Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Word Count: 7162
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*
”Hadrian has disappeared.”
Malia’s head snapped back instinctively as Galen’s voice came, unbidden, into her mind. “What? What do you mean, he disappeared?”
”He has vanished, Malia. He is gone.”
The words registered, but they did not make any sense. “I do not understand,” she said, realizing that Fuu was giving her a knowing look; another Magic Knight would understand better than anyone what it truly meant when one appeared to be having a conversation with thin air. “How could a mashin simply disappear?”
”A mashin will vanish from this plane when there is no Magic Knight to hold him there,” was the simple, intent-laden reply.
This time it took her a moment to grasp exactly what she was being told. “Wait. Galen. If Hadrian is gone, then…” she shook her head, “…then what has become of Cristal?” When there was no response, she asked again. “Galen, what happened to Cristal?” She felt Fuu move behind her and a hand touch her shoulder, but kept her eyes towards the ceiling; it was silly, to be sure, but it made a strange sort of sense, at least to her.
Another of those pregnant pauses that seemed to say so much more than mere words ever could. Then Galen spoke again. ”A mashin leaves this plane if there is no Magic Knight to hold him there by the bond their hearts share. If Hadrian has vanished, then your Cristal is gone.”
“Gone? How can she be gone?” Malia said, her voice rising in pitch.
Galen did not answer, and that said everything.
Ignoring Fuu’s start of surprise, Malia let her knees give out and slid to the floor. “But…but this is impossible,” Malia whispered. She looked up once again. “Galen! Was this a natural happening, or is there more to it?” Her words came out in, quite possibly, the most demanding tone she had ever used, particularly when addressing her mashin, her most trusted partner.
Galen was not forthcoming with an immediate answer; she could actually feel his hesitation in her mind as he seemed to weight whether or not to be completely truthful with her. In the end, he replied with four words that said everything she needed to know and confirmed all that she had suspected since coming here and seeing the true nature of their so-called enemy.
”It was not natural.”
“Is everyone all right?” Caliana gingerly stepped over and around the rubble that was liberally strewn across the palace corridor as she sought a path to her friends. “Good heavens, it is no wonder that the Guard was in such an uproar…”
“I do not think that our uproar is uncalled for, Caliana,” Kannon said delicately, following closely on her heels.
“We’re all fine,” Hikaru waved a hand. “Fuu’s magic is pretty powerful stuff when it comes to taking care of injuries. I just wish we could say the same for the wall. It’s not in very good shape.”
“Walls can be rebuilt. Lives are not so easy,” Caliana said simply.
Kannon nodded. “We have rebuilt our walls before, and we shall do it again.”
A bit further down the hall, Umi waved at them. “I think we’re okay now,” she said. “There doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage, so I suggest finding some workers to get this wall rebuilt as soon as possible.” She hesitated, then added, “I don’t know how solid of a protection these walls really offer anymore, but better to have them anyway, right?”
Caliana nodded, seeming to sense the potential hidden meaning in Umi’s careful choice of words: The Palace was no longer entirely safe. But the Princess merely accepted it quietly and said, “The masons are already gathering their tools. It will be fixed as soon as possible.” She managed a chuckle. “I imagine that things are not fixed in this manner in Cephiro?”
Umi was confused for a moment, but then she remembered that magic was all but non-existent in Aldarba. In Cephiro, magic was not precisely common, but there was enough of it that calling it a rarity would be untrue. “I suppose…” the Knight of Selece frowned. “Though I don’t think they rely on magic for everything. It would be silly. Some things have to be fixed by human hands, not magical powers.”
Caliana looked uncomfortable for a moment before she said, tentatively, “…Umi, I wish to ask you a question. You know more of magic and spells than I do, and so I thought you might know.”
“…I have dreamt of things,” she said, moving one hand in the air, as though trying to figure out how to word her thoughts. “The night before you came here, I dreamt of fire and a shower of stones. Three nights ago, I dreamt of two great hounds, one black and one white, each trying to destroy the other. I also saw a girl standing between them.”
Umi was startled. “That…sounds almost like foresight,” she said.
“I guess you could say that it’s knowing things before they happen. Precognition might be another way to put it,” Umi ran her fingers through her bangs. “Does this happen often?”
“I dream of things, and they come to pass. It does not happen terribly often, but now and again,” the Princess shifted. “It is hard to explain.”
“Have there been any other dreams?” Kannon interjected, and the girls jumped. They had all but forgotten his quiet presence.
“One other. And it frightens me,” she said honestly. “I see myself. I am in the dark, and no matter how far I walk, there is no end to it. I am trapped in it. It is getting harder and harder to breathe.”
“…Caliana…” Umi said, “…you might have magic and just not know it.”
“That is unlikely, but it has been frequent enough that I wondered,” she said with a wave of her hand. “I apologize. I know that this is not the time to be asking, but it kept slipping my mind.”
“It’s all right,” Umi said softly, vowing to look more into the matter at the next possible moment. Fuu had made a comment about something she had discovered in her reading: magic was almost extinct in Aldarba, but it was known to appear when it was needed. If Caliana was having foretelling dreams…
Fuu chose that moment to reappear with Malia trailing behind her. The Knight of Storms was staying close to Fuu, and kept her gaze down, her hands clasped in front of her. “The rest of the Palace seems to be all right,” Fuu reported. “I think this was their only entry point. Well, the only physical entry point, at least.”
Behind her, Malia shivered as she recalled the entity that had made its way to her and its decidedly less than physical nature. “Shadow…” That, plus Galen’s sudden announcement of Cristal’s demise and its unnatural nature…she was feeling very shaky, to put it mildly.
“You’ll be fine,” Fuu said with all the firm comfort of a parent reassuring a frightened child. “Ferio is in council with the King. Ascot is helping the Guard survey they area by having one of his friends allow him to act as eyes in the sky. And Lantis is in contact with Clef in Cephiro. The situation is escalating, and we need to be prepared for whatever it is that’s going to be coming at us.”
Umi looked as though she had a reply for Fuu, but her eyes kept straying to Malia, and finally she spoke directly to the young woman. “What’s bothering you?”
There was a pause before Malia said bluntly, “Cristal is dead.” There was a collective start of surprise from the others, and she went on, “Galen told me that Hadrian disappeared. A mashin who has bonded to a Magic Knight will only leave this plane when that bond is gone. And Galen said that her death was not natural.” She shuddered. “And I don’t believe that it was an accident. I know too much now to think that.”
“…you think they killed her?” Hikaru said incredulously. “But why?”
“Because she failed to bring me back?” Malia burst out, dropping her face into her hands. “I do not know, but it is entirely possible that her death is my fault because I would not go back…”
“It’s not your fault,” Fuu said in that same firm voice. “You have no control over what they do. And having dealt with Aeric in the past…well, he is very capable of it. He’s capable of just about anything, really.”
“I fear for Nairi, and for Kagura,” Malia said, her words muffled as her face remained hidden by her fingers. “Nairi’s loyalty to Sorilbran is unwavering. She would only accept his treason if he stabbed her himself, I’m sure. And Kagura…” she sighed, “…Kagura has been subverted. I am not sure quite how he managed it, but while her actions may seem to be of her own free will, it is as far from reality as you can get. His hold on her is iron, and she will do as he wishes.” There was a pause before she added in the softest of voices, “Even if it means her death.”
Umi let out an involuntary cry at those last words, and Hikaru put a hand on her arm. “She is NOT going to die. We’ll do whatever it takes to save her, and stop this from happening.”
“It may be too late.”
They all stared at Malia. “What do you mean?” Caliana asked.
“…I mean that the battle between Light and Dark might already be set in motion,” the Knight of Galen said miserably. “Kagura has taken her mashin. They have bonded, and he has accepted her. That is the Beast of the Dark.”
“…which means that the Beast of the Light has also awakened?” Fuu said. She raised one hand to massage the bridge of her nose between her thumb and forefinger. “They will fight, and possibly destroy everything while they’re at it. Correct?”
Malia nodded; she looked absolutely miserable. “I am sorry…I didn’t know any of this when I helped to—“
“Malia, you’re being too hard on yourself,” Umi tried to interject.
She was cut off when Malia sobbed out, “No, you don’t understand. I’m the one who took Kagura in the first place. I’m the one who attacked you outside of that building. I was controlling the illusion fire that went after you. Sorilbran granted me that power. He was the one who disguised me with one of his illusions. All of this is my fault…” That last ended on a sob.
The Magic Knights and the Princess of Aldarba stared at her, then glanced at each other. None of them knew exactly what to say to that. Finally, Fuu swallowed hard and opened her mouth, looking a bit unsure of herself. “Malia, we—LOOK OUT!”
She saw the movement out of the corner of her eye, and realized what it’s target was at the very last moment before it struck, but she cried out too late to prevent it from happening.
Shadows shot from the sky beyond the gaping hole in the Palace wall, reaching and twisting and bending like long, grabbing fingers. They shot towards Malia, as though to grab her—
--and went right past her.
And wrapped around Caliana.
The Princess was momentarily stunned, and that was all the time the fingers needed to pull her clean off her feet and into the air, up towards the sky.
“CALIANA!” the name tore from Kannon’s throat in a hoarse, horrified cry. His sword was already in his hand, and he was charging towards the hole in the wall without any sort of a plan or any thought as to his own safety.
A bolt of something dark hit him square in the chest and slammed him backwards into the opposite wall hard enough to crack the plaster and stone. He dropped to the floor, his head lulling forward against the breastplate of his armor, and he did not move.
Fuu was at his side in a heartbeat, already calling her healing spell while Umi and Hikaru drew their swords. “So this is it,” Umi said in a voice as cold as any of Cristal’s spells. “This is how they will lure us out.”
“We have to help Caliana,” Hikaru said.
A voice came to them—Kagura’s voice. “If you wish to save your princess, you will have to come and get her.” A dry chuckle. “And I promise that she won’t be in another castle.”
In spite of the severity of their situation, Umi couldn’t hold back a groan, nor could she keep herself from slapping a hand against her forehead. “You never could resist a video game joke.” She glared up towards the sky. “Well, Kagura…all your base are belong to us. And yes, I hate myself for saying that.”
“Quaint as always,” Kagura replied. “We are waiting.” And there was a popping noise, and they knew that the connection that allowed them to speak to her was gone.
Fuu was cradling a groaning Kannon against her shoulder. “He’ll be fine. He just needs a moment to get back on his feet.” When his eyes were open and he could sit on his own, Fuu rose and drew her own sword. “Let’s go. This is it, whether we’re ready or not.”
“I’m leaning more towards not,” Hikaru admitted, then started. “Malia? What are you doing?”
“I’m going with you,” she said firmly, clutching her own sword tightly. “This is my fight too. If I can help you in some way…” She trailed off.
“I’ll take the help,” Umi said. “Let’s go!”
“W-wait!” Kannon said, reaching after them. He was wrestling his way to his feet, using the wall as leverage.
“Go ahead,” Fuu said. “I’ll catch up.” As the other two raced on ahead, she turned back to Kannon. “What is it?”
He pulled something from his armor and pressed it to her hand. “Please take this with you,” he said. “I do not hold with superstition, but this was given to me by the Prin…by Caliana,” he amended himself. “It is blessed. It will keep you safe.”
“Are you sure you want me to take this?” Fuu asked, looking at the tiny pendant. It looked to be made of some sort of crystal that sparkled in the light and cast tiny rainbows on her hands.
“I have never sustained any serious injury while wearing it,” he said. “Even after being thrown into a wall. I believe it works. And I wish for you to take it.”
“All right,” Fuu said, carefully tying the pendant to her armor. “Thank you very much. I’ll bring this back to you, Kannon. I promise!”
“Please save her…” he said, looking the most pitiful she had ever seen him. “Please.”
Fuu knew that she needed to go, and quickly, but she lingered a moment longer. “…Caliana really is very special to you, isn’t she?”
Kannon visibly hesitated before whispering, “Yes…”
Fuu smiled. “We’ll bring her back so you can tell her that yourself.” And with that, she tore down the hallway, belatedly following in the footsteps of her two teammates. She had to get to Windam and go find out what was going on, and Kagura was—
A hand caught her arm as she sprinted, nearly taking her clean off her feet. She flailed a little bit and managed to keep her feet on the ground under her. She glanced up at the owner of the hand. “Oh…F-Ferio…”
“You’re going into danger again, aren’t you?” he said. It really wasn’t a question so much as a statement.
“We’re going to fight them and bring the Princess back,” she said.
“…the power of will doesn’t control the land here as it does in Aldarba,” he said after a moment, drawing her to him. “But I still believe in you, and I believe that will bring you back to me.”
She smiled and closed her eyes. “I know.”
She needed to go, and she knew it; to take this moment and steal this kiss was almost unforgivably selfish given the awful circumstances. But somehow…she needed it.
It was all too possible that it could be the last one they would have.
It was not terribly difficult to find where they were to go. The clouds had appeared again, dark and thick and swirling in the sky far from the Palace and the capital. They headed there immediately, unsure of what exactly would be waiting for them.
“Malia, are you okay?” Hikaru asked. It was odd to have a fourth person floating along with them, adding a splash of bright yellow to the usual blue, green, and red.
“…I do not think that I will survive this encounter, Hikaru,” Malia said after a moment. “And I know that any promise you might make to the contrary would be an empty one. But…I can’t run away. This is what I have to do. I just have to hope that I can face my death with my head held high.” She looked away, off to some point in the distance. “It’s what Cristal would have done.”
The brutal honesty of that stunned the three girls from Earth. Fuu managed a smile. “You really did care about Cristal a great deal, didn’t you?”
“I was closer to her than I was to Nairi,” Malia said softly. “Nairi’s loyalty and focus was Sorilbran. That was all. We were her fellow fighters, and she trusted us as teammates. But I do think she cared about us in her own way. She just wasn’t terribly good at showing it.” Another glance to the side. “I wonder how she took the news of Cristal’s death.”
“Or how Sorilbran explained it,” Hikaru added.
“Or how he twisted it. Any bets that he blamed us?” Umi said.
“I would be surprised if he did anything else. I suspect that even Nairi’s loyalty has limits,” Malia said.
They were nearing the site now, almost directly over it. It was still uncertain as to whether or not they would need to stay within their mashin for this fight or take to the ground with their weapons…
Something moved nearby. Something dark and fast and powerful—
And then Galen was flying across the sky, the motion cast by a power that was not his own. He had flown some distance at a very fast speed when there was a flash of darkness at his breast, where the heart would be. They heard Malia’s scream of surprise, and saw her fly from her mashin, thrown from within him; she plummeted towards the ground in a manner reminiscent of something that had happened before, when Umi had been torn from Selece and flung to Sorilbran’s palace to meet with Kagura for the first time as enemies.
There was no way that any of them could get to her in time to save her, but there was magic, and magic is what Fuu called and cast. A gust of wind caught the falling Knight in time to save her from the crushing force of a full impact, but chances were that it would still be a bit of a rough landing.
Hikaru was the first to voice what all three of them were already thinking. “We need to get down there. Now.” There was no disagreement on this, and the three moved down towards the ground before leaving their mashin in a manner a bit more controlled than Malia’s untimely entrance. Swords in hand and magic at the ready, they sprinted towards the place where they thought that she had landed.
They didn’t get very far.
There was a rush of something moving up from the ground, dark tinged with maroon. It broke through the earth right in front of them, stopping them in their tracks. And just as suddenly it vanished, leaving a man standing there, blocking their path to Malia. He was thin, not the kind of person one would really notice in a crowd, and clad in scarlet. And he seemed eerily pleased to see them as he held his arms out to them in a strange gesture of greeting. “Welcome, legendary Magic Knights of Cephiro.”
“Oh god, not this again…” Umi couldn’t quite keep the grimace away. She had a name, and she was really starting to wish that people would actually use it. The whole ‘lady Magic Knight’ thing was beginning to wear on her nerves.
Fuu, on the other hand, was a bit more intent on their enemy. “…Sorilbran,” she said after a moment.
“Oh, you did do this properly, didn’t you?” he clapped his hands in a manner that could only be called effeminate. This man was, for lack of a better word, creepy. “Yes, I am Sorilbran. Master of Illusions. Welcome to our battleground, ladies.”
“Where’s Caliana?” Fuu demanded.
“The Princess? She is right here,” he gestured over his shoulder as another rush of darkness shot from the ground. This one took form of a girl being held by tendrils, like thick vines cast in shadow. Caliana’s head hung limply against her chest; she did not move.
“CALIANA!” Fuu called to her.
There was a very tense moment before Caliana stirred and lifted her head, opening her eyes sleepily. She seemed to mumble something before her eyes snapped wide open. “F-Fuu!” she called, starting to struggle against that which held her.
Windam? Fuu asked.
“Leave it to us,” was the immediate reply, as though he had been anticipating the question. “Worry about him. He is powerful. And be cautious, Fuu. He is powerful.”
No sooner had the last word echoed into her mind did something happen before them. A round light began to appear around Caliana like a bubble. It intensified quickly, and was white in color, alternating flashes of red, blue, and green. And then in a flash, both Caliana and the bubble vanished.
Sorilbran actually betrayed surprise. “What?”
“The mashin,” Hikaru said. Chances were that she was having a little bit of a chat with Rayearth as all of this was happening. “They’re taking your precious hostage back to the Palace. She’s safe, and you don’t have a human shield anymore.”
To his dubious credit, Sorilbran recovered quickly. “To be honest, I have no further use for her. Take her, for all that I care,” he said. “She has served her purpose. She brought you here. I knew you would come for her. And I am glad you made it—you are just in time for the show!”
“Show?” Hikaru asked.
“Yes, yes. You see, a great battle is finally going to decide a victor. And oh, Tynan and Amani have been waiting for this moment for eons,” he said, gazing up towards the sky. “Here they come now. This will be a grand day, and a great fight.”
The girls looked up towards the sky, and the clouds moving around in the air above them. For a brief moment, the entire world seemed to stand still, almost holding its breath in anticipation of something big about to come.
And come, it did.
The clouds parted slowly, and a large being descended from the heavens. It was enormous, long-legged, and black from head to foot, its four hooves stretching and kicking at the air as it slid from the clouds through empty space to land on the ground with a rumble that could surely be felt for miles. It pawed at the dirt and tossed its dark head with a sound that was somewhere between a roar and whinny. Its eyes were red, and blazing like fire.
“A stag…?” Fuu murmured. It certainly looked like one, save for a lack of antlers. What was it…?
But there was little time to ponder it further, as there was another rumble, and another parting of the clouds a short distance away. The being (a mashin, of that they were sure) that slid from the heavens this time was of the same size and same shape. But this one’s color was of the purest white, and the eyes were bluer than any of Umi’s spells.
They didn’t exactly looked like legendary beings of Light and Dark. All three of the Knights had been expecting something a bit more ferocious than a stag. But there was no denying that the two were majestic, and beautiful, and definitely dangerous. These two radiated power and strength. And they remembered what they had been told.
Tynan was the Beast of the Dark.
Amani was the Beast of the Light.
And they would fight to the death, possibly destroying everything in the process.
Sorilbran seemed delighted by all of this, and smiled. “Your friend Kagura has been a delight. She has filled her role in our plans to absolute perfection! All that remains is the sacrifice of the Promised…”
Hearing her friend’s name and the mention of the sacrifice that they were intending to make of her drew her attention as few other things could, and Umi was suddenly, once again, completely focused on Sorilbran. “What did you do to Kagura?” she snarled.
“Alas, my dear girl, you have somewhere else to be at the moment,” Sorilbran said easily. “I believe Nairi wishes a word with you?” He waved a hand, as though to signal to someone—
And suddenly, Umi was having to dive out of the way to avoid being impaled by a sword wielded by the Magic Knight in the brown armor. She who bonded with the mashin Damek to control the earth, or so Umi had been told. Nairi. Who was now driving Umi backwards, away from her teammates.
Hikaru moved to help her, but was stopped by another attack of magic. It was close enough that she could feel the heat of the blast on her skin as she bent and twisted to avoid being hit dead-on by it.
“I believe this is to be a private confrontation, girl,” Sorilbran said in a slightly harsher voice than he had used before. “Nairi wishes to face your Umi alone to seek vengeance for the deaths Umi has caused. You are not to interfere.”
“What deaths?” Hikaru demanded.
“I shall keep you well occupied here,” he said simply, ignoring the question. “But only until the battle is over and Kagura is taken. You have already outlived your usefulness. Your lives continue by my good graces. So please, my dear girls,” he raised a hand. “Entertain me.”
And far too close, the two mashin of Light and Dark charged each other and began to fight.
He was an illusionist, a performer of tricks to dupe and delight. His living was made by journeying with various troupes and showing them all the wonders of the imaginary world. If one could dream it and describe it, he could cast it in magic. They were a unique magic, as most illusions were, solid only when beheld by the eye, and powerless against lowered eyelids.
But that village had been different. He had arrived with the troupe, as usual, and performed, and the audience had loved his show. He retired to the inn for the night and slept with a full stomach in a bed that was far too comfortable.
The next morning, he awoke to a furor. A valuable artifact had been stolen during the night, and somehow the blame had been placed on him. He knew nothing of this artifact, nor of its theft, and he protested his innocence to deaf ears.
He escaped by virtue of his powers, casting illusions to harm rather than enchant. The forest near the village was thick, and it was there that he made good his escape and hid until they tired of their search and returned to the village. He was now without shelter, livelihood, or any of his possessions. And it was growing dark.
When he found the cave, the sun had set and risen twice, and he was faint from hunger. He stumbled in and sat down. It was there that he encountered the strange person whose face he could not see.
You have been wronged, the person said. And you hate them for it. You despise them for what they have done to you. How dare they say that you committed a crime when they have no proof of such?
It took the illusionist a moment to realize that this person was right: he was bitter and angry at the way he had been treated.
When the figure promised him the power to gain his retribution on the village and its inhabitants, who had treated him so horribly, he listened, and he accepted.
What followed was a pain unlike anything he had ever experienced before. Something was filling him, pouring into his body and mind and into his very soul, filling out all the empty places there and leaving nothing but that everlasting shadow.
That was the person’s name.
And Shadow christened him with a new name as well: Sorilbran. The name meant wisdom, Shadow said.
That night, the village that had chased him out burned to the ground. There were no survivors.
And the flames were decidedly not illusions.
Malia put a hand to her head and winced as she struggled to sit up. Galen had taken the brunt of the landing, but she was still shaken, and the crash had rattled her down to her bones. It took her a moment to get to her feet, still rubbing the sore spot on the back of her head. She did manage to throw a look up at the sky. “Galen, are you all right?” After all, the mashin were living, breathing beings. And they were not invulnerable to harm, by physical and magical means. She remembered feeling a rush of wind that she thought to be Fuu’s magic, which she took to have saved her, but where was Galen…?
There was no verbal response, but she did feel a warm rumbling in the back of her mind that she took to be a hearty I am fine. It did make her realize that what had happened to Hadrian could easily happen to Galen if something were to happen to her; if she were hurt, Galen would be removed from this plane and sent back to that area where the mashin waited for the summons of their Knights.
Somehow, that made her very sad to think of.
But as long as she was here, she was alone and in grave danger. The Magic Knights of Cephiro had given her their trust, with no great reason to do so, and she had chosen to take up their banner. Doing so had brought her a peace unlike anything she had ever felt before. She felt serene, happy, and for once, completely secure in the people she was surrounded by. She had never doubted before that Nairi would have harmed her if told to do so; her loyalty to Sorilbran was unmatched.
But the choice that had brought her such peace had also put her life in an unparalleled danger. Sorilbran’s penalties would be harsh and immediate, and she were fortunate, she would die quickly. Or…
Or he could do to her what he had done to Kagura. Subvert her. Warp her mind. Make her a walking, breathing puppet, one seemingly moving of free will but without any true choice in her actions or motions.
She was really not sure which was worse: to be dead, or to be a puppet.
She drew her sword and began to hurry back towards the noises just beyond a high ridge. That sound told her that a battle was brewing, and a fierce one at that. That was where the Magic Knights of Cephiro were. Her allies. The ones who had granted her their trust. If she made it back to them…there was safety.
The voice she heard behind her froze her, body and mind and heart and soul. She felt colder than any of its owner’s spells as she realized who it was that was speaking to her. Very slowly, she turned around, clutching her sword even more tightly. This was nothing good.
Cristal was gazing at her from a short distance away. She was clad in her mashin armor, her sword in her hand. Even with the space between them, Malia could clearly make out her silver-gray eyes: questioning and curious. But they were different than they had been before. The light was gone, and they were dull and almost lifeless.
“Malia, it is you…” Cristal said. She sounded…relieved? Was relieved the right word? She started crossing the distance between them, moving from side to side to maneuver around the bumps and dips in the uneven ground. “Oh, thank the gods…I was frightened…” She was coming closer. “All alone there with the Magic Knights of Cephiro…” Closer. “Why wouldn’t you leave with me?” Closer still.
Malia hesitated, then took a step back. “Because it is where I wanted to be. And you are not Cristal.”
The girl before her, who wore the face of her former partner and sister, put on a convincing expression of surprise. It would have fooled anyone else, she was sure. “What are you talking about?”
“You are not Cristal,” Malia repeated. “And you will still away from me.” To emphasize her point, she lifted her sword and held it out in a defensive posture to try and keep this person back.
…perhaps the look of shock on her face was not feigned after all. It might very well have been real surprise at her ruse being found out. “Malia, what are you talking about?” Cristal asked in a bewildered voice. “Who else would I be?”
“I do not know. But I do know that you are not who you appear,” she said with all the courage she could muster up. “I know what befell Cristal. Galen told me that Hadrian is gone.” She narrowed her eyes at the person before her. “Cristal is dead. So I ask again—who are you?”
The fake Knight stared at her for a moment before chuckling. “Pity. You are far more perceptive than I ever would have given you credit for, Malia. And that bond of yours to your mashin…quite remarkable,” the person said, though it was no longer in Cristal’s voice. It was a man’s voice, and one that she knew all too well.
…and one that she knew she could never hope to win against in a fight. Still, she held her sword high and gathered all of her courage. “If you are to be my executioner, Aeric, then let it be with your true face, and not this illusion of Sorilbran’s.”
There was a pause, a moment where nothing moved and time itself seemed to stand still and wait with bated breath.
And then everything happen very quickly.
There was a flash of light, one that she recognized very clearly as being the site of an illusion being dropped. Then there was a blur of motion, dark blue and black against the darkened sky. And then—
And then there was a sword plunged into her chest, nearly up to the hilt. The blade was protruding from her back, the metal crimson with blood. Her blood.
And Aeric. Damnable Aeric was standing before her, holding the sword and grinning. “Death to traitors,” he said as she dropped to her knees, her own sword falling from her hand to the ground. He put one foot on her shoulder and pushed her off his blade, watching as she slid to the ground.
As he walked away, leaving her there, Malia stared at the sky, oddly disappointed that she could not seen any stars; she felt tears burning her eyes, and tasted blood.
I wish I had been born a real Magic Knight…
I wish I had been a Magic Knight of Cephiro…
“I don’t understand why you’re so determined to kill me!” Umi hollered, blocking yet another well-aimed attack from her opponent’s blade. “I haven’t done anything to you! I don’t even know anything about you! I barely even know your name!”
The girl, Nairi, who looked so much like her yet acted so differently, snarled. “You are a killer! You killed Cristal when she tried to take Malia back!”
It took all of Umi’s focus to keep from stopping cold out of shock. “What? No! I didn’t!” she said, rolling to one side and immediately lifting her sword for another block. “I wasn’t even there! Fuu said that Cristal left on her own after Malia refused to go back with her!”
“LIAR!” Nairi screamed. “I saw her dead! You killed her! And—“ She stopped cold and stared straight ahead for a moment, her head tilted slightly to the side as though listening.
Umi took the opportunity to put some distance between herself and this girl who was so determined to blame her for a death she had not caused. But she recognized the pose; it seemed that someone was having a conversation with a mashin.
“Malia is…” Nairi said slowly after a moment. Her eyes widened. “She’s…but…” Then she visibly winced and her look changed to horror. “But she’s—how could she…y-yes…” Now from horror to hardened anger. “Yes…”
That look was frightening. Umi did not like that expression at all, and sensed that it did not bode well for her.
She was right. The ground beneath her feet began to shake, something she realized was tied into Nairi’s powers. As Umi controlled the sea, Nairi controlled the land. They were polar opposites in every respect.
…really, that seemed true of all of them.
Fuu and Malia were calm and storms.
Hikaru and Cristal were fire and ice.
Umi and Nairi were sea and land.
And Kagura was light and dark.
Opposites. Yin and yang. The elemental pivots that held all of nature and all of the world in balance. They balanced each other by their powers and their attitudes.
…good and evil, the truly great paradox.
It made sense to Umi now, somehow.
Nairi was attacking again. “You killed Malia too!” she screamed. Every parry and every thrust of her blade was harder than it had been before by tenfold. She was furious, tears visibly blazing in her eyes, and there was little chance that she would listen to any sort of reason.
But Umi still had to try. “No! I didn’t! How could I? Malia was alive when we came to the field!” In truth, the news had left her reeling as well. Malia was gone now too? There was a very short list of suspects in the matter, and Umi already had her top suspect chosen.
Sure enough, Nairi’s next words gave her all but confirmation. “You did! Aeric found her! Impaled on a sword—your sword!”
“Aeric is not someone you can trust!” Umi said, casting a water spell to protect herself and give her a chance to jump back. “I’ve met him before! He tried to destroy us all, and he’ll destroy you too! And Kagura!” She was panting for air, desperate for a moment’s reprieve. “And Sorilbran…your lord and master you say? Didn’t he tell you what will happen to Kagura? And to you?”
“I don’t care. And don’t you dare insult Sorilbran, or so help me…”
“Kagura will die. She will be devoured by the monsters. And you’ll die too. Or rather, you’ll stop existing. Or didn’t you know that little tidbit of information?” Umi gritted her teeth. She felt cruel saying this and doing this, but she trusted Fuu and Fuu’s second-sight, and if it applied to Malia, she guessed that the same held true for Malia’s teammates. “Didn’t you know that you’re not actually alive?”
To her amazement, Nairi actually stopped at that. “What? What nonsense are you babbling about?”
“Fuu can see a person’s life-force, courtesy of that little trip you guys sent her on into the Other Realm. You’re not alive. None of you are,” she persisted. “You don’t have the glow that she described that would mean you’re alive.” Umi swallowed hard. “Amaya doesn’t have it either. She’s been dead for centuries. And neither does Aeric.”
“You…you’re lying!” Nairi said. But there was a tremor to her voice that told Umi she had hit some sort of a nerve.
“You’re not convinced that I’m lying, are you? I don’t know why, but something about what I’m saying is making you doubt. And that casts a doubt on everything else, doesn’t it?”
Now Nairi’s sword attacks were less graceful and planned, and far more hack and slash, swinging her sword wildly at Umi without making much contact. It was baffling, really. Why did Nairi seem to almost believe her words? If anything, it felt like the least believable part of the whole story!.
“I’ll kill you! For Cristal and Malia, and for myself!” she said fiercely, her words and tone and attacks growing more wild with each motion and each syllable. “I don’t care what Kagura says. You are mine to kill!”
Umi was doing a fairly good job of holding her own in spite of everything (and she sincerely hoped that Fuu and Hikaru were having an easier time of this than she was), but then her foot struck something. It felt like a rock, and it was enough to throw her off balance and send her sprawling backwards to the ground.
Now in a very prone position, she looked up at Nairi, recognizing the look in her eyes as a victorious one; yet she saw so little sanity in those angry brown eyes as she lifted her sword to strike the killing blow.
It never fell.
Instead Nairi let out a gasping gurgle, and something warm and wet fell on Umi’s face; Nairi’s sword dropped to the ground, barely missing Umi. It took Umi a moment to realize that the wetness now dotting her face was blood.
And it had been cast by the sword now jutting through Nairi’s stomach.
The Knight of Damek opened her mouth, then closed it, then put her hands to her stomach as though to feel what had happened. And then she fell, almost in slow motion, first to her knees, and then forward, sliding off the blade and slumping on the ground. She managed to roll over, though, and looked up to behold the one who would kill her: her executioner.
Umi also stared up at the sword’s wielder, feeling horror and anger and fear rising like bile in the back of her throat when she realized who it was.
Kagura studied the bloodied blade of her sword for a moment before smiling down at Nairi, a smile that held no real happiness or pity or remorse. “Sorilbran’s orders, Nairi. I’m sure you understand.”
PS. First things first: names. Sorilbran does mean “wisdom.” Amani is a Swahili name that means “peace,” and Tynan is Irish, meaning “dark”. Fun stuff. I have a weird interest in names, can you tell? Now onto the boring slightly whiny babble.
OH MY GOD THIS CHAPTER DID NOT WANT TO BE WRITTEN. To be honest, I’m still totally happy with it, but I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to fix it, and nothing came up. It just feels choppy to me. I dunno…I’ve sort of taken to thinking of this as the “middle child” of the trilogy. A lot of stuff I’ve tried to set up in this story is going to come into play in the third story.
…but if it makes you feel better about the wait, I have the next chapter more or less completed? All more than ten thousand words of it? Hopeful face goes here? I’ll post it soon. Probably on the thirtieth, ‘cause that’s my birthday and I like to post stuff on my birthday! Hope you’ll check back in for it. Thanks for reading, all! Much love!