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13 June 2008 @ 11:33 pm
Song of the Wind, ch. 10 (MKR)  
Title: Song of the Wind
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Word Count: 6688
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



“Whoever our enemy is,” Umi remarked as she drew her sword, “they need new writers. Good grief, can we get any less original? How many times does this make that they’ve done a frontal attack on the capital city or on us directly? Honestly…”

“I agree. It is getting rather tedious. But it doesn’t change the fact that we have to go out and do something about it,” Fuu countered. “So let’s go get this over with.” Fuu was actually rather annoyed at the impromptu call to arms. It seemed that she could not get a single moment alone with Ferio. Every single time they were sure they could have a moment just between the two of them, there was an attack or some matter needed Ferio’s attention or someone walked in and interrupted…

It was, to say the least, extremely frustrating. Even Fuu, who usually had the patience of an angel and the overall temperment of a saint, was starting to see red. She wasn’t asking for anything outrageous, was she? Just a few minutes with the man she loved!

But there was no more time to think about it. They had a job to do. Three cried words transformed them into three beams of colored light and summoned three legendary beings to join with the Magic Knights to take to the skies and fight on behalf of themselves and their allies.

The monsters in question appeared to be the same as before: big, hulking creatures, dark gray in color, with claws and teeth that looked more at home hanging out of a walrus’ mouth than anywhere else. And so they assumed that this meant another quick battle, as they had beaten these things before. Unless something had changed very dramatically, this was not much of a chore.

But as things tend to do, the three girls were in for a surprise.

They arrived on the battlefield and drew their swords…

And the lumpy gray beasts disappeared, vanishing into wafts of black smoke.

“…what just happened?” Hikaru piped up, glancing around. “They’re really gone?”

“It looks that way,” Umi said, eyes narrowing. This sudden change in the status quo gave her a very bad feeling, and she was on fullest alert. Something bad was about to happen.

“Fuu, what do you think?” Hikaru asked quietly.

Fuu opened her mouth to reply—

—and was promptly cut off when Hikaru screamed in pain as a barrage of ice shards materialized out of nowhere in a manner that reminded all three of them instantly of Alcyone. The spears sliced into both Rayearth and, by connection, his Knight, sending them both careening towards the ground. Deep gashes appeared on Hikaru’s arms and body, and there was blood…

They caught themselves before they hit the ground (though it was still a close call) and steadied themselves in the air. Hikaru was wincing violently, but she managed a weak smile at her teammates. “G-good thing my outfit’s red, huh?” she joked, panting heavily.

“Quite the comedian, aren’t you?”

This female voice came out of nowhere; it was unfamiliar, and as warm and friendly as the shards of ice that had nearly skewered Hikaru.

The Knight of Rayearth looked up, and found herself face to face with a large gray mashin. She could see the girl inside of it, but was unable to make out any features; she assumed that to be the one who had commented on her joke. The mashin was holding a sword that looked to be chiseled out of diamond; it took Hikaru a moment to piece together that it was probably a sword cast in ice.

Somehow, she doubted it would melt easily.

Rayearth’s voice rang in her ears, startling her as he boomed out a single word. “Hadrian…”

Hadrian?
Hikaru blinked. Is that its name?

She didn’t have much time to ponder the mystery, though, as the mysterious new mashin—Hadrian, she decided it must be called—lifted its sword and attacked. She drew her own sword and just managed to block the assault. Immediately she was on the defensive as the next blow fell. This mashin (and by default, she assumed, his Knight) were strong. Hikaru was in pain, but she had no other options at the moment. She had to fight.

Hikaru’s teammates weren’t just sitting on their thumbs, though. There hadn’t been much they could do when the ice-storm hit, as they were just as off-guard as Hikaru had been. But when the mashin appeared and attacked, Umi drew her own sword and started to fly down to help. If this stranger was going to ambush them, they had better be prepared for all three Magic Knights—

—the ground itself shifted—

—and Umi let out a yelp of surprise as the earth itself surged and rose up to grab her, catching Selece’s ankle and dragging her down. They crashed into the ground, and found that they were being held by fingers made of the very living dirt and rock. At this rate, they would be buried, and quickly.

It took some effort and an iron-will exercise of her magic, but it turned out that mud did not possess as solid a grip as dirt, and she and Selece broke free to face their own attacker: a large being—a mashin, dark brown in color.

“Damek…” Umi heard Selece’s voice, and that was all before she and Selece counterattacked.

Now the only one of her team unengaged, Fuu was wavering as to who she should assist first, but her attention was drawn away by a streak of lightning that shot through the air in front of her. Strangely enough, it was far enough away from her that she knew it had not been intended to hit her; the one who controlled the storms had hit Umi while she was moving. And as moving targets were far harder to hit, it stood to reason that her opponent-to-be was far too good a shot to have missed her like that when she was a perfectly stationary target.

She looked up, and sure enough, there was a shadow moving above the clouds. And Fuu was willing to lay money that she knew who was up there. “Windam…let’s go,” she whispered, trying to steel herself for whatever was to happen. Together, mashin and Magic Knight surged upwards through the clouds, breaking into the sky and what was undoubtedly to be their battlefield.

The being before her was definitely a mashin, golden yellow in color. To Fuu’s eyes, there was no mistaking it: it was the serpent she had seen before. Which meant that the girl was there as well, probably resting inside the being just as Fuu herself sat inside Windam. A closer look proved her right; she could see the girl’s outline nestled within the heart of her mashin.

Before she could venture a question, the being attacked with lightning, and Fuu defended herself with wind. There were no swords used in their fight, and as a result, their magic roared across the heavens, the vengeance of an angry storm god. They were evenly matched, and neither gained an upper hand.

After a time, both fell back in a momentary respite.

Fuu took advantage of the standstill to call out to her opponent. “Wait! Who are you? Who are you working for?” The words echoed in the space between them, and she wondered if her enemy could even hear her. Or if she heard the words, would she answer?

To her surprise, the girl replied, and her words were as clear as if they were standing in the same room; this had to be because of the mashin. “My name is Malia,” she said. “I am the Knight of Galen.”

Galen…that was the mashin’s name, then. “I am Fuu,” she replied, feeling a strange obligation to do so. “The Knight of Windam. It’s nice to finally have a name for you. But why are you doing this?”

“As before, I am acting under orders,” Malia said with that same calm.

And she attacked again.

The rest of Fuu’s questions were lost as they began their fight anew. As before, neither gained the upper hand over the other. They were even matched in power and skill, and it seemed that they could fight like this forever and never choose a victor. The only question Fuu really needed an answer to was who Malia was taking orders from—that person, it seemed, was their true enemy. And these three, along with their mysterious commander, undoubtedly had a strong hand in Kagura’s change of heart.

But their fight was abruptly stopped when another voice interrupted. This one was male and authoritative, and rolled across the sky like thunder, eclipsing all other sounds. “RETURN TO MY SIDE.”

Immediately, Malia and the mashin called Galen fell back. Fuu was startled enough to do the same. “W-wait!” she called out. “Who are you—“ She stopped when they turned to leave in accordance with the order given by the male voice.

But Fuu was surprised when Malia turned back slightly. She paused, seeming to hesitate, and then said a single word, a name: “Sorilbran.” And with that, she vanished, taking off across the sky as fast as the lightning she had the power to control.

-o-


“What was that?” Hikaru asked, giving her arm an experimental stretch and happily finding it free from pain, courtesy of a touch of Fuu’s healing magic. “That was insane.”

Umi turned and winced as the motion unintentioally jostled an injury. “I don’t know what it was…” she managed to say the words relatively calmly, though her face was pale and tight with pain. She had fought one hell of a fight against the one who had attacked her, an uphill battle. “But I say they’re cowards. Ambushing us like that…that’s the only reason that thing got the upper hand like that.”

“Hold still,” Fuu ordered; she sounded tired, but she still raised a hand and used her magic. The green wind washed over Umi, and where it touched, her injuries vanished and her wounds mended themselves. That done, she sat back and unceremoniously flopped onto her bed. “I’m sorry that I’m not more social, but my head is spinning.”

Hikaru bounced over and sat down on the bed beside her reclining friend, opting to flop onto her stomach. “You saw that girl again, right? Did you find out anything else about her or anything else?”

“Her name is Malia. Her mashin is Galen. And she is working for someone named Sorilbran,” Fuu rattled off the three names she had gleaned from their short encounter. “We fought. We’re fairly balanced in terms of power and skill. Her power…” Fuu frowned; she had been thinking on this for a while. “Her primary attack uses lightning, but if she is also controlling those clouds, then I think her power seems to be over storms or weather. But most important is that name she gave me. Sorilbran…”

“Maybe we could ask Caliana? Or Amaya?” Hikaru suggested. “Maybe they know?”

“Amaya hasn’t been showing herself much lately,” Umi said quietly. It was true; since the mysterious gift and Umi’s subsequent journey into Amaya’s mind and memories, the deceased Knight of Selece had made herself quite scarce. There were any number of reasons for this, and whatever the case was, Umi did not feel that it was her place to seek out or question. “But we could ask Caliana.”

“What I can’t figure out,” Fuu said, propping herself up on her elbows, “is why that girl, Malia, would tell us anything at all. What possible benefit could there be for her to even give us that name? Is it some sort of a trap? Or is she actually trying to help us?”

“She attacked us repeatedly, and she kidnapped Umi,” Hikaru said with a frown. “If she’s trying to help us, she’s got a really weird way of doing it. Because where I come from, zapping someone with lightning and dropping them into a tornado is hurting, not helping. Like…the poster-child of not helping.”

“Maybe it is a trap,” Umi said, tackling the other idea Fuu had thrown out. “Lull us into a false sense of security, as melodramatic as it sounds? Or as they say in the old mystery novels, could it be a red herring and have absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on? Given what’s happened with them so far, I don’t think we can really write off any possibilities until we have more information.”

“I think we need to find out who Sorilbran is,” Fuu said. “It’s a clue, regardless of how good or bad of a clue it is. Either way, it’s a starting place.” She sat upright and leaned her head back, looking up at the ceiling. “But it’s still bothering me. Every single time I’ve seen that girl—that I’ve seen Malia, I should say—something about her has seemed really, really off. And I can’t place what it is. But I feel like it’s something important.” She closed her eyes. “What am I missing?”

“You’ve said that before—about something seeming wrong about her,” Umi pointed out. “Just relax, take a deep breath, and try not to think about it too much. You’re smart, Fuu. If it’s really important, it’ll come to you sooner or later.” She put a hand on Fuu’s shoulder. “In the meantime, let’s just see what we can find out about this Sorilbran character. And maybe…” her expression grew more somber, “maybe we’ll find out if he has anything to do with what happened to Kagura.”

No matter what else happened in this fiasco, Umi would not forget about her friend. And she would not forget her promise and her mission to find out what had happened to Kagura, and save her from whatever dark fate it was that loomed before her. Especially if that fate concerned a mashin and a sword cast of Escudo.

-o-


Sorilbran looked up as Nairi stormed in, looking as furious as any of them had ever seen her. She marched right up to him, bobbing her head in a respectful bow before she spoke. “Lord Sorilbran,” she said, tone wavering with restrained anger, “why did you stop us? Why did you not let us fight?” Behind her, Cristal and Malia watched and waited for the reply.

“Because, my dear Nairi,” he replied calmly, seemingly unfazed by her fury, “I wanted to see the strength of those three vipers, and to make them aware that whatever their strength, it is nothing compared to ours. Ultimately, the eradication of the Magic Knights of Cephiro is not your job.”

Nairi opened her mouth to speak again, but was cut off by another female voice.

“I agree. It is mine.”

Nairi’s brown hair swung in a wide arc around her as she whipped around to glare at Kagura, who had appeared in the doorway. She was clad from head to toe in black, including her armor. She looked a bit different than she had before, though. Her eyes were harder, and her smile (more of a smirk, really) lacked any of the friendliness it had held before her meeting with Umi in the corridor.

“Yours?” Nairi said, her tone tight.

“The Knight of Selece is my target, and no one else’s,” Kagura said, stepping into the room. “The other two are mere bonuses. They will try to get in my way, and so I will deal with them as I deal with any annoyance.” She tossed her own dark hair back. “They are nothing.”

“…I think everyone needs to calm down,” Cristal spoke up, her voice strong and bearing only a tiny waver to betray her emotions. “It does no good for us to fight amongst ourselves. We all have the same ultimate goal, and it will ultimately benefit all of us.”

Her words managed to dispell some of the tension in the room. Only Nairi still looked ill at ease.

Cristal crossed to Kagura. “Come with me—you must hear of what happened out there.” Amazingly enough, Kagura’s expression lightened, and she and Cristal walked off together, chattering amiably about the fight the others had just returned from. She seemed particularly interested in hearing of Nairi’s attack on Umi, and how the earth threatened to swallow Selece up completely.

Malia hesitated, then ducked her head and followed after them, hurrying down the corridor. She hadn’t gone too far before a voice called her name, and she stopped and turned back to the source of it.

Nairi had followed her, arms folded. “Malia, I have a question,” she said in that same tight, carefully controlled tone of voice. “About Kagura, specifically. She is not one of us. She is not a sister to us as you are to me and as we are to Cristal. Do you think she can truly be trusted? Is there any true guarantee that she will not betray us and return to the Magic Knights of Cephiro?”

Malia listened silently to all of the questions, then regarded Nairi with a cool gaze and answered her in a voice soft enough to only be heard between the two of them. “I understand that you resent what you perceive to be Kagura’s growing influence with Sorilbran. The fact is that she is not a part of our team as you and I and Cristal are. However, she is also not the one with the influence. She is squarely under Sorilbran’s thumb. And for that reason, no. I do not think she will betray us.”

“Malia—”

“Kagura isn’t the one I worry about in terms of betrayal,” Malia added, turning to walk away. “There is another who I fear will turn on us before she would even dream of it.”

As Malia left, Nairi’s eyes bore a suspicious hole in her back.

-o-


As the sun set beyond the garden walls, Hikaru was forced to use a bit of her magic to light the nearby torches, as the palace servants had not yet done so. It wasn’t a big thing, really. It just served to remind her exactly how much time had passed since they had first taken seats out here to read the book Fuu had found in the Royal Library. The book itself was one of legends, encompassing all worlds.

There was something slightly strange about seeing the story of the Magic Knights detailed anywhere other than Cephiro, but Fuu had to chuckle at the descriptions. Wielding swords of fire was definitely a Rayearth trait, not one shared by all three of the Knights.

The story of Light and Dark was outlined there, exactly as it had been told to them by Michiko. The two beasts had fought for supremacy, creating a third being in the process. The third being was neither of the Light nor of the Dark, but bore aspects of both. That third beast calmed the two, and the quarrel was ended. But there would come a time when one would awaken the two, and their battle would resume. That person was refered to as the Promised.

Fuu was holding the book, reading aloud to Hikaru; it was a comfortable, intimate moment between two friends. She read the legend up to that point…but was surprised to find that there was more to the story. While Hikaru mumbled something about the legend as she knew it, Fuu scanned the rest of the tale as outlined in the book.

And immediately made the decision to not share that part of the story with Hikaru. She quickly plastered a smile on her face, albeit a shaky one, and nodded quickly at what Hikaru was saying. But inside, she was trembling. This couldn’t be…

She was proud, though, that her hands only shook a little bit as she quickly paged through the book, eager to find something else. A page turned beneath her fingers, and she paused as a picture met her eyes. It portrayed a large being, unmistakably a mashin, and one she immediately recognized by its golden yellow color.

“Galen…” she murmured, tilting the book to show Hikaru while her eyes scanned over the caption. How she could read the words, inscribed in what was undoubtedly Aldarban, she did not know or understand, but she was not going to question it. Perhaps it was the same magic by which she could read in Cephirean, or understand the Cephirean tongue despite it being drastically different from her own native Japanese.

“What else does it say?” Hikaru asked.

Fuu lifted the book and once again started to read, skimming over the text before she actually spoke. “It tells a story, and a very familiar one. Three girls from another world will be brought to join with the three gods to fight. Ring any bells?”

“That’s our story!”

“Ah, but this one is different. It doesn’t say anything about them fighting for a Pillar or a king or queen or anything like that. It just says that they’ll fight…and that’s all,” Fuu read on. “It’s actually pretty vague about what exactly their purpose is. But it does say something interesting. The gods those three are to join with are the gods of earth, lightning, and ice.”

Hikaru processed this for a moment. “That makes sense. I was hit with ice shards, Umi was nearly swallowed up by the ground, and you already said that you thought that Malia girl could control the weather. So they really are Magic Knights?”

“It seems so.”

“But where does Kagura fit into all of this? And what about that Sorilbran person?”

“There is absolutely nothing on that,” Fuu sighed, closing the book. “There were mentions of that thing that possessed Xander before. Shadow is what the others called it. But not enough information to really be of any use to us just yet.” She handed the book to Hikaru. “I just don’t know anymore.”

Hikaru looked like she was about to say something, but her gaze shifted to something above Fuu’s head, and her expression changed to a sizable grin. “You know…I just remembered that I was going to go bother Lantis for a while. Bye, Fuu!” And she was up and running off towards the palace in a hurry.

“What in the world…” Fuu murmured, but turned at the sound of a chuckle behind her. She knew who it was before her eyes fell on him, and she grinned. “Sneaking up on me now, I see?

Ferio grinned. “If it works, I’ll give it a shot.” He was leaning against a tree, but straightened and moved to sit beside her, taking the spot that Hikaru had occupied a mere moment before. “I just heard the end of your conversation, but it sounds like you’re finding some things.”

“I can’t help but think that everything we need to know is buried in the legends,” she said, letting a hint of frustration finally worm its way into her tone. “But the stories are so old! Unless we can find a historian or someone to sift through everything and tell us what’s real and what’s myth, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to really get it figured out. And this is a world where anything can happen…” She forced herself to stop and take a deep breath.

“We could ask about a historian, perhaps? I don’t know how much good it would do, but it’s something, isn’t it?” Ferio suggested thoughtfully. “We could probably go ask right now.”

Fuu opened her mouth to agree, then faltered. “Actually…” She felt a bit guilty for what she was about to say, but… “Let’s ask tomorrow instead. First thing in the morning.”

He looked surprised. “Why tomorrow?”

“Because this is the first uninterrupted conversation we’ve had since we got here, and I’d like to continue it for a while longer,” she said, feeling herself blush.

An arm slid around her shoulders. “I agree.”

That was all he said before he drew her to him and kissed her.

They had been like that for perhaps a few seconds when a voice called out from the gates that led into the Palace proper. “Lady Fuu? Lady Fuu, your presence is requested!”

Ferio leaned back, looking more frustrated than she had ever seen him. “Oh, for Creator’s sake…” he muttered, running a hand through his hair before giving her a wry look. “And here I was hoping that being away from Cephiro would give us a chance to spend a little more time together…”

Fuu glanced around. She could still hear her name being called, but…one of the reasons she and Hikaru had chosen this spot was because it was private. They could talk without being easily discovered. And as Ferio was now sitting where Hikaru had been, that same cover still existed. In short, if they were quiet, they would not be readily found.

“You probably want to—OOF!” Ferio started to rise, but was cut off when Fuu grabbed the front of his tunic and pulled him to her in an uncharacteristically forward move. “F-Fuu?”

She grinned, feeling guilty and giddy at the same time. “They can wait a while.”

-o-


From her viewpoint, Umi smiled as she watched her friends. They had invited her to go with them down to the gardens, but she had offered a plea of weariness and abstained from because she simply wanted to be alone for a while. She knew that she could have said that exactly and been just fine, but she didn’t want them to worry any more than they already had.

Still, she was fairly sure that she hadn’t fooled them. But the ploy had worked in the end. She was safe in her room, alone, and had been for a while, just staring out over the gardens, not really letting herself think about anything. After a while, she decided that maybe she did feel like a bit of company after all, and she started to straighten up with the intention of going down there to join them.

But that plan was shot in the foot when she saw Ferio approach. A moment later, Hikaru made a very quick exit, and despite her idea of going out to the gardens to hang out with them, Umi couldn’t help but chuckle at Hikaru’s perceptiveness. And she also made her exit, turning away from her balcony and moving back into her own room.

It was probably for the best. To be honest, it didn’t seem that Fuu and Ferio were getting a whole lot of time to themselves. Best to leave them be and just continue her little internal monologue. It wasn’t like she would be the best of company after all. Maybe she could go bother Hikaru later.

This tended to happen when something was bothering her: she became a hermit. Last time, that attitude had very nearly killed her when the darkness had crept closer and found her alone and too afraid to seek help. She had become a pawn in one of the most horrifying moments of her life.

Umi flopped over onto the bed—a large, luxurious one, and exceedingly comfortable—and slung one arm across her eyes to block out the light from the fire. The fireplace, when coupled with the lamps hung around the room, did a surprisingly good job of keeping the place lit. The room was as bright as any electric light could have made it.

She was finally hauling herself out of bed to put those lights out with every intention of changing and crawling right back into the bed to sleep when there was a knock at the door. Briefly wondering if it was Hikaru, Umi hurried across the room and answered. But it wasn’t Hikaru.

It was Ascot. Who looked extremely nervous, his long fingers toying nervously with the sleeves of his robe. He blushed a little and managed, “I just wanted to see how you were doing…”

Umi smiled and stepped to one side, gesturing with one hand. “Come in. Please.” He did so, and she closed the door behind him, feeling a twang of guilt. She hadn’t made much time for the summoner since they had returned to Cephiro, and even less since their arrival in Aldarba. And what had she just been thinking about Fuu and Ferio not getting enough time together? “I’m sorry, Ascot,” she said softly; she walked towards him and reached out to take one of his hands in both of her own. “I really haven’t been spending any time with you, have I?”

“It’s all right,” he seemed to be relaxing now, which she took to be a good sign. He was always so shy around her; she wanted him to be comfortable around her. “You’ve had…other things on your mind.”

“Still…”

“M-maybe I could help?” he offered, a hint of the stutter returning. “I don’t know what I can do, but...”

Umi tilted her head to one side. “I’d ask you to listen, but you might wind up being here all night.”

Now it was Ascot’s turn to smile. “I can listen. As long as you want.” He shifted nervously, and she had the sudden impression that he would have agreed to do just about anything if it meant time together. And she felt guilty again.

Umi took his hand. “Thank you.” She pulled him towards the bed and again flopped down onto it without ceremony. “Before you even ask,” she said, her voice muffled by the thick comforter, “this is the most comfortable spot in the room. That’s why.”

After a moment, she felt the mattress depress as a person’s weight lowered onto it. She lifted her head, and couldn’t quite keep herself from chuckling when she saw that Ascot had perched on the very edge of the bed, back ramrod straight. It was like he was afraid that he would somehow break it if he actually sat on it or something.

Umi rolled over to lay on her back, her head just touching his leg. “Relax. It’s just me.”

“…that’s why I’m nervous,” he said in a surprisingly dry voice.

This time she laughed out loud. “Okay, okay, point made. But really, you can relax. I’m not going to bite.” She had to fight the urge, but she managed not to say anything to the effect of ‘unless you want me to.’ That would probably send him running…and when had she started thinking like that?

…probably since that little conversation she’d had with Fuu regarding such a matter?

Still, some of the tension left Ascot’s shoulders, and he did visibly start to calm down. She nodded. “Much better. So are the keepers and the stableboys giving you a break at all?”

“Ehehe…” Ascot’s nervous chuckle spoke volumes. “They’re very interested in my friends.”

“I can imagine so. It doesn’t seem like they have anything like that around here,” she sighed as she remembered. “…Kagura didn’t really seem too fond of them at first either, did she? I seem to recall her screaming her head off. And Takeshi didn’t do much better…”

Ascot frowned. “Umi…”

Umi sighed. “You know…I can’t ever remember Kagura not being there. Ever since we were kids. We went to the same school, were in the same classes…we both were members of the fencing club, so we could practice together a lot. If our parents had to go somewhere for business, we would wind up crashing together at one of our houses. The only time she wasn’t there was…well, it was Cephiro. When we came here the first two times, I mean. But I did have Hikaru and Fuu, at least…”

He was silent.

“And it hurt,” she went on, closing her eyes. Suddenly, she was glad for someone to talk to, and he seemed a very willing listener. “I know she was worried—she and Takeshi both, really. And she was following me around, poking me and asking me what had happened and where was my head and why was I walking into the wall—true story, by the way, I was in a bit of a daze.”

She was pleased to hear him chuckle slightly.

“When we came back here the second time…that was when the cloud kind of lifted. And she noticed that too. And she kept asking and kept poking for a while. Eventually she stopped, but I knew she never stopped wondering about that. And I couldn’t bring myself to tell her about it, even though I knew that of everyone I knew, she was the most likely to at least try to believe me. She wouldn’t immediately think I’d lost my marbles and rush me off to play hide-n-seek with the men in the white coats.”

A glance up at Ascot proved that he had no idea what she was talking about. “If a person loses their mind or goes crazy to the point where they’re a danger, they are sometimes put in a special hospital,” she explained. “And the doctors there traditionally wear white coats.”

“I see…”

“…maybe Kagura was right,” Umi said after a moment’s thought. “Maybe I didn’t trust her enough to tell her. Maybe I wasn’t sure that she wouldn’t just call me nuts. I mean…she’d probably try to rationalize it as a dream or something, I’m sure, but…” She closed her eyes. “Maybe I didn’t trust her after all. And maybe she realized it when she couldn’t get me to tell her what happened…” Her next words were barely a whisper. “Maybe I’m really not that good of a friend…”

“If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be this worried about her,” Ascot pointed out.

“…we have been through a lot together…” Umi murmured.

“Like what?”

Umi was silent a moment. “…Kagura had an older brother, six years older than her. His name was Kazuma. He was one of those all-around nice people, you know? Always had a nice thing to say, wouldn’t turn down anyone who needed a hand…almost impossibly nice. Kagura adored him. We both did, really. I think he was actually my first crush, way back when. And I think he knew it. Doubt I was too careful about hiding it. He probably thought it was silly, but he never said anything.”

She paused again. “He died when we were fifteen—about a year after we came to Cephiro the second time, actually. He went out to run an errand, and never made it home. Hit and run accident. I didn’t find out about it until her parents called our house in a panic, asking if we’d seen her. She heard the news and ran out of the house. In the middle of the night in a storm. So I did what any fifteen-year-old without the capacity to think things through would do. I grabbed a flashlight and ran out there to look for her, ignoring the fact that my parents were screaming their heads off.”

“What happened?”

“I found her. Don’t know how, but I did. She wasn’t thinking clearly—hell, neither was I. But I got her calmed down. I got her home. Her parents were hysterical. They got me home. I didn’t see her for a while after that…” Umi trailed off. She remembered overhearing a conversation between her parents about therapy. “When she came back to school…she never talked about him again. And it was a long time before she was back to normal. And it was my turn to stand there and feel helpless while my best friend struggled. I bet that’s how she felt…it’s how I feel now.”

She glanced up at Ascot with a sad smile. “I’m sorry. I really am babbling now, aren’t I?”

He actually smiled and shook his head. “No. Not at all.”

“Ascot…” Umi was about to say more, but his name was punctuated by a yawn that threatened to split her face in half. She gave him a sheepish look. “Maybe it’s bedtime after all.” She sat up and got to her feet. “Thanks for listening. I just needed to vent a little, I think.”

He flushed a little and let her lead him back towards the door. But before he could open it, she caught his arm and turned him, gently pushing his back against the door. “Before you go…”

And she kissed him.

It took a moment for his arms to find their way around her in turn, and she smiled into the kiss. After a moment, she leaned back, smiling up at him. “We’ll spend more time together. I promise. Time that doesn’t involve me babbling like that.”

Ascot’s face was as red as Hikaru’s hair. “Y-yes. I’d l-like that…” he swallowed hard. “Well, goodnight!” He turned to leave…and promptly ran into the door. He staggered back immediately, clutching his nose.

“Are you okay?” Umi was torn between concern and laughter. She wound up being unable to hold back all the giggles as she opened the door for him, and gave him another kiss on the cheek as he left her room. “Goodnight…”

-o-


It had been bothering Malia ever since that discussion she and the others had had with Kagura. It was nothing that had ever bothered her before, but now it kept niggling at her and worming further into her mind to permeate her thoughts.

…why can’t I remember anything?

She remembered waking up in this place, and finding herself deemed a Magic Knight. It was then that she met Sorilbran, whom she now called her Lord. And she met the others, Nairi and Cristal. They trained together, learning to fight and use their magic. Sorilbran had cared for them and taught them. In return, he demanded loyalty, and that loyalty was given, and given freely and completely.

Her entire world since then had consisted of this place and the few people who resided here. She knew nothing of what had come before that. And that was what bothered her—why couldn’t she remember? What had happened to take those memories from her?

It seemed that she was the only one who wondered about it. Cristal and Kagura had become very fast friends; the two spent a fair amount of time in each other’s company. And Nairi…Nairi, whose loyalty to Sorilbran was by far the strongest, and who was growing jealous of Kagura’s position.

Things were turning into a mess, worse than they had ever been before. There had been bickering before, but nothing like the divide that separated them now. Hadn’t Sorilbran said that bringing Kagura here would not only help her to fulfill her destiny, but it would bring peace to the troubled waters that existed amidst the three of them.

That had not come to pass.

And Malia was having difficulty puzzling this whole mess out.

She glanced down at the stone pool. She had been spending a lot of time here, thinking on these things and many others. On a whim, she touched the water, and an image rippled and solidified before her eyes on the mirrored surface.

It was a moment from the past, but it showed four girls: the Magic Knights of Cephiro, plus Kagura. She knew their names to be Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu. The four of them looked a bit younger than they did now, as this was from perhaps a few years ago. The four were walking along some busy road, surrounded by buildings. They were talking happily with each other, laughing about some comment that the red-haired one—Hikaru, she remembered—had just made.

They looked so happy. Friends.

…almost like sisters.

This is what they had taken Kagura away from. These were the people that Kagura claimed to be her enemies, the ones who had tried to destroy her. And now they would fight to take her back.

And not for the first time, Malia found herself questioning the mission that had been laid before her. But she kept those thoughts to herself. To question was to disobey, and to disobey was to betray, and Sorilbran tolerated nothing less than complete loyalty.

And yet…



PS. I have a whole mental backstory for most of my original characters. It’s fun that way. So here we are, chapter ten. Not much else to say, except that I am owning summerwrite in the face. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!