Chapter Nine: Troubled Hearts Do Search
Purim was flying again, and Flammie drifted endlessly with the wind. After seeing Dyluck again and then confronting Randi, she felt worn out and hollow inside...even more than before. No, actually she was more...distanced from herself. A tumult of emotions ached within her heart, but she had become so weary of all of the hurt and indecision. Instead of examining her feelings, she locked them away and concentrated on the only mission that stood out in her mind: rescuing Dyluck. While her eyes scanned the indiscernible horizon between the sea and the stars, she seriously considered circling around and entering Pandora's forbidden temple for the third time, but Randi would surely be there, hindering her deal with the Devil. However, even if Lucifer would not come to her again because of Randi's interference, there had to be a way to release Dyluck from his hellish prison.
Her mind latched upon the one source of power that was believed to surpass any other. It was what protected the universe and what the Mana warriors had fought to protect. This power was Mana itself.
And where did one go if one wished to be in the overwhelming presence of Mana? To its home, of course, to the Pure Lands, to the remains of the Mana Tree. Mana must help me now, Purim thought. With its tremendous power, Mana is the only thing that can aid me in freeing Dyluck. Clinging onto her last hope, she signaled the direction change to Flammie. The dragon swiveled its head back curiously, but obeyed nonetheless.
He had lost her.
Flammie's fresh prints were easily visible in the dirt, and he knew that this time Purim would not turn to Pandora for solace.
Randi realized the facts he had previously refused to acknowledge. As he unconsciously crushed the black mourning band in his fist, he cursed himself for being the fool, a fool for falling in love in the first place, and more stupidly, for falling in love with his ex-fellow-Mana-warrior who was in love with another man. She always would be, he now knew, but the most pathetic thing of all was that he still loved her so much that it hurt. Oh wait, no; he was worse than a pathetic fool, he corrected derisively. He was the bastard who stole Dyluck away for the second painful time in Purim's life. An unscrupulous murderer. Perhaps that was his rightful title now. True, he hadn't meant to kill or send anyone down into hell; in fact, his intentions had been quite the opposite. When he forced himself to examine the exact reasons for his actions, though, he was hardly innocent. Surely there had to have been a million other ways to utilize his soul in saving hers. But he hadn't bothered to consider them, because somewhere deep inside of him he had wanted to kiss her. He had wanted her to know that he loved her so that she might love him in return. Guilty, he was, on account that his personal wish had shattered the fulfillment of hers.
His love had only caused her more pain, and no matter from which perspective he looked at the situation, there just didn't seem to be a good side to any of it, for in trying to fix her problems, he had made them worse. It seemed like such a long time ago when she had told him to stay out of her life forever, and, of course, he should have listened. If he hadn't brought back memories of her beloved Dyluck by dancing and sitting in the garden with her -tales of Dyluck that she had regaled both he and Popoie with when they were on their quest- then chances were she wouldn't have run off to Pandora's temple.
All of his misery was augmented by the fact that those three words had somehow slipped out, and she had shown no care for them whatsoever. Indeed, she hated him. Those three words tore him apart.
Randi's only consolation from the emotions churning inside of his heart was that he had kept her from dying. Sadly, however, that thought also brought him an ache that made him feel like even more of a bastard. Damn his selfishness. He couldn't even find a speck of repentance within himself concerning that kiss. He couldn't deny that he was relieved that Purim was still alive and not with her Dyluck. How cruel could he be that he didn't want her to gain what she most desired? He didn't deserve to live.
His rapid pace slowed at that sudden notion. Should he live, now that there was nothing significant to live for? The question felt familiar, somehow. Then it dawned on him that he finally understood exactly what Purim had been going through since she had lost her love. The feeling that he could never be with the person whom he loved was so alien, and yet so completely disheartening; he could identify with Purim's lack of will to live.
Disoriented, he blinked his surroundings into focus and realized that he had been walking towards Potos, or rather, he felt, towards the small lake from where his whole journey as the Mana Knight had begun. Maybe, with all that the Holy Sword had already helped him accomplish, it would also be able to help him find answers to his life.
The clouds underneath her were thick and forbidding, just as she remembered from the first time the Mana warriors had seen the Pure Lands from above. Actually, one never could see the land beneath all the poisonous cloud coverage, and because the Mana warriors had managed to hold their breath and lay their eyes on the mystical grounds, they were lauded all the more. Now she would have to descend through the stormy mass again. She glanced down warily, a sliver of unease causing the hair to raise on her arms. Then she staunchly shook off the fear and reminded herself why she was going through this unpleasant experience again. I'm going to free Dyluck, no matter what it takes. She would rescue Dyluck or die trying. With resolve, she tightly shut her eyes.
Flammie, being a descendant of creatures immune to Mana's poisons, did not hesitate when it felt Purim tap her heels against its sides to tell the winged creature to descend quickly. Finding this just another playful excursion, a challenge, the dragon dropped from its height, imagining itself a comet, and no matter how much Purim yearned for a gasp of air, she restrained from opening her mouth until she could swear that her lungs were going to burst. It seemed that the whooshing that whistled by her ears would never stop.
Finally, she mustered the courage and peeked one eye open. Her eye didn't sting; they were through the clouds. Immediately Purim swallowed in the sweet oxygen in large gulps, while simultaneously slowing Flammie so that the dragon would glide over the emerald forest.
As soon as Purim had inhaled enough air to prevent her from fainting, she scanned the dense lands meticulously, searching for the open patch of ground that once harbored the majestic Mana Tree. Where is it? Damn you Thanatos! For taking Dyluck's body, I hope you're rotting in hell! If you've also destroyed any chance I might have had at being with him again by having destroyed the Mana Tree, I hope that the Devil pays the most special attention to you, magnifying your pain until your screams can be heard on earth! She aimed other sadistic curses towards the deceased evil being, while the nightmare of the past ran through her head. There they had been, all three of the Mana warriors. The Trials of the Mana Forest had not been passed for nothing, they had learned, for standing in the presence and the glory of the Tree was nothing less than the enhancing of the spirit.
Mana, where is it? Surely I won't have to go through the Trials again to see it. Not now, I can't handle this now! I need to find the Tree!- Her rush of panicked thoughts ceased when she spotted a towering, ghostly vision in the far distance. It couldn't be...but...but it was. There loomed the Mana Tree, appearing just as she had seen it for the first time. Golden sunlight bathed its lusciously green leaves and branches, and, as could be expected, the Tree emanated total grandeur, peace, and life. She spotted a sudden trail of crimson color originating from among its branches, and was delighted a few seconds later when a graceful flurry of tiny transparent red butterflies whirled around her. Their welcome made her feel comfortingly warm, and she sensed the Tree's beckoning.
Purim didn't question the Mana Tree's rebirth as Flammie carefully maneuvered down to land by the Tree's wide, vine-laden trunk. She was simply glad that it was back, for its presence would undoubtedly make it easier for Mana to free Dyluck.
For long moments, time seemed to move in slow, flowing motions as she could not help but stare at the Tree in awe; the steeple of life-balance was the most magnificent sight to ever be seen. The smallest of the vines that twined about its trunk were wider than Purim was tall, and from her perspective as she craned back her head, the Tree's height was endless, piercing the sky like the truest sovereign of all. Even the atmosphere underneath its full, leafy branches filled one with the magical sense from a fairy tale; golden light spread over the soft grass, leaving no areas in shadow. Purim breathed deeply, savoring her genuinely rekindled hope. If anything in existence could help her save Dyluck, it would be the Mana Tree.
Purpose made her step forward and place a hand against the Tree...only to find that her hand went partially through what she had supposed was a solid surface. She pulled her hand back, aghast, and then realized why the Mana Tree had looked so ghostly. It was a ghost, or, at least, it was a ghost in patches. She backed up to examine the Tree with a more discerning eye, and she detected spots of varying degrees of visibility. Some parts of it were more faded than others. It was as if the Tree was rebuilding itself in little pieces....
Purim didn't know what to make of these new complications. Inside, she had only a tenuous hold on her newly awakened hopes, and feared that they could come crashing down at any moment. She felt as if life had played another cruel trick on her, having caused her hopes to bloom with the revival of the Tree, and then send them plummeting by informing her that the Mana Tree was not even well. How could Mana help her when it was obviously busy tending to itself?
Stop it, Purim! she reprimanded herself. This is no time for loathing the conditions. I was prepared to see the charred remains of the Tree and still hope for the best. Dyluck needs me to concentrate, now. Focus and think!
"Purim, Purim, Purim. I think I can help once again."
Purim whirled around at that voice and gasped.