A/N: Many thanks to Antoinette Veronica for beta'ing this for me.
After Ferio parted from the Magic Knights, he headed for Presea's house. They had said that they had met her and he needed someone to share his worries about the Magic Knights going up against Zagato with. And knowing her, he thought that she might want someone to talk to as well.
When he knocked on her door in the mid-morning of the next day, no one answered. After pounding vigorously on the door and still receiving no answer, he did a circuit around her house, looking in through the windows.
It doesn't look like she's home, he thought as he came back to the door. Where did she go? She has to know that the Magic Knights are going to be coming back here so she can forge the Escudo. Unless... Did she follow them to Eterna? That...actually seems like something she might have done. In which case, I have to wait until she returns to talk to her. At least this area of the forest is safer than the rest.
He knew that Presea's house was fairly near the edge of the forest, to make it easier for people seeking her services as a Faru, and most monsters in the forest tended to avoid going near the edge. The other factor making the area safer was that monsters in the area tended to run afoul of the warriors who came seeking Presea.
As Clef made his way through the rock pillars surrounding the Legendary Spring of Eterna, he could see a winged vehicle of some sort moving off toward the ocean. That must be the Magic Knights, he thought. I timed this just right.
The Magic Knights no longer needed his aid now that they could all use magic, but Presea most likely did. Forging Escudo into a weapon was exhausting—the Faru doing so had to create not just the weapon's initial form, but all of its successive forms as well—and Presea had just forged three Escudo weapons at once.
When he entered the clearing containing the spring, he found Presea collapsed on the ground, breathing heavily. She looked even more exhausted than he had expected. Rushing over to her, he dropped his staff on the ground and wrapped his arms around her to help her stay upright. Then he asked, "Are you all right?"
Blinking slowly, Presea turned her head to look at him. "Guru Clef?" she asked. She sounded like she had not even realized anyone else was present until he had spoken.
"Yes, it's me," Clef replied. "Are you all right?"
"I will be," Presea said. "I just need time to recover from putting everything I had into creating the Magic Knights' weapons."
"Then I'd better get you home as quickly as possible," Clef said. He let go of her and picked up his staff. Then he cried, "Clefto!" and summoned his spirit griffin. Once the griffin had appeared, he had it kneel, then help Presea to her feet and over to it. "Do you need help getting onto its back?" he asked Presea.
"Maybe a little," she replied, grabbing hold of the griffin's fur above her head.
Clef boosted her onto the griffin's back, then climbed up himself and settled down behind Presea. He wrapped an arm around her and drew her head down onto his shoulder, then gave the griffin the command to take off. Presea snuggled up against him as the griffin lifted off the ground and within a few minutes, he realized that she had fallen asleep.
Shortly before noon, a griffin landed in the clearing that surrounded Presea's house. As it knelt to allow its passengers off, Ferio stood up from his seat on the doorstep in surprise.
Is that...? he thought. Yes, it is. That's Clef on the griffin's back. And in Clef's arms was Presea, in her forging gown, asleep or unconscious. "Guru Clef," Ferio called, heading over to help the mage get Presea off the griffin safely.
"Ferio?" Clef said "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for Presea," Ferio replied. "Is she all right?"
"She will be. She just needs to rest."
"What happened to her?" Ferio asked, holding up his arms to take Presea from Clef.
"She exhausted herself making the Magic Knights' weapons," Clef said, carefully transferring Presea into Ferio's arms.
"Then they made it to Eterna safely?" Ferio asked.
"They did." Clef slid down off the griffin himself. "You've met them?"
"I helped them make it through the forest."
"Ah," Clef said. "Can you look after Presea until she wakes up? I have to keep an eye on things outside the forest, but I don't want to leave her alone while she's this exhausted."
"Sure," Ferio replied. "I just need to be let into the house."
"Right." Clef held his hand out beside his ring and a cloth-wrapped bundle appeared in his hand. He placed the bundle in Presea's lap, then reached inside it. When he brought his hand out again, he was holding a key. He walked over to the house, followed by Ferio, and used the key to unlock the door, then put the key inside the bundle. As he opened the door and held it for Ferio, he said, "I'll come back here after things have gotten settled."
"Okay," Ferio said. "I'll see you then." Then he walked into the house, heading for the far end where he knew the bedrooms were, having once stayed overnight when his sword had needed more maintenance than he could manage himself.
After he had tucked Presea into her bed, still wearing her forging gown, and placed the bundle that had proved to be her regular clothing on the bedstand, he went to her study to get a book to read, then settled into the guest bedroom to wait for her to wake up.
When Presea woke up, she was surprised to find herself in her own bed. The last she remembered, she had been with Guru Clef on the back of his spirit griffin. She had obviously fallen asleep during the trip back to her house, but how had Clef managed to get her into the house, much less into her bed? She knew she was too big for him to manage on his own and here in the Forest of Silence, he wouldn't have been able to use magic to help.
Realizing that she was still in her forging gown and her regular clothing was in a bundle on her bedstand, she started to get out of bed so she could get dressed. Before she had done more than sit up, however, Ferio appeared in the doorway. "Oh, good," he said. "You're awake. I was beginning to worry."
"Ferio?" she said. "What are you doing here? How long was I asleep?"
"It's been nearly a full day since Guru Clef arrived with you, As for what I'm doing here, I was waiting for you to return when Clef arrived."
"So where is Clef now?" Presea asked.
"He left," Ferio said. "He said he needed to keep an eye on things outside the forest, so he asked me to look after you until you woke up."
"And why were you waiting for me in the first place?"
"Because I needed someone to talk to about the Magic Knights," Ferio replied.
"You've met them?" Presea asked.
"I helped them make it through the forest."
"Well," Presea said, "let me get dressed and get something to eat and then we can talk all you want."
"Okay," Ferio said. "I'll be waiting in the sitting room."
Presea quickly dressed and ate, then joined Ferio in the sitting room. "So," she said as she sat down in her favorite chair, "what about the Magic Knights did you want to talk about?"
"I'm worried about them," Ferio said. "I'm worried about what will happen when they face Zagato. I'm worried they might lose."
"I'm worried about them, too," Presea said, "but I'm willing to trust that Princess Emeraude knew what she was doing when she summoned the three of them."
Clef scryed on the battle between Hikaru and Lafarga with growing concern. He had not thought that Lafarga would side with Zagato. Although, he thought, Lafarga's voice was oddly flat when he spoke. Is it possible that he's being controlled?
As he continued to watch, Clef became more certain that his supposition was the truth, especially after something Hikaru said twice caused Lafarga to falter. The question then became how to break the spell of control. The one spell he knew that was certain to break it, he couldn't use from where he was—it would require close physical proximity, if not physical contact—and he dared not try to contact Hikaru for fear that she would be distracted. He was frankly amazed that she had been keeping up with Lafarga as well as she was, but it was clearly taking everything she had to do so.
Before he could figure out what to do, however, the battle ended with two disarmings and a flaming sword that solved the problem for him. Then he was forced to end the scrying spell as his magical senses were overwhelmed by the resonance of the Magic Knights' final evolution.
After his head had stopped ringing from the sheer power that had echoed back through the scrying spell, Clef cast it again. When the image came into focus, he saw that the Magic Knights had left the Fire Shrine and Lafarga was now accompanied by Mokona.
Well, he thought, that's a piece of good luck. It will be much easier to speak with Lafarga than it was to do so with the two who were at the other shrines.
Breaking the scrying spell, he sent his thoughts casting out for Mokona. When he felt the creature acknowledge him, he carefully framed the sense of needing to speak with Lafarga and presented it to Mokona. Mokona accepted it and Clef's vision became peculiarly doubled, Lafarga and the scenery at the Fire Shrine acting as a transparent overlay on his actual surroundings.
"Guru Clef?" Lafarga sounded startled.
"Lafarga," Clef said. "Stay near the Fire Shrine. I'll come pick you up. If you need food or shelter, Mokona can provide it."
"I will," Lafarga said.
"Then I will see you tomorrow," Clef said. Carefully framing a sense of thanks and completion, he shared it with Mokona. He felt Mokona acknowledge the feeling and then Lafarga and the Fire Shrine faded as the doubled vision ended.
Late in the afternoon of the day after Presea had woken after forging the Magic Knights' weapons, the ground started a constant shaking that went on for several minutes, interrupting her conversation with Ferio. Then there was a blinding flash of light and the entire world shook violently.
The ground was still shaking slightly when Presea's vision cleared from the aftereffects of the light. What in the world is causing that? she thought. Has Zagato harmed Princess Emeraude?
Then she heard Ferio cry, "What does that mean?"
"What does what mean?" she asked.
"You didn't hear it?" Ferio asked.
"Apparently not," Presea said. "So what were you asking about?"
"During the flash of light that just happened, I heard my sister's voice say, 'Zagato, finally I am yours and yours alone.'"
"Huh," Presea said. "That is weird. I don't have any clue either. Do you think Clef would know what it means?"
"Possibly," Ferio said. "We'll probably be able to ask him soon."
"Oh?" Presea said.
"Before he left after dropping you off, he said he'd come back here after things had gotten settled. If the shaking and that flash of light weren't caused by the Legendary Battle, I don't want to even think about what could have caused them."
Late in the morning of the day after he had been freed from Zagato's control, Lafarga saw a large griffin coming towards the Fire Shrine. As it landed, he saw that Guru Clef was sitting on its back. The griffin knelt down and Clef said, "Get on."
As Lafarga climbed onto the griffin's back, Mokona bounced up into Clef's lap. Once Lafarga had settled himself, the griffin stood up and took off, heading back in the direction it had come from. "Where are we going?" Lafarga asked.
"Presea's house," Clef replied. "She and Ferio are waiting for me there. There are things the three of you need to know."
The rest of the trip was spent in silence. As they flew over the land, Lafarga kept seeing little tremors shaking it. He wondered what had happened to cause that.
In the late afternoon, the griffin landed in a clearing in the Forest of Silence, near a small house. Lafarga got off the griffin's back after Clef and Mokona and followed them over to the house. Clef knocked sharply on the door and it was quickly opened by Presea. "Clef!" she cried. "You're all right!"
"Of course I am," Clef said. "May Lafarga and I come in?"
"Oh," Presea said, stepping back and to the side, "sorry. Of course you can."
Clef then picked up Mokona and entered the house. Lafarga followed him. Once they had both cleared the door, Presea closed it and moved ahead of them. "Ferio is waiting for us in the sitting room," she said.
The men followed her a short distance down the hall and into a room containing a couch, a low table, and a couple of armchairs. Ferio was sitting in one of the chairs, but when they entered, he stood up and said, "All right, Clef, what was really going on?"
"What do you know already?" Clef asked as he sat down on the couch.
"Not much," Ferio said, resuming his seat as Presea took the other chair and Lafarga joined Clef on the couch. "Just that during that flash of light late yesterday afternoon, I heard my sister's voice say, 'Zagato, finally I am yours and yours alone.' Neither Presea nor I could figure out what that meant."
"Then I'll start at the beginning," Clef said. "What you heard yesterday refers to the fact that Emeraude and Zagato were in love with each other."
"If they were in love with each other, why did Zagato kidnap her?" Lafarga asked.
At the same time, Ferio said, "They were in love with each other? Did something happen to change that?"
"Zagato didn't kidnap Emeraude. She entered the water dungeon of her own will in what I have to assume was a last ditch attempt to bring her feelings for Zagato under control. Zagato only moved the castle after she refused to leave her self-imposed imprisonment. I am guessing that he allowed people to think that he had kidnapped her to keep them from hating her for her inability to focus on her prayers." Clef's voice was entirely too level for him to really be as calm as he sounded. Lafarga could only assume that Clef was focusing on the concentration needed to keep his voice steady as a way to keep from breaking down. "As for what happened to change things, they are now both dead."
Lafarga was stunned. From the looks on their faces, Ferio and Presea were equally shocked. What had happened? "They're both dead?" Presea asked. She had beaten him to asking it. "What happened?"
"If Zagato didn't kidnap her, then why did she summon the Magic Knights and why did he oppose them?" Ferio asked. "I thought the Magic Knights were only summoned if something happened to the Pillar."
"None of you know the full legend of the Magic Knights," Clef said. "Emeraude summoned the Magic Knights because she felt that something had happened to her—her feelings for Zagato had become more important than her duty as the Pillar. The Magic Knights' true duty is to kill the Pillar. Zagato opposed them because he didn't want Emeraude to die."
"So what I heard yesterday was her final words, rejoicing that she was dying," Ferio said flatly.
"Yes," Clef said. "She had become unable to push aside her feelings for Zagato anymore and felt that the only way to fix things was to summon the Magic Knights to kill her."
"How long had they been in love with each other?" Presea asked.
"I don't know when each of them fell in love with the other, but I'm quite certain that they both thought it was unrequited until late in Emeraude's fifth year as Pillar. That was when I first noticed the change in their interactions with each other."
"It'd been going on for five years and you never did anything about it before it got to the point that my sister felt she had to summon the Magic Knights?" Ferio said angrily, half rising from his seat.
"What was I supposed to do?" Clef snapped back. "I couldn't think of anything I could do to change the situation and neither of them was willing to admit their feelings to me."
"Sorry," Ferio said, settling back into his chair. "It's just…"
"I know," Clef said. "In some ways, it's probably harder for you to deal with than it is for me. I was at least aware that it was happening."
"Did Lantis know?" Ferio asked.
"About what?" Clef replied. "Emeraude and Zagato's love for each other or the truth of the legend of the Magic Knights?"
"Both," Ferio said.
"He knew the truth of the legend of the Magic Knights and, although we never talked about it, I do believe he knew Emeraude and Zagato were in love with each other. I strongly suspect that that was why he left Cephiro."
"If Lantis knew the truth of the legend, why didn't you tell me?" Lafarga asked.
"Because I knew that if Emeraude did end up summoning the Magic Knights, Zagato would do everything he could to stop them," Clef said. "I had thought that if you didn't know the truth, you would be able to withstand anything he might try to turn you to his side. Any doubt in your heart about the rightness of facing him would have given him an opening to control you. If I had known that he would be able to control you without you having doubts, I would have told you the truth."
"Well, I don't know if it would have had quite the same effect, but when I faced him, I was questioning why he had taken the actions I thought he had."
"That would have been enough doubt for him to take advantage of," Clef said.
"Were you ever planning to tell me the truth?" Ferio asked.
"I was," Clef replied. "I had been planning on telling you when you turned twenty."
"So what do we do now that Princess Emeraude is dead?" Presea asked.
"We gather those people who have strong wills and build a new castle, then we evacuate every living being in Cephiro into the castle while we search for someone with a strong enough will to become the new Pillar," Clef answered. "And while we're on the subject of what we do now, I have a request for you, Ferio."
"What is it?" Ferio asked.
"I know you dislike the attention that comes from being Emeraude's brother, but would you be willing to play the role of the Prince until we find a new Pillar?"
"Why?" Ferio asked.
"It would be a calming measure for the people," Clef said. "Traditionally, the Soru has been the one who works to keep the people calm during the transition to a new Pillar, but Zagato is dead and his actions have done enough damage to the common perception of the post that appointing a new Soru wouldn't help at this point. I believe that, as Emeraude's sibling who is still alive, you would be a symbol to the people that Cephiro will continue."
"What would I need to do?"
"Just…be visible. Listen to the people's concerns and do your best to soothe their fears. The calmer the people are until a new Pillar is found, the better off Cephiro will be during that period and the more slowly it will fall apart. You would need to dress more formally, though."
"I can do that," Ferio said. "If you truly believe that my playing that role will help Cephiro, I cannot refuse."
"I do believe so," Clef said. "If none of you have further questions, I will explain what I want you to do now over dinner and we can start gathering people tomorrow."