?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
30 October 2008 @ 06:51 pm
Song of the Wind, ch. 14 (MKR)  
Title: Song of the Wind
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Word Count: 10,286
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



Horror did not even begin to cover the emotions that Umi felt at that moment. Kagura had just…her best friend had just…slaughtered someone. From behind, run through with a sword. Someone who had probably trusted her. A teammate.

Now…that girl, Nairi, was curled on the ground, bleeding and staring and panting for air. And the look on her face said that she didn’t believe it either. It grew even worse at Kagura’s words: Sorilbran’s orders. Malia had alluded to Nairi’s loyalty to the man, and so to hear that he had ordered her death—her execution…

As some inner instinct drove her, Umi surged to her feet and grabbed her fallen sword. This was it. She was going to face her best friend in a fight to the death. Oh gods, she wasn’t ready for this, she couldn’t possibly hurt Kagura, or worse…

To her amazement, Kagura threw her a smirk. “Ah, but Umi. This is no place for a proper fight.” She turned and started walking towards a flat, grassy area down a sharp incline. “Come. Face me, if you have the courage. And once I am done with you, I shall go to Tynan.”

The sacrifice, Umi realized. She stood, frozen in place, and she watched Kagura walk away towards the spot that she had appointed as their battlefield. Finally, she swallowed hard and took that first fateful step towards that grassy clearing.

A hand grabbed her wrist.

Umi jumped and looked down, startled to realize that it was Nairi, gripping her arm with all the strength she could muster up. Her hands were stained with her own blood, and there was now a dark crimson mark on Umi’s arm in the shape of a palm and fingers. Umi looked down at her fallen enemy, and was only partially startled to see tears running down the girl’s face; they turned crimson where they met the trickle of blood that had seeped from the corner of her mouth.

Umi was on her knees in a heartbeat. She had thought that Nairi had died, but if she was alive…she could be saved, couldn’t she? “Just hold on, please,” she said, gripping at Nairi’s shoulder. Enemy or not, the last thing she wanted to see was another death at the hands of this horrible man. “I’ll get Fuu over here—she can use her magic. You won’t—“

“Stop. Please…”

The words were coughed out, but Umi stopped at the sound of them. “What?”

“Don’t…don’t bother. It’s what I d-deserve, right?” she said with a bitter bark of a laugh that ended in a cough. “I just c-can’t believe that h-he…he w-would…” A pause as she took a shaky breath. “I…I b-believe you…you didn’t k-kill them…”

Umi did not speak; she couldn’t. No words would come.

“Listen…I will t-tell you…” Nairi went on, her words coming faster as she struggled to get all of her thoughts out before it was too late. “H-his weakness…a stone. It f-focuses his power. D-destroy that, and you can w-win…b-break his spell…”

“Where is the stone?” Umi asked frantically.

“The crystal…underg-ground…somewhere…” she said. “Break it…b-break his spells. F-free…free us all…” She shook her head. “And d-don’t lose to her. Kagura. Please. You need to…” A hiccup. “Don’t lose her t-to Shadow now…”

Having finally regained control of herself and her senses, Umi shushed her. “Just hold on. I’m going to send Fuu over here for you. I promise. And I’ll take care of Kagura.”

“G-good. Now go,” Nairi said. She hiccuped again, and more tears ran down her face. “Go.”

-o-


This was as close to a one-sided battle as Fuu and Hikaru had ever fought. They hadn’t even been able to get close to Sorilbran yet. His powers were admittedly incredible. He was throwing illusions of every sort at them, some of them even reminscient of the fights they had seen in the Spring of Eterna.

Their family members, attacking them with all manners of magical powers.

Their closest friends, speaking to them with words of hatred and rebuke.

Moments out of their worst nightmares, laid before them as though of true flesh and blood and seeking to destroy them.

One right after the other, the illusions came. The only defense was to close their eyes, leaving them open to attacks of all other natures. They were running in circles, dodging and fleeing. They were helpless in the face of the onslaught.

And Sorilbran simply stood there and smiled through the whole thing.

So when he actually spoke to them, it was a surprise. “I wonder, though…what you would think of my true powers.” He moved a hand—

And the illusions vanished.

There was a moment where everything was almost frightfully calm.

…and then Hikaru let out an involuntary scream as she was forced to drop flat to her stomach on the ground to avoid being sliced through by Fuu’s sword. But even more frightening was the look on Fuu’s face: angry and bloodthirsty and filled with a hatred that had no place at all in the expression of such a gentle, caring girl.

But it was only like that for a moment before Fuu let out a cry of surprise and dropped her blade, jumping back from it. Now her look was one of a horror that mirrored Hikaru’s own. “What did I—oh god! You looked like—“ she whirled and glared up at him. “What did you do to me?”

“I was under the impression that the Knights of Windam were in possession of a great intellect,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “But it appears that this is not the case. You see, little one, I am the Master of Illusions. It is my supreme power.”

“What did you do?” Fuu asked again. She bent to reclaim her weapon. Hikaru moved into position behind her, ready for just about anything that he might throw at them.

“I cast an illusion into your very mind, Magic Knight,” he said. “You have no barriers against such a thing. Your mind is an open page to me. You are just like the others, so easy to manipulate and control.” He seemed amused by the whole thing.

“Is that what you did to Kagura?” Hikaru demanded.

“My, you are a curious one, aren’t you? Ah, well…there were a few things that I needed in order to secure my plans. One of those was the Promised. And how fascinating that she would be born so close to all of you. But it is not altogether surprising. You see, those with power are drawn to others with power. But it was a nuisance, to have found her and learn that she was not one who was going to fulfill her role easily. Her mind was filled with thoughts of the Light. That would certainly never do.”

“So you went into her mind,” Fuu said. It was a statement, not a question.

“All her thoughts of Light were supported by her friendships with you three and her knowledge of what had happened to you in Cephiro. She believed in that Light, foolish girl,” Sorilbran drawled. “So a few measures were required to ensure her cooperation. That is all.”

“What did you do?”

“Were you unaware, girl, that memories are little more than illusions? Easily created, easily destroyed, and easily altered. Memory is far too falliable, which makes it an easy thing to manipulate. I simply altered a few of her dear memories, added a few of my own creation, and planted the seeds of Shadow in her. After that was done, she willingly placed herself in my power and my control.”

“You brainwashed her!” Hikaru said accusingly.

“I am unfamiliar with that word, Magic Knight,” he said. “But I wonder…how easy would your mind be to play with? Are your memories so solid that I could not change them?” A sickening smile crossed his face. “Let us find out, shall we? Now let me see…you have other fears…”

The illusions were coming again. Hikaru was thrown back as a shade of her oldest brother slammed into her. She rolled away, tumbling head over heels, and called up to the illusionist, “So what about Malia and the others? What did you need them for?”

Fuu was busily fending off the image of her sister. “I know they’re not alive!”

Sorilbran almost seemed to be viewing himself as the star of this whole encounter. He was moving around a bit, gloating at their questions and preening happily as he answered them. “Oh, those three. Quite a find they were.”

“Tell me!” Fuu snarled. She remembered the look on Malia’s face when she had heard of Cristal’s demise, and the story Amaya had told about witnessing her teammates’ deaths. And she was forced to recall her own feelings when she had witnessed Umi’s death to stop Xander. They all deserved justice, or at least the dignity of an explanation.

“Oh, you have done the whole thing up nicely, haven’t you?” Sorilbran looked amused. “You three were not the only ones with the capacity to don the mashin. The bloodlines of your ancestors produced many more children than just the three of you. These three fell within those bloodlines. But their destinies were broken by death. I had been waiting, and I took their souls. I resurrected them. The bodies you see are my creations. I gave them their lives back, and in return they served me. They bonded to their mashin in fulfillment with that potential, and so I gained access to their magic and control over their powers. Such a simple plan, but so very effective.”

Simple? Fuu couldn’t help but gape at the description of what she suspected were high-level magics as being simple. All of his posturing and preening seemed more and more like a front. He wanted them to admire his powers. And she found herself suspecting that that was the reason for the attack on her shortly after their arrival in Cephiro, the trip into the Spirit World that had given her that second sight. It was just to show off and display his power, and to let them know that he could do whatever he wanted with them whenever he wanted.

And the attack on Amaya, trapping a spirit within her own memories…it had seemed so pointless, and now she knew that it really was in terms of the grand scheme. It was another chance for him to show off, to try and make them fear his power and what he could do.

But all of his plans and designs were becoming more and more clear to Fuu, particularly as she was able to study him and his aura: a fierce inky black glow that reached far beyond any normal aura. And she could take an educated guess as to what that meant. “But they couldn’t give you the power you really needed to get what you wanted,” Fuu risked the challenge. “You need Kagura and her powers and her mashin to get done whatever it is that you’re trying to do.”

“Oh, there it is!” he said, sounding oddly delighted. “That wonderful intelligence said to reside with the Knights of Windam. You are correct, Magic Knight. Hadrian and Damek and Galen were nothing. The real power is held by Tynan, and Kagura was good enough to awaken him for me. Now he fights,” he gestured towards the sky, where the clash was growing worse. “He and Amani are once again at their great battle. But this time, there will be a victor.”

“And after Kagura destroys Umi, she becomes the sacrifice to Tynan, he wins the battle with her power, and everything becomes darkness,” Fuu said.

For the first time, Sorilbran actually looked a bit annoyed. “Correct,” was all he said, but it was in a stiff tone, and she suspected that he was displeased that she was piecing his plans together and throwing them back at him faster than he could crow about them. She took an odd satisfaction in that, to be honest. Let him be disgruntled about it. Served him right. Besides, with these sorts of characters, a wound to the pride was frequently more painful than any wound to the body.

Hikaru was starting to panic. “Fuu…Fuu, something’s wrong…” she gasped, one hand pressed to her forehead. She was wincing and stumbling around. The attacking illusions had stilled, seemingly in favor of this new form of attack. But how did one fight an enemy that was attacking from inside one’s own mind and tearing away one’s free will?

At a loss and without any other ideas, Fuu burst out with the only thing she could think of: “Call Rayearth!” Their mashin were connected directly with their minds. Maybe that would let them help somehow, to fend off an attack that was entirely internal…

Apparently Hikaru had no better ideas. She did as she was told, though it was growing hard to focus because of the pain in her head. Not even bothering to hold her sword aloft as she normally did, she clenched her empty hand in her hair and screamed the name in a voice that spoke volumes of anguish and pain, “RAYEARTH!”

…Hikaru saw fire. Or rather, she saw fire in her mind’s eye. The blaze did not touch her or sear her; since acquiring her magic, flames had held no fear for her. And she could only wait as the internal battle was fought between her enemy and her greatest partner.

There was a popping noise, and her head was clear. The pain was gone. All was as it should be, her memories intact and her mind undamaged and unaltered.

”Thank you,” she murmured.

Sorilbran actually jumped back as though he had physically been stung, clutching both hands to the neckline of his scarlet tunic. “You…how dare you, you little—“

“How dare she what?” Fuu asked. “Break your spell? Fight back?”

Hikaru gave herself a shake and glared up at him. “You stay out of my head, you hear me?” she said.

“Hikaru! Fuu!” Umi’s voice interrupted the fight before it could really begin. A glance to the side proved that she was standing a short distance away, up a small incline. “Stay focused, and don’t take your eyes off him, but listen to me!”

“What happened?” Hikaru called back, refocusing her eyes on Sorilbran as per Umi’s instructions.

“Nairi is…” she glanced back, and saw that the Knight of Damek had gone still. “Nairi is dead. Kagura killed her, and Sorilbran ordered it. And he had Malia killed too, after she was separated from us. All three of them are gone, and he’s the one who did it.” The undertone in her voice grew even harsher. “He betrayed them.”

“Umi—“

“I’m going to go face Kagura. But be careful,” she called, and she was gone, off to finally confront her friend, now deadly enemy.

At the news of Malia, Fuu felt something inside her run cold. Malia, who had been willing to risk everything, and who had ultimately paid everything to help them and to atone for her mistakes. Cristal…Nairi…he had manipulated all three of them, making them what they were and then abusing their thanks by taking advantage of their loyalty.

And now Fuu was seeing red. As was Hikaru, if the growl she let out was any indication. Enemy or no, they did not want to see anyone hurt or killed. Especially not by someone they had so dearly believed they could trust.

There was a blur of crimson beside her, like a flash of hot flame—

And then Sorilbran was arching backwards and twisting his body to avoid being harmed as Hikaru’s sword sliced through the air. He let out a cry and stumbled backwards, clutching one of his arms.

Hikaru had actually leapt at him, and was now twisting in the air, bringing her feet up over her head and spinning to land neatly in a crouched position. A tiny drip of something red trailed off her sword.

“You…you hurt me!” Sorilbran said in a high voice. For lack of any better word, Fuu would have said that it sounded like he was whining. He was staring at his hand, now colored by his own blood. “You actually hurt me!” He sounded like the playground bullies back on Earth, who pushed everyone else around, yet could not believe that they were also receptive to injury when someone stood up to them.

Hikaru’s eyes were blazing. “It ends now,” she said. And the fight began anew.

-o-


The field was, as indicated, a perfect place for a fight. It was flat, grassy, and large enough for them to have room to move around. As Umi slid the rest of the way down the slope to that clearing, she couldn’t help but wonder exactly what would come of this. She knew that she could fight Kagura; it was something she had done on occasions before. But those had always been friendly spars and practice matches, back during the days when they both were members of their high school fencing club. That was very different from what was happening now.

…could she really do it?

Could she really kill her best friend, if it came to that?

Umi straightened and gazed across the field towards the girl standing proud and tall in the middle of it, waiting for her with sword drawn. Kagura was certainly not going to be pulling any punches in this fight. She was here for blood, regardless of their long history. She did not know Umi as her best friend.

…yes.

If it came to that, Umi told herself, she could and would kill Kagura.

She had to rationalize it to herself, though. If Kagura was taken by Dark, then the land would be destroyed. Aldarba, Cephiro, possibly the other worlds that inhabited this universe…all could be lost to the mashin’s fury and rage, and Shadow (for she knew that to be who was ultimately behind this entire situation) would be victorious and take everything. If it were an even fight between Light and Dark, then perhaps there would be a way to turn the tide; Selece, Windam, and Rayearth could help, couldn’t they?

In the end, she had to admit it: it was unfair to put one life above all the lives of all the people in all these worlds, simply because she knew the person. It was the same rational that had led her and her teammates to kill Emeraude, the Pillar, during their initial venture into Cephiro. The needs of the many had to be placed above the needs of the few.

That was why the Magic Knights were the legendary protectors of Cephiro, after all. They fought to guard the people, those who could not defend themselves.

No matter how much personal pain it caused them.

Taking a deep breath and steeling herself for what she was sure she was going to have to do, Umi began to cross the field to face Kagura in this fight. This final fight, she knew. One way or another, this was going to end today. Be it her death or Kagura’s death or the destruction of entire worlds, this was it. The final countdown. The showdown to decide the fate of everything.

“I have to say that I’m glad you decided to come,” Kagura said in a lazy drawl, turning her sword over in her hand. “I’ve been waiting for this for quite some time.” She glanced up towards the mashin fighting above them, and smiled at the sound of land breaking and crashing because of the battle. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it? Such power…such wonderful power…”

“Why would you do this, Kagura?” Umi asked. “Any of this? This isn’t you! And why did you kill Nairi?” On Sorilbran’s orders, she thought, recalling the words Kagura had so callously spoken after impaling Nairi with obvious intent to kill.

“Because she had outlived her usefulness,” Kagura said. The smirk she wore then was far too much like Sorilbran’s for anyone’s comfort. “The deaths of the others were enough to make her help us take the Princess to lure you here. That was all. There is nothing more she can do, and so she was eliminated. It’s for the best, really. I have no use for weaklings”

“Kagura—“

“There’s really no point in talking anymore, Umi,” Kagura said, lifting her sword. “I am the most powerful Magic Knight there is. My legend far surpasses yours.” Now her pretty violet eyes flickered black. “And I belong to Shadow. I will be the sacrifice to Dark. And you, Umi…you are my enemy. And you are weak. And as I said before, I have no use for weaklings.”

That signalled the end of the simple conversation part of this meeting, and the fight was joined. This was far different from any other fight or spar they had ever had. No strikes were pulled; no blows were softened. The metal blades of their swords vibrated and rang with the force of collision as parry after parry and thrust after thrust were met by block after block.

“I wonder what Takeshi would say if he saw you now,” Umi snarled, shoving her hair back and jumping back a few feet. “He always said you were the nicer of the two of us. He’d probably be helping me right now. You’ve lost your mind.”

Kagura had been swinging at Umi’s head, and Umi had raised her own sword to block it. But to her open amazement, the sword’s arc had changed at the last minute. Initially it had been flying towards Umi’s face; instead, it sliced through the air past her shoulder, missing her completely. She audibly murmured, “T-Takeshi…?” It was like she was just remembering her longtime male friend as someone she had not thought about in years.

Umi felt a pang of guilt, but took her chance as it presented itself, and lifted her knee, slamming it soundly into Kagura’s stomach. She heard a loud gasp of pain, and resolved not to let up on her advantage. She swung her leg around and kicked. Kagura was knocked backwards several meters, where she slammed backwards into the ground with a loud grunt of pain.

It took Kagura several seconds to climb to her feet. “That was impressive, Umi,” she said, pressing her free hand to the spot where Umi’s knee had rammed into her. “Very impressive. There’s that fighting spirit.” She let out a low hiss as she stood upright. “But you relinquish your advantage as soon as you secure it.”

Umi didn’t even bother opening her mouth to reply because she knew that Kagura was right. By all accounts and logic, she should have attacked again, and ended the fight once and for all on the blade of her sword. But the fact was that she had choked. And she knew it could cost her dearly, because now her foe was up again and ready to start the fight anew.

Swallowing hard, Umi drew into herself. Her normal personality fell to the back, and her truest self came forward. She lifted her head and gazed straight at Kagura, looking her right in the eye with a gaze that she knew was cast in ice. “I am a Magic Knight of Cephiro, Kagura,” she said, her voice even and calm. “And I will do what I must to protect Cephiro, and Cephiro’s allies. If this means that I must kill you, then so be it. But I will secure our peace.”

There was no missing the flicker of surprise that touched Kagura’s face at the words. But it vanished quickly into that same cool, confident smirk. “Oh, how wonderful,” Kagura said. “At last, a decent fight. I am going to enjoy this, Umi.” And she lunged with her sword in her hand and bloodlust in her eyes.

It was a cruel thing to say, Umi knew, but she was going to say it anyway; she lifted her sword to block the attack. “Then I will send you to meet Kazuma. I know you miss him a lot.”

The response was not at all what she had expected. Kagura actually stumbled and stopped far short of actually striking Umi. And now she simply stared at her with horrified eyes. And…were those tears? “Wh-what? But…h-how dare you…” Now Kagura couldn’t even form a coherent sentence.

The stammering went on for another second or two before Kagura finally let out an enraged shriek and attacked. There was no longer any rhyme or reason to the attack; her motions no longer held any of the grace or purpose that had marked her earlier movements. Now it was just infuriated hacking and slashing in a mad attempt to draw blood.

To be honest, the lack of predictable moves was giving Umi a bit of difficulty in blocking. But the wild moves were large and arching, and once she realized that much, she was able to follow a great deal better and protect herself. Let Kagura wear herself out a bit, and then take the fight for herself.

No matter the outcome, there would be pain here.

And in the skies overhead, Tynan and Amani continued their age-old fight.

-o-


Nairi had never been in this much pain.

…why wasn’t she dead yet? It made no sense. She could taste her own blood, feel her own blood soaking and staining her hands and her armor. And yet she was alive somehow, and conscious, though the world before her eyes was growing increasingly fuzzy and difficult to make out.

Her legs refused to cooperate, and so she was left to drag herself across the ground towards the fight, inch by inch, one slow move at a time. She could see Sorilbran in the sky, and knew that the Magic Knights of Cephiro were fighting him. Light and Dark waged war on the horizon. And if her guess was right, Kagura and Umi were having their own duel. What a mess…

What a horrible, splendid mess…

Rather like her misplaced loyalty, she thought, feeling those awful tears biting at her eyes again.

She had forgotten the incline at the edge of this plateau, and tumbled gracelessly down it, landing in a heap. Her entire body screamed in pain at the action, but she forced herself to keep moving. She had an idea, and dear gods if she could manage this then perhaps there was still some chance…

Malia had stayed with the Knights of Cephiro, knowing well that her treason would cost her dearly. Knowing Malia and her far-too-good nature, she had probably wanted to try and fix what she had destroyed. What a folly, a fool’s idea. And yet…

Sorilbran had just knocked the two Magic Knights away (the green one and the red one, Nairi noted absently), and had now noticed her. And oh, did he look delighted. “Nairi, my dear, what has happened to you?” he asked in a voice that was practically dripping with false sweetness and charm.

“You did this…” she gasped. God, she couldn’t make that horrific taste in her mouth go away. “And n-now I’m going to r-repay the f-favor…” Her voice refused to cooperate anymore. She had to do this quickly; she was having difficulty seeing straight, and her legs had gone numb.

Now his eyes hardened. “And what are you going to do, Nairi?” he asked coolly. “You are weak, and near death. You always were a gullible fool, though.”

“I was g-gullible to put so m-much faith in you…and I w-was a f-fool,” she said as evenly as possible. “B-but you b-betrayed me, Sorilb-bran. And now I c-can repay the f-favor.” There was a flash of light, and her sword appeared in her hand; it immediately dropped to the ground beside her as she coughed, splattered blood onto her hands and the soft earth.

She had shifted. When she had first landed down there and made her way to the battlefield, she had been more or less on her stomach, her legs dragging almost uselessly behind her. There was probably a trail of crimson across the ground behind her to mark her path. But now she had managed to pull herself up, tucking her legs under her as best she could. One hand was pressed to the stab wound on her stomach, and the other was flat against the ground beside her.

Unbeknownst to him, she was searching. It had to be there, near him, and since it was not in sight, it had to be hidden. She knew that he would frequently do like this, having helped him in that endeavor herself on a few occasions. She just had to find it…was that…yes. There it was.

Nairi reached with her hazy mind. “Damek? Are you there?” She felt those same alien tears in her eyes now, but she knew that she could not do this herself, no matter how much she wished she could. “I’ve been a fool. But I need help now.” Both for her own vengeance against the one who had so wronged her…and her single chance at redemption for her stupidity.

A strange feeling in her mind, almost like a hug. “I am with you.”

And his strength was there, where her own was failing, and she was able to actually lift her head up and hold it high. Nairi was surprised to feel herself smile, and when she spoke her voice was now strong and clear. “You said this would be the end of it all. I think you’re right. Let’s end it.”

Now she reached again, not with mind or hands, but with magic. She reached through her hand, down into the ground around her; she found what she had been searching for, that precious item that meant the difference between victory and defeat. And she pulled with all her power and strength…

The ground began to shake, and suddenly the earth by her hand split open. A large smooth stone on some sort of pedestal had been more or less spit up by the ground. It looked odd now, simply protruding from the dirt like that. But the look on Sorilbran’s face spoke volumes of how bad this was. He suddenly looked frantic, and he lunged at her with a strangled scream of fury.

Now her sword was in her hand. “One more time, Damek?” There was no vocal response, but that same feeling of warmth and strength. Her mashin had known that sooner or later she would do the right thing. It had just taken her this long to actually do it. Now she lifted her gaze and gave Sorilbran a crooked smile. “This is for Malia and Cristal,” she said; her voice was soft, but she knew he could hear it.

And she lifted her sword and swung it down onto the stone with all the strength she could muster up, both the last ebbing bits of her own strength and the strength her mashin had given her. And she willed every bit of her magic into that sword to just end this fight already…

The smooth, polished surface cracked and split from the force of the attack; the sword embedded itself deeply into the rock. That was all that anyone had time to see before the focus-stone exploded with light. Nairi did not even attempt to scream as the light engulfed her, burning and white-hot and tearing her apart with sheer magical force.

Yet she did not even cry anymore, no matter how much it hurt. It was almost over anyway.

…and she was tired.

-o-


Umi barely noticed the pillar of light shooting into the sky; she was too busy trying to keep herself from being killed. But some part of her noticed it and noted that it was near the place where Fuu and Hikaru were fighting Sorilbran. Oh gods, she hoped they were okay…she had to refocus quickly, though, and she raised her sword to block an attack from Kagura.

Kagura was charging, the sword swinging downwards towards Umi. But it fell from her fingers and actually flew over Umi’s head closely enough that she had to duck to avoid slicing the top of her head open. The blade skidded and bounced across the grass behind Umi, who was staring, startled, at her now-immobile opponent.

Kagura’s eyes had gone wide, and did not seem to actually see Umi for a moment. Numerous emotions flitted across her eyes and her face. Most prevalent among them was pain, and tears first welled up in her eyes, then started to slide down her face without being noticed or wiped away.

At a loss, Umi took a step back. Was this a trick? It didn’t seem like it. Kagura had never been one to cry, especially on cue, and she had certainly shown no remorse at all in this fight so far. Why start now, even as a battle tactic? She had been so confident that she would win.

After eternities had seemingly gone by, Kagura blinked and looked straight at her. “Umi?” she said, looking her friend up and down. “Why are you wearing your armor? Are we back in Cephiro?” Her voice was a far cry from the smug drawl that had marked their earlier conversation. Now she was quiet, almost a whisper, and she looked lost and confused, like a disoriented sleepwalker who has just awoken in a strange place.

“We’re in Aldarba,” Umi said without thinking, then realized how odd the question was. She had known where they were! Unless… “Kagura, do you not remember anything that—“

Kagura winced and put her hand to her forehead. “I…god, my head hurts, everything’s all muddled…” Her eyes snapped open again as she seemed to remember something, and she looked around: first at Umi and the sword in Umi’s hand, then past Umi to the blade laying on the ground. Then she looked down at herself; she was wearing her black armor. She looked back at Umi, the horror of realization and dawning comprehension written into her expression. And finally she looked up towards the sky and the two mashin fighting there. Tynan currently had its teeth buried into Amani’s shoulder, but Amani’s white hooves were kicking furiously at Tynan’s legs. Their battle was still without a clear victor.

“Umi…” Kagura said slowly, her eyes still focused on those two mashin. “…did I…did I really do that?”

There was no denying it, and no good reason to lie. It seemed that Kagura was remembering everything, so a lie would only be more hurtful. Umi nodded and answered, softly, “Yes.”

-o-


The light vanished almost as suddenly as it had appeared. Fuu and Hikaru rushed to the place to see what had happened, and found a small crater blasted into the earth. Sorilbran had been flung aside, managing to avoid the majority of the power explosion. He lay, unmoving, on the burnt grass.

The stone was gone, and so was Nairi. There wasn’t so much of a trace that either had been there, save for the enormous hole blown into the ground by the stone’s fracture. But wait…what was that…?

Hikaru slid down into the gaping hole; she had spotted something sparkling at the bottom of it, and wanted to see what it was. Fuu waited on the rim, and offered Hikaru a hand as she climbed out with the object clutched in her hand. She showed it to Fuu, closing her eyes as she handed it over.

A gem.

An ovum-gem, to be precise, dark brown in color.

It was definitely Nairi’s, the only thing left of her. How it was left when nothing else had survived was unknown to them at the moment, but somehow… “Let’s take it back to Cephiro,” Fuu said softly, tucking the small jewel into her armor for safekeeping. “It just seems like the right thing to do.”

There was a groan, and movement nearby. Both whipped around to see Sorilbran struggling to sit up. He looked disoriented and bewildered, but he quickly recovered and glared at them. He wore a smirk now that barely reached his eyes as he struggled to his feet. “Well, that certainly takes care of that problem,” he said. But something seemed different. He wasn’t how he had been before. It was hard to explain, but whatever that stone was that Nairi had broken, it had done something to him. “Now to deal with you…”

A new emotion filled Hikaru as she listened to him so easily brush Nairi’s sacrifice aside. There had been shock and sadness and even a tinge of grief for their enemy, though she did not totally understand what had just happened. But now she was slowly feeling something new, burning into the back of her throat.

Rage.

Before she even really realized what she was doing, Hikaru called fire and flung it at him. It wasn’t even her most powerful attack, but the first one she had ever learned, the flame arrow. It was simply the first one that had popped into her head. It was probably a waste of magic and energy, as he had always just brushed those aside before. But this time…

To Hikaru’s amazement, this time was different.

Sorilbran moved his hand as though to knock her attack aside as he had before. Instead, the burst of flame ignored his attempts to block it, and hit him squarely in the chest, knocking him back down to the ground; he once again landed sprawled on his back with a near squawk of surprise.

And he wasn’t the only one surprised. Fuu let out an involuntary gasp when she saw him hit. They had been trying to do this since the battle started. How in the world was it possible that now…

She glanced down at the crater. The stone that Nairi had destroyed…had that done it somehow?

Whatever the case, it seemed that it was time to turn the battle and gain the upper hand. They could take care of Sorilbran first, and then worry about the mashin. So long as they stayed out here, where there weren’t any cities or towns to be destroyed, there was the possibility that this could all be ended quickly and without too many casualties.

Sorilbran was already back on his feet. There was a strange blotch staining the front of his tunic a darker shade of maroon; it didn’t take a genius to realize that it was blood. He was bleeding and injured, and now he was not able to cast them aside quite so easily.

Fuu moved first and called Binding Winds. In very short order, he was caught up in the net of her magic, held fast and immobile. He yelped and struggled, but to no avail. And then it was Hikaru’s turn; she threw fire, and let nature do the rest. The yelp turned to a shout as he was engulfed. After a moment, they released him. He was surely injured enough to be of no threat. Now perhaps it was time to let the laws and justice systems of these worlds do their work and—

To their open amazement, he jumped away from them. Sorilbran looked a mess now: his clothes were tattered and burned, he was blistered and red from Hikaru’s fire, and he was visibly furious. “I will…” he gasped harshly. “You won’t win this fight, Magic Knights. I still have my power, and your memories are mine to destroy, do you hear me! I will—URK!”

He froze, his eyes widening, as darkness swarmed around him. The ribbons of shadow were quickly wrapping around him before tightening around him. It took a moment before he was completely covered by them. Judging by the expression that had been on his face while it was visible, this was not his doing, and he did not understand what was happening.

“It is interesting how you call others worthless and weak,” a familiar, eerily-smooth voice commented, “when you are no better yourself. I think it is time to put an end to this…as Shadow commands.”

There was a muffled whimper of protest from beneath the shadow before they suddenly contracted—

There was a sickening crunch that seemed to reverberate off every hillside in the area. The ribbons unbound and vanished, and a bloody, messy pulp that had only moments before been a person dropped to the ground at their feet.

Sorilbran.

Or what was left of him. His face was not recognizable, his body crushed.

And Aeric stood behind him, watching the scene with a smile. “Ah, Magic Knights,” he said in that same slimy tone. “A pleasure to see you again. I trust you enjoyed this little show?” He glanced down at the remains and chuckled. “A fitting end for such a fool, wouldn’t you agree?”

“You…”

“Unfortunately, I do not have time to play with you right now. There are many other matters which require my attention,” he said, stepping back. “But everything is finally ready. I will kill you after Cephiro has fallen. And it will be far, far sooner than you realize. Farewell until then, ladies.”

And he was gone, disappearing into a blur of shadows that vanished as soon as they had appeared. He left two horrified Magic Knights on the field, with a mangled body on one side of them, and two monsters fighting in the sky on the other.

-o-


“Kagura, are you sure that—“

“Umi, please! I need to see!” she tried to push her friend’s hand aside and hurried along as much as her uncooperative limbs would permit. Her mind was still a hazy mess, and it was affecting her physically. But she had to see the fight, the battle for eternity that she had triggered.

Still, she managed to make her way to a higher point with Umi right on her heels. From there, she had a perfect view of the two: Amani of the Light, and Tynan of the Dark. Tynan, who had accepted her as his Knight. He intended to devour her and take her power to win the fight. And she would have let him do so quite willingly under Sorilbran’s powers.

“I did this…” she murmured. “I let them loose…this is all my fault…”

“Kagura, that’s not true—“

“It is!” Kagura protested with a sudden burst of strength. “I brought them here!” She looked back towards them. “And I need to stop this, somehow…I need to stop them from fighting…”

Amani and Tynan had moved away from each other now, and were staring at one another. As the two girls watched, they began to glow white and black, respectively. The auras around them grew larger and larger with each passing second.

It took Umi a moment to realize what they were doing. “They’re charging up. They’re going to attack,” she said breathlessly. “If they let that loose, they’ll destroy everything. The entire area will go up in flames.” Including the Magic Knights themselves, and quite possibly a fair amount of Aldarba. And they really weren’t that far from the Palace, all things considered. That could be at risk too.

“Oh my god…” Kagura took a step back, putting her hands over her mouth. “What now? God, this is my fault, I’ve got to stop this somehow…but what can I…wait.” She stopped and straightened, biting her lip as she thought. “Wait a minute…”

“What?” Umi said.

“I was told…” she frowned, furrowing her brow as she fought to remember what she had been told. “I was told that I was of the Dark. That I would choose the darkness. Umi, I have a choice. But…” she looked up at them. “No matter which one I choose, they win, and everything is destroyed.”

Umi’s mind was racing as fast as Kagura’s probably was as she sought to remember the story of Light and Dark. And as she skimmed through the legend, which she had more or less discounted at the time as a fairy tale, she remembered one detail. “Kagura, do you know the story of Light and Dark?”

“They told me the story, yes.”

“How did their first battle end? The one from the story itself, I mean.”

Kagura thought for a moment, then her eyes widened. “It’s a long shot, but…”

The mashin looked to be ready to fire now, and both let out a roar as they unleashed their power.

Before Umi could register the movement, Kagura was sprinting to the edge of the overlook. “Kag—“ But she was cut off when she heard Kagura’s frantic scream as she actually jumped from the precipice.

“STOP!”

The magics collided in the air, obscuring Kagura.

For a moment, Umi couldn’t see anything. She squeezed her eyes shut, expecting to be killed. Beyond her eyelids, she could see that the world was alternating between blinding light and crushing darkness. She could hear cracking and crumblings that seemed to indicate that the land was being torn apart

…and then it stopped.

Unsure of what she would see, Umi opened her eyes.

She saw Kagura actually floating in the air between them, her arms outstretched as though to somehow block the attacks. She seemed to be unharmed. The mashin themselves had still their fight and stood again at opposite ends of their battleground, studying her.

Kagura was visibly panting for air. “That’s ENOUGH!” she screamed.

A new voice came from the sky, somewhere above the clouds. It was deep and rumbling, and as commanding as any leader. It reminded Umi of Selece. “What say you, girl?”

Kagura looked down for a moment, then up towards the clouds, which were starting to move and swirl. Somewhere in that mass was the speaker, and she had to give the right answer now. Or somehow, she knew that the consequences would be horrific. She swallowed hard, and said, “I am the one who was said to have the power to calm Light and Dark. I think he called me the Promised. But I was told that I had to choose one or the other.”

“That is correct.”

“…why?” she said, an unmistakable challenge. “Why do I have to choose?” Her hands balled into fists at her sides. “I mean…without light, there is no dark. And without dark, there can’t really be light, can there? It’s like how there’s no good without evil. I don’t see how one can truly exist without the other. Neither one is really more powerful than the other. But they need each other. F-for balance!” She was struggling to put her thoughts into words that would somehow appease the faceless being whom she was addressing. But it needed to be said. She knew the choice she had to make now.

“I am not of the Dark, and I am not of the Light,” she said. The words of a poem sprang into her mind. “I am of the Dawn, where the light chases away the dark. And I am of the Twilight, where the light flees before the darkness. That is where the two meet, where they are one, and irreversibly intertwined. And because of that…because neither is truly more powerful than the other, I refuse to choose between them. Instead…” she actually smiled then, “…instead, I claim the power of both.”

There was a beat, where the entire world seemed to stand still, awaiting its judgement.

Then the clouds parted, and a large silver spirit descended from that opening. Its shape was like that of the other two: a stag-like form, long-legged and regal with its head held high to survey the area around it. He (for she was certain that it was a he) touched carefully down to the ground between the two who would do battle and tossed its head.

He looked the same as the other two physically, but somehow…there was something about this mashin that set him apart. It was impossible to put into words, but he was definitely different from the other two. And he was now in total control of this battlefield.

The name sprang, unbidden, into Kagura’s mind, and she knew who and what this creature was. Before she could stop herself, she spoke it aloud. “Lycoris,” she said. “The Beast of Twilight. The one who controls both Light and Dark.” It had been in the story, after all: the magic spent in their great battle had brought into existence another being who bore aspects of both. This was that being…and somehow, Kagura had the impression that he was not terribly pleased. Not that she blamed him for that.

“Tell me, girl,” he said in that same commanding voice. His mouth (if he had one?) did not move, but there was no question as to who was speaking. “Why should I take you as my Knight? Have you not done terrible things? Is there not blood on your hands?”

The words stung, but they were both right and well-deserved. She had done awful things, and Nairi’s death was directly on her head. Oh, the Knight of Damek had chosen to die by destroying Sorilbran’s focus-stone rather than dying from the stab wound, but that did not change the facts. She took another deep breath to try and rally her thoughts and gather her wits about her.

“Maybe I’m not worthy to be a Magic Knight,” she said slowly. “I know I’ve made mistakes, and while many of them were not entirely under my own free will, that does not excuse me for what I’ve done. I was under Sorilbran’s control. He messed with my mind. But…it was still my hand that held the sword that stabbed Nairi. I still kidnapped Caliana. That was me, and I take responsibility for my actions, regardless of the circumstances surrounding those actions.”

So far, she had not been blown to pieces or dropped to the ground; she was still floating in the sky, still wearing the black armor of a Magic Knight. She hoped sincerely that this was a good sign.

“But now…if I have this power and this ability,” she started, then paused, thought for a moment, and went on. “I asked Umi once to tell me why she did what she did as a Magic Knight. I didn’t understand her answer, so I asked Hikaru and Fuu as well, and they gave me the same answer. And I didn’t get it then. But I do now because I’m in the same situation, and I think I can give the same answer of why I would want to keep this power and be a Magic Knight.” She looked down at the dark gem on her hand. “I have an ability. A gift or a curse, whichever you want to call it. And I’m one of only a very small group of people with powers like this.”

“Go on,” Lycoris boomed.

“…Hikaru told me that she had seen the people of Cephiro, and that once she knew what their situations were, she knew she had to fight for them. The Magic Knights fight to protect the people of Cephiro, the ones who can’t protect themselves. I can ride in a mashin and call magic to stop invasions or destroy monsters. They can’t. So…” Kagura closed her eyes. She suddenly felt very calm. “I understand now. I know how much it hurt Umi and the others to be a Magic Knight. She went through a lot of pain for this land. But she did it anyway because no one else can do what they do. And maybe if I can learn to use my power the right way, and I can fight to protect instead of destroy—doing things of my own free will, and without anyone’s influence…then I can help. And maybe, given time, I’ll be able to make up for what I’ve already done and the destruction I caused. It will take a long time, but…” She trailed off into silence; her words had simply run out.

Another of those long pauses. Then Lycoris fixed her with that silvery stare. “Your heart is strong, young one,” he said, and she found that she preferred that name to being called ‘girl.’ “But it was misguided. But you do understand. Therefore…”

Before her eyes, Tynan and Amani began to change. Where they had been solid shapes only moments before, they were now becoming almost like masses of black and white fog. Slowly, those mists began moving towards Lycoris, and seemed to melt into him, and he changed in a way that defied words. He was more commanding, more royal…

Complete.

That was the word. Complete.

And Kagura looked down as her armor started to glow and change on her very body. In a moment, the glow faded. What had been solid black armor (not unlike Aeric’s, she thought with a shudder) was now colored in black and white and silver that spanned the whole of the breastplate in intricate patterns and stripes. The trim was now in gold, not unlike the others. The gem on her hand was silver.

Without another word, Lycoris changed, becoming a large ball of light that shot into the round circle of gold in the center of her armor. She unconsciously arched her back as the mashin—her mashin, she reminded herself—vanished into her breastplate. When she straightened and opened her eyes again, she was nearly back on the ground, her feet just above the grassy bluff.

She closed her eyes once again as her boot-clad feet touched down to the ground, first her toes, then rocking down onto her heels. Above her, the clouds moved and twisted and finally vanished into nothingness. The entire scene was calm once again.

Umi ran up to her, stopping a couple of meters away. “Kagura?”

Kagura opened her eyes. For a mere moment, they were a flourescent silver, but almost immediately they faded back to their normal pretty violet. She looked straight ahead. The wind chose that moment to pick up, rustling her long hair and her clothes. Dry, dead leaves that had somehow avoided being incinerated in the onslaught of magical attacks were caught as they were blown into her shoes. The area was quiet, as though nothing had happened.

Umi crept closer. “…Kagura?”

Only then did the light of comprehension seem to turn on, and life returned to Kagura’s eyes. She focused in on Umi immediately. “…Umi…” As strain and exhaustion mingled with the growing realization of exactly what she had done, Kagura broke. She dropped her face into her hands and started to cry as though her heart had broken.

At a momentary loss, Umi reached out and touched her friend’s shoulder. “Hey, don’t cry,” she said, feeling her own throat tighten with the threat of tears. “Water’s my thing, remember?” The weak attempt at a joke was rewarded by a choked laugh, and Kagura half-fell against her for a hug. “Come on, let’s go find the others.”

The two wandered back down to the field where they had fought. They weren’t even halfway there when they spotted their other two teammates searching for them. Hikaru and Fuu were frantically scouring the landscape, trying to find them. “Fuu! Up here!” Umi called, quickening her pace. Kagura followed closely behind her.

It wasn’t until they neared the other two, though, that Kagura stopped and held back a bit. But it proved to be an unnecessary action. Hikaru glanced at Umi, who nodded, and promptly rushed forward to fling her arms around Kagura in a tight hug. “You’re okay!”

“I…yes, I am,” Kagura said, returning the hug a bit awkwardly. She glanced up, and saw the other two standing just behind Hikaru, watching her with smiles. “Fuu, Umi…girls, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

Fuu held up a hand. “Given the circumstances, I don’t think it’s completely necessary to apologize. But I think we’ll have to talk later. Sorilbran is gone,” she shuddered here, leaving Umi and Hikaru to wonder exactly how the man had been dispatched, “and Aeric got away. But before he left, he said something about how he would kill us after Cephiro fell.”

There was no need for further explanation on that one. “We need to get back to Cephiro,” Hikaru said. “As soon as possible. If there’s trouble there…” she glanced up towards the sky. “Rayearth? Is Caliana safe? Are the others all right?”

“All is well in the capital. The Princess is safe,” the mashin replied immediately. It was rather like he had been anticipating that sooner or later, they would think to ask about the Princess’ welfare. Not that there had ever been any cause for worry, though, as far as the girls were concerned. They trusted their mashin implicitly.

“Should we go back to Cephiro right away?” Kagura asked. To say she looked nervous was an vast understatement, and not entirely unfounded, given the circumstances, but she looked determined.

“I think we had better. We can work out everything else later. We’ll get in touch with the boys once we have the chance,” Umi said firmly, drawing her sword. “The mashin will get us there the fastest. And I think we need to hurry.” She glanced up towards the sky, as though looking for some unknown star hiding behind the clouds. “We’re at war. And something tells me that we’re going to be needed.

The others followed suit and clutched their weapons. Kagura, however, didn’t. She looked down at the ground, her hands toying together in front of her. “Do they know…?”

It took them a moment to realize what she meant. Did the others in Cephiro know what had happened to her, and what she had done? Did they know she had been taken, used, manipulated, more or less brainwashed into doing terrible things? If they did, there was precious little way that she could reasonably expect them to welcome her back into the Palace with open arms, as they had when she had first landed in Cephiro.

Strange. It really hadn’t been that long since she had first come to these worlds by a twist of fate that had left her in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or was it the right place at the right time? Whatever the case, it was that one moment of incredible timing that had sent her to adventures she had never dreamed possible…and led her to murder.

She had spoken of atonement and penance to Lycoris. But could she really pay for all of this? Was there any possible way for her to atone for everything she had done? …was she truly strong enough for that?

A hand touched her shoulder, and she realized that she had been looking at the ground and letting herself get lost in her thoughts. She jumped slightly and lifted her head, shaking off her woolgathering, and was a bit startled to realize that Umi was smiling at her. “Umi?”

“We should get going,” the Knight of Windam said simply. “There isn’t much time, and they’re waiting for us.” She grinned and cocked her head expectantly to one side. “Are you ready to go?”

Kagura swallowed hard, steeled herself, and nodded. “I think so…”

“Then let’s do it.”

Fuu and Hikaru were waiting, their swords in their hands. “Is everything okay?” Fuu asked.

“I think so,” Umi said. She shot a glance back at Kagura. “And even if it’s not, it will be, sooner or later.”

“…okay, when the hell did you grow up?” Kagura blurted out without meaning to. She slapped a hand over her mouth immediately after she said it, as though punishing her lips for being bad. What was wrong with her? She had no right to be making jokes like that!

…except Umi was laughing. “Oh my god, that’s music to my ears!” She actually clapped her hands in delight. “I never thought I’d see the day when I’d miss hearing you give me crap!”

“Come on, girls,” Hikaru said with a grin. “Let’s get to Cephiro.” Without waiting for any further encouragement, she held her sword aloft in a familiar gesture and made the call: “RAYEARTH!” She vanished in a flare of red light.

Fuu was right on her heels: “WINDAM!”

Umi gave her an encouraging look. “Don’t worry. It’s going to be all right.” She glanced up. “SELECE!”

Now alone on the field, Kagura took one final look around, then glanced down at the weapon in her hand. Decision made, she closed her eyes, raised her sword, and took a deep breath. The name didn’t come out quite as strong as she had hoped, but it was enough, and she felt a pull—

“LYCORIS!”



PS. As it stands right now, there will be two more chapters to this story, and then right into the third part of the trilogy, which I have about a million and a half ideas for, and am in the frantic process of outlining. The prologue for the third story is already done, and I am anticipating posting it around Christmas. So that’s where things stand with that.

The title of this chapter, “Dawn and Twilight,” was actually the original name for this story before I decided that it was going to be a trilogy and therefore wanted the titles to sort of line up a bit. But I liked that title, so I kept it for this chapter. Also, the name Lycoris does actually mean “twilight.” It was originally a Greek name. Nifty!

…yeah, that’s all I’ve got. Hope you’ll tune back in for the next chapter. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!