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11 April 2007 @ 09:11 pm
Tears of the Sea, ch. 3 (MKR)  
Title: Tears of the Sea
Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama/Action/Adventure
Publish Date: 5/2/2004 through 12/24/2005
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*



When the great powers of Cephiro had built the palace by sheer force of will in the midst of the Pillar crisis, they had done the best job possible of making the place self-sufficient. There was a large residential area, kitchens, and rooms that housed large fruit orchards.

Though they were now somewhat superfluous, with the country having returned to its normal, prosperous state, the orchards remained in the palace. And Ascot, summoner extraordinaire, had long since claimed those tree-filled rooms as his own place of solace. He and his oddly-shaped friends would retire there for moments of privacy, usually when something was troubling them.

Or rather, something was bothering Ascot, and his friends went with him to comfort and counsel to the best of their limited abilities. As was the case right now.

He leaned heavily against one of the trees and sighed. He was already regretting that he’d essentially run away from her. She probably hadn’t even noticed he was gone. For lack of anywhere else to, well, hide, he’d come here. A couple of his friends were already here, and they looked at him questioningly as he came in. He waved them off and retreated to a far corner of the room.

Once there, he promptly began beating his head against a tree trunk conveniently located nearby. “Stupid, stupid, stupid…coward, coward, coward…stupid, stupid, stupid…” It was like a mantra, he repeated it over and over, believing in it wholeheartedly.

He was stupid, really. He’d tried to forget, but some things just wouldn’t let themselves be forgotten. This was something that just refused to be left in the past, where it belonged. He’d almost gotten there…and then she had just walked into the room, as confident as ever.

Another thought occurred to him then, and Ascot had to fight to keep from growling.

Who in Mokona’s name was that guy with her?

-o-


“Where is he?” Umi huffed, rounding a corner; she was dragging Fuu behind her. Kagura and Takeshi were darting around, following the blue-haired beauty in her mad trek around the Cephirean palace. Hikaru had disappeared with Lantis, and nobody seemed really anxious to find them or interrupt them. “Honestly, that boy…”

They were looking for Ferio. Or rather, Umi was looking for Ferio, Fuu was dragging her feet (“I’m just not sure…what if he doesn’t…well…you know…”), and Kagura and Takeshi were just along for the ride. Well, Kagura desperately wanted to see this guy that had Fuu so worked up.

Finally, Fuu pulled her hand free of Umi’s. “Look, I really appreciate your help, but it’s fine. I’ll find him myself. Don’t worry about it…”

Umi shook her head. “No way! You’ll just go hide somewhere!”

Takeshi sighed and clasped his hands together melodramatically; he actually got little stars in his eyes. “Aww, isn’t that just the sweetest thing! Little sister’s in love!” He sighed in mock-dreaminess.

Kagura slapped him lightly on the arm. “Knock it off.” She rolled her eyes in a way that was far too Umi-like for anyone’s comfort. “Baka…” Fuu, meanwhile, took advantage of the momentary distraction, and slipped away, leaving the three standing there in the corridor, arguing.

Now blessedly alone, she began to wander. If her guess was right, Hikaru and Lantis were probably hiding out in that one room, with the fountain and all the flowers—it seemed to be their favorite place in the palace, going by past experience—so she would stay away from there.

Instead, she headed to one of the corridors on the very edge of the castle. She meandered down the hall a little, then stopped in front of one of the windows, and stared out over the Cephirean landscape. The sun was setting, dying the sky a plethora of reds, yellows, oranges, and pinks. This felt strangely familiar…with a jolt, she realized that this was where she had stopped the last time she’d been here. The landscape visible through the window had been far, far different then, as Cephiro had been falling apart without a Pillar to support it.

But more importantly, she’d been gazing out that window when she’d met up with…

“Fuu?”

The word dropped into the silence with the force of lightning, and she whirled, already knowing who would be standing there. It was just like last time…sure enough, Ferio was watching her; he actually looked surprised, like he hadn’t been at all expecting to see her there. Somehow, though, she suspected the latter. This seemed to be their meeting spot.

It was only as they stared at each other that it dawned on her just how much time had passed; granted, time was different in Cephiro, and the strength of one’s will could very much affect a person’s physical appearance. But he looked a little older, more adult then he had the last time she had seen him. Then again, she wasn’t exactly fourteen years old anymore, either.

In the time it took for those thoughts to make it through her mind, he had moved; he was a mere arm-length away. If she just reached out…or better yet, if he did…

For another moment, there was silence, simply staring. Then, deciding to take the initiative, she offered the smallest, most tentative of smiles. And she was amply rewarded, because he returned it with an even bigger smile.

And before she knew what was happening, he did it—both arms reached out, and he closed the gap with a tight hug. Her face was buried in soft, white fabric, and two strong arms were holding her so tightly she could barely breath.

And Fuu liked it. She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged. They stayed like that for a very, very long time, or so it seemed. Not a word was spoken, but it was perfect.

-o-


“What did you say this place was called?” Kagura asked as they shut the door behind them.

The residents of the Cephirean palace had been more than gracious towards their unexpected guests, especially towards Kagura and Takeshi, their even-more unexpected guests. Everyone seemed to have expected them cheerfully on no further credentials then that the two were friends of the Magic Knights. That was enough for them.

They had each been given a room for whatever the duration of their stay ended up being. They had all been set up in the same hallway, five rooms right in a row. At the moment, the five young people from Earth, plus one fluff ball of a Creator, had congregated in the room dubbed as Takeshi’s; Fuu and Hikaru had rejoined them only moments before, receiving a great amount of teasing from their friends, and one groan from Kagura, who still hadn’t gotten to see Fuu’s ‘Mr. Wonderful.’

“This is Cephiro,” Hikaru said cheerily, dropping into a convenient chair. “We can show you around the place tomorrow. I bet we can get Mokona or somebody to help out.” From its perch in the Fire Knight’s lap, Mokona puu-ed in agreement.

“Okay, so we’ve managed to escape the rampaging hordes,” Takeshi remarked, plopping down onto the bed—his bed, actually. “So could we maybe get some sort of…I don’t know, explanation?” The three Knights visibly froze. “You three seem quite at home here. So maybe you could share with the rest of the class what you know?

There was dead silence for a moment; even Mokona was quiet. You could have heard a pin dropped on the pillow. But finally, Fuu began. “Cephiro is a world where the power of your will and the strength of your heart controls all. If you believe enough, you can make just about anything happen. And once upon a time, this world was supported entirely by one person’s heart. That person was called the Pillar.” She paused and took a seat on the floor, curling her legs neatly beneath her. “The Pillar protected the land by the sheer power of her will. She kept invaders and monsters away, and made the land beautiful and happy for the inhabitants…but at the expense of her own happiness.” She closed her eyes and tilted her chin downwards as she remembered. “The Pillar’s heart could love Cephiro, and only Cephiro. If her heart strayed, then the land would fall into ruin. The Pillar’s name was Emeraude. Princess Emeraude.”

Hikaru took over, continuing easily where Fuu left off. “But should something happen, the Pillar alone had a special power. She alone could summon her champions from another world, champions to whom certain laws of Cephiro would not apply. Those chosen three warriors of legend were known as the Magic Knights. They would save the land by gaining swords of a legendary mineral called Escudo, and reviving the three Spirits known as the mashin. By wielding swords and mashin, as well as powerful elemental magic, they would protect this world.” She paused. “Princess Emeraude was imprisoned by a priest, Zagato. Because she could no longer pray for the world’s peace, she summoned three to become these Legendary Magic Knights.” She smiled wryly at them, and gestured to herself, Fuu, and Umi, each in turn. “Those three were us.”

Now it was Umi who took over, before Kagura and Takeshi could freak out too much. “Remember that day when all the schools were visiting Tokyo Tower, and there was that bright light in the sky? No one knew what it was, and to this day, it’s still a mystery?” Two nods were given in answer. “Well, that was what we call the Summoning. Princess Emeraude pulled us to Cephiro by that light. We ended up here, met Guru Clef. He gave us magic and armor,” she gestured to herself, as they were still wearing their armor and gem-gloves, “and then we were sent on our way without much more than a prayer. You would be amazed how little information we really got when we started out on this little quest.”

Fuu took over again. “So we went on the journey, as foretold in the legend. We got the mineral Escudo from the legendary Fountain of Eterna,” she paused, and shot Umi an amused look, “or should I say, the ‘Weirdo’ Fountain?

The blue-haired Knight shook her head, bemused. “I’m sorry, but a two-dimensional spring with illusions of my parents that try to kill me over a rock? That, to my mind, officially qualifies as weird!” She glanced at her friends. “Legendary fountain…the thing was friggin’ flat!”

“Anyway,” Fuu pressed on, ignoring Umi’s outburst, “once we got the Escudo, we took it to Presea—the one with the long blonde hair? You met her when you met Mokona?” They nodded. “She made it into the swords we carry now.” In a flash of green light, she drew her own long blade and set it on the floor beside her. “No one else can hold these swords—trust me, we tried. This is light as a feather for me, but weighs a ton to anyone else. Umi’s will turn into a nice puddle. And under no circumstances should you touch Hikaru’s, or it’ll burst into flame, and take you with it.”

“Then we headed out, wandering the landscape, taking on the occasional battle with monsters, and so on and so forth,” Umi picked up again. “But Zagato was determined to stop us, so he sent some of his friends or minions or whatever you want to call them out to get us. The first was Alcyone…let’s just say she had some issues.” Fuu and Hikaru both nodded, but looked sympathetic at the mention of their former enemy, who had died to help them win against Debonair. “Then there was Ascot—who disappeared earlier today! Where did he go?” Umi dropped off as she began pouting a little, and the task of storytelling fell back to Hikaru.

“Ascot came around—let’s just say Umi knocked some sense into him. Then there was Caldina. Yes, the same one that tackled us. She also came around. And then Lafarga, but he was under a spell, so there wasn’t really an issue there.” She paused. “Then there was Innouva. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of him…but anyway, we got past all of them, and revived the three mashin.”

“What’s a mashin?” Takeshi broke in; it was the first time either of them had spoken since the story began. “You’ve mentioned them a couple of times. What are they?”

“Well, imagine a large robot, as tall as a skyscraper,” Fuu outlined, trying to think of the way to explain that would make the most sense. “Now imagine that it’s alive, and can fly and attack things.” Blank stares met her words. “Why don’t we just show you when—if we have to call them?” They seemed to agree to that. “Good. The mashin are Windam—he’s mine. Selece is Umi’s, and Rayearth is Hikaru’s.”

Umi took over again. “We joined with our mashin, became true Magic Knights, and then we went to fight Zagato.” She stopped for a long moment, and then finished in a rush, “We beat Zagato and saved Cephiro, and then we were dropped back on Tokyo Tower. The end.”

The room went quiet; the three Knights suddenly seemed to find interesting things to conduct in-depth studies of—fascinating things, like the walls, floor, and ceiling.

Before anyone could ask any questions, Fuu jumped up. “Well, it’s getting late. We should probably head to bed. There’s probably going to be a lot to do tomorrow!” And she and Hikaru were gone with a couple of rushed ‘goodnights.’

Umi headed for the door, but she didn’t make it; Kagura caught her arm. “No way, you’ve got a little more explaining to do, hon.” The blue Knight hesitated, then seemed to give up, and she let herself be pulled back to the center of the room. “Now,” Kagura released her hand, and gave her a Look, “why don’t you tell us the rest of the story? I know there’s more to it.”

But to her surprise, Umi shook her head. “I…can’t.”

“What do you mean, you can’t?”

“I just can’t.”

Kagura paused for a minute, then asked softly, “Does this have something to do with why you were so sad after that light thing?”

Umi’s surprised look was all the answer she needed, and she sighed. “Come on, just tell us. I mean, how bad could it be?” This time, the silence spoke for itself.

“Please?” Takeshi added.

Another bout of quiet. Then Umi’s voice, no more than a whisper, dropped into that silence. “We defeated Zagato, and went to find Emeraude. She’d appeared to us as a little girl while we were in the Fountain of Eterna, so we thought we knew what she looked like. But she’d…she’d changed. She was an adult, and she was angry.” A pause; Umi had turned to face the door, so her back was to her friends, and they couldn’t see her face. “We…found out that Emeraude and Zagato had been in love. But the Pillar can only love Cephiro.”

“She loved the guy who kidnapped her?” Takeshi asked in confusion. “I think there’s a name for that…Stockholm’s Syndrome, or something like that.”

“No, no,” Umi shook her head slightly. “This went back to before we were summoned. When her heart strayed, it began to affect the world. She knew what was happening, so she performed the Summoning, and we came here. The Pillar can’t harm herself, and no one from Cephiro can harm the Pillar. So she had to call people from another world.”

She stopped. “For what?” Kagura prodded. Suddenly, she had a sinking feeling that she didn’t really want to know where this was going.

Umi took a deep breath…and took the plunge. “Emeraude summoned us to kill her.”

Silence, as her two friends processed this. Then Kagura laughed, nervously. “You didn’t do it, though, did you?” Umi didn’t answer, and the horror of realization fell like a ton of bricks. “Umi…but I thought you were supposed to save her?”

“No,” Umi shook her head again. “We were asked to save Cephiro…and that’s what we did. To put one life over everyone else’s is just selfish. If we hadn’t, she would have killed us, and then probably destroyed Cephiro and everyone in it. So yes, Kagura. We did.” She walked to the door, without turning around, and opened it. “I’ll let you think on it for a while. We can talk more tomorrow, if you want.” And she was gone, shutting the door behind her.

Kagura and Takeshi simply stared at the door. Neither could think of a thing to say.

-o-


I can’t believe I just told them that, Umi berated herself, pulling the blankets up to her chin and staring off into the darkness. She listened carefully, and she heard a door open and close, followed by soft footsteps padding down the hall. That was probably Kagura going to her own room.

Considering all that had happened, it was no wonder that Umi was flat-out exhausted. She had planned on laying awake for a while and thinking some things over, but her body had other plans, and her eyelids soon fell closed of their own accord. She dropped into comfortable sleep.

And Umi dreamed…

She was hovering over Cephiro, just floating above the patchwork quilt of landscape. Right below her was a large cluster of trees that she thought was the Forest of Silence. Strangely enough, all of her friends were around her—Hikaru, Fuu, Takeshi, Kagura, and all of the residents of Cephiro’s palace. She was the only one who was moving at all. It was bright, though she couldn’t see any sun in the sky overhead.

But that changed very quickly.

Like water rushing down a slide, the darkness fell. A shadow: it started at the distant horizon, and moved with alarming speed over the entire landscape, swallowing up everything as far as she could see. It soon moved beneath her, enveloping the Forest, and kept on going. She could only watch in horror.

And it got worse.

The darkness reached, from the ground up to the sky. And it took her friends. Each in turn was embraced by shadow, and vanished from her sight. Her fellow Earthlings were the last to go, and Fuu’s seemingly-sleeping face was the last to disappear.

“No!” Umi screamed, reaching for her friends, but she couldn’t move. She was alone, floating in a sea of darkness that had taken everything away. There was a hollow feeling her chest, the bitter sting of loss, loneliness, and desperate sadness.

In a rush, the shadow came towards her. Though there was no movement, per se, she got the feeling of it. It was a tidal wave that would sweep her away, and she would never be able to swim back to the surface. She would just drown in it, like her friends already had.

But something stopped it from touching her. It crashed by her, but it had divided, and half of it went past on either side of her. And right ahead was a form.

Umi couldn’t make anything out about the figure, save for that it was a human-shape, and the distinct impression that whoever it was had its back to her. That impression was confirmed when the figure moved—it turned, spinning to face her. So close…


With a panicked yelp, Umi shot up in bed. She was drenched in a cold sweat, and her heart was racing. Her breath came in short, ragged gasps, and she was shaking violently. One trembling hand pressed itself to her forehead as she tried to force a few deep breaths into her lungs to calm herself down.

Still, she couldn’t shake the feeling that something was strange. Like she was still dreaming…

-o-


The majority of the palace, though, wasn’t asleep. Hikaru had been sitting in her room for a while, barely even tired, and finally decided to go out wandering the palace. Well, not really random walking. She actually wanted to ask Mokona—or rather, the Creator—a question.

As she walked, she thought about things—things, meaning Lantis. It had been so wonderful to see him again…but if they were fighting, then there probably wouldn’t be much time for them. And the same undoubtedly went for Fuu and Ferio as well. But she wouldn’t complain; her extensive optimism wouldn’t let her dwell on the negatives. She was here, and he was here, and he’d missed her as badly as she had missed him. It would work out, somehow…but right now, Mokona.

Sure enough, the fluffy white deity was right where her instincts had told her he would be: in the Throne Room. That seemed to be the central meeting spot in the palace; Mokona was sitting on the throne. But when Hikaru walked in, the forehead jewel flared to yellow, and wings sprouted from his back. He waited until she approached, and then spoke, “You have questions.” It was a statement, not a query.

“I do,” Hikaru lowered herself to her knees and folded her hands in her lap; she’d matured quite a bit over the years, and it showed—when it had to. “Were you the one that brought us here?”

“I was,” the Creator confirmed what they had already suspected. “And your friends as well. It is safer for you to be here, where we can watch you, rather than have you out in the open for them. Your friends were brought for the same reason—their own protection. I will not have innocent blood spilled when it is possible to avoid it.”

Hikaru nodded. “I understand. Thank you. But who sent that thing after us? Why do they want the Magic Knights? Why would they be desperate enough to attack us on Earth?”

To her disappointment, the Creator shook his head—in a manner of speaking. “I cannot tell you that. But this power seeks to take not only Cephiro and our neighbors and allies, but also other worlds as well, such as your world, Earth. He is ruthless, and powerful. You must be prepared.”

He? Hikaru wondered, but didn’t press the issue. There wasn’t really time to press the issue, actually, because at that moment, the Creator’s wings vanished, and the forehead jewel changed back to pink. The Creator went back to Mokona, and bounced into Hikaru’s arms.

“I guess we’ll just have to find things out as we go, huh?” Hikaru asked. “Just like last time?”

“Puu!” Mokona nodded agreement.

“Okay, okay,” she laughed. “But I’m still not tired. I wonder if anyone else is up…”

She remembered Clef saying in passing that he was going to be in his study for a while. Maybe she could go talk with him for a while, if he was still awake. As she drew near, she saw light under the door, and heard voices inside; obviously, there was a meeting going on within.

“Hikaru!” Fuu’s voice made the redhead stop and turn around. Sure enough, it was the Wind Knight, with Caldina and Ascot in tow. “You can’t sleep either? I guess everybody’s got insomnia tonight. I ran into these two in the hall.”

“Well, let’s see if we can crash the meeting in there,” Hikaru giggled, and knocked on the door. Clef’s voice called for them to come in, so they went in. Clef seemed to be keeping counsel with Lantis, Lafarga, Ferio, and Presea, but they didn’t seem to mind the intrusion, though the room suddenly became quite crowded.

“So what’s the meeting about?” Hikaru squeezed into a seat between Lantis and Presea.

“We’re talking about you,” Ferio grinned.

“I figured as much,” Fuu sighed.

And the conversation continued in that vein for a while—basically, exactly what she had asked the Creator about such a short time before: what could be coming that was enough of a threat that the Magic Knights would be summoned again.

They had all been sitting there for a while when it happened.

The door opened soundlessly, with only the click of the latch releasing to signal and alert. It only opened a crack, just a wide enough space for someone to step through. And step through, someone did.

Namely, Umi. Who was holding a bright blue robe closed over her nightgown; her chin was down so far that her hair hung down in front of her, happily obscuring her face.

“Umi, what’s wrong?” Fuu asked automatically, rising from her chair. Though she often tended towards the flamboyant, Ryuuzaki Umi was actually a fairly modest person. So the fact that she was standing there in her nightclothes, coupled with her slumped-over posture, seemed a fairly obvious signal that something was wrong.

And something was wrong. Just not in the way that Fuu had originally thought. That much became quite painfully clear when she lifted her head and opened her eyes. Everyone in the room jumped back automatically; hands instinctively went to weapons, magic unconsciously readied itself, and muscles involuntarily tightened into battle readiness.

Umi’s eyes were glowing, a soft blue; there were no whites, irises, or pupils visible. Only that eerie glow. And when she opened those eyes, revealing that frightful sight, her hair and clothes began to float around her, as though moved by a breeze that only affected her. Between her eyes and her hair, hovering around her like tendrils of a spider’s broken web, she was downright frightening.

And perhaps the creepiest thing of all: she was smiling. Not the trademark, confident smirk that was so well acquainted with Umi’s face, but a sly, almost amused little grin. It was quite certain: whoever was watching them from behind Umi’s eyes was not Umi.

Lafarga seemed to recover first; his hand was one that had automatically gone to his sword, and now that selfsame hand gripped the hilt and drew it. Without waiting for anything else to happen, he lunged forward and pointed the tip of his blade at her. “Who are you?” he growled, ignoring the cries of protest behind him. “What have you done with her?”

To his further astonishment, as well as everyone else’s, she giggled. Giggled! The fingers on one hand touched her mouth, as though trying to stifle the laugh a little. Then she held that hand out, the oversized sleeves of the robe billowing in the unfelt wind—and water appeared at her fingertips.

The swordsman was too stunned to react, and as a result, found himself propelled backwards by a small torrent of water, fired right into the chest plate of his armor. The crowd parted instinctively as he flew by and landed hard on the floor. Caldina was at his side in a heartbeat, screaming bloody murder. The rest of the room seemed stirred to action by this, and more weapons were drawn. Only the other two Magic Knights, Hikaru and Fuu, seemed indecisive, though they were right at the front lines, as it were.

“Wait,” Fuu held out a hand, signaling for the others to hold. Ferio took a step forward, and she wheeled on him, eyes blazing. “Just wait! If you attack whoever’s in there, you’ll hurt Umi!”

And just to add surprises on surprises, the girl in blue spoke; though the words came from Umi’s throat, and it was, indeed, Umi’s voice…it wasn’t. It was different—it was more hollow, and seemed to echo, like whoever was really speaking was shouting down a long tunnel to reach them.

“Very good,” she said, giggling again. “I’d been told you were bright, Fuu. I’m impressed.” Fuu looked suitably taken aback, and ‘Umi’ continued, “If you try to attack me, you will only succeed in harming Umi, and I know you don’t want that. So please relax, and listen.”

“Relax?” Caldina squeaked from her place at Lafarga’s side; he was more dazed and startled than actually injured. “That’s our friend! Leave her alone!”

“I’m sorry, but I can’t,” the blue girl replied. Was it just Fuu, or did she actually sound sorry? “The Magic Knights have returned to Cephiro for a reason, as I’m sure you’ve already realized. I am here to make sure that Fate is not deterred.”

The Chizetan dancer gestured violently with her fan. “Get away from her! Who the hell are you?”

“A friend,” ‘Umi’ said softly. “I don’t expect you believe me or trust me. But I need you to know that I am here, and I am watching over all of you. Please, be careful. I will do my best for all of you, but you must be on your guard for what lies ahead. Wait, and watch carefully. I promise you, I’m on your side in what is to come. Trust in that.”

“Wait!” Clef shouted—he sounded angry—but there was no time. Starting from the ground at her feet, a swirl of water, like a tornado, spiraled around her up to the ceiling, and vanished. The mysterious breeze that had moved Umi’s hair and clothes vanished, and they settled around her as was normal. Her eyes closed—and opened.

Back to normal, only three sizes larger in shock.

“Where am I?” she whispered, truly Umi’s voice now. Then she simply dropped to a heap on the floor, without pretense or warning, a dead faint. She did not move. And for what seemed an eternity, neither did the room around her. Then everyone seemed to spur into motion at the same moment. Most of them exploded into an agitated babble, while Fuu and Hikaru dashed to her side; Hikaru lifted Umi’s head, and gave her a slight shake, trying to stir her back to wakefulness.

Suddenly, Umi sat straight up and let out a little shriek. Her eyes, blessedly normal, were as wide as saucers, as they looked around in semi-panic. “How…how did I get here?” She looked down, seemed to realize that she was in her nightclothes, and promptly wrapped her robe a little more tightly around herself. “What the hell happened?”

Fuu and Hikaru looked at each other; then Fuu spoke. “You…don’t remember?”

Blue eyes flared. “Remember what?” Another look passed between her comrades, and Umi shook her head in exasperation. “You know what? Tell me tomorrow.” She rose to her feet, still holding the robe closed. “I’m exhausted, and I just want to go collapse. Okay? Okay.” She headed for the door, with Fuu and Hikaru darting after her, still panicked.

The crowd she left behind in that room, meanwhile, dispersed slowly. They broke off mostly in twos, whispering about whatever the hell had just happened. Finally, it was back to Lantis and Clef. The sorcerer and the swordsman looked at each other blankly, and finally, it was Lantis who asked the question that was on everybody’s mind at that moment: “What the HELL was that?”

Clef simply shook his head. “I—I don’t know…”

And the conversation pretty much died there.

-o-


The next morning was bright, sunny—almost disgustingly cheerful. That selfsame sun cast spots of light on the floor, and across Umi’s sleeping face. She winced in her slumber, and rolled over in a valiant effort to get the sun out of her eyes, but it proved in vain. Finally, she opened her eyes, sat up, and sighed. She hated getting up early.

Plus, she was actually still worn out. Something told her she hadn’t slept too well the night before. Added to the fact that she had somehow ended up in Clef’s study without knowing how she had gotten there, it was plainly obvious that something must have happened the night before, but what?

Oh well, if it was important, she would probably hear about it first thing.

She rose and dressed quickly. It was the same monochromatic outfit she had been wearing for the night on the town that wasn’t. But the black garments were fresh, and seemed to have been cleaned during the night without her knowing. Not that she complained; Umi hated feeling dirty. She grabbed her gem-glove and donned her armor, more out of habit than anything else.

Thus adorned, she headed out into the hall—and promptly bumped into Fuu, who had apparently been about to knock on her door. Hikaru, Kagura, and Takeshi were right behind her.

“Good morning,” Umi said cheerily, righting herself. “What’s on our agenda for today?”

Fuu seemed awful surprised about something, but simply said, “Well, I thought maybe it would be a nice thing to show everyone around Cephiro. Plus, it’s been a while since we’ve seen everything here. I thought we’d maybe ask Mokona for a flying craft.”

As if on cue, the little marshmallow-rabbit bounced down the hall and hopped onto Fuu’s shoulder, cheerfully puu-ing that it was indeed a good idea. And so they went; they bumped into Lafarga in the hall, and asked him to relay to everyone else where they were.

And they were off in what Takeshi said looked like ‘a giant flying soup bowl.’

They zipped around through the skies of Cephiro. Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru pointed out several major landmarks—at least, for them. They managed to find the cliff that they had first been dropped on during their first visit; they pointed out the Forest of Silence, the Fountain of Eterna, and the three Shrines in which the mashin had been sleeping.

“Unbelievable,” Takeshi remarked, leaning over the edge to get a better look. “Absolutely incredible. You guys went through this whole place?”

“Yup!” Hikaru chirped.

“But didn’t you say there were monsters here?” Kagura asked.

“Yes, sometimes, but—“ Fuu tried to reply, but the flying craft suddenly rocked violently, and there was a loud explosion. Everyone grappled for something to hold onto, so they wouldn’t fall off.

“I think we need to land this thing!” Umi screamed, looking at Mokona.

“Puu!” was the answer—and they went into a tailspin, a straight downward rush. Everyone screeched their heads off, until the craft righted itself at the very last second, leaving them hovering about three feet above the ground.

“Thank you for flying Fluff ball Airlines,” Umi murmured dizzily, crawling down onto the blessedly solid ground. “Please double check for any personal belongings, and don’t forget to tip your waitress…” She shook her head and seemed to steady herself. “Okay, what was that?”

In apparent response, there were a few howls from nearby, and a series of thundering noises that Fuu assumed were footsteps. She was proven right, as three enormous beasts came stomping into view. Tall and hideous, with red-brown scales, long tails, and claws and teeth that were obviously suited to rending apart helpless victims.

There was a flash of red light as Hikaru drew her Escudo sword. “I guess we’re gonna get some practice now.” The sunlight shone off her red glove-gem, and she grinned.

Umi whirled, drawing her own sword as well. “Get back on that thing. Mokona, get them out of here. If it gets bad, take them back to the palace and tell everyone we’re doomed.”

“WHAT?” Kagura screeched, but the flying-craft was already moving back into the sky.

The three clutched their swords, and waited for the beasts to make the first move.

And they did—one of them opened its mouth, and fire shot from its throat right at them.

“Mine. Let’s see if I still got it,” Umi hissed. She raised one hand, and a stream of water followed the gem, spinning around her. “MIZO NO RYUU!” The attack flew from her hand, and neatly hit its mark; fire fell before water. Umi smirked. “Yup, still got it.”

And with that, the short-lived fight was joined. It was fairly obvious that these were not the smartest of creatures, nor were they the strongest. On the bright side, it was a great chance to stretch their legs, magically speaking. After all, it had been a while.

“AKAI INAZUMA!” Hikaru screamed, firing. The lightning hit its mark, and the first monster was engulfed by something similar to electricity, and fell.

Fuu raised her hands. “MIDORI NO SHIPPU!” Wind wasn’t normally something that could do a lot of damage, but Fuu made it work. While the monster was stunned, she attacked with her sword. The long blade made extremely short work of her opponent. Two down, one to go.

And the one remaining Umi had claimed. She dodged a swipe of claws, and attacked. “AOI TATSUMAKI!” There was a howl of pain as the final monster was engulfed by what looked like an azure tornado of sorts. Three down. Point to the Magic Knights.

The flying craft came back to hover just over the ground. The two non-magical Earthlings were gripping the edges, eyes frozen wide in shock and, most likely, horror. Finally, Takeshi seemed to shake himself out of it enough to simply say, “And I thought the monsters under my bed were bad…”

-o-


“That was…interesting,” Takeshi muttered, running a hand through his dark hair.

“No kidding. I thought those things were gonna eat us!” Kagura was decidedly less calm, and was waving her arms all over the place as she spoke. It hadn’t been very long since they had returned to the Cephirean palace. The three Magic Knights had taken off to report the attack—yet another of the ‘disturbances’ Clef had mentioned upon their return. The two other Earthlings had been left to their own devices, told they could go ahead and explore the castle to their heart’s content; Umi and the others would catch up with them later.

So that’s what they were doing—wandering around, checking out the place. It seemed even bigger on the inside then it did from the outside. It made one wonder exactly how the others would find them, but oh well, they probably had their ways. Somehow.

This was such a strange, foreign place to them. They had stopped a couple times, and glanced out a window; this world was so different from anything they had ever seen before. It definitely wasn’t Tokyo, that was for sure.

“Hey, what’s in here?” Takeshi asked, pointing at an open door.

The room that lay beyond looked like a forest. There were trees and plants everywhere, with splashes of brightly colored flowers and fruits amidst every shade of green imaginable. The floor actually looked like grass. It was truly breathtaking.

“Wow…” she breathed, walking in.

“You could probably go camping in here,” Takeshi commented, reaching up to touch one of the trees; the leaves were smooth, almost waxy in texture. “But I don’t think you could light a campfire.”

Skipping ahead, Kagura bent over a bush with brilliant crimson flowers blooming on it. “They’re so pretty!” Straightening, she heard a noise behind her; she turned and looked up.

A large, beaked creature with wings looked back.

For a minute, there was dead silence. Then, all hell broke loose.

“OHMIGOD!” Kagura shrieked; she didn’t notice it, as she had turned to run, but the monster actually cringed, and seemed to be trying to get away from her. “RUN! THEY’RE HERE TOO!”

“Wait! No! It’s okay!” a male voice tried to protest over the racket, but the room was in an uproar, between Kagura screaming, Takeshi and whoever else was there shouting, and monsters growling and stomping around.

There was a clatter as three Magic Knights flew into the room, swords drawn and in hand. Kagura spotted them first, and dove behind Umi for protection. “KILL IT, KILL IT!”

“Wait!”

Suddenly, the monsters seemed to calm down, but they were watching Kagura carefully.

Umi looked around the room, then suddenly started to laugh. Kagura, however, didn’t seem to find it very funny. “What? What are you laughing about?”

Needless to say, she was absolutely floored when Umi walked over, reached up, and patted one of the monsters on the beak. “Hey, it’s been a while! How have you been?” The Blue Knight glanced over her shoulder and grinned. “That’s Kagura. I’m sure she didn’t mean to startle you. She’s new here.”

And the monster actually nodded.

“Uhhh…”

Umi whirled at the unintelligible sound, and her eyes lit up. “Ascot!” She dove forward and threw her arms around his waist in a tight hug. Ascot responded by going straight to the verge of spontaneous combustion, judging by the color of his face alone. When she let him go, he straightened, and seemed to be trying to pull himself together.

Kagura, who had calmed considerably, noticed, and raised an eyebrow. Well, now, wasn’t this just the most interesting thing…

Introductions went around, and Umi admonished her summoner friend for ditching out on the Welcome Wagon the night before. And Kagura actually worked up the nerve to pat that one monster on the beak. So all was well in Cephiro.

-o-


She was laughing. She had such a musical laugh.

He studied her face. Bright blue eyes, hair like silk…she was a truly gorgeous creature.

Then again…she had been beautiful, too. And beauty was but one face of treachery.

He smiled. This one would not escape.