Chapter Four: One Day in the Sun
By the time Purim had finished with her toiletries and eaten breakfast, Randi had already used the tiny drum to summon Flammie, and both of he and the dragon were being hounded for autographs. Randi, seeming just a tad bashful, signed anything the villagers put in front of him with expedience. Flammie, on the other hand, took great flourish in leaving an impression of its paw in front of different houses. When the crowd spotted Purim exit the inn, she too, began drawing a flock.
Sensing Purim's unease, Randi reached her and addressed the people. "Sorry everyone, but we really do have to go." He grinned charismaticly. "You know," he said, quirking an eyebrow, "we have...plans... for the day." The villagers laughed good-naturedly.
"Randi!" Purim hissed as he followed her up onto the dragon.
"What?" His expression was one of pure innocence, disregarding the twinkle in his eyes, of course.
Purim rolled her eyes, and Randi wrapped his arms around her waist as he usually did. Flammie knew that they were ready to fly and beat its wings until Mandala could no longer be seen from above.
"Now what?" Purim asked. Flammie was pawing at a cloud.
"Now," Randi explained, "we let Flammie take over. Go ahead Flammie! Show us what you've got!" Flammie, though not fully comprehending the exact words, did understand Randi's tone. Happily shrilling, the white dragon sped upwards at such a rate that the clouds clashed together in its wake and both of the Mana warriors yelped in surprise. Purim had never clung so tightly onto Flammie's mane and Randi had never clung so tightly onto Purim. By the time Flammie reached a height where stars could be seen, however, they were both laughing giddily. The dragon then executed several rapid somersaults and wound itself up into circles.
"Having fun?" Randi laughed as she slammed back into him.
The dizziness was intoxicating. "Yes! I never knew-" she was slammed back into Randi again "- that Flammie could do this!"
He grinned. "Heh. Neither did I."
Flammie stopped flying in circles and spun its whole body around so that its passengers were upside-down for a brief second. Purim thought she was secure until Flammie righted its position and she felt herself slipping off. "Randi!" she cried. But even as she fell from Flammie's back, Randi kept his arms around her waist and fell off with her. Great! Now Randi would die because of her! And though he never loosened his hold on her, for some reason she couldn't fathom, he was laughing like a maniac!
"Randi!" she yelled as the wind rushed past them. "Now is not the time for your weird humor! I just want to say...." Just as she was about to say goodbye, they hit something.
"Oh, my butt!" Randi exclaimed, scrunching up his face.
It took a few breaths for Purim to realize that they were again flying on Flammie. She grabbed the dragon's mane and turned her head to look at Randi. "Are you okay?" After all, he had taken the force of the impact.
"I'm fine," Randi said. "My behind's a little sore, that's all." He winked.
Purim gaped at his flippant manner. They could have been splattered all over the land by now!
Randi laughed at her shocked expression. "What? You didn't really think Flammie would let his wingless ‘parents’ die, did you? And besides that, we've fallen down deep pits many times before." Flammie obviously felt a little tired out and only glided around where the wind current made it easiest. Randi elaborated. "Like that time when we faced that creepy moving wall. Or when we were deceived by Emperor Vandole."
Now that Purim pondered what he said, her thoughts of dying did seem paranoid. "It's just that I had this dream...."
"Oh, really? What about?"
She was about to tell him, but something inside her said that doing so would only dampen the good mood. Instead, she pushed the dream away. "I... I don't remember."
Randi could tell that she was hiding something, and she most likely did remember her dream. He let it slide. There was no way he was going to ruin the day by bugging her about it, especially if she didn't want the mood broken either. "Well," he said after a moment, "time for our picnic!"
"What?" Purim's eyes widened. Then she blinked a couple of times. "What are you talking about?"
"Yep, you heard me. A picnic. I've got a securely tied satchel of food attached to Flammie's hind. And don't look at me like that. Surely you've been on a picnic before?"
"Well... no. Nobility never actually go on picnics. Just castle balls and such." She wasn't intimidated in the least at the prospect of going on a picnic. It was just that... picnicking, she had heard, was something people did when they were happy, and she didn't know if she would feel right being happy. But perhaps, for Randi's happiness, she could this once....
"Well, I'll be glad to escort you on your first picnic, milady," he said, imitating the speech of a refined gentleman. "Now, I know a spot where my neighbors in Potos always used to invite everyone, but I was thinking that we could be a bit more original.... Perhaps near Luna's palace, or in Gaia's Navel. What say you?"
Purim thought of having a leisurely meal near the moon elemental's palace. It would be serene, without a doubt, but there was always a loneliness surrounding the place. Personally, she didn't want to be eating with stars all around her, above and below. Gaia's Navel, on the other hand, was a quiet enough location, but sunny at the same time. And she had always liked its numerous ponds and waterfalls. "Well, if you're leaving the decision up to me... I'd have to choose Gaia's Navel."
"Gaia's Navel it is, then, milady." He turned Flammie in the direction.
Purim slapped his arm lightly, laughing at his pompous impression. "Stop calling me that!"
They finished the sumptuous meal with relish, talking about what made them smile. Such as Popoie. Purim was reluctant to speak of the sprite at first, but as Randi recalled all of the antics the little guy had pulled off, she found it easier and easier. Randi didn't mention anything, but he noticed that it was the first time since destroying the Mana Beast and Fortress that she was able to speak of Popoie without falling into depression.
They were both sitting against a tree, watching the sunset and sipping champagne from glasses (that had somehow survived the tumbling they had been put through), when Purim popped the question. "Randi...you know about my family, or rather, my father. The rest is just the boring life of a ‘noble’ woman.... But, during all of the time we traveled together, you never actually...talked about your childhood. I mean, if your mother was part of the Mana Tree and your father was the Mana Knight, then how did you keep your identity secret while you lived in Potos?"
Randi had dealt with his demons of being orphaned long ago. He didn't mind speaking of it freely. He turned his head towards Purim. "You heard what my mother said, right?" It was a rhetorical question; of course she had heard. All three of the Mana warriors had stood, completely in awe of the grandeur of the Mana Tree as she explained why, in her human form, she had had to abandon baby Randi to a humble man of the obscure village of Potos. There had been no other way to keep him safe until the day he pulled out the Holy Sword. "The truth is," he said, swirling the champagne in the glass with slight wrist rotations, "I didn't know about my true identity until the day I was banished from Potos."
"Your adoptive father kept it hidden from you for that long?"
"Well, he did have a son of his own. Elliot. I guess he didn't want him feeling belittled at having a 'brother' who was the son of the Mana Knight." He shrugged. "Of course, the whole village knew that I couldn't have been a real son of the Elder; Elliot and I looked just about as alike as night and day. And Elliot's features couldn't be seen as anything other than those inherited from his father. "
Purim's heart went out to the childhood Randi. He must have grown up being subjected to many curious stares and name-calling. "Did... did your adoptive father treat you well?" She had met the man, after Randi had been un-banished following their victory over the Mana Beast, and he had seemed nice enough.... The problem was, people were often completely different from how they appeared...like her father.
Randi smiled. "Oh, yes. He was as kind as a father could possibly be. In fact, Elliot often got jealous over some imagined incident where he believed his father had favored me over him." He recalled some occasions ruefully. "He had grasped at every chance in which he might humiliate me."
"I'm sorry." Purim laid her hand over his in a gesture of sympathy.
Randi took a second to savor the feel of her hand over his. Just a moment, before he said, "That's okay. You should see him now- or did you already? I think you did. So eager to please me and practically ready to kiss my feet."
Yes, Purim remembered the person named Elliot. He was a rather chubby young man who, from her observations, wore a different persona with each individual he talked to. She had labeled him a sleaze.
Randi got up, stretched, and yawned, shaking of his melancholy. "Mmmm, we should probably get back to the Mandala inn...." He placed both of their glasses into the satchel.
"Fireflies...." Purim murmured, as she, too, stood.
"Huh?" Then Randi saw the bright tiny bugs flying over the pond, blinking their lights lazily and drifting through the night air.
"They were never around when the monsters were here," she commented, cupping a firefly in her palms and then letting it go. She turned to Randi. "I always used to love these."
Randi caught one, walked over to where Purim was standing by the pond, and released it between their faces. He looked into her eyes as he did so. Purim gazed back at him...for a mere moment, before turning away. Why was this "picnic" starting to feel... romantic? "I remember when Dyluck and I-." She stopped, mid-sentence. Dyluck! During this whole outing with Randi she hadn't once thought of Dyluck; Randi had made her forget her sadness. The thought frightened her thoroughly. To forget Dyluck, even for a few hours, could be the start of forgetting him and their love forever. And she never wanted to forget their love. She had to be careful; she had let her reins on her memories of him loosen, and if she wasn't cautious, they would slip away with time. If she didn't keep his image fresh, then it would start to fade. Next, she wouldn't be able to remember those rare precious moments they had spent together, those times when they had sneaked from the ballroom to steal a few forbidden kisses, or when he had climbed the vines to her balcony in order that he might flatter her with his amateur poetry.
She hugged her arms at the sudden cold.
"Yes," she said forcefully, backing up a step, away from Randi. "I think we had better get back to the inn."
"Purim?" He tried to determine what her faraway expression meant, and his stomach sank at his guess. Dyluck.
"Please," she whispered, turning her back to him. "Let's go back to Mandala."
The ride back was made silently, with only the moon and stars to light the way. Randi held Purim closely during the whole trip, desperate to keep his dearest friend from slipping away from him.
Later that night, before they had gotten ready for bed, Randi presented a gift to Purim. Maybe if he could just get her smile to reach her eyes, he would know that she was okay.
She fingered the masterpiece with fascination. "Yeah," Randi smiled. "I knew you'd like it. It may not be as powerful as the Mana glove, but it's a work of art, to be sure."
"It is." She tried it on for size. Perfect fit. "Dyluck taught me how to use the glove..." she said quietly.
Randi sighed and held her hand. "Do you want to talk about it? You know that I'll always be here if you need someone to talk to."
She shook her head 'no'.
He expelled a breath. "I thought you were done mourning Dyluck."
She snatched her hand away. "I'll never stop mourning Dyluck!"
He returned her harsh tone. "If you haven't stopped mourning him, then why did you agree to go out with me?"
"Because you're my friend, and it made you happy!"
"That's a lie! You're lying to insinuate that I was the only one who was happy today. You laughed. You laughed as if your soul was free. And do you know what I think?" She had to hear this. As much as he knew his words were going to hurt her, she had to hear them. Because it was the truth. "I think that you're afraid of being free of the pain!"
Through a sheen of tears, Purim yelled right back at him. "You don't know what I feel! You've never been in love! You don't know how wrong it feels to have the world celebrate a war that brought so much pain! And did you know that, believe it or not, I am not the only person to feel this way? No no," she continued derisively. "Our enemies would know how I'm feeling better than you ever could!"
"Yes. I'm sure you remember Sheex, don't you?"
Randi narrowed his eyes. "The Empire's spy? The Shapeshifter? The Aegagropilon?"
"Yes, and Geshtar and Fanha. You know," she said cynically, "all of those enemies we killed. Apparently, they were all very close friends. Fanha and Sheex were even in love."
Randi gripped Purim's upper arms, thinking she was hysterical. She just kept staring into his eyes and rambling on.
"And I saw Fanha crying over Sheex as he was dying! After we had fatally wounded him! I saw them, and I saw Dyluck and I reflected there!"
Randi became increasingly nervous. Where was she pulling all of these ideas from? "Purim, what are you talking about? When did you see Fanha and Sheex?"
"In the Palace of Shadow. Shade showed me their pain and their love. Shade showed me because I asked to see!"
Randi stopped holding her arms and sat back on his bed, across from Purim. He closed his eyes and buried his head in his palms. An elemental never lied.
"So much for your ideals," Purim spat cruelly. "So much for your 'good side'. If there was love on their side, too, they couldn't have been all that bad, now could they? They were just like you or I, Randi: human beings fighting for what they thought was just. How can the world be celebrating when so many good people on both sides died?"
Randi suddenly grabbed her wrist and dragged her off of her bed and outside. He was hurting too, having just had his ideals smashed, and anger rose as a defense. Yes, she had proven a point. But she had yet to acknowledge his own. Damnit, she would understand why she shouldn't still be in mourning!
"Randi, let go! You're hurting me!" She tried to twist out of his grasp.
"There's something that you have to see," he growled, jerking her along with him. He was glad that no one was out this time of the night. Purim, not wanting to cause herself embarrassment, refrained from calling out. She did, however, resist Randi's pull every step of the way.
Finally he seemed to have reached the place he sought. "Mandala's Temple of Veedios?" Purim cried incredulously. But why? The only things here were visual records that were salvaged from the ancient civilization before their time.
"I know you refused to look at these the first time," he said as he took her into the torch-lit chamber, "when both Popoie and I viewed them. But now I insist that you look." He touched the smooth surface of one of the viewing podiums. The screen flickered until a scene of utter carnage showed itself. Bodies lay everywhere, mutilated and burned. Wailing sounded from all around whoever had been recording the sight of destruction and total chaos. 'I guess this is...the end,' a voice rasped. 'The end of the world as we know it. Oh, God, save our souls.' Then the screen went blank. One by one Randi took her to view other veedios, all alike in despair and death and suffering. And they all mentioned The End. Purim felt sick and knelt. A single tear dribbled down her face.
"Do you see now, Purim?" Randi asked, his tone gentle but pleading her to understand. "Now do you see why the world is celebrating? They're happy because they didn't end up like the civilization recorded in these veedios. We weren't all wiped out. At least there is life to go on living." Purim remained still. She was hugging her arms again. He knelt down beside her and cupped her shoulders. "Purim, I know it was cruel to make you view these veedios, but I have to make you understand. I'm afraid that if I can't make you see a reason for living, you'll fade into nothingness."
"Please," she whispered, still huddled in her position, "just leave."
He attempted to look in her eyes once more, but then decided that maybe solitude was the best thing for her at the moment. She needed time to sort everything out. "I'll be waiting at the inn." He got up, heading for the door.
Her voice stopped him. "No," she said. She stood and faced him. "I mean I want you to leave me alone... forever."
Randi was shocked speechless. He tried to laugh. "What...what do you mean?"
"I'm telling you that I don't want to see you again. Leave Mandala. Tonight." Her face was a stone mask. Unreadable.
He wouldn't beg for her forgiveness for doing what he thought was right, so he latched onto the only reason left for him to stay with her. "I can't leave you. I promised Dyluck that I would protect you."
Her expression didn't change. She simply asked him a question. "Randi, what do you think is more important? The body or the soul?"
"... The soul."
"Then protect my soul, Randi. Protect my heart and leave."
He looked at her hard, trying to understand what she was saying but failing miserably. But the way she said it told him that she was desperately pleading for him to grant her wish, and if this was truly what she wanted, if his presence caused her pain, then he could hardly refuse her. He walked out the door, called Flammie, and left.