Chapter Two: Dark Request
Flammie glided onto the border of the village and fidgeted while its two "parents" leapt to the ground. Then, chirping again, the adolescent dragon gathered the wind beneath its wings and sped off into the sky in search of recreation.
"I'll...I'll go rent the room at the inn," Randi offered for lack of anything else to do. He sensed that Purim needed time to herself.
Purim watched as Randi disappeared around a corner, relieved at not having to put on a good face for his sake, for anyone's sake. She was too tired. Her memories were eating at her, but she didn't care. She just needed to be left alone, and on a spur of thought this had seemed like the best place to be; Mandala was only a short walk from the Palace of Shadow.
She took the peripheral route around the village, avoiding any enthusiastic party-goers who would be interested in talking to her. Once out of Mandala, merely minutes passed before she arrived at the entrance to a deeply hidden cave. At first glance, it would appear that nothing was there, but Purim parted the dense foliage with her hand and stepped inside. Since Dyluck had passed away and she had played her part as a Mana warrior, Purim had had no real goals in her life; she latched onto the obscure destination. She walked as if in a trance, not needing light, welcoming the shadows. Time blurred, and she knew not if minutes or hours passed as she just walked, one foot in front of the other. The only sound was the light pat-pat of her footsteps. So focused was she that she didn't notice the fact that no echo resounded throughout the cavern. The shadows swallowed them up.
Eventually a blue glow shone in the near distance, a faint light which she kept her sight trained upon. A few more strides brought her out of pitch darkness and into a high-vaulted, eerily spacious room: the Palace of Shadows. Nothing had changed, for the home of the elemental, Shade, was just as she remembered. Silver coated everything, from the floors to the ceiling, lending an atmosphere of elegance and brooding with an untouchable iciness. Large chalices, built in a wide circle to surround the Shadow Mana Seed, contained blue flames with streaks of white. Still, though these flames were the only visible signs of movement, they, too, appeared cold, as if they could freeze any soul who dared touch them.
That's what she wanted to do. Freeze. Stop the pain. Rid herself of feelings that she couldn't force herself to be rid of. As she walked toward the elevated Mana Seed on its polished silver pyramid, she let her fingers trail over one of the flames, and they came away numb. She didn't heed them, but continued walking until she had climbed the stairs and reached the Seed. Placing her still-warm hand on the large Seed, she felt a dark sense of belonging. "Yes," she whispered. "I knew it would feel right being here."
Purim was a bit startled at the voice that entered her mind, but she recognized it immediately and closed her eyes. "Shade."
"Why are you here again, Mana warrior? I gave my gifts to the Sprite."
Purim smiled slightly. "Yes, you did."
There was a pause as Shade contemplated something. Then the elemental spoke again. "You are Lumina's chosen. You are of Light. Why, then, are you darker now? You are sad?"
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Shade. It just...feels so right here."
Another pause. "I see your memories, the cause of your darkness. I am very attracted to them, you see."
Purim opened her eyes. "Show me them, Shade. Show me my memories."
"You can see them already."
"I want to see them in front of me."
"This is your wish?"
"It is. Show me my pain."
Shade asked no more. Blue light swirled in front of her eyes, just above the Mana Seed, and then the substance spread to reveal a scene. Her love's beautiful face appeared. Dyluck died all over again, and tears trickled silently from her eyes. She swiped at them with the back of her hand. "What else do you know, Shade?"
"I know everything of the shadows."
"Then show me, Shade. Show me who else suffered and died during this war. Show me people whose hurt the world never knew of."
The screen swirled and opened upon another scene. The first sound Purim heard was that of soft weeping. Then she saw a red-haired young woman dressed in a suit of commander's rank. She knelt before the body of a man who was dressed in a similar uniform, but it was spotted with blood. His beautiful face was covered with cuts, and strands of his straight purple hair clung to the sweat on his brow. He coughed, but smiled up at the woman. "We couldn't have fought for the wrong side, right?"
The woman clutched at his hand tightly. She choked out a sad laugh. "No. No, of course not."
He went on, searching for atonement for his part in the war. "I mean... King Vandole...didn't mind that I was a Shapeshifter. He didn't mind that I was a monster...."
"Don't say that. You are not a monster. You never have been."
"My darling Fanha...."
"Not you too. Geshtar's already gone. Don't you go, too, Sheex. Don't leave me alone!" Her body was racked with sobs. Then she bent her head and kissed his pale knuckles, whispering fiercely. "I will avenge you, Sheex. I will avenge you both. I promise."
The blue swirled the scene. Purim knelt on the cold stone, stunned. Fanha didn't keep her promise, Purim knew; the Mana warriors had killed her.
"You wish to see more?"
If the world wouldn't stop its foolish celebration and mourn, then at least she would weep sorrow for those lost. "I-."
"The Mana Knight."
She turned towards the doorway, seeing the orange-yellow light of a torch. It hurt her eyes, for they had become accustomed to the soft blue glow of the temple. Her hand reflexively shielded the glare from her sight. Her mind was not as quick to react, and didn't realize who the keeper of the torch was until he pulled her hand down and scrutinized her face. "Randi...."
"Purim, are you alright?" He traced her face, assuring himself that it was Purim sitting in front of him. He couldn't be too sure of his sanity at the moment, having searched frantically for her for the last couple of hours, hoping to Mana that she hadn't thrown herself off a cliff. He brushed away her bangs and felt her forehead. His small gasp couldn't be stifled as his hand automatically jumped away. "You're...you're freezing!"
Purim stared up at him with glazed eyes, not quite comprehending a word he said. She was vaguely aware of being lifted by a strong pair of arms. It felt natural to wrap her own arms around his neck and bury her face within the folds of his shirt. "Sweetheart, don't fall asleep on me yet. I can't carry both you and the torch. I need you to call light." In the recesses of Purim's sub-conscious mind, something of what he said registered, and a tiny ball of white light appeared in front of Randi. "Thank you." He looked up at the dark ceiling. "Sorry, Shade, but I'll have to leave the torch here."
"You helped save the elementals. Such a trivial matter can be easily forgiven."