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25 April 2007 @ 07:36 pm
Tears of the Sea, ch. 12 (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*



“Open your arms to…”

“Open your arms to…”

Umi spun, searching for the source of the words. “Who are you?”

“Open your arms to…”

Biting her lip, Umi felt no pain. This was a dream, she knew; such physical sensations as pain were meaningless here, utterly superficial. Her sword was in her hand and the glove holding her ovum-gem was tight on her hand, yet she had no target for blade or magic.

The dream was different this time. There was no scenery, no friends floating unconscious beside her, no tsunami of shadow crashing over everything she held dear, and no protector. There was merely darkness. Nothingness. She was alone, save for that persistent voice.

The female voice she recognized as her shadow-guardian. The person who had come to her in her cell in Xander’s palace. The one who held the demons at bay. The one whose hands carried the saving light and chased off the all-encompassing darkness. Her faceless, unknown guardian angel.

“Show yourself!” Umi tried to demand, but the words came out as little more than a plea-filled whimper. “Please! Who are you? Tell me who you are! Why do you protect me?”

“I cannot answer,” the mysterious voice replied. “Please, trust me. And open your arms to…” Again, the message that seemed so important faded in and out of her hearing, leaving her with half a sentence, unable to grasp what she was supposed to do.

“Why am I so important?” Umi screamed. “Why?”

“Open your arms to…”

“Wait!”

“Open your arms to…”

There was a movement behind her, and she turned to see the shadow-outline of a female; even though it was pitch black around her, the figure’s outline stood out as clear as day. One hand was stretched out towards Umi. “Please…” the voice echoed, one last time, into the darkness.

Umi reached back, trying to touch her fingers. This woman was safety; her hands held the light. If she could get to her, she would be safe in the light, where the darkness would destroy everything. She had touched those hands once, been pulled into their embrace, and it had saved her from the night, saved her from the shadows that had sought to claim her soul and her friends.

A sound behind her deafened her, and the woman’s figure exploded with light…


-o-


Watching Umi could have been considered his pastime, Ascot thought vaguely.

He was perched on the side of the bed, as close to the edge as he could get without sliding right off. His full attention was focused on the still, slumbering figure stretched out beneath the velvety lengths of the midnight-blue coverlet on the bed.

If one were to ask his personal opinion, he would say that the Knight of Selece resembled a goddess; she seemed the personification of the divine legendary she herself was—a Magic Knight, the girl from another woman who donned the mashin to protect the land.

He simply looked at her. Her hair fanned out around her, standing in contrast to the white sheets and dark blue blanket. Her hands were folded demurely on her stomach; her face, pale and motionless, was turned upwards, closed eyes gazing unseeingly towards the heavens. She was placid, unmoving, angelic. There was nothing in the calm face and slack posture to suggest the turmoil that lay beneath the surface.

Ascot’s mind wandered back to the events of the previous hours…

“Doubts,” the unknown within Umi’s body spoke through Umi’s mouth. “This all stemmed from a single seed of doubt, planted in a frightened, strained mind. When Aeric chose his words, he knew she would never come to you for aid. That would be a weakness, and a weakness was something she thought she could not afford, with Them after her.”

The girl’s head bowed, as though in sorrow. “I tried to call to her. We tried to call to her, but it was too late. She could not reach us, and so fell to the darkness.” Her head raised again, and she regarded them with what could only be called defiance. “I can only protect her so far, and already my protections are waning. The threat grows stronger, and my powers are draining. I beg you…help her…”


He shook his head. The general—Aeric. His words had done this to Umi? Who would ever had thought that the strong, capable, passionate girl who wore the armor of Selece would break so easily beneath the dubious weight of a few callous words?

One of his hands unconsciously moved, and before he realized it, his fingers were brushing the side of her face. He suddenly felt very awkward—satin skin like hers should not have been smoothed beneath fingers like his, fingers that were calloused and rough from work. He made a mental note to have a word with his body about this sudden insubordination, but at the same time marveled at the fact that just for that one moment, he could just be here with her, alone and safe, able to just watch her. His heart skittered within him like a metronome.

He remembered a story he had heard—Fuu had offered entertainment in the form of fables from their world. What had she called them—fluffy tales? Fairy tales? Something like that. But he had been enthralled from the first word at the stories—tales of princesses and maidens, trapped away and imprisoned by the forces of evil. The wicked who oppressed. And the handsome knights and princes who rode gallantly into battle against those evil souls to save the princess and carry her away. Happily ever after—that was the phrase Fuu had closed the story with.

During the story, Ascot had stolen a glance at Umi; she had been listening intently, blue eyes shimmering at a story she had probably known since infancy. She had never looked so lovely; in his mind, he called her Princess, something he would never utter aloud. Someday, she would find her prince; she deserved nothing less.

Somehow, though, that thought made Ascot very unhappy.

As he drew his hand away, her face contorted into a mixture of pain and feature, and she began to move, tossing, turning, and thrashing slightly. He leaned carefully over her, peering into her face, feeling a pang of regret that her peaceful, slumbering aura had been disturbed so callously.

Ascot was not prepared for it when she moved, sitting straight up into him, leaving them cheek to check, her chin on his shoulder. For a moment, neither moved. Then her arms moved, twining around his neck and pulling him closer to her.

He didn’t have the wits to move for what felt like a very long time. But finally, some instinct kicked in, and he brought his own arms up to slide around her slight frame and pulling her closer to him. He realized, a little belatedly, that she was desperately seeking comfort for some unknown, and he was the only available source at that moment, and that was why she clung to him at that moment. There was probably nothing else behind it; he was living, breathing, safe, and conveniently available—nothing more.

Still, he couldn’t quite shush that one little part of his brain—you know, the one that was determined to start up a full-fledged cheering section, complete with pom-poms and doing the Wave.

Instead, he simply waited, silently reveling in the alien feel of her hair in his fingers, like blue silk, and her agitated, unsteady breath grazing his cheek. He realized at that point exactly how much he had grown, in every sense, in the days and months since this girl had literally slapped some sense into him.

And then she was speaking, murmuring into his shoulder. Her frightened, harried whispers were terrified, uncertain of what had happened in the past, and what was yet to come. Ascot wisely said nothing, but gently massaged her back and waited patiently for the tidal wave of panic and terror to subside and her coherency to return.

Finally, she took a deep, shuddering breath, and the torrent of muttering stopped. She did not, however, let go of him, nor did he release her. Ascot merely waited for her to give him a sign of what should happen now. And again, he reflected that he was nowhere near the little boy he had once been.

“I’m scared,” Umi finally whispered, the first completely understandable thing she had said since waking up; her hands tightened on his back, clenching handfuls of his summoner’s robes in white-knuckled fists. “I don’t understand what’s happening…I don’t know what’s going on. Why is this happening? Who are they? What do they want from me?” That last came out almost as a sob, though there was none of the shaking or breathing that would indicate she was crying again. “Oh God…I’m so scared…”

Unsure of what to say, he simply waited for her to calm down.

But as she seemed to calm and the tension flooded from her shoulders, she did not let go of him. If anything, she seemed to hold on tighter. At that moment, he was a constant, unchanging and safe. She knew Ascot would not harm her, and she saw comfort in that consistency.

But finally, though far too soon for Ascot, she drew back; her hands loosened their hold on his clothes, and she pulled back enough that she could look at him. He was somewhat relieved that her eyes were their normal blue color, though they were tempered with incredible sadness.

“Sorry…” she murmured.

“Not a problem,” he answered softly. And not a stutter, some part of him commented.

He moved back as she pushed away the blanket and swung her legs off the edge of the bed. Bracing both hands against the mattress, she hoisted herself to her feet. She swayed the tiniest bit, but waved away his help when he tried to take her arm to steady her.

“I’m fine,” she managed a weak smile. “Don’t worry so much. But…” The smile faded into a dark frown. “What happened? How did I get here? The last thing I remember is…” She stopped herself before she said what she considered to be too much. The most recent picture in her memory was of struggling against an unseen enemy in the darkness of her room and her mind…but though she was in her room, the darkness had been dispelled; there was no trace of it.

She gave Ascot a sidelong glance. “Ascot…did something else happen?”

He stammered a little without actually saying anything, turned red, and took a step backwards.

Umi’s mind took that in, and made a quick translation: Bingo. Ding, ding, ding! Congratulations! Show her what she’s won! Red alert, red alert. Danger, Will Robinson!

“Ascot.” The word conveyed volumes, unspoken promises of what might befall him should he not spill the proverbial beans. “Did something else happen?” In truth, her stomach had dropped through her shoes, through the floor, and into the basement; the last time she had woken up without a clear memory of how she had gotten where she was, she’d had to coerce Caldina and Presea into telling her that she had apparently been possessed by some unknown who claimed to be a friend.

Looking faintly defeated, the summoner quickly related the story. Everything about him at that point—his posture, his tone of voice, and what was visible of his facial expression beneath his overly-long bangs—suggested that he would have rather swallowed something live and crawly than tell her the story of what had happened. But experience dictated that Umi would not be shaken off so easily, not until she had been given the full run-down of what she had “missed.”

By the time he finished by recounting her second possession and the subsequent flurry of action that had followed her return to normal, he even more desperately wished he was elsewhere. Hell, being trapped in Xander’s sanctum, alone and virtually helpless, had been preferable to the look on Umi’s face.

“Oh my God…” she whispered as he told her of her near-fatal attack on Kagura, and the maelstrom of water-magic that had nearly ripped them both apart. Both her hands moved to clasp together over her mouth as her eyes grew wider and wider, and her face grew paler and paler. Finally, the last of his words faded into an eerie silence.

It was at that point that Umi’s almost-nonexistent self-control broke, and the first few tears escaped. “Oh my God…no…no, tell me I didn’t…” She stumbled backwards, away from him, nearly tripping over the corner of the bed in her vain attempt to put distance between herself and the horrifying story. “Oh God…oh God…” She dropped onto the same edge of the bed she had nearly fallen over, still repeating that same mantra to herself, a murmured hymn of prayers and pleas offered up to higher beings that didn’t seem to be listening at that precise moment.

“Umi—everyone’s been waiting for you to wake up,” Ascot said, desperately trying to distract her, but knowing it was a lost cause. “We’ve been taking shifts keeping an eye on you…you need to come let everyone know you’re okay—“

“NO!” she half-shrieked, cutting him off cleanly. Her voice dropped instantly to a whimper. “I can’t…I can’t look at them. No way, no how. I’m not leaving this room. I can’t look them in the eye.” And I can’t explain… she thought, though she did not voice that particular thought.

“But—“

“Please leave,” she stopped his protests before they could begin. “Please. I think I’ve done enough damage to everyone as it is. Just go, before something else happens.” When he hesitated, she gave him a Look. “I won’t do anything. I won’t even leave this room. Just please. Go. Go now!”

Sensing that he had lost the battle, as it were, Ascot sadly obliged. He shot her one last, desperate look, a glance she did not meet; she was sitting on the edge of the bed, her face cradled in both her hands. With a sigh, the summoner pulled the door closed behind him and headed off towards the throne room to inform Clef of what had just transpired.

If Umi wouldn’t listen to him, perhaps another could succeed in getting her to open back up.

He could only hope…

-o-


Will it never stop? Umi thought, a bit begrudgingly, as a knock on the door stirred her from thoughts that were none too pleasant. She knew she shouldn’t be wallowing like this, but she was too miserable and ashamed to really think of doing anything else since she had all but kicked Ascot out nearly half an hour ago. Facing the other palace residents and guests was not something she was in any hurry to do, yet the entire place seemed to be beating a path to her door.

“Who is it?” she asked softly, pressing her ear against the door.

“Umi, it’s us,” Hikaru’s voice chirped back. “Open up.”

“Go away,” she replied bluntly.

Fuu’s voice spoke next, in a tone that brooked no arguments and promised retribution upon disobedience. “Umi, if you do not open this door as of two minutes ago, I will personally break it down. You know I can, and you know I will. So open up.”

The tone alone sent shivers down Umi’s spine, and she winced. Crap…I’m in so much trouble…I know Fuu will do it, too. Crap, crap, triple CRAP… Taking a deep breath, and preparing herself to meet what she was sure would be certain DOOM, Umi threw back the lock and opened the door the tiniest crack.

THUD.

There was a loud grunt as Hikaru’s lithe form slammed into Umi’s torso; the Fire Knight’s arms closed around Umi’s waist in a tight hug as the two tumbled to the floor. Behind Hikaru, Fuu stepped in and hooked one foot around the door to kick it closed.

“Ummm…Hikaru?” Umi said quizzically. “Can I get up now?”

“Sorry!” Hikaru bounded to her feet and offered Umi a hand up. “Just got a little excited…” When everyone was back on their feet, the little redhead turned and flicked her wrist; in a tiny flare of magic, all of the candleholders in the room burst into flame, flooding the room with blessed light.

“Fuu, should you be out of bed?” Umi turned, concern coloring her voice.

“Good grief, not you, too!” Fuu actually looked slightly embarrassed. “God, everybody’s asking the same damn thing.” Her eyes rolled towards the heavens as one hand threaded through blonde curls. “Honestly, you get one tiny little injury, healed right up, and everybody suddenly thinks you’re an invalid!”

“Little injury?” Hikaru quirked a brow. “Fuu…you got stabbed in the back.”

“…I got better…” the Wind Knight grumbled, appropriately chagrined.

Umi nodded, then took her same seat back on the corner of the bed. “How’s Kagura?”

“She’s taking a nap,” Fuu replied, her tone slightly cool; the slight embarrassment over the discussion of her health had vanished, replaced by what amounted to a mask. “Whole ordeal wore her out. She didn’t want to, but we insisted. So she crashed for a while.” A pause. “We talked to Ascot.”

CRASH.

Umi felt another piece of her decidedly shaky world crash down around her. “…and?”

The Wind Knight’s expression softened as she crossed the room and dropped onto the bed beside Umi; both hands reached out and closed around one of Umi’s arms. “Stop lying to us, stop hiding from us, just tell us the goddamn truth!”

Oh dear. Fuu was swearing and angry. Both veeeeeeeeeery bad signs.

There was a pregnant pause before Umi closed her eyes. “What do you want to know?”

“Tell us what that bastard said,” Fuu ordered. “We want to hear it in your words.”

Finally surrendering before her friend’s order, Umi poured her heart out—the parts she had left out when she had told of her imprisonment, the segments she had hidden from her friends. She kept her facial expression as neutral as possible, trying to school it carefully; the more detached she could keep herself from the telling of this story, the safer she felt from it. It was already far internalized.

When her words ran dry and the explanation tapered off, the room grew tense. Umi glanced over at her friends; Hikaru was sitting beside her, one hand gripping Umi’s sleeve, the fingers of the other raised to touch her face in shock. But Fuu was as neutral and unreadable as Umi was trying to be, save for the flash that ran across her eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell us about what Aeric said to you?” Fuu’s temper, already fairly fragile by events of physical and emotion turmoil, proved to be wearing thinner and thinner.

“They’re after me!” Umi snapped, surging out of Fuu’s grasp and past Hikaru before whirling to face them both. “Me. Not you. Me! Why should I drag you down with me? Why would I want to pull you guys into my problems? You’re not the ones they’re after.” Two tears, borne of frustration and hurt, slipped loose from her control, but she didn’t seem to notice them. “I’m not going to take you guys down too. They’re my problems. You’re not the ones they want. You’re not weak…you’re not helpless…you’re not the ones who can’t do anything…”

Giving up, Umi let her knees give out, and slumped to the floor, shaking her head; her hands were wringing together in front of her. She assumed she looked as pathetic as she felt at that moment, run ragged and exhausted. “Why am I so stupid? Why can’t I be more like you two?”

Silence reigned for an eternity.

Then there was a slight rustling, followed by the soft padding of footsteps. A shadow moved across the floor towards her, and Fuu knelt down beside her. There was another long minute of quiet, before the soft-spoken voice said, “Do you really believe that, Umi?”

“The more I think about it, the more true it seems…” she replied steadily, though she didn’t feel particularly steady at that point. All she could do was stare at her hands and wait for the axe to fall.

It didn’t.

“Umi...remember when we were in that village?” Fuu asked; Umi looked up and frowned at her, confused, so Fuu continued, “We were going to find the Escudo, and we wound up in that village that was under attack, and Alcyone nearly killed Hikaru. Who was it that saved her? Here’s a hint: it wasn’t me.”

“Yeah—after I managed to get myself nearly cut to ribbons, and before I ended up flat on the ground, bleeding my life away, at which point you had to haul my ass out of the fire.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that you accepted your magic and a destiny you didn’t really want in order to save your friend’s life,” Fuu said firmly. “You became a Magic Knight for us.”

“But—“

“Alcyone also trapped us inside that frozen place,” Hikaru chimed in. “You saved us then, too!”

“I—“

“And who was it that got Ascot straightened out? I recall a certain Knight of Selece being the one to, ah, knock a little sense into him, right?” Fuu went on, bowling right over Umi’s faint attempts at protest.

“And then there was the fight for the Pillar—you took on the Princess of Chizeta, didn’t you? You kicked some serious royal ass!” Hikaru bubbled.

“Hikaru!” Fuu admonished.

“Sorry…”

“And that’s just Magic Knight stuff,” Fuu turned her attention back to Umi. “Think about all the time we all spent hanging out together at home, all the little favors and things we all always do for each others. Umi, nothing would be the same if you weren’t around. We’re a team, we’re friends, and nothing’s gonna change that.”

“But…but…”

“We’re a puzzle,” Hikaru chirped, crawling over to join the two of them on the floor. “Take away one piece, and you lose a big part of the picture. See?” She looked far too happy, but it was infectious, and Fuu’s anger seemed to melt away in the face of it.

“I vote we make a pledge—next time we run into Aeric, let the three of us kick his sorry ass from here to Autozam!” Fuu crowed, raising one fist into the air. “And Umi gets first shot!”

Umi couldn’t help herself; she started to laugh, and slapped Fuu a high-five. “Take him down!”

It was like the tension flooded from the room, leaving the three girls in breathless giggles. As those subsided, Hikaru leaned over and wrapped her arms around Umi’s waist, leaning her head against Umi’s shoulder; Fuu took the other side, and Umi slid an arm around both of them. The comfortable group hug was tempered only by an equally-comfortable silence.

“Umi…” Hikaru said a few minutes later, “tell us when something’s wrong. We don’t think you’re weak or stupid or anything, and we’re the ones who should know. You’re Ryuuzaki Umi, champion fencer, a gorgeous person, a great friend, and one helluva Magic Knight. And if we ever come up against that jerk again, you’d better show him what’s what!”

“…but I still don’t know what my part in the team is,” Umi said, expression darkening.

Fuu got an eeeeeevil little smile on her face, and tilted her head so she could whisper something into Umi’s ear. A moment later, the trio again dissolved into laughter as spirits were lightened, and burdens were finally shared.

-o-


“Yes, Father. Yes, I understand,” Caliana said dutifully, managing not to roll her eyes.

Her father’s bearded face loomed on the screen in front of her; he looked ready to start spitting molten metal in anger over his daughter’s sudden rebellion concerning the arrangement with Cephiro. He was currently demanding an explanation as to what the hell was she thinking, and would she please explain this, giving good enough reason that he would not have cause to have her ambushed upon her entrance into the capitol?

For the fourth (or was it fifth?) time, Caliana, Princess of Aldarba, launched into the story, from beginning to end, starting with her arrival in Cephiro and her introduction to the three girls from another world known as the Magic Knights. She finished the tale by recounting the exact reasons she had broken off her intentions to the Cephirean Prince and quickly organized her return to her homeland—hence, the reason she was communicated with her father via the transport ship’s communicators.

“Caliana, you know the reasons for this alliance!” her father protested as her story once again drew to a close. “This is crucial to maintaining our peace!”

“Father, our peace is secure,” she replied serenely, sitting back in her chair. “I have it on the word of Guru Clef, Prince Ferio, and even the Magic Knights. Our alliance will stand with or without the union, and I think it will be better for everyone involved.”

“Caliana—“

She rose suddenly to her feet, looking every inch royalty. “Father, you have always told me that someday I will be Queen. Should I not first begin by ruling my own life? If I am to be Queen, I must know how to make decisions. If I had a single doubt as to the validity of their promises of peace, I would never have left or broken the agreement. Trust my judgment, Father, and trust me as I trust them.” Her head was held high throughout, her voice never raising or wavering, her very posture a challenge to her father to disagree with her or discipline her.

There was silence, and she could see her honored father waging an internal war.

Please, Father. Please understand…I’ve done everything you’ve ever asked of me…

To her amazement, he sighed…and smiled. “It is times like these when I realize that you truly are my daughter, Caliana.” He almost looked misty-eyed at the thought. “My daughter. You have grown up. You will be a fine Queen.” There was a note in his voice that took her a moment to place.

Pride.

He was proud that she had taken the initiative, proud that she was willing to put others first, and work around obstacles to achieve the same end without sacrificing others.

Allowing herself a truly happy smile, Caliana laughed lightly. “Thank you, Father. I was almost afraid I was going to have to go tell Mother on you.” She wagged a finger at him in a game they had not played since her childhood.

He held up his hands in defeat. “Truly, a death worse than fate, my child. You are approaching. I will greet you upon your arrival.” The screen went blank. Caliana sat down again and leaned back in her chair, letting her eyes tumbled shut. She was suddenly very exhausted, but happy. Vindicated. Free.

A hand touched her shoulder a moment later, rousing her from her near-doze. “Lady Caliana?” the rough male voice was soft as it questioned her. “We’ve almost arrived.”

She turned and looked up at the soldier behind her. “Oh—Kannon. Thank you.”

He smiled and bowed. Once he had straightened, he looked mildly uncomfortable before speaking again. “Begging your pardon, Highness, but…I was under the impression we would not return to Aldarba for quite some time. Why so soon?”

With a smile, the Princess replied, “Plans change, Kannon.”

“Does this have regard to the engagement?”

“Indeed it does,” she replied, speaking to him with the familiarity of two who had known each other for longer than they often on. “Indeed it does…”

She could have sworn she heard him smile behind her.

-o-


The stone basin of the fountain was cool under Hikaru’s hands as she leaned her full weight back and let her head fall back to look up at the ceiling. The sweet fragrance of flowers slid over her and around her, wrapping her like the softest blanket; she closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. This was her favorite room in the palace, after all.

Even now that she was twenty-one and undeniably an adult, it could never be said that Shidou Hikaru was ever quite as adult as her fellow Magic Knights. She had always been the ‘little sister’ of the trio, and as such, she had been able to maintain a certain innocence uncommon in someone her age. But the events of the past few days had left her reeling.

And so she now sat alone, trying desperately to organize thoughts and emotions that were all but alien to her. Even during their tenure as Magic Knights, she had never been this worried, especially not about Umi, of all people.

Umi could take care of herself. She’d always been able to. And now…

And now…

“Hikaru?”

She jolted at the sound of her own name, actually jumping to her feet and whirling as her hand flew to her ovum-gem in readiness to draw her sword. It was just one more sign of how on edge she was. Fortunately, she did not attack.

After all, Lantis probably wasn’t in the mood to have his head or any other appendage severed from its proper place on his body. He wasn’t wearing his armor or his sword, so if she had swung, he would have had no way to protect himself.

With a sigh, she lowered her sword and dropped back to her seat on the stone basin; she raised her eyes to give him a mournful look. “Don’t scare me like that. I’m jumpy enough as it is.”

The cail nodded an apology and sat beside her, knowing no permission was required. “I’m a little concerned about you and the others.” It was never easy for him to say what he felt like that; she knew it, and appreciated that he would voice his concern.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” she smiled gently, then leaned her head back again. “I’m most worried about Umi. She was right—she’s the one they’re after. Why do they want her, though? And what does this all have to do with Cephiro? And who keeps taking over her? I want to know who Glowy Eye Person is!” She closed her eyes. “I don’t get it. I don’t get any of this.”

“You’re the Magic Knights. I know you’ll be fine,” Lantis said quietly.

“I hope so. But I really wish there would be a clue, or something!” she huffed, sitting up and folding her arms across her chest. “We’ll figure it all out soon, though. But until that finally happens, I’m not going to let anything happen to Umi.”

“Hmmm…” Lantis acknowledged; suddenly, he looked vaguely uncomfortable, obviously thinking something over very carefully.

She raised an eyebrow at him. “What?”

The light in the room went out, and there was a slight jar as the palace shook.

Instinctively, Hikaru jumped in surprise. Lantis tensed beside her, and one of his hands closed around her forearm in a protective gesture, pulling her closer. They waited silently, looking around in apprehension. After a long, tense moment, the light returned.

Hikaru let out a breath she didn’t even realize she had been holding, and started to get up, but was stopped by Lantis’ hand, still holding her arm. And though traces of his trepidation at the occurrence of a moment ago remained, he was now regarding her with a very strange look…

“Lantis?” she said his name softly. When he didn’t answer, she stood up; he rose beside her, still watching her silently. “I’m going to go find Fuu. Maybe she knows what that was. I’ll see you—“

A small tug on her arm was all it took to pull her to him. And for the next few moments, Hikaru thought nothing of strange happenings, evil sorcerers, threatened worlds, or troubled friends. The world just went away, except for one beautiful thing…

Lantis…

-o-


“Hey, you.”

Ferio stopped in mid-swing at the voice and turned; having ascertained the source, he stared with mild suspicion at the figure leaning against the doorframe, arms folded, watching him practice.

Umi pushed away from the wall with her elbow and straightened, walking towards him with a slow, casual swagger; her arms stayed folded, and her eyes, blessedly normal blue eyes, never strayed from his face. “You and I need to talk.” Her face was calm, nigh unreadable, but there seemed to be no signs of the semi-demonic possession that had resulted in the earlier attack.

Ferio drew one gloved hand across his forehead, brushing away the perspiration already there from his earlier practice. “All right. Come in.” His eyes didn’t leave her as she strolled across the roomy salle, stopping directly opposite him, about nine feet of space between them.

“Want a sparring partner?” she asked amiably, drawing her sword in a flare of azure light. It was then that he noticed her long hair had been loosely tied back with a red ribbon; and he assumed she had borrowed it from Caldina.

He studied her, then nodded and raised his own blade, lowering into a fighting stance. Umi, however, raised the hilt of her blade to her heart and nodded in an odd sort of salute before echoing his movements and preparing herself for the mock-duel.

For a few moments, the only sounds were of swords clashing and sword-wielders panting. But they were evenly matched, with neither wearing the other down as they persisted in their spar. As they stepped apart for a moment to catch their breath and give their arms a rest, Umi gave him a Look and frowned. “Why don’t you talk to Fuu?”

He actually flinched, like he had known this was coming. “The way she’s been avoiding me, you would think I had acquired some incurable disease that she was going to catch. First with the engagement, and then the hit in the back…” He sighed, looking utterly discouraged. “If she doesn’t want to see me, then I will respect that.”

“Coward.” His head snapped back to look at her in surprise as she spat the word at him. “Ferio, she took a goddamn knife in the back for you. That’s saying something, and that something is somewhere along the lines of ‘I want you, I need you, oh baby, oh baby.’ So what are you going to do about it?”

“What the hell do you want me to do about it?” he growled.

Without any pretense or warning, she lunged, diving in low and swinging her foot around to catch Ferio in the back of the knees, following it by moving upwards to drive her shoulder into his stomach. The result was expected: the hit to the legs tripped him backwards, and the drive to the torso slammed him backwards into the ground. His sword clattered to the hard floor a couple of feet away.

He sat up quickly, and found the point of an Escudo-made sword pointing lazily at his forehead. Its wielder, the Knight of Selece, smirked at him. “I don’t care, Ferio. Just do something about it. Talk to her, for God’s sake. You should have just cornered her while she was bedridden, but you didn’t. Lost opportunity there. You didn’t even go see her because you’re afraid, aren’t you?”

Umi would have said more, but the lights overhead suddenly flickered, and went out entirely. Neither moved an inch; Umi’s hand unconsciously tightened on the hilt of her sword, while Ferio groped around in the darkness, searching for his fallen blade.

After what felt like eons, the lights came back on, and it was as though nothing had happened. Another motionless moment passed before Umi sighed and relaxed a little. “Fuu misses you. A lot. So as your friend and hers, I’m giving you an ultimatum, Highness. Do something—or die.”

Hoisting her sword away from him, Umi turned on her heel and strolled away, leaving one very confused, slightly shaken Cephirean Prince flat on his ass, pondering as to what the hell had just happened.

-o-


Unaware of her friend’s situations (and in particular that one friend was threatening the Cephirean royalty), Fuu was lounging in Clef’s library, reading an extremely interesting book. The diminutive mage had granted her unlimited access to this room, and she had taken full advantage of the fact. The place was filled with books outlining a good amount of Cephiro’s history and legends.

She was currently engrossed in one such book—it was actually a shorter one that was focused almost entirely on the legend of the Magic Knights, outlining the prophecy that they were to fulfill, and attempting to describe the mashin. Granted, the descriptions were a little off, and did not do justice to the mighty beings, but she gave the unknown author credit for trying.

But it was most interesting to read an outsider’s thoughts on the Magic Knights. This was a story comparable to the Great Flood or one of the many mysterious beasts who were said to walk hidden in the wilderness, the story was that old and that far-reaching.

She was a little on edge at the moment, truth be told. For some reason, a moment ago the lights in the palace had gone out and returned mere moments later. It left her antsy, and definitely not at ease. Not really wanting to give any further thought to strange goings-on, she refocused on her book, figuring that if something pressing happened, she would be summoned.

She finished a chapter describing Selece, the fierce Dragon of the Sea (the previous chapters had been over Rayearth and Windam, respectively), and flipped a page, wonder what would be next. She was startled, then, to see a portrait.

It was a woman, sporting elaborate green armor and a crowning headpiece reminiscent of feathers. She wore a pale green cloak, the end of which she was holding in one gloved hand, letting it drape around her. She was swathed in streams of wind, and held a long sword. Behind her was the image of a large bird—Windam.

But the young woman—for young she appeared, though her true age would have been impossible to determine, given the power of one’s will—was not Fuu. Her hair was red, not the same shade of crimson as Hikaru’s, but more a vibrant auburn, spilling down past her shoulders and floating around her in wind that moved to her beck and call. And her eyes: green. Emerald green, the color of leaves, or of a four-winged spirit-god…

“What in the world…” Fuu murmured, her fingers moving to brush the picture and the face of the woman. The woman’s eyes seemed to burn right into Fuu, as though reading her. Was this an artist’s conception of a Magic Knight? It looked nothing like her.

But as she stared, Fuu suddenly felt very tired…and then she saw…

An arrow flew at her, embedding itself in her chest. She screamed in pain and fell backwards; the ground was rough and uneven beneath her back, and she felt something else jousting into her side—a broken sword, perhaps? Or maybe another arrow?

There was someone with her. A man—he was someone important, and someone important to her. And he was frantic, crying for concern, crying for her. As her strength ebbed and her head lulled against her shoulder, red hair and red blood fell into her eyes, blinding her, and she heard explosions as she spiraled into a place away from herself…


Fuu heard the library door open. But before she could really register this fact or even shake herself back to reality, she slumped forward. Her forehead pressed against the page, her arms coming to dangle limply at her sides.

The newcomer closed the door with a click, and waited.

For a short moment, the library was silent, and completely still.

Then Fuu stirred, and sat up, shaking her head slightly as though to clear it. She looked down at the picture in the book, and smiled. “My, my…” With a soft giggle, she closed the book and rose to her feet, finally turning to greet the newcomer. “Well, here we are.”

Shidou Hikaru leaned against the door, her hands casually behind her back. She seemed perfectly at ease, save for the disturbing fact that her eyes were glowing beneath her shaggy bangs. Red. Bright, pulsating scarlet. And the smile on her face did not belong to Hikaru. “It has been a while.”

“Indeed,” ‘Fuu’ nodded, looking at the book. “I grow concerned with this one. She tends to happen upon things she should not meddle in.” Lifting the volume, ‘Fuu’ replaced the book on the shelf, turning it so that the title could not be seen. “Hopefully, she will not find that again. She is a curious one.” Her tone was fairly serious, but her luminous green eyes reflected her amusement.

“They draw close,” ‘Hikaru’ murmured, with no mirth at all. “But she is still fearful. I worry.”

“I do not,” ‘Fuu’ answered, sitting back down and folding one leg demurely over the other. “I do not fear for any of them. She is frightened, yes, but when the time finally comes, I have the utmost faith that all will be done. We will watch, and wait until then.” She looked down and examined the glove on her hand, the glove that held the symbol of her power and legacy, and her expression grew somber. “And may history never repeat itself.” She continued to stare at the green stone, her eyes casting an eerie jade glow on the skin around her eyes. “All will be done…”

And as the glowing eyes, the mark of their possession, faded away, the Knights of Rayearth and Windam slumped over, unconscious. The former slid down the door to rest, propped up in a hunched heap on the carpet, while the latter again came to rest with her head pillowed on the table’s surface.

Sleeping peacefully, her dreams were of green and bright, bright red.

-o-


“You wanted to see us?” Hikaru flew into the throne room, rubbing at her eyes. She had just woken up from her impromptu nap, and still had no idea how she had managed to end up curled in a little ball on the library floor, sleeping with her head against the door. She had only awakened when Lafarga had come flying in, searching madly for her and Fuu; he had managed to knock her over from the force of the door opening, and had then dragged both towards the throne room for an emergency meeting with Clef.

The Wind Knight didn’t look much more awake, and was far less focused. Her mind was far, far away, trying to remember what she had been doing before she had so suddenly dozed off. Her only vague recollection was of a book, but what was it about? What had she been looking at? There had been no book on the table by her head…

The others were already assembled, including Umi, who looked slightly worn but calm; she was flanked by Kagura and Takeshi, who seemed relatively relaxed. Tama stood passively behind Umi, watching the unfolding scene with frightened curiosity. They were gathered around a small white form, hovering a few feet in the air, suspended by white wings.

“Creator…” Fuu breathed.

“Xander has left Cephiro,” Clef intoned, his expression dark. “We must track him down.”

“Do we know where he went?” Lantis demanded.

“There was a tear between worlds,” Clef replied. “He has gone to another world.” The Master Mage then turned to the hovering white being.

Mokona, the Creator, spoke. “I have found him. He has gone to this place.”

Beneath him, a small circle of magic appeared; it swirled like fog for a moment before an image became clear in it. The Cephirean residents oohed and aahed over the strange-looking place. “What unusual structures…” Caldina murmured softly.

“What’s that tall thing?” Ferio wondered aloud. “It’s not a tree…”

The sighs of awe were punctuated by five outright gasps. Everyone turned to stare at the group of Earth-borne teenagers, staring in shock at the image Mokona had conjured for them. Four young women and one young man were gazing with wide eyes at the world projected there.

“What? What is it?” Clef asked. “What’s wrong?”

Kagura was the one who regained her powers of speech first, and even then, she only managed a tiny squeak of a whisper as she pointed one shaky hand at the image and peeped, “That’s…Tokyo.”

Everyone looked at her blankly.

Fuu came to herself next. “Tokyo. That’s where we’re from. The tall thing—that’s Tokyo Tower. Tokyo is in Japan. That’s Earth. It’s our world!” Excited jabber broke out.

“We have to go!” Umi announced. “There’s no way in hell I’m letting him hurt our world. I won’t allow it anymore than I would allow him to destroy Cephiro.” She turned to Hikaru and Fuu. “We’ve got to go back. We need to stop him.”

“I agree wholeheartedly,” Fuu actually smirked.

“Let’s go,” Hikaru nodded. She whirled on the others. “We’ll go immediately.”

“Wait a minute!” Caldina crowed. “Can’t let you do that. It’s waaaaaaay too dangerous.” At the collective stare she was getting, her expression grew unusually somber. “I’m goin’ with you. I’ll help.” Around the room, various people nodded their assent and their intent of also accompanying the Magic Knights to the world of their birth.

Before long, it was decided that Lafarga would stay behind to handle the palace; there had been some unusual occurrences on one of the borders, and as a magical swordsman and head of the Guard, it was his duty to keep an eye on those things and summon the army if need be.

It was also collectively decided that Tama should stay behind. The demure maid had no way to protect herself, should something happen. And she looked perfectly terrified at the idea of going to a strange place when she had only just started to make herself a home in Cephiro.

Caldina had already expressed her intentions to not let the girls go alone. Lantis refused to leave Hikaru’s side (and she looked strangely relieved), Ferio would not let Fuu leave without him beside her (though she looked faintly embarrassed at his attentions), and Ascot stuck to Umi like Velcro (which secretly pleased her). Clef announced that he would set shields and protections for the palace and accompany them, citing that the evacuation procedures were still in place to protect the citizens. Presea immediately demanded to go as well.

“I just thought of something,” Umi said suddenly as they all joined together in a circle in preparation to make their very short journey to the world called Earth. “What happened to Caliana?”

“Lady Caliana left early this morning, before all hell broke loose,” Lafarga replied with surprising bluntness. “She’s returning to Aldarba. I would assume she’s already there by now.”

“But—the alliance?” Hikaru asked in confusion.

Fuu said nothing as Clef explained; she already knew. Caliana had given her Ferio’s ring to symbolize the end of their engagement, asking her to return the trinket to the Prince. That small gold ring, inscribed with words ‘Bound forever’ in Cephirean runes, was sitting heavily in her pocket, and burning a hole in her heart.

Hands were joined, and Mokona floated over them, looking as somber as a creature with that face could look. “Is everyone prepared?” A silent chorus of nods. “This might be a bit of a shock.”

Magic flared—

—and light flashed—

—and the throne room disappeared.

The only ones who didn’t scream or cry out in panic were the three Magic Knights. Standing hand in hand, the three of them merely held onto each other and squeezed each other’s hands as they made the split-second trip that was familiar to them by now.

It happened in the space of a heartbeat, in the time it took for the breath to be whisked from their lungs. And then there was hard floor under their shoes, tempered by the sound of something crunching loudly. Eyes that had been squeezed shut in terror opened, and voices that moments ago had been screaming were struck dumb with surprise. Only Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu remained calm and seemingly unmoved by the transition.

The observation deck of Tokyo Tower was exactly as they had left it, sans the monsters trying to kill them. The windows were in pieces, with glass spilled all over the floor. The deck was still void of people, and the cool night breeze blew in through the broken windows beyond which were the bright night lights of Tokyo.

Of the others, Lantis clamped himself back under control first. He broke from the circle and walked to the shattered remnants of the window. He said nothing—his face said it all, and echoed the expressions of everyone else in the Cephirean team.

Umi finally broke away from the line of Earthlings, and strolled over to stand beside Lantis. “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” The question was addressed to the collective, and they all nodded. She turned to them with a smile and said cheerily, “This is where we live. Welcome, everyone. Welcome to Earth.”





This wasn’t in the script…


Kagura didn’t seem to notice anyone else in the room; her eyes, warm and dark with concern, were fixated solely on her sword-wielding friend. Her expression was grim, but not unkind. “Are you really going to kill me? Then do it. For some reason, you really seem to want to kill me. So do it. If it’ll make you happy, do it.” There was a long pause in the room then, tempered only by the heavy breathing of the Cephirean residents.

SLICE!

Thump, thump, rooooooll…


Fuu let out a tiny shriek and turned as green as her mashin as Kagura’s head rolled across the floor. “I don’t think she expected that…”

Goodnight, sweet Prince…


A few minutes had passed before the door opened again, and Umi stepped back inside with Presea in tow. But to the open amazement of the two men, not only was Umi still holding her sword, but Presea was also armed with a blade. Both stalked wordlessly across the room towards the door. Beyond that door was the target of their anger—Ferio.

“Umi, obviously you’re still planning on killing Ferio,” Clef said, looking completely confused—probably for the first time in his life. “But Presea, what are you doing?”

“Helping!” the artisan replied with a little bit of a bloodthirsty smile on her face. “So is Caldina. She went to find Hikaru. Now if you’ll excuse us—“

“Presea…”

The pharle stopped and turned a glare on them. “You haven’t seen Fuu, have you? Apparently, she got the news from Caliana, and none too gently. So if there are no more questions, gentlemen, we have important things to do.” And with that, they were gone.

The two men waited.

After a moment, there was some yelling, a few loud obscenities, and some crashes.

And suddenly, both had to wonder if the two women were actually serious about spilling blood.

The door opened again, and Presea and Umi traipsed back through, both looking quite pleased with themselves. And the blood splattered all over their swords and clothes and faces complimented their outfits and complexions ever so nicely, and looked very nice with the manic grins on their faces…

As they left, the two men slowly got to their feet and tiptoed over to the door, where they peered out to see exactly what had happened. Both turned away very quickly, faces taking on a shiny green tinge.

Clef swallowed hard. “I can’t believe they made him eat that before they finished the job…”

Ending Before It Even Began…


With a jolt, Umi’s eyes snapped open. And she wasn’t too terribly surprised to find herself floating in a crystal blue sky over an immense landscape that stretched on forever. Blue rivers, golden fields, and emerald forests, as far as the eye could see. Of course, the view only lasted for a moment, before they lost the ability to defy gravity, and the familiar fall from the sky began.

Umi waited, hoping desperately that something would be there to catch them. Granted Fyula—Clef’s giant flying fish—had been there for the other times, but there was no guarantee…

Nearby, she could hear screams, but it wasn’t Hikaru or Fuu. And one of the screeching voices was most definitely not female…

Realization came in a flash. Kagura! Takeshi!

Wrenching herself around in the air, Umi found herself face to face with her two friends. Both of whom were accompanying her in this downward tumble. They, however, seemed far less calm about it than she was.

The ground was getting closer…closer…and closer still…

SPLAT.

How she should have reacted…


“Why exactly are you here?” the Green Knight seemed to recover herself and went on. “I mean, I know it’s some diplomatic thing, but nobody will tell us exactly what’s going on.” She paused. “I guess it might not be any of our business…but we’re just curious, that’s all.”

“Do you not want me here?” Caliana asked, trying to get a measure of this strange young woman from another world. For some reason, she couldn’t quite get a reading on Fuu and whatever her motives might be. She possessed an innate ability to read people, but this girl eluded her. Could it be that she really did just want to talk to her? No…people weren’t like that. That was why she further tested the waters with a question of deliberate misinterpretation.

And Fuu seemed genuinely taken aback. “No, that’s not it at all. We just wanted to know a little more about you.” She was telling the truth.

Caliana sighed. “You really don’t know. I can’t imagine why Guru Clef wouldn’t tell you.”

“Tell us what?” Fuu asked.

A moment later, there was a sickening crunching sound as Fuu’s heart shattered.

And then there was another sound as Fuu’s fist rather rudely introduced itself to Caliana’s nose.