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15 March 2008 @ 07:56 pm
Song of the Wind, ch. 6 (MKR)  
Title: Song of the Wind
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Publish Date: 3/15/2008
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



“Caliana!”

The sound of her name easily caught her attention, and Caliana, the Princess of Aldarba, looked up from her book and glanced around. She was perched on a branch of the big tree in the Palace gardens; it was her favorite thinking spot, somewhere she could sneak off to think. A glance down revealed that Kannon was standing beside the tree, waving up at her.

“I assume you have a good reason for interrupting me,” she called back, grinning. “I am getting to the best part of my story, so if this is not important, I shall have to beat you.”

The young man, the captain of her personal guard, grinned back and held up a hand, waving a piece of paper for her to see. “We received word from Cephiro. There was a letter for you amidst the official correspondence, and—”

“Let me see!” Caliana’s grin widened, and she closed the volume in her hands, tucking it into the pocket of her tunic before she began her descent from the tree. She hopped from branch to branch, as nimble as a squirrel, until she landed neatly on her feet on the ground beside him.

Kannon seemed amused at it all as he handed her the letter. “If you were not to be our future Queen, I daresay you would be an excellent spy.”

She threw him a look that would have told any bystander that this was not a new jest between them. As soon as the letter was in her hands, she broke the seal and opened it, reading it with great eagerness. Kannon waited patiently.

“They are coming,” she said after a moment. “They are coming here—to us, to Aldarba!” Her face lit up even more. “Oh, this is wonderful! Thank you, Kannon!” She clutched the letter to her chest as she thanked him and took off with all the speed of a loosed arrow.

She was quietly grateful that she had changed after court that morning into a belted tunic, pants, and riding boots before going to her favored place in the tree. It made running much easier. She tore through the Palace, sidestepping a few servants in the corridors; none of them raised an eyebrow, though. There had been a change in their dear Princess since her visit to Cephiro, and it was not an unpleasant one. She certainly had a great deal more energy.

Caliana did not stop running until she reached the doors that led to her father’s official chambers. If there had been official word from Cephiro, he would be closeted in there with his advisors. Without bothering to knock, she threw the doors open. “Father!”

Just as she had thought, King Haider was seated at his desk with three advisors gathered around him. There was a sheaf of paper spread across the desk; the crest of Cephiro was visible. He looked first startled at the intrusion, then vaguely annoyed. “Caliana, what have I told you about—“

“I will handle it!” Caliana said in a rush. “The preparations for the envoy of Cephiro. I will make all the plans and preparations for their arrival. Just leave it all in my hands!”

“Cali—“

“Thank you, Father!” she said quickly, turning and rushing from the chambers.

She left behind three very confused advisors and one very bewildered King, who turned to the aforementioned advisors and said, “I take it she has heard the news.”

-o-


Clef’s flying ship was wonderful; they were nearing the borders of Aldarba in what felt like far less time than the journey should have taken. They could have gone by magical means, but ultimately the Magic Knights argued that they wanted to see the world they had already given so much to protect.

The males—Lantis, Ferio, and Ascot—sat quietly and watched the girls with some amusement as they gazed out the window at the expanse of landscape spread beneath them. Mokona puu-ed quietly from its perch on Lantis’ shoulder. It was sweet to watch the three girls gasp and sigh over the green fields and emerald forests stretching out as far as the eye could see beneath them.

Aldarba was a beautiful place.

After a while, they settled back into their seats, and Ferio reminded them of what to expect immediately upon their arrival. “When we get there, I’m assuming there will be a welcoming party waiting for us. That’ll probably be some of the Guard and some sort of noble. They’ll greet us and escort us…probably to the throne room for our audience with the King and Queen. We’ll be presented and officially welcomed to Aldarba.”

“Do the King and Queen have names?” Fuu asked.

“King Haider and Queen Morowa of Aldarba,” Lantis spoke up.

“Man…Caliana’s parents. That’ll be cool,” Hikaru said cheerily.

“I’m sure I’ll be seeing a great deal of them,” Ferio said with a sigh. “Chances are that I’ll be spending a fair amount of time handling all the necessary political matters. After all, I am acting as the diplomatic representative in this envoy.”

“You worry about the politics, we’ll worry about the magic,” Umi said firmly, crossing her arms.

There would have been more, but Hikaru spoke up again, pointing out the window. “Look!”

All heads turned obediently to see, and smiles broke on most of their faces; Lantis was his normal reserved self. But their exuberance was well-founded: there was a city on the horizon, with a tall turreted structure visibly rising from the center of it. It could be safely assumed that the castle was the Palace, thus making this the Capitol. They’d arrived at last.

As they flew over the city, they got a much better look at it. The place was huge, and when the craft swept lower as it began its descent to land beyond the walls of the Palace, they could see that there were a lot of people out milling on the streets. In some ways, it reminded the three girls from Earth of the city they hailed from, Tokyo.

There wasn’t much time to gawk, though—the flying ship picked up speed, and they flew over the walls that ran around the perimeter of the Palace grounds before it stopped moving forward in favor of losing altitude. In a moment, they were coming to rest on the grass outside the massive castle.

As they gathered their things, Fuu glanced out the window and noticed a few people standing outside their ship. It seemed things were just as Ferio said, and there was a welcome wagon waiting for them. So their next stop would probably be presentation to the King and Queen. As the door to the craft opened, she remembered that Ferio had also said that there would probably be someone of the nobility to welcome them as honored guests. She wondered who it would be—

There were perhaps half a dozen armed guards standing in a vague semi-circle around a young woman in rich garb. When she saw the head of their welcoming committee, Fuu’s eyes widened in surprise and no little delight. “Caliana!”

The Princess of Aldarba was wearing clothing not unlike her attire when they had first met her upon her initial arrival in Cephiro. Her robes were of blue and gold, and very elaborate as befitting her status. Her dark hair was twisted up into an ornate bun on top of her head; it was not adorned by any fine jewels, but rather a single pink flower. She looked much as they remembered her, and every inch a Princess. She was smiling, with her hands tucked into the sleeves of her robe.

As they all climbed from the flying craft that had brought them and assembled into a haphazard line in front of her, she took a step towards them. “Honored guests and envoys of Cephiro, I bid you welcome to our kingdom,” she said; it was probably a prepared speech, but she seemed to take great delight in being the one to say it. “I am Caliana, the Princess of Aldarba.” As she said that last, she bowed.

It seemed this was a custom in both their worlds, and the six envoys bowed in turn. Mokona chose that moment to bounce from Lantis’ shoulder and bound right up to Caliana, landing squarely in her arms.

The soldiers around her gasped, but Caliana smiled fondly at the little white creature currently snuggling up to her. “It has been a while, my friends,” she said, shifting Mokona to rest in the crook of one arm while gesturing with the other. “Please follow me. My parents are waiting, and they are very eager to meet all of you.”

The Guard fell into step behind them as they passed through the great arched gateway and entered the Palace. It made Umi feel a bit nervous, really, to have six armed men following them like that. But the chances of this being a trap were almost nonexistent, and even if it was, all of them were fighters.

“I trust you had a safe journey?” Caliana asked over her shoulder.

“We did,” Ferio replied.

Fuu spoke up then as well. “Aldarba is a beautiful country.”

Caliana smiled. “Thank you. I also think that, but I might be a bit partial to our land for obvious reasons.” This earned a laugh from the others as they walked down a corridor decorated with vast tapestries and mirrors. It was all quite lovely.

In a moment they passed through another large doorway, this one with a guard posted on either side, and entered a massive domed room, filled with people in fancy clothes. It was obviously the throne room—a man and a woman were seated at the far end in large chairs.

Caliana did not even pause; she began walking down towards the thrones. It seemed a clear sign for the others to follow, and so they walked slowly after her. The guards that had accompanied them this far stopped by the door, leaving them to make the trek alone. There was a rush of whispers from the assembly as they moved past; it stood to reason that this was the court.

When they drew near, Caliana stopped and they stopped with her. The King and Queen rose. Caliana was still a moment before she walked forward another two steps and turned to face them. Mokona was still nestled comfortably in her arms. “I present the ambassadors and envoys of Cephiro,” she said, raising her voice to carry through the whole of the great hall. “Prince Ferio, Cail Lantis, Summoner Ascot, and the Magic Knights, the ladies Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu.”

A murmur ran through the crowd at the mention of the three girls, and they all realized that their legend ran a great deal further than they’d thought. Caliana had undoubtedly brought back stories of their exploits on her return to her own country. Even here, far from Cephiro, they were revered.

King Haider stepped towards them. “Welcome, friends, to our fair kingdom.” He bowed, as Caliana had, and they bowed in return. “We thank you for coming to our aide, and hope that with this visit we will be able to lay to rest the troubles plaguing our land.” He shot a glance at the Magic Knights then.

Ferio stepped forward. “We are always happy to come to the assistance of our allies, and we hope that we can find and remove the cause of the disturbances.”

It was strange to see him in this element, so refined and well-spoken, and realize that it was the same roughshod young man they had first encountered in the Forest of Silence, the one who Fuu had more or less tricked into escorting them safely to the Forest’s edge.

Fuu herself couldn’t take her eyes off him.

“I am sure you are tired from your journey,” Queen Morowa spoke now; she seemed to stand as an equal to her husband. “Rest, and we will begin discussions shortly.”

“Thank you,” Ferio smiled.

“If you will follow me, I will show you to your rooms,” Caliana stepped forward again, and they bowed one final time to the rulers before they followed her back through the large doorway and into the corridor. She led them through the hallways before finally pushing open a set of heavy wooden doors and passing into a new wing. “We have housed all of you in the same wing,” she explained. “I do hope you will find it to your liking.”

“We’re just happy to be here,” Fuu smiled.

Umi piped up. “I gotta say that I never, ever dreamed I would be greeted by royalty. Wow…”

“There’s a lot of ceremony to this,” Fuu added.

“Well, remember when Caliana arrived in Cephiro?” Ascot pointed out; he had been fairly quiet through much of the pomp and circumstance. Now that they were away from the crowds and the guards, he was relaxing a bit. “There was a lot of fuss then as well.”

Caliana paused and gestured towards the doors on either side of the corridor. “These six rooms have been set aside for your use during your stay. You may choose whichever you like.” She produced a ring of keys. “To ensure your peace of mind, you may lock your chambers.”

Umi opened one of the doors—and found herself staring at a small suite with a sitting room, bathing room, and bedroom, all decorated lavishly in blue and white. It reminded her for a moment of her short imprisonment in Xander’s domain, but she shook that off. Unlike her time under his roof, she did not feel that she would be in danger here.

Rooms were quickly chosen: the three girls took the rooms on the right side, and the men went to the left. Mokona opted to take up residence with Hikaru. But all three of the girls went into Fuu’s room and sat down. “Whew,” Hikaru said, stretching. “What a day, huh?”

Before any of them could respond, there was a knock on the partially-open door. Caliana’s head popped in. “I beg your pardon for the intrusion,” she said politely. “May I come in?”

“By all means,” Fuu grinned, getting to her feet.

Caliana stepped in and carefully closed the door behind her. She turned back to the girls…and finally, a massive smile crossed her face as she all but dove across the room, colliding with Fuu in a tight hug. Fuu had been waiting for this and was ready to return the embrace. “I thought so!” she laughed.

The mask had fallen away. It had been so strange and so wonderful to see Caliana in her true element as she met them, greeted them, and presented them to her parents and to the assembly of the court. This was what she had been raised to do—to be a ruler and a leader of her people. In their presence, in relation to a matter of state, she was the very picture of propriety, tradition, and nobility.

But now that they were alone, away from the eyes of the people…she could truly greet them as the friends they had become. “It is so wonderful to see you again!” she said with a smile, reaching down to extend an embrace to Hikaru and Umi as well.

They all sat, and Umi grinned. “Caliana, that was amazing! The way you acted through all of that…wow.”

The Princess blushed slightly. “I actually was not to be the one who met you. But I insisted, and Father relented.” She beamed. “I wanted to be the first to see you and welcome you here. And I am glad you have come, not just because you are my friends.” Her expression sobered. “There have been troubles as of late, things that defy explanations…I do hope you’ll be able to help us.”

“We’ll do whatever we can,” Hikaru said, then brightened. “So what’ve you been up to all this time?”

The conversation drifted pleasantly, recounting tales of things that had transpired in the time since the battle against Xander’s forces. It was nice to be able to simply sit and enjoy each other’s company for a time, knowing that things could turn all too soon.

Caliana was very concerned when they told her of Kagura’s abduction and the subsequent attack on their lives before their abrupt journey to Cephiro. She wondered if it could perhaps be related to the strange things occurring within Aldarba. The idea was logical, but chilling.

It did not escape the Princess’s eye, however, that Umi became a bit more withdrawn after the topic of her missing friend came up. The Knight of Selece was decidedly more morose for a while.

After a great deal of time, a knock on the door interrupted the conversation, and Fuu piped up. “Come in.” It was only then that she noticed how far the sun had moved across the sky. It was into the late afternoon now.

They expected it to be one of their comrades from Cephiro, but the young man who entered wore the uniform of a Palace Guard. The only difference between him and the men who had met them upon their arrival (aside from age, as this man didn’t seem to be much older than Caliana herself) was a red cloth band around the sleeve of his dark blue uniform.

All three of the Magic Knights were about to question, though the young man did seem familiar, when Caliana spoke. “Ah, Kannon!” she said with a smile. “I was wondering where you had gone.” She turned back to them. “I believe you met Kannon after the battle in Cephiro?”

That was it. That was why he seemed familiar.

He bowed. “Ladies.”

“That is why he wears that band,” Caliana said, pointing to the bright red strip on his uniform sleeve. “It means that he is a Captain in the Guard, and as such carries great authority. He is, in fact, the Captain of my personal Guard.” She turned to him. “What is it?”

“Your parents have requested the presence of the diplomat in the chambers,” he said.

“And mine as well?”

“Yes.”

“That would be Ferio’s job,” Hikaru said.

Caliana rose. “While we are otherwise engaged,” she said, moving towards the door, “feel free to explore the Palace. Oh, and Fuu? Would you mind coming with me?” When Fuu nodded, a bit surprised, the Princess addressed the young man. “Kannon, I leave Hikaru and Umi in your most capable hands. Perhaps a tour?”

He bowed. “As you wish.”

-o-


There was a loud clang as the sword flew from Nairi’s hand, followed by the whooshing sound of displaced air and the noisy clattering of the metal blade hitting and skittering across the hard floor.

Her opponent, Kagura, lowered once again into a ready stance with her own weapon outstretched, as though inviting Nairi to try anything. Her eyes were sparkling, but they had acquired a certain hard, competitive edge. She was completely serious.

At a loss, Nairi stepped back. “Incredible,” she murmured.

Kagura recognized the statement as a concession of defeat and straightened, lowering her sword to her side. “Thank you. I told you—I’ve been doing this for a really long time.”

“Nairi, weren’t you the one saying that Malia and I had no skills because we were beaten?” Cristal commented dryly; she was leaning against the wall, eagerly observing the mock-duel. “Something about how you were surprised that either of us knew which end of the sword to hold?”

“Oh, be quiet,” Nairi snapped.

Malia giggled and climbed to her feet from where she had been sitting on the floor to watch. “It’s not personal. Nairi is easily the best fighter of the three of us. She’s not used to losing.”

In a flare of brown light, Nairi’s sword vanished into her ovum-gem. “I said be quiet.”

Cristal shook her head, then shoved her white hair back. “As you can see, we’re all best friends here.”

“I noticed…” Kagura said thoughtfully. There was a moment’s silence, and then she decided to ask a question that had been bothering her since she had met these girls. “How did you three come here, anyway? How did you become Magic Knights?” She knew the story of how Umi, Hikaru, and Fuu had come by their destiny. It didn’t add up to her that these three girls would come into the same title when there wasn’t a Pillar to summon them and the destiny was no longer there to be fulfilled.

There was another beat of silence in which the three girls looked at each other. It was just long enough that Kagura was left wondering if she had done something horrendously wrong. But that notion was brushed aside when Malia spoke. “Our Lord brought us here. He saved us.”

This wasn’t the first time they had mentioned their Lord. It seemed this mysterious person was the one who gave the orders around here. Aeric had mentioned him as well. “What did he save you from?”

“…I don’t remember the details,” Malia said softly. “It’s all very faint. But I know that I was near death. I lost consciousness. And when I awoke, I was here, safe and unharmed. The general, Aeric, was here. He told me that I had been chosen.”

“So your…lord is the one who made you Magic Knights?” Kagura said slowly, receiving a nod in reply. Something about this whole thing didn’t sit right with her. She turned to ask the others of their stories, and found that they were nodding in agreement. She took that to mean that their experiences were very similar, not different enough to warrant any retellings.

“So…you can’t remember anything before that?” Kagura asked.

“No, not really,” Malia shook her head. For a moment, she looked rather wistful.

“It doesn’t matter,” Nairi said firmly. “Whatever we might have had before is not important. What we have now is far better. We are destined for great things, and now that you are here, those things will finally be within are grasp. Destiny is about to become reality.”

“Nairi…” Cristal said in a warning tone. Her silver-gray eyes flashed angrily.

Kagura blinked, taken aback. “What things? What does all this have to do with me?”

Before any response could be offered, a shadow appeared in the doorway. “Your presence is requested,” Aeric intoned. “Our Lord wishes to see you.”

For a moment, Kagura stood right where she was. There had been much talk of this person, and it seemed now she was finally to meet him. Taking a deep breath, she followed him.

-o-


As the doors parted, Hikaru gasped in delight. “How pretty!”

Caliana and Ferio had gone off to commence the necessary diplomatic activities; in a surprise move, the Princess had asked Fuu to accompany them to represent the Magic Knights—provided there were no complaints from the others? As there were none, the three headed for the Council Chambers. Lantis was inspecting the troops, and poor Ascot had been accosted by the stable-keepers, who were desperately curious about his unusual friends.

Kannon had approached then and offered to show the two remaining Knights the palace gardens while they waited. And so it was that they walked outside and found themselves in Paradise—or something close to it. There were flowers everywhere of every color imaginable, blossoms unlike anything they had ever seen on Earth.

“If the ladies will follow me,” Kannon said with a small bow, “I will show you the gardens.”

Umi chuckled. “Wow. You’re quite the gentleman, aren’t you?”

He had the grace to blush slightly. “I try.”

“Well, you can relax,” Umi said with a grin. “It’s okay. We won’t tell.”

He didn’t reply verbally, but some of the tension left his shoulders, and his posture visibly relaxed. They continued walking, him pointing out various flowers and small statues scattered throughout the gardens. It was exquisite.

Hikaru piped up then. “You and Caliana seem very close. How did you two meet?”

Kannon looked a bit surprised at the question, but recovered quickly. “We were actually very young when we met. My mother used to be the head housekeeper in the Palace. She has grown old and retired, but as I understand it, she ran a very tight ship. As a result, I grew up in the Palace because my mother kept her residence there. One day I was walking through these very gardens, and I met a girl my own age. I had not seen her before.”

“What happened?” Umi asked, prodding him along when he paused.

“She told me to be quiet and pulled me along,” he recounted. “I later learned that the girl was, in fact, Princess Caliana, and she was hiding from her tutors.” Both Magic Knights laughed at that. “After that, it seemed our paths crossed frequently. It did not make sense to me that the Princess would seek out my company, but in hindsight there weren’t too many other children our age running around the place. After a time, we had become friends.”

“And now you’re the captain of her personal guard,” Umi observed; one blue eyebrow arched knowingly. “That worked out very nicely, didn’t it?”

“My mother secured training for me by some of the great sword masters of the kingdom,” he explained. “I learned the way of the sword, assuming that when I came of age I would go into the army. In fact, I trained alongside the Princess on more than one occasion.”

“Wait—with Caliana?” Hikaru interjected.

He smiled. “Oh, you did not know? Caliana is quite handy with a blade—and various other weapons, as well as hand-to-hand. An heir who can defend herself is less likely to fall prey to an assassin, wouldn’t you agree? Anyone trying to take on the Princess would be in for a very rude surprise. I speak from experience—she used to practice on me.” He absently rubbed at one of his shoulders, as though remembering the ache of a past sparring match.

“So why have a personal guard?” Hikaru persisted.

“You have seen her in formal dress, yes?” he asked. “The fact is that she cannot fight effectively while dressed for official functions. And while she may be skilled enough to bring down two or three attackers, she cannot defend against a full ambush.”

They had reached a small clearing in the gardens, marked by an enormous fountain. Umi sat down on the edge of the fountain’s basin and leaned back a little to look up at the sky. “Sorry to ask so many questions, but we didn’t get to talk much when we met before.”

He waved a hand and smiled. “I know much of you from the stories and legends of your exploits—yes, they have reached us even here. But you know nothing of me. Question, you must.”

Hikaru sat beside Umi and dragged her fingers through the water. “I think we’ll be friends.”

“I’d be honored,” he executed another bow.

Umi fought down the urge to giggle—he really did demonstrate the manners of one accustomed to dealing with those of a higher rank. He personally might not have been of noble blood, but he carried himself with a noble air. Instead, she asked, “So if you were going to be in the army, how did you end up in charge of Caliana’s safety?”

“If I might brag, I was an exemplary student, and my teachers said that I was on my way to becoming a master in my own right. When Caliana came of an age to need her own guard, there were many soldiers older and more experienced than I who were considered.”

“And so you got the job because…”

“Caliana approached me one day and told me that I was now her captain. Then she took me to her father and told him that I was now her captain,” he winched slightly, remembering the argument that had resulted. “In the end, I had to demonstrate my skills. I suppose I impressed the King sufficiently, and now…here I am.”

“So in other words, Caliana grabbed you and told you that you were in charge of her guard, and that was that?” Hikaru laughed. “Sounds like Caliana—man, she was nothing like that when she first came to Cephiro. She was quiet and didn’t really talk to anyone. Wasn’t until after she broke it off with Ferio that she started acting like…you know…a person.”

Umi winced; somehow, she didn’t think it was supposed to come out like that. But Kannon chuckled. “I would imagine. She is one of the strongest people I know, but she also takes her duty to the people very seriously. I know she was displeased about the union, but she resolved to go through with it for the good of Aldarba. So if she seemed a bit sullen…”

“I really can’t blame her,” Hikaru nodded, sobering a bit. “I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be shipped off and told I was going to marry a complete stranger. How scary would that be?”

“Kannon…why didn’t you come to Cephiro with her when she came to marry Ferio?” Umi asked. It was a question she had been waiting to ask for a while now, and she was interested to hear the answer. It might give her the clue she had been waiting for to either prove or disprove a suspicion.

The young man stared at her for a moment. But he shook himself quickly and replied, “I was taken ill just before we were to leave, and so I stayed behind. It was all right—she was in safe hands.” The answer was innocuous enough, but there was a tone in his voice that spoke volumes.

And it confirmed Umi’s quiet suspicion. She rose and began to walk towards him. Startled, Kannon began walking backwards as she advanced on him, only stopping when his back hit a tree. Umi stopped an arm’s length away and smiled. “I knew it!” she said.

“Knew what?” he asked.

“You have a thing for Caliana!” she said triumphantly.

“A…thing?” he blinked, confused.

Hikaru had already bounced over to stand beside her fellow Knight. “She means you like her.”

“Of course I like her,” Kannon said indignantly. “She’s my friend, and she is the Princess.”

“No, no, we’re not being clear,” Umi waved a hand. “You have feelings for her. You know…love?”

In the blink of an eye, the young man had gone ashen. “N-no! Not at all!” he said quickly, glancing around. Then he took a deep breath. “Lady Umi…I understand how one could draw that conclusion, given how long the Princess and I have known each other. But I assure you that—”

“You keep calling her the Princess,” Hikaru said. “Why not Caliana? Or don’t people sometimes refer to the ruler as theirs? Ya know, like people called Emeraude our Pillar?”

Umi shook her head and waved a hand to silence Hikaru. “I’m sorry. We overstepped our boundaries a little bit. I apologize.” She bobbed up and down in a quick bow.

To say Kannon looked relieved was an understatement. “Accepted. As I said, I understand how one could come to that conclusion, incorrect though it may be.” He smiled and bowed in return. When he straightened, he gestured towards a path they had not yet taken. “Shall we continue?”

-o-


Kagura walked behind Aeric; Nairi, Malia, and Cristal were in step behind her. After walking down an unfamiliar corridor, they paused before a great set of doors that she had not seen before. Aeric turned back to her. “Our Lord is waiting,” he said simply before pushing on the doors to part them.

The room that lay beyond those doors was the most massive she had seen yet, far larger than the stone room with the well. This room seemed to be cast of crystal, from the smooth floor to the multi-faceted ceiling. The light seemed to be emanating from somewhere above them, reflecting through the crystalline walls to brighten the room sufficiently.

In the middle of the room was a man, wearing a long burgundy robe with the hood hanging down his back. He was facing the door as they entered and approached, his face wearing a knowing smile. “Welcome, ladies,” he said serenely.

Kagura continued to walk, but stopped when she realized that there were no further footsteps behind her. She glanced back, and saw that Aeric was standing by the door and the three girls in armor had each dropped to one knee, heads bowed in reverent genuflection. It startled her, and for a moment she was at a loss for what to do.

“Lady Kagura,” he said, suddenly right in front of her. One of his hands clasped hers; she noticed that his touch was icy cold. “Welcome. I am Sorilbran, master of illusions and the lord of this keep.” There was a note of grandiose importance in his voice as he introduced himself.

At a loss for what else to do, she dipped her head in a quick bow. “You already seem to know my name.”

“Yes, child,” he said. It startled her a bit, as she wouldn’t have thought him to be that much older than her. Perhaps ten years her senior? Maybe he was older than she thought. If she was in Cephiro, then the power of one’s will could very well alter a person’s appearance. “We have been waiting for you.”

There was a rustle behind her, and she imagined that the three other girls had risen. Still, she tried to focus. “Why have you been waiting for me?” This had to be the key to the whole of the situation—why she had been taken, imprisoned, given the armor and sword of a Magic Knight.

He smiled and squeezed her hand; she kept still only by exertion of extreme will power. “You are the Promised, child. It was foretold to us that you would come before us, and that you are the one who will tame and control the Beast of Darkness.”

There certainly was a lot of discussion of darkness floating around this place. “What is that?”

“You will see in time,” he assured her. “It is your destiny, for you are of the dark.”

It was not the first time she had been told that, and it was beginning to worry her. These people obviously knew of her, but they did not know anything about her—did they? She was not a bad person, and she certainly did not do evil. And darkness seemed to go hand-in-hand with such things.

And she was studying this man—Sorilbran, he had said his name was. A strange name, as everything else here was strange. Aside from his icy hands and scarlet clothes, the only other thing that really struck her were his eyes. They were dark, jet black, almost completely colorless. It sent a chill through her. Those eyes did not look human, though everything else seemed to.

She needed a plan. There had to be a way to escape from this place—although she did not feel threatened, per se. Her initial arrival had been less than comfortable, but since then she had been given every comfort, had every need met. They had even handed her a weapon and armor! It made no sense. There was no reason she couldn’t get out of here—after all, hadn’t Umi managed to escape from Xander’s stronghold with even less than what she had now?

...as her friend’s face flickered through her mind, Kagura was startled to feel her hands clenching into tight fists at her sides. She was angry. Why was she so angry to think of Umi? They had been friends since childhood; they had no secrets from each other.

Save for her adventures as a Magic Knight—

Kagura swallowed hard as Sorilbran released his hold on her hand.

—she didn’t trust you enough to tell you about that until she had to.

Where were these thoughts coming from?

He stepped away from her, towards a small stand. It rather looked like an old-fashioned candle stand, with ornately-curled legs supporting it; it came to his chest-level, and on the top of it was a smooth semi-circle of black stone. He put one hand to the stone and then turned back to her. “I will help you find your true path, child,” he said, a note of excitement finally changing his tone. “I will help you discover who you are truly meant to be.”

“And how will you do that?” Kagura asked, still fighting to unclench her fists.

Sorilbran’s smile was enigmatic. “I will begin by bringing your greatest enemy before you.”

A mist seemed to form behind him, originating from the stone on the stand. As he said that final statement, it took on a vaguely human shape and colors. Blue eyes, and long blue hair…

-o-


Dinner with the royal family had proven to be quite an affair. Everything seemed so fancy!

Umi had attended a few business affairs with her father, so such proceedings were not exactly alien to her—though she was heard to inquire as to the proper manners for this world. Fuu didn’t seem too concerned, but Hikaru, while outwardly cheerful, was displaying a few nervous gestures—fidgeting, toying with the end of her ponytail, and the like.

Overall, it had gone well, though, and as the servants whisked the last dish away, King Haider rose and announced that further discussions would commence in the morning. To say the envoys were grateful for the respite was an understatement.

As they left the dining hall, Umi nudged Fuu and told her that she should go take a look at the Palace gardens, as they were just beautiful. She also suggested that Ferio could go with her.

Fuu’s look was only slightly murderous, but she was blushing.

The idea was a good one, though, and Magic Knight and Prince asked a passing servant how to find the gardens. In short order, they were opening the doors and wandering outside. The place was every bit as lovely as Umi had said, especially with the beginnings of sunset splashing across the sky.

After a while, they found a nice little spot under a fruit tree, where they had a perfect view of the horizon and the setting sun. And when Ferio’s arm surreptitiously found its way around her shoulders, she didn’t protest at all.

Time was something they didn’t have a great deal of, and a day could come when they would truly never see each other again. Best to make the most of what was given to them, while they were in the same world and sharing the same sky.

“Did you think it was boring?” Ferio asked after a few minutes.

“The meeting? No, not at all,” she said. “It’s really interesting. I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

“…just when I think you can’t seem any more intelligent,” he laughed.

Now she turned to look directly at him. “I thought that was something you liked about me,” she teased.

“Indeed,” he said, leaving towards her. Fuu started to lean towards him as well, eyes fluttering shut…

A movement above them caught her eye. She glanced up—

—just in time to see a piece of fruit break loose from the branch and cascade down.

Smacking Ferio directly on the head with an audible thunk.

His eyes snapped open for a second, and then closed again as his head wobbled, then dropped forward; his forehead ended up on her shoulder, and she instinctively reached up, catching his arms to steady him. He did not move.

Fuu sat there for a moment, then sighed and smiled wryly. Figures…

Maybe another night.



PS. I am taking a new approach to writing this fic. I have a lot more of the outline in place, though I find that I keep reworking parts of it to try and get it just right. But anyway, my new approach—I am doing this one scene at a time for a daily community on LJ. Hopefully that’ll help get the chapters out faster. I’m aiming for an update about once a month to once every two months. That’s fair, I think. And I’m already hard at work on the outline for the third part of this trilogy.

Also—the name Sorilbran means “smart” or “wise.” Haider is an Arabic name meaning “king,” and Morowa is an African name meaning “queen.” I thought it fit well with Caliana meaning “princess.” Thanks for reading, all! Much love!