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25 April 2007 @ 08:20 pm
Tears of the Sea, ch. 13 (MKR)  
Title: Tears of the Sea
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Publish Date: 5/2/2004 through 12/24/2005
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



Okay. Deep breath in, aaaaaand…

“Hello?” Umi cracked the door open and peered in. “Mom? Dad? Anyone home?” Silence met her calls, and she heaved a massive sigh of relief, pushing the front door of her house open the rest of the way and stepping aside. “Okay, coast is clear. Come on in, everybody.”

The assembly that followed her in was odd-looking, to say the least. Well, odd by Earth standards, anyway. By Cephirean standards, they were perfectly normal, if slightly richer than the average person’s clothing. Furthermore, most people on Earth didn’t carry around abnormally-large swords, or magical swords, or staffs that were taller than the staff-wielder. And Mokona alone was definitely enough to raise unknowing eyebrows.

But that was the crew that poured through the front door of the expansive Ryuuzaki mansion. The ones who brought up the rear were on the only seemingly-normal ones in the group, the other four teenagers of Earth: Hikaru, Fuu, Kagura, and Takeshi (though even Hikaru and Fuu looked slightly odd in their armor and gem-gloves). Takeshi turned and closed the door behind him.

Leaving Tokyo Tower had been an interesting experience in and of itself. They’d escaped quickly, leaving the mess behind unexplained. What were they supposed to say—monsters had destroyed it in a massive attempt to kill them because they were the magical guardians of another world?

No thank you.

A few brave and/or rude passers-by actually asked why in the world they were dressed so outlandishly. Fuu had quickly supplied that they were on their way to a costume party, and had to hurry lest they be late. When asked what they were, Fuu responded shortly that they were dressed as their respective characters out of their favorite RPG, then dragged the Cephireans off before any further questions could be asked. The non-Earth residents were extremely confused, if not a bit frightened, by the time they arrived at their destination, Umi’s house.

It was fortunate, to say the least, that things had gone down when they had. Umi’s father had been called away on business in Hokkaido for a week, and her mother had accompanied him. They had left the previous day, which meant that the mansion—the very large mansion—was empty for another six days.

In other words, it was the perfect place to stash a small group of people from another world for a few days while they tried to track down a madman who was rumored to be extraordinarily powerful, a lunatic with a hunger for bloodshed and a lust for power. Umi volunteered her home immediately, and declared that if it came to it, she would tell her parents the whole story of Cephiro and the Magic Knights, should they come home to find their house overrun with strangers. She only prayed it wouldn’t come to that, that this whole awful mess would be taken care of before they returned.

Everyone stared around in awe at their surroundings. Finally, Caldina broke the silence: she clapped her hands together in front of her chest and bounced up and down. “So pretty!” she whirled around. “This is where ya live, Umi?”

“Yup! Welcome to my home!” the Water Knight held her arms out, gesturing towards the large living room around them. “Make yourselves at home while you’re here. If you have any questions about anything, ask away.” That last was directed mostly at Presea, who was in a staring match with the clock on the wall. Her head moved back and forth, following the pendulum as it swung.

Fuu stepped in then. “I think it would be best if we got everyone set up. Let’s get all of us sorted into rooms so we can get some rest.” Moments later, everyone was shuffled upstairs to the various bedrooms and guest rooms there. It took a fairly short time to get everyone herded into the rooms, and the mansion went relatively silent as one by one, people started dropping off into a well-earned sleep.

Most of them, anyway…

-o-


One by one, pairs of lights zipped by on the strange road beyond the window. The yellow orbs stood out almost painfully against the darkness of the night, illuminating the road around them.

Clef studied them intently. What had Hikaru called those transportation devices with the lights on the front—cars, was it? So strange, and they moved at such high speeds. He doubted if even Lantis’ spirit-beast would have been able to keep pace with them.

He was unusually restless at the moment, and had decided to take up Umi’s invitation to make themselves at home, and had seated himself in front of one of the large windows overlooking the grassy area in front of the house. He was just washing everything beyond that window, most obviously those…car contraptions that seemed so commonplace.

A tap at the door nearly made him jump, but nearly iron-willed self control kept him immobile, and he turned and watched passively as Fuu entered, with Presea trailing a step behind her. The Wind Knight looked far calmer than Clef had seen her in quite a while; it was in her very posture.

“So this is your world…” he murmured, turning his attention back to the window as the two newcomers came to join him in gazing outside. “Is this how you felt when you came to Cephiro that first time?” He seemed to be thinking out loud. “Were you this confused? Was it this strange to you?”

“It was,” Fuu confirmed softly. “But we got used to it.”

“The buildings are enormous…” Presea breathed, leaning both elbows on the windowsill and resting her chin in her hands. “It’s so strange…”

“You’ll be fine,” Fuu said easily, not seeming to mind their childlike wonder in the least. “If you want, we can take you out tomorrow and show you a little more of the city. We might have to find you some different clothes, though, unless you want everyone staring at you everywhere you go…”

“Would you?” Presea asked in a manner reminiscent of Hikaru.

“Of course! It’s a date!” Fuu laughed, a chuckle tempered by a yawn. “But I just saw you come in here a bit ago, thought I’d stop in and make sure everything was all right. I’m going to bed. Make sure you get some sleep. G’night!” And Fuu was gone, leaving mage and pharle to continue window-gazing.

Well, the master mage was still watching the area beyond the window. Presea’s eyes shifted back and forth, between the window and the person beside her. This was all well and good until Clef suddenly noticed her divided attentions.

Suddenly, the silence became less relaxed, and far more tense.

Clef’s expression melded into confusion. “…Presea?”

She froze, seeming to wrestle with herself over something. Then she straightened suddenly. “Well, off to bed. Goodnight!” And she managed to walk out of the room, only breaking into a run when the door closed behind her. Clef stared at that closed door for a good amount of time after she was gone.

Wondering…

-o-


With a yawn, Caldina half-stumbled down the stairs and into the living room; one hand rubbed sleepily at tired eyes. A glance and a listen around proved that no one else was awake yet. Umi had said to make themselves at home, but in spite of her natural curiosity, Caldina wasn’t quite sure what any of the strange things did, she realized more as she wandered through the ground floor.

She was especially baffled by one room. It had a floor of strange smooth rocks, rather than the softer flooring of the other rooms. And it was filled with such odd items, she couldn’t even imagine what purposes each thing served. She decided it might be best not to touch anything when she turned a little knob, and the surface of one item got very hot, right under her hand. She grappled at the dial again, and the temperature went back down.

Now a bit shaken (and nursing a slightly burned hand), she ushered herself back to the room with all the comfy chairs. Shaking her head, the Chizetan dancer made an abnormal application of common sense and decided to sit down in one of those chairs and wait for the others to wake up. Then maybe she could get some explanation as to what in the world (or rather, what in this world) these items were. The time-keeper with the swingy thing (Hikaru had called it a clock…) started making a weird bell-ish noise. It made that noise seven times.

Unfortunately, as she sat down, she managed to sit down right on top of something. The result was instant, and frightening. Across the room, a strange box burst into pictures and sound, seemingly free from the aid of human hands. She let out a tiny scream as the noise filled the room.

Thinking fast, she fished out the object she had inadvertently sat on—a small black rectangular thing that was covered in what looked like buttons. In a panic, she started pressing random buttons, trying to make the whatever-it-was stop whatever-it-was-doing. Instead, a multitude of things happened with each button she pushed.

It got softer.

The moving picture and noises changed. Now, instead of what sounded very vaguely like music (and what unusual music it was, certainly nothing like she had danced to in Chizeta or anywhere else!), there were people running around and explosions and such.

Strange characters—she assumed they were words or letters or some sort of strange Earthian writing—appeared on screen, standing out white against a bright blue background on top of the image.

The image changed again. Now it was people…was that supposed to be dancing? Amateurs…

More of her fellow Cephireans were starting to rouse, and had wandered into the room. They joined her in staring in wide-eyed amazement and apprehension at the strange box in the corner. Caldina tossed the strange button-covered box to Lantis. “Here, try!”

The swordsman looked faintly bewildered, then followed Caldina’s instructions and started pushing buttons, apparently at random. And more of the same happened.

It got louder.

More writing.

A new picture—a group of girls in short skirts with bows on the front were striking a variety of poses and talking to some weird-looking creature, not entirely unlike the monsters that wandered Cephiro. A guy in a strange black and white outfit with a cape and a mask over his face was throwing roses and saying strange things behind the short-skirt girls.

“What in the world…?” Presea murmured, peering over the cail’s shoulder.

It got louder.

Louder.

Much louder.

The assembled Cephireans put their hands over their ears, trying to figure out what to do. This was beyond strange, and beyond frightening. Was this thing dangerous?

“What the hell is going on here?”

The irate voice carried over the screeching noise of the moving-picture-box, and everyone heard it through the barriers protecting their ears. All turned and looked at the unholy demon, the all-powerful being who had just appeared in their midst, descended upon them ready and fully willing to unleash all the powers of Heaven and Hell on them.

“Oh…uh, good morning, Umi,” Caldina called.

The Knight of Selece looked…well, no one had ever seen her like that before. An enormous blue short-sleeved shirt that hung all the way to her knees and entirely swallowed her slight frame, and loose-fitting blue and white striped pants, beneath which her bare feet poked out. Some strands of hair were sticking out at odd angles; she looked disheveled, a state none had seen Umi in before.

Furthermore, her eyes were glaring at them from underneath her spiked bangs. “What the hell is going on here? Someone better explain to me why I’m awake at seven in the morning on a weekend,” she repeated, her voice low and calm, yet quite audible to all. That, combined with the strange hell-fires spouting up behind her, were both veeeeeeeeeeery bad signs.

At a loss for what else to do, Presea pointed at the screaming picture-box and held up the button-covered rectangular thing that had found its way into her hands. She gave Umi a helpless look as she gestured, hoping desperately that the wrath of God did not fall upon her.

Ryuuzaki Umi, the Knight of Selece, stared. She stared for just long enough for everyone to get really, really nervous. Then she blinked owlishly at them twice, and sighed. “Honestly…gimme the remote.” She stalked over, somehow managing to not trip over those insanely long pants, and grabbed the button thingie—remote?—from Presea.

She pointed it at the box thingie and pressed and held a button down. The thing got softer. She pressed another button, and the picture disappeared. It was now black where the picture had been. Having done this, Umi dropped the remote down onto the table and wheeled on her friends.

“Make yourselves at home. By all means, do. There’s food in the kitchen,” she pointed towards the room that Caldina had been examining earlier. “But I swear to God, the next person who wakes me up before I am ready to wake up is getting stabbed in the eyes. Furthermore, if anything is destroyed when I come back down, I promise the perpetrator lots and lots of unspecified torture. Clear? Good.”

She turned on her heel and stalked out of the room. There was a series of thumping sounds as she climbed the stairs, apparently heading back to her bed.

The Cephireans deciding that sitting and waiting patiently was probably their best option.

Less chance of being…well, stabbed in the eyes.

-o-


It was later that day, well into mid-afternoon. And Umi was in a much better mood for it.

She was in so much better of a mood, in fact, that she offered to take anyone who was interested out on the town and show them around Tokyo. This idea was met by much acclaim and excitement, especially from Caldina.

So it was with a great amount of show and large quantities of noise and much hustle-and-bustle, the girls-plus-Lantis (who insisted rather urgently on accompanying the girls to protect them, despite the protests that the only thing they might need to be protected against was going over their credit limit with Caldina around).

But before they could leave, they had to alter their appearances slightly. Lantis only gave in after some major cajoling on Hikaru’s part, and within a short amount of time, the cail was turned out in some clothing swiped from Umi’s father’s dresser. He didn’t look terribly happy. In fact, Lantis looked downright strange in the khakis and blue shirt. He didn’t necessarily look bad; it was merely odd to see him in anything other than black. He seemed ready to protest, until he noticed Hikaru watching him with a raised eyebrow.

She liked.

She liked lots.

Meanwhile, Presea seemed perfectly content in a pair of jeans and a sweater pulled from Umi’s own closet; she seemed quite taken with the denim pants. Caldina had been a little harder to fit due to the fact that she was a bit more, ah, robust in certain areas than Umi, AND the fact that she didn’t want to wear anything too modest, after all. But finally, she bent before the pleading of three Magic Knights, and agreed to the oversized sweatshirt as well.

Takeshi, ever the gentleman, volunteered to hang back at Umi’s and keep an eye on Ferio and Clef and see about acquainting both of them with various Earth devices. This last was agreed upon when Clef was found having a staring contest with the blinking 12:00 on the DVD player; fortunately, they caught the Master Mage just before he decided that it was some kind of demon and destroyed it with magic.

Takeshi also promised to keep the two from wrecking anything—by pharmaceutical means, if deemed necessary. He was given permission to do just about anything to keep himself alive, should the need for it arise. It was at this point he could be heard muttering to himself about how he loved this about as much as a fork in the eye.

Clef calmed down relatively quickly once he was assured that the blinkie thing was not evil. In fact, Takeshi showed the diminutive mage how to work the contraption, and Clef was quite taken with it. When Takeshi peered in on him after the girls had left, he found the Guru enraptured, lost in the realm of wonder and amazement that was
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<b>Title:</b> Tears of the Sea
<b>Fandom:</b> Magic Knight Rayearth
<b>Rating:</b> PG-13
<b>Genre:</b> Drama/Action/Adventure
<b>Publish Date:</b> 5/2/2004 through 12/24/2005
<b>Disclaimer:</b> I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*

<lj-cut text="Chapter 13: Third Rock from the Sun">

<i>Okay. Deep breath in, aaaaaand…</i>

“Hello?” Umi cracked the door open and peered in. “Mom? Dad? Anyone home?” Silence met her calls, and she heaved a massive sigh of relief, pushing the front door of her house open the rest of the way and stepping aside. “Okay, coast is clear. Come on in, everybody.”

The assembly that followed her in was odd-looking, to say the least. Well, odd by Earth standards, anyway. By Cephirean standards, they were perfectly normal, if slightly richer than the average person’s clothing. Furthermore, most people on Earth didn’t carry around abnormally-large swords, or magical swords, or staffs that were taller than the staff-wielder. And Mokona alone was definitely enough to raise unknowing eyebrows.

But that was the crew that poured through the front door of the expansive Ryuuzaki mansion. The ones who brought up the rear were on the only seemingly-normal ones in the group, the other four teenagers of Earth: Hikaru, Fuu, Kagura, and Takeshi (though even Hikaru and Fuu looked slightly odd in their armor and gem-gloves). Takeshi turned and closed the door behind him.

Leaving Tokyo Tower had been an interesting experience in and of itself. They’d escaped quickly, leaving the mess behind unexplained. What were they supposed to say—monsters had destroyed it in a massive attempt to kill them because they were the magical guardians of another world?

No thank you.

A few brave and/or rude passers-by actually asked why in the world they were dressed so outlandishly. Fuu had quickly supplied that they were on their way to a costume party, and had to hurry lest they be late. When asked what they were, Fuu responded shortly that they were dressed as their respective characters out of their favorite RPG, then dragged the Cephireans off before any further questions could be asked. The non-Earth residents were extremely confused, if not a bit frightened, by the time they arrived at their destination, Umi’s house.

It was fortunate, to say the least, that things had gone down when they had. Umi’s father had been called away on business in Hokkaido for a week, and her mother had accompanied him. They had left the previous day, which meant that the mansion—the very <i>large</i> mansion—was empty for another six days.

In other words, it was the perfect place to stash a small group of people from another world for a few days while they tried to track down a madman who was rumored to be extraordinarily powerful, a lunatic with a hunger for bloodshed and a lust for power. Umi volunteered her home immediately, and declared that if it came to it, she would tell her parents the whole story of Cephiro and the Magic Knights, should they come home to find their house overrun with strangers. She only prayed it wouldn’t come to that, that this whole awful mess would be taken care of before they returned.

Everyone stared around in awe at their surroundings. Finally, Caldina broke the silence: she clapped her hands together in front of her chest and bounced up and down. “So pretty!” she whirled around. “This is where ya live, Umi?”

“Yup! Welcome to my home!” the Water Knight held her arms out, gesturing towards the large living room around them. “Make yourselves at home while you’re here. If you have any questions about anything, ask away.” That last was directed mostly at Presea, who was in a staring match with the clock on the wall. Her head moved back and forth, following the pendulum as it swung.

Fuu stepped in then. “I think it would be best if we got everyone set up. Let’s get all of us sorted into rooms so we can get some rest.” Moments later, everyone was shuffled upstairs to the various bedrooms and guest rooms there. It took a fairly short time to get everyone herded into the rooms, and the mansion went relatively silent as one by one, people started dropping off into a well-earned sleep.

Most of them, anyway…

<center><i><b>-o-</center></i></b>

One by one, pairs of lights zipped by on the strange road beyond the window. The yellow orbs stood out almost painfully against the darkness of the night, illuminating the road around them.

Clef studied them intently. What had Hikaru called those transportation devices with the lights on the front—cars, was it? So strange, and they moved at such high speeds. He doubted if even Lantis’ spirit-beast would have been able to keep pace with them.

He was unusually restless at the moment, and had decided to take up Umi’s invitation to make themselves at home, and had seated himself in front of one of the large windows overlooking the grassy area in front of the house. He was just washing everything beyond that window, most obviously those…car contraptions that seemed so commonplace.

A tap at the door nearly made him jump, but nearly iron-willed self control kept him immobile, and he turned and watched passively as Fuu entered, with Presea trailing a step behind her. The Wind Knight looked far calmer than Clef had seen her in quite a while; it was in her very posture.

“So this is your world…” he murmured, turning his attention back to the window as the two newcomers came to join him in gazing outside. “Is this how you felt when you came to Cephiro that first time?” He seemed to be thinking out loud. “Were you this confused? Was it this strange to you?”

“It was,” Fuu confirmed softly. “But we got used to it.”

“The buildings are enormous…” Presea breathed, leaning both elbows on the windowsill and resting her chin in her hands. “It’s so strange…”

“You’ll be fine,” Fuu said easily, not seeming to mind their childlike wonder in the least. “If you want, we can take you out tomorrow and show you a little more of the city. We might have to find you some different clothes, though, unless you want everyone staring at you everywhere you go…”

“Would you?” Presea asked in a manner reminiscent of Hikaru.

“Of course! It’s a date!” Fuu laughed, a chuckle tempered by a yawn. “But I just saw you come in here a bit ago, thought I’d stop in and make sure everything was all right. I’m going to bed. Make sure you get some sleep. G’night!” And Fuu was gone, leaving mage and pharle to continue window-gazing.

Well, the master mage was still watching the area beyond the window. Presea’s eyes shifted back and forth, between the window and the person beside her. This was all well and good until Clef suddenly noticed her divided attentions.

Suddenly, the silence became less relaxed, and far more tense.

Clef’s expression melded into confusion. “…Presea?”

She froze, seeming to wrestle with herself over something. Then she straightened suddenly. “Well, off to bed. Goodnight!” And she managed to walk out of the room, only breaking into a run when the door closed behind her. Clef stared at that closed door for a good amount of time after she was gone.

Wondering…

<center><i><b>-o-</center></i></b>

With a yawn, Caldina half-stumbled down the stairs and into the living room; one hand rubbed sleepily at tired eyes. A glance and a listen around proved that no one else was awake yet. Umi had said to make themselves at home, but in spite of her natural curiosity, Caldina wasn’t quite sure what any of the strange things did, she realized more as she wandered through the ground floor.

She was especially baffled by one room. It had a floor of strange smooth rocks, rather than the softer flooring of the other rooms. And it was filled with such odd items, she couldn’t even imagine what purposes each thing served. She decided it might be best not to touch anything when she turned a little knob, and the surface of one item got very hot, right under her hand. She grappled at the dial again, and the temperature went back down.

Now a bit shaken (and nursing a slightly burned hand), she ushered herself back to the room with all the comfy chairs. Shaking her head, the Chizetan dancer made an abnormal application of common sense and decided to sit down in one of those chairs and wait for the others to wake up. Then maybe she could get some explanation as to what in the world (or rather, what in <i>this</i> world) these items were. The time-keeper with the swingy thing (Hikaru had called it a clock…) started making a weird bell-ish noise. It made that noise seven times.

Unfortunately, as she sat down, she managed to sit down right on top of something. The result was instant, and frightening. Across the room, a strange box burst into pictures and sound, seemingly free from the aid of human hands. She let out a tiny scream as the noise filled the room.

Thinking fast, she fished out the object she had inadvertently sat on—a small black rectangular thing that was covered in what looked like buttons. In a panic, she started pressing random buttons, trying to make the whatever-it-was stop whatever-it-was-doing. Instead, a multitude of things happened with each button she pushed.

It got softer.

The moving picture and noises changed. Now, instead of what sounded very <i>vaguely</i> like music (and what unusual music it was, certainly nothing like she had danced to in Chizeta or anywhere else!), there were people running around and explosions and such.

Strange characters—she assumed they were words or letters or some sort of strange Earthian writing—appeared on screen, standing out white against a bright blue background on top of the image.

The image changed again. Now it was people…was that supposed to be dancing? Amateurs…

More of her fellow Cephireans were starting to rouse, and had wandered into the room. They joined her in staring in wide-eyed amazement and apprehension at the strange box in the corner. Caldina tossed the strange button-covered box to Lantis. “Here, try!”

The swordsman looked faintly bewildered, then followed Caldina’s instructions and started pushing buttons, apparently at random. And more of the same happened.

It got louder.

More writing.

A new picture—a group of girls in short skirts with bows on the front were striking a variety of poses and talking to some weird-looking creature, not entirely unlike the monsters that wandered Cephiro. A guy in a strange black and white outfit with a cape and a mask over his face was throwing roses and saying strange things behind the short-skirt girls.

“What in the world…?” Presea murmured, peering over the cail’s shoulder.

It got louder.

Louder.

<i>Much</i> louder.

The assembled Cephireans put their hands over their ears, trying to figure out what to do. This was beyond strange, and beyond frightening. Was this thing dangerous?

“What the <b>hell</b> is going on here?”

The irate voice carried over the screeching noise of the moving-picture-box, and everyone heard it through the barriers protecting their ears. All turned and looked at the unholy demon, the all-powerful being who had just appeared in their midst, descended upon them ready and fully willing to unleash all the powers of Heaven and Hell on them.

“Oh…uh, good morning, Umi,” Caldina called.

The Knight of Selece looked…well, no one had ever seen her like that before. An enormous blue short-sleeved shirt that hung all the way to her knees and entirely swallowed her slight frame, and loose-fitting blue and white striped pants, beneath which her bare feet poked out. Some strands of hair were sticking out at odd angles; she looked disheveled, a state none had seen Umi in before.

Furthermore, her eyes were glaring at them from underneath her spiked bangs. “What the hell is going on here? Someone better explain to me why I’m awake at seven in the morning on a weekend,” she repeated, her voice low and calm, yet quite audible to all. That, combined with the strange hell-fires spouting up behind her, were both veeeeeeeeeeery bad signs.

At a loss for what else to do, Presea pointed at the screaming picture-box and held up the button-covered rectangular thing that had found its way into her hands. She gave Umi a helpless look as she gestured, hoping desperately that the wrath of God did not fall upon her.

Ryuuzaki Umi, the Knight of Selece, stared. She stared for just long enough for everyone to get really, really nervous. Then she blinked owlishly at them twice, and sighed. “Honestly…gimme the remote.” She stalked over, somehow managing to not trip over those insanely long pants, and grabbed the button thingie—remote?—from Presea.

She pointed it at the box thingie and pressed and held a button down. The thing got softer. She pressed another button, and the picture disappeared. It was now black where the picture had been. Having done this, Umi dropped the remote down onto the table and wheeled on her friends.

“Make yourselves at home. By all means, do. There’s food in the kitchen,” she pointed towards the room that Caldina had been examining earlier. “But I swear to God, the next person who wakes me up before I am ready to wake up is getting stabbed in the eyes. Furthermore, if anything is destroyed when I come back down, I promise the perpetrator lots and lots of unspecified torture. Clear? Good.”

She turned on her heel and stalked out of the room. There was a series of thumping sounds as she climbed the stairs, apparently heading back to her bed.

The Cephireans deciding that sitting and waiting patiently was probably their best option.

Less chance of being…well, stabbed in the eyes.

<center><i><b>-o-</center></i></b>

It was later that day, well into mid-afternoon. And Umi was in a much better mood for it.

She was in so much better of a mood, in fact, that she offered to take anyone who was interested out on the town and show them around Tokyo. This idea was met by much acclaim and excitement, especially from Caldina.

So it was with a great amount of show and large quantities of noise and much hustle-and-bustle, the girls-plus-Lantis (who insisted rather urgently on accompanying the girls to protect them, despite the protests that the only thing they might need to be protected against was going over their credit limit with Caldina around).

But before they could leave, they had to alter their appearances slightly. Lantis only gave in after some major cajoling on Hikaru’s part, and within a short amount of time, the cail was turned out in some clothing swiped from Umi’s father’s dresser. He didn’t look terribly happy. In fact, Lantis looked downright strange in the khakis and blue shirt. He didn’t necessarily look <i>bad;</i> it was merely odd to see him in anything other than black. He seemed ready to protest, until he noticed Hikaru watching him with a raised eyebrow.

She liked.

She liked lots.

Meanwhile, Presea seemed perfectly content in a pair of jeans and a sweater pulled from Umi’s own closet; she seemed quite taken with the denim pants. Caldina had been a little harder to fit due to the fact that she was a bit more, ah, robust in certain areas than Umi, AND the fact that she didn’t want to wear anything too modest, after all. But finally, she bent before the pleading of three Magic Knights, and agreed to the oversized sweatshirt as well.

Takeshi, ever the gentleman, volunteered to hang back at Umi’s and keep an eye on Ferio and Clef and see about acquainting both of them with various Earth devices. This last was agreed upon when Clef was found having a staring contest with the blinking 12:00 on the DVD player; fortunately, they caught the Master Mage just before he decided that it was some kind of demon and destroyed it with magic.

Takeshi also promised to keep the two from wrecking anything—by pharmaceutical means, if deemed necessary. He was given permission to do just about anything to keep himself alive, should the need for it arise. It was at this point he could be heard muttering to himself about how he loved this about as much as a fork in the eye.

Clef calmed down relatively quickly once he was assured that the blinkie thing was not evil. In fact, Takeshi showed the diminutive mage how to work the contraption, and Clef was quite taken with it. When Takeshi peered in on him after the girls had left, he found the Guru enraptured, lost in the realm of wonder and amazement that was <i><the emperor’s="Emperor’s" new="New" groove.</i="Groove.&lt;/i"> (AN: I heart Disney movies!)

They weren’t too concerned about Ferio breaking anything, though. The Cephirean Prince was quite handled. He had fallen under the hypnotic spell of a small fiber optic device sitting on the windowsill. Every now and then, he could be heard murmuring something that sounded suspiciously like “Shiny…”

Takeshi vaguely wondered if the Prince was going to start calling it Preciousssssssss.

Mokona bounded around like mad, looking at everything. The little fluff ball seemed particularly taken with the various framed pictures set up on tables and hung on the walls, most of them featuring Umi and her family.

Ascot proved to be the only truly sensible one, and zonked out quite neatly on the couch.

But the shoppers returned home, hours later, to find the house still intact, Ferio still mesmerized, and Clef clutching a pillow, staring at the TV screen in terror. When Presea asked what was wrong, he turned to her, pointed at the movie playing on-screen, and said in a horrified whisper, “Why is the candlestick dancing?”

The pharle looked blankly at the screen. It offered no answers. It merely sang at her, <i>Be our guest, be our guest…</i> She sighed and shook her head. Earth was just plain <i>weird.</i>

But Caldina managed to drag the two boys into the kitchen and planted them both at the table therein. She then proceeded to show them what they had bought. Every. Single. Thing. It seemed that Caldina and Presea both had taken quite a liking to Earth fashions, though they both looked slightly confused when Fuu started humming “Harajuku Girls” under her breath.

Presea’s love affair with denim manifested itself in her choice of clothing. She had plenty of it, jeans and a very nice jean jacket that had Umi’s little fashionista fingerprints all over it. And all the guys (including Lantis, who had been dragged shopping all day and wanted nothing more than to curl up and die) were treated to an impromptu fashion show.

When everyone finally fell over in exhaustion, the conversation and mood turned more serious as Clef brought up the topic of their enemy’s plans, and the fact that he had been unable to locate Xander anywhere on Earth. This was met with much surprise.

“What does that mean, exactly?” Hikaru asked tentatively, looking down at the small white creature sitting in her lap. “Mokona—or Creator, I guess—said that he came here. How could he not be here?” She looked confused, a bit frightened.

“Maybe he was here and then bounced somewhere else,” Ferio suggested, tapping his chin thoughtfully with one finger. “If he’s powerful enough to jump between our world and this one, then whose to say he couldn’t find another world to hide out in?”

“It is possible, but then wouldn’t Mokona have said something by now?” Presea inquired, glancing over at the marshmallow rabbit…thing. It ‘puu-ed’ innocently, the light reflecting cheerily off the pink gem on its forehead.

Across the table, the Wind Knight frowned. Something was bothering Fuu, and had been for a while. She had the terrible feeling that she was missing something important, and with that feeling came the unpleasant sensation that it should have been something relatively obvious. What wasn’t she getting?

“I dunno where that guy is…but ya gotta hear about this!” Caldina bubbled, blithely changing the subject. She immediately began to fill them in, telling them more about the strange things they had seen, like the carriage that could move at insanely fast speeds (Umi called it a train) and all the fascinating things in the store windows, such as the sparkly things called “rhinestones.”

And those strange shoes—Caldina liked those. What were they called—flip-flops?

How strange. How very strange, indeed.

<center><i><b>-o-</center></i></b>

There she was.

Ascot peered cautiously around the corner, observing the girl sitting at the table.

Umi had taken that seat at the table in the kitchen quite some time ago after fixing herself some sort of beverage—judging by the steam, it was a hot drink. But the steam had evaporated over the course of the time she had been sitting there, and he suspected that it had gotten cold. If it was supposed to be hot, it probably wouldn’t taste too good if it had grown cold.

But Ascot wasn’t really interested in Umi’s drink. He was interested in Umi—who was staring at the most-likely-cold beverage in the mug. She was gazing into it as though it held either the answer to life itself, or the winning lottery numbers.

He really hadn’t gotten much time to actually talk to the Water Knight. But he’d spent a great deal of time watching her. Too bad a lot of <i>that</i> time had been while she was unconscious and looking like yesterday’s leftovers (to use her wry phrase). But after the reunion in Cephiro and all this time watching her, he was sure of it. Definitely sure of it.

<i>L</i> is for the way you look at me, indeed…

It had been a long day, and the only thing that had really been accomplished was Caldina’s achievement of nirvana, courtesy of an Earth-based wardrobe update (thanks to Umi) and the discovery of a new food, called <i>chocolate.</i> Fuu had offered everyone a taste of the sweet food, and it had proven quite a hit with all involved. Mental notes had been made to send a great deal of the delicacy back to Cephiro with them when they had to return.

Outside the sizable kitchen window, the sky had grown dark. There were a few faint streams of light from the sunset, reaching across the blue-black sky like orange and pink fingers. Night was settling in, and most of Umi’s houseguests had taken to their beds early. Even Ascot was dressed for bed, though he wasn’t in the least bit tired yet. He was too keyed up to sleep, and that was all tied in with a very special, very specific someone.

He was such a sucker for a certain pair of big blue eyes…

Taking a deep breath, he stepped around the corner. “Uh…Umi?”

She started a bit, seemed to recover herself, and threw him a shy smile. “Ascot. Sorry, didn’t notice you came in.” She shrugged. “I’m a little out of it.”

“Do you…uh…want some company?” he asked, trying to sound casual.

“Sure. Pull up a chair,” she gestured to the one beside her.

“Okay.” Did he sound like a complete and utter moron? Most likely. But it was Umi. She just naturally had that affect on him, without even trying or being aware of it, he supposed.

Part of his problem with talking to her was, of course, his natural shyness. That was an enormous obstacle. Secondly was the form he had adopted for himself; Cephirean laws of will allowed him to keep himself in this form. Unfortunately, when he’d chosen that age, he had forgotten about one thing.

Humans at that age tended to have things called hormones. These wondrous and irritating things called hormones tended to pick the absolute worst moments to stick their little chemical fingers into things and make him all nervous and sweaty.

He glanced at her as he sat down. She was wearing the same loose pants as she’d been wearing that morning, with the blue and white stripes. But instead of the enormous tunic-like shirt, she was in something white that fit much more closely, with skinny little straps and a neckline that was a bit lower than anything he’d seen her in before. One would think that hanging around Caldina for as long as he had would have him accustomed to such things, but nooooooo…apparently not…

Ascot suddenly had a <i>massive</i>—beyond massive—hot flash; his face was probably bright enough to light up the entire sky beyond the window. And it only got worse when she heaved a huge sigh, taking in quite a large breath, and…ah…moving…

Ascot suddenly became <i>completely</i> incapacitated as the Magical Hormone Fairies descended upon him and carried him far, far away. To Planet Bouncy. He had no desire to return immediately.

Fortunately, she didn’t look up, and thereby avoided noticing his rapt attention to certain parts of her. When he realized he was staring, though, he wrenched his eyes away and focused on the tabletop in front of him, noticing (not for the first time) that Umi was a very beautiful woman.

“Why are you still up?” she asked softly. “I thought everyone else had gone to bed.”

“Couldn’t sleep,” he mumbled. “Thinking.” He took a deep breath, and took a risk. “I’m…I’m worried about you.” Babbling set in rapidly. “You know, with everything that’s happening lately, and I thought you might be upset, and I don’t want you to get hurt or anything—“

<i>And the award for Babbling Life a Complete Dunce goes to me!</i> Ascot thought glumly, no longer able to extend any real control over his mouth. He made a mental note to have a word with his body about this sudden coup; it seemed to be on a mission to embarrass him royally.

After a minute or so of this, Umi seemed to have had enough; her eyes flashed dangerously. “Ascot, it’s really not <i>that</i> big a deal. This problem is chicken soup,” Umi huffed, a little too forcibly to really be a show of temper. “Don’t make it into lobster bisque.”

Well, that stopped the rambling. It also stopped all outside thoughts as he tried to figure out what the hell she was talking about. Fortunately, at his blank stare and questioning murmur of ‘Bisque?’ Umi sighed and shook her head, apparently taking pity on him. “Never mind. What I’m trying to say is that you shouldn’t worry so much. I’m fine. I’m feeling a lot better, so don’t waste energy being so concerned.”

“But…I don’t want anything to happen to you,” he said softly.

She looked at him for a minute, then smiled gently, and reached over to squeeze his hand with equal tenderness. “Thank you. I do appreciate that. But I’m a Magic Knight. Danger’s kind of a requirement. Part of the deal. In the job description and all that jazz.” She laughed a little, but there wasn’t any real humor in it.

He waited a moment before daring to question. “Umi…are you really okay?”

There was a pause, and for a terrible moment, he thought for sure he’d ruined everything.

Then, to his amazement, she shook her head. “No. No, I’m not. I’m miserable and tired and depressed…and really whiny at the moment. I just want this whole stupid mess to be done with.” She leaned forward, letting her elbows rest on the table, and putting her face in her hands. “I don’t know what’s happening. I don’t understand <i>why</i> it’s happening. And…” she hesitated, then confessed her one real remaining secret of this whole fiasco. “I’ve been having very strange dreams.”

Ascot pressed only slightly, and she told him of the monstrous darkness that swallowed her dream-scape, and of the shadow-woman that leapt to her aide without fail. She told him of her visions, of fire and death. She told him of the pain of the demonic possession that had forced her to attack her own friends, and of the hands that reached out to her with the light to save her. But she kept coming back to the dreams, those frightening nighttime visions, and the unknown guardian who had kept her safe thus far. And the as-yet unfinished message, <i>Open your arms to…</i>

“…but how long can she keep me safe?” Umi sighed as her words started to run out. “I mean, Xander’s obviously growing in his power. He wouldn’t have been able to jump worlds if he wasn’t getting stronger. If we assume that’s true, than can we also assume that sooner or later, whoever-she-is won’t be able to keep them off.” She slumped a little. “I’m dooooooomed…”

“Well…” Ascot said softly, hesitantly, “you were the one who broke out of the possession. She only helped you, but you had to pull free from it, right? And ultimately, it sounds like she wants you to do something, right? That’s what the message is. She just hasn’t finished it.” He let his chin rest in one palm as he thought hard, trying to find something that would help Umi relax about everything. “So whatever she wants you to open your arms to must be important. That’s what she wants you to do. If you figure that out, or get the rest of the message, maybe that’ll give you a clue.”

Umi stared at him in surprise. She really hadn’t expected such insight from her young summoner friend, but she was glad for the counsel. And she felt her heart do a strange little jig inside her.

“But you said you don’t know who she is?” he asked, and she shook her head. “It doesn’t seem like there’s really anything you or anyone else can do until we’ve got the rest of her message or her identity. I think we can safely call her a friend, but don’t rule out anything yet. Just keep your guard up, and I’m sure you’ll be fine.”

She nodded, gracing him with a smile—a soft, genuine smile. She hadn’t really smiled like that in quite a while, and certainly not at him. The tiny gift, that smile, was enough to send another tremor through him; his palms were suddenly a bit damp.

Stupid hormones.

Wonderful hormones.

<i>Not now, hormones!</i>

The conversation trailed off then, into a silence that was far more comfortable than awkward.

Ascot occasionally shot glances at her, dragging his gaze away quickly, then repeating the process.

If he’d paid a little more attention, he might have noticed that he wasn’t the only one sneaking a peek. Umi’s eyes tended more often than not to drift in his direction; her face would turn pink, and she’d nonchalantly turn her head before he noticed.

It was an unspoken game, like something scripted out of a movie. He looked at her, then glanced away at the <i>exact</i> moment she turned her head to look at him, and vice versa. A hypothetical observer would have either laughed, or face-palmed and groaned.

But finally, they managed to turn their heads at the same time, and they froze. Both quickly turned their gazes elsewhere. Ascot found a particularly interesting spot on the wall that seemed to resemble Clef’s head, and Umi got into a staring contest with the dial on the stove.

The atmosphere turned a bit tense.

Ascot stood up so fast he nearly knocked his chair over. Umi jumped a bit at his movement. “I think I’ll go to bed now. Goodnight, Umi.” He headed towards the door, already planning to hit his head against the wall a few dozen times in self-loathing for such a clumsy exit after a decent conversation. But he paused by the door, and said softly over his shoulder, “If you need anything…just come find me.”

Umi watched him head out; something stirred at his final words, and she stood up. “Wait. Just a second, please.” When he hesitated, she blurted out the words before she even had time to process them. “Why do you care so much?” She instantly made a note to have a word with her mouth about connecting with her brain <i>before</i> it started going.

He wavered feverishly. It was the perfect opportunity. A simple question that had left him the biggest, most opportune opening he could have ever asked for. Now, the choice: to jump through that perfect window she had so graciously opened for him, tell her the truth, and discipline himself with a nice, heavy brick…or to run away, screaming his head off, and then later, feel incredibly stupid…and <i>then</i> discipline himself with a nice, heavy brick.

She saw him thinking it over. She saw the conflict on his face. And she saw the resolution as he turned to face her full-on, his bangs obscuring his face and hiding his eyes. But she could tell from the determined set of his jaw that he was serious. But nothing prepared her for his words.

“Because I love you.”

And he swept out of the room without waiting for her response. As soon as he was out of sight, he hightailed it back up to the room that had been designated as his, his heart jack-hammering inside him…with every intention of disciplining himself with a nice, heavy brick.

Back in the kitchen, there was a distinct crashing sound as the floor dropped out from under Umi.

Feeling pole-axed, she realized, was getting to be an unpleasantly regular occurrence.

After a few minutes, the feeling came back into Umi’s limbs and the world came back into some semblance of focus. She sprinted towards the door and up the stairs, not terribly surprised to find that Ascot had disappeared somewhere. But she really wasn’t looking for Ascot at the moment, as she wasn’t quite sure what she was supposed to say to him. She stopped at a door and knocked with a shaky hand.

A few seconds passed before the door opened (as doors were wont to do). Fuu’s slightly-rumpled head poked out; one hand was adjusting her glasses on her face, and her hair was sticking out at odd angles here and there. That, plus the fact that she was in pajamas, led Umi to deduce that her fellow Magic Knight had been sleeping.

“Umi?” Fuu sounded a bit confused at the interruption of her slumber. “Whatsa matter?”

“I…I…” Umi managed about that much before she just lunged forward into a rather abrupt hug. “Fuu, he told me he loves me and I didn’t know and then he left and—it’s Ascot, I mean—and I don’t know what to do and I’m reeeeeeeeeally confused and…help!” The torrent died off only as Umi ran out of air and let her babbling end on that one pleading note.

Fuu, meanwhile, had caught the surprise hug one-armed, and was now staring at the top of her friend’s head in surprise. She blinked a few times, trying to wake up, and then finally managed to process what Umi was telling her.

Ascot plus love confession equals Umi having a panic attack.

But the point was that he had finally said it (and about damn time, too, if Fuu’s observations during their earlier escapades in Cephiro had been correct as well), and as a result, a friend needed some counsel and a friendly ear.

Fuu stepped aside, ushering Umi into the room. “Well, let’s talk.”

Umi nodded, sniffling, and allowed herself to be pulled inside.

<center><i><b>-o-</center></i></b>

“It is almost time.”

The words were sudden enough that the guards at the door to Xander’s study jumped in surprise. Aeric, however, was quite accustomed to his lord’s mannerisms, and failed to show if he was startled in the least. Instead, he merely said, “For which, sir?”

“Everything,” Xander smiled lazily. “The seal was broken, and soon, things will be as they were, and as they are supposed to be.” His smirk diminished as his expression hardened. “I will have Cephiro. And I will have the world that spawned those wretched girls.”

“The army is ready, milord,” Aeric said after a moment of silence. “And with the Guru in their world, their defenses should be minimal.” The general lifted his sword from the table beside him, running his hands over the scabbard almost lovingly, thinking of blood spilling and enemies dying. “The invasion of Cephiro will commence at your command.”

Xander did not respond. He was gazing out the window at the space that lay beyond.

Cephiro. The ripe peach, dangling on the tree just beyond his reach. Tantalizing him. Teasing him. Making his mouth water for a hunger that would not be sated by any normal means.

It should have been his the first time…if not for <i>her.

Her…</i>

His eyelids fell to plunge him into the darkness that lay behind them, as he spent a rare moment reminiscing, lost in the twisted maze of memories past. He remembered…

<i>“I’m very pleased to meet you.” Her smile was sweet as she offered him a hand of welcome…

<b>No…</b>

“I’ve heard stories of your power. Everyone says that you have a great talent for magic and sorcery. Rumors even say that you might be in line for the title of Guru. Do you know if that’s true?” He was again struck by her beauty as she asked about his power…

<b>It was never true…</b>

She looked troubled at his declaration, and shifted uneasily. “I—I don’t know what to say. I’m flattered, but…I can’t return your feelings. My heart has belonged to another for a long time now, and I won’t leave him.” She reached towards him. “I hope you find someone else. Someone who will make you happiest. You deserve it.” He jerked away from her hand, turned on his heel, and stormed down the corridor, fury clouding his vision…

<b>You lied…</b>

Even across the gap, she recognized him. She was horrified, her eyes wide with shock and dismay. He simply waited to see what she would say. Was he good enough now? Was he strong enough now for her? Was this what she wanted?

But tears welled in her eyes as she stared at him, and even though they were separated by a great distance, he could hear her words as clearly as if she had been standing beside him, whispering them into his ear. “What have you become?”

The anger surged, and so did the power, the dragon of darkness. He had sold his soul for the chance to punish her, and he would now have that vengeance. As the power moved, the ground around him erupted in a circle probably fifty feet in diameter, sending soldiers and monsters from both sides flying.

She had rejected him yet again. She would pay. The power was fully awake, and it was not to be denied. It was of the darkness and the shadow, and it now owned him. It had the ability to devour everything, and it sought blood and pain and death.

<b>You traitorous bitch…</b></i>

Xander’s eyes opened, and he forced the snarl from his lips. “Invade. Immediately. I want Cephiro destroyed and handed to me on a platter. Go. Now.” There was no answer, merely a rustle of cloth as Aeric swept out of the room. The door closed.

The sorcerer steepled his fingers in front of his face, fighting down his rage. It was strange, but even though he had shoved those memories back down, he could still see blue eyes, drowning in tears, staring at him. And that made him angrier still.

Vengeance. She had beaten him once. But she was gone now, and he would not be sealed away again. Not by her, nor by anyone. He knew now that the one with the power to bring him to his knees was not even aware of that power, nor of the legacy that fell upon her shoulders.

He breathed her name with a tremor of fury. The word fell into the darkness and was swallowed by the silence. Exactly what he had wished on her, so very long ago.

<center><i><b>-o-</center></i></b>

Umi did not look at Ascot.

Ascot did not look at Umi.

And Caldina was about ready to smack both of them upside the head.

But alas, there were more important matters at hand then whatever had happened between the two of them (which was a mystery in and of itself). The entire force was crowded around a table, discussing the impending threat of their enemy.

“I’ve tried everything I can think of,” Clef sighed. “And nothing had turned up. I have to believe that he’s just not here. Creator has confirmed that Xander is not in Cephiro either.”

“So basically,” Ferio interjected, “if he’s neither here nor there, then where the hell is he!”

“That is the mystery we have to solve if we’re going to bring him down,” Presea asserted.

“Could he be masking himself somehow?” Hikaru asked. “We know he’s powerful. There’s no question of that. We just didn’t know exactly how powerful. But if he’s got enough magic to open his own bridge between our world and Cephiro, then maybe he found a way to use his magic to mask his magic…” She paused and frowned. “I don’t think even I understand what I’m saying now…”

Fuu’s head snapped back, and she rounded on Hikaru, green eyes blazing. She grabbed the tiny redhead by the shoulders, ignoring the quizzical looks of the others. “Repeat what you just said.”

Hikaru blinked owlishly at her. “I don’t think I can…”

“No, before all that!”

“Umm…he must be powerful if he can jump between worlds?” Hikaru postulated.

“What was the word you used?” Fuu demanded.

“I think I called it a bridge. Why?”

Fuu released Hikaru and sat back in her chair, tapping thoughtfully at her chin. Everyone waited, none daring to interrupt. All could see that there was something going on behind those eyes. The Knight of Windam had always been said to be the wisest of the three, and Fuu’s formidable intellect, a match with that aspect of their legend, was now hammering away at the problem that had been laid before her.

After what seemed eons, she spoke. Slowly, she said, “Creator, could it be called a bridge?”

In a flare of white light, Mokona sprouted wings. “Why do you ask?”

“Because,” she smirked, the look of one who has just finished a particularly challenging task and is quite satisfied with themselves, “if it’s a bridge…well…don’t bridges usually cross something?”

Everyone gaped.

Even Umi lifted her eyes from the tabletop…and stood up. “Are you suggesting…?”

“A space between worlds,” Clef murmured, visibly mulling over the notion.

All eyes shifted to the fluff ball floating at Fuu’s elbow.

“There is a space that lies between the worlds of Earth and Cephiro,” Creator intoned. “It keeps the two separate and unaware of each other. It is nothing but a void, an emptiness.”

“If Xander figured out how to go there…” Lantis tapped his chin.

“It’s the perfect hidin’ place,” Caldina agreed.

“Creator,” Umi fixed Mokona with a Look, “is it possible for <i>us</i> to go there?”

Silence.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” Umi tossed her hair back over her shoulder and sat back down.

“So…are we going to go?” Hikaru asked softly; she looked uneasy.

“I think,” Fuu replied in an equally-quiet voice, “that we have to.”

Umi nodded. “He’s after Cephiro and Earth both. We’re the protectors of Cephiro, and we’re the only ones from Earth who can stop him. We’re the Magic Knights. We don’t have a choice…” Her voice trailed off to the nods she was receiving in answer. It seemed that only the Magic Knights were actually forming the plan, but the others were giving their input silently.

“We should go as soon as possible,” Fuu stood. “I say tonight.”

“From Tokyo Tower,” Hikaru also rose.

“Agreed,” Umi joined them.

It was then that Presea interjected. “Tokyo Tower?”

“That’s where we landed when we came here,” Umi replied.

“But why from there?” the pharle persisted.

“Because every time something related to Cephiro has happened to us, it’s been from there,” Fuu told her. “Call it tradition, sentiment, a gateway, a convenience, or whatever, but I know I would feel more comfortable that way. And if we go at the right time, no one will be there to see us go.”

There was a chorus of nods and mutters of understanding. And it was decided.

Tokyo Tower.

That night.

The battle was about to begin.

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