Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Publish Date: 5/2/2004 through 12/24/2005
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*
In a few scant hours, things were all going to come to a head.
Under the relative cover of night, the odd ensemble was going to head to Tokyo Tower and attempt to finish what their enemy had started. It was not an overly pleasant prospect, and it offered definite opportunities for a variety of deaths, but they were Magic Knights. They were the only ones who could stop Xander and whatever he was planning to do with their two worlds.
They had no real clues as to his intent, though. All they had were those few small clues Umi had brought back from her excursions in Xander’s palace—their enemy’s grudge against Cephiro ran very deep, and seemingly went back very far. He had admitted to Umi that he was a Cephirean native. It stood to reason that something had happened within the country’s borders, or involving someone from Cephiro. But without knowing what or who that was, there was no way to help that.
So they would fight, and they had to triumph…or else.
Hmmmm…pillow… Umi curled up and pulled a throw blanket up to her chin. Head resting comfortably on the aforementioned cushion, she closed her eyes and snuggled down, already drowsy. Bingo—instant warmth. And oh, so comfy…
The hours were moving by so slowly, Umi had decided to crash for a bit and make sure she was well rested. She already knew that Xander had a special interest in her, so she thought it would be in her best interest to be at full power.
Kagura and Takeshi would accompany them to the Tower. In Kagura’s words, they were already involved, and they were going to see this through until the end. After some argument, they had their way, and it was agreed that they would assist in ushering the other-worlders towards their destination.
But that wasn’t for a while yet. So—she napped.
As she drifted off, her thoughts drifted as well. About Xander and Aeric and possession and fighting and dreams and shadows and Ascot…especially Ascot. So much had happened as of late…her entire world had merrily done back-flips all over again. And she wondered, as she fell asleep, if she would dream again now, knocking on Hell’s door, as it were…
“Oh great, here we go again,” she muttered in spite of herself, finding herself once again in the recurring world of her Dreamscape. As usual, the tsunami of darkness swept over the world beneath her, swallowing all those she held dear. But something had changed.
In the shadow-beast that loomed over her, she saw Xander. His face, angry and crimson-eyed, snarled down at her in infuriated triumph. And when he attacked her again, her guardian appeared once again. As with Xander in the monster, her protector was clearer than ever. Umi could see the outline of a cape entwining around the woman’s lithe figure, and when she turned to look at Umi, her eyes stood out a vivid blue against the darkness of her face.
“Why won’t you tell me who you are?” Umi demanded angrily.
“Open your arms to…” the woman whispered.
“Show me your face!” Umi screamed.
“Open your arms to…”
“What do you want from me?”
“Open your arms to…”
As the woman’s form exploded with light, Umi saw things. A montage of images that hit her right between the eyes, some were things she had seen before, and others were new to her eyes. New or old, though, it hit her with a force that hurt.
A couple arguing—she recognized the man as Xander, and the woman as the protector from her dreams. Even though she couldn’t clearly see the woman, she could see uncertainty in her posture and hand gestures, whereas Xander merely seemed furious…
An arrow slammed into her chest, and she jerked backwards, feeling something sharp beneath her as she landed on her back on the ground. Around her were the screams of the dying and the dead and so much bright red…
A pillar of flames swept down from the air itself, devouring the form of a woman cradling another in her arms. Her screams tore through the air and the roar of the firestorm as it swallowed her whole…
The glint of a sword and another splash of red staining her vision amidst a swirl of white-feathered wings above her and a feeling of regret that permeated everything through the crimson haze…
Fingers touched her forehead and gave her the tiniest of pushes, sending her flying backwards into the abyss that led back to wakefulness, though sadness trailed after her like the tail of a kite.
Umi opened her eyes, momentarily immobile. As she stared at the ceiling, she wondered why her vision was blurred, until she realized she was crying. She brushed at her eyes with the back of one hand and sat up. A glance at the clock revealed that she had been out for nearly an hour and a half. It was strange—she felt exhausted, but energized.
The dream troubled her, more than the others had. Up until that point, it had been the same, always the same. Why did it change now? And who were those other people?
Her hands tightened around the blanket, and she frowned. The shadow in her dream—that was Xander. She knew that much now—his face in the shadow…how could she have missed that before? But the other things still confused her. Why was Xander arguing with the woman who protected her?
Umi sighed and dropped back against the pillow. And she hoped against hope that she would get the answers she so desperately when she would once again face Xander at Tokyo Tower.
She tensed and swallowed hard. “Yes?”
Hands touched her shoulders. She didn’t turn to look at Ferio; it was enough of a struggle keeping herself from shivering at the slight touch. She could feel him close behind her. So very close…
“I…well, I just…I…” Ferio’s voice lost sound with each syllable, until he was simply moving his mouth, but no sound was coming out. Whoa…what the hell happened to my volume control?
When he didn’t get the point across after almost a full sixty seconds, Fuu sighed and stepped away. Ever since she had taken a knife to the back for him, they had almost had an unspoken agreement that they just stayed away from each other. There had been moments when she had nearly broken and thrown herself into his arms, but she had restrained herself. Just thinking about him made her ache, both her shoulder and her heart.
Furthermore, she still had a certain ring, tucked safely away. She really should just give it back to him, but…sigh, sigh, siiiiiiiigh. There just weren’t any really easy answers, were there?
“I have to go,” she murmured, and hurried out of the room.
The minute she was away from him, though, she found herself admiring a rather large, ornate vase sitting on an end table in the next room, and wondering exactly how heavy it was—heavy enough, perhaps, to leave a nice dent in her nice, thick skull.
Perhaps it would knock some belated sense into her.
She paused and gazed at her reflection in a mirror hanging on the wall in the hallway. “After this is over,” she promised herself. “After we deal with Xander and make sure Umi’s okay, Ferio. You and I are going to have a little chat.” The mirror’s sigh was an echo of her own. “We’ll be okay.”
Her reflection almost seemed to nod in agreement.
In the comfortable quiet of the guest room she had commandeered, Hikaru stared at the ceiling. She was unusually somber, sprawled alone in the relative darkness, thinking. Thinking about…things.
Not exactly profound, but true. Her thoughts were wandering from here to there, hither and back again and in loop-de-loops and spirals that left her head spinning, her instincts screaming, and her course of action undecided.
She was uneasy, and frightened, to a certain extent. But mostly she was worried.
Umi had once said that there was nothing more meaningless than one of Hikaru’s ‘I’m fine’s.’ Well, at the moment, that statement could easily be reversed. Umi wasn’t fine, no matter what she said. Everything that was happening to her was taking its toll, ripping her apart…
And yet she still walked with her head held high, intact.
She was fighting through.
Hikaru sighed and got up. She wasn’t sleeping, so maybe she could walk around or something before it was Time. She walked over the door, opened it—and ran right into a brick wall.
Except brick walls didn’t carry swords or wear armor.
Rubbing her now-aching nose, Hikaru looked up, and smiled—which made her nose hurt even more. Hopefully, it wasn’t broken. “Lantis, how long have you been standing out here?”
He didn’t answer.
She paused, then smiled. “Come on, walk with me.”
Lantis wasn’t allowed the opportunity to decline, because Hikaru suddenly regained her usual energy and grabbed his arm, dragging him down the stairs and out the front door into the peaceful sunlight of the late afternoon.
Umi looked at Hikaru.
Hikaru looked at Fuu.
Fuu looked at Umi.
All three nodded. “Okay,” Hikaru said, visibly squaring her shoulders. “Let’s do it to it.”
And with that, the group was off, heading back to Tokyo Tower to wage a battle that would undoubtedly decide the fate of Cephiro, Earth, and all other worlds. Xander was waiting.
The trip there was as enlightening as the one to Umi’s house had been, and Fuu simply told those who stared that they were on their way to either a costume party, or an LARP convention, then hustled the Cephireans along in a biiiiiiiig hurry. However, strange looks aside, when they tried to go to the top of Tokyo Tower, they met a very unexpected snag in their plan: a guard.
“I’m sorry, but the observation deck is not open to visitors. The Tower was vandalized last night,” the guard said, his face and tone somber, as though he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to harm the landmark. “Some punks broke some windows.”
“Oh…” Fuu’s face fell. They had to go from the Tower. It was…well, it was hard to explain, but it was just the way things had to be. So if this man was in their way. Hmmmm… she thought back to previous experiences in the magical world, and something clicked. She threw a glance at Caldina, who looked back at her quizzically before the message clicked.
Caldina pulled out her fan and tapped her toe twice on the floor. “Sweet dreams, everybody!” she whispered, brandishing her unusual weapon. She had done this many a time—even Ascot had fallen prey to Caldina’s unique brand of magic. A dust soon appeared in the air, creating a strange pink film that enveloped everything. Within mere moments, all of the guards, workers, and ordinary people milling around were sound asleep, curled in small heaps on the ground.
“Way to go, Caldina!” Takeshi nodded his approval as they stepped around and over the guard and other slumbering forms and headed for the elevator. In a few seconds, they were on their way to the top.
“Well…here we are,” Umi said a bit too casually as they stepped from the elevator onto the observation platform of Tokyo Tower. The glass that had carpetted the floor was gone, and there was yellow boundary tape all around the broken windows. That explained why they weren’t going to let them up to the visitor’s deck.
It was eerily silent. A slight breeze rustled through the yellow caution tape on the windows, and the sound it made was the only sound, save for the small chorus of footsteps moving across the floor.
“Here we are, indeedy,” Hikaru hmphed as Mokona went Creator in a flare of light. “Can you take us to where he is? This has to be settled now.”
But before Creator could answer, there was a burst from the horizon. But instead of being an explosion of fire, or the light that usually carried them to Cephiro, it was a bomb of darkness that swept down over the landscape, swallowing everything beneath that blackness.
“What the hell?” Lantis cursed.
Umi ran to the broken window and watched in horror. She knew this…she knew this…
Her dream. This was her dream, coming to life before her eyes.
Except…her dream had always featured Cephiro. Why was the darkness taking Tokyo?
But there was nothing she could do at the moment, nor anyone else there. They simply watched, horrified, as the darkness swelled up to the Tower, yet did not envelope the landmark. It was a buoy floating amidst the expansive ocean, the oasis in the desert. They were in the eye of the hurricane.
Which also meant that they were trapped.
“What happens now?” Hikaru whispered after a tense, silent moment.
“Now you die.”
Umi recoiled as though she had been stung. She knew that voice.
Sure enough, Xander appeared beyond the shattered window, floating above the shadows. He was still physically beautiful, it was hard to miss that, but there was nothing at all attractive or appealing about the hungry glare in his cat-like eyes, or the sneer that lay comfortably on his lips. “Greetings, my pitiful adversaries.” The greeting was so falsely sweet that Umi could almost taste it, like bitter sugar on her tongue. “Well? What do you think?”
“You’re a monster,” Fuu said flatly, keeping her temper well within check.
“Tut, tut, such harsh words,” he smirked lazily. “I wonder how Cephiro would look with these kinds of, shall we say, renovations?” With a flick of his wrist, he produced magic, and it formed itself into a sphere large enough for all of them to see. An image appeared there.
Cephiro. The crystalline palace of Cephiro.
As everyone watched in horror, armies of monsters and men stormed the palace. Clef’s protections were holding, though, and the army was standing its ground for the moment. But it was quite clear that it was only a matter of little time before the enemy would stomp the Cephirean forces.
And they saw Lafarga, at the helm of the defenses, giving orders. A cut on his forehead had sent a thin trickle of blood down the side of his face. It was most likely an arrow-wound, and none too serious, but Caldina screamed when she saw it.
“The invasion has been going on for some time now,” Xander said, almost cheerfully. “Soon. Very soon. Once I have Cephiro, everything else should fall into my hands with minimal effort.” He sighed happily. “I love it when everything goes according to plan. But I thought you might like to watch your precious land fall, and be placed under my control.” He turned his attention adoringly to the scene in the viewing-globe, hovering beyond Tokyo Tower’s windows.
The battle was fierce, and slowly, the Cephirean forces were losing their ground and losing their morale. Soldier after soldier fell before enemy arrows and magic, and it seemed that all was lost. Xander’s forces would storm the castle soon, and with it, conquer Cephiro. They were helpless…
A bugle call trumpeted across the battlefield.
Everyone on the Tower froze. Even Xander’s smug expression shifted to confusion. The soldiers on the field seemed to go into slow motion, turning towards the source of the sudden sound.
An army was approaching the palace at a quick pace. Within moments, it had closed in. Xander’s army suddenly found themselves trapped between the Cephireans, exhausted but still holding on, and these newcomers, clad in blue and gold uniforms, and all fresh for the fight.
It clicked for Ferio first. “That’s—“
Growling, Xander cast magic, and the image changed, zooming over the army, back to the commander’s pavilion at the back, behind the blue and gold-clad army. Sitting in the middle of that kiosk, giving orders at a rapid pace, was the commander.
“Caliana!” Umi gasped.
The Aldarban princess was clad in a slightly-modified version of the uniforms her soldiers were wearing—it had been altered slightly so that there was no mistaking her rank, nor her gender. However, within seconds of watching, there was no doubt among the observers that this young woman was in full control, both of the army on the field and of the officers who scurried around her, delivering the orders to the battlefield and maintaining contact with the Aldarban palace.
Clef realized what was happening first. “The treaty…the mutual defense pact…”
“What does that mean?” Hikaru asked.
“It means,” Lantis answered, “that if either of our nations is under threat, the other will come to their aide—military defense, supplies, rebuilding, and the like. Since Cephiro has been invaded…they honored the treaty, and came to help.”
In the globe, Caliana stood from her chair. She absently brushed a stray strand of hair back from her face—the rest was tied back into a no-nonsense knot at the nape of her neck, adding to her aura of command. She leaned over the shoulder of one man, who was sitting serenely and seemingly staring off into space. “Give the order,” she said, authoritative, but not unkind.
The man’s brow furrowed, as he focused on something. Beyond their platform, the army began to move, spurred on by some command that was heard by their ears alone. Caliana wandered back towards her chair, issuing quiet orders to the others around her before sitting back down and leaning back. For the moment, she seemed rather relaxed, and her eyes closed as she sighed.
A young man, brown-haired and blue-eyed, leaned over the back of her chair. “Lady Caliana?” he spoke softly, reaching down to touch her shoulder; it was a simple gesture that spoke of a certain level of familiarity. “It is going well.”
She reached up and patted his hand affectionately, another offhanded motion that spoke volumes of intimacy. “Indeed, Kannon. It is.” He pulled his hand away, yet remained behind her chair.
Those on the Tower watched this whole exchange. Umi’s eyes widened for a moment before she smiled in belated realization. “All right! Way to go, Caliana!” Beside her, Fuu was smiling, and Hikaru actually giggled. Behind them, their friends from Cephiro were celebrating the safety of their nation.
But one person was not at all happy with this new development.
Still hovering in the sky beyond the Tower, above the shadows that had swallowed Tokyo, Xander hunched over, his back to them. “No…no…NO!” he roared as he turned back to them, and they all recoiled to see that his eyes had changed, and were now glowing crimson.
And he changed.
His skin seemed to shift and darken before their very eyes, and his body stretched and contorted. Limbs arched towards the sky as an inhuman cry tore from his throat. In the split second before he completely melded into the darkness…his body visibly shattered, like breaking glass.
But not for long.
The broken pieces floated in midair for a moment, barely visible, before they suddenly began spinning around each other, sweeping up a whirlwind that swept dark tendrils across the observation deck of Tokyo Tower, where the Cephirean team stood. They all closed their eyes, bracing themselves against the darkness that seemed determined to devour them.
It subsided after what felt like eternity, pulling back out of the window and into the darkness. But as Clef lowered his arms, he instantly became aware that something was horribly, horribly wrong. The others realized it too, within seconds.
“Where are the girls?” Presea yelped, looking around frantically.
The Magic Knights were gone.
And beyond the window, the image in the sphere changed, to show the three girls of legend in a very, very different place, facing the unimaginable…
Colors, everywhere. Every shade of every color imaginable, swirled together into a bizarre sort of scenery that should have been blinding, but was not. The Magic Knights stood amidst this, watching the unfolding development before them with trepidation and drawn swords. They were somehow in their ‘mashin-wear,’ as Umi called it, the caped armor they wore when riding with their mashin.
This was the space between worlds, where Cephiro and Earth met. And Xander had brought them here, to his hiding spot, to kill them. Their enemy was before them, completing the transformation that had been started on Earth.
Shadows were stretching and reaching towards a nonexistant ceiling, twisting and contorting and taking solid shape into something out of a child’s nightmares. Claws grew on long hands, and horns sprouted from a head that towered over them.
Umi clutched her sword with white-knuckled hands. This was…
Two red eyes snapped open and glared triumphantly down at them.
It had been Xander in the dream, she had known that. But…was this his true form?
What was happening?
The shadow-face smirked at them. “It is done. My power is complete, and now the Sovereign of Shadow will take all worlds. You cannot stop it.” His gaze narrowed in on Umi. “Even you are no longer safe, little Magic Knight.”
No longer…safe? Umi started, frowning. She vaguely remembered someone—she couldn’t remember who—telling her that Xander would not kill her, that he needed her alive. “Why? Why do you say I was safe?” she demanded angrily.
“You still do not know?” he cackled. “Even better. Eliminating the Magic Knights,” he said, seeming to let the words roll off of his tongue. “I can think of no happier thing.” Magic formed at his hands. “So let’s begin.”
The doors opened, and Caliana strolled in, the very picture of confidence. Several uniformed officers clambored behind her, though she seemed to pay them little immediate attention. Instead, she began giving orders to those behind the officers—namely, the soldiers who were busy carrying in the wounded. Within moments, makeshift hospitals had sprung up all over the building, in corridors, side rooms, and even in the throne room itself.
Once that was done, the Aldarban Princess turned and greeted Lafarga with a bow and a calm smile. “It is good to see you again. I am sorry that we could not get here sooner, but I trust we came in good enough time that crisis was averted.”
“I would say so,” Lafarga returned as he watched the hustle and bustle around him. “The damage could have been far, far worse. Probably would have been, too.”
“I have doctors in my entourage,” she said, watching the aforementioned doctors consulting with the Cephirean physicians who had come flying into the throne room. “They will tend to the patients. If you do not mind, I will also help bandage up those less severely wounded.” Without waiting for a reply or permission, she turned and went to the first wounded man she saw.
As busy and chaotic as things were at that moment, though, Lafarga found himself pausing to watch young Caliana as she hurried around. She was still in her uniform, though it now bore stains of sweat and blood; she ignored these, and moved from soldier to soldier, without regard for the color of their uniform. Be it the blue and gold of Aldarba, or the red and black of Cephiro, all were nursed equally.
But he noticed something else: she called each of the Aldarban soldiers by name. She had to look at the nametags of many of them, but there were a good number whose names she knew without having to glance. And whether she knew their names offhand or not, for a good majority of them, she was able to mention some personal detail—a family member, a pet, something that had happened recently. One man was a farmer when not in active service, and she knew his specific crop, and asked how the harvest was looking. All this as she moved among them, bandaging wounds, dabbing sweat from brows, or just holding the hands of the frightened.
And he saw how the soldiers responded to her, spoke to her, and watched her as she wandered. Lafarga realized then, somewhat belatedly, that every single person wearing one of those blue and gold uniforms would have gladly thrown their life down on that field—for their Princess.
When the dead of both armies were brought in, she consoled those who wept, Cephirean and Aldarban, yet not grieving herself. Grief was a luxury she could not yet afford; she was the commander of this mission, and the safety of Cephiro, its people, and her own people had to be secured before emotions could be released. But it was obvious that each death was a heavy weight to her.
Lafarga shrugged off his observations with a slight smile, and returned to work, checking with scouts about the possibility of another attack or the whereabouts of any enemies that might have fled.
He did not hear one older man in an Aldarban uniform, who took Caliana’s hand as she bandaged an arrow-wound on his leg, and smiled at her. “You, milady, are going to be a wonderful Queen someday.”
Around him, numerous men and women in both uniforms nodded their assent.
Caliana smiled, and bowed her head. “Thank you.”
After a little longer, she left the remaining wounded in the care of the doctors, and returned to her post as commander, taking a place beside Lafarga amidst both their generals and officers. But they were not very far into creating their plan of action when the viewing globe in the center of the room flared with a purple-black light, and an image appeared in the midst of it.
The Magic Knights. They stood amidst a strange void of color, looking at a monstrous being that seemed to have been borne and bred of the very darkness itself. There was a flurry of confusion as everyone tried to figure out what that was, and the nurses struggled to calm the wounded sitting nearby. Meanwhile, Caliana and Lafarga watched intently.
Tama rushed in then, her arms full of bandages and other assorted medical supplies. She delivered them to whence they were supposed to go, and started towards the door, but stopped by the viewing globe, staring at what was being broadcast there. “What’s happening?”
“Trouble,” Caliana replied simply.
The maid frowned. Tama had every reason to be concerned, though. Umi had saved her from Xander’s palace, bringing her to Cephiro to live safely in the palace. The girl had vowed to serve everyone as payment for taking her in, though everyone insisted that this was not necessary. She owed Umi her very life, she said, and Umi was her first friend—thus her concern was very deeply-rooted.
“What in the name of the Creator…” Caliana murmured.
A moment later, it clicked, and Lafarga’s eyes widened. “Xander…”
There was no doubt—he wanted them dead. The attacks of magic and claws were quick, deadly, and accurate, chasing the three Earth girls all over the color-filled void. As another attack flew at them, Fuu whirled and whipped out with magic.
“IMASHIME NO KAZE!” she called, and wind swirled about her and her two friends, solidifying into a shield woven from air itself. The dark attack imploded around Fuu’s barrier, but it held against that particular offensive.
The next one, though, shattered the shield. Fuu had been holding the protection, and took the brunt of the attack square-on. She flew into Hikaru and Umi, sending the three of them flying backwards and skidding across the invisible ground.
“Fuu!” Umi cried, giving her friend a little shake. The Knight of Windam was struggling valiantly to open her eyes, but she was badly losing the battle. Meanwhile, Xander was attacking again.
Hikaru leapt up. “You miserable…” she spat, raising her sword. Flames shot from the blade as she swung it at his attack, cleaving the dark magic right in two; each half shot around the two other Knights huddled on the ground.
Umi was helping to pull Fuu to her feet, supporting her weight. “You’re toying with us.”
“I had no idea you were in such a hurry to die,” he sneered, preparing another attack.
Fuu’s weight was shifted over to Hikaru as Umi straightened up and faced him. “You bastard.”
“I ask you again, Umi,” Xander taunted, sneering cruelly. “What do you do for your friends? Have you an answer? Or is it true—you’re nothing more than the pretty face. Worthless. Helpless. Hopeless—“ His jeers were cut short, though, as a blast of water shot right into his face. It did no damage to him in that form, but startled him enough that he stopped in mid-sentence and stared at her.
Umi was standing, one hand extended; tiny tendrils of water swirled around her ovum-gem. And she was smiling—well, smirking probably would have been more accurate. She was the very picture of confidence, and it carried in her voice when she replied, “Let’s get this straight. Right now.”
Xander opened his mouth to protest, but Umi barrelled right over him.
“I am Ryuuzaki Umi, and I am the Magic Knight of Selece,” she announced, not breaking eye-contact with him. “But I have enough attitude for all three of us. And I am perfectly capable of kicking your ass six ways from Saturday, thank you very much.”
Crowded around the viewing globe in the Cephirean palace, the heads of Cephiro and Aldarba both cheered Umi’s proclamation before the real gravity of the situation set in. The Magic Knights were in severe trouble.
“Is there anything we can do?” Caliana asked frantically, one agitated hand tangling through her dark mane in an obviously nervous gesture. “They will be killed if no one intervenes.”
It was then that they heard the softest of laughs. There were actually quiet chuckles floating past them, somehow audible over the din around them. Startled, they all turned simultaneously to the source of the sound, and gaped in confusion.
One of the people in the room had the back of a hand pressed to their mouth, giggling.
As everyone stared in bewilderment, the person sighed almost happily and turned to them with a smile, eyes sparkling with barely-muted glee. “It’s going well, I would say,” the person said amiably. “I think it’s about time for this little play to have it’s finale, wouldn’t you agree?”
Then, in a blinding flash of bright blue light, the giggler vanished.
The pieces fell into place, and Lafarga gasped. “It was you…”
“How does it feel to lose?” Xander asked, watching them. Another hammering of attacks had taken a lot out of the three Knights, and it was showing. He was toying with them, and he was wearing them down with minimal visible effort.
“There’s gotta be a way to beat him,” Hikaru hissed.
Umi was trying to think of a plan, but only one phrase kept scrolling through her head, like a track set on repeat: Open your arms to…open your arms to…open your arms to…open your arms to…
Why was she thinking of that?
“You’re going to die now. Will anyone care?” he asked with a sneer. “Will anyone miss you once I kill you? Your bodies will rot here forever. And no one will care that you’re gone—“
Umi’s voice cut through the space between them like a trumpet. She staggered to her feet and glared daggers at him. “You’re wrong,” she repeated, suddenly feeling very brave. “And that’s the difference between you and us. No one will miss you—no one mourns the wicked. But when…if we die, there are people who will miss us. Our friends, our families, loved ones…they’ll be heartbroken. They’ll weep for us. We’ll be terribly missed, just like we miss the ones we have lost.” She would have stopped there, but the next words sprang from her throat unbidden, and she had no idea what prompted them, but she let them be voiced anyway. “And just like Amaya.”
She didn’t know what she had just said, but judging by Xander’s reaction, it was something important. He reared back at her words like they were a wildfire coming towards him, and snarled, “What do you know about Amaya?”
Feeling empowered suddenly, she took a step forward, unconsciously placing herself between Xander and her fellow Knights. “I don’t know who Amaya is. I don’t even know anyone with that name. I don’t know why I said it. Perhaps you could fill us in? Or maybe someone else could tell us…”
She turned her head just enough to cast a glance back over shoulder. “How about you, Tama?”
Behind her, the maid had just faded into sight; she appeared normal enough, still in her charcoal-colored dress and white apron, save for an uncharacteristically sly smile that seemed quite at home on her face. “So you knew all along that I was more than I appeared to be.” It was a statement, not a question, as she folded her arms casually across her chest, a vision of confidence. “And yet you trusted me. Why?”
“I trust my senses when they tell me something’s up. I knew there was more to you than you let on, but I knew that you were not my enemy,” Umi said calmly, not yet turning to face the woman head-on, but still speaking over her shoulder. “I had been told that I would find a friend in enemy territory. And I felt a connection to you right away. So I trusted my instincts, and trusted you.”
Tama nodded her approval. “I applaud you, Umi. You are a credit to your title, Magic Knight.”
“I know you,” Xander cut in. “You were the little bitch Aeric told me of, the traitor who escaped.” His aura surged, and shadows erupted from him, reaching towards them like long, languid fingers, to strangle the life from them. “I’ll kill you. I’ll kill you all!”
But Tama remained as calm as ever, and she began walking forward, towards the Sovereign of Shadow. “That would be quite a feat,” she remarked. “You have power, Xander, but even you can’t hurt me. After all, it’s hard to kill someone,” she grinned, “who’s already dead.”
His red eyes actually widened in the shadow-face, and with an enraged scream he threw an attack of dark magic towards the four women—specifically, at Umi. There was no time to block it, and she was certain she was going to spend her last moment wondering why it seemed so familiar.
But to Umi’s amazement, Tama jumped in front of them—and blocked the attack. She didn’t know how she cast the darkness aside, nor did she know why the maid could control such power, and it was, truthfully, the last thing on her mind.
More important was the actual action itself. It was her dream, sprang to life.
And it wasn’t over yet.
In the crystalline palace of Cephiro, there was panic. The assembled who were paying specific attention to this fight alternated between staring into the viewing globe, watching the events unfolding before them in horrified fascination, and gazing in bewilderment at the spot where Tama had last stood and then disappeared.
“This is impossible…” Lafarga murmured.
“But it’s happening,” the Aldarbian general—Kannon—gaped. He had not yet met the legendary warriors himself, but he knew the story, and Caliana’s descriptions of the three girls from another world had merely made him more curious. But to see this…well, the legends hadn’t covered this. Not by any stretch of the imagination.
“Who is she?” Caliana wondered out loud. The bustle of soldiers and healers around them, coupled with the cries of the wounded and dying, drowned out their frightened, whispered conversation.
Lafarga and Kannon continued to mutter to each other, but Caliana ignored them both now, keeping her attention focused on the Magic Knights in the orb before her. She closed her eyes for a moment, and offered up a prayer to the Deity, said to protect her land.
“Le’shen akarani ki’itis,” she whispered, her native tongue. May you be protected…
“You know,” Tama replied easily, ignoring the fact that Xander was rapidly growing more and more agitated, “I really hate wearing my hair up. It’s such a hassle. I did out of necessity, of course—couldn’t have you recognizing me, could I? I really had to work to hide myself. But if the cat’s really jumping out of the bag, then I might as well…”
Her hands moved her to hair—the same braided style she had been sporting at her first meeting with Umi in Xander’s sanctum. She pulled out the few pins, and ran her fingers through its full length to free it from the confining braids. In seconds, her long, dark brown mane was loose, hanging down her back in soft waves; it was almost as long as Umi’s. “There. That’s better.” She smirked. “Ringing any bells?”
The shadow-beast that was Xander actually recoiled at the sight of her like that, hissing violently, recognition flaring like hellfires in eyes like embers. “You!” he actually sputtered.
A pillar of water appeared suddenly, shooting up from the maid’s feet and engulfing her entirely. The Magic Knights huddled together, watching with wide eyes. But finally, the column of water vanished, and a form was revealed. She seemed to be curled up in the fetal position, floating in the air, and wrapped up in some sort of pale blue cloth.
“Tama?” Hikaru asked in a strangled voice.
As if the name was a magic word, she moved. She uncoiled herself and stretched her arms over her head. Umi noticed, with sickening realization, that she was now sporting a headpiece featuring two long blue spikes, one on either side of her head. One white-booted foot touched down, followed by the other as the blue cloth—a cape—swept to the ground around her.
This was the person in her dreams: her protector. It had been Tama all along. This was only confirmed as she turned her head. Now Umi knew why seeing Tama’s blue eyes had always given her the strangest sense of déjà vu. Tama and the guardian in her dreams were one and the same, with blue eyes that were identical to her own.
Xander answered the question before anyone could even ask it. “Amaya…”
With one fluid movement of a gloved hand, the pale blue cape was thrown back over her shoulder.
Umi suddenly felt faint.
Now she understood why she had felt such a strong connection to Tama—no, not Tama…Amaya. They were connected by their magic, their mashin, their very purpose. Destiny itself.
For Amaya was a Magic Knight, clad in the armor of Selece.
If anyone had been on the observation deck of Tokyo Tower at that moment, they would have been wholeheartedly confused. First of all, the shattered window. Secondly, the strange globe-like light hovering just beyond the shattered window. Thirdly, the bizzare image that appeared in the strange globe-like light hovering just beyond the shattered window. And finally, the people watching the bizzare image that appeared in the strange globe-like light hovering just beyond the shattered window.
You get the idea.
“It can’t be…it can’t be!” Clef choked, having gone a few shades paler—quite a feat for him.
“Who is she?” Ferio asked, while Caldina was screaming and beating people over the head with her fan, demanding answers and insisting that if she did not get answers, there would be hell to pay.
“A Magic Knight?” Takeshi asked at the same time.
“Selece?” Presea queried, raising her voice to be heard over the cacophony of voices all asking the same damn questions at the same damn time. Finally, Clef raised his staff; there was a loud crack, and everyone fell silent.
“Amaya…is a Magic Knight. Of Selece,” he said, his voice trembling only the slightest bit. He was thankful that no one had been looking in his direction when the name had been mentioned in the first place—he had very nearly dropped dead of a heart attack on the spot. “I’ve had suspicions about that girl from the moment I saw her—something didn’t feel right about her. But I never guessed…this.” There was no need to clarify what ‘this’ meant. It was fairly clear.
Ascot, Lantis, and Ferio had refocused entirely on the fight being broadcast to them. Not surprising, considering that their three lady-loves were engaged in the fight for their lives. But the others weren’t satisfied with the lack of answers.
“But…but isn’t Umi the Knight of Selece?” Caldina demanded shrilly, pointing at the images.
“She is. Both are,” Clef said faintly, turning his attention away from his startled and confused comrades and back towards the fight that lay between worlds. He swallowed hard. Amaya…
The void between worlds might have been a painting, catching several people in the midst of a terrible moment. There could very well have been an invisible line drawn down the center of the space. On one side, a beast made of shadow hovered, snarling. On the other, three girls wearing the caped armor and ovum-gems that marked them as the legendary Magic Knights of Cephiro, each clutching a sword.
In between them, right smack dab in the middle of No Man’s Land, stood the object of all their attentions. Amaya, a Knight of Selece, seemed to pay no heed to Xander, but instead watched the three Earth-girls intently, waiting for them to react. Her expression was neutral; only her eyes betrayed anxiety, even across the gap that separated her from the other girls.
Umi, Fuu, and Hikaru each were crouched into fighting posture and holding their swords in front of them, but none moved, either to attack or to lower their weapons. They did not speak, and seemed indecisive, as though individually weighing their options at that moment. Did they trust her simply because she appeared as one of them…or was she an enemy…or what else? She didn’t seem to be offering any immediate answers.
Even Xander had paused in his attacking; it seemed that he himself was interested in what would come of this new revelation. How would this shocking meeting come to an end? Maybe, he pondered, if he was lucky, they would all just kill each other so he could watch. Interesting…
But no one attacked. After that tense moment, Umi straightened up, letting her sword hang limply at her side. And she walked forward, stepping away from the relative safety of her fellow Knights and strolling straight up to the mysterious Amaya. There was no fear or reservation tainting Umi’s eyes or expression. Only questions, and a slight desperation for answers.
When she was face-to-face with Amaya, she simply stared, not speaking for a long moment. Twin pairs of cerulean eyes bore into each other, each silently demanding something from the other.
Finally, Umi broke the silence in a low, even voice. “I already knew you were more than you seemed, and you don’t seem overly surprised by that. So why did you lie to me? Why have you been haunting my dreams like that? I know it was you. And what else have you been doing around me? Were you Tama so you could spy on me?”
“Not at all,” Amaya actually chuckled. “I needed to make sure you were safe, and try to let you know what you needed to do. Granted, they made the whole ‘safe’ thing a bit of a challenge, and I had to resort to a few tactics I otherwise might not have. I do apologize for frightening you like that.” As she spoke, her blue eyes lit up, glowing with an almost phosphorous light.
A few more pieces of the puzzle that was Amaya fell into place, and Fuu jumped into the conversation. “You were the one who possessed Umi,” she actually growled, leaping to her friend’s side. “You kept taking control of her!”
“But if that’s true,” Hikaru pointed out, joining her fellow Knights, “then you’re also the one who stopped her from skewering Kagura.” She ignored the fact that Umi winced. “And got rid of the shadow…thingie that was trying to kill us.” Typical Hikaru—such a scientific explanation.
A nod. “Indeed.”
“You…bitch!” Xander spat angrily, and shadows flared as he gathered his extensive magic to him. “You’re too late. You said it yourself, you’re already dead, Amaya. There’s nothing you can do to stop me! This is the end! It’s over!” He cackled like a madman, pulling more magic.
“You’re right,” Amaya said calmly. “There isn’t anything I can do.” And she turned away from him, ignoring his roars of protest and the magic he gathered to himself, and instead focused her attention on Umi. She reached a hand out to the younger Knight of Selece, and asked softly, “Are you afraid, Umi?”
Umi hesitated before replying honestly. “I don’t know. I don’t know if I should be.” She paused. “I never got the last part of the message in the dream. What was it? What were you trying to tell me?”
Amaya bowed her head and intoned, “Open your arms to eternity.” It was the same voice from Umi’s dreams, merely confirming what she already knew—Amaya was her protector.
“Open your arms to eternity…” Umi repeated. “What does that mean?”
Amaya held her hand out again. “I can show you…”
Umi reached out to her, hesitated, then placed her hand in Amaya’s.
The world went dark.
Umi closed her eyes as the image played out before her.
Another explosion rocked the palace down to its very foundations.
With a scream, Amaya tumbled to the floor from the force of the shaking. But she was back on her feet again in an instant, and running again. The hallways and corridors were empty, void of any other living beings, save for the one, and she wouldn’t have stopped for anyone anyway.
I have to protect the Pillar, she repeated over and over again in her mind. I have to protect the Pillar. It was her mantra, and at this point it was basically what kept her going. She had been running for what felt like eons by now, and her legs felt like they had turned to paper. But she would crawl if she had to, drag herself on her hands and knees. Anything. She had an oath to fill.
Finally, and not a moment too soon, the door she had been sprinting towards came into view. She didn’t slow, though, but rather pushed herself, and sped up. With her last burst of strength, she plowed into the doors. They gave beneath the force, and opened soundlessly on well-oiled hinges.
She could still hear the explosions.
“It’s a massacre!” Amaya panted, hunching over to try and catch her breath. The building chose that moment to quake again, and she was once again thrown to the ground. But this time, she simply sat there, on her knees, gasping desperately for air.
“I know,” was the soft reply. “And it will not stop until he has what he wants.”
“Nothing is working against him,” she went on in a rush. “He tramples our attacks, our offences, like they were nothing. Our armies are scattered like children’s toys. Nothing is effective! It’s like,” she paused for a breath, “It’s like he has no weaknesses!”
“Perhaps he doesn’t,” he replied.
“No!” she screamed.
“He is powerful. Very powerful,” he went on. “I do not think he can be stopped.”
“There has to be a way!” she cried, running one hand through her dark hair. The blood stains stood out, burning a painful red on the white of her gloves. She had been in battle; she had seen the wounded, the dead, and the dying. And she had seen many of her friends fall into those categories, amongst those numbers. “I won’t let this happen!” Angry, heartbroken tears welled in her eyes; she knew crying wouldn’t help the situation, but she couldn’t help it.
“You have tried,” he tried to placate her, though it was in vain. She would not be soothed.
“He wouldn’t listen,” her face fell into her hands. “He just wouldn’t listen to me. I tried to tell him…why wouldn’t he listen…” Amaya sank to her knees, feeling the empty pain of defeat, a defeat that would mean a world was doomed. “It’s my fault…”
There was a minute of silence, before he spoke again. “There might be a way…”
Her head snapped up, eyes wide and bright with tears. “What?”
“It will require great sacrifice…”
She actually crawled towards him, her voice strangled and desperate as she pleaded. “Tell me! Whatever it is, I’ll do it, I’ll do anything, just tell me!”
It took but a few brief moments to explain. In those few minutes, her world shattered and crashed down around her. And there was silence once again as she processed the information in her mind.
“Do you understand?” he asked.
She nodded, then paused. “I have a request…”
“Yes?” Quickly, she made her wishes, and was assured they would be granted. “Anything else?”
“Tell him,” she replied. “And tell him I’m sorry.”
A moment later, she was alone in the room.
Biting her lip, Amaya gripped the sword tightly in both hands. The instrument of her death, and the salvation of thousands. And now, with this one loose end tied up, she was free to carry out her sworn oath. She would protect this world, protect this land, and protect all of the people in it.
She allowed herself one moment. There was so much she hadn’t been able to do, so much she had wanted to say, but never took the time or allowed herself the words.
It was all over. Too late.
And they would all be together again, only in a different place.
It would be short, blessedly short. Shorter than theirs had been. She knew that for a fact. She had held one of her closest friends as she died. The blood on her clothes, her skin, her hands—that was their blood. Very little of it was hers. The blood of her closest friends was on her hands, both figuratively and literally. That was how she saw it, anyway.
But all sins would be atoned for in a moment.
She raised the sword, and aimed the point, still clutching it desperately with both hands to keep it steady. She could already feel her courage slipping away, undermining her resolve. Best to do it quickly, before all was lost.
Loud voices thundered in the corridor. Someone had gotten into the palace. There was no time. She had to protect Cephiro, and protect the Pillar.
“Sword, bear the taint of thy master’s life,” she murmured, not quite sure where those words came from. “to protect that which is held dear. And to whom the burden falls in the future…” Amaya readied the blade, “…I’m sorry…”
The door exploded open, and she heard a shout…
Umi’s eyes snapped open, and she gasped, jerking her hand back as though she had been burned.
Amaya watched her carefully, nothing but sympathy in her blue eyes. “Do you understand?”
A nod. “I—I understand.” She looked down at the Escudo sword in her hands, and sighed. “There really isn’t any easy way. There’s never a way to win without sacrifice, is there?” Her voice broke on the last word, and she quickly trailed off into silence.
Umi turned back to Hikaru and Fuu, both of whom were watching silently, with questions written plainly in their expressions. But she didn’t say anything. She simply smiled at them before turning and walking towards Xander, whose magic was still swelling. He meant to destroy everything with this, she was certain. So it was now or never.
Fuu suddenly seemed to realize what was going to happen, and she cried out, dropping her sword as she dove forward and grab Umi’s shoulders. “You don’t have to,” she hiccuped, already breaking down. “There has to be another way.” Hikaru joined them in a massive group hug.
Of the three, though, it was Umi who was the calmest. “Shhhhh…it’ll be all right now. Make sure you get out of here, all right? Shhh…it’s okay, don’t worry. I’m not going to let him destroy our worlds.”
After a moment, she released them and gathered her sword from where she had dropped it a moment before. With one more smile at them, she turned and marched straight up to Xander.
As she moved, Amaya fell into step behind her. “Forgive me, I know it’s really none of my business, but…you never gave him an answer, did you?” Silence met her question. “Or is it possible that you don’t even know yourself?”
“Something like that,” Umi replied softly.
“Hmm…” Amaya made a strange, thoughtful sound, but said nothing else.
“IT’S TIME!” Xander screeched, as the first wave of his attack was unleashed. It swept across the plane, a vicious gale that nearly floored Umi. But she stood her ground, and forced herself to not run back to her friends when she heard their panicked cries at the attack.
Now or never. It was time.
It was strange, though. It was always said that the answers came at the end. But she had no answers. Merely questions and unresolved business that belied how peaceful she really felt. She was frightened, but she was not afraid, if such a thing were possible.
Xander loomed over her as she raised her sword, fully prepared for what she had to do. Behind her, she could hear Hikaru and Fuu sobbing. Amaya was silent, but she could actually feel the formidable presence of the deceased Knight of Selece, waiting for what she already knew was coming.
She remembered when Fuu had nearly given her life to protect Ferio, and wondering if she would ever have that kind of courage, to be a willing sacrifice for those she held dear. And now she knew. She looked up at the monster before her, and smiled. “I’m not afraid anymore.”
Amaya watched with feigned indifference, her arms folded tightly across her chest. Her hands balled into fists at Umi’s words, and she remembered…but it had to be done. There were no options.
The sounds melted away into silence. Umi might as well have been alone.
She felt alone. Was this how Amaya had felt?
Words sprang unbidden from her lips; she had never heard them before, but they felt right, and dropped into the quiet around her. “Sword of Escudo, bear the taint of thy master’s life to protect that which is held dear.” A solitary tear escaped and traced a thin, damp line down her face, but she ignored it. “And to whom the burden falls in the future…I’m sorry…”
She flipped the sword in her hand and positioned it.
It was at that moment that Xander seemed to realize exactly what she was doing. There was a shriek of rage that pierced even the silence around her as he dove towards her, intent on stopping her.
She knew what she had to do. He knew she knew, and when it was done, he was finished.
But a shield of water enveloped her, casting the demon aside. Amaya’s magic, she knew. Protecting her yet again, and helping her to protect. There was no choice anymore. Umi understood that now; it was a shock to realize just how much she had grown up.
Behind her (though Umi did not see it), Fuu was losing her internal battle, and started to move forward, to run to Umi—but a hand touched her shoulder. She could see that it wasn’t Hikaru or the newcomer, Amaya. So who…
“Don’t worry,” a gentle female voice whispered from behind her. “It will be all right in the end.” Fuu couldn’t answer; she bit her lip, and held herself back, not wanting to see, yet utterly unable to look away from what she knew was coming.
Interposed between her friends and the Devil himself, Umi closed her eyes and took a deep breath.
Gathering the last few ragged shreds of her courage, and whispering a last, silent goodbye, Ryuuzaki Umi, the Magic Knight of Selece, plunged her sword up to the hilt in in her own chest.