Pandora's Box

Chapter One - The Flame of Hope

A huge mountain once stood at the center of Fa’Diel. When a band of nomads came across the hill, they decided to settle down there and carve out a strong-structured city out of it. With their iron will, they accomplished the feat and from then onwards the mountain was known as the cliff town Gato Grottoes.

The priestess and leader of the nomads were gifted a temple where she was allowed to pray and look after those who were sick or wounded. After a short while, she thought that she alone would not suffice to treat a whole lot of wounded knights, and so she trained a group of nuns to help her run the Temple of Healing; the name was given to it because of the nature of the activities inside.

To the left of the cliff town, was a natural dungeon that in the end led to a beautiful waterfall and a Cancun bird nest. The bird had made a nest there even before the nomads had created Gato, so no one dared to disturb the bird.

Heiji and Shinichi stood at the foot of the mountain, staring up in awe. It didn’t look like the buildings were made separately from the mountain. In fact, they all melded together nicely, like a naturally occuring relief along the walls of the mountain. The steep path upwards were turned into steps, and the gentler slope was evened out to create a smooth path.

“Wow,” Shinichi breathed out as he took in the sight in front of him. “This is even greater than Etansel! I can’t believe we’ve missed out on so much.”

Heiji grinned at his excitement. Being a Knight had its own advantage. Knightless Guardians weren’t allowed to step out of Etansel, but Guardianless Knights were free to go wherever they wanted. He had seen all of the towns all across Fa’Diel, and although Gato wasn’t his favorite, it was still a good place.

“It’s a good thing you’re out of the city, then,” Heiji said easily. “Let’s head up to the temple. The nuns or the priestess might know something about it.”

Shinichi nodded as he hummed in agreement and the two of them scaled the first set of steps that would lead them to the fork, where they could either go to the dungeon or continue onto the town. They took a right at the fork, and noticed that it was a fairly small town, possibly only half in size compared to Etansel.

“It seems so peaceful here,” Shinichi commented as he looked around. “Oh, I can see the waterfall from here. How nice.”

“You’ll get a better view from the terrace area,” Heiji said as he stood beside Shinichi. “That is the best spot for sight-seeing. It’s right across the temple.”

“Then I suppose we’ll make a pit stop there,” Shinichi said as he looked around the town center. “Huh? Is there some sort of sale going on? Why is everyone walking out of the item store?”

Heiji turned around and noticed that, just as Shinichi had said, a lot of people were walking out of the item store. They, however, were holding onto nothing and had a dejected expression on their face. Their posture was slightly slouched and their gait slow. It was as if they had just experienced a major disappointment.

“Shall we look?” Heiji suggested. “I’m curious as well.”

Shinichi nodded in agreement and as they were walking towards the item store, one of the citizens of Gato stopped to look at them. “I won’t do that if I were you,” he said as he snorted. “We got word that a famous jeweler is around, but he said he is on vacation and won’t even help a girl repair her bracelet clasp.”

“Maybe he doesn’t bring his tools with him?” Shinichi suggested, but the man simply shrugged and walked off, following the crowd who went back to their daily routine. After a while, the stream of people coming out from the item store eventually died down and the two walked inside.

Inside the store, right in front of the counter, was a man who eerily looked a lot like Shinichi, but slightly taller. His hair was messier, and his eyes were a bright violet color instead of the blue color the twins shared. His attire was simple and showed no sign of him being a traveler whatsoever, although his boots were well-worn—probably from going back and forth from town to town.

The man held up an opaque gem to the light and looked at it with one eye. “Hm... this is not it either...” he commented with a sigh, his tone disappointed. He pocketed the gem and was about to walk out when he noticed the two standing by the doorsill. His eyes widened slightly in surprise, but he quickly regained his composure.

“That gem...” Shinichi mumbled as he frowned. “No it can’t be. It’s too small to be a Jumi core,” he added to himself as he shook his head. He looked back at the man who was still staring at them closely, as if trying to find out his deepest secret.

“I’m sorry,” Shinichi said quickly as he stepped aside. “Uh, you’re free to go,” he added as he tugged at Heiji’s sleeve so he would move away from the doorway as well.

The man blinked, then smiled brightly at him. “Do you like gems too?”

“Are you the famous jeweler everyone was talking about?” Shinichi asked hesitantly. There was something strange about the man, but he couldn’t quite point it out.

“Yes, I suppose,” the man said. “The name’s Kuroba Kaito. I have a jewelry store in Geo. Drop by if you happen to be visiting,” he said. “It’s right beside the inn, so you can’t miss it.”

“Alright,” Shinichi agreed. “We’ll be sure to visit, Kuroba-san.”

Kaito still stared at him and truthfully he was starting to get nervous. He knew it must have shown because Kaito suddenly smiled at him. “And what’s your name?”

“I’m Kudou Shinichi,” Shinichi answered as he flushed in embarrassment. “This is Hattori Heiji, a friend. We’re traveling Fa’Diel together in search of Crimson,” he explained, smiling back at Kaito. He decided that whatever uneasy feeling he got from Kaito was probably just a false alarm because the man was slightly eccentric. He wasn’t ashamed of openly staring, and he stared hard; his gave never wavered even if only for a second.

Kaito blinked, then tilted his head slightly. “Crimson?” he asked as he frowned. “What is that?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard of it,” Shinichi said with a sigh. “I’m sorry. I thought you would know.”

Kaito stared at him again. “Is it a gem?”

Shinichi nodded. “It’s a mythical blood red gem. The existence itself is questionable, but I’m sure I’ll find it one day. I have to,” he said, his eyes downcast for a second, before he looked back up at Kaito. “Well, anyway, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just head to the temple and see if anyone knows about it.”

Kaito stared for a couple more seconds before he broke into a wide smile. “I’m sure you’ll find it. Good luck, Kudou-kun.”

“Thank you, Kuroba-san,” Shinichi said as he smiled at him. “Oh, anyway, we’ll be going then. Come on Hattori, let’s head up to the temple, then to the terrace.”

Kaito’s ears perked up slightly at that, and he smiled as he waved at the two who were exiting the store.

“Hm... the terrace, huh?”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Continuing from the town center path, there was another fork. The left path led to the Temple of Healing while the right path led to the cliff terrace. Unlike the fork down below, this fork was slightly steeper with gaps in the middle of the two paths, causing everyone who traversed the path to exercise extra caution.

“Here, hold my hand,” Heiji said as he offered his hand to Shinichi who quickly took it and grasped it tightly. “My goodness, you’re still afraid of height? I thought you’ve recovered from that when you got on the Cancun bird.”

“It saved me from falling,” Shinichi protested as he held onto Heiji’s hand tighter. “I didn’t get on it willingly.”

“Of course,” Heiji said as he nodded. “Oh, look, there’s someone there.”

Shinichi looked up and saw a blond man standing near the gap between the two paths. He was closing his eyes while crossing his arms in front of his chest, his hair blown by the wind. He wore a red robe and hood, but at the bottom of his collar peeked out a bright red core.

“He’s a Jumi too,” Shinichi exclaimed in surprise. “Why isn’t he at Etansel? I didn’t know Jumis were so spread out.”

Heiji fell silent and looked at his feet sadly. “They were broken apart during the war. The Jumis won the war, but they were torn apart. Only a few remained in Etansel now.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Shinichi asked as he frowned. “You didn’t even tell me about Shinku! What if she had died during the war?”

“She didn’t,” Heiji said quickly, cutting off further protests from Shinichi. “Don’t bring that up again. The war is better off forgotten. It truly is a black stain on the history of the Jumis.”

“I’m sorry,” Shinichi said softly. “It’s just... I hate the fact that you two protect me so much. Is it really that bad, telling me the truth of the war?”

“We have our own reason for that,” Heiji replied simply. “Come on. Let’s see if he knows anything about Crimson. Or you could ask him why he’s here if you want.”

Heiji let Shinichi walk closer to the cliff walls so he could hold onto them as well while they were walking. As they approached, the blond man seemed to notice it and finally opened his eyes to look at them.

“Can I help you?” he asked as he leveled them with a stare. “We don’t get many visitors up here. Are you looking for healing?”

“We’re actually looking for a mythical gem named Crimson,” Shinichi answered. “I heard it could cure even the worst of the diseases and ailments. Have you ever heard of it?”

“Crimson, huh?” the man mumbled as he stared off into the distance. “I have heard of it, but not the detail. It is said that you have to go through the worst to be able to find it. However, no one can tell exactly what the worst is. If you need more information, feel free to ask the nuns. Or go to Geo’s Magic Academy.”

“Alright,” Shinichi agreed. “By the way, you are a Jumi aren’t you? Why are you here?”

The man looked at them suspiciously, and Shinichi lowered his cloak to show his own sapphire core. “I’m a Jumi too. I hide my core because I’m traveling Fa’Diel and not everyone wants to get close to a Jumi.”

The man nodded thoughtfully. “I suppose you’re right. I’m Hakuba Saguru. I used to be a Bloodstone Knight, but my Guardian died during the war against Deathbringer. I’ve since moved to Gato. This place is much more peaceful and calm.”

“I see,” Shinichi nodded.

“You look a lot like her,” Saguru spoke up suddenly and Shinichi shot him a questioning look. “The Clarius. You look a lot like her.”

“Of course. I’m her twin,” Shinichi said with a smile. “My name is Kudou Shinichi, by the way. It’s always a pleasure to meet fellow Jumi. I haven’t seen one in a long time.”

“Weren’t you there during the war?” Saguru asked, frowning slightly.

“No,” Heiji answered. “I took him far away from Etansel before the war broke out. It was the Clarius’ wish to keep him away so he wouldn’t be elected the next Clarius should she exhaust herself supporting the Jumi race.”

Saguru nodded thoughtfully. “I understand. That woman is too power crazy to my liking. I’m sure the rest of the stranded Jumi think of her the same way,” he commented, then looked back up at them when he remembered something. “By the way, have you heard the latest news about Chris?”

“What kind of news?” Shinichi asked curiously. “We’ve just gotten here after going through the Ulkan mines, so we’re a bit outdated. Is there any report that she’s going to declare another war?”

“No,” Saguru said as he frowned. “Well, it’s not like she doesn’t want to. It’s more like she can’t.”

“She died?” Shinichi and Heiji asked in surprise.

“Apparently, there has been a jewel thief going around lately,” Saguru said grimly, pulling up his shirt slightly to better hide his core. “She was the first target, or so I heard. There had been many thefts lately. Be careful to not show your core, or they might take yours too.”

“Oh, right, I’ll be careful,” Shinichi said as he frowned. “You should be careful too.”

Saguru nodded and they excused themselves, going off towards the Temple of Healing. Just as they were walking off, a note card fell from above, right beside Saguru’s feet.

“Hm? What’s this?”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

“That was disappointing,” Shinichi complained as he sighed. They tried asking around and looking for some information in the library; but found nothing. No one in the temple seemed to have heard of Crimson, and he was starting to wonder if it was a Jumi’s treasure, much like the Jumi Staff—another thing they were looking for.

“Traveler,” a nun called as they were returning the books to the shelves. “The flame is dimming. Could you please fetch Hakuba-san? He is the keeper of the flame in this temple.”

“Oh, alright,” Shinichi agreed. “I’ll go on first to look for him. You should continue re-shelving the books, Hattori. I’ll be back to help you soon.”

“Will you be alright?” Heiji asked as he lifted an eyebrow.

“I’ll be fine,” Shinichi said. “I’ll just keep to the walls and not look down. It’s a good exercise, I suppose.”

“If you say so,” Heiji relented. “Don’t stray.”

Shinichi simply nodded and stood up. After he dusted his cloak, he was off to fetch the ex-Bloodstone Knight. Heiji continued on re-shelving in peace until a middle-aged man and a teenage girl walked into the temple together, asking where the temple’s flame was.

“Why do you ask?” the nun asked curiously.

“We got a note from the infamous Phantom Thief Kid,” the man said as he showed a note card with writings on it. “He said he’s taking the Flame of Hope. We thought that it might refer to this temple’s flame.”

“Wait,” Heiji cut off suddenly. “Who is this Phantom Thief Kid? Is he the same as the jewel thief?”

“Yes, that’s right,” the man said. “I am Inspector Nakamori Ginzo and this is my daughter Aoko. I’m in charge of his cases and she comes along as my assistant.”

“Jewel thief... Flame of Hope...” Heiji thought as he frowned, then his eyes widened in panic when realization dawned on him. “Oh crap. Shinichi, please be safe!”

“Hey, wait up!”

-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.-.

Shinichi walked back to the fork but didn’t find Saguru there. He decided to check whether he was at the terrace or not, and saw Saguru standing near the stone table carved out from the cliff. Beside him was a nun, and they seemed to be involved in such a serious discussion that Shinichi instinctively hid when he saw them.

“Aren’t you going to shed your tear?” the nun asked as she held up a turqoise gem that was slightly glowing, although dimly. “You could save your Guardian if you would just cry.”

“I can’t,” Saguru said in frustration. “How many times have I told you? We Jumis cannot cry ever since the war with the Deathbringer!”

“Then I have no use of you,” the nun said coldly. “A gem that has lost its sparkle does not deserve to live.”

“No!” Shinichi shouted when he saw the nun taking out a knife from behind her robe, and stabbed Saguru’s abdomen with it. He grasped his sword’s handle tightly, but stopped when the nun turned to look at him.

“Don’t come any closer,” she said warningly. “Or I’ll kill him.”

“You’ll kill him anyway!” Shinichi shouted angrily. “What do you wish to accomplish by killing off the Jumi race like this?”

“Kudou-san,” Saguru spoke weakly as he looked at Shinichi. “Please don’t cry for me. I have been looking forward to the moment I’m reunited with my Guardian for a long time.”

“This is not the way!” Shinichi protested. “Why? Why does the Jumi have to continually suffer!?”

“Be a good boy now,” the nun said as she kneeled beside Saguru and forcefully took out the bloodstone core from his chest, leaving a big, gaping hole at the center.

“Ugh...” Shinichi’s hand instinctively shot up to cover his mouth and he fought to keep the bile that was rising up his throat to stay down there. He looked away quickly as he sank to his knees.

“How cute,” the nun said in an overly sugary tone as she approached him and held his chin with her bloody hand. “A knight who can’t even stand to see blood.”

“I’m not a knight,” Shinichi said, his voice choked and thick, his eyes gleaming with unshed tears.

“Shinichi!”

“Hm, looks like a disturbance is coming,” the nun said. “Farewell, knight. May we see each other again sometimes.”

Just as Heiji rounded the corner and headed towards the terrace, closely followed by both Ginzo and Aoko, the nun disappeared with a teleportation magic, leaving the lifeless body of Saguru on the floor, and Shinichi to lean on the wall, trying to grasp what exactly had just happened.

“Shinichi! Are you alright?” Heiji asked worriedly as he knelt beside Shinichi and stared at him in worry. “Why are you bleeding? Are you hurt?”

“No, this isn’t my blood,” Shinichi said as he tried not to look at Saguru. “A nun... he was disguised as a nun.”

“Alright, can you stand?” Heiji asked as he helped Shinichi stand. “Let’s head back to the temple for now, and discuss what we should do next.”

Ginzo and Aoko walked over to inspect Saguru’s corpse while Heiji supported Shinichi up. Just as they were going to head back to the temple and ask the nuns to give Saguru a proper burial, Kaito walked up to the terrace and looked at them questioningly.

“What happened?” he asked. “Why are you looking so grim? And why is he bleeding?”

“What are you doing up here?” Heiji asked suspiciously.

“I heard him mention visiting the terrace so I thought of catching up once my business in the town center was finished,” Kaito said with a shrug, then his eye caught the bright red against the dark brown of the stone. “What is that?”

“It’s nothing,” Ginzo said. “Get out now. The terrace is not open to public for the time being.”

“Come on, Shin. Let’s get you cleaned up first,” Heiji said as he stood up straight and helped Shinichi do the same. “We’re heading to the temple. Where are you going?”

“What the heck just happened here?” Kaito insisted as he frowned. He tried looking past Ginzo at the body sprawled on the ground, but the inspector moved and blocked his view again.

“This isn’t something the public should know. It doesn’t concern you so just drop it, kid,” he said sternly. “Let’s head back to the temple then, and we’ll talk about what we’ve found out so far.”

“Why are you letting them know, then?” Kaito asked in displeasure. “Do they play a part in this?”

“He’s a witness,” Ginzo said easily. “And could’ve easily been a victim too. it’s not wise to keep him oblivious of what’s happening when even his life is on the line, is it?”

“The war...” Shinichi mumbled, but Heiji was quick to cut him off. “Your life wasn’t on the line, and so wasn’t hers,” he said sharply, not allowing further protests from the boy who simply nodded weakly and stared down at his feet.

“Now be a good kid and return to wherever you come from,” Ginzo said as he shooed Kaito away. He did so, although grumbling and protesting, and the four made their way back to the temple.

The nuns were shocked to know that the flame keeper had been killed, and agreed to give him a proper burial. They went to fetch the corpse and cleaned the terrace area of the blood stain, while some prepared a herbal drink to calm down Shinichi’s nerves as it was obvious he was still shaken from what he just witnessed.

“So, kid, how did you know the flame keeper was targeted?” Ginzo asked as he stared at Heiji, and Aoko sat beside him, a notepad and a pen ready in her hands.

“We found out he was a Jumi on the way here,” Heiji answered. “I figured that since it was the jewel thief, it would make most sense if he was targeting a Jumi. Why would he take away a flame?”

“I see,” Ginzo nodded thoughtfully. “We didn’t get word that Hakuba-san was a Jumi. It seems that a lot of the stranded Jumis are laying low and living as humans.”

“Now tell me everything you know about the jewel thief and past thefts,” Heiji demanded. “We are Jumis ourselves. It is best that we know everything, should the jewel thief got word of us and decided to add our cores to his collection.”

“Hm, let’s see,” Aoko mumbled as she flipped through her notebook, then slowly turned to Shinichi who was still sipping slowly from his mug. He was staring blankly at his feet, and she grew even more nervous by each passing second. “Um... I’m not trying to be heartless or anything, but could you tell how Hakuba-san got his core taken?”

Shinichi paused, then looked up to stare at her, which made her grow even more nervous under the scrutiny of those blank, soulless eyes. “He was... stabbed. The nun pulled out a knife, stabbed him in the abdomen, and took out his core.”

Aoko jotted it down and sighed. “I see. Well, this has confirmed our suspicion then.”

“What kind of suspicion?” Heiji asked, looking back and forth between Ginzo and Aoko.

“You see, we’ve noted down the method of theft for the past cases,” Aoko said thoughtfully as she read her note. “Most thefts occured while the victim was sleeping, so they didn’t even know their cores were taken. For some people, a notecard was sent out with a warning that the gem would be stolen.”

“And in those cases, the victims were stabbed in the abdomen before the core was taken,” Ginzo finished with a huff. “That wasn’t the case with the Diamond Knight, however. The self-appointed leader, if you would say.”

“Chris,” Heiji mumbled. “She really was a self-appointed leader. The Clarius is the leader of the Jumis, yet she elected herself as a leader when the previous Clarius died, and appointed the next Clarius to serve under her. Tell me, how did the jewel thief steal her core?”

“If you were cruel enough, I guess you could say it was some sort of retribution,” Ginzo grunted. “She was stabbed in the chest. Humans would have died, but she hadn’t because the core was still intact. Kid then gouged her eyes out and left her to suffer in pain for a full day, after breaking all her limbs bones so she wasn’t able to move. The next day he returned to take her core.”

Heiji winced at the gory mental image. He knew that Chris had been staying in the Clarius chamber ever since they took Shinku away from Etansel, so even if such a thing had been done to her, no one would notice. None of the Jumis were allowed to come up to the Clarius chamber without permission.

“It seems that Kid has a personal grudge against Chris,” Aoko commented. “We still don’t understand why, though. I mean, what wrong has she done to humans?”

“So that would mean there is a possibility that Kid is a Jumi,” Heiji concluded. “But if he is, why is he killing fellow Jumis? Aren’t they all wronged by her?”

“That’s what made us end up in a block,” Aoko said with a sigh. “Well, we’re heading back to the headquarters now. I’m sure we’ll meet again sometimes. After all, we’re kind of involved with the same thief.”

“I guess you could say that,” Heiji agreed reluctantly. “Although I would prefer it if he doesn’t come along and give him another mental scar.”

Aoko looked at Shinichi sympathethically and nodded, then stood up, along with Ginzo. The two bode them their farewell and went off, back to their headquarters—which Heiji wasn’t sure just where, because he had never seen it before.

“Shin, are you feeling better now?” Heiji asked as he glanced at Shinichi who apparently had finished his drink.

“Yeah,” Shinichi mumbled softly. He placed the mug down on the table in front of him, and looked at Heiji. “Where should we go next?”

“We’ll pay Shinku a visit first,” Heiji said. “Maybe she can help you recover slightly. Then we’ll head off, and possibly stop by Polpota, the harbor city, en route to Geo.”

Shinichi thought it over, then nodded in agreement. “Alright, let’s go.”

As he stood up, his cloak got caught at the small gap in the wooden chair. He tried to tug it out, and when he finally succeeded, a notecard fell out from a fold up near the collar. It was quite a firm fold, but since he rustled the cloak quite a bit to free it from the chair, it fell off.

“Huh? What is this?” Heiji asked as he frowned and picked up the notecard. Shinichi soon joined him in reading it.

“Well, in any case, let’s just head back to see Shinku now,” Heiji suggested as he tore off the notecard into pieces and threw it away. He walked out of the temple, closely followed by Shinichi, and out of Gato.

:: I know you are a Jumi. Worry not, I shall not take you core. Just like your eyes, it is still sparkling beautifully ::


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