Chapter Seven: Offer of Reunion
Purim ran, ignoring the pinch of the slippers on her feet. When she reached her house, she rushed to her room and tore off the blue gown, depositing it in a heap while pulling on her usual clothes. She snatched up the Flammie Drum and stuffed it into her pants pocket. Then she set off running down the dark streets again, heading for the clear area where Flammie could land.
By the time she arrived in the opening, she was gasping for breath. As she was about to twirl the small drum, she paused, seeing the gates of Pandora's Temple Ruins looming ahead of her. The large gargoyle that she had been afraid of as a child still crouched in front of it, gleaming sharply in the moonlight. The whole building beyond the gate seemed to draw her in, and she pocketed the drum as she slowly walked towards it, passing the gargoyle and peering through the wrought-iron bars at the massive dark temple. Memories of her first time in there arose. Thanatos had been using it as his own private headquarters as he put Pandora's people under his spell. She, Randi, and Popoie had traveled through its many dark passages to find Phanna...and had ended up finding both Phanna and Dyluck under his control. Thanatos had transported himself and his two captives away and left the Mana warriors to battle one of his minions.
Now the grounds of the Temple were safely locked behind these two sturdy gates...in the case that evil still lurked there. Purim easily picked the lock with a hairpin. She shoved the gates open and they creaked at their lack of use. After surveying the outside of the Temple for any possible dangers, she strode over to the double doors of the temple itself and pushed at them. These swung open without protest -probably because the hinges were loose- and she stepped inside. Silvery light shone on the faded carpet, allowing Purim to see the decayed bodies of zombies the Mana warriors had killed long ago. Calling a tiny globe of light from her stock of Lumina magic, Purim traveled her way up the many flights of stairs, chose a doorway, and kept walking. The directions to the main room were as fresh in her mind as if she had just fought her way through these halls yesterday. And finally, after winding her way through the mazes as would a mesmerized ghost, she reached the gloomy and dimly-lit chamber. It was exactly as she recalled it. Exactly; dust hadn't even settled over the marble floor or on the centered dais.
Purim walked without falter up onto the gleaming dais, overstepping the trap door she knew to be there. Two golden strands lie on the floor. Dyluck's. Purim picked them up carefully, setting them gently into her palm. She stared at them, realizing that she hadn't even had anything physical from Dyluck, and then closed her hand around the blond hairs that had just become her most precious possessions. They had gone forgotten when she had seen Thanatos transport himself, Dyluck, and Phanna to another of his locations and Purim hadn't stopped to search for anything that might have fallen from Dyluck; she had thought that Dyluck would be with her forever, that she wouldn't need a piece of him to live on with.
"My dear... dear child," a dark voice said silkily.
Purim whirled around to see a tall, lean man garbed in black robes, standing at the foot of the dais. He gazed at her with black eyes from beneath black hair. An aura of power surrounded him. She immediately equipped her glove. "Who are you?" she demanded steadily.
The man laughed softly, almost sinisterly. "Why, my dear Purim. Do you not know who I am?"
"Thanatos." It had to be him. He was the only one who played games like this and dressed in such clothes. Obviously he had somehow survived and had found another poor soul's body to possess. "We killed you. Dyluck killed you."
He exhaled an audible breath from his nose, a sign that he found her amusing. "Please, my dear. Do not insult me so by calling me by that dreadful man's name. He was only an inept and greedy person who asked me for immense powers in return for his soul. I granted him his wish, and he still managed to get himself killed." He made a tsking sound. "Ah, his loss. He does suffer so very well, though."
"And you are...?" Purim questioned of the stranger impatiently. An uncomfortable feeling was curling itself in the pit of her stomach.
The robed man dragged his eyes up to her face, smiling slightly. "I feel so close to you already; I believe that you should call me by my real name, Lucifer."
Though the man certainly had the features of what Purim would consider the Devil in human form, sans the horns, she remained skeptic. Yes, the stranger knew her name, but why would the Devil ever come to her? "I don't believe you," she declared, narrowing her eyes.
"No need to be so impolite, my dear Purim. I come offering a gift." He tilted his head a fraction, beckoning to Purim.
She shook her head to clear the evil feeling that emanated from this being. Then she continued glaring at him. "And what gift would the Devil offer that I would ever even think of accepting?"
His gaze pierced her with its intensity, before he said offhandedly, "Dyluck, perhaps."
Purim's clutch on the golden strands tightened. "What are you talking about?" she grit out through clenched teeth. A hope had lit up in her heart, but she was reluctant to let it live.
"Do you remember when Dyluck died? The way he gazed into your eyes as he breathed his last? When he told you he had to kill Thanatos, and then told you he loved you?"
"Stop it!" Purim cried, pressing her clenched fists over her ears. It did nothing to stop his words. They penetrated her mind.
"That lovely night, not one, but two souls became mine for all eternity."
She dropped her hands to the floor. When she looked up, she saw that he had moved onto the dais to stand in front of her. "W-what?"
He stood over her, motionless. "Dyluck is mine, my dear."
"You're lying! You're lying! You bastard! You're lying! Dyluck's in heaven!" She screamed louder and with more pain than she ever had in her life. The Devil stayed as a statue; his eyes didn't even show a reaction. He simply knelt down to her level.
"To the contrary, my dear Purim. The only way he could get that cowardly Thanatos to die was to use his own brightly shining soul to push him into hell. As a consequence, he got stuck down in my home as well."
"Because you won't let him go!" Purim glared accusingly into Lucifer's eyes.
He looked back at her with dark fondness. "My dear, dear Purim. Have you not been listening to a word I have said? I am releasing Dyluck to you."
Purim peered at him, amazed that she was conversing with the Devil and also suspicious. The Devil was evil. He never did anything nice without an ulterior motive...right? "Why?"
Lucifer raised an eyebrow in an expression of bafflement at her confusion. "Why? You have become so dark over the past few months that I feel a...shall I say...paternal outlook towards you. You have come to understand the darkness to a depth that few ever reach. I'm simply congratulating you." Her reached out to touch her chin, but his fingers only wisped through her flesh transparently, leaving her face chilled. "Besides," he added," Dyluck does not belong with me, but with you." He stood up and outstretched his hand. "Don't you agree?"
His mellifluous voice invited her to accept what he said. She very much wanted to believe. However, she vacillated between holding her hand out to the Devil himself and declining. What if he was lying? What if he wasn't going to release Dyluck? But she could take that chance, surely, for Dyluck's sake. Besides, she couldn't even technically touch the Devil, and if she could, she was competent in her martial art abilities with the glove.
"If you but take my hand, I can bring him to you. I promise."
Purim lifted her arm and placed her hand within Lucifer's own gloved one. Surprised when she felt his hand close around hers, she jerked.
"Do not worry. You are already part of the darkness."
Cold wrapped her and all surroundings faded.
Two or so hours had passed since Purim had sprinted off into the shadows, and everyone had returned to their homes quite a while ago. Randi seemed to have rubbed a small hole into the mourning band, having been sliding his fingers over the silk thoughtfully from the time he had last heard the patter of Purim's footsteps. This had to stop, he decided. Her grip on the past was killing her, literally. He could feel it. Cold skin during sunny days and warm evenings simply was not a sign of good health. It was as if death was trying to maintain a permanent hold on her...or that she was unconsciously trying to grasp and maintain a permanent hold on death. Damnit! He wouldn't let her go without a fight. He needed to make her talk about her feelings, search for and find peace, and get on with her life.
He strolled over to Purim's house at a hurried pace, determined to settle her problems, devising methods to reason them away. He rapped on the wooden door sharply, and before long, he heard a chair scrapped back and then the door was opened. Sir Elman stuck his head out. "It is very late. What do you- Oh! Sir Randi, it's you! I-."
Randi cut him off impatiently. "I need to speak with Purim."
Sir Elman furrowed his brow in confusion. "But, young sir, I thought she was with you."
"Damn," Randi muttered under his breath. He thought it best not to panic Purim's father, though, and pasted on a smile of reassurance. "Oh, she was.... We were just...uh...playing a game and I haven't found her yet." Swiftly, he turned on his heel and started running to the one place where Purim might still be, calling over his shoulder, "Don't worry, Sir Elman! I'll bring her back." That's a promise.
By the time he reached the clearing, his breathing was labored and sweat dripped from his brow, making him wish he had worn his bandanna with the tuxedo. Disregarding his body's annoyances as mere trivialities, he ignored them and searched for fresh Flammie tracks in the dirt. There were none. The most recent had to be from at least a day ago. Sighing, he scanned the surrounding forest on the off chance that she might be standing among the trees...or -he swallowed thickly- hanging from one.
Seeing no one, least of all Purim, Randi paced around in a circle for a second, running his hands through his hair excessively and wondering where else she might have gone. From his peripheral vision, the gargoyle seemed to grin mockingly at his situation, and Randi glared right back at the statue. Then he saw it; the open gate. He walked over to it slowly and found a hairpin, a discovery that caused a sinking feeling to lodge in his stomach as he fervently hoped nothing had befallen Purim. Damn! Damn damn damn! A list of likewise expletives spewed through his head. He rushed up to the cursed temple, slammed the door open with his foot so that it fell from its hinges, and, knowing exactly where she had escaped to, ran the path that had been imprinted into his mind nearly a year ago. Head bent, legs pumping, his heart pounding in his ears, everything blurred around him, for all of his thoughts and senses were focused on one image to urge himself faster: that of Purim holding her dying Dyluck. That image that she memorized with crystal clarity would endanger her in this Temple filled with evil. With a heart as despairing as hers, the Prince of Darkness would make easy prey of her soul.
"Purim!" He skid to a halt as he entered the main chamber. Purim lay on the dais, eyes closed. "Oh, Mana!" Randi choked out. Don't let this be happening! When he brushed his palm along the side of her face, he found that she was so cold that he shivered from the contact. He put his ear to her mouth and barely detected a faint stream of air. With shaking knees, he dropped to the ground beside her, kneeling. "Purim! Purim! Please, please wake up!" he pleaded as he gathered her in his arms, cradling her close so that she might absorb his warmth.