Chapter Three: Dream of Life
Randi kept vigil over his friend, praying to his mother, the Mana Tree, that Purim would be okay. Just the thought of her dying sent shivers through his body and caused his heart to compress painfully. Her cold skin and the expression he had seen on her face in the Palace of Shadows scared him so much that he shook. His fear confused him, seeing as he had never had to still his own shaking hands before, not while conquering the Trials of the Mana Forest nor even when he faced the Mana Beast, wielding the only sword that could keep it from destroying the world. Now, he gripped his hands together tightly, kneeling by her bedside. And he just kept praying....
While Purim slept.
There were two planes made of cumulus clouds, each stretching out as far as the eye could see. One plane of clouds was a brilliant white, and the other so black that shadows could not be seen upon them. She was between them. Flammie managed to maintain the same position underneath her, never moving from in between the planes, its steady beat of wings emulating her heartbeat. Dyluck was there, too, and she looked down at their hands to see that they both wore yellow-gold bands on the ring fingers of their left hands, and that those rings were connected by a long thin chain of the same color. Suddenly Dyluck started to slip into the plane of the white clouds. Purim tried to capture his hands, but to no avail. The only object that kept him from entirely sinking into the white clouds was the thin gold chain. Smiling gently and saying not a word, Dyluck slipped the ring from his finger with his other hand. Before he let go of it, he pointed behind Purim with distinct emphasis. Then he drifted into the clouds and out of sight. Purim cried out his name, not caring if she fell off of Flammie in the process of falling after Dyluck. Instead, however, she was falling into the plane of black clouds, and began to feel the cold that one feels when one has stood out in a thunderstorm for far too long with hardly any protection. This was it, then. No one to pull her up now that Dyluck was gone. It was at this moment of despair that she felt a tug on her hand, or more precisely, her left ring finger. By some sense she glanced at her right wrist to see that the yellow-gold rings and chain had become a bracelet, and when she looked at her left hand she saw a white-gold ring now around her ring finger, with a thin matching chain attached to it. A hand –a masculine hand- pushed through the darkness and grasped her left hand, pulling her up swiftly and back onto Flammie. The man wore the twin of her white-gold ring. Why was she connected to someone else? She didn't want to be, surely. Never would she betray Dyluck. Never. For some reason, though, she didn't push the man away... because it felt good to feel good again. To feel love dispel some of the bleakness that had occupied her heart was a treasure that she didn't want to give up. "You're not dead," the man whispered softly, his breath tickling her near the base of her ear. "You're alive. I'm holding onto you as tightly as I can, so you won't slip away." There was familiarity in that voice. When she turned to see the identity of her rescuer, she knew why. Randi.
She gasped, her eyes opening. A few streaks of sunlight crept in through the window, her gaze following the wispy rays over her bed and onto the Mana Knight. He appeared to be an angel in his sleep –a very worried angel, if his furrowed brow was any indication- but an angel nonetheless. That thought made her laugh. Randi? An angel? Ha! Every aspect she had seen of him during their travels cried the contrary of that notion. Quite often she had seen his debonair side when he had smooth-talked his way into acquiring the newest pieces of armor at a "reasonable" price or when he conversed with royalty and military allies. And then, of course, there was the teasing Randi with his weird humor, such as the time when he had laughed at how they had almost been crushed in between a moving wall and one covered with spikes. She never really had figured out if that was his way of dealing with fear or if he genuinely found dangerous experiences to be funny. Another side of Randi's personality, one which Purim found adorable, was when he pouted. Yes, pouted. Whenever a plan wasn't pulled off with complete success or a mission went awry, he would glare at nothingness and stick his lower lip out ever so slightly, crossing his arms in consternation. The first time she had seen that expression she had thought, "I know tons of friends who would go after him." Not that he knew that he pouted. He probably believed he was nearly invincible, placing overwhelming faithfulness in the ideal that he was on the good side and that the good side always concluded the battle victoriously. None of his traits resembled an angel at all. The closest aspect of him that she could relate to being otherworldly was when he battled, during which time she could truthfully call him a God of Death. Taciturn and deadly, he fixed his glare upon his foe, heralding the end of his enemy's life.
But he did look like an angel now, what with a silky brown lock wisped across his face. So she could add a new side of Randi to her mental list: Randi the Angel.
The sunlight was streaming in more brightly now. Purim watched Randi's eyes open groggily, amused. He didn't seem to realize where he was and blinked a few times in disorientation.
"Have you been kneeling there all night?"
His attention snapped up to her face, and he stumbled to his feet. "Purim, you're alive!" With that he promptly enveloped her in a gladdening hug.
She squeezed him back with equal enthusiasm and laughed. "What, you thought I was dead?" She sobered a bit. "Sorry to worry you...."
"Ah, no problem," he said cheerfully. "You're fine now." He released her and then immediately plopped onto the parallel bed. "Oh! Ow! Cramp! Ugh." He rubbed his knees vivaciously.
"Are you...alright?" But as she asked him a small smile crept on her face at the comical sight.
"Oh, so you think that this is funny?" He raised an eyebrow, even though he, too, couldn't keep from grinning. Why hadn't he bruised his knees earlier? It was a relief to finally see her smile after so long. He decided to leave his questions about what she had been doing in the Shadow Temple for a later time. "Hey, I have an idea...." He finished stretching his legs. "Why don't we go for a ride on Flammie?"
Flammie. In the clouds. Falling....Purim's dream resurfaced with surprising clarity, causing her to glance down at her ring finger. Nothing there. A dream was simply a dream, some concoction of her dazed mind.
"Purim?" Randi didn't know what he had said to make her smile vanish, and he regretted whatever he had done. "Look, it was just a suggestion. We don't have to go if you don't want to...."
"What?" Purim snapped from her musings. "Oh, no, Randi." Her smile had returned. "I was...confused over what you said. We go riding on Flammie all the time."
"No," he corrected, smirking. "We travel on Flammie all the time. I was talking about stunt flying. For fun."
Stunt flying? For fun? Was this one of his weird humor jokes? "I'm...not sure that's such a good idea...."
"C'mon. It'll be good for you. You need some excitement in your life."
At that remark Purim raised an eyebrow. "What?"
"Ah...I mean, excitement without having to worry about dying."
This time louder and more incredulous. "What?" He didn't think that falling from an airborne dragon could be a cause of death?
Randi chuckled to himself. "Okay," he started again. "Let me rephrase that. We'll have danger and excitement without having to worry about monsters chasing us and having a Mana Fortress to chase."
Purim looked at him warily, still refusing to get out of bed. "I think I've had enough danger in my life as it is."
"Oh, don't worry about falling. I'll be holding you as tightly as I can, so you won't slip away."
She wasn't sure whether or not his words were said in all solemnity or whether they were teasingly meant to reassure her and lighten her mood. But the phrases struck another chord in her memory from that same dream. She didn't know if being with her friend Randi was actually as heart-lifting as it was in her dream, but if it was...? Already she felt guilty, knowing that her mind should be on Dyluck, but what if being close to Randi was as good as it had seemed in her dream? After all, he was just a caring friend, and he did seem to be happiest when she was. Surely a few hours of frivolity would do no harm, especially if it was done with the well-being of her dear friend in mind....
"So... does that weird expression on your face mean a ‘yes'?"
She looked at him, from his sherry eyes to his mussed brown hair, which his bandanna did nothing to keep in order. "Yes."
"Great! I'll see you outside in a bit."
Afterwards, she told herself, she would spend the rest of her life properly mourning Dyluck.