Fandom: Magic Knight Rayearth
Publish Date: 5/9/2004
Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth... *roasts Mokona to make s'mores*
The seasons continued to change. Winter would melt away into the bloom of spring. Spring warmed and brightened into shining summer. Summer underwent the explosive transformation of color known as autumn. Autumn leaves would fall and pile up, only to be buried beneath the white expanse of winter. And then the entire cycle would repeat itself over again.
It had cycled twice, and winter was upon them. The snow fell, piling up. Children played in it, and adults groaned for having to drive through it. And with the snow came memories…
Umi sighed miserably, looking out the window at the falling snow, lost in thought. Had it been this long since Hikaru had disappeared? Just over two years, she realized. And twice, she had seen the lone figure in red, outside in the snow, leaving crimson footprints behind to mark her presence.
Why would Hikaru haunt her? It didn’t make sense.
Two years ago, Shidou Hikaru had vanished on her way home. On the first anniversary of her disappearance, someone who looked an awful lot like her—a tiny redhead, wearing a red school uniform—had been seen dancing in the falling snow outside, leaving behind crimson footprints in the snow. And shortly after that first appearance of the spectre, Hikaru’s body had been found.
Fuu and Umi desperately missed their dear friend and fellow Magic Knight, but life went on, and they were moving on, going on with their lives. But each year, when that date rolled around, and the snow fell, they would wait and watch. They would watch the ghost outside, and see the blood-red footprints left behind. It was their ritual.
Giving up on the window and deciding instead to try to get to sleep. It was better than sitting there, tormenting herself. Pulling the curtains closed over the window. One hand slipped under the lampshade and clicked off the lights, plunging the room into semi-darkness, with the majority of the light coming from a streetlamp outside. With every intention of crawling into bed and passing out until the next morning, Umi started towards her inviting pillow.
And stopped. There was a shadow on the floor beside hers, the figure of a person. She turned and looked at the window. The form was outside the window—which in itself was strange because her room was on the second floor of their house. Nobody should have been able to hang outside the window like that, unless Spiderman was in the neighborhood.
Cautiously, Umi tiptoed back towards the window. If there was a stalker or someone out there, she didn’t want to get too close. With one hand, she reached out, and took hold of the edge of the white curtains. Taking a deep breath, she flung back the curtains—and screamed.
Hikaru was hovering outside the window—hovering, because Umi’s bedroom was on the second floor of her house. One pale hand was pressed against the glass. The former Knight of Rayearth was watching her intently with unwavering ruby eyes; her lips moved, but there was no sound. And the snow fell around her, but none touched her.
“Hi-Hikaru!” Umi gasped, one shaking hand moving to cover her mouth.
The tiny redhead reached up with her other hand, and pressed it beside the first against the window. And her lips moved again, only this time, there was the softest of sounds accompanying. “Umi-chan…onegai…” It was a plea. But for what?
And as Umi watched in horror, Hikaru faded away into nothingness, leaving behind only the light from the streetlamp and the falling snow behind. The last thing to vanish was her face, eyes wide and sad, lips still moving in that plea.
The Knight of Selece was frozen, not quite sure of what to do. What did this mean?
Suddenly, the fear—it was the first time she had ever been afraid of the girl she had taken so long ago as her little sister—subsided, and gave way to something remarkably akin to sadness. It was the same sense of sorrow, loss, and heartbreak that had gripped her upon receiving the news of her friend’s disappearance, and subsequently, her death.
She inched towards the window, leaned over, and pressed her hands against the pane of glass.
They were a size or two larger than the handprints left on the other side of the glass.
“I just don’t get it,” Umi heaved a heavy sigh. Her eyes were focused on the dashboard in front of her. “Why would Hikaru come back now? Why would she haunt me?” For the first time since they had gotten into the car, her gaze dropped; her long hair drooped around her, obscuring her face.
Fuu didn’t take her eyes off the road, but she could sense her friend’s distress.
It had been nearly a week since that night, and since then, every night the handprints on her window had grown stronger, more pronounced. The night before, Umi had actually come back to her room to find a set of handprints on the wall over her bed, the same size as the window-prints. The prints on her wall were quite pronounced, as though someone had rubbed their hands on a fresh newspaper, and then pressed them against the wall; it was the same sort of inky blackness.
And in addition to that, she was hearing a voice, nearly everywhere she went, that soft, pleading voice. The message had grown from simply ‘Onegai,’ to telling her to beware, warning her of something coming, but never being able to quite say what.
Umi was rapidly starting to wonder if she was losing her mind.
Fuu was her confidante in this case. The green-eyed genius had looked at the handprints herself, and she was equally at a loss. They had tried to clean them, but nothing would take them off. If anything, trying to clean them seemed to make them more prominent. As stubborn as Hikaru herself had always been.
At the moment, Fuu was driving them. They’d gone out for a while, wandering around downtown Tokyo, trying to forget. And now they were on their way back to Umi’s house.
“Mind if we stop for gas?” Fuu asked quietly, after a glimpse at the gauge.
“Sure, I’m in no hurry,” Umi responded, not looking up.
A moment later, they were sitting under the metal canopy of a gas station, and the tank was full.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Fuu slung her purse over her shoulder. “Want something to drink?” A halfhearted, “Sure, whatever you get,” was the answer.
Umi leaned against the car while she waited for Fuu to come back outside. The driver of the other car came out of the station, climbed into his car, and drove out of the gas station parking lot. It was dark, and a bit chilly, and she was alone.
Instinct kicked in suddenly, and she straightened, pushing off of the driver’s door to stand solidly on her own two feet. Every nerve was alive, tingling with the fearful sensation of being watched. And the watcher was close. Very close…
A shadow moved, and there was no time.
A hand clapped down hard over Umi’s mouth, and another hand grabbed one of her arms and pinned it behind her back. Instinctively, she began fighting back, trying to kick her thus-unseen assailant, and struggling against the hands holding her. She landed at least one hit, because she felt her foot connect, followed by a gasp, and then a low male voice cursing quite colorfully.
But he recovered quickly, and Umi found herself actually hauled off her feet—quite a feat, considering how tall she was. Her toes skidded against the ground as her attacker began moving away from the gas station, into a nearby wooded area.
“Umi!” she heard Fuu’s frantic scream, followed by a shattering sound. But Fuu was far away. So far away. Too far to help. She was alone, at the mercy of a madman.
Was this what had happened to Hikaru? Is this how Hikaru felt when she was taken, before she died? So alone and terrified? Another thought occurred to Umi then: was this the same man? Was this the same bastard that took Hikaru away from them?
Umi tried struggling again, but this time the response was that he let go of the arm he had pinned behind her back, and before she could react to it, a sharp blow was dealt to the back of her head. Stars danced before her eyes in the faint light, and the hit left her too stunned to fight any further.
She was going to die. Any minute now, he was going to stop and kill her…
Suddenly, she heard a strangled gasp, a sound torn from a masculine throat. And her attacker released her. Umi tumbled forward, suddenly free; she landed hard on her hands and knees in the dirt and the snow, and managed to pull herself together enough to crawl a few feet before turning into a sitting position and staring at the scene before her.
There was someone in front of her, between her and her unknown assailant. In spite of the fact that it was dark, she could see everything perfectly. The man was a fairly nondescript person, maybe in his thirties, with dark hair, not anyone that she would have noticed in a crowd—she had never seen him before in her life. And this mysterious newcomer.
Her heart stopped. “Hi…ka…ru?”
The small figure turned, long hair whipping around with the movement, and Hikaru bestowed one of her winning smiles on her longtime friend and fellow Magic Knight. “Daijoubu,” she said lightly; this time, Umi could hear her. “I won’t let him. I promise.” She turned back to the ashen-faced man, who was making sounds like a freshly-hooked halibut. “Run, Umi-chan. Get away.”
She wasn’t sure how, considering that she didn’t have much in terms of presence of mind at that moment, but somehow, Umi stumbled to her feet, and her legs managed to think on their own. She ran, not caring where she ended up. Just as long as it was away from that man.
Her sprint for freedom came to an abrupt halt when she collided with something—or rather, someone—very solid, with enough force to send her crashing to the ground. She let out a shriek and jumped back to her feet, prepared to flee again.
“Umi, it’s me!” Fuu managed to grab her friend’s arm and steady her. “The police are coming! Oh my God, are you okay? What happened? Did he hurt you? What happened?”
And to her surprise, Umi started to cry. “Hikaru…she stopped him. She saved me.” Insight struck in a flash, and it all became painfully clear. “He hurt Hikaru. It was him. He killed her.”
After a few seconds, Fuu seemed to process this, and she let out a soft sob. But Fuu, ever practical, ever conscientious Fuu, put her friends first. She staved it off, and grabbed Umi’s shoulders. “Come on, we need to get away from here. The police are on their way—the attendant at the gas station called them when he heard the screams.” She paused. “You’re shivering.”
And she was, though not from cold. She could have died tonight. She could have vanished, without a trace, for any length of time, only to be found in a ditch somewhere. And she could guess what would have happened to her before that merciful death.
She let Fuu lead her away, back to the gas station, where a man—the attendant, she guessed—was pacing back and forth frantically. He waved when he saw them, and ran out to meet them, echoing Fuu’s message that help was on the way. A few seconds later, sirens came into range of hearing, screaming into the night. Red and blue flashes that symbolized safety.
By the time the police got into the underbrush and found the man—whose name they still didn’t even know—he was babbling like an idiot. They found him curled up in the dirt, crying and jabbering frantically. Something about a ghost. He actually begged them to take him away, to keep him safe from the evil spirit that was after him.
And in this state, he was willing to confess everything. Before they got him back to the car, he had confessed not only to the kidnapping and murder of Shidou Hikaru and the attempted kidnapping of Ryuuzaki Umi, but he also mentioned two other names, other girls. Two other unsolved cases that would now be laid to rest. Two other families that would finally know what had happened to their daughters.
They took him away in handcuffs, ignoring his screams that a ghost was after him. There was an ensuing ruckus, as everyone seemed to be talking and moving at once, trying to do so much.
Umi sat on the hood of a police car, wrapped in a blanket one of the officers had given her. She felt cold. The officers had accosted Fuu for a statement, so she was alone. The people around her were barely visible, mere smears of movement and color; the sounds were muted, unintelligible. The world could have ended around her, and she probably wouldn’t have noticed.
A hand gently touched her shoulder to accompany the voice, and she managed to pull herself together enough to look up at the young woman standing beside her, wearing a police uniform. She must have looked like an idiot, staring blankly, but she couldn’t think too clearly.
“Ryuuzaki-san, we need you to tell us what happened,” the woman’s face and voice were kind, understanding, and comforting. “Your friend said he grabbed you. How did you escape?”
Umi was silent for a moment before she managed one word. “Hikaru.”
“Nani?” the policewoman asked.
“Hikaru. She saved me,” Umi continued softly, more talking to herself. “She saved me. She was my friend. He killed her. I know he did. Two years ago.”
The woman beside her wisely said nothing, but slowly moved away. Umi knew she didn’t believe her. It was insanity. If she hadn’t seen it herself, she would never have believed it.
Her eyes lifted from the pavement to look around. And to her surprise, she wasn’t really alone.
She really shouldn’t have been so startled to see Hikaru standing there, but she was. But it was Hikaru, smiling easily like she had been known to do in life. “Hey,” she murmured softly, not daring to speak much louder than a whisper, lest someone hear her and think her crazy. “…arigatou.” She realized suddenly that no one else was paying attention to this girl in red; perhaps no one else could see her.
Hikaru reached out with one hand and touched Umi’s forehead. And as a flash of light danced in front of Umi’s eyes, she heard a soft, familiar voice, a voice she had missed desperately over these past couple of years. “You’re welcome…”
And she saw the truth.
Alone. She was alone, even though he was right there.
Hands. Hands around her neck, squeezing, choking off her air.
This was a new pain, mingling with old. She knew she was already injured badly. She could feel herself bleeding, though the sensation of feeling was growing fainter and fainter with each squeeze of those clammy fingers at her throat.
“No one else,” a male voice snarled at her ear, though she couldn’t see him. She couldn’t see anything. “You’re mine. No one else’s.” Lips crashing down on hers in a kiss. A bite, a sting. Blood. The bitter flavor of blood on her tongue. Her own blood, she realized faintly.
Sensation left her, to be replaced by numbness, and a burning pain in her chest. She couldn’t breathe! No escape…no escape… After an eternity, darkness fell, and the pain vanished, replaced by icy cold. Her hands, which had been clawing desperately at his fingers, fell to the ground beside her head.
And she did not move again.
He rose, and stood over the recently deceased young woman. She lay, splayed, unmoving on the ground. He had earlier pulled her red hair free from the confines of the braid she usually wore it in, and it was fanned out on the ground around her, like a halo of fire. Her eyes, ruby chips in the pale face, stared straight ahead, wide and terrified at something that was no longer in her range of sight.
She was beautiful, even in death.
His face—that face!—was calm, placid. One never would have guessed he had just ended the life of another human being. But he did not show emotion; he moved as though it was part of an everyday activity. For reasons known only to him, he broke her unresisting legs, like dry twigs, and dug a shallow grave in the ditch. Once she was buried, he set a sprig of flowers on the freshly overturned earth, and left.
Left her there, in the cold ground. Alone. She was his now.
No one else’s…
With a heavy sigh, Umi closed the door to her bedroom, and turned to face Fuu. “I don’t believe it. I just don’t believe that almost happened.”
Fuu didn’t reply, though; she seemed to be mulling over something. “Umi-san, what exactly happened? I mean, you haven’t actually told me. All I know is that he was almost insane when the police got there, and he swore there was a spirit after him.”
“Promise you won’t say I’m crazy?” Umi pleaded. “Hikaru stopped him.” Quickly, but without leaving much out, she recounted the spectre’s appearance, and what had happened afterwards. The vision of Hikaru’s own death.
There was a long moment of silence. Finally, Fuu said, “I believe you. And it might explain why Hikaru-san has suddenly been appearing all over the place lately.”
“What do you mean?” Umi asked. She knew she should have been able to figure out what Fuu was talking about, but her head was still spinning, and pressure was starting to gather in her forehead. She was suddenly very tired.
“Maybe she was trying to warn you,” the blonde Magic Knight tapped her chin thoughtfully with one finger as she outlined her theory. “Maybe she knew what would happen. And she wouldn’t let him do to you what he did to her.”
The room fell into silence as both pondered this. But the silence was broken a moment later as they heard that all-too-familiar laugh. Without a moment’s hesitation, the two Magic Knights looked out the window; automatically, their eyes drifted down to the snowy sidewalk in front of the driveway. They weren’t disappointed. Sure enough, there was that petite figure in red, dancing around in the snow.
But to their surprise, she stopped and turned to look up at the window. Even from as good a distance away as they were, they could see the huge smile on her face. She raised one hand and waved broadly at them, as if seeing them for the first time in a long while.
Or as though she was waving goodbye.
Tears sprang to Umi’s eyes as she waved back; beside her, Fuu was doing the same. And the Water Knight mouthed a word that she hoped Hikaru could read. “Arigatou…”
With that, the spectre of Shidou Hikaru turned away…and faded from sight.
After a moment of deliberation, they hurried down the stairs and out the front door.
There were, indeed, footprints in the snow. But they weren’t red.
They were just ordinary, colorless indentations. And within moments, the falling snow had mingled with the old and filled the footprints in, leaving nothing to mark that anyone had been there.
Nothing, except a memory, and handprints on a window.
Handprints that were already starting to fade away.