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*
It was desperately cold. Where was she?
She shifted, the tiniest bit—and regretted it, instantly, as pain lanced through her. It was unlike anything before, so bad that she could barely breathe. She was drowning, struggling towards a surface that was far beyond her reach.
And slowly, with her dawning consciousness, came the horror of remembrance and realization. She had been taken captive during the battle, after being injured. She had been thrown into a dungeon. And she had been beaten by her captors, passing out during the torture. She was almost frightened to realize how little she truly remembered of that. Only the pain gave her clues as to how long and how severe the beating had been. What had they done to her? And how long had she been unconscious?
Slowly, her eyes struggled opened, and she saw high walls rising up around her, leading up to a shadowed ceiling. It was all in dark gray-black stone, shrouded in darkness. Various odors assailed her nose: dirt, dampness, and mold. Her ears pricked up, hearing water dripping somewhere nearby. And her hands twitched a little at her sides; she was lying on what felt like damp straw.
Umi knew she had to get up. Best to do it quickly, she thought. And so she gathered her strength and her nerve, and forced herself upwards into a sitting position; she then nearly fainted from pain and dizziness; she felt sick. She slumped against the wall for support. It was cold and slightly damp. Had she been her normal self, she probably wouldn’t have touched it, but now it was something blessedly solid.
Now that she was sitting up, she could get a little better look around her prison. She found that she had, indeed, been sprawled out on a pile of hay, probably dumped there by her earlier tormentors. The door nearby looked like it was made of wood, and had a small window with bars across it; the bars cast shadows on the floor from the light outside.
Her mind started fading in and out as she tried to get some sort of handle on her injuries. Her shoulder was on fire, and she remembered being hit there by a stray arrow in the fight, just before she had been taken. Gingerly, she moved one hand to touch that wound; even through the bandage someone had wrapped haphazardly around it, she could feel that it was hot and dry. Coupled with the feeling of sickness and her limited medical knowledge (limited basically to first aid classes and the like), she guessed that she had taken a wound-fever, and it was probably infected.
She moved slightly; there was sharp pain in her sides. Possibly broken ribs? She wasn’t sure. Everything was starting to blur together, reality and the strange hallucinations forming within her own mind. She was starting to have visions, images that danced around her. People she knew from Earth mingled with her Cephirean friends, and together they did the most bizarre things. Photographs of the past intermixed with pictures of that which had not yet come.
Finally, Umi released her hold on herself, and fell backwards once again onto the moldy straw that was to serve as her bed. And as her eyelids slid down, they shielded her eyes from the delusions brought on by pain and illness. She was certain she would simply slip back into unconsciousness.
But rather than darkness and release, she found herself floating amidst light, in a state of heightened awareness. She was aware of every nuance, every tiny sound that went on around her, and every twitch of agony in her body. A scream escaped her, a shriek of pain that was purely of mind and emotion.
“Shhh…” a soft voice said beside her. It was decidedly female, but it was not one she recognized immediately. Deciding it was worth it, Umi braved her own agony to turn her head and look up at the person who had suddenly appeared beside her.
She knew that person. She had seen that woman many times.
“I…I know you…” she gasped, and was horrified at how her voice came out. A strangled, forced whisper that sounded harsh to her own ears. “You’re…in my dreams…”
“Shhh…” the woman hushed again. She was as a shadow, standing beside Umi, like an outline of a person colored in with black paint. One dark hand moved to Umi’s perspiration-soaked forehead and brushed her damp bangs away from her face. “I’m so sorry, bright one. It should not have had to come to this. But you must hold on. I cannot tell you why, but I assure you that he will not kill you.”
Umi’s hazed mind processed this slowly. And with it came a realization she would have much rather avoided. “Things…worse than death…”
The shadow-woman nodded. “There are things worse than death, bright one. But remember that you are not alone here. You will find a friend in this horrid place. And I am watching over you. Do not lose hope.” The woman’s head turned to the side. “They are coming for you now. Be brave, and keep faith, bright heart.” The hand withdrew from her forehead, and it took with it the physical comfort of knowing she was not alone. And the woman was gone.
As the figure faded from sight, the room returned to normal—the dark, dank dungeon. But something was different—namely, Umi herself. There was no more pain. Gingerly, she sat up, and realized that she felt completely normal. A glance proved that the bruises she knew she’d had were gone.
One hand slid to her shoulder and unwrapped the grimy bandage that had been sloppily adorning her injury. It fell away, to a heap on the floor, and she examined herself. There was nothing—no wound, no scar, not even any blood. Even her clothes were repaired—she knew they couldn’t have come out of her beating unscathed, and there should have been a hole in her shirt from the arrow.
All in all, she was almost in better shape now than she had been when she’d been captured, save for that she was missing both her armor and glove-jewel. In short, she had been stripped of her most powerful defenses. She had no magic, no sword, and no bodily protection. Hikaru had taught her some hand-to-hand, but there was no way that she could battle her way out with such meager defenses as her own two hands. It wouldn’t be enough.
But as the shadow-woman had foretold, she heard footsteps coming towards her prison. After a few seconds, a shadow moved outside the tiny window in the door; she heard the grating sound of metal on metal, and a loud clank. And the door creaked open. A man stepped in and closed the door.
Umi instinctively leapt to her feet, every muscle tightened into readiness. One man, she was fairly certain she could handle. Even in the shadows, she could see that this was definitely nobody of importance. He was grimy, filthy, and wearing clothes that she knew her mother would never have allowed into the house. He was also wearing a sly smile.
Instantly, she knew what that smile meant, and she swallowed nausea. As he stalked towards her, one of his hands moved to his belt. She kept her expression neutral. Let him think her harmless. Wouldn’t he have an unpleasant surprise—unpleasant for him, at least.
As he drew closer, he reached towards her with one hand and his grin widened. Umi saw her opportunity, and seized it. Taking what she had learned from Hikaru, coupled with a few steps and maneuvers of a fencer, she stepped away from his grasp, grabbed his arm to hold him in position, and rammed her knee into his stomach as hard as she could.
It had the desired effect: he gasped in surprise and pain. The smile dropped from his face, and he doubled over in shock. Umi took advantage of his momentary immobility to dart across the room. But he wasn’t stunned for long, and he rounded on her. There was no calm, lazy stride this time; he lunged at her with a roar like a wild animal, his eyes ablaze with anger and lust.
Again, she dodged his hands, ducking beneath them, and this time she brought her hand up and landed a clean hit—the butt of her palm met his nose with a loud crunching noise. She dropped and swung one leg around to hit the back of his knees, knocking him to the ground. She again danced out of his reach.
Stay on your toes, she muttered to herself, a mantra to keep herself focused. Keep moving. No holds barred, no rules apply. He wants me, he’s going to have to work for it.
He’d gotten up again, and she saw blood running from his nose down over his lip. His lips pulled back in a snarl, and he surged to his feet. He muttered a few words she didn’t catch.
Doesn’t he give up? she wondered frantically. She couldn’t keep this up forever.
Without either of them noticing it, the door to her cell had opened. And when her attacker lunged forward again, she saw a flash of something silver in the dim light—
And the man froze in midair. Then, with a slight gurgling sound, he fell forward, into a heap on the ground. Umi saw a large blood stain on the back of his shirt. He twitched a little, but did not move.
Once again, the Magic Knight had to force down nausea at the killing, and her attention redirected towards the one who had killed her would-be rapist. She remembered him—the one who had captured her in the first place. Tall, with long blonde hair in a ponytail, dark eyes, and heavy black armor.
And once again, she went on the defensive, though if he wanted to harm her, she wasn’t sure how she would fare against his armor and sword—a long blade which was now stained with blood. He took a moment to wipe the shining silver blade on the shirt of his victim before turning his focus to her.
She tensed, and bumped into the wall. Without realizing it, she had backed right into it. Great. Now she was all but cornered, facing an armed and armored man who stood between her and the open door that was her only possible gateway to freedom…
But to her surprise, he sheathed his sword, put one hand to his heart—and bowed. He bowed to her, head dipped in what almost appeared to be respect, and spoke. His voice was deep and commanding. “I do apologize for this fool, Lady Magic Knight. And I am sorry you had to witness his punishment.”
Taken aback, Umi nodded.
He straightened and smiled at her, and she received another surprise. She had subconsciously labeled him as ‘handsome’ the first time she had laid eyes on him, for he was. But smiling like that, he was almost—charming. And it unnerved her. He spoke again. “I have orders from my lord. I was to take you to be healed, and then to him. But,” something flickered in his eyes, “you seem to be perfectly healthy at the moment. A Knight’s magic, I assume?”
Umi didn’t trust herself to answer. Fuu was the one with the healing magic, not her. She had been healed through the power of some as-yet known shadow who haunted her dreams.
“If you are all right, then shall we go visit milord?” the blonde man asked. And in yet another surprising move, he bowed and offered her his arm. Unsure of what to do, Umi gingerly set her hand atop the armored wrist guard and allowed herself to be lead from her prison into a hallway that was very well-lit; the light hurt her eyes, and she winced against it as her eyes adjusted to the brightness.
After rounding a few corners, he stopped and dropped her arm. “Oh, but where are my manners?” He bowed again, and Umi suddenly had the sense that he was mocking her, though he seemed perfectly sincere. “Allow me to introduce myself, milady. My name is Aeric, milord’s general. May I ask your name, Lady Magic Knight?”
“Aeric,” Umi said slowly, the first time she had spoken to this man—she was not surprised to learn that he was a general. With the armor and sword, he seemed to fit the persona of a soldier. Making a quick decision, she continued, “My name is Umi. You may address me as such.” She figured it would be easier to just tell him her name; she had a feeling that being addressed as ‘Lady Magic Knight’ would get very old, very fast.
Something akin to amusement flitted over his expression. “Very well, Lady Umi. Let us continue.” And the stroll through the twisting corridors went on. It was very disorienting after a while, and it seemed to stretch on and on.
Finally, just as Umi was starting to wonder exactly where she was being taken, Aeric stopped. They were staring a large pair of doors. They were made of a deep, red-brown wood, and were ornately engraved and had a gold inlay of twisting vines. Whatever was behind these doors must be important.
“Milord’s study,” Aeric announced. He raised one armor-clad hand—was there any part of this man that wasn’t armored?—and rapped sharply three times on the door before stepping back and waiting. There was a split-second pause before the door opened noiselessly.
Umi suddenly realized that she was holding her breath, and released it carefully. This was it—she had the sudden feeling that she was about to meet their enemy, their true enemy. The one who had probably ordered Aeric to take her prisoner, the mysterious ‘milord.’
She hesitated for a nanosecond before stepping into the room. It was, as promised, a study. It almost looked like a very small library, with walls lined in bookshelves, and a large table set up in front of an enormous window. There was a chair behind that table; though the back of the chair was to them, Umi could see the top of someone’s head, someone sitting in that chair.
At Umi’s side, Aeric dropped to one knee in reverence. “Milord, the Magic Knight.”
“Thank you, Aeric. Leave us,” the voice came from the chair. It was not quite as deep as the general’s, but it held even more command and more authority. Aeric obeyed that voice, backing out of the room. The doors closed behind him, leaving Umi alone with the stranger in the chair.
The room was still for a moment. Then the chair spun around slowly, and Umi got her first look at ‘milord,’ the one she had deduced as being their true enemy. Her captor.
And her jaw nearly dropped.
She had been expecting someone more like Lady Debonair or one of the villainous monsters she had seen in movies. She had prepared herself for some evil being, with an appearance to match the darkness of the heart. She had expected hideousness, deformity, and all other things so often associated with evil beings.
What she definitely hadn’t expected was for her enemy to be so…well, the only word to describe him was beautiful. As he stood and moved from behind the desk, her initial impression was confirmed. He was, indeed, stunning.
Had he lived on Earth, he could have easily been a model. Sandy blonde hair fell charmingly over handsome, chiseled features that would have made most women swoon. An amiable smile seemed quite at home on that striking face. And his ensemble didn’t hurt him any; he was clad in what looked like some sort of uniform. It was maroon, with charcoal-gray insets and a long gray stripe running up the side of each pant leg. The ensemble was trimmed and decorated in gold braid, and added to the overall feeling of authority and power that he radiated.
“So this is the Knight of Selece,” he said, the same smooth, authoritative voice that had ordered Aeric from the room. He moved towards her casually, his hands clasped behind his back. “Welcome to my humble abode, Lady Magic Knight.”
Umi found herself proven right; being called that did get very annoying after a while. “My name is Umi.” She didn’t like the idea of giving this man her name, but she wanted to see his reaction.
He looked amused. “Very well. Lady Umi, then. I do apologize for my men’s behavior upon your arrival here. They have been punished.” Something about the way he said that sent chills down her spine, and she remembered what had befallen the man who had attacked her in her prison. Aeric had referred to his death as nothing more than a punishment. He went on, “I understand you were injured when you arrived. I do apologize. They were not to harm you. But you seem in good healthy now.”
Umi decided on a neutral, “I’m fine.” It seemed the best answer.
“Strange, though,” he said a little too casually. “I always thought it was the Knight of Windam who possessed the capacity for healing magics.” One blonde eyebrow arched in mock-surprise. “Or was I mistaken in that belief?”
Umi ignored the question and ventured with one of her own. “You know my name and who I am, but I have yet to learn anything about you.” She was both surprised and pleased at the icy undertone that crept into her voice. She had no intention of making anything easy for her captor.
“Oh, my apologies, dear lady!” he feigned mortification at his apparent lack of manners, and then dipped low in a bow, much as Aeric had. “I am known as Xander. This is my home, my domain. All who abide here are under my orders.”
“Why am I here?” she demanded. “Why did you kidnap me?”
“Ouch!” the man, Xander, clapped one hand to his forehead and the other to his heart, as though somehow physically injured by her words. “You wound me, my dear. But I must admit that I brought you here for a reason.” He took another step towards her, and Umi suddenly felt the urge to bolt, though there was nowhere to go. “You…fascinate me, lovely one.”
Umi willed herself not to move; she carefully schooled her expression to the one she had so often used while repelling the unwanted advances of her fellow college students. It was a cool expression with the slightest touch of a hard edge, and when used properly, had proven time and time again to be capable of warding off the most unwelcome of overtures.
“I have never seen one like you before,” he went on in a voice that was too smooth to be real. Nothing about this man seemed real; everything seemed to go skin deep and no further, like a mask to be changed at will. “Stubborn, willful, strong…and yet so very beautiful…”
One hand shot out in a lightning-fast move and cupped her chin, turning her face to look up at him. She resisted the almost overwhelming urge to spit in his face, knowing that it wouldn’t improve her situation any. Instead, she simply took a closer look at his face. He proved, indeed, to be breathtakingly handsome. But she realized something unnerving: his eyes were not normal human eyes. They were dark gray, just a shade or two lighter than black, and were slitted, like a cat’s. And they were watching her with a sort of hunger that made her sick.
The hand on her chin tightened a bit, and she realized that his fingers were like ice.
“I would appreciate it if you would maintain your distance,” she said coolly.
He smirked. “Oh, be nice.” He was close enough that she could feel his breath on her face.
“Give me one good reason to be nice, and I’ll consider it,” she snapped, giving into her urge and pulling away from his touch. He was so slimy, disgusting, worse than even the creepiest of boys she had encountered in her life.
But rather than becoming angry, the man who called himself Xander almost seemed amused. “Never fear, lovely one. We will have time later to get to know one another. I think it will be great fun.” Again, she felt the urge to vomit, and restrained it. “But you must be tired. I think it would do you good to rest a while.” He snapped his fingers, and the door opened. Aeric appeared, and Xander barked an order. “Take Lady Umi to her room.”
“Of course,” the general bowed, and a moment later, Umi found herself being whisked away from the study by Aeric’s hand on her upper arm. The door to the room closed behind her. “If you’ll come with me, Lady Umi, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.”
They went back through the corridors of the palace, twisting and turning at least as many times as they had when she had been brought here from the prison. And naturally, she assumed that Aeric was taking her back there—she was a prisoner, was she not?
But the surprises continued to pile up, as they stopped in front of a door that was decidedly not the one she had been locked behind earlier. For starters, there was no bar-covered window cut into it. And when he opened the door, she found herself to be proven right.
As a child of wealth, Umi had long since developed an eye for the finer things in life. She had a pretty decent knack for telling when something was worth more than run-of-the-mill. And this room had her ‘value’ radar going off the scale. It was palatial. Royal.
She stepped inside as Aeric spoke. “I regret to inform you that I have been instructed to lock the door behind you, Lady Umi. I will send someone up to attend to you and prepare you for dinner.”
Umi whirled. “Dinner?” But the question came too late, as the door had shut behind her, and a second later she heard a click as it was locked. She was, once again, imprisoned. But on the bright side, this gave her a good opportunity to look around her new accommodations.
The ‘room’ was actually more like a suite. There was a main room, which she was standing in, that seemed to branch off into two other rooms that she could see. This main room was comparable to a living room; it was adorned with a long couch and several enormous plush chairs. There were a few small, low tables placed strategically around, with flowers adorning some of them. There was some sort of thick, soft rug on the floor, and the walls were decorated with tapestries, depicting stories that reminded her of the fairy tales she had been told as a child. And everything in the room was blue, ranging in shade from light enough to be white to dark enough to be black.
In a bit of a daze, she walked through an arched doorway to the second part of her suite—a bedroom. The bed in the middle of the room was quite large, and had a veritable mountain of pillows piled on it. A table stood on each side of the head of the bed, each bearing a vase of flowers. There was a chair in the corner, and a large window, through which sunlight poured into the room. It added to the color scheme—this room was decorated in cheerful yellow, from the bedding to the flowers on the nightstands.
And there was another doorway in this room; she poked her head through that one to see that it seemed to be this world’s equivalent of a bathroom. It was done up in soft pink and flowers.
Now becoming quite interested in spite of herself, she darted back across the living room and through the other doorway. This time, she found herself in what appeared to be a dressing room. This room was wood-paneled, and boasted a claw-footed wardrobe and matching vanity table with enormous mirror. The table was littered with various little things, and a box that looked like a jewelry box. By one wall, there was even an old-fashioned dressing screen propped up.
Torn between being amused and confused, Umi walked back into the main room and dropped into one of the huge blue chairs. It was plushy, and incredibly comfortable, perfect for sitting and pondering.
She had awakened in a dungeon, about to be assaulted by some sort of underling.
And now she had been confined to a royal suite.
What did this mean? What was going to happen?
“We’ve got to do something!”
“What can we do? We don’t know where she is!”
“I don’t want to just sit here!”
“We have to rescue her! NOW!”
“What about the mashin?”
“We’re assuming that she’s even alive anymore.”
“Shut up, you idiot!”
“EVERYONE BE QUIET!”
That last was, of all people, Lantis, in a rare show of temper. And it worked—the room lapsed into a sullen silence. Hikaru glared at him through tear-filled eyes, but her expression softened as he put a comforting arm around her shoulders. Fuu was nestled between Caldina and Presea, and had yet to even look at Ferio, who was trying to at least catch her eye.
With the room quieted, Guru Clef took center stage. “We must work together and think as a team if we are going to get anywhere. First, it would be nice if we knew whether or not she’s…alive.” He actually choked a little on that last word, and it surprised everyone, himself included.
“Perhaps we can help.”
Everyone jumped, except for Hikaru and Fuu, who by now were quite accustomed to those voices popping into their heads at unexpected moments. It was unusual for the mashin to address anyone other than their chosen Knights, but given the circumstances, it shouldn’t have been that surprising.
Hikaru tilted her chin upwards. “Rayearth?”
“My Knight lives,” this time, it was Selece’s own voice that echoed into the hall. “Umi is fine. She is imprisoned, but unharmed. I am trying to contact her, but something is blocking me at the moment.”
“Is she all right?” Presea asked. “She was hit with an arrow before they took her. Has it been treated? Did she take a fever from it?” The artisan would have continued in her rush of words had Caldina not placed a comforting hand on the blonde woman’s arm to calm her down.
“She took wound-fever,” Selece went on. “However, she was cared for by…another.”
Something about the way he said that last struck a nerve with Fuu, and she made a mental note to ask a few choice questions of her own mashin at a later time. Instead, she said, “So she’s all right? But for how long? I mean, what possible reason could they have to keep her alive?”
“Unbelievable as it may seem, they have a very good reason to keep Umi alive,” Windam cut in to answer his Knight’s question. “They will not kill her. However, as Umi herself has realized, there are things worse than death.”
There was silence as the implications of that statement sunk in.
“Selece, can you keep us posted?” Lantis asked. “If there is any change, would you tell us?”
“What do you think?” Selece retorted.
Hikaru almost giggled in spite of herself. “I take that as a yes?”
“Humans.” Everyone could almost hear the mashin rolling his proverbial eyes.
“We leave you to your decision,” Rayearth thundered again. “And we will be your eyes.”
The presence in the room seemed to vanish as the three mashin withdrew to hold their own counsel. Hikaru turned to Fuu. “Was it just me, or was Selece talking an awful lot like Umi?”
“ANYWAY!” Clef barked. “What do we do? Do we try and find her, to attempt a rescue? Or should we let it be, and see what happens because of it? Bear in mind that we have no clue as to where she is, and even if we could find her, I have to believe that as a Magic Knight, she would be heavily guarded.”
And the room descended into argument once again. Everyone felt that something had to be done, but reason was impairing them greatly. They didn’t know where she was. They had nothing to go on. So while emotion said to go marching in to save their friend, rational thought said that to do such a thing was at best, foolish, and at worse, downright impossible.
After about twenty minutes of arguing, the meeting broke up, as everyone was too worked up to reach any sort of solution. They resolved to each separate for a while, then reconvene and work to try and figure out a course of action.
As soon as the word was given, Fuu rocketed away, sprinting off for parts unknown.
Ferio followed. He’d spent the entire meeting trying to catch her eye, and he had planned to try and catch her after the assembly had departed, but she had taken off. And now he followed her, trying to catch up. He just wanted to talk to her, but she had been avoiding him like a plague.
And now, something else stepped into his path.
Namely, a very irate Takeshi, who gave the Cephirean Prince a look that would have withered far weaker men then Ferio. “And where do you think you’re going?” he growled. “Don’t you think you’ve done enough damage to her?”
Ferio tried to retaliate. By all accounts, he should have been angry at the insinuations in those statements, but instead, he just…deflated. “I have no excuses. I should’ve told her. I just…I just want to talk to her. Is that wrong?”
For whatever reason, Takeshi softened a little, and sighed. “You know, I’m pretty damn protective of those girls.” The young man from Earth leaned against the wall, his arms folded over his chest. “I’ve known Umi and Kagura longer than I’ve known Hikaru and Fuu, but all four of them are like sisters to me. And nothing pisses me off like one of them getting hurt.” One blue eye turned a glare on Ferio. “And you broke her heart because you couldn’t tell her the truth.”
The words stung, but Ferio didn’t argue with them. “I know. I’m scum. I…” He paused, then chuckled sadly. “I probably don’t deserve her anymore. It’s just…it’s just that it had been so long. Years had gone by. And Fuu, and the Magic Knights…we hadn’t seen them. They hadn’t come back for all that time…” His shoulders slumped in defeat and sadness. “We all just kind of…gave up, I guess. I really didn’t think I was ever going to see her again. That’s the only reason I let this Caliana thing go ahead. If I’d known…” The thought trailed off.
Takeshi listened silently, and finally he replied, “I can understand that…but that doesn’t change the fact that you should have told her the truth. And now, I think you need to tell her the truth. Although,” his tone hardened, “given what I’ve seen, I’m not sure if you’re worthy.”
To his surprise, Ferio lifted his chin and stared Takeshi right in the eye. Amber-brown meeting sky-blue. “I would die for her. I would do anything for her. I LOVE HER, DAMMIT!” That last was a shout, and Ferio was left breathing heavily from emotion.
For a long moment, Takeshi was silent, contemplating this. Then he actually smiled, and nodded. “For the moment, you pass. Now you need to talk to her. And I know she’s avoiding you. So you’re going to have your work cut out for you.” He sighed. “I don’t think there’s much I can do to help.”
One of Ascot’s friends gave him a quizzical look as he walked into the orchard, but Ascot ignored it. Instead, he went straight to his favorite tree and plopped down unceremoniously in its shade. This was his favorite spot to think, and right now, he just wanted to calm down.
Hadn’t he felt like this before? Ah, yes, he had. Umi had been taken by Chizeta that once, a long time ago. He had felt it then, and he felt it now, that terrible weakness, the utter helplessness of once again being unable to protect his beloved.
He’d tried to forget her, and for a while, he was certain he had succeeded. Then BOOM, she had fallen right back into his life, and she brought with her those same old feelings. His heart surged just thinking about her. She had changed so much, and yet was the same person; she was still the girl who had slapped him across the face to get his attention, and yet was an entirely different person.
And he was too stupid to tell her the truth.
Sometimes he wished he was more like Caldina, his adoptive sister. She couldn’t care less what anyone thought, and had a penchant for simply saying whatever happened to be on her mind, no matter how outlandish or whatnot. But she got the job done: when she had something she wanted to tell someone, she said it and that was that. However the other person handled it was their business, then.
It was a gift, and he didn’t possess it.
One of his friends, a small cat-like creature, crawled up next to him, mewing softly out of concern. He absently patted the being’s head and sighed.
“One of the Magic Knights has been imprisoned by an enemy of Cephiro…”
As the door closed behind her advisor, Caliana mulled over the proclamation he had made only moments ago. Umi, the Knight of Selece, was gone—taken captive. And everyone was in an absolute furor over it. Plans for the union and diplomatic matters were going on the back burner for the moment, as Cephiro’s higher-ups scrambled to retrieve their lost hero.
By all accounts, she didn’t think the news should have inspired any sort of real reaction in her. She had actually spoken with the girl all of one time, and other than occasionally seeing her sauntering around the palace, hadn’t had any contact with her. There was no real reason for her to feel anything, she thought, except perhaps pity at the young lady’s unenviable fate.
Yet, strangely enough, she felt several things, a mixed bag. There was pity, yes, but also worry, and even a touch of fear for what would befall the Legendary Magic Knight. And she didn’t understand why she would feel that way. At first, at least.
But Caliana had been given much time for thought lately, as she had been hiding out in her rooms for the last couple of days. The reason for her isolation? It seemed that the Magic Knights were furious over her engagement to Ferio, and were out for her blood. Or rather, they seemed angrier that they had not been told, and were outraged over the way in which the news had been broken.
She recalled being confronted by Hikaru in a corridor of the palace—that was the girl’s name, wasn’t it? Yes, Hikaru, the Knight of Rayearth. She had caught up to Caliana with sword in hand; the girl’s face was the same vibrant shade of red as her hair, and her eyes had been blazing with anger. She had said a lot of things in a rush, enraged. And Caliana hadn’t been able to forget some of the things said.
From Hikaru’s impassioned speech, the Aldarbian Princess had been able to glean a few things. First of all and most importantly, the Knight was not angry for herself, but rather for her companion. The name ‘Fuu’ had been mentioned repeated. And she was furious at the fact that this news had been hidden from them, as well as the manner in which they had received the news.
But it was Fuu that the topic always returned to. The Knight of Windam, the girl with the green eyes that Caliana had spoken to in the hallway. The one she had told the truth to. And, from what she had picked up by reading carefully between the lines, had some sort of relationship with the Cephirean Prince.
Caliana took a moment to think on her intended. Her arrival in Cephiro marked the first time she had seen the man she was to form a union with to cement into place an alliance between their countries. She understood that she was here, doing this, to help her people, but…
The Prince was handsome, there was no arguing or denying that. And by all accounts that she had heard, he was a good person, kind and caring. But the fact remained—she didn’t know him. For all that she knew of him, she did not know him.
As the only heir to the Aldarbian throne, Caliana had an enormous responsibility to her family, her parents, and her people. She would rule her country someday; she had been prepared for it all her life. And as such, it was her duty to seal this alliance, no matter how much it grieved her.
Her thoughts trailed back to the Green Knight. She had seen the flicker in her eyes, the only sign of emotion that Fuu had allowed herself. Just a brief flash of emotion that betrayed her pain. After the truth had been told, she had absented herself quickly, claiming that she had tasks to attend to. It was only later that Caliana had discovered that with a few offhand words, she had unknowingly broken someone’s heart.
What was this girl’s relationship with Ferio? What did she feel towards him? And, more importantly, what were Ferio’s feelings towards her? If she had been so shattered at the prospect of losing him, then there was undoubtedly something there. How long had it been there?
She felt lost, much as she had when her father had informed her of the alliance-union. It was the same feeling she’d had when she’d come into the Cephirean palace. She knew she could have probably been a little more friendly, but…
It was a cage, a gilded cage. A bejeweled trap that Caliana wasn’t sure she could break out of. So best to just deal with the situation as best she could.
She had a responsibility, and she would hold to it. It was that simple.
Umi paced back and forth. She was an imprisoned jungle cat, and this spacious suite was her cage. She had to get out of there or she was likely to go stark-raving mad. What was going to happen to her here? The stranger of shadow had told her that her life, at least, was safe; for whatever reason, Xander could not kill her. A small comfort, to say the least.
Finally, she forced herself to stop walking around, and dropped into one of the overly comfortable chairs again. And she willed herself not to move from that spot. She was only freaking herself out, making herself more and more nervous. That would accomplish nothing, except to make her more vulnerable.
A few deep breaths did a surprising amount to clear her head. And she actually felt herself start to relax a little. She would be okay, she would make it out of this in one piece.
Suddenly, she felt the familiar presence touch her mind, and the tension fled. “Selece…” she murmured, inordinately relieved that she was no longer completely alone in this horrid place.
“Are you well?” the mashin’s commanding voice boomed into her mind, tinged with an odd combination of worry and relief.
“I’m fine for the moment,” she whispered back, not wanting anyone to overhear and think her crazy. “But they took my sword. I can’t call on you if I need help.” Somehow, that made her feel guilty.
“Do not worry,” he replied. “Your friends know you are here, and they are trying to form some sort of plan. It might prove difficult, because I can’t actually find you. You are blocked from me.”
“Ugh…this sucks…” she heaved a sigh.
Umi very nearly choked.
“But it is how it is for the moment. I can tell you, however, that you are not alone there. I am certain of it—you will find an ally to stand beside you while we work to free you.”
“Thank you,” Umi said gratefully. As Selece’s presence withdrew from her mind, she had a thought: he had said she would find an ally. Hadn’t the shadow-woman said the same thing? She trusted both of them, so she decided that she was certain to find a friend here. And that was a comforting thought.
The rap on the door shook all relaxation from her, and she leapt to her feet as every muscle once again tensed in a panic. She paused to steady herself, and called, “Yes?”
The door opened, and a young woman entered. “Milady, is there anything you need?”
Umi was a little taken aback. She had expected perhaps Xander, or Aeric, or maybe even another guard who had not been informed that she was not to be harmed. Instead, the person standing there looked barely Umi’s own age! She was a pretty young thing, with dark hair twisted up into a complicated-looking braided style on the back of her head, and blue eyes that were wide and huge in her face. Her outfit was fairly nondescript and looked to be that of a servant: a plain, floor-length, charcoal-gray dress with long sleeves and a high collar, and a crisp white apron over it. Her hands were clasped demurely together in front of her as she waited.
“Who are you?” Umi asked.
“My name is Tama, milady,” the girl bounced up and down in a quick curtsy, not raising her eyes from the floor. “I was sent by milord to attend to you, should you need anything at all.”
A maid? She was being given a maid? Wasn’t she a prisoner? Nothing was adding up. It was like he wanted to charm her into something. What the hell was going on here? But she didn’t voice those thoughts; instead, she simply gestured for the girl to come into the room and said, “Please come in, make yourself comfortable.” Tama obediently stepped a little closer to the middle of the room, where she stood stiffly, still waiting for an order.
Umi sighed. “Relax, please.” The tiniest bit of tension left the girl’s shoulders. “And I don’t need anything right now, except some company. Have a seat.” She gestured towards a chair, hoping desperately that the maid would take it. She could really use the company.
Tama inched towards it, and lowered herself into it slowly, as though she was afraid she would break it. “I hope the room is to your liking, milady,” she intoned.
“Umi. My name is Umi,” the Knight said; she was getting tired of being Lady-ed and such. It just wasn’t her style. “How old are you, Tama? How long have you been here?”
“Eighteen, mila—Umi,” Tama answered softly. She looked a little uncomfortable at the amount of attention she was suddenly receiving. “I’ve been a maid here for about a month. ‘Tis better than being on the streets. I stay out of sight, and work hard.”
“I imagine,” Umi said, wondering exactly what the working conditions were like that Tama would think to mention specifically that she tried to ‘stay out of sight.’ “Well, I won’t work you hard. I usually do things myself. But I hope you’ll hang out around here.” A thought was wriggling in her mind—could this be the friend she had been foretold of? Any ally was as good as gold, and Tama seemed like a nice, if slightly frightened, girl.
“Mila—Umi,” she caught herself again, “is it true that you’re a Magic Knight?” When Umi nodded, a faint flash of hero-worship surged into the girl’s eyes. “Oh, that must be so exciting!”
“It is, but it’s also dangerous,” Umi almost giggled.
“And what of the mashin? What are they like? Are they as big as in the legends?” Tama obviously was fascinated by the legend, and bringing that up as a topic seemed to bring her a little out of her shell. For the next ten minutes, Umi answered questions and recounted a few stories about the exploits of her and her friends in Cephiro.
After a while, Tama suddenly jumped up; she looked alarmed. “By the gods! I nearly lost track of the time! We must get you ready for dinner!” Such simple words, yet they managed to spark World War III as Umi demanded to know what she meant by ‘ready for dinner.’ “Milord wants you to join him for his meal this evening. And he asked that you dress.”
Umi knew what that meant—she was supposed to get dolled up for the occasion. And she didn’t like it. “I don’t want to go to dinner. I want nothing to do with that man. So sorry, but no.” She folded her arms and turned her head away. She was acting like a perfect brat, but she was furious—he imprisoned her, took her sword and magic, tried to hit on her thirty seconds after being introduced, and THEN he had the nerve to insist she dine with him? No thank you.
She was a little startled, though, to see the look of horror on Tama’s face, and she questioned it. The maid shook her head, “N-nothing, miss…it’s just…” Her voice trailed off.
After a minute, comprehension dawned. “If I refuse…you pay the price, don’t you?” Umi asked, feeling sick as Tama nodded. Having seen a few examples of what ‘punishment’ meant in this place, she made her decision. “All right, I’ll go. But I’m not doing this for him.”
The look on Tama’s face brightened the entire room. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!”
Umi sighed, resigning herself to this fate. “So what am I supposed to wear?”
“In here,” Tama led her into the room with the wood paneling and the vanity table. She crossed to the wardrobe and threw open the doors to reveal it was almost overflowing with multi-colored fabrics which, on closer inspection, proved to be clothing, like the ball gowns Umi had seen in picture books and fairy tales as a little girl. Had the situation not been so serious, she would have been delighted.
But given the situation, she paused. She stepped a little closer, and tried to feel. Her instincts, sharpened by her adventures and experiences, were sound, and if there was something in those dresses along the lines of magic, she would feel it. But her senses picked up nothing, and she decided that it was all right. Thus reassured, she reached inside, and began flipping through dresses.
Her inner diva came to the fore, and she realized she was having fun. Each new dress brought to mind another one of her friends. A half-length red number—it screamed Hikaru. Lantis would die of a nosebleed. A slinky, floor length ensemble with a matching wrap, forest green in color—she wondered how Ferio (the jerk) would react if he saw Fuu in that. Probably lose his jaw.
One of deep purple silk—Kagura’s color. She could see her longtime friend in that with her hair done—and every male within a ten mile radius following her. It was amusing, really. And one was an odd orange-ish color—she wondered if it would suit Presea.
But then her hands closed around one in pale yellow, and she withdrew it to take a better look at it. It was floor length, with a fitted bodice and full skirt. It was a color Umi knew would never look good on her. But maybe…
Her practiced eye, well trained with color and style turned on Tama.
Xander could wait. If Umi was going to be stuck here, might as well amuse herself.
Before she could bolt, a hand closed around her upper arm, just above the elbow, effectively stopping her flight. She tried not to shake, and allowed herself to be turned back around. She managed to keep her expression relatively neutral.
“Hello, Ferio,” she said coolly, proud that her voice didn’t even tremble a little bit.
He looked hurt, but he didn’t let go of her arm. When he spoke, he sounded frantic and embarassed. “I’ve been trying to talk you, but you keep avoiding me.”
“I thought you would be with your fiancee,” Fuu snapped, letting some of her real anger show. Inwardly, though, she was desperately trying not to cry again. She had other things to worry about—her best friend was a prisoner, two worlds were facing potential destruction, and she was worrying about her love life. What a world.
Ferio was starting to see red. He knew she didn’t mean it—she was angry, and she had every right to be. But the words still stung, like hailstones lashing against him, and her uncharacterisitic behavior, her unwillingness to listen made his temper flare. “Would you stop it! You’re not being fair! You’re not even giving me a chance to explain!”
“What? That you didn’t even have the nerve to tell me the truth?” she was mortified when her voice cracked a little. The shell was breaking a little more with each second she stayed. She needed to get away from him before he saw more than she wanted him to.
His grip on her arm tightened and he lost his cool enough to actually give her a shake. “Fuu, stop it! This isn’t like you! Would you just listen to me?”
“Let go!” she wrenched her arm away and stepped back. “I hope you and Caliana are very happy together, Ferio.” She started to move away.
“Just leave me the hell alone!” The instant the words were out of her mouth, she wished she could just snatch them back and lock them away somewhere, so they would never again see the light of day. But it was too late. She’d gone too far.
Ferio froze, and looked at her with cold eyes. Then the expression on his face shifted a little bit, into something she couldn’t read. “Oh, believe me, I think I could make this into an even bigger mess if I just did what I wanted to do.”
“What you want to do,” Fuu actually rolled her eyes. Maybe if she was awful enough, he would just leave so she could go cry in peace. “I don’t see how you could possibly make a bigger mess out of this then you already—“
And that was as far as she got before she was cut off. One of Ferio’s hands flew to her shoulder; the other gripped one of her wrists and pushed her back hard against the wall. She had less than a second to process the fact that she was pinned before Ferio’s lips crashed down on hers.
For a second-long eternity, Fuu became incapable of breathing. The world around her vanished. The wall behind her back, the corridor in which they stood, and the landscape beyond the windows ceased to exist. There was only the sound of her heart hammering, the touch of his fingers on her wrist, the tingling warmth of the kiss, the carress of his lips against hers.
He had kissed her that first night, when they had been whisked back to Cephiro by Mokona to save their lives. But it had been different that night, so very different. That had been sweet, innocent, a far cry from this. This was pure, ragged passion, the forbidden fruit dangling on the tree. And it elicited a response from her that was so powerful, it frightened her.
And he broke it off, but lingered for a moment, their noses brushing; she could feel his quickened breath on her face. Her eyes opened halfway, and met his beautiful amber gaze squarely. And she suddenly wished that he wouldn’t move. If time could stop…
Unfortunately, it couldn’t.
Ferio released her, loosing his grip on her shoulder and releasing his hold on her wrist; her arm fell back to her side. He took a step back, not moving his eyes from her. She could have sworn she saw something glittering wetly there, but before she could say anything, he had turned and started walking down the corridor. His footsteps were hurried, just a hair shy of jogging.
As he all but ran off, Fuu slid down the wall to curl up on the floor. Her heart was still pounding, and that desperate warmth was still on her lips. Her wrist tingled where his hand had held her…
She put her face in her hands. Umi was gone, Ferio was all but gone—and she had probably just driven him away, through her angry, hateful words. Unable to restrain it any longer, Fuu let loose the floodgates, and wept.
Umi, Kagura, and Hikaru were sitting around, doing stuff.
Suddenly, Fuu rushed in, crying. She threw her arms around Umi’s neck and cried and cried.
“Umm…I’m guessing something’s wrong,” Hikaru said, feeling intelligent. Umi, meanwhile, struggled valiantly to breathe while Fuu was unwittingly strangling her in lieu of a comforting hug.
“He’s getting married! Ferio’s engaged!” Fuu sobbed.
“WHAT?” Hikaru and Kagura screeched, breaking several windows.
Umi’s face had turned the color of her hair.
“Caliana just told me. She’s here to marry Ferio!” Fuu went on.
“Oh no!” Kagura said. “We’ve gotta do something!”
And finally, Umi lost the battle and collapsed dead in Fuu’s arms.
Fuu didn’t notice.
“This calls for drastic action!” Hikaru crowed.
Suddenly, teh NEZUMI ran in. “Here, I bring you weapons!” She hands Hikaru a scythe, Kagura a few ice-filled water balloons, and Umi a taiser. Umi, by the way, had been miraculously revived from death by the Magical Powers of the Author. Have some respect for the omnipotence, here!
Anyway, thus armed, they left and went to find Ferio. They killed him. Brutally. Then they tracked down Caliana and killed her too. Then they revived Alcyone and killed her too, just for a lark.
And then, suddenly, a guy named Austin fell into the palace and started trying to pet Umi’s hair because that’s what Austin does. Thinking he was an enemy (and already knowing for certain that he was really freakin’ annoying), they killed him too.
So Austin died again.
Then Fuu took over Cephiro and made it into a happy place full of bunnies, flowers, chocolate, and ponies. The only thing wrong was that no one could stand to live there for more than a few hours before going completely crazy. And they all lived happily ever after.