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22 June 2008 @ 12:19 am
Song of the Wind, ch. 11 (MKR)  
Title: Song of the Wind
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Word Count: 6829
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



“Michiko, I know you’re there. Show yourself.”

A bit startled at being called out in such a manner—and by Fuu, of all people—the former Knight of Windam allowed herself to become visible and regarded her successor with much curiosity. “You seem upset. Is something wrong?”

Fuu walked towards her, a book in her hand; her face was set into an uncharacteristically hard expression. “When you told us the story of the Promised, you left out one little detail, didn’t you?” There was no mistaking the carefully restrained anger in her eyes and voice. She opened the book as she walked, and held it out, pointing to a certain page. “This part right here.”

Michiko took it, already knowing exactly what she was going to see on that page. Sure enough, there it was, in ornately scripted black and white. The one part of the story she had neglected to tell them. She sighed and lowered the book. “Fuu…you can understand why I didn’t—“

“On the one hand, I can. But on the other hand, given how much this affects us? Especially how much it will affect Umi?” Fuu growled. “I still can’t decide if it’s forgivable or not. But I though you should know that I know. I haven’t told the others yet. But I’m going to, next chance I get. Because they deserve to know the entire truth of the matter, if this story is to be believed.” She took the book back. “And this world does have a nasty habit of having their legends be all too true.”

With that, she turned on her heel and walked away.

-o-


Ever since the spell that had trapped her within her own memories, Amaya had been conspicuously absent from the gatherings and group discussions over the incidents occurring in Aldarba and who Sorilbran was. Given her usual personality and candor, as well as her surprising degree of insight into such matters, her presence was very much missed.

But at the same time, no one could begrudge her for it.

On one occasion, Sachi murmured to Hikaru that Amaya was staying on the other side of the veil, in the Spirit Realm. She was frequently present at their discussions, but she remained silent and hidden. In fact, she was being very quiet, period. Not even Michiko’s gentle words or Sachi’s more sarcastic cajoling could draw her out of her shell.

Again, no one could truly blame her. Amaya’s story had been forcibly dragged from her—a tale that she had kept very much a secret, and guarded from all save a precious few. And the anguish and trauma that she had been forced to endure were now known to far more people than she wanted. It had to be humiliating, and so she stayed away, keeping quiet and sulking alone.

It was because of this that Umi was startled to walk into her room and see her predeccesor sitting in one of the chairs beside the fireplace, where a conscientious servant had left a nice fire burning. Amaya did not look up or give any indication that she was aware that she had company, but Umi knew that her presence had been noted. She didn’t know exactly how she knew, but she did.

“Amaya?” she said softly as she approached.

The deceased Knight was still a moment longer, then looked up at Umi with an arched brow. “I’m not intruding on anything, am I?” When Umi shook her head, Amaya gestured toward a second chair. “If you’re not busy…join me?” There was an unusually plaintive note in her voice. Pleading.

Umi sat immediately, regarding her with concern. “Are you okay? We’ve been worried…”

Amaya waved a hand. “I’m dead, bright one. Once you’ve reached that state, saying you’re okay doesn’t carry as much weight.” It was an attempt at a jest, but there was something beneath it. Her hand fell back to the armrest, and her expression grew more morose. “To be honest…I just want to talk to someone. And who better than you?” She looked down. “Michiko and Sachi…they’ve heard this before. Far too many times.” A glance at Umi. “Do you understand?”

“I do,” Umi smiled. “I may not seem it at first, but I am a good listener.”

The relief was visible, both in Amaya’s face and in her posture; she visibly relaxed and settled back against the chair, apparently a bit more comfortable now that she knew she would not be rejected or chased away outright. “I know I haven’t been the most social being as of late…”

“No one holds it against you,” Umi pointed out. “A secret of yours was made a matter of public knowledge. Well, to a small group of people, at least. But it’s still your secret, and it shouldn’t have to be shared unless you want it to be shared. To be honest, if I were you, I probably would have sulked for a whole lot longer. You’re more resilient than me.”

“I doubt that, given how fast I’ve seen you bounce back from things. Or rather, you pretend to bounce back,” Amaya replied, her gaze shifting to the fire. “Forgive the intrusion, but I did overhear part of your conversation with the young summoner the other night. You know what it’s like to be the one who worries and the one who fears. So I suspect that you try to come back from problems as quickly as possible so as not to cause worry for those around you. Am I right?”

Umi stared at her for a moment before her gaze dropped and her expression became overcast. “I’m not very good at it, really. Fuu can always see right through me. Hikaru knows, that damned instinctive thing she has going on. And Kagura…well, she just knows me too well. Same for Takeshi. They could take one look at me and tell me my smile was fake, so knock it off.”

“Hmm…Sachi and Michiko do that to me all the time,” Amaya chuckled. “Clef did too, in his own way. He never came right out and said anything, but he had that look. That little raised eyebrow look that said he was looking right past whatever façade I was trying to put up. I couldn’t fool them at all. But…” Her expression softened, “…it was quite some time before I let Clef get that close.”

Umi nodded, sensing that the real reason Amaya needed to talk was about to come out.

“I’ve told you how hard it was to get close to Sachi and Michiko. When you have three people, all with emotional baggage and trust issues…there are walls. All three of us had them, and when all three of them were layered…it’s a wonder we even spoke to each other at first,” Amaya leaned back in her chair.

“Was there something that helped break those walls?”

“Eterna, actually. The damnable Spring of Eterna,” Amaya chuckled dryly. “Michiko has always been the wisest of the three of us. I think it’s a Knight of Windam thing, you know? Your girl, Fuu…she’s brilliant. I’ve heard you say so yourself. Michiko was the same way. And she was the one who realized it first, that we would have to figure out a way to work together. In the Spring of Eterna, she was faced with the two of us—Sachi and me. And we were attacking her. Each of us wound up facing the other two.”

“Eterna shows you people you value and care about…” Umi murmured, remembering her own experience in the two-dimensional spring, when the shades of her parents had attacked her.

“She was the one who put two and two together, and realized that she needed us and we needed her,” Amaya went on. “And she also realized that while we might not trust her, we had no reason to attack her like we seemed to be doing. And she fought back, and won her Escudo. Sachi and I…we heard her voice, and we understood. That was the turning point for us in Cephiro, though it was still a very long time before we spoke of some things.”

“I can’t even imagine that. It wasn’t hard to trust Fuu and Hikaru,” Umi said. “Both out of necessity and because they seemed to be genuinely nice people.”

“I was the last one to tell my story. Michiko told hers first, of course. Sachi opened up one night after she had a nightmare and woke up screaming and crying. I won’t tell you their stories, as they’re not mine to tell. But mine…” she sighed. “I told them my tale the night before we faced the Pillar, Sapphira. I was convinced that after they heard it, they would leave me behind. Who would want someone like me guarding their back?”

“But it didn’t work out that way,” Umi said.

“Not even remotely. I didn’t even realize I was crying until Sachi hugged me. I thought I had forgotten how to cry. And you know the rest—we did our duty to the Pillar, and begged to stay in Cephiro to protect the new Pillar, Emeraude. Our wishes were granted, and the rest is history,” Amaya paused at the look on Umi’s face. “Or perhaps it is not history. You have questions.”

“I was wondering how you got close to Clef,” Umi asked after a moment’s hesitation.

“Ah, yes…” Amaya actually managed a slight smile. “We met when he was being trained in the use of his magic at the Palace. We told you about how that worked before, right?” At Umi’s nod, she continued. “We lived there as well. The protectors of the Pillar and of Cephiro, as well as…well, pretty much every other job you can imagine, we did at some point. We all had a lot of friends, but surprisingly few of those friends were very close friends. And Clef was one of two being considered for the title of Guru. So we found ourselves working together quite often.”

“Is this a ‘one thing led to another’ kind of thing?”

“In a way. You know he can be quite stubborn,” Amaya chuckled. “And at the risk of sounding like a bad shoujo manga, at some point I just fell. I was tired of being alone, and we had grown close enough that I knew he was a good man. And…well, long story short—“

“Too late,” Umi grinned cheekily.

“Smartass.”

“Better than the alternative.”

“Anyway,” Amaya rolled her eyes. “After all was said and done, he pursued me until I caught him.” She slid down in her chair and sighed. “But…I did tell him my story before we were to marry. I thought he had a right to know what kind of—I mean, exactly who he was binding himself to. I told him everything.”

“Judging by what I already know, he didn’t run away,” Umi shifted, putting her back against one arm of the chair and swinging her legs over the other arm. “He and I might not have gotten off on the right foot, but he is a good guy.” She paused. “I think he still misses you.”

“I know…but there is another for him now,” Amaya said knowingly. “He just needs to let go and let himself see it. She is a good person as well. And I think they would be very happy together.”

“Presea, right?” Umi said, offering a knowing smile that was identical to the one Amaya wore.

“The pharle? Yes.”

“I’m not the only one who noticed.”

Amaya shook her head. “No, you aren’t. I think Clef himself is the only one who hasn’t noticed it. But he needs to, and soon. Besides, I won’t be spending my entire afterlife floating around the Palace. Sooner or later, the three of us will move on.”

“Why are you still here, anyway?” Umi asked. “I mean, I enjoy your company, but Xander is gone. Isn’t that why you were still here? To make sure he didn’t get away with what he was planning?”

“Not exactly,” Amaya said. “When we died, we made a wish and a promise. And as such, we are bound to Cephiro until Cephiro is safe from the darkness that threatens it. That was our promise. We didn’t know how long it would take for the next Magic Knights to appear, or when the enemy would appear again. But once Cephiro is safe from that darkness, then we pass on and leave the world in your hands.”

Umi’s eyes got a little wider. “And the fact that you’re still here—“

“Means that Cephiro is not yet safe,” Amaya nodded grimly. “And that Shadow is still out there, and free to attack. You defeated Xander, bright one, and you won that battle. But the war…I’m afraid that, Umi, is just beginning.”

-o-


Sitting around the Palace was driving Fuu completely nuts. Out of a desperate need to get out of that place, she called out that she was going to take Windam and head to the skies to do some scouting. Before anyone could make any move to stop her, she was tearing down the corridor towards a nearby balcony, her sword already in her hand. A single word, and she was swept out of the Palace and nestled safely in the heart of Windam.

She really had no direction. She had simply wanted to get out of there and have a moment alone. Granted, being with her mashin meant that she wasn’t truly alone, but Windam had proven time and time again to be a very accomodating partner in that he was generally willing to leave her be when she was just trying to sort things out.

They had been floating around for a while in silence before he spoke up. “You are troubled.” It was a statement, not a question.

“Yes, I am,” she said, surprisingly thankful for the intrusion. “What that story said…I am guessing that you’re familiar with the story. I’m going to tell Umi and Hikaru what I know. I didn’t tell Hikaru at first because I didn’t want to believe what I was reading, but…” She sighed. “It seems to be the truth.”

“It is truth,” Windam said simply, and she was relieved for the honesty, even though it confirmed something she wished desperately not to be true. “But you three have a surprising tendency to take what should be an unavoidable destiny…and avoid it.”

“So…just wait it out and see what happens?” Fuu said, one eyebrow arching. It didn’t seem like the soundest of advice, and yet at the same time, it did. “That’s really the best we can do?”

“You are doing something now, are you not?” Windam pointed out. “Searching for the enemy?”

Fuu sighed. “That’s only part of it. You’re inside my head. You know the rest.”

“It is translating into productivity. Let us not complain.”

“…you remind me of me.”

Windam’s response was lost when a streak of lightning shot from the sky to the ground directly in front of them. It took them both completely by surprise, especially considering that it came from a blue, cloudless sky. In an instant, Windam was armed and ready for battle.

Malia… Fuu remembered, already sure that she knew who she was going to go up against. The girl who had introduced herself as the Knight of Galen, and wielded power over storms. “Windam, let’s head up. She’s around here somewhere.”

They didn’t have to look too far. The golden-yellow mashin was hovering patiently in the sky, waiting for them. It made no move to attack as they approached and floated a fair distance away. They were close enough that they could hear each other, albeit through magical means, but far enough apart that one could not immediately attack the other without warning.

As she drew close, she sent out a silent call. Hikaru! Umi! She’s here! Hurry!

“Greetings, Knight of Windam,” the girl called Malia said politely. “Fuu, correct?”

“Yes. And you are Malia,” Fuu said. She was alert, but not defensive just yet; she would not go on the offensive or the defensive until she knew for certain that she was in danger. “What brings you here? Are you under orders from Sorilbran?” She still knew nothing of who he was, but she would use it anyway.

To her surprise, Malia shook her head. “Not today. This time I’m here by choice. I came to face you, Fuu…of my own free will.” Something about how she said it gave the impression that choice and free will were bordering on alien concepts, and she seemed to be a bit proud of the fact that she had made this decision and followed through on it herself.

“What do you want from me, then?” Fuu asked. The air around them was starting to crackle, and she finally let herself fall into defensive mode. It seemed that there was to be a fight, and she would have to battle and defend herself. She only hoped that the others had gotten her message…

“They are coming,” Windam murmured in her mind. “They will be here soon.”

Thank you,
Fuu responded without spoken words.

“What I truly want, I cannot simply tell you,” Malia said. There was a crack of lightning, and a sword appeared in the mashin’s hand. “Let us fight. If you beat me, I will tell you what you wish to know.”

“And if I lose?”

“…then I will leave.”

It seemed an odd bet to make, but something told Fuu that she could trust in the wagers laid. “I accept.”

Malia nodded, and then Galen surged towards them.

It was a repeat of their earlier dances, and proved to be very similar in step and rhythm. They battled across the sky, gaining and losing the upper hand in quick succession, fighting as equals. And all the while, Fuu was keeping one eye open for any sign of her teammates. She didn’t need their aid to hold her own in this fight, but she had another thought…

And then out of nowhere—

Water.

A jet of water surged through the air and struck Galen in the back, followed in quick succession by a burst of flame that engulfed the mashin. Fuu heard Malia scream in pain—she had been injured—but the distraction was allowing Fuu one precious moment to choose a spell and use it, and she did. She called Binding Winds, and wrapped the dazed mashin up before it could recover. Hikaru and Umi were immediately around the being, taking hold of it to prevent any attempts at escape.

Fuu flew a bit lower in the sky. They had just captured Galen, and his Knight. She could hear Malia murmuring something faintly as she tied off her magic to seal the bonds. And the words she heard bewildered her and gave her great pause as to the actual motivations behind this confrontation.

“Fuu! Are you all right?” Hikaru asked. Rayearth and Selece had the unmoving Galen suspended between them, and were flying towards her. “We got here as soon as we could.”

“I’m fine,” Fuu waved a hand. “We should get back. Perhaps we will learn something there.” It seemed that they had not heard the words she had—Malia’s words. But Fuu couldn’t believe that she had heard correctly. There was simply no way that she could have heard right. After all…there was no reason in the world that someone being first injured, then captured by the enemy would say such a thing…

There was no reason at all for Malia to say Thank you.

-o-


“What are you—oh bright stars!” Caliana’s exclamation of worry was lost in a cry of alarm when she saw that the Magic Knights of Cephiro had not returned alone. They were pulling a fourth girl along, this one unconscious, bound by magic and visibly injured. The girl wore armor of a golden yellow. “Who is she?”

“She’s one of them. Her name is Malia,” Umi said in a rush. “We need to secure her, and fast.”

“We have a dungeon. It is not used often, but we do have one. If you would like to put her there—“ Caliana started, but her offer trailed off when she noticed that Fuu was shaking her head.

“I appreciate the offer, Highness, and I understand why you suggest that, but is there a secure room in the Palace where we can put her?” Fuu asked, shifting to better support Malia’s weight. “I know it sounds bizarre, but please trust me on this. The dungeon is not where she should be kept.”

The look Caliana gave her was unmistakably dubious, but she nodded. “I am sure there is. We will find a place…” She turned and led them further into the Palace, the unconscious enemy still held and supported between the three girls from Earth.

It had been a bit of a trick, but somehow the mashin had managed to extract the injured Malia from the mashin she called Galen. When Hikaru had asked, Rayearth had assured her that they would handle Galen. They needed to focus on Malia. The girl had been placed in their hands, and Fuu had immediately called winds to bind her. It had been a difficult choice for her, but ultimately it was decided to wait until they had her somewhere secure before healing her injuries. A wounded enemy was a bit easier to handle than one at full strength.

After a bit of searching and asking around, Caliana found a place that suited what they had requested. It was a room in a secluded hallway in the servants’ quarters of the Palace. The room itself was very small and very simple, and sparsely furnished with a bed, table, chair, and vanity. But it was far enough away from the rest of the Palace inhabitants to offer some buffer, and the door was solid and had a sturdy lock on it. It seemed a good place to put their captive.

…somehow, thinking of Malia as a captive made all three of them uneasy. Capturing people was something the enemy did because capturing people frequently meant hurting them in some way or another, and the Magic Knights did not enjoy hurting anyone. Although Malia had been injured…

They put her to bed. It was the obvious choice, given her state. Fuu released the bonds of magic that she had called to hold the girl, and they carefully removed her yellow armor and ovum-gem before pulling the blankets up around her. It stood to reason that the girl had a sword if she was able to call a mashin, and her sword was probably stashed inside her gem.

Hikaru gathered up the armor and glanced at Caliana. “Is there an armory or somewhere secure where we can put this stuff? Just gotta make sure she can’t get to it, and ideally that no one else can either.”

“The officers’ armory,” Caliana nodded. “They are men of rank and integrity. There should be a locker there that would suit your purposes. Follow me.” She led Hikaru from the room, nearly knocking Kannon over in the process. It seemed that he had been looking for her. But Caliana was a woman on a mission, and she offered a quick apology before hurrying on her way. Hikaru chuckled and gestured for him to follow, and they followed the Princess away from the makeshift prison, Hikaru promising to explain everything on the way there.

As they left, Umi stayed with Fuu. “Are you sure this is all right?”

“I just have a feeling about this,” Fuu said. “I don’t think this girl is our enemy. She’s been giving us clues, hints…helping us. And she sought me out of her own free will, and I don’t think that was easy for her to do. She could have killed any of us at any time, given her power—goodness knows she’s snuck up on up enough times to have managed it by now. I think we need to give her a chance.”

“Well…” Umi looked a bit doubtful, but she quickly shook it off. “I trust your instincts as well as I trust my own, Fuu. If you say you’ve got a feeling, and it’s that strong, I’ll listen to it.”

“Thank you. I needed the vote of confidence,” Fuu admitted, “partially to convince myself that I’m not doing something completely stupid. All right, here we go…” She raised her hand and called her magic; the healing winds moved around the unconscious girl, and in a moment, the injuries had melted completely away. Fuu quickly cast one more spell: a barrier around the room to keep Malia in and any unauthorized people out. That done, she glanced back at Umi. “We should leave. She’ll wake up soon. I’m sure she knows what happened to her…”

As they stepped out and closed and locked the door of the makeshift prison, Umi frowned as a thought struck her. “She’ll be able to talk with her mashin, won’t she? Wouldn’t that help her friends find her? It’s worked for us plenty of times…maybe we should keep her unconscious somehow?” There was something in Umi’s voice that said she knew it was a bad idea, even as she said it.

“Rayearth said that they would take care of Galen. I don’t think we have to worry,” Fuu said as she pocketed the key. She frowned. “But…there’s still something bothering me about her. It’s been bothering me since the first time I saw her, and I still can’t figure out what it is. And it’s driving me insane! I can’t put my finger on it! But I have the feeling that it’s something that should be obvious.”

“I don’t know what to tell you,” Umi shrugged. “You’re the smart one here, not me.”

“Still…” Fuu murmured. “I feel like it’s going to be important…” She glanced at the door, still frowning. “Let’s go. Let her sleep the rest of it off. I’ll talk to her later. Maybe we’ll get some answers then.”

-o-


“My lord!”

The door burst open, and Cristal stormed through it. Her normally calm face was flushed, her eyes bright with anger. She was absolutely livid. Sorilbran and Aeric looked up as she came in, and Kagura rose from where she had been sitting near the wall. “What is it?” Kagura asked, visibly startled.

“It’s Malia!” Cristal exclaimed. “Hadrian just told me—Malia’s been captured! She and Galen both! The Magic Knights of Cephiro took them in the skies over Aldarba!” She waved her hands around as she spoke, frantic and alarmed.

Aeric’s reaction was an unusual one for him, as he was usually quite collected: he looked rather surprised at the news. “I was unaware that she had been given any orders to go there.”

“She had not been given any such orders,” Sorilbran said, voice crisp and cold. “If Malia was there, she went of her own accord. And now we have apparently lost both her and Galen. This is not acceptable.” He threw a glance to the side. “Kagura.”

“Sir?”

“Go. Retrieve Malia immediately, and bring her straight to me when you return. I will accept no failures, and no excuses,” Sorilbran ordered. His thin fingers were twitching as he spoke.

“As you command,” she said, and turned to make her exit.

“My lord,” Cristal ventured, “I wish to go with her. Please—let me help Malia.”

Sorilbran studied her for a moment, then nodded curtly. “I will allow it.”

“Thank you, sir,” she smiled and bobbed up and down in a quick bow before hurrying to join Kagura, who had hesitated in the door to wait for her. The two Knights rushed from the room and down the corridor. They were already drawing their swords in flashes of gray and black light.

After the girls were out of earshot, Aeric turned back to his lord. “Sorilbran, what are you planning?”

“It would seem, Aeric,” the illusionist said, “that certain people continue to outlive their usefulness. It won’t be much longer now.” He threw the general a look over his shoulder. “Wait for the order.”

-o-


I’m…I’m in a bed…but not in my own bed…

Where am I?


Malia realized very quickly that she was not where she was really supposed to be. But as the haze of slumber rapidly cleared from her mind, she remembered what had happened to her, and it became very clear exactly why she was no where she was supposed to be.

That’s right… she thought, opening her eyes. I went to face them. I wanted to see the Knight of Windam again. Why did I want to see her? But we fought, and the others came, and I was captured… She frowned as she tried to remember her own motivations, and then realized something else. She sat up in bed, noticing immediately that she was wearing neither armor nor gem. Galen!

A comforting rumble sounded from the back of her mind, and she relaxed as soon as she heard it. “Galen…” she murmured, hoping that there was no one nearby to overhear and think her crazy. “I’m glad to hear you. Are you all right? Were you hurt?”

“I am unharmed.”

“Are you with the others? The ones from Cephiro?” she asked, eyes dropping to look at the blanket spread across her legs; it was a simple beige color, sewn with flowers in red and blue. She picked absently at a loose string. “Are they treating you well?”

“Do not worry for me. I am in good company.”

“That’s good,” she looked up at the ceiling. It was a silly habit, even though she knew Galen was not there. It just felt like she was talking directly to him, and not so much to empty air. “I know we spoke of this before, Galen. And I think I’m doing the right thing. I am not afraid.”

“Then I am with you.”

“Thank you,” she smiled. She would have said more, but she was cut off when there was a click, and the door to the room opened. Her eyes fixated on that door, waiting to see who would come in. Would it be a guard, perhaps? Someone like Aeric? And she was completely defenseless, at the mercy of those who imprisoned her…the thought did send a shiver through her. But Galen’s presence was still firmly in the back of her mind, and that gave her a small amount of comfort. She was defenseless, but she was not completely alone.

The walls of the room seemed to ripple for a moment, and she started at it. A shield?

She didn’t have much time to futher contemplate, though it before someone passed through the door and closed it once again. Malia had been expecting a guard of some sort—probably a man in heavy armor, speaking in grunts and either not making eye contact, or trying to make contact of a different kind altogether. Wasn’t that what usually happened? Sorilbran had commented that those taken prisoner were often subject to grave tortures. But she had believed that the Magic Knights of Cephiro were different…she had watched them, and they seemed so kind…

But it was no armed man.

It was a young woman, who appeared to be around Malia’s own age (she thought, at least—Malia wasn’t sure how old she was, but based on appearances and things, she guessed herself to be perhaps twenty or so). She was pretty and pleasant-looking, and holding a tray. And she was smiling.

Malia knew who the girl was before she even opened her mouth to introduce herself. Realizing that she was still in bed, she pushed the blankets aside and hurriedly got to her feet, never taking her eyes from her visitor. But seeing this person actually made her nervous. Again, she had no way to fight back. “You are…” she swallowed and forced herself to stand up straight and at least act confident in spite of how she felt, “the Knight of Windam, correct?”

The woman smiled and nodded. “Yes, I am.”

“Your name is Fuu?”

“Yes. And you are Malia. Galen is your mashin.”

“That is correct.”

Fuu moved further into the small room, holding the tray out to set it carefully on the small table. “I brought you something to eat. I don’t know how hungry you are, though…” She gave Malia an uncertain look. “I can leave, if you want.”

“Actually…” Malia took a seat in the room’s lone chair at the table, “…I’d like it if you would stay. I have been wanting to talk to you for some time now. If it’s not too much trouble, I mean.” She leaned over the tray and inhaled deeply; whatever was in the two covered dishes smelled delicious.

“That’s fine. I’d like to talk to you, too,” Fuu said. She leaned against the wall and watched as Malia began to eat. After a moment she spoke up again. “I would like you to know that none of us will harm you. You are not in any danger here.”

Malia paused, spoon halfway to her mouth, and gave Fuu an unreadable look. “I’m not in any danger from you, you mean. Those outside this place…I imagine that remains to be seen, does it not?”

“It does…” Fuu had to acknowledge that she was right.

“Hmm, I imagine that for a Magic Knight such as yourself,” Malia said, her voice startlingly calm, “there are few places where you find yourself in true danger anymore. Particularly in Cephiro. You have secured that land’s peace.”

“That might be true now,” Fuu said. “But it wasn’t always like that. When we first arrived there—Umi and Hikaru and myself—we didn’t know each other, and we knew very little about what we were doing there. It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. And there really wasn’t anywhere that was truly safe for us. Monster attacks, Zagato’s fighters…we were always under attack, it seemed.”

“And now?”

“Now things are different. The people of Cephiro are at peace. They can live their lives happily…although that might not be the case for too much longer,” Fuu’s expression darkened. “There are three incredible women named Michiko, Sachi, and Amaya. They’re ghosts, to be honest. They were the Magic Knights before us, and they sacrificed their lives for Cephiro. And they made a promise to stay bound to Cephiro and this world until Cephiro was truly safe from the darkness that they had given their lives to stop. The fact that they’re still here? And the attacks and strange things that have been happening since we came to Aldarba? Well, it really doesn’t bode well for Cephiro’s peace.”

“And you will fight?” Malia asked between mouthfuls.

“If we are here, we will fight for Cephiro, and Aldarba if need be,” Fuu said firmly. “We honor the contracts between Cephiro and her allies. That is our duty and our destiny.”

“…I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Why do you fight like this?” Malia asked. “Why do you fight for people you don’t know and a world that you don’t live in? There’s really no stake for you in this war. And war it seems it will be, Fuu. I don’t completely understand why you would make the choice to put yourself—and your friends—on the line like that for strangers and a strange land.”

Fuu was quiet a moment before she replied. “Malia…it’s really not a choice at all.”

That startled her. “What do you mean?”

“Let me ask you a question in response,” Fuu said. “If we don’t fight for Cephiro as we do…who will?” She surprised Malia by smiling. “The fact is that no one else can do what we do. Think of the farmers in those small towns and villages. Think of the food they grow. If I had to, I could learn how to grow a vegetable plant. Granted, it probably wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as what they do for their livelihood, but the fact is that I could do it. How many of those farmers will ever be able to travel between worlds and join with a mashin?”

Malia was visibly stunned. “Fuu…”

“It’s really hard to explain. But…it’s sort of a need. A drive. I can’t make it much clearer than that. But it’s something that we have to do. And something that we want to do,” Fuu said. She folded her arms. “Clef actually tried to tell us not to fight the second time we came here. And we didn’t listen.”

“You’re very brave.”

“I’m actually a big coward,” Fuu laughed. “Hikaru is the brave one of the three of us. But courage is not a matter of not being afraid. It’s a matter of knowing that there are more important things in the world, and knowing how much you miss if you spend your entire life hiding under your bed, hoping that nothing bad will find you.”

Malia looked down, the spoon in her hand lowering to the tray. “I see…”

“Now I have a question for you, Malia,” Fuu asked. “When we met earlier, you said that you were not there on orders—you were there by your own choice, of your own free will. Why did you do that?”

Now it was Fuu’s turn to be surprised when Malia smiled. “I wanted to face you. And to be honest…I really wanted you to do one of two things. I wanted you to either capture me…or destroy me.” She ignored the look of shock on Fuu’s face. “But to quietly turn myself over to you would be treason, tantamount to suicide. Still…I had to see for myself.”

“What did you want to see?”

“You. And your friends,” Malia said. “I wanted to see the other side of the story. The fact is that I do not know what is truth anymore, and I am not entirely certain that we are really doing the right thing. You see…” She sighed. “I don’t have many memories, and none at all before a certain point. I woke up one morning, and I was in that place with the other girls. And Aeric was there…and Sorilbran.”

“What can you tell me about Sorilbran?” Fuu jumped in. “Please…just tell me as much as you can. I won’t push you if there’s something you don’t want to talk about.”

“Sorilbran calls himself the Master of Illusions,” Malia said. “And he saved us. He said that the three of us were on the brink of death, but he brought us back and put us on the path to our true destiny as Magic Knights. We owe him a great deal, and he does not let us forget it. He demands complete and total loyalty from us, and it is given.”

“Tell me about us,” Fuu prodded softly. “Your friends—the other Knights…”

“I have power over storms, and my partner is Galen,” Malia ticked the names off on her fingers as she recounted them. “Cristal’s mashin is Hadrian. She controls ice. She is friendly—she and Kagura get along very well. And Nairi…Nairi’s loyalty to Sorilbran is the strongest of the three of us. She will tolerate nothing that goes against him and his wishes. Her partner is Damek, the God of Earth. I fear that she envies Kagura’s influence.”

“What about Kagura?” Fuu realized just how much information this girl was willing to share.

“I do not know how he subverted her, but I know that he did. She is not the same person she was when we took her and she was first brought to us as the Promised of the Legend. She is moving fast, and soon she will fulfill her part in the Legend—“

“No!” Fuu jumped upright.

“Wh-what? What is it?” Malia had started at the outburst.

“She can’t do that! She can’t!” Fuu hissed, leaning over the table to meet Malia’s eyes squarely. “How much of the legend do you know?”

“The Promised will come to awaken the beasts of Light and Dark, and she will claim the power of the Dark,” Malia rattled the story off in a manner that suggested she had listened to it many, many times before. “That’s how Sorilbran told it to us, at least.”

“That’s not the story at all,” Fuu said, alarmed. “The Promised will awaken them…so they can continue their fight. The world could be torn apart by it. And while she will harness their power…she will ultimately be destroyed. She will be the sacrifice to them.”

Malia’s eyes widened in horror. “No…”

“If we don’t get Kagura out of there,” Fuu said in a flat voice, “she is going to die. And Light and Dark will tear the world apart. You’re right, Malia. This is the beginning of a war.”





PS. ...why do I get the increasing feeling that this story is more or less turning into a set-up for the third part of the trilogy? FACEPALMING GOES HERE. Oh well. I rather like how Malia is turning out. By the way, considering that I sort of left this story by the wayside for…err, far too long…I’ve added over thirty-one thousand words to this story in the last month and a half. Not too bad, eh?

Thanks for reading, all! Much love!