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30 June 2008 @ 12:29 am
Song of the Wind, ch. 12 (MKR)  
Title: Song of the Wind
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Word Count: 8009
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



“…and that’s everything,” Fuu finished. “You now know everything that Malia told me.”

It had taken a while, but Fuu had finally managed to recount the vast majority of her conversation with the captured Knight. Hikaru and Umi had listened quietly throughout the entire story, and now they seemed to be mulling everything over. Not that she blamed them. She had been constantly going over the discussion ever since she had left Malia’s room.

Hikaru spoke up first. “I just can’t believe how cooperative she’s being. That doesn’t seem like something she should do if she’s really trying to destroy us. I wonder what’s going on.” She glanced at Umi. “Do you think she’s really going to help us?”

To her surprise, Umi’s expression was unusually hard. “I don’t believe her,” she said in a clipped voice. But some of her mood could be attributed to Fuu’s news of what the ultimate fate of the Promised was: death at the hands of the very beasts she was to awaken. “I think it’s some sort of a trick, or a trap. Maybe she was lying. Maybe she was sent out there to meet you and let herself be taken so she could give us false information. I refuse to trust her any farther than I can throw her.”

“I’d thought of that as well, Umi,” Fuu said. “But I just can’t shake the feeling that what she’s saying is genuine. I can’t explain exactly why, but I really believe that she’s telling us the truth, or at least the truth as she knows it. She did seem very surprised when I told her what would happen to Kagura if something didn’t happen.”

“I don’t care,” Umi stood and walked to the window, her arms wrapped tightly around herself. She stared out at the darkening sky, her reflection in the glass showing an angry, bitter face. “She was a part of that plan, and she put Kagura in that position. That’s all that matters to me right now.”

It was a harsh thing to say, but neither of the other two could truly find it in them to blame her for her uncharitable attitude. Her best friend’s life was on the line, and she would have the same reaction if it were Fuu or Hikaru or any of their other friends in the same situation. She had faults, but Umi’s loyalty to her friends was nothing to be discounted.

“What exactly did the story say again, Fuu?” Hikaru asked after a tense moment had passed.

Fuu sighed. “The Promised will bring back the beasts of Light and Dark. I’m assuming that they are mashin, but don’t quote me on that. And she will choose one, and become a sacrifice to the one she picks. The one she chooses will then gain her power because of that sacrifice, and it will finally win the battle against its rival.”

“And she said she was of the Dark,” Hikaru quoted, remembering. “Which means—“

“That they’re setting her up to resurrect the Dark and destroy the Light,” Umi said from the window. “She dies, and this Sorilbran guy gets to take over. Beautiful. What do you want to bet that they haven’t told her that she’s going to be eaten alive by this monster?”

“Given that Malia was genuinely horrified when I told her? I’d say that Kagura doesn’t have a clue what she’s in for,” Fuu replied. “She was probably just told that she’s a Magic Knight and that’s her mashin.”

“And here’s another thought,” Hikaru said slowly. “We know that Kagura was changed. They made her think that we’re her enemies instead of her friends. Who’s to say that they couldn’t use the same method, whatever it is, to simply make her a willing sacrifice? She walks right into the jaws of that thing, no questions asked and no problems.”

Umi visibly shuddered.

Hikaru stood and moved to stand next to her. “Umi…” she said quietly. “I know you’re angry and scared and hurt. We all are. And I understand why you don’t want to trust Malia.” She put a hand on Umi’s arm, and was relieved that Umi did not pull away. “But this is the best shot we have right now. Maybe Malia is telling us the truth. Maybe she’s not. But if we’re careful, maybe this can give us a clue as to what we should do next. And then maybe we can help Kagura.”

“…I don’t trust her,” Umi said after a moment of silence. “But if she is going to help us…then we need to protect her, right? I’m sure they know that we have her. They’ll probably come for her. So we should make sure she stays safe.” She looked down. “I’ll do that much, at least. Let’s not have anymore bloodshed then necessary.”

Hikaru gave her a quick hug and smiled. “Agreed.”

-o-


“Caliana?”

The princess glanced up at the familiar voice. “Kannon. Report?” She had been waiting for him to come here and give her the news on the prisoner. Since the moment they had brought that girl into the Palace, she had felt unusually uneasy. Oh, there was always a certain unease about such things, but this went beyond the normal apprehension, and she had been waiting on this report with great eagerness.

“The captured girl is named Malia. She has been extremely cooperative, and is non-combative,” he said, standing straight and tall with his hands clasped behind his back. “After speaking with the Magic Knights, she has even agreed to help them.”

Caliana listened to all of this quietly. “Good. Very good. Thank you.” She leaned down and put one hand to her forehead, where a dull ache had gradually been forming for the majority of the day.

“…are you all right?” Kannon asked after a moment.

“I have a feeling, Kannon,” she said, closing her eyes. “Something is going to happen, and soon. At first I believed it to be nothing more than unease over the situation, but the feeling keeps growing stronger, and I cannot discount it as being incorrect. It feels like I am right about this. I would almost call it a premonition, but such things are impossible without magic, are they not? But…” She turned her head to look straight at him. “Something is coming. It will not be long.”

She saw him hesitate before he crossed the room and knelt at her side. “Whatever happens, Princess,” he put one hand to his heart and bowed his head, “I will protect you. Just as I always have.”

Caliana remembered her conversation with Fuu in the Palace library a few days prior, and she smiled. “Kannon…” she reached out and touched his cheek. “Thank you. But if you die, good sir, especially on my account? I do not think I will be able to forgive you.”

-o-


The whole situation seemed to just keep getting worse and worse with each new development. Hikaru was wandering through the maze of Palace corridors in search of Fuu. She had gone to find Umi, but the Knight of Selece was shut up in her rooms and did not seem terribly eager for company, Hikaru’s or anyone else’s.

To anyone who didn’t know Umi and didn’t know the circumstances, it would seem that Umi was being, for lack of a better term, a bitch. But it was just one of those things that Hikaru had learned about her friend during and since their original Magic Knight days, and it didn’t bother her. Umi would be like this for a while, sulking and hiding, and then she would emerge again, ready to tackle the problem at hand with her usual determination and attitude.

Besides, she had to wonder exactly how she would feel if she learned what Umi had learned. Not only was her best friend trying to kill her, but said best friend was going to die in fulfillment of a legend borne of another world unless they were able to do something to save her or change a destiny that had been written in folklore countless years ago.

Somehow, Hikaru doubted that she would take it well either.

But Fuu had related a comment from Windam: the three of them did have a tendency to take what should be an unavoidable fate and…well, avoid it. They had done it when Hikaru found herself trapped in the Pillar test. They had done it when Umi defied Death itself to save her friends.

The question was whether or not they could do it again now.

But at the moment, she was looking for Fuu. They needed to go talk to Malia again, and see if they could find out more information. Hikaru still held a few doubts, but she held them quietly and secretly, for she trusted Fuu far more than she doubted Malia. The problem was that Fuu seemed to be spending a great deal of time wandering around, lost in her own thoughts. She was putting a great deal of mental energy into the problem at hand.

That was really how it was, though. Fuu was the practical one. Hikaru was the strength. And Umi was the emotional leg of their little tripod. Sooner or later, the whole of the story would be revealed. Of that, Hikaru had no doubts at all.

Her meanderings were interrupted when she heard a rumble outside. She stopped in her tracks and glanced out the window to her immediate right. She frowned. That didn’t sound like thunder, though her first thought was that it was Malia’s doing. Though she had never been afraid of storms before, their encounters with Malia’s powers had made her a bit jumpy about such things—

The window exploded, along with a good portion of the wall around it.

Hikaru thought she screamed, but she wasn’t completely sure. Well-honed instinct kicked in, and instinct said to move. She flung herself to the side, hitting the ground and rolling in a desperate attempt to avoid the flying shower of broken stone and shattered glass raining into the hallway. She managed to avoid the brunt of it, though she was pelted by debris and felt the definite sting of glass shards cutting through her clothes and into her skin. She gasped as she jumped to her feet; pressing her hand against the ground left a bloody mark on the polished stone floor. A quick movement of all her limbs proved that she was relatively uninjured, save for cuts and bruises. All things considered, that was not too bad.

“Hikaru,” an icy female voice said. “I thought that was you.”

The voice was familiar, though the tone was not. Hikaru tensed. “Kagura…”

As the cloud of dust and debris cleared, the speaker took solid form. Hikaru was right; it was Kagura, standing proudly in armor that was a replica of Hikaru’s own save for color. The black ovum-gem on her hand was prominently displayed with her arms folded. There was another girl with her, standing over her shoulder; this one was wearing silver and black, and had a shock of long white hair.

“It’s been a while, hasn’t it?” Kagura said with deceptive pleasantness.

In a flare of red light, Hikaru’s sword was in her hand. “What are you doing here?” she asked, unsure of what she should do. Should she attack and risk injuring Kagura? Granted, if she was injured she could be taken more easily, as they had done with Malia. But could she really hurt Kagura like that?

“Judging by the look on your face, I would say that you’re trying to decide whether or not to fight me, or whether or not you could hurt me,” Kagura said, perfectly echoing Hikaru’s thoughts at that moment. “Well, if it’s all right, let me go ahead and make that decision for you.” She held out her hand and murmured something under her breath.

And Hikaru was stunned when a shadow swelled at her feet, wrapped around her, and threw her before she even had a second to blink. She flew several meters and hit the floor and slid across the smooth surface of it, jumping back to her feet as soon as she had her wits back about her, still clutching her sword. “You’re here for Malia,” she said. It was a statement, not a question. “I won’t let you.”

“Cristal,” Kagura said, directing the name to the girl standing behind her, who had neither moved nor spoken thus far in the encounter. “Go find Malia. Bring her back. And hurry. I’ll handle things here.” There was a burst of shadow, and her sword was in her hand. “We must not keep Sorilbran waiting.”

That name again…

That horrible name. She didn’t even know very much about the man, but Hikaru already knew that she hated him for what he had done. Injuries to herself could be forgiven. But offenses committed against her friends were crimes beyond forgiveness.

Cristal nodded and ran without a word. Hikaru would have made a move to stop her if Kagura hadn’t jumped in her path and attacked, leaving Hikaru with only one option: to defend herself. As far as swordplay went, they were relatively even. But if magic was introduced into this fight…

Hikaru wasn’t sure she would have a chance. Still, giving up was not an option. She had a duty to perform. She reached with her mind. “Rayearth! They’re here! Now!”

“It has been done,”
was all he said, and she knew the message was being relayed to her teammates.

“Unfortunately, my dear Hikaru,” Kagura said smoothly, studying the blade of her sword, “I really do need to end this quickly. I have a traitor to recover, and a Magic Knight to kill.” She regarded Hikaru with a much harder gaze. “And if you are going to get between myself and Umi, then I’m afraid that I will have to do the same to you.”

Hikaru swallowed hard and steeled herself. “Bring it on.”

-o-


When the crash rocked the Palace, Umi immediately rushed from her room. Her own thoughts would have to wait. She had more important things to do—protect Caliana. Protect Malia. Protect her friends.

She tore through the corridors, heading towards the room where they had left Malia. She had to get there before whoever had attacked did. In her haste, she rushed past members of the Guard, soldiers and pages, all rushing about in a panic to try and ready themselves for the attack and what they were sure would be a battle.

And when Selece had barked into her mind, he passed along a message from Hikaru via Rayearth. The enemy had entered the Palace, and they were after Malia, who they called traitor. There were two of them: Kagura and another girl. Expect a fight.

Still, she didn’t exactly expect to nearly trip over a girl wearing a Magic Knight’s armor. This girl appeared to be about her own age, with snow-white hair and steel-gray eyes that narrowed when she saw Umi. “You,” she breathed. One hand moved to her silver-gray ovum-gem and drew her sword. “The Knight of Selece. This will be a good fight.”

Umi’s own sword was already in her hand. “I’m afraid I don’t know you.”

“My name is Cristal. Knight of Hadrian. Remember it well,” she said before she attacked. She hacked at Umi a few times with her sword before grinning. “And remember the pain.”

And something hit Umi in the back, sending a scream from her lips and a lance of pain through her body. A glance around through watery eyes showed a torrent of spears flying by her. They were clear, sparkling in the light from the torches, and looked to be made of either ice or glass. Judging by the nature of a Magic Knight’s power, she decided them to be ice.

And they hurt.

Stupid! Not paying attention! Umi berated herself, calling water to shield herself from another torrent of those same ice shards. So it was to be a fight of magic, then. She just had to be careful and make sure that no one else wandered in. Let no innocent be caught in the crossfire—

A boy of perhaps nine or ten, clad in the blue uniform of a Palace page, came flying into view, obviously trying to flee from the very kind of fight he had inadvertently wandered into. He stood there, frozen, staring back and forth between the two women.

Umi saw Cristal smirk. And she saw her hand move—

—there was no time, she had to go—

—and Umi pushed the page, sending him skidding to the floor as the attack hit. This was one large chunk of ice, though, the end as sharp as a sword. There was no question that it would have killed the boy had it hit its true mark.

Instead, it hit Umi, plunging straight through her shoulder and sending her flying backwards, where it embedded in the wall behind her.

She was pinned.

And all she could do was gasp and wonder why this didn’t hurt as much as she thought it should, and oh look at the red blood on her armor that would just never do and really why didn’t this hurt and there was Cristal and oh god she was going to attack again…

“It’s a pity for you, but I can’t let you die,” Cristal said calmly. “You are not mine to kill.”

And she threw the ice shards at her immobile target, and all Umi could do was cringe and wince as the sharp edges sliced at her. She couldn’t even summon up the energy or coherency to scream.

-o-


Fuu had returned to Malia’s room that morning, again bearing food and an interest in conversation. And as she had done before, she sat with the prisoner while she ate, and they talked of various things. She learned a bit more of Malia, though there wasn’t a great deal to learn; the girl had no memories of anything prior to her falling in with Sorilbran and her teammates, Cristal and Nairi.

As they were going about it, a loud crashing explosion shook the room.

Fuu was on her feet, her sword in her hand in a heartbeat. But just as quickly, she remembered her promise to keep Malia safe, and found herself torn. Should she go to find out what was going on? Or should he stay here to protect the prisoner? But the question was answered for her when Windam popped into her mind and delivered a message. They were here for Malia. She would stay—

…and then Selece spoke up. Umi was in terrible danger.

What should have been an easy decision had just been shot in the foot. What to do now…

A hand touched her arm, and she glanced up at Malia in surprise. “What?”

“There’s trouble, right?” she said quietly. “Go help your friends.”

“But—“

Malia shook her head. “Leave me here. There are shields on the room, right? That should keep them out for at least a little bit. Judging by your face, your friends need you a great deal more than I do right now. So go to them and help them.”

Fuu wavered a moment longer before deciding that Malia was right. If Hikaru and Umi were lost now…then there would be no one to protect anyone at all. “I’ll be back as soon as I can. Stay safe until then,” she said, hurrying out the door and locking the door behind her. The walls seemed to waver as the shields set back into place.

Now alone, Malia sat down on the bed to wait. There wasn’t a great deal more that she could really do at the moment. But who had been sent, she wondered? Kagura, probably. That would give her a chance to get at Umi as well. But would they really send her alone? It stood to reason that they would send at least one of the others to go with her—

Malia gasped, almost a scream, as a sharp pain lanced through her chest, and she nearly toppled forward from the force of it. She lurched to her feet and stood hunched over in the middle of the room, clutching at her chest as she panted for air. What was happening?

She became aware of something nearby, and she turned her head slowly to see who or what it was. And her eyes widened as she stepped backwards, a horrified, “No…” escaping her lips as she watched the shadows creep along the walls of her prison. “Shadow…”

-o-


It didn’t take Fuu too long to find Umi. She was in the hallway, pinned to the wall by a shard of ice that had gone through her shoulder and into the wall behind her. She was covered with cuts and gashes, and soaked in her own blood, and staring straight ahead with empty eyes. For one sickening moment, Fuu wondered if she was too late.

But no. She could see movement. As long as Umi was alive, she could pull her back. But first—

A screamed command send the Emerald Typhoon flying at the white-haired Knight who was attacking Umi. Her magic found its mark, but the enemy Knight was quick to respond with an assault of her own, reminiscent of Alcyone’s attacks. Fuu dodged, and when she looked up, the white-haired Knight was tearing past her. Fortunately, she wasn’t going down the right hallway; the corridor she had chosen to race down was not the hallway where Malia was. That meant there was at least a little time.

Fuu moved quickly, ignoring the blood running down her cheek from a deep cut there. It took a bit of thinking, but she used the wind magic to actually cut through the ice shard. And it hurt her to do it, but she gritted her teeth and pulled Umi away from the wall and off the shard. That earned a scream, and she hated herself for doing it. But it accomplished what it need to, and Umi was free. From there, it took a mere casting of magic to save her.

Umi blinked at her owlishly for a moment. “There was a boy here…would have killed him…” she murmured, climbing to her feet. “Didn’t have time to do anything else…oh god, where’s Hikaru?” Suddenly wide awake, Umi glanced around in a panic. But before Fuu could answer, Umi rushed on. “You go back to Malia. You’ve got to protect her, right? I’ll go help Hikaru.”

Fuu swallowed hard and nodded. “Okay. Be safe!”

“You too,” Umi said. They high-fived and parted ways, Fuu tearing back towards Malia’s room.

-o-


Fuu hadn’t expected to see anything of great importance or alarm when she returned. The room was locked and shielded, which should have kept the average magical and physical attacks out for the length of time she had been gone. Malia should still be safe.

Instead, she opened the door and found a room that seemed to have been painted in shadows. The walls and floor and ceiling were welled up in darkness, and Malia was…

Malia was on the opposite side of the room, her back to the wall. She stared at Fuu with hollow eyes, not really seeming to see anything at all. And the shadows reached from the wall in long wispy tendrils, wrapping around Malia’s arms and legs and torso; one was even snaking its way around her throat. She was half covered by the shadowy fingers, and made no move to run away from them.

“Malia!” Fuu cried in alarm.

She got no reply. Malia almost looked to be in a trance, her face unmoving and her eyes void of light or expression. She was simply standing there, as though waiting for this inevitable fate. It looked like she was just going to let herself be taken away by this darkness, this…

Shadow.

Fuu felt her breath catch. Was this…?

It couldn’t be.

Still, she needed to do something, or else Malia would be lost. “Malia!” she called again, moving into the room. She felt a burning sensation in her legs as the same arms of darkness reached up and grasped at them, but she ignored it. “Malia, you have to snap out of it!”

When she still didn’t get an answer, she decided to take a risk. She called her magic and cast it. It cut Malia’s arm, drawing blood, and finally got a reaction. She winced and gasped at the injury, and shook herself and seemed to finally realize exactly where she was. Her eyes widened, now full of a single definitive emotion: horror. “F-Fuu…”

“Give me your hand!” Fuu ordered, reaching towards her.

“I c-can’t…” Malia said, looking down. “Even if my arms were free, I can’t. I did such horrible things, to you and your friends. I helped with those plans. I kidnapped Kagura. Perhaps…perhaps this is the best way for me to repent for those. If I’m taken by the Shadow…wouldn’t that be a sufficient penance?”

“Malia…” Fuu said. “…you COWARD!” She spat the last word out.

The look she got in response was definitely stunned. “Wh-what?”

“You’re just giving up?” Fuu shouted, finally giving her own feelings over everything an escape valve. “You think that’s going to make anything right? It won’t! You’ll be dead, and we’ll be in exactly the same situation we were before! This is the coward’s way out! If you really want to make things right and repent for what you did, then you need to live!” She thrust her hand out to the girl once again. “You need to live and help us stop what’s going to happen! If you die…” She bit her lip. “Please don’t let yourself die like this, Malia. You’re worth a lot more than that.”

Malia stared at her…and a single tear ran down her cheek. “Fuu…”

“Give me your hand. Fight it!” Fuu said. “Malia!”

At long last, the fire seemed to light under Malia, and she started to struggle against the darkness that held her. After a moment, she managed to wrench one arm free and reach for Fuu’s hand, catching it and holding on desperately. The darkness, meanwhile, seemed to realize that it was in danger of losing its prey and reacted, sending more tendrils to pull at both of them.

Fuu managed to get both of Malia’s hands in her own, and pulled desperately, ignoring the shadows that were trying to creep up her legs and around her own body. “We won’t give up,” she said through gritted teeth, feeling a bead of sweat run down the back of her neck. “No matter what happens, we won’t give into the darkness. That is a true Magic Knight’s way.”

“A true…Magic Knight…” Malia murmured the words.

“Didn’t you know?” Fuu said, managing a smile through her red-faced exertion. “Magic Knights are not of the Dark. We are of the Light. And even if we slip and fall and falter sometimes, we’ll always find our way out of the darkness.” Was it just her imagination, or were the shadows loosening their hold. “So don’t give into the darkness, Malia. Come to the light. I think you’ll be happier here.”

There was a moment where everything seemed to freeze…

And then suddenly she was pulling Malia to her, away from those shadows. And the room seemed to grow a great deal brighter, though whether it was from Fuu or Malia herself or some other as-yet unknown source, she was not sure. But as they will always do, the shadows fled before the light.

Malia slumped into Fuu’s arms, gasping for air. “They let go…” she breathed. “They r-really let go…” She slid to the floor, aided by Fuu, and sat there, still clutching at Fuu’s hands as she trembled at how close she had really come to being devoured. “I d-didn’t think Shadow would ever let go…”

“He doesn’t.”

The voice from the door was an unfamiliar one, and female. Fuu immediately jumped to her feet and whirled around, her sword in her hand; in her haste to get to Malia, she had left the door to the room wide open. Adrenaline was pumping through her veins, and she was trembling from it and from the excitement of what she had just seen and survived and accomplished. Whoever was there held no fear for her at the moment.

It was the same white-haired girl who had been attacking Umi. She was leaning against the doorframe, her arms crossed. “Malia, Malia, Malia,” she shook her head. “What did you think you were doing?”

“Cristal…” Malia said, using the bed to pull herself up onto shaky legs.

“You need to come back with me, one way or the other,” the girl, Cristal, said, stepping through the opening in the shields and into the room. “It will be easier for both of us if you do so without resistance. You understand, I know. And as for you,” she regarded Fuu with a cold look, “I advise you not to interfere. If you insist on doing so, I will have to hurt you.” Her icy gaze turned to a bit of a smirk. “Just as I handled your friend.”

“I don’t think so,” Fuu growled, steeling herself to fight.

But they were both startled when Malia stepped in between them. She looked awful, pale and trembling, but she stood upright and addressed Cristal. “The only way I would go back with you is if Kagura is released from Sorilbran’s influence,” she said in a surprisingly strong voice.

“Malia, what are you saying?” Cristal said, stunned. “There is no way that—“

“If she goes through with Sorilbran’s plan, she will die!” Malia said desperately. “She’ll be a sacrifice to the monster, and then there will be nothing but darkness. Light will be gone. And Kagura will DIE.”

Fuu watched Cristal’s reaction carefully, and found that there was no mistaking the shock there at Malia’s words. She didn’t know either. None of them knew the true nature of the Promised and the Promised’s fate, the role that Kagura had been either chosen or destined to fulfill.

“Y-you’re lying,” Cristal said, though she sounded a bit less confident this time. “They have filled your head with lies, and I will not just stand here and—“ She started towards Fuu with her sword, but Malia moved to block her path, arms outstretched to prevent her from going too far.

“Cristal, I will not go back,” she said softly. Now she sounded more like she was addressing a friend, rather than an enemy. “I’m not going back to that place and that life. I believe what Fuu says. And I like Kagura. I don’t want her to die, not by my actions or anyone else’s.” She looked down. “I know I’ve done some horrible things, but if I go back with you, I’ll probably be killed as a traitor. I know enough of Sorilbran to believe that. And if I die…then how can I make up for what I did? And besides,” She glanced over her shoulder at Fuu to throw her a quick smile before she went on, “a true Magic Knight goes to the Light, not the Dark. So…I’m sorry, Cristal, but I can’t go back with you. I won’t go back. And you can tell Sorilbran that as well.”

Cristal listened to this silently, her face expressionless. Then her eyes narrowed in what could only be called a dangerous expression. “Malia, you are making a terrible mistake.”

“Then at least I am making the mistake on my own and of my own choice,” she said. “And not because someone else ordered me to and I just blindly followed orders.”

“Do you really think things will be any different for you here? With them?”

“Yes, I do!” Malia clenched her hands into fists. “When I was brought here, I was injured and unconscious. I don’t remember any of what happened after I was hit. I just know that I full expected to wake up alone in some dungeon, alone and uncared for as nothing more than an enemy. What more should I expect? I was to be a prisoner. But I woke up here, in this room. And there was someone there to bring me food and conversation. This is hardly the terrible enemy Sorilbran described.”

“Malia—“

“I’ve seen it for myself, and that’s all I need. This is my decision, Cristal,” she said.

Cristal sighed. “I know how you are when you get like this,” she chuckled. “There’s no reasoning with you when you’ve got yourself set on something. But I truly have no desire to hurt you, Malia, though it will probably bring a penalty down on my head.”

Now Malia looked pained. “Cristal…”

“I will take your message to Sorilbran,” she said, drawing her sword in a flash of gray light. “As this is the path you have chosen, it must be war between us from here onwards.”

“I’m sorry, Cristal,” Malia said softly, faltering for the first time. “But this is what I must do.”

“…I understand,” Cristal said, just as quietly. “And I’m sorry as well.” She raised her sword, and gave Malia one last, sad smile. “Goodbye, Malia…my friend.” She closed her eyes. “Hadrian!” And in a flash of silver-gray light, she was gone, leaving Fuu and Malia alone in the room.

-o-


Umi skidded onto the scene, her sword in her hand and her heart already somewhere down around her shoes. She had a sickening feeling as to what she was going to find, and it was one of those moments when she desperately hated being right.

Hikaru was fighting Kagura. And to her credit, the lithe Knight of Rayearth was holding her own against an opponent who was far more powerful, judging by the damage done to the hallway, courtesy of magical attacks. But Hikaru was holding on, and now she had backup.

“Kagura!” Umi barked, hardening her expression.

There was a pause before Kagura turned around. “Umi. So it is you,” she said, her own face darkening. “I was hoping I’d find you. I believe we have something to settle.”

“You have something you want to settle with me, it seems,” Umi said in a level voice. “I admit that I don’t quite understand what that something is, though. Feel free to enlighten me.”

“I think you already know,” Kagura growled, raising a hand. “So let’s cut the pleasantries and get right to the part where I destroy you.” The darkness moved around her, and Umi had to fling herself to the side to dodge it, and the fight was rejoined as both Hikaru and Umi worked together to try and drive Kagura back, both by magic and by the sword.

In spite of everything, Umi did have to admit that she was incredibly impressed. Kagura had always been amazing with a sword in her hand, as she knew from their days spent together on their high school fencing team. And the girl knew how to fight, both with and without a blade. But now, with the Escudo sword of a Magic Knight in her hand and incredible magic at her disposal to put behind her sword and augment her physical attacks, and no qualms about injuring another person…

She was a frightening force to behold.

And Umi had no doubts that if they were to face off, one against one, she would lose, and lose badly.

Still, there was a definite pattern: she was focusing her magic more on keeping Hikaru shoved off to the side, which proved effective enough. Hikaru was busily having to counter-attack with fire just to defend herself. This left Kagura free to attack Umi with her sword. Somehow, that made sense to her, though. If Kagura was so intent on killing her, it would probably be much more satisfying to do it with her own hands and her own sword, rather than by any magical means.

Either way, the thought terrified her.

If Kagura did kill her, or any of them, and then was somehow released from this spell? It would destroy her. But even if she didn’t wake up, she was still going to willingly (or unknowingly) walk into the jaws of death at the hands of a mashin. Either way, she couldn’t let Kagura win this fight or any other fight.

For Kagura’s own sake.

And then suddenly the status quo shifted.

And for once, it was shifting in Umi’s favor.

A large sword that she recognized instantly came crashing down on Kagura’s blade. It seemingly came out of nowhere, and took her completely by surprise; her sword was knocked from her hand and skidded across the floor. Before she could move to retrieve it, Hikaru attacked with fire to send her diving out of the way.

The sword that had disarmed Kagura was wielded by Ferio. And Lantis was standing behind him, weapon drawn, with Hikaru beside him. And none of them looked particularly happy.

“It’s four against one now, Kagura,” Umi said softly, lowering her own sword in what could potentially be called a very stupid move. “Would you please stop this? Or at least tell me why you’re so determined to kill me? Because I don’t know why.”

Kagura made a tsk-ing sound and held out her hand. “Well, it would seem that I’ve been outnumbered. And I am not so foolhardy as to not know when I’m going to lose. So it would seem that this fight goes to you, Umi, and your darling little friends from Cephiro.” The sword slid across the floor and jumped into Kagura’s hand. “And it would seem that Cristal has failed as well. So I shall leave, empty-handed. But I challenge you to follow me, Umi. And face me on your own, if you have the courage. You coward.”

“Before you go, hear this,” Umi said, her tone flat and emotionless. “I will fight you, Kagura. As many times as I need to. And if I have to do something drastic to save you…I will.”

“To save me?” Kagura barked a laugh. “That’s rich. I don’t need to be saved.”

“If you continue to do this, you’ll die. You’ll become a sacrifice. That is the purpose of the Promised,” Umi said. “You can’t awaken the beasts of Light and Dark. It will ultimately cost you your life if you do.”

“Oh, Umi. You are so naïve,” Kagura laughed and tossed her hair back as a large black shape arose in the sky behind her, its silhouette filling the gaping hole in the wall behind her. “I’ve already done it.” She glanced back at the mass, smirking. “Right, Tynan?”

Enormous red eyes flared, as if to agree.

“Until we meet again,” Kagura said, ignoring Umi’s cry of protest. She raised her sword aloft. “Tynan.” The shadows swirled around her, and she was gone. The massive form, a mashin, turned and flew up into the sky, and was gone.

“Dammit!” Umi cursed, throwing her sword to the ground for a lack of anything else to hit or throw. It clattered against the ground and skidded away. She grudgingly picked it up and examined it; as she had expected, it was completely unharmed from the results of her short tantrum.

“How did you know we needed help?” Hikaru asked, throwing her arms around Lantis’ waist.

“This kid showed up while we were working the Guard and said we should get over here fast,” Ferio said, shouldering his broadsword and gesturing towards a child in a blue uniform, who was watching the whole thing by peering around the corner.

“You…” Umi was startled to recognize the young blonde boy in the page’s uniform as the one that she had taken the ice shard through the shoulder to protect.

“I w-went to find them, lady,” he said, looking down at the ground. “I th-thought that since they were from Cephiro and knew of magic, they c-could h-help you fight…” He looked like he thought there would be some sort of penalty for interfering in the matter, but he added, “After you s-saved me, lady…c-couldn’t just sit and d-do nothing…”

Umi smiled and bent down, putting one hand to his cheek. “Thank you.” And she pressed a chaste kiss to his other cheek, causing the poor boy to blush furiously and mumble something about having one for the other side, if it pleased lady? She mustered up a laugh and obliged him.

-o-


“Lord Sorilbran!” Cristal tore into the room where the Master of Illusion always kept his counsel. Before he could even question her, she went on in a rush. “My lord, it’s Malia! We couldn’t recover her! She refused to come back! She says she will stay there! With them!”

Sorilbran took the news quietly. He gazed down at the polished stone that was his constant companion before he spoke again. “I am extremely disappointed, Cristal, that you were not able to do what I had instructed and bring our Malia back to us. And I am afraid that there must be punishment.”

The Knight of Hadrian was so intent on his terrifying words that she did not notice another presence in the room. “My lord, please! I beg you to forgive me. I am so sorry!“ She wrung her hands together, deciding to ask. If she was already to be punished, now was the time to do it. “My lord…is it true that if Kagura goes on with the legend of the Promised, she will be kil—“

That was as far as she got before a sword came through her chest.

Cristal gasped and let out a muffled scream that escaped as little more than a squeak. She looked down at the tip of the sword, protruding from her armor. Strange…her armor wasn’t supposed to be red. That was Rayearth’s color, not Hadrian’s…

“But I daresay, Cristal, that you will serve one final purpose to me,” Sorilbran said with a cold smile. “And yes, my dear little fool. The legend of the Promised is true.”

The realization hit her in the instant before she died, but it was too late. She could only manage a soft gurgling noise. The sword impaling her tilted downward, and a foot pressed against her back to push her off, sending her to the floor in a heap.

She did not move again.

“Clean work as always,” Sorilbran commented.

Aeric studied the bloody blade of his sword and offered a smile of his own. “Thank you, my lord.” A spattering of footsteps became audible in the corridor, and he quickly sheathed his sword to hide the evidence before reaching down to pick up the body. And when Nairi hurried in, the general looked for all the world like he was cradling Cristal’s unmoving form in a motion of mourning.

“My lord, we have news that—“ Nairi started to speak, but stopped cold when she saw the figure in Aeric’s arms. “C-Cristal?” She stumbled towards them, gasping when she saw the blood, and reaching out. “N-no, that’s impossible. That can’t be…” She let out a short bark of a laugh, her fingers finding the dead girl’s hair. “This is a joke, right?” She looked at Sorilbran entreatingly. “My lord?”

“I’m afraid it is no joke, Nairi,” he shook his head sadly. “Cristal has been taken from us.”

Nairi looked back down at the body, and for a moment she looked as though she would break down into tears. Her entire body was shaking. But she whipped back around, her face a mask of rage and her eyes blazing with tears that she stalwartly refused to shed. “Who did this?” she growled. “Who is responsible for this? I swear, I will make them pay—“

“The Magic Knights of Cephiro,” Sorilbran said. “Umi, the Knight of Selece, killed Cristal.”

“Umi…” Nairi repeated the name. Her hands clenched into fists.

“I warned you, child, that they were your enemies. And now poor Cristal has died by their hand,” the Master of Illusion said. He sounded for all the world like a parent talking to a confused child.

“I will kill her myself,” Nairi snarled. “I don’t care what Kagura says! I will be the one to avenge Cristal.”

Sorilbran nodded approvingly. “Excellent. And destroy those who get in your way.” He glanced down at the stone once more. “Perhaps I will assist you this time, Nairi.”

She was momentarily startled out of her rage. “M-my lord?”

“I have shown them more than enough examples of my power. And now I think that it is high time,” he said with a sneer, “that I went and visited the Magic Knights of Cephiro in person.”

-o-


“Is she going to be all right?” Michiko asked quietly, looking as Fuu used her magic to heal Malia’s injuries. The poor girl was still unconscious, though that was probably for the best given everything that had happened today.

“I think so. But it’s strange,” Fuu said, watching as the wounds vanished beneath the glimmer of her magic. “Usually when I heal someone, they wake up very quickly. But she always sleeps for a bit longer after I do it. I wonder why that is.”

“Everyone is different,” Michiko offered. “Though I agree. Most people should wake up very soon after being healed by a power such as yours. It was the same way when I was the one doing the healing. But whether or not it means anything? I’m not entirely sure on that.”

Fuu made a small sound that might have been agreement at that statement and turned back to look at the unconscious Malia, her eyes distant and thoughtful. “So strange…so very strange…”

Suddenly her eyes widened, and she looked back at Michiko, then again at Malia. Her head swiveled back and forth between the two of them several times, her eyes growing wider and more horrified with each pass. Then she looked down at her own hands. “Oh my god, it can’t be…” She stood up and took several steps backwards, away from the bed. “I-it just can’t be…”

“Fuu?” Michiko said, alarmed. “Fuu, what is it? What’s wrong?”

“I figured it out. I know what it is,” Fuu said in a rush. “Ever since I first saw her, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something about her didn’t seem quite right. It’s been bothering me ever since, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. God, I’m such an idiot! How could I not see what was right in front of me?” She ran one agitated hand through her blonde hair and shook her head. “Where was my brain?”

“Fuu, what is it? What happened?” Michiko asked, half-begging.

“When we first got here, I was pulled into the Other-realm, remember?” Fuu asked.

Michiko nodded. “Yes, I remember that very well.”

“And after I came out of there, I could see people’s life-energy or life-force or whatever you want to call it,” Fuu went on. “I could see that glow around any living person, right? And you and Sachi and Amaya don’t have that glow because you’re already dead.”

“Yes…”

Fuu dropped back into her chair and looked down for a moment before she spoke, her voice tight.

“…Malia doesn’t have it either.”

That stopped Michiko cold. “What?”

“She doesn’t have it. That glow. There’s nothing. It’s exactly like you,” Fuu said. “When I asked if it was possible to mask something like that, I was told no. It can be dampened, but not completely hidden. Anyone with the power, like me, would be able to see it at least somewhat. But with Malia…there’s nothing there. Nothing at all. No trace whatsoever.”

Michiko shook her head. “But that means…”

Fuu looked up at her and nodded. “Based on what I know…it means that Malia is not alive.”



PS. And we finally get to the points I’ve been waiting all bloody story to introduce! *FLOPS OVER AND DIES* Gaaaaaah! …temper tantrum? Me? Perish the thought! But yes, we are approaching the big honkin’ finale. And we have also reached the only chapter in my outline that is not completely fleshed out. So I need to do that before I can write the chapter x.x Ack.

All right, enough of my babbling. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!