Chapter Five: Return and Seek
A week later, Purim silently thanked Randi for having left her the Flammie Drum outside the Temple of Veedios when he had walked- or rather- flown out of her life. Now she was on her way back to Pandora, her home kingdom. Funny, she thought, that she still hadn't returned to Pandora even after she, Randi, and Popoie had finished off the Mana Beast. Rather, both of the surviving Mana warriors had recuperated in Potos. When Randi and she had begun receiving invitational letters from countries around the world, they had both agreed that it would only be fair if they visited each country in the order that that the countries had contacted them. They never actually had gotten as far as Pandora.
As Purim rested her head on Flammie's neck and let the wind play with her orange-streaked hair, she kept hearing Sage Joch's voice echoing throughout her head. Just a couple of days ago, after having cried herself dry, she had set aside many hours to climb up to the highest cave on the mountain, seeking the ancient and globally revered man.
"Sage Joch." She had bowed in deference.
The old man had leaned on his staff and smiled at her through his beard. "Why, Purim. It's good to see you again. I trust my lessons proved useful in defeating the Mana Beast and Fortress?"
"They did, Sage."
He had motioned for her to sit on one of the many boulders in his cave. "Please, child. Tell me what is on your mind. I sense great unease in your heart."
She had opened her mouth several times, searching for the right words. "I...yes. It's just that...I don't know how to go about while mourning Dyluck. He was my true love, you see. But I can't just keep traveling the world, putting myself in places where I'm obligated to smile for the people."
"Even in your home kingdom of Pandora? Surely you have understanding friends and neighbors there."
"I'm... not sure if that's such a good idea. My father will only try to marry me off again. But I'll always love Dyluck, now and forever."
Then he had looked at her in such a way that she felt her soul had been bared. "Child. Everyone close to you knows how deep your love for that young man ran. My question is: Was he the only one you loved? Is he the only one you love?" He had laid his ancient palm on her shoulder in support. "I have a feeling that if you go home, you will find many people who love you and whom you love in return."
Purim had spent many days after that pondering his words. After searching deep in her heart, she had found that there were a few people in Pandora whom she loved who might still love her. If they had forgiven her.... Phanna, her friend for more than twelve years, was living in Pandora again. Krissie had mailed Purim informing her that Phanna had soon recovered from her trance once she was far from Thanatos' grasp. And then, perhaps, there was her father. He had loved her when she was a little girl, at least. A rift had come between them, though, when he had tried to marry her to the king of Pandora's nephew. That rift had widened when he and the king had separated her and Dyluck by sending him off on a "witch-hunt," a move that eventually landed him in Thanatos' deadly hands. The actual question was: could she forgive her father for indirectly killing Dyluck?
She had then considered the alternatives to going back to Pandora. Traveling the world to visit countries seemed too big of a task for her heavy heart. Already the people of Mandala were putting a strain on her. She thought about staying in the Palace of Shadows for the rest of her days, but she didn't think that Shade would appreciate that.
So in the end, she had decided to go to the Kingdom of Pandora.
Flammie arrived at the small kingdom in no time and returned to the sky as soon as Purim hopped off.
"Purim?" someone yelled. "Oh my gosh, is that you Purim?" A very enthusiastic Phanna crashed into her with a tight hug. "It is you! I haven't seen you in such a long time! I've missed you so much!" She stood back and perused Purim. "You look...uh...great."
Purim smiled weakly at her friend's politeness. "You big liar. I look and feel terrible."
"Well, we can't have you like that for long, now can we?" She grabbed Purim's hand and tugged her along. "Come on. We have so much to talk about." With every step Phanna took, her short blue hair bounced. When they reached her cottage, Phanna zipped inside and up to her room with Purim in tow.
Purim stood idly in the doorway, not sure of what to do or say. She was confused at Phanna's friendly behavior.
"Well, come on," Phanna encouraged, patting her bed. "Sit down."
With much awkwardness, Purim seated herself on the edge of Phanna's bed. All of a sudden she spewed out the speech she had been preparing. "Oh, Phanna. I'm so sorry about what I did to you. I swear I didn't know that you loved Dyluck, too. Truly, I didn't! I just-"
Phanna covered Purim's mouth with her hand, silencing her. "Shhh," she said, laughing gently. She lowered her hand. "Don't worry about it. I forgave you a long time ago...."
Purim suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of thanks wash over her, and she held Phanna close. She thought that she had cried all of her tears away, but apparently there were tears for happiness still in stock. Her friend was taken by surprise at the gesture, but she then hugged back. "Oh, Purim," Phanna said, "you know that you're my best friend. Yes, I hated you for a while, but... but, I simply couldn't hold my anger." She sat back on the bed, looking meaningfully at Purim. "I realized that you hadn't even had an inkling that I loved him." She paused a moment to let Purim wipe her eyes. "Enough about me, though. I know that you must be hurting, Purim. I heard that...that Dyluck died."
Sadness filled Purim again, and she welcomed it. This was what she was supposed to be feeling. "Yes."
"I'm so sorry Purim." Phanna took Purim's hand in her own. "I know, probably more than anyone else, just how much you both loved each other." Her words rang true, and Purim was glad that someone was finally saying it with sincerity she knew to be real. They both stayed in that position for a long moment, with Phanna just holding her hand.
From downstairs a voice rang out and a second later the door to Phanna's room burst open. A very muscular young man immediately began loosening the collar of his dress suit. "Phanna! I am never buying clothes with your grandparents ever again! This high collar is completely choking me! Where's my old shirt?" He turned around from closing the door and cut off his speech. "Oh...I-I didn't know that you had a friend over. Um...I'll just.... Hey...." He curiously squinted at Purim. "Don't I know you from somewhere?"
Phanna looked from the man to Purim and back to the man.
"I don't know..." Purim said slowly.
Phanna got up from the bed and sidled over to the handsome young man, draping her arms around his neck and giving him a peck on the cheek. Purim was amused to see that he blushed. "Purim," Phanna chirped, "meet my fiance, Sergo. Sergo, Purim, my best friend."
"Pleased to make your acquaintance," the man said with a nod. "I would...uh...bow, but since this little honeydrop is sticking all over me, I find it difficult." Phanna tweaked his nose in a reprimand.
Sergo, Sergo. Where had Purim heard that name before? "Wait.... Sergo? Were you on the Republic's sandship? You were a... worker, weren't you? You helped us escape confinement when the soldiers locked us up for being supposed spies."
Sergo scratched the back of his head with poorly hidden pride. "Heh. Well, I distracted the guards so that Randi could sneak past. And then he freed you two, so...yeah. I guess I did help you guys escape."
Phanna rolled her eyes affectionately. "He's always so proud about how he used to be a pirate. I mean, he even rambles about how he got captured and became a slave for a while! I swear! His egotism never runs out!"
"I used to be the pirate of all eight seas!" he defended.
"Yes, yes," Phanna conceded, "but now you're a refined gentleman who's studying marketing and trade."
Sergo kissed her on the neck and grumbled. "Are you sure about the 'refined' part?"
Purim looked at them and couldn't help feeling jealous. They radiated total bliss. "Okay you two," she said, pasting on a smile. "I'm going to go downstairs now...."
"Oh, wait Purim!" Phanna exclaimed, disengaging herself from Sergo's arms. "Your father's with my grandparents...."
But Purim had already spotted her father near the foot of the steps, and he had also seen her. Silence reigned as they just looked at each other over the stairs. Her father was much older, by his appearance. He no longer carried a robust attitude about him, and there were bags under his eyes.
"Purim," he whispered hoarsely as if he wasn't sure he was seeing correctly. She walked down the rest of the stairs and he put his sturdy arms around her, cautiously at first, treating her as he would a fragile object. "Oh, Purim. You're really back?"
Purim tentatively put her arms around him, unsure of her emotions towards him. "Yes, I'm back."
He ushered her out the door. Phanna's grandmother was blowing her nose in a handkerchief at the touching scene. "You two go ahead, Elman. You need some time alone," she said in between sniffles. Only a quiet few minutes passed before Purim and her father passed through the door of their own home. Purim scanned the bottom floor. Nothing had changed. The couches had been kept in the same positions. Her portrait still hung over the fireplace. She strode over to the painting and only saw a stranger. The girl in casual pants and an elegant blouse was smiling back at her, trying to contain a grin.
"I'm sorry I chased you away." Her father had stopped to stand behind her. "I never wanted Dyluck to get captured...." He put his hand on her shoulder.
She shrugged it off and turned to face him, looking him in the eyes. "But you wanted to get rid of him, didn't you?" Her father remained silent. "Didn't you!" she demanded.
"I just wanted you to be provided for.... Prince Sallius could have given you everything you ever wanted. Dyluck was just a Major in the military." He reached out to hold her again.
Purim backed away. "But I loved Dyluck, father! I always will. He treated me with respect and taught me anything I wanted to know. He loved me. He's the only man I ever wanted to marry!"
"Purim, I was only looking out for your best interests! Marrying Dyluck would have sullied your noble blood!"
She felt the pulsing at her temple. "His was the noblest of blood, father! He died for me! He died for us all!" What did a title matter when a couple had love? Their love surpassed all other riches. How could her father possibly be so shallow?
"I am sorry that he died." His tone was softer now...apologetic.
"Yes. It hurts me to see you hurting so."
Before he hugged her, she asked him one more question. "And you would let me marry Dyluck if he was still physically alive?"
Her father halted at that. It took him longer than she would have preferred, but he finally answered, "Yes." Purim sighed, now able to forgive her father. He rocked her back and forth paternally. "But now, at least I know you'll be happy and safe marrying the King of Southtown."
Purim pushed her father away in shock. "What?"
Her father actually had the gall to look surprised. "The King of Southtown. I thought that this was what you wanted. The whole court has been talking about how much time the two of you have been spending together and of your inevitable marriage."
Was her father trying to manipulate her into marriage again? Had he been spreading rumors of her supposed marriage as a way to pressure her into actually wedding a stuff-shirted suitor? If he betrayed her yet again, she knew with unfaltering certainty that he would not be able to gain her trust back. "Who?"
"Oh, come now, Purim," he said congenially. "You can't tell me that with all the time you've spent with him, you haven't developed certain feelings for the Mana Knight."
All the possibilities speeding through Purim's head promptly crashed, only to be replaced with a whole other batch of flying thoughts. "R-Randi?" she sputtered. Originally, Purim had believed, she would have found the notion of being with Randi for the rest of her life to be humorous. Randi was one of her dearest friends, to be sure. But to be his wife and he her husband? The nobles were truly ludicrous if they thought that two partners-in-fighting could ever fall in love with each other. An amusing joke, she thought. However, all of these things that she spoke in her mind constituted only a thin layer of excuses under which a disturbing truth was nested. To be with Randi for her life was an idea she found...comforting.
But no! She shook her head. She loved Dyluck. Dyluck and she were to spend eternity together. She couldn't leave him alone. Desolate and longing.
"Father." Her hands formed into fists. "I despise these games. What are you talking about? Randi is the Mana Knight, not a king. And I would never marry him, anyway! We're simply very close friends!" The scene of him walking out of her life popped into her mind like a reminder. Or...at least we used to be friends....
Elman still appeared bewildered. Then his expression changed to one of sudden understanding. "Oh.... I hadn't realized you'd been in Pandora for only a short while. I guess I should have known that you wouldn't have heard the news yet...."
Purim raised an aloof eyebrow.
Her father continued. "Well, Pandora and Tasnica had both been put in charge of finding a new leader for the Empire that had been corrupted by Emperor Vandole's greed. I mean, everyone was glad that Vandole had perished, but everyone was also grumbling about how difficult it would be to find someone who could keep a watchful eye out for trouble, route out corruption, protect the lands, and be liked by the people. After much bickering, the council finally decided that the Mana Knight was the only logical choice."
Purim blinked. She tried to take in the information a piece at a time. It was so strange, thinking of Randi as the leader of a country; he had always been the kind, but rough-edged, warrior. King Randi. King Randi. King Randi. She repeated his titled name in her mind, not quite believing that her father's information could be correct. Once, she had pondered what Randi would be if he wasn't busy being the Mana Knight, and she had imagined that he would have made a superb mercenary. "King" had never entered her list of his possible occupations.
Trying to say something intelligent, lest her father think she was having romantic notions towards Randi, she questioned. "Then...uh...wouldn't Randi actually be an Emperor since he's looking over Southtown, Northtown, and Gold Isle? The whole Empire?"
"Technically, yes," Elman answered, glad that Purim wasn't glaring daggers at him anymore. He hurried to appease her curiosity so that she might remain in this semi-calm state. "But calling him an Emperor of the Empire would only awaken old hates and conflicts. People want to forget the war and start new lives without constantly being reminded of the formerly dreaded Empire. Southtown, Northtown, and Gold Isle just want to be seen as any other village or city."
"I see..." Purim said slowly. Randi! An Emperor! The thought was dizzying. Why did everything around her seem crazier than it had before the war had ended? She sat on a couch.
"About the marriage..." Elman began.
"I am not getting married!"
"Okay." He sat down next to her. "Don't worry; I won't try to force you to wed anyone again." His gentle smile dissipated her anger. "I just wanted to get my facts straight, that's all."
Purim could now officially say that there were two people who loved her and whom she loved in return.