At first, when they told him to wait there, he had
agreed and stood in the back of the old store as they left. However,
as soon as they had gone, he had been planning on following Lyta and Pearl
straight to the Bejeweled City, if only in case there was anything he could
help with at this all-too-late point in time. Hell, the abandoned
jewelry store was enough to make his skin crawl, for many reasons.
The dead jewelry made by humans couldn’t help but unnerve the jewel-based
Jumi, who surrounded themselves with living crystals. The fact that
mages and unscrupulous folk who trafficked in Jumi cores often used jewelry
stores at bases only made shops like this seem more like a twisted morgue
where the dead were put on display and bartered for. That it was,
until recently, the home base of Alexandra, the rogue who had hunted the
few remaining Jumi almost to extinction, only added to it.
The room was only lit by a single shaft of sunlight coming down from a window high up in the roof. It was dark, and half-ransacked, with jewelry and objects’de’art scattered about the room, many broken. The chest that was the portal to Pandora’s Box, the "haven" where Alexandra had kept Florina, was half-opened and inert. How had it happened, that the Clarius’s own knight not only imprisoned her, but turned against the Jumi in a genocidal hunt?
It wasn’t any comfort that kept him from leaving the place immediately. It was an odd kind of fear. He dimly remembered the Bejeweled City from childhood. It had been heart-wrenching enough to leave the city that had been home to his race for so long as the Jumi fragmented. Now, the thought of returning there to find it abandoned, monster-haunted, and empty seemed nothing more than yet another reminder of his increasingly hollow quest. Every time he thought he had found another Jumi, the Jewel Hunter, the traitor, had been right there to extinguish that hope. -every time except Pearl.- Pearl, who was turning out to be so far from what he had come to know. He had grown so used to shepherding the daydreaming, innocent Guardian, only to be faced with her demanding other self, a knight far stronger and older than himself that had, until recently, treated him with disdain. He wasn’t sure which had hurt more the first time he saw Blackpearl – the cracks in his core that left him helpless for days, or his own partner turning her back on him and walking out without a glance back.
Yes, Blackpearl still didn’t seem to hold very much respect for him, even as she fought the same as he did to preserve what was left of their people. If he stayed here and let them handle the rogue knight themselves, it wouldn’t help any. If he stayed here and any harm came to Pearl, he’d never forgive Lyta or himself. Swallowing any fear of the empty and hollow city, or of facing Pearl’s other self, Elazul resolved to catch up to them and see what aid he could lend against Alexandra and whatever mad scheme she was playing. A double-edged sword for Pearl – to protect the naïve Guardian, and to prove himself to the cold knight.
That was when he discovered the door to be sealed; the handle wouldn’t even move. Pushing on the door didn’t work, neither did pounding on it. He tried to batter it open, then charged it from across the room, fighting the door until he thought he’d crack his core himself from ramming it.
At that point, he slumped to the floor, leaning against the vacant black table in the center of the room, in the middle of a scattered array of old jewelry. Giving it a second, longer look, the human jewelry had its own cold beauty, even if it wasn’t alive with mana like any similar Jumi work would be. Even with that thought, it still seemed to be nothing but a scattered requiem of his species. A blazing ruby neckpiece set in gold, now broken in two down the middle. Earrings strung with emeralds, the wire broken, the stones scattered in a heap. A once-flawless diamond, now cracked from a harsh blow; flourite, shattered to pieces on the ground.
An intact statuette, fallen on its side on the ground, caught his attention briefly-perhaps because of the familiar glitter, and he lifted it up for a closer look. A lapis figurine of a mantling gryphon, rough-carved; it had been forgotten in the looting, the dark blue stone blending with the shadows with only the gold flecks spread across it betraying its presence in the light.
Standing again, he set the figurine upright on the table, and turned to face the door once again. Before he even tested the handle, a breeze from the high window that had been shut a second ago stopped him. The window had been closed…a tell-tale flash from his core, and a subconscious sound of crystal on crystal – the core reacting to another Jumi. But Florina was held prisoner, and Pearl would still be on her way to the Bejeweled City, which only left one Jumi that he knew of…
"Heaven punishes those jewels that lose their sparkle."
He turned quickly to face her, drawing his falchion; the sword struck the lapis gryphon, breaking off one wing and sending it crashing to the ground, where it shattered. She was still back in the shadows, a slim figure in a red dress, red hair, with flowers strung through it, adding a touch of innocence that belied the curved dagger in her hand.
"So you’re judging me? A rogue knight that could only protect her guardian by locking her away in an enchanted jewel box?"
"Oh? I seem to remember you being rescued by your guardian, is that any better? And how many times has that –human- Lyta saved Pearl when you couldn’t find her? A Jumi, letting a human do his job."
Elazul found he had no real answer to that accusation, and yet still, he couldn’t allow the traitor to be his judge. "At least I haven’t hunted, tormented, and murdered hundreds of my own kinfolk. No, Alexandra, you are in no place to judge me."
"So death is your basis for comparison? You’re a young fool if you cling to that ideal. this entire world lives on one concept; that which has forgotten its purpose and lost its use dies so that new life with a new purpose can begin. For a useless thing to live on only inflicts more suffering on those that survive." She stepped away from the rope dangling down from the sunlit window into the deeper shadows. "Can you shed tears, Lapis knight?"
"It doesn’t matter-even if I could, I wouldn’t shed a piece of my life for the gratification of a monster like you."
"You don’t understand; you’re no different from the others…another dull stone." She began advancing towards him; his first instinct was to back away, but with the door so close behind him, he had nowhere to run – and besides, he wasn’t about to show weakness to the one who had killed most of the other Jumi he had found. Instead, he only lifted the falchion to keep more distance between himself and the jewel thief. She seemed nothing but amused by the implied threat.
Then, in one rough instant, she had darted forward, catching his sword-arm by the wrist, pulling him forward off-balance, straight into a strong kick that knocked the wind out of him. He barely kept his grip on his sword and twisted out of her grip, gaining just enough distance to put the falchion’s point at her throat, still regaining his composure.
A sudden flash of movement and glitter caught his attention, and he snatched out with his left hand to catch the attack – but it was nothing more than a broken string of pearls, thrown as a distraction, the pearls themselves already falling out of his hand to the ground. The true attack, a swift slash at his hand that pulled the sword from his grasp, came just as he realized that. She followed it with a quick blow to the head from the pommel of the dagger, knocking him reeling to the floor by the far wall.
"I suppose it’s to your credit that you showed some resistance. Be honored – yours will be the final core needed."
Needed for what? No, no time to question – had to do something before the dagger came down. One hand found the broken-off wing of the lapis gryphon, possibly just sharp enough to do some damage, or at least make a serviceable weapon. He slashed up with it, catching her in the stomach with a glancing blow, the wing proving to work as a distraction at least. Before he could make it to his feet, however, he was sent back down by a vicious kick to the ribs. Alexandra kept her foot there, pinning him where he lay, partly propped against the wall by one of the dressers.
This was a defeat he could not accept, yet he didn’t seem to have much of a choice. The jewel hunter raised the knife, and it seemed as though the only thing left for the young knight to do was accept the inevitable.
Then a finger brushed past something just out of his reach behind the dresser – the hilt of the nomad’s sword Blackpearl had left for him. Forgetting Alexandra, he concentrated instead on bringing the hilt in his grasp, struggling to reach the blade that was his last real hope in the pitched battle. He finally managed to get two fingers, then a thumb, a vague grip on the hilt…
…at the same time as the knife came down, cutting in at the collarbone just above his core, slashing down and around, then levering out. He was aware, somehow, of his core flashing one last time in Alexandra’s hand, as his own hand on the sword hilt he had been fighting to grasp began to disintigrate into sparkling dust.
Forgive me Pearl, I hope Lyta succeeds in protecting you where I failed…
Alexandra was already out the high window as the lapis dust settled across the room, adding its own glitter to all the broken and forsaken gems scattered about the floor, coating the still-intact pearl beads that had scattered during the fight.
*What can I say, I have this habit of fixing on scenes that happen "off camera" while the main chara and the focus of the plot are elsewhere, and Legend of Mana is *RIFE* with them...*