A/N: Many thanks to Antoinette Veronica for beta'ing this for me.
All recognizable dialogue and thoughts are taken from Tokyopop's 10th anniversary edition of Magic Knight Rayearth. Alternative wordings are taken from the resources on the Magic Knight Rayearth fansite Definitely Not Tokyo (rayearth dot psynos dot net).
Shortly after noon of the day after Fuu-chan had revived her Mashin, the vehicle Mokona had provided for us landed near the central peak of the volcano we had seen on our arrival in Cephiro. Once all three of us had gotten out of it, Mokona withdrew it back into his forehead jewel, then began bouncing down a rough path that led towards the central peak. We followed him down the path for about an hour, the heat growing steadily the further we went.
When Mokona finally stopped, it was on a ledge in front of a large pair of doors framed by great curtains of fire. Carved above the doors was a flame-shaped relief. At the bottom of the relief was an animal head and in the relief's center was a circle containing some sort of symbol. There had been similar carvings above the entrance to both the Shrine of Water and the Shrine of Wind. This, then, was the Shrine of Fire—the shrine that contained my Mashin.
Beside me, Fuu-chan gave voice to similar thoughts. "A shrine inside the volcano…" she said. "Each of the three places we saw—the ocean, the floating mountain, and the volcano—had one Mashin hidden in it."
Umi-chan reached out and placed a hand on my left shoulder. "So the last Mashin is here," she said.
"Yup," I replied. I could feel something behind those doors calling to me.
Removing her hand from my shoulder, Umi-chan grasped the skirt our current armor featured. "Our armors and weapons have changed a lot," she said.
"I agree," Fuu-chan said.
Umi-chan summoned her sword and held it loosely on her palms. "There's a dragon on my sword now…"
"And my sword has gotten much bigger in size," Fuu-chan said, summoning it. "See?"
"I see," I said. She was holding it slightly off the vertical in front of herself and it was easy to see that the sword's length—from the pommel to the tip of the blade—was equal to her height. "Isn't it heavy, Fuu-chan?" A sword that long ought to be too heavy for anyone but the strongest of men to lift, but she was holding it as easily as Umi and I held ours.
"No," she said. "It truly is as light as a feather."
"Can I see it for a sec?" Umi-chan asked.
"Of course," Fuu-chan said, reaching out to exchange swords with her.
I wondered if they would even be able to hold each other's swords. Although we had been able to use the weapons Presea had loaned us despite the fact that they had each been made for one specific other person, I had a feeling that when Presea had said that she was going to make us weapons that only we could use, she had been being literal.
Even so, what happened as soon as Umi-chan and Fuu-chan were each fully in possession of the other's sword was still rather startling. First the tip—then the entirety—of Fuu-chan's sword dropped to the ground with a weighty-sounding thud, dragging Umi-chan to her knees as she struggled to keep hold of it, while Umi-chan's own sword turned to water and fell through Fuu-chan's hands, reforming itself once it hit the ground. Both of them commented with surprise on the action of the sword they had tried to hold.
"I thought so…" I said. Umi-chan and Fuu-chan looked at me in surprise as their swords returned to their gauntlet jewels. "These are weapons that were made just for us. These weapons are to be used only by us." As I spoke, I wondered how my sword would react to being held by someone else.
"I see…" Umi-chan said. "That's why I couldn't hold Fuu's sword."
"And our armor looks completely different from its first shape," Fuu-chan said, bringing the conversation back to the original subject.
"It's so soft, light, and clothlike…" Umi-chan said. "It's hard to believe this is armor."
As Fuu-chan pointed out that a sturdy appearance didn't necessarily equate with effectiveness, I turned to look at Mokona. "Are we getting closer to being Magic Knights?" I asked him. The increasing complexity of our armor made me think that it was likely, but it would be nice to have some confirmation.
Mokona nodded in reply, giving a firm "Puu!" as he did so.
"Thanks, Mokona," I said.
"Although he wasn't much help in battle," Umi-chan said, "he brought us to the places where the Mashin were. So Mokona is helping us in the way that he can!"
"Thank you, Mokona-san," Fuu-chan said.
"Yes, thank you, Mokona," Umi-chan said, crouching down so that her face was closer to Mokona's. "And getting back on the subject… After we revive the Mashin in this shrine, we're going to go see the big, bad Zagato next, right?"
Mokona nodded and gave a solemn-sounding "Puu", his normally cheerful expression suddenly becoming serious.
"And you know where he is, right?" Umi-chan said.
Mokona shook his head firmly.
"You know, don't you?" Umi-chan sounded annoyed now.
Mokona shook his head again and Umi-chan jumped upright, very clearly angry with him. But before she could do more than shout his name, there was a roaring sound and the doors to the shrine slammed open. A hot wind blasted out of the doorway and the three of us dropped to our knees with cries of surprise. But my knees had barely touched the ground before I was standing up again—or rather, before my body was standing up again, as I had not intended to do so.
Feeling oddly detached, I watched calmly as ribbons of fire snaked out of the shrine and wrapped around me, touching me without burning me. The sensation was so soothing that I was barely aware of Umi-chan and Fuu-chan's concerned cries and my eyes drifted shut.
Some unknown amount of time later, the feeling of the fire releasing me caused me to open my eyes. Everything was awash with a flickering red-orange light. "Fire…?" I murmured almost sleepily. Yes, I was surrounded by fire—it was literally the only thing present, other than myself. I had to be inside the shrine.
I didn't even have a chance to start wondering about the impossibilities of the sourceless field of fire before a pair of glowing eyes appeared in the fire a few dozen feet in front of me. At the same time, whatever had been calling to me earlier coalesced into a defined presence right where the eyes were. "There's something there…" I murmured. "What is it…?"
Obeying the call of the presence, I walked towards the eyes and with each step I took, the fire around the eyes assumed a more and more definite form. By the time I was within half a dozen feet of the eyes, the fire had settled into the form of a large four-legged animal. Was it a lion? Or was it a wolf? All I was certain of was a solid horn… A mane made of fire… Scarlet eyes…
"Thou," the creature said. "What is thy name?"
"Hikaru," I replied. "Shidou Hikaru."
"My name is Rayearth," the creature said. "The Legendary Mashin who has spent a long time here in the Shrine of Fire waiting for the Magic Knight."
"Mashin…" I murmured, awed. "The Legendary Mashin…" This was my Mashin I was speaking with.
"Young woman from another world, summoned by the Pillar of Cephiro," Rayearth said. "Dost thou wish from thy Heart to become the true Magic Knight?" I could hear the capital letter on the word 'heart'.
"Yes," I said. "I want to become a Magic Knight and save Cephiro."
"Then show me the Proof that thou art worthy of donning me," Rayearth said. "Show me the strength of thy Heart that makes thee worthy of donning me and becoming a Magic Knight."
"Heart…" I murmured. "The strength of my heart…" How was I supposed to show that to him?
Before I could ask him that, however, he charged at me, passing through me and continuing on behind me.
Whirling around, I dashed after him. Soon, the field of fire turned into columns of fire framing a lane leading to the shrine's doors. Rayearth burst through the doors and I followed him, only to come to an abrupt halt on the ledge outside the shrine. Two rough pillars of rock had appeared just beyond the ledge, crossing each other in a western 'X', and Umi-chan and Fuu-chan were caught in clefts near the pillars' tops, limp in unconsciousness.
"Umi-chan!" I cried. "Fuu-chan!" Who had done this to them?
I had barely finished the thought when I noticed the man standing above them on the pillars. He was tall, with blond hair in a long ponytail, blue markings above and below his eyes, blue armor, and a black cape. He was holding a sword and blood was dripping from the tip.
"Who are you?!" I cried. He had to be the one who had hurt Umi-chan and Fuu-chan.
"Daru Lafarga," he replied.
"Daru?" I asked. It sounded like Presea's title of 'Faru', so it had to be another Cephiran honorific, but I didn't know what it meant.
"A warrior who uses only a sword to defeat an enemy," he answered.
"Are you a comrade of Zagato?!" I couldn't think of any other reason for him to have attacked Umi-chan and Fuu-chan.
"Zagato…" he repeated. His voice sounded odd, like he wasn't fully awake or something.
"Let go of Umi-chan and Fuu-chan!" I cried. I could feel my hands clenching into fists as I spoke.
"…You are a Magic Knight also…?" he asked, his voice flat and monotone.
"Yeah! I'm going to become a Magic Knight and save Cephiro!"
"…My mission is the destruction of the Magic Knights…" he said in that same flat voice. Then he raised his sword and slashed it downward. The blade hadn't even touched the ground when there was a boom and the rock started breaking explosively along the line of his swordstroke, heading towards me.
I jumped out of the way at the last second and landed off to the side with a groan. When the rocks stopped exploding, I could see that the ground around Lafarga was smoking!
The ground shattered, but he didn't touch it… I thought. So what had caused it to shatter? Reviewing what had happened, I suddenly realized what it was. It's the force from the sword! He cuts things with the pressure from swinging his sword!
Almost as soon as I had come to that realization, Lafarga swung his sword again and I had to jump out of the path of the stroke. I tried to use the jump to move close enough to attack, but ended up having to twist out of the way of another swordstroke in midair. I wasn't entirely successful, though, and ended up with a gash on my right arm. "I can't attack!" I cried. "He's always on guard! He's tough!" Even though it didn't seem likely that I'd be able to attack him, I still summoned my sword as I landed.
I had no sooner landed than Lafarga made another stroke of his sword. But this time, when I jumped out of the way, I heard cries of pain from near where I had just been. Turning towards the cries, I realized that at some point, I had ended up between Lafarga and my friends. "Umi-chan!" I cried. "Fuu-chan!"
Just then, Lafarga swung his sword on a path that would connect with them again and I called for them to look out, but they were still trapped by the rocks. So I did the only thing I could think of to protect them—I stepped into the path of the swordstroke.
Even though I managed to break some of the swordstroke's force by holding my own sword out in front of me, it still hurt immensely to get hit by it and I cried out in pain. When the force of it had passed, the sheer intensity of the pain caused me to drop to my knees. I could feel blood running down my left cheek and leg and the pain from the gash in my right arm had increased, so it had probably gotten enlarged. I didn't know if I would be able to stand taking another blow.
"My mission is the destruction of the Magic Knights," Lafarga repeated.
It's no good, I thought. If I evade his attack now, it will hit my friends. Whether or not I could truly stand another blow, I had to take it.
Umi-chan and Fuu-chan cried out as I stood up, but their words were lost in the roar of Lafarga's next swordstroke. Right before it hit me, they raised their voices enough for me the hear what they were saying. They were telling me to get out of the path of the swordstroke. I ignored them and remained where I was, scowling and wiping blood from my mouth after the swordstroke's force had passed. It was almost immediately followed by another and I could hear Umi-chan and Fuu-chan calling for me to stop shielding them after that one passed.
Then my attention was drawn to the left by a red-orange flickering and I saw Rayearth standing the top of a tall outthrusting of rock nearby. "If thou goest on, thou shalt die," he said.
"I…will die…?" I repeated.
"Forget about thy friends and fight," he said. "If thou dost not, thou hast no chance against him."
"Forget?" I said. "Forget about Umi-chan and Fuu-chan?" How could he expect me to do that?
"Yes," he said. "Those two will die, but thou shalt stay alive. Forget about being a shield and fight freely."
"I won't!" I cried. "I won't do that! I will never abandon them! Umi-chan and Fuu-chan are my valuable comrades! They have fought with me! They are valuable—no, priceless—comrades! I will save them no matter what happens!" As I cried that last sentence, ribbons of fire blazed up all around me.
Taking a great leap towards Lafarga, I cried, "I'm going to go back to Tokyo with them! All three of us!" The fire that had blazed up around me followed me in my leap and added to my force as my sword met Lafarga's. He cried out as our swords clashed, although I couldn't tell if it was from surprise or pain.
"Hikaru-san!" Fuu-chan cried.
"Hikaru!" Umi-chan cried. "Use your magic!"
"I'm fighting a swordsman!" I called back. "I won't use magic, either!"
Umi-chan cried my name again in a shocked-sounding voice, but I truly meant what I had said. It wouldn't feel right to use magic against Lafarga. As my sword clanged against his again, I cried, "Is Princess Emeraude safe?!"
"…Princess Emeraude…?" Lafarga repeated, faltering. He sounded almost bewildered.
"I will become a Magic Knight with my comrades!" I cried, pressing my sword harder against his. "We're going to become the Magic Knights and save Princess Emeraude and Cephiro!"
"…Princess…" Lafarga repeated, faltering again. "Princess Emeraude…" As his voice trailed off, he pulled away from me entirely, grimacing and raising a hand to his face like his head was aching. What was wrong with him? He moaned as if he was in pain, then the blue markings on his face, which I had assumed were tattoos, suddenly glowed and he resumed fighting, attacking even more ferociously than before.
After what seemed like several minutes of ferocious fighting, I managed to get in a lucky blow and disarmed Lafarga, sending his sword flying behind me. I quickly followed up that blow by bringing my sword up to his throat, just barely managing to stop in time to avoid drawing blood. But I didn't have a chance to be shocked by how close I had come to killing him, because before I had fully registered my actions, Lafarga burst into motion.
He brought one hand up to give a sharp blow to my own hands, causing my grip on my sword to loosen, then used the other to deliver a vicious punch that knocked me to the ground. I dropped my sword as I fell, but before I could try to get up and grab it again, Lafarga was on top of me, grasping my neck so tightly I had trouble breathing. Faintly, through the roaring in my ears as I struggled for air, I could hear Umi-chan and Fuu-chan crying my name, but I was focused on trying to loosen Lafarga's grip on my neck. Then he reached out past the top of my head and grabbed…my sword.
His hand had barely finished closing around the hilt before the entire sword burst into flame. The flames quickly spread to engulf Lafarga and he cried out in pain, releasing my neck and dropping the sword.
I looked on in stunned amazement as Lafarga collapsed to the ground, still burning. So that was what my sword did when it was held by someone other than me! Awestruck, I picked it up, saying, "A sword…made just for me…"
Then a groan drew my attention back to Lafarga. The flames had died out and he was sitting back on his haunches. His cape was in tatters, his armor was covered with scorch marks, and his skin looked like it was badly sunburned, but he was otherwise unharmed. Interestingly, the blue markings on his face had disappeared as well. Had they been burned off by the flames?
"Wh-where…am…I…?" he asked. "Where's…th-the Princess?!" Raising a hand to rub at his forehead, he said, "I must save the Princess!"
"Save the Princess?" I asked. "Weren't you on Zagato's side?"
"Zagato…!" he cried. He had clearly heard me, but he didn't seem to have truly seen me yet. "Soru Zagato kidnapped the Princess. He was supposed to serve her as the Soru…to help her by making sure that nothing got in the way of her prayers…but he…" He trailed off, seeming lost in thought or memory, then shook his head and continued. "I-I tried to stop Zagato and confronted him…and then…" He trailed off again, then abruptly shook himself all over, like he was trying to exorcise a bad memory or something. After he finished shaking himself, his eyes seemed to suddenly snap into focus and he looked at me like he was seeing me for the first time. "What happened?!" he cried. "Where did you get those wounds?!"
That was interesting. If I combined his question about my injuries with his earlier question of where he was and his comments about saving the Princess and stopping Zagato, then I had to assume that he had not truly been himself while he was attacking the three of us. "It's okay," I said, giving him a soft smile. "You were probably controlled by Zagato." He had definitely been being controlled by someone, but I couldn't say for certain that that person had been Zagato. "So it's no big deal." And it really wasn't, although he looked like he wanted to argue about that.
Before he could say anything, however, I became surrounded by a red glow and ribbons of fire started spiraling up around me. As I was lifted from the ground and my armor started dissolving into flames, I cried, "Are the armor and the sword going to change again?!"
I heard the crack of rocks breaking behind me and turned to see that the rocks trapping Umi-chan and Fuu-chan were being broken apart by spirals of water and wind as they were lifted like I was, their own armor dissolving into their elements. Then my armor and clothing finished dissolving and I was bare within the flames as they formed into entirely new armor for me.
As the flames finished solidifying into my new armor, my sword landed in my hand, having evolved yet again, and as the flames surrounding me began to die, I saw that Umi-chan and Fuu-chan were holding their own swords, which had also evolved again. Their armor had evolved as well, no longer a match for mine or each other's, except for the capes flowing from the back of our armor. Did the difference in our armor mean that we had achieved its final evolution?
Rayearth's voice rang out from the ledge where he was standing, saying, "I approve of the strength of thy Heart with which thou believest in thy friends, Legendary Magic Knight." Then he dissolved into flames and reformed as a gigantic red robot.
"A Mashin…" I murmured, awed. I had vague memories of seeing Umi-chan's and Fuu-chan's Mashin in similar forms, but they were very hazy and indistinct. "This is a Mashin…"
Beams of colored light then shot out of the jewels on the chests of Umi-chan's and Fuu-chan's armor and huge spheres of their elements formed around the end of each beam. Within each sphere, the light from the end of the beam took on the shape of a winged humanoid. When the beams faded and the spheres dissipated, in the place of the spheres were the beings I vaguely recalled seeing at the end of Umi-chan's and Fuu-chan's own tests. Rayearth joined them just beyond the ledge that Umi-chan, Fuu-chan, and I were standing on and, in unison with two other voices that had to be the other Mashin, he said, "Young women from another world who were summoned here by Cephiro's Pillar. Now you shall don us and become the true Magic Knights."
As the Mashin finished speaking, the jewel on each one's chest began to glow and our swords became surrounded by our elements. "The swords are reacting to the Mashin," I said. Then there was a flash of light and when my vision cleared, my sword had vanished and I was no longer on the ledge. I was now inside what appeared to be a large glass bubble with an ornate band of gold wrapped around part of the bottom hemisphere. "Is this…inside the Mashin?" I asked.
Looking around, I noticed that I appeared to be at about the height of the jewel in Rayearth's chest and was in approximately the same position as the jewel has been in—maybe still was in. It seemed like I really was inside Rayearth—likely inside the chest jewel. "So this is what they meant when they said, 'donning the Mashin…'"
Then Umi-chan cried, "Selece!" and her Mashin swished his tail.
Fuu-chan then cried, "Windam!" and her Mashin flapped his wings.
I cried, "Rayearth!" and light flashed above me.
I knew the Mashin had said that we were now truly the Magic Knights, but it still seemed so unreal that I found myself saying, "Are we really Magic Knights now?"
I had no sooner finished speaking than a loud, affirmative-sounding "Puu!" came from the ledge Umi-chan, Fuu-chan, and I had been standing on. Looking down, I saw that Mokona had reappeared and was sitting where we had been. And since he was affirming our status as full Magic Knights, I was able to truly believe it.
"But where in the world is Zagato…?" Umi-chan asked.
Mokona replied with a loud "Puuuuu!" and a beam of light shot out of his forehead jewel and into the sky.
"The sky…?!" I cried. Zagato was somewhere in the sky?! How was that possible?
"The light is pointing at the sky," Fuu-chan said.
"Mokona," Umi-chan said, "weren't you giving me an 'I don't know where Zagato is' reaction earlier?!" She sounded very annoyed.
"Puu?" Mokona sounded innocent, but I had no doubt that he knew exactly what Umi-chan was talking about.
"Mokonaaaa!" Umi-chan cried, her Mashin's—Selece's—fists clenched. Selece reached out like he was going to grab Mokona, but Mokona bounded off of the ledge and Selece—no, it was definitely Umi-chan—started chasing him.
Before I could start laughing at Umi-chan's and Mokona's antics, Rayearth spoke to me again. "Thou must hasten to the battle," he said.
Inclining my head in acknowledgement of his words, I followed an inner prompting to lean forward and Rayearth lifted off of the ground and started into the air. Fuu-chan's Mashin—Windam—followed me and Umi-chan broke off her pursuit of Mokona to join us as we headed towards our fight with Zagato.