by Glarryg

Chapter 2

Gold Isle had almost completely decayed over the course of one day. By the next sunrise, the Mana-produced golden skin that covered everything had liquefied and slipped from the buildings and structures that made up Manmon's expensive country. Within minutes of sloughing off of the city, it evaporated like a thick alcohol. Barely a trace of the city's grandeur was left. Roads that had been comprised of solid gold bricks vaporized, leaving dirt paths in their places. The golden kingdom had crumbled as quickly as the Vandole Empire had fallen.

His queen approached the man's desk quietly from behind. Slumped over a massive tome surrounded by four candles, wrapped in his housecoat and sporting his crown—one of the only naturally golden things he had left to him-- the monarch fought the pull of sleep easily; his search through the book was far more important.

"Manmon," the queen said, "have you been up all night?"

"I need to find out what's wrong with the gold," the king declared, not lifting his head from his reading. "Nothing in these stupid books is helping." Gesturing to a discarded pile of manuscripts, he grunted in very visible frustration.

"What's the problem? You can make more gold, can't you?"

"That's not the point," Manmon explained. "It's not supposed to do this. It's not supposed to just disappear like this."

"Dear, look at me," his wife ordered.

Manmon sighed; bloodshot eyes rose to meet the face of the queen. He found himself searching for her eyes, her nose; everything looked dim without the golden decorations of his home. The sunlight alone was barely enough to let him see anything. Without the reflections of his gold...

"Syla," he asked wearily, "where are you?"

Grasping her husband's pudgy cheeks, the woman steadied his head. Her eyes betrayed her worry, but he failed to notice. "Manmon," she said, forcing her voice to keep an even tone, "you've still got the hotel, and a stake in most of the businesses here. You're wealthy enough for ten kings. Why do you need this island to be covered in gold?"

"It's not the money," he growled, "it's the status." Pulling his head from her hands, he stuffed his face into the great book he was studying and continued. "I've got a reputation to maintain. My golden island was a testament to my self-made fortune. All of the other kings used their families or blackmail to make their money. I used my own two hands, and I deserve something to show for it. I had the Vandole Empire so concerned about my wealth that they sent troops to patrol the island. They were afraid of me; that's why they pretended I was part of their empire. Don't you see? The island is part of me, Syla; I'm no king without it."

"Then call the alchemist," she resigned, wandering back towards her dresser.

"I did, hours ago," the king admitted. Under his breath he swore: "he'll fix this or there'll be hell to pay."

Syla grabbed a towel and change of clothes towards the bathroom, but her husband never noticed her watching him for a good five minutes before leaving him to his studies.

An indeterminate amount of time passed, but before he knew it, the king had finished paging through the last volume in his library. Casting the book to the floor with the others, he ground his teeth in anger. Nothing mentioned any kind of weakness in substances produced by the use of Mana or alchemy. His only lead was the talk he had with that Tasnican soldier, Major Proto or something. The man said that the Mana Beast had appeared, but was killed. If there was no Mana Beast, the there must be no more...

"King Manmon," a voice called from the stairwell, "are you decent?"

"What is it?" the monarch shot back.

Cresting the flight of stairs, the Tasnican officer said: "It's me, Major Plotus. A man is here saying you summoned him."

"The alchemist?" Manmon inquired, seized with expectation.

"Yes," Plotus confirmed after a short pause, waving an older man into the king's room.

"It's about time," the king declared grimly, waving the soldier off. Angrily staring down the bearded chemist as best as his tired eyes could, he turned his chair to face the man and began tapping an irritated finger on his knee while the elder approached. An awkward moment passed in which the alchemist folded and re-folded his hands a few times, forcing a smile in the hopes that the king would follow suit.

"Krikor," Manmon finally pronounced.

"Yes, sire?" the old man asked.

"Don't interrupt me, Krikor," the monarch ordered, standing and wandering to the western window of his chamber, sweeping his hand out for the bedpost that he knew was nearby. Gazing out the portal through wincing eyes, he noticed an even sheet of snow still falling; the weak drizzle he saw the last time he looked outside had grown into a calm, even flurry. He turned back to the old man and gestured towards the window, arching furious eyebrows. "What is this?"

"It's snow, your highness; they say--"

Manmon quickly turned back to the window and squinted; "I--" gritted his teeth, "I know what this is! I'm talking about my city! What's happening to it?"

"Well, sire, as I was about to say, they tell me that the Mana Beast is the cause of this. When it was killed, it turned into snow."

"I don't care about that!"

"But this means that Mana has been depleted."

His rage slowly subsided. "So it has," he confirmed through a forced congeniality. A moment of thought ensued. "So then, my gold is disappearing without Mana."

"I believe so," Krikor replied.

"And what can you do about it?"

"Well," the chemist explained, "all previous attempts at alchemy without Mana have failed. Our scientists have been working on this for the last two years, but nothing has worked so far."

"You've been working on this for two years?"

"Well, Mana was depleted once before, so we thought it would be a good idea to plan in case it happened again... which, I guess, it did." The old man let his voice drop as he spoke, upon noticing the growing fury in the king's visage.

"That's not the point," Manmon corrected. "You mean to tell me you've been working on this for two years with no results?"

"We're fairly certain that it can't be done," Krikor concluded.

With newly arched eyebrows, the king stalked towards the alchemist. "What building do your people use?"

"It's the one on the southeast end, near--"

"Clear it out today and don't come back to my island!" Manmon exploded, jabbing a finger in the general direction of the staircase.

Krikor tried to say more, but the anger in the king's face had grown too strong to bear. Clearing his throat, the alchemist shuffled backwards and spun around almost in time to run into the queen on her way back from the bath. After trying to mutter an apology, he was once again ordered to leave, and he hurried down the stairs.

The bewildered queen watched the chemist leave, then regarded her fuming husband. "Did you have to yell at him like that?"

"I didn't make my fortune by coddling worthless employees," he stated sharply, sweeping his narrowed eyes around in search of her face, "and I'll regain my island on my own if I have to."

"Calm down," she said, walking behind him and rubbing his massive, tense shoulders. Leading him to his desk, she forced him to sit back down while she massaged his neck and back. "You're not going to do any good by erupting like this."

"People will start moving away if I can't make the gold return," Manmon complained. "It's what makes this island so famous."

"So what if there's no more gold? It's still the Gold Isle, no matter what it's covered in."

"But people expect that of me," he insisted. "It's what makes me a king."

"Oh, come on," Syla rebuked. "To be perfectly honest, all that gold is hard on the eyes. It's really too much. I'm rather glad it's all--"

"What?! How dare you? That gold was part of me!" he stormed. Jerking her hands from his shoulders, he stood and shoved his chair backwards into her. "I won't stand for this!"

"Oh, please," she snapped, rattling the chair, "it was disgusting, and far too bright. Your eyes are so damaged can't even see anymore. Look at how many candles you need to read a book." She pointed to the quartet of candles decorating his desk as he growled in fury.

"I can see fine," he argued, swaggering towards his window again. Brushing too closely past her, he reached his hand out for the bedpost again. She sighed roughly and threw her hands up.

"You're impossible."

"I'm a king," he bellowed, "and I must have my kingdom back the way it was!"

"You're a fool." With that, she marched to the stairs, mumbling curses and insults to herself.

He leered at her. Although his eyes may have been a little exhausted, his ears worked well enough to pick up her sentiments. Fine. If he needed to, he'd restore his island on his own, and show them all that he could do this on his own. Looking back out the window, he took note of the gathering snowfall. A good inch may have already fallen, and the cold that followed had settled earlier that morning. Drawing his robe around himself, he ambled to his bed and sat down, facing due west. A long sigh wandered out of his lungs; he was tired.

Maybe the alchemist was right. None of the official books had anything to say about what to do if his Mana-gold melted on its own. If Mana was truly gone, and if there was no way to remake the gold, he would have to find natural gold on his own. But if Tasnica had him placed under house arrest, he was stuck on his island. Either way, he was powerless to fix his situation.

Voices permeated the floor. Beneath him, on the second level of the mansion, his wife was talking with the two daughters; although their dialogue was indecipherable, the king knew that they were complaining about him. Probably thinking aloud that he's some sort of old, stupid dreamer. He did not need such blasphemy.

Rubbing aching temples, he cringed his eyes shut and twisted his stiff neck around. Craning it to his right, he opened his eyes and gazed out the window into the brightness. Snow lit the atmosphere up well enough, but another source of luminosity marked the sky at the northern end of the island. Leaning forward, almost falling off of the bed, he beheld the Light Palace, still ablaze with gold. It was covered in real gold, he recalled. It was also the only structure that existed on the island before he bought it, and it--

Of course. The Light Palace held the Seed of Light, one of the eight Mana Seeds. Even more, it held the Elemental of Light. Lumina! How could he have been so foolish? The alchemists used Lumina's powers to make the gold; that was their source of Mana. If he could find Lumina, he could make more gold. Elementals cannot die; they are spirits. She must still be in the tower, since it had been locked a good year ago.

Lumina would have to know the answer. She would save his reputation, his fortune, and his island. He could reign as the richest man in the world yet again, with a new Gold Isle to show for it. And none of the fools that rebuked him would be able to turn their noses down again.

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