, and threw it over his arms, tying the belt hastily as he accelerated down the flights of stairs leading to the street. His wife probably asked him something again, but he was too wrapped up in what he was going to say to the intruders to take notice of her.

Stalking out the front door and up to the commotion, the portly king waved an angry finger in the air above his head. "Here, now," he demanded of the group, "what's going on?"

One of the other three men intercepted him before he reached the rest of them. "We've come on orders from Tasnica," he explained quickly.

"Tasnica," the king repeated bitterly. Now the uniforms were obvious.

"We're here to take your guards into custody--"

"What for?"

Pausing to contain his patience, the soldier continued. "The Emperor Vandole has been killed, and all of his land is being occupied by Tasnica for the time--"

"Wait just a moment," Manmon interjected, pointing his index finger at the soldier's face. "This isn't Imperial land. Those aren't my men. My island was occupied by the Empire five years ago. I only complied out of fear of military action; I don't have my own army here. You can't hold me to that--"

"Sir, that's not--"


"Sire, sorting that out is not our job. We're going to take these guards to a neutral prison. Until our commanders can decide what to do, you're free to remain here, but one of our officers will stay to make sure you don't leave the island."

The king frowned in thought, breathing heavily through his nose. "So I'm confined here," he concluded, pulling his robe together at the neck.

"For now," the soldier said with a lackluster shrug.

Running a hand though his heavy moustache and following through to his pointed beard, the monarch scanned his surroundings. The gold-plated island was hard on the eyes sometimes, but he found himself helpless against the grin that always wrapped around his face every time he thought about his twenty-six million-acre jewel. Raising smug eyebrows, he gave his expensive home another survey. "I guess I can live with that," he remarked, and prepared to return to his manor.

"Of course," the soldier agreed, half-rolling his eyes as he retreated to escort the Imperial guards away.

Manmon barely caught the other man's expression. What a fool; only an idiot would pass up a priceless treasure like this island if he had the chance to take it. The very grandeur of a country encased in gold-- probably visible from the moon, now that he thought of it-- had to be the envy of every king on the planet. Adding the fact that Manmon was a self-appointed ruler, no other magistrate could simply dismiss the kind of status he...

Pausing on the way back to his mansion, he took a closer look at the facade of the three-story house. Its walls looked especially dirty for some reason, as if mud had been splashed across them. Glancing over his shoulder to make sure the soldiers had left, he crept up to the wall and touched it. It felt slippery, like a sort of sweat had formed on it. Running his right index finger along the gilded bricks, he paled as the very gold plating they wore rubbed off like new paint. Gazing at his finger, now covered in liquid gold, he felt his mouth dry up in seconds. His left palm, upon inspection, bore a layer of gold as well; when he had leaned it on the post of his bed, it was not sweat that he felt.

Shuddering, he backed away from his mansion and wandered out into the streets. Sparsely populated at the early hour, the avenues of Gold City-- themselves composed of solid gold bricks-- threatened to give way underneath him. Their muddy consistency caught his attention quickly, and he squished his slippers through them in horror. The very walkways seemed to be melting. Nevertheless, he staggered over them into the deeper part of town, curious as to what might be happening. Most of the walls looked as dirty as his manor; it only took a few checks to confirm that the entire town was shedding its golden hide. Rays of sunlight danced over the mottled buildings, accentuating the oily drops of gold that oozed from the sides of every edifice. A few people wandered through the city, witnessing the same phenomenon as their king. An old man saw Manmon and tried to approach him, but the stunned monarch noticed the man and backed away, too horrified to speak. As more people filled the streets, the king clumsily rushed towards the north end of town, past his house and near the entrance to the Light Palace.

Slipping around the northern end of the city's fortification, he wandered into Gold Isle's outer forest. Trees, long sealed by their gilded skins, slowly bled off their coats of shimmering metal. Several had already lost a good deal of the gold that had been suffocating them, and they relaxed their limbs and fell apart. The king took in the ghastly display, flinching at the cracking sound of the collapsing dead wood. Baffled, he leaned against the city wall, eventually slipping into a seated position. Sunlight scattered about the forest, deflected in a myriad of directions by the drops of gold bleeding and falling off of the trees. Occasionally blinded by the dancing, taunting light, he forced himself to keep his eyes open. As much as he did not want to see his island's grandeur fading as it was, it seemed like the only thing he could do was stand by and watch, as if he was comforting a dying relative.

None of the alchemists said that the gold could do this. They assured him that-- even though it had been conjured by tapping into the world's Mana energy-- it was all genuine; real gold could not melt so quickly without extreme heat. The weather was, curiously enough, colder than it usually was, as the monarch took notice of the chilly morning air for the first time. Slowly, he lifted his head up and to the right, and fixed his eyes to the tower standing not ten yards from where he sat. The Light Palace. Still as pristine as ever in the midst of his rotting city.

Shivering, Manmon forced his eyes to move in time to see a man approach him from the left. Wearing a Tasnican uniform, the stranger leaned down to the seated king. He proffered a hand, which Manmon quickly refused.

"I don't need you to help me stand," he snapped, angrily struggling against the greasy wall.

"I'm Major Plotus," the man announced uncomfortably. "I've been assigned to guard you for the time being."

"Guard me?" the king repeated with a snort. "As if I'm in some sort of danger now?"

"You never know, what with the situation."

"Don't patronize me; the Emperor's dead, that's all. I didn't kill him."

Plotus glanced back towards the shore from which he had come. A modest ship, which Manmon had overlooked when he wandered out of town, sat waiting for the officer to wave it off. Signaling for it to leave, he tried to usher the monarch back into town. "Well, there have been some riots after what happened to the Fortress," he mentioned.

"Whose fortress?" the king asked, starting into the fortification and heading towards his manor.

"The Mana Fortress," Plotus confirmed, keeping pace with the impatient man. "It was raised yesterday morning, and the Mana Beast appeared."

"Mana Beast? Isn't that a harbinger of the end of the world?"

"I thought so, too," the major explained, raising the pitch of his speech like an excited child. "But the Mana Knight came and stopped it, and took the Fortress out of commission at the same time."

"What?" Manmon remarked, hastening his pace slightly. "I don't believe it."

"It's true; I was at the Sunken Continent. I saw the Fortress with my own eyes. It really does fly."

"Did you see the Beast?"

"No, but they say that Mana has been depleted all over the world; the Mana Seeds are dormant now." The soldier kept an annoying pace at the king's side, as if he was Manmon's kid brother.

"It is?" the monarch queried, stopping in his tracks at the entrance of his mansion. Glancing around himself, he bit his lip. He shot a glare to the soldier and asked: "Are you going to stay out here?"

"I was going to follow you inside."

Manmon narrowed his eyes for a moment. "The first floor is a hotel; you'll stay there."

Plotus shrugged and trailed the king into the mansion. Studying the deteriorating covering of the mansion, he suggested, "Your house could use another coat of paint," and was quickly ordered to shut his mouth.

Informing the innkeeper of the new tenant, the monarch trudged back to his bedroom and left the soldier without another word. As soon as he reached the second floor, two similarly robed young ladies stormed up to him, their matching hairstyles held in curlers.

"Daddy," the first of the identical sisters whined, "the walls are dripping."

Cringing at his daughter's dissonant soprano, he dejectedly beheld his home's pitiful state. Sweating gold just like the rest of the city, the bedroom around him made him wince. He mumbled an irritated "Leave me alone" to his children and continued to his own room. Their complaining persisted between themselves as they sulked back to their bedroom.

His wife was up and pacing about the room, shivering slightly in her robe. Whatever she had prepared to say to him has stifled by his pathetically confused expression. "What's the matter?" she queried.

"The Emperor is dead, Syla," the king recited. "Tasnica is sending soldiers around the world to take over his land, and we're stuck here until they decide what to do with us."

"Well, they can't take this island over," she declared. "You own it legally, and you were never an actual part of the Empire."

"I know," he replied, shrugging his robe off. Taking the housecoat in his hands, he examined the back, which had been leaning against the wall of the city. A blotchy golden stain had soaked into the cloth, but even it seemed to be fading. Throwing the robe onto his bed, he slumped into his throne.

The Queen picked up the robe and looked at the stain. Grimacing at the sight, she swept her gaze over the decaying gold of the master bedroom. Casting a worried look to her husband and presenting the robe, she asked: "What's happening to this?"

Heaving a defeated sigh, King Manmon confessed: "They say Mana has been drained. I think my gold is fading with it." When his eyes wandered towards the window, he beheld a handful of snowflakes leading the way for a mild, but hauntingly unseasonable, weather pattern.

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