Wow…I'm so sorry…well; this was legitimate, really this time! It's college application time everyone and I've been busy with that…sighs who would've thought that 500 word essays could be so frickin' hard? I was all "five hundred words, psh, I can spit that out in ten minutes" WRONG! Anyway, that's where I've been, I'm sorry I'm sorry, I really really am. But I'm FINISHED! All my applications are in (all the ones that matter anyway) and I'll be back to writing as much as I can with school and everything. This is the end of this one thank the GODS! And I'll be finishing up Legend of the Swords and Same Rhyme too. I've decided that before I post my new story I'm going to finish it (I'm half way there) that way there are NO waits, unless my computer crashes, which it has a tendency to do. So, once again, I'm very sorry, I hope this isn't awful, because it's not edited and I don't really remember what was going on in this story so hopefully it's not too off-track, heh…Anyway, read and review!
Chapter Sixteen: To Cephiro
"It can't be," Veneficus' voice was cracked as he pulled his magic to the surface and let it trickle off his fingers, rainbow colors that sparked around them. Things in the room hovered and soared through the air, but there was no weight of Punishment, there was no pressing for him to confess his sins. There was nothing but freedom. "They cannot…"
Umi's hands shook in anticipation, "They have," she whispered. "They have!"
"Well then, let us go and meet our saviors," Veneficus offered her his arm, and she grinned and took it; her whole body leaping in pleasure. Soon, Clef would be there, and she would be in his arms again. Soon, Fuu and Hikaru would be there, and they would be so excited to see her, with her armor in their hands…She stopped. I'm no longer a Knight, the thought struck her hard as the realization came on. She was no longer a Magic Knight of Cephiro; her title had been given to someone else. So was she still a Keeper? Would she still have to bear this detested responsibility?
"We will see," Veneficus whispered gently as they walked to the front of the Palace. He pet Umi's arm, and she calmed almost magically. Veneficus smirked to himself, and she glared.
"Use your magic easily, don't you?" she snapped, and he smiled like an innocent schoolboy, which made her glare slip off and a joyous laugh penetrate her lips. She was free!
"Veneficus! Veneficus!" Castellum threw himself at the Keeper of Magic's feet, "Please Veneficus, explain this to me!"
Veneficus looked at the terrified Keeper, and then at Umi, who was smiling softly to herself, "Explain…?"
"He's outside Veneficus," Umi told him gently, and Veneficus' eyes widened. The Keeper of the Palace was outside.
"Please, Punish me, if you must," Castellum was to the point of tears now, shaking and stuttering. "I c-can't f-feel the p-power anymore Veneficus."
"Hush Castellum," Veneficus soothed and grabbed the Keeper by his shoulders, hoisting him up from the ground. "The Punishments have been ended; the Master Mage and the Magic Knights have successfully defeated the Will."
Castellum's eyes flew from fear to glee in half a second, then back again, "But, what does this mean for the Keepers? I've been here for a thousand years Veneficus, all my family does not remember me, if they're even still live. What does this mean for us?"
Veneficus shook his head wearily, "I do not know; we are going to meet the Master Mage now, so he can tell us the stipulations to this new agreement with the Will."
"Yes, yes, that is a very good idea," Castellum mumbled to himself, nodding.
"Come with us," Umi offered, and Castellum looked at her like she had three heads.
"You may leave now," she continued, and a gasp threw itself from his throat. For him, it was one thing to leave the Palace, and a completely different thing to step into the Sacred Village. He hadn't been there in over eight hundred years since his master had taken Banishment as a Punishment.
Carefully, Castellum looked around him and began the slow descent from the Palace steps, shuddering and wincing at every one, sure that he would be tossed to the Floor almost immediately; but the Punishment never came, and when he'd descended the last step to the cobblestone streets of the Sacred Village, elation spread onto his narrow face. He turned back to Veneficus and Umi and leapt into the air, screaming his triumph.
"So this is what it means to be free," Veneficus was whispering as he and Umi made their more subtle descent.
Umi nodded and hugged a little closer to his arm, which made him remember the half Magic Knight, half Keeper on his arm and wonder what was going through her mind right now. Do I even have to ask? He groaned to himself, the one who did all this, the Master Mage, Clef. And indeed, Umi did look like she was ready to burst in excitement, every feature glowed; she was radiant in that moment, her blue hair swinging over her shoulders carelessly, the wispy light blue dress she'd donned clinging close to her frame, even the cloak that once carried so much weight seemed to be worn lightly now. The bags that had formed under her eyes from nights of struggle with newfound powers seemed to have vanished; there was nothing that wasn't beautiful about her, and she wasn't his, could never be his.
But he couldn't feel sorry for himself, and he knew he couldn't. There was a new trickle of energy around not only him, but all the Keepers. Everywhere he looked, people were rejoicing in their new powers, Bestia was nearby, cooing to Umi's horse, holding its head in his hands, trembling in appreciation of the beauty of the creature he protected. Even young Noctis had peered out of his Palace rooms to enjoy the sunlight that had been stolen from him. All around him was sheer happiness, and the thought made new magic bubble to the surface, and he rose his hands and clapped, so a huge rainbow spread out across the sky, more brilliant than anything that had ever been created, reflecting the feelings of those around him.
Umi grinned at him and nodded her silent approval, and that was all he needed for that moment, he would deal with his feelings later, after she'd left his sight, but for now, he had an entire village full of elated people, and he wasn't about to let grief get to him, not this time.
Clef's fingers shook around his staff.
"Guru, perhaps we should ride," Hikaru started, but he silenced her with a glare, and she stopped her protests.
He knew he was too weak to attempt a transportation spell, but he couldn't imagine being forced to ride the entire way; he couldn't go another minute without seeing Umi, and the Knights felt the same, he was sure.
"Perhaps, I can help," a quiet voice called from the doorway, a voice that sounded almost as weak as theirs, and his head shot up to meet the ghostly gray eyes of the former Keeper of Dreams.
"Alianore," Blade flew forward and brought the girl into his arms, kissing every part of her weary body, and she smiled and received the embrace graciously. "I thought…oh gods, thank you," he mumbled in between kisses, and she grinned and met his lips, then pulled away and turned to address her son.
"We will speak later?"
Lantis gave a firm nod that promised a long talk, but not an unpleasant one, and there was a bit of a smile playing on his lips. They seemed to understand one another already.
"Blade and I are still connected to the Sacred Village; we will get you there," Alianore continued, turning her eyes on Clef, who smiled gratefully and acquiesced.
"Are you sure you're all right to travel?" Blade asked, concern written all over his face. "I mean…you seem very weak."
She kissed him swiftly and nodded, "I'm sure, and lover, don't be hesitant, I'm not going anywhere."
His eyes flew open, and he looked at her curiously.
"You think that what I suffered in the madness wasn't some of what you suffered in the Will?" she laughed, a warm laugh that was not as hollow as it had been in the past. They were all beginning to recover.
"I didn't…" Blade stopped himself from admitting his deepest fears in front of a room full of strangers and gripped Alianore's hand tighter, the fear all but vanishing from his eyes. He looked up at Clef and the Knight's resolutely and nodded, "We will take you three."
Alliandre stepped forward hesitantly, her head bowed, and her eyes sheltered by her hair.
"Four," Alianore quickly amended, and Allianore smiled gratefully.
"What will happen Clef?" Hikaru inquired gently, and all eyes turned to him, so he had to remain his calm despite the biting feeling inside that he had to get to Umi. He pushed it away for the moment, calming his turbulent temper and sighed heavily.
"I don't know Hikaru; I know that Umi is still a Magic Knight of Water, but I also know that she is still a Keeper, and there are many new things that the Will has granted, but being both wasn't an option, I think. She will have to decide."
Alianore shook her head again and turned to Blade, who nodded his agreement, "We will resume our old posts, free of burdens, it is the only life that we know, and we enjoyed its benefits while detesting its Punishments. I know that Umi will not want the job, her soul is too pure for such matters."
Clef's eyes filled with wonder as he turned and looked at the frail girl who was glowing despite her obvious lack of strength, "Thank you," was all he could manage, but yet, it seemed somehow appropriate, and she nodded formally before she and Blade linked hands, drawing the other four into their circle. All six clasped hands and focused their energy on Alianore who before long was truly glowing. Nimbly, she pulled away from the circle, holding them all together with the bonds of magic they'd given her, clapped her hands, and they vanished, leaving the others to await the return of the Water Knight.
In the Sacred Village, streams of people were pouring out, ready to sniff the fresh air, but wary to go further than a few yards away from the safety of the Village, creating a pool of Keepers that was almost impenetrable.
Clef stared at the Keepers with dismay, searching in vain for Umi, wondering where she could be, and old fears came back to haunt him. Where was she? Why wasn't she here, waiting for him? Could it be… he stopped the questions immediately; it was that mentality that would have lost the battle against the Will. He had utmost faith in Umi, he had proved it; he couldn't let it stop him now.
"Alianore, Blade? But, it can't be!" Bestia stepped forward, taking the shape of a familiar face in a sea of confusion.
"So you have brought him," Mentis stepped beside Bestia and smiled, nodding at Clef. "Perhaps you, Master Mage, should go on ahead. She is at the Palace with Veneficus, they are waiting for you, both have a few questions they want answered, I have no doubts."
"I- of course," Clef stumbled as Bestia pushed the reins of Umi's horse into his hands, and he quickly hoisted himself into the saddle. "Of course," he mumbled to himself, questions racing through his mind. She was at the Palace, with Veneficus? And they had questions? What questions could they possibly have for him?
He set his jaw, narrowed his brows, forced himself to think on Umi, and only Umi. He was here, she was free, they could be together, and they would be together; if it was only in his dying breath, he would have her in his arms again, wrath of the unchained Keeper of Magic or no. He would not let her slip from his live fingers again.
Umi's eyes soared toward Clef who was riding toward them at almost a full gallop. It was as if a magnet connected their two hearts, drawing them both forward with uncharted magnitude. Her breath stuck in her throat as he jumped off the horse, not even slowing, his robes swinging around his feet while he took the steps two at a time and stopped at a dead halt in front of she and Veneficus, staring in horror at something just beneath Umi's line of vision. Slowly, she dropped her eyes and saw that her lover's eyes were focused intently on her interlocked arm which was draped lazily about Veneficus', giving the semblance of a natural occurrence. As if it were made of hot coals, Umi ripped from Veneficus' grasps and threw herself at Clef, knocking away his breath and wrenching tears from his crystalline eyes. There was no doubt in that embrace, and all his insecurities faded away as he closed his eyes and buried his face in the sweet smell of Umi's powder blue hair. Veneficus nodded stiffly and pulled his form straighter, pushing his nose to the sky in a reluctant acceptance. This was how it was to be from the beginning; he had known it all along. He had his freedom, and that was more than enough to forgive the Mage who had stolen a great light from his life, especially when she wasn't his to begin with. She had always and would always, belong to Clef.
"I was so scared I'd lost you," Clef found himself whispering into the locks of his Water Knight, and her eyes slammed upward and met his in a combination of passionate anger and the most tender love he'd ever witnessed in human eyes.
"Don't be ridiculous," she pursed her lips and gave him a thorough glare before he tilted her head back and kissed her as she'd never been kissed before, making sure that every ounce of breath had been stolen from her body before he let her go, both trembling.
"I love you, Water Knight," he mumbled heatedly into her cheek when they broke away, and she shook her head, taking a minute to regain her composure before she voiced her protest.
"No longer Water Knight, Keeper of Dreams," she looked sadly back to the ivory confines of the Palace of the Keepers, and Veneficus sent her a sympathetic glance. She would leave, of course, to continue her duties at the Palace, and he would stay, but they would have to be in close contact, when the cleanest wound is always one that is cut sharply away. This would not be a clean wound for Veneficus it seemed, when the irritant was always there, the lemon to the gouge of rejection.
"I believe," Quies called as she jogged up the steps of the Palace, Noctis faithfully on her heels, "that's my job."
Umi grinned and turned to embrace her two friends, no longer compatriots, Alliandre trailing them bashfully.
After Umi had released her friends she turned to Allianore and asked her the question with her eyes, then looked kindly on Alliandre who didn't seem the picture of the Water Knight. She was much more reserved, introverted, close to Umi in some ways, determined, stubborn it seemed, from the strong set of her jaw, yet much quieter, softer, not the stormy sea that Umi was. For a second she felt a tang of disappointment in Selece's choice for a Water Knight, then decided against the emotion and buried it, reminding herself that she was bias and she could never replace herself in her own mind. Squinting slightly at the strange circle of thoughts, she forced herself to focus back on Allianore who was speaking once more.
"Umi, Selece refused to take Alliandre as the Magic Knight of Water," Allianore began softly, and Umi's eyes bulged.
"What?" she roared. "How could he? He needs to, what will Cephiro do without a Magic Knight of Water?"
"Dearest," Clef whispered to her, smiling the warmest smile he'd ever smiled at her as he gripped her hand tightly, feeling she'd need the support in a moment. "He never had to, because she was taken as the Magic Knight of the Earth, meaning you are still the Water Knight, and Allianore, is still the Keeper of Dreams."
Umi spluttered for only a second before Fuu and Hikaru were gesturing toward her mount. Attached to the saddlebags, was her armor and ovum, glittering brightly in the midday sun.
When they nodded, a laugh burst from her lips, which erupted into a fit of squeals and giggles from all of the girls, Alliandre included, the four jumping up and down as if they were all old friends, bringing her easily into their fold. The others watched, bemused and bewitched by the strange bond between them, before Umi stepped forward to hand Allianore her old cloak, though with less of the weight it once bore, and as the Keeper of Dreams pulled the light piece of silk over her shoulders, she sighed in relief as the last of the madness faded from her body and she was able to turn and embrace the love of her life – finally complete. With the same air of completeness, Umi donned her armor once more, drew her sword and reached it toward the heavens, the picture of freedom. "To freedom!" she shouted.
"To friendship!" Hikaru echoed, drawing her own sword.
"To love!" Fuu's sword quickly joined the others.
"To Cephiro!" Alliandre's strong voice entered into a perfect harmony with the other four, and in an eruption of power and magic, the weight of Cephiro shifted, the Will had made its finally judgment – the days of Punishment were over.
That's a wrap! Keep your eyes peeled for a new story that I solemnly promise will be updated as faithfully as my computer allows (it's been in repair for about a week, they just fixed the internet connection this morning). Now, onto my favorite part, the thank yous!
RaevanDawn - sorry it took me so long to update all the time :'(, but thanks for sticking it out to the end! I hope this doesn't disappoint you
Silvercats - You know, reviews keep me going at two o'clock in the morning when I feel this obligation to update but don't have anything on paper, and seeing a faithful reviewer is just the inspiration I need sometimes - thanks.
Shimmering Rose Petals - thanks for not abandoning me; I know it would have been easy with how long I've disappeared for...
Shy-Lil-Dreamer - I know it was confusing in parts, I hope everything wrapped up nicely at the end, if not, feel free to email me a complaint . Thanks so much for staying true to this story, it probably wouldn't have existed otherwise
Blue Angel Samui - always a pleasure getting an email or a review from one of the best, good luck on your story, I hope to see an end of it someday
angel w1ng - You've been there since the beginning, I hope my stories are only getting better, not worse, and if they're getting worse, thanks for at least humoring me . You're awesome
There are so many others I'd like to thank, but I just don't have the time, and I know you'd be angry if I didn't get this up. Basically thank you to everyone who read/reviewed, and I really hope I didn't disappoint you. The next story will be very angsty, so be prepared for that and some real thought provokers, I'm trying to do something a lil' different with this one...until then...thank you so much and continue to provide me joy through your inspiring and heart-warming reviews. I don't know where I'd be without you guys!