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11 May 2008 @ 11:52 pm
Song of the Wind, ch. 8 (MKR)  
Title: Song of the Wind
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Word Count: 7410
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



The mashin deposited the three girls back on a balcony at the Aldarban palace before absenting themselves, flying up into the sky and vanishing from site. They were back in their normal clothes and regular armor. And there was a small group of people waiting for them.

“Thank goodness you are safe!” Caliana breathed a sigh of relief as she hurried towards them with outstretched arms. “Are you all right? What has happened?”

Fuu took the princess’ hands. “We’re all fine. The storm is gone.”

Lantis, meanwhile, had moved silently and attached himself to Hikaru’s side. He showed no inclination to move away anytime soon. That was his way, though—a silent possessiveness. But she understood it, and that was what mattered; she reached up and slid her hand into his, giving it a comforting squeeze as she offered him a reassuring smile.

“What happened…?” Ferio was walking towards them, but paused and trailed off as Umi moved. She started walking towards the arched doorway that led back into the palace. As she passed him, the Cephirean prince glanced at Fuu and whispered, “Did I say something wrong?”

“No, Ferio. You didn’t,” Umi replied, pausing in the doorway. She did not turn around, and her voice stayed steady. “But my best friend has decided that she hates me, and is going to kill me. She already tried to do it once. Oh,” here her voice shuddered slightly, “…and she’s a Magic Knight, too.”

And she took to her heels and strode down the corridor, leaving the others behind. I’m sorry, Fuu, Hikaru. Sorry to leave you with all the explanations, but…dammit…

The gardens. She could go there and be relatively undisturbed, couldn’t she? Yes, that was a good plan. It was sheltered. She could hide if need be. With her plan set, she hurried, trying to remember the exact path that led to what would be her oasis.

She chose a spot amidst a cluster of trees. It was shaded, and the ground there was comfortable to sit on, and she could easily hide from prying eyes. In short, it was perfect. She took a seat there and pulled her knees up to her chest, trying desperately not to think while her emotions and thoughts insisted on being recognized and acknowledged immediately.

It didn’t take her long, though, to realize that she was, in fact, not alone. She had been followed, and it wasn’t hard to guess who had traced her out here. Even if she hadn’t seen the fold of a robe’s sleeve vanishing behind a tree. She sighed. “Ascot, don’t lurk. You can come over here.” She really did want to be alone, but somehow, she couldn’t turn him away.

Ascot obediently crept over and took a seat next to her. “Are you all right?” he asked softly.

Umi hesitated a second, then sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder. “Just…stay with me? Please?” Suddenly she was glad he had come out here. She didn’t want to talk about what had happened just yet, but his presence was comforting.

And thankfully, blessedly, he understood.

-o-


Two days had passed since their adventure to the border.

And there had been no further disturbances and no further word of anything—Kagura, the mysterious girl in the storm, the stone needle in the sky…nothing at all. The searches had found nothing, and the inquiries had yielded no results.

For Umi, the waiting was the worst part of it.

So she flung herself into whatever tasks she could find at the palace. She had made acquaintance with the palace cooks, and they permitted her time in the kitchen; she was teaching them to bake various pastries, using ingredients from this world. The workers had been delighted, and begged to learn more, and so she was able to hide from the problems here and there.

At the moment, though, she was wandering back towards her room with every intention of taking a nap and pretending that nothing existed for a while. The avoidance tactic was not a particularly good one, but at this point she was clinging to it. She rounded a corner…

And froze as every hair on the back of her neck stood straight up.

She was being watched.

Umi tensed, glancing around. There was no one there, and no place for anyone to hide and still be able to see her without being seen. And stranger still, she felt something nearby…something strangely familiar, like an old friend…

It hit her.

With a sigh, Umi crossed her arms and tilted her head to the side, eyes closed in annoyance. “Honestly, Amaya. Don’t sneak up on me like that. If you want my attention, just come out and say hello.”

Sure enough, the specter of her ancestor and predecessor appeared a mere meter in front of her. “Well played, Umi. Well played, indeed,” she chuckled with a toss of her hair.

“What are you doing here?” Umi asked, some of the irritation leaving her pose and expression.

Amaya grew more serious. “You’re not the only ones here to investigate, bright one. We are here—all three of us, Michiko and Sachi are here as well—to look into some strange goings-on in the Other-realm. Things have been happening, and as near as we can tell, it’s connected to what’s going on here. Possibly related to Kagura’s disappearance, along with all the other strange happenings.”

“What kind of things are happening there?” The other side of that veil was still a mystery to Umi. What kinds of things could possibly be going on there?

“Souls have been vanishing,” Amaya said. “Spirits have gone missing.”

“I take it that’s bad?” Umi asked.

“Depending on where those souls are, the closest thing I could compare it to in the living world,” Amaya replied, folding her arms, “…is murder.” At Umi’s goggled expression, she elaborated. “The soul does not have a soul of its own, Umi. If a spirit is destroyed…that’s it. They’re gone. There is nothing left.”

Umi looked stricken. “That’s horrible!”

“And even more disturbing is the fact that it’s happening at all,” Amaya went on. “I already told you how much power it takes to remove a person’s soul from their body without killing the person, correct?”

“Yes…”

“The simple fact is that anything involving spirits or souls takes an obscene amount of magic and know-how. To take a soul or to subvert it…it’s nothing any amateur could accomplish. And as near as we can tell…” her expression darkened. “Do you remember the monster that controlled Xander?”

Umi nodded. “Shadow, wasn’t it?” Her eyes widened. “You don’t think—“

“It didn’t fall for the same trick twice,” Amaya confirmed with a sharp nod. “Xander was sealed away, there’s no doubt about that. But Shadow escaped. And it has the power to do it, no question. So he must have a new pawn somewhere…” She trailed off, fading into thought.

There was far less thought on Umi’s part, though. She was certain she knew.

Shadow has my best friend.

-o-


“I’m just…worried,” Fuu admitted, following Caliana through the maze of corridors that made up the interior of the Aldarban palace. She was getting a better grasp on where things were and the general layout of the place, but when going somewhere new, a guide was practically a necessity.

“Is there something specific you are worried about?” the princess asked as she paused to open yet another large door and lead through it. “Or is it the whole of the situation in general?” She was dressed down again, in a more feminine version of a Guard’s uniform. There was no reason for her to be dressed and made up like a doll when there was no one to impress, she said firmly.

“Everything,” she sighed. “Umi, Kagura…Hikaru took that awful comment of Kagura’s pretty hard. Not that she’ll let you know it—she’ll do her best to keep you thinking that everything is perfect. Lantis is keeping an eye on her, though. She’ll be all right. This whole situation is just god-awful, though. And I’m especially wondering about that girl…”

“The one you saw in the storm?”

“Yes. I want to know who she is,” Fuu tapped her chin thoughtfully. “One thing’s for sure, though. She was controlling the weather. Those were not ordinary storms. They were too precise. They hit their mark far too perfectly to be chance. And that serpent…it looked like a mashin. But not a mashin I’ve ever seen before. The only three I was aware of were Windam, Rayearth, and Selece. And she said she had been sent there. So she’s working for someone else. And I still can’t figure out what it was about her that bothered me so much…it was something physical, I’m sure…”

Caliana nodded to a guard. “The library is that door,” she gestured. “So you wish to find something of this person who gives the orders? And perhaps through that, you will find something of the girl herself? Or the other way around?”

Fuu chuckled. “At this point, I’ll take whatever information I can find. Any little detail could be important. And thank you for letting me look in the library—and for helping me.”

“It is no trouble. I am glad I can be of assistance,” Caliana waved a hand and opened the appointed door. “I only hope we can find something of use.” She led the way through the door and into the library, stepping aside as Fuu entered and closing the door behind them.

For a moment Fuu forgot to breathe.

She had anticipated the Royal Library of Aldarba to be impressively sizable, but somehow she had not expected this. The ceiling seemed to reach up to the sky, and the walls appeared to be miles apart. And there were shelves lining every wall, shelves in neat rows across the length and breadth of the room…

Behind her, Caliana chuckled. “I take it you are pleased with our modest collection?”

“Modest? This is modest?” Fuu gaped openly, not bothering with any semblance of restraint.

“I could take you to the library in the city, if you would like to go,” Caliana offered. “This is merely our private collection. It houses more than books. There are documents here, treaties, things of great importance. Some things here are of great secrecy. The history of our kingdom lies in documentation on these shelves. And you are free to peruse it as you wish, by my mother’s order.” She smiled.

“What’s the library in the city like?”

“It is the public library, open to all citizens,” she replied. “There are more things meant to be read for pleasure, but there are also documents and resources of a different kind. It might be worth our while to go and look after we are done here.”

“I’d like that,” Fuu said. “Thank you.”

Caliana’s aura flared slightly as she smiled; it was chocolate-brown in color and visible to Fuu’s eyes because of her brief sojourn into the spirit’s side of the veil. Somehow, it was a comfort to see it now. She was learning to read them, how they reflected thought and emotion.

For example, Umi’s had been clamped down very tightly over the last few days, much as she had walled up her true emotions over the affair and adopted an uncharacteristically business attitude over the whole thing. Her reasoning was simply that she was a Magic Knight. No one questioned beyond that.

As Fuu began looking through the shelves (and she was pleasantly surprised to find them meticulously organized), there was a moment of silence before Caliana spoke again. “Ferio seems to be well.”

Recognizing the statement for what it was—an invitation to conversation—Fuu smiled. “He is. I know he was busy for quite some time, cleaning up the aftermath of the battle.” She sighed and decided to be completely honest. “It’s wonderful to be together again. But in some ways…it gets harder every time I see him. Because I know that as things are now, I can’t stay with him.” She looked down at the book in her hands. “We’ll be parted again, sooner or later.”

“That does make things trying,” Caliana agreed. “I do not know a great deal of your situation. I merely know what you have told me. But is there truly no way for you to stay together?”

“This is the fourth time we’ve come to this world,” Fuu murmured. “We fulfill our purpose here. And then we are returned to our own world. The door closes behind us. We haven’t been able to figure out a way to open it on our own, permanently or in short bursts.” She sighed. “You’re lucky, though. You probably don’t have to worry about being separated from the one you love.”

Caliana was silent, and Fuu glanced at her. The princess had gone pale, and her eyes had taken on a downcast look. “Highness?” Fuu said, alarmed. “I’m sorry—I didn’t mean to—“

To her amazement, Caliana smiled and shook her head. “You have said nothing wrong. The fact is that there is someone who is…special to me. But it is merely infatuation, nothing more.” She looked back down at her own book. “I even spoke to my mother on the matter.”

“What did she say?”

“She told me that all girls have feelings like these at some point. It is a normal part of being young and growing up, and that it would probably pass if given time,” Caliana said, then paused. “But she also said something rather cryptic…” Her brow furrowed as she tried to remember the Queen’s words. “She said to wait and see…but to not ignore how I feel if those feelings do not change.” She smiled again. “Mama is a far wiser woman than I.”

“I’ve never heard you call her Mama,” Fuu said.

“It is what I called her when I was a child. Every now and then it slips out during private moments.”

“But I understand what she means,” Fuu turned a page. “Did you tell her who it is?”

“I did.”

“Would you tell me?”

“I beg your forgiveness, but I would rather not.”

Fuu shook her head. “That’s your right.”

“Still,” Caliana sighed, “she did not seem terribly…surprised. And she did not appear to be upset when I told her who the, ah, object of my affections was. It was almost like she expected it.” A note of discomfort slipped into her voice at that.

Fuu decided not to ask again, though she already had a suspicion. “All right, I sense that we’re moving into uncomfortable territory. So we can change the subject.”

“Might I ask about Umi and her missing friend?” Caliana said.

“Kagura and Umi go way back,” Fuu replied. “Their parents were friends, so the two of them spent a lot of time together from the time they were toddlers. They just never stopped being friends. A lot of friendships don’t make it past middle school, but Umi said they were closer than ever. They’ve always struck me as a pair of kindred spirits. I never thought anything would be able to ruin their friendship.”

“Now it seems that the promise of power has done just that,” the princess said.

“Except that’s not Kagura,” Fuu shook her head. “I don’t know her as well as Umi does, but I can confidently say that the Kagura I know would never have said anything like that. Especially what she said to Hikaru. She’s not that kind of person. She wouldn’t sell us out like that. Something happened to her. And until we find out what that something is, we can’t help her.”

Caliana nodded. “I apologize for my uncharitable assumptions.”

“You haven’t done anything wrong,” she sighed. “It’s just…I haven’t seen Umi like this since we were in middle school, back when we first came to Cephiro. Not speaking to many people unless required, hiding, avoidance…it’s really how all of us acted after the Pillar battle. We were crushed. And it just means that right now Umi is hurt even more than she wants to let on.”

“…you are very wise, Lady Fuu,” Caliana said.

“Not really,” Fuu shook her head. “I simply know my friends.”

“I stand by my statement. You are wise,” Caliana said. “But look at us, standing here with our tongues wagging at both ends. We have a mission to accomplish!” She returned to the books with renewed enthusiasm, earning a giggle from Fuu.

It was not the first time that she had seen some of Umi’s more interesting character traits in the Aldarban Princess. Those little moments seemed slightly at odd with Caliana’s normal refinement, but at the same time, it was refreshing. That was the real Caliana, kept carefully tucked away from the eyes of the people, and only let out amongst close friends and those she trusted most.

Quite some time had passed before Caliana spoke up. “Fuu, you mentioned a monster earlier. Some power that controlled the sorcerer Xander. What did you say it was called?”

“Shadow,” Fuu replied.

“Then you might want to look at this,” the princess set the open book on a table and pointed.

Fuu bent over the book and began to read. Legends hold of a being known only as Shadow…

-o-


“There’s no doubt,” Fuu sighed. “They’re hiding somewhere in this country. The question is where.”

The three living Knights were sitting with Caliana and Kannon in Caliana’s parlor. The three deceased Knights were hovering around the perimeter of the room, listening to the conversation and prepared to jump in with any thoughts they might have.

Caliana’s eyes widened; her hands clenched in her lap. “But—but that is impossible,” she sputtered. “We are a peaceful country! We do not condone any such things within our borders—“

Fuu put a reassuring hand on the princess’ shoulder. “We know that you didn’t have anything to do with it, Highness. But the fact remains that they are now here, and we need to figure out how to stop them. They probably took refuge here because they thought it would be easier to hide.”

“This whole thing is making my head hurt,” Hikaru sighed, leaning on the arm of the couch. “Sachi, do you have any thoughts on this?” She glanced at her ancestor. “You guys have been around a lot longer than we have. Is there any way that Kagura could be a Magic Knight?”

She was visibly startled when Sachi did not immediately discount the possibility. “It is not completely impossible,” she said slowly. “But a true Magic Knight has partnered with a mashin. That seems the biggest obstacle in her path, to my mind.”

“Umi,” Amaya piped up, “what exactly did she say to you when she told you this? As close to word-for-word as you can, please. I have a thought, but I need to hear it again.”

Surprised, Umi tapped her chin. “She said that she was a Magic Knight…I think she said something about having a great destiny…she claimed that she was of the dark, and said—“

“Wait—of the dark?” Michiko cut in this time. “Is that exactly what she said?”

“Y-yes…” Umi said, wide-eyed. “Those words exactly. I’ll never forget it.”

Michiko glanced at Amaya. “You don’t think it could be…”

“It makes sense with what we know,” Amaya conceded.

“What?” Hikaru asked.

Another look passed between the three ghosts before Michiko began to speak. “It’s a legend, at least as old as the stories of the Magic Knights. There were two beasts, known as Light and Dark. They fought a great battle, and from the magic spent in that battle a third being was born. This was neither Light nor Dark, but bore the aspects and powers of both. It calmed the storm, and all three were scattered, where they’ve slept, waiting the one who would awaken them.”

“What do you mean, awaken them?” Fuu asked.

“According to the story, there is a person who will awaken the power of Light or Dark. That person is known in the legends as the Promised,” Michiko explained. “I’d be willing to lay money that the beasts the story mentions are mashin.”

“So…if Kagura is this Promised person, and she partners with one of those two,” Hikaru said slowly, “then she’ll have a mashin. And she’ll be a full Magic Knight. Just like the story says.”

“It does make sense…” Fuu admitted.

Umi said nothing. Her shoulders had drawn up, and she was visibly withdrawing into herself, bowing her head. Her hands clenched in her lap. Her expression was pensive. Not only did Shadow have her best friend, but now…it seemed that Kagura was right.

If there was a god, and that god was at all merciful, Kagura’s destiny as a Magic Knight, whatever it was, would not align with what Umi herself had suffered.

-o-


As they left the three girls from Earth, Amaya gave Michiko a look that was a strange combination of curiosity, understanding, and accusation. “You didn’t tell them the rest of the story.”

“I’m aware of that,” Michiko said quietly. “I don’t think I need to explain to you why I didn’t mention it.” She glanced back towards the door. “Poor Umi already has so much on her mind. She doesn’t need that extra detail to make things worse.”

“Michiko’s right,” Sachi spoke up, also glancing back. “They will know soon enough. Let’s just wait. Perhaps it will not come to pass…” Her expression darkened. “Maybe it will not happen like that…”

-o-


“I want you to find it.”

Kagura looked up, startled as the words dropped into the silence. “It?”

Sorilbran nodded. “I spoke of it to you earlier. I would like you to go and find it. Take the others with you. They can and will help you. Once you have found it…” his smile broadened. “You will finally be on the path to unlock your true fate.”

She rose. “Yes, sir.” She started towards the door, then paused. “With all due respect, sir…how will this help me to best Umi?” It was bordering on frightening, how thoughts of destroying the blue-haired Knight of Selece had filled her mind. It was nearing an obsession, though she still felt, deep down, like she couldn’t quite place exactly why she felt that way.

But hadn’t Umi betrayed her? Telling her not to be a Magic Knight…Umi was her enemy. That was fact.

“Be patient, child,” he said soothingly. “Once you have found it, you will have your revenge. That is a promise. And in the meantime, I am arranging a little surprise for the Magic Knights. A little something to keep them occupied while you do what you need to do.”

“A surprise?”

“Oh yes, child,” he said. “The Knight of Selece is going to suffer…”

-o-


It was almost a given that Umi took a great amount of pride in her hair; she’d heard it said that every girl should have one true vanity, and that was decidedly hers. She had grown it for years to get it this long, and she took very careful care of it. It was said to be the envy of many.

Part of her nightly ritual included the simple act of brushing her hair, which could be quite a task in and of itself. Still, in this foreign place with so much chaos around her, it was a pleasantly familiar action and thus, comforting.

Her room in the palace had a vanity table with a mirror, not unlike one she had at home in her own room. She opted for that, then, taking a seat on the cushioned stool and beginning the task of running the brush through her hair. Feeling the strands smooth and untangle beneath her ministrations, hearing the soft crackle of the bristles doing their work…

A simple comfort in simple familiarity. Umi’s eyes stayed on her reflection, focusing on her face and the motions her hands were making. It was the most relaxed she had felt since they had come to Cephiro this time around. It was almost an alien feeling.

When the knock came on the door, she closed her eyes and sighed, though it was not an unhappy sigh. She actually felt up to receiving company now and talking with other human beings. Umi turned on her seat and called out, “Yes?”

“Umi?” Fuu’s voice came back through the door. “Can I come in?”

“Absolutely,” she smiled.

The door opened, and Fuu slipped through, closing it behind her. “I’m not bothering you, am I?” She looked a bit uncertain. “I know you’ve been—“

“It’s okay,” Umi nodded. “I’m actually glad for the company.”

Fuu crossed the room and took the brush from Umi’s hand. “Turn around.” When Umi did, Fuu began gently brushing the back of Umi’s hair. “I imagine you have trouble reaching the very back.”

Umi chuckled. “I did for a while, actually. Just figured out ways around it.” She leaned her elbows on the table and sighed, resting her chin in her hands. “Been a while since anyone’s played with my hair. I don’t trust many people with it.” She closed her eyes. “Kagura always did, though…”

“We’ll get her back, Umi,” Fuu said softly.

Umi was silent a moment. “I don’t want to talk about it right now. Let’s talk about something…I don’t know, maybe something a bit more pleasant than this whole god-awful situation. What’s on your mind?”

“Hmm?”

“Come on, Fuu,” Umi cajoled. “What’s up?”

Fuu sighed, defeated. “Stop reading my mind.”

“It’s one of my many talents. Now really—what’s up? Or can I guess?”

“You’d probably be right.”

“Ferio?”

“Exactly,” Fuu admitted. Her hands paused in Umi’s hair. “I’ve been…thinking about things a lot lately. And I wanted some advice. You seemed the best person for it, so…here I am.”

“What are you thinking about?” Umi prodded.

“Well…” Fuu blushed.

That told Umi volumes. “Things you don’t think you should be thinking about?”

“S-something like that…”

Umi stood up and turned to take the brush from Fuu. Laying it on the table, she grabbed Fuu’s hands. “Come on. I think we need a girl talk.”

In a moment, they were both sprawled on the enormous bed. Fuu sat up by the pillows, her back against the headboard and her knees drawn up to her chest; Umi was laying on her stomach with her feet towards the foot of the bed, her knees bent and her feet crossed at the ankle.

“Should we get Hikaru?” Fuu asked as they settled in.

“I saw her out with Lantis in the garden a little while ago,” Umi shook her head. “Glanced down from my balcony. I think she’s otherwise occupied.” She chuckled. “They’ve been spending a lot of time together lately.”

“What about you and Ascot? You haven’t been…well, not quite so much, at least,” Fuu pointed out. “Is everything okay between you two?”

“Everything’s fine. It’s just…” Umi put her chin in her hands and braced her elbows against the mattress. “…I always seem to have so much on my mind. You know how much of a one-track mind I can have when I get stuck on something. And he’s too shy to initiate anything when he thinks he’s going to bother me. So we keep playing Tag, in a manner of speaking.”

“Always chasing, never meeting,” Fuu quoted softly.

“I know. It’s ridiculous. I really should just do something about it, shouldn’t I?” Umi said. She cocked her head to one side. “What do you think Ascot would do if I just pinned him to the wall and kissed the living daylights out of him?”

“I think he would either enjoy it…or he would spontaneously combust on the spot,” Fuu replied in a flat voice, prompting a few well-earned giggles.

“Maybe you could try that tactic on Ferio?” Umi waggled her eyebrows.

Fuu blushed furiously. “Th-that’s one of the thoughts that has crossed my mind…” She looked mortified.

Umi frowned. “…this is really bothering you, isn’t it?”

“Umi…you know I’m not one of ‘those girls,’ right? You know I don’t normally do things I shouldn’t. I’m a good girl. I’ve always been a good girl!” Fuu said in a rush, tilting her head back to look up at the ceiling. “So why am I thinking about things like this?”

“Involving Ferio?”

“Yes…”

“Well…you love him, don’t you?” Umi pointed out. “And you so rarely see each other, being from different worlds and all…” She shrugged. “I guess it makes some sense to me that you would want to make as much of the time you have together as you can.”

“But that’s not really me, is it?” Fuu persisted, then faltered. “I do love him, and like you said, I want to make the most of things…but can I really do…well…things like that?”

Umi couldn’t quite help herself. “Maybe there is a bad girl in you after all.”

Fuu’s blush would have made Rayearth himself envious.

“But now I’m thinking…” Umi rolled over onto her back. “Maybe that’s the reason I haven’t been a little more…well, forceful is the best word I can think of…about Ascot. Getting so emotionally involved when I know that it’s ultimately not going to go anywhere? Unless something changes, I mean.” She closed her eyes. “Not doing anyone any favors, am I?”

“It’s not easy for any of us,” Fuu said. “I’m certain that Hikaru feels the same way.”

“Sorry, this conversation is supposed to be about you…” Umi sighed. “I guess what it boils down to is that this is a situation where I really can’t tell you what to do. I can listen. But this is really between you and Ferio.” She cracked one eye open. “Do you think he’s thinking the same thing?”

“He might be…” Fuu said; she leaned her head back against the wall. “It feels different. I just feel like he’s thinking about something, and that might be it.” A sheepish grin crossed her face. “I sound so silly right, like some lovesick puppy.”

“Aren’t we all, Fuu?” Umi said with a chuckle. “Aren’t we all…”

-o-


“We just passed over the border into Cephiro,” Malia said. “Any sign of it?”

“Nothing yet…and I thought these things were supposed to change into a different form,” Kagura commented, glancing down at the serpentine being beneath her. Malia and Galen had been good enough to offer her a ride on this mission. She seemed a bit uncomfortable, sitting on the yellow mashin’s head in the open air.

“He does,” Malia said; one hand moved to brush a stray strand of dark hair from her forehead. “But he prefers this form, and there is no need yet for his other form. It will come in time. Besides, I rather enjoy the feel of the wind in my hair and the sound of it in my ears.”

Both of Kagura’s hands moved to the sides of her head to hold her long brown mane back. “You like the sound of it, huh?” she chuckled. Malia was a very kind person. How could she have ever thought that Umi was a better friend than these girls? “What does it sound like?”

“It depends,” Malia said, offering a shy smile. “Sometimes it howls. Sometimes it screams. Sometimes it speaks. And every now and then it sings. I like it best when it sings, though.”

“Are you two paying attention?” Nairi snapped.

“Of course,” Kagura said back, a bit harshly. “Sorilbran said that I would know when we found it.”

“Just checking,” she replied curtly.

Kagura sighed, annoyed, before turning back to Malia and admitting, “I’ve never heard the wind sing.”

“Then perhaps you are not listening correctly,” Malia said knowingly. “It is a beautiful song.”

Kagura opened her mouth to reply, but it was lost in a gasp. Her back straightened, and her eyes flared, first illuminating the bright purple that was their normal color, then changing to black. She closed her eyes and gave herself a shake before glancing around. “We’re close,” she whispered. “We’re very, very close.” Turning, she called to the others, “Head down! It’s nearby!”

As they all began their descent, Malia touched Kagura’s shoulder. “Are you all right?”

“I’m fine,” she brushed the hand aside. “Very eager to see this. After all,” she smirked, “I’m about to meet my destiny, aren’t I? It’s exciting.” She glanced down towards the ground, which was quickly growing closer, though not at an alarming pace. “I wonder what its name is…”

“I wonder why we’re doing this,” Cristal interjected. At the questioning looks from Malia and Kagura, she elaborated, “I respect that Kagura needs her partner if she is to be a true Magic Knight. But…it just seems so rushed. And I have the feeling that there’s something else going on that we’re missing.”

“Cristal…” Malia said in a warning tone. “Be careful.”

“Make no mistake,” Cristal said. “I trust Sorilbran. He has my loyalty.” She looked down towards the ground below. “I just wish I knew what exactly he was plotting with all of this.”

-o-


There was a knock on the door. Kannon moved to answer, and found a Guardsman standing outside in the corridor. “Begging the ladies’ pardon, but this arrived at the palace today,” the man said, bowing and holding out a white box.

Kannon took it. “Is it of importance?”

“Well, sir…” the man fidgeted, suddenly looking nervous. “It is addressed to the Knight of Selece.”

In the room behind Kannon, Umi’s head snapped around to stare towards the door.

Kannon quickly thanked the man and closed the door, bringing the box into the room and setting it on the table between the girls. “It seems that this is for you, Lady Umi,” he said, though there was definite bewilderment in his face and voice.

The box itself was fairly nondescript. It was plain white, with a lid rather than flaps, and a dark blue ribbon tied around it to keep the lid in place. There was a note tied to that ribbon which read For the Knight of Selece, just as the Guardsman had said. There were no other identifying marks or traces on the box to indicate a sender.

All in all, it was incredibly suspicious.

“A package delivered to a specific Magic Knight of Cephiro at the Aldarban palace in the midst of strange goings on,” Fuu murmured, then shook her head. “I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”

“I’m with Fuu,” Hikaru piped up. “Umi, you can’t open it.”

“It might not be my place to say so,” Caliana said softly, “but I agree with them.”

Umi nodded. “I know. But…we can’t just let it sit here. We have to know what’s inside it, don’t we?” She shifted uncomfortably. “It could be something important…it might be something that can help us.”

“Or it could be some horrible trap that will kill all of us,” Hikaru pointed out.

“We can’t just let it sit here!” Umi argued. “What if it explodes? Or there’s a spell? Or…I don’t know, some kind of Trojan Horse thing? We have to do something about it!” She ran a hand through her hair and huffed in obvious frustration. She looked like she was about ready to stamp her foot and pout.

Despite the potential seriousness of the situation and Umi’s obvious lack of calm at it all, seeing her like that was a fairly good sign. It was Umi acting like herself, rather than the withdrawn persona she had adopted since her confrontation with Kagura.

“I think all of you are right,” Michiko spoke up.

There was a communal start in the room as the deceased Knight of Windam appeared near the door. Fuu stood up and regarded her predecessor with a glare. “Don’t sneak up on us like that!” she said angrily. “I’ve had enough heart attacks to last me a while, thank you very much.”

“It builds character,” Michiko said lightly with a wave of her hand. Behind her, Sachi and Amaya had stepped through the wall (and that remained eerie, no matter how many times they saw the three ghosts do it) joined the group.

“What do you mean, we’re all right?” Hikaru asked, confused.

“I mean that we really shouldn’t open it because chances are that it’ll hurt or kill everyone,” Michiko explained. “But we have to open it…because chances are that it’ll hurt or kill everyone.”

“…it’s Schrödinger’s Parcel Delivery Service,” Fuu moaned, putting one hand to her forehead.

“Oh, for Creator’s sake!” Amaya huffed in a manner uncannily similar to Umi’s. She moved past her comrades and around to the table on which the box sat. It seemed out of proportion, that something so small and innocent-looking could cause so much trouble. “I’ll open it!”

“Amaya—“ Sachi started to speak, her tone cautious.

“Why not?” she asked. “It’s not like it can hurt me. There are so few spells out there that can hurt spirits that it’s not even worth worrying about. It’s safer to have me do it. And plus, even if it does somehow manage to hurt me, the rest of you will be safe—especially if Fuu’s willing to use her magic to shield it. And you are all far more important to this fight than I am. There’s more at stake if something happens to you. I’ve already died. And besides,” she grinned, “it’s addressed to me, isn’t it?”

“…I still don’t like it,” Sachi said after a moment. “But when you lay it out like that, it does make the most sense to have one of us three open it.” She glanced at Amaya. “If you’re volunteering…”

“I already said that I did.”

“All right, then everyone else needs to move away,” Michiko said, her tone authoritative. There were no arguments allowed. “Girls, come over here. Amaya, take it to the other side of the room. Fuu, if you would be so kind as to cast a shield…”

Fuu nodded, and when everyone had moved into place, she called her magic. “Mamori no Kaze…” The green winds swirled, creating a barrier between them and Amaya.

Michiko cast a glance at Caliana. “Princess, you might want to leave just in case this goes sour.”

Caliana hesitated, then shook her head. “I know I should, but I wish to see.” Kannon made no verbal comment on that, but moved to stand beside her; one of his hands moved protectively to her shoulder. She glanced back at him. The look that passed between them seemed to speak volumes without a word, and then she turned back to observe the scene. His hand remained firmly on her shoulder.

“Is everyone ready?” Amaya asked.

There was a chorus of nods and murmurs in reply.

“This all seems very melodramatic for something that should be so simple,” Fuu commented under her breath. This earned her a poke in the ribs from Umi and a stern look from Michiko. “What?” she replied, voice rising in pitch. “We’re opening a box. I mean, I know why we’re doing it like this, but…you have to admit that it’s a lot of pomp and circumstance for something very mundane.”

It was only now that Amaya seemed to hesitate; she frowned and just looked at the box for a moment. But she visibly squared her shoulders and untied the ribbon before lifting the lid on the box.

Everyone tensed.

But nothing happened.

Amaya looked down into the box and frowned again. “What in the world…?” she murmured, reaching down into the package and withdrawing a small sphere, smooth as glass and dark blue in color. It was exactly the right size to sit in the palm of her hand. She regarded it curiously. “How strange.”

There was a crackle. Amaya’s eyes widened, and she jumped back, startled. The ball fell from her hand to bounce on the rug at her feet. She frowned yet again and started to stoop to pick it up…but froze with her hand reached downwards when the sphere cracked open and smoke began pouring out. She took a step backwards, moving away from what now seemed a very real threat.

Outside the shield, weapons were being drawn. Everyone was at complete attention, fully alert.

As they all watched in horror, the smoke began to take form. It twisted and molded, eventually adopting a human shape. Soon, it began to take on human characteristics. Facial features became evident: a large, hooked nose protruded beneath dark eyes and overhung a sneering mouth, all set into a very fat face. A receding hairline. Clothes…

Before their very eyes, a man appeared. He was short, very rotund, and wore clothes of a style definitely not native to Cephiro, Aldarba, or any of the other lands they knew of in this world. If anything, it resembled the style of garb commonplace in Japan itself, albeit garb from hundreds of years ago. Still, his clothing appeared rich…though there was nothing else pleasant looking about him. His face was ugly, and his expression was leering and horrible.

And to everyone’s continuing amazement, the man spoke. His voice was slimy and laden with false sweetness, like someone trying to coax a child into some terrible act. And he was addressing…Amaya? “Come here, little pretty,” he said in that sickening tone. “Come to your husband.”

Umi glanced around in alarm, her hand tightening on the hilt of her sword. “Who the hell is—“ That was as far as she got before she was cut off by a terrible scream, one of the most horrible sounds any of them had ever heard.

The scream came from Amaya.

She was staring at the man, her eyes twice their normal size; she staggered back a couple of steps, never once taking her eyes from the image before her. “N-no…” she breathed. “G-get away…”

Suddenly, the man shot forward. He flew through Amaya, plowing straight through her chest, and vanished into thin air with a last leering cackle.

It seemed like that was the last straw for the Knight of Selece, and she collapsed to the ground, her hands pressed over her ears. She was rapidly flickering in and out of transparency, fading more with each passing second.

The room exploded. Fuu immediately dropped the shield. Michiko and Sachi were on the ground beside her in moments, screaming her name and shaking her. She did not respond at all, seemingly oblivious to the chaos erupting around her.

Umi stood stone still, staring at her predecessor. Who was that man? What had just happened?

But one thing was for certain—Amaya had been right.

The package was addressed to her.



PS. Hehehe…I liked writing that last part. CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT TIEM! Well, next chapter. Yes. Next chapter. Which is already in progress. Like I said—summerwrite. Doing 150,000 words in four months. There will be a LOT of work done on this story, possibly leading into the third part of the trilogy. I’m also trying to redo a couple of things on my outline XD So much to do! But anyway, thanks for reading, all! Much love!