A/n: Um…not edited, at all. Sorry, I just finished it and now I'm on my way to go and see The New World, but I wanted to get up before I got too lazy and just let it rot on my computer. Anyway, I hope that you're not all so angry at me that I don't get a review, even a mean one?
Chapter Ten: The Temptations of Becoming One
"I'm scared Eagle," Hikaru confessed that night when they were sitting in the living room alone, waiting by the fire. His eyes were locked on the flames, trying his best to stay out of the dark places that haunted him and keep the moment fresh in his mind. If he were to die, he wanted to die with her on his thoughts.
"I know, so am I," he answered her, turning his eyes away from the leaping beauty, only to be blinded by the beauty of its master. He let his eyes caress her body with gentle looks, and she blushed under his thorough examination, which only made him that much bolder. "But you saved my life, what seems so long ago, and I owe it to you and to Cephiro. There's no other way to save this world, and without it, we wouldn't be together, like this, right now."
Hikaru heard the wisdom in his words, but somehow, that didn't make it any better. She silently wondered how Fuu stood it, all this confounded logic! She didn't want to have to be strong anymore, but she knew she had to, and she hated it. All she wanted to do was be at peace.
"We're almost there," Eagle told her softly, as if he was reading her thoughts, and truthfully, he was thinking the same. "As soon as this is over, we can be together, and Cephiro will be at peace, finally. Everything will work out in the end, have faith, love."
She smiled up at him and nodded firmly; he always replenished her strength, pushed her on when she thought that she could go no further. That was what she loved about him, so she would trust that he would be strong enough to come back to her, despite the corruption that would live inside him, "Promise you'll come back to me," she pleaded, and his look sobered, and he turned back to the fire.
"You know I can't, Hikaru-chan," he whispered softly, tears welling in his voice. "But I swear to you," here, he snapped back to her, staring at her fiercely, defying every god he could think of, defying the Will of Cephiro itself, "that if there is any strength in my spirit at all, it will be only because of you, to get back to you. I don't know if my resilience will serve me well where I'm going, but I know that I will stop at nothing to come home to you, not even at death."
His words took her breath away, and it was just as well, because she didn't want to continue the conversation. She only wanted to be with her Eagle, on their last night together. She didn't know that then, but she had a feeling, and she wanted to cherish this moment, for as long as she could. So she clung to him; he felt so real, and his heartbeat echoed in her ears, his kisses were more fiery than the fire in front of them, and when they finally fell asleep beside one another, Hikaru knew in her heart that he was strong enough, and he would save Cephiro and come back to her. She had that hope burning inside her, and she wouldn't let anything destroy it, not even the most impossible circumstance, because that was what Eagle loved about her, and she wasn't going to forsake it now; it was his strength.
"Today," Caldar's words in Ascot's voice seemed strange to Umi's ears. For once, Ascot was standing in front of a crowd of people, in front of all the power in Cephiro, and he was not blushing, he was not afraid. In fact, it looked almost as if he belonged there. Of course, that's because he's not Ascot, Umi reminded herself, and took another look at the foreign Prince in Ascot's body. I'm so confused.
"Today what?" she snapped, mainly frustrated with herself, because she couldn't even work out her own feelings let alone confront an ancient Prince. So she hid it all behind a mask of aggression, just like she'd always done. The only one she'd ever been soft to was Ascot, and…her heart burned, and she changed her train of thought back to the preparation before them. There was too much to do, she didn't have time to act the fickle girl. She was a warrior of Cephiro, and there wasn't much time.
"He'll break free today," Caldar answered, looking sadly into Umi's eyes, then turning back to Eagle, who was nodding firmly, Hikaru clinging desperately to his arm.
"Are you sure you want to go through with this?" Ferio asked Eagle gently, but Eagle just nodded, looking a little bit green, and followed Caldar into another room to learn what he was to do to attract the dead King's attention.
Hikaru slunk to the floor, sobbing hysterically, and Umi and Fuu rushed to her side, and all thoughts of her own problems faded from Umi's mind. Her dearest friend was suffering, and that was all that mattered, protecting her from this unknown evil. She looked after the two that were fading into the hallway, and Eagleglanced behind him, his eyes full of concern for Hikaru. Umi's eyes locked on his, and he smiled at her weakly, but she didn't return it, instead, she faced him with a strong, threatening stare. You'd better come back for her, shewarned in her mind, and he seemed to understand, because he nodded beforeslowly pivotingaround and focusing back on Caldar.
"It'll be okay Hikaru-san," Fuu was whispering into Hikaru's hair. "He'll be back; he'll be okay."
"But what if he's not?" Hikaru demanded through muffled sobs. "What if he doesn't? What will I be without him?"
Umi grabbed her shoulders and forced ruby to meet sapphire, "You will be our best friend and a Magic Knight of Cephiro," she answered sternly, and Hikaru's eyes widened, and then refocused. Slowly, she pulled herself to her feet, still leaning slightly on the two for support and then faced the Master Mage.
"What do we have to do?"
"Ah ha!" Taro shrieked in triumph, and Ascot winced at the volume of the maddening howl.
"What are you going on ab-", but he didn't have time to finish, because he found himself sucked up into a vortex, a swirling whirlwind of magic so intense he didn't have any way to defend himself. All he could do was hold his breath and wait for the magic to carry him away. It rose up aroundTaro and himand carried them into it, so all he could see were flecks of gold from Taro and darkness. It was cold, very cold, even though he had no body it gripped him, one of those colds that you can feel inside and out, something that goes deeper thananything physical. And just when he thought he could take no more, the cold and the dark began to fade, and for the first time in what seemed like years, he saw color. Brilliant, beautiful colors, and then they turned to images, images that he recognized. They were in the Palace of Cephiro, floating in the throne room. If he had had eyes tears would have brimmed in them, because there were the thrones of Ferio and Fuu, and the tapestries of the triumphs of the Magic Knights took on a new vibrant beauty. Everything was so tangible, but…he stopped. Why didn't he have a body? Frantically, he searched for Taro and found him, a black and gold globe that moved easily through the room, more like a tiny absence of light thanthe flicker of light that Ascot was.
And then he stopped, as if he was listening to something, and a sick feeling of triumph filled the room while Taro changed directions abruptly and headed for the door. Ascot, realizing that something evil was afoot, and recognizing for the first time since he'd been out of his cell that something truly horrible was loose in Cephiro, did the only thing he could think to do – he followed him.
It didn't take Eagle much to create the emotions that Caldar had told him to create, considering they were fear and uncertainty. He probably would have been a target even if he hadn't been intended to be a target, because fear tore through him like a hurricane. And that image of his love, sitting on the ground, crying her eyes out, that was enough to tear him to shreds all by itself. I'm doing this to save her, he reassured himself, then stopped the thought, because he felt something nearing, something that felt a lot like evil, but something he couldn't see. So, it begins. And without another thought, he began to bring up the most terrifying moments in his life, all draped by that picture of Hikaru, crying because of a love she thought might be lost. That was enough, in an instant, that evil was filling him, cloaking him in its madness, so he was almost sure he would get lost in it, but he fought back viciously, I'll work with you, but you cannot have my body, he told the presence, showing a little of his own magic. Together we can be powerful, the offer made his skin crawl, especially when the presence smiled inside him and agreed.
But I get the body, a cold, hard voice, plagued with sickness and insanity, told him, and Eagle's eyes widened. He had expected this, Caldar had prepared him for it, but experiencing it was something quite different. It was as if he was being locked up inside himself. He could see everything, feel everything, but he couldn't control himself. Suddenly, someone else took the reins of his body, and he was merely an advisor to the evil that lurked inside him.
"Better," the smug words were not his own, though he felt his mouth moving. Taro raised his new arms toward the ceiling and smiled victoriously. "Now, to find my Queen."
Ascot watched it all in a cold horror. He watched Eagle lose his body to this mad King, watched as he raised his hands to the ceiling in a twisted victory, and then heard the words he had been dreading since he'd become a captive in that cold prison. He was off to find his Queen, and the Palu had the most horrible feeling that that meant Umi. If this was truly the King from the legends, the one who had been driven mad by jealousy when the Water Knight fell for his son instead of him, then he surely meant Umi. And poor, unsuspecting Hikaru! He lamented inwardly at the thought as he raced through the Palace trying to find them.
Finally, he came upon the three girls, sitting silently in the living room, Clef beside them, as if waiting for something. Lantis paced nearbywhile Primera watched him anxiously, Presea was sitting in front of Hikaru, trying to drive her eyes into those of the Fire Knight, trying to force comfort on her. Umi and Hikaru both had their hands on the Fire Knight's, offering her words of weak solace. And then he saw himself, standing in the corner, watching silently, cloaked in darkness. Or, at least, it was his body, though he was obviously not in it, and a whole new feeling of betrayal and hurt washed over him. Caldar was supposed to be the legendary hero who had protected the Knights and his country even at loss of himself! But Ascot found he was nothing more than a coward, usurping his body and stealing the love of his life. Rage boiled in him so he had to push it down with every piece of strength left in him. I have to warn the girls, he coached himself. I can save Caldar for later. But when he opened his voice to speak, there was no sound, and no one in the room seemed to see him at all, even though he was sure he was a glowing green fleck of light. Of course, he thought miserably to himself, I don't have a body, how are they going to see me? He looked around the room for any form of help, and found that his own eyes lit upon him, and Caldar stepped forward. Ascot cursed himself for cowardice as he found himself floating backward, and then stopped, ready to fight whatever Caldar threw at him in any way he could.
"You must be Ascot," he said out loud, and Umi's eyes shot up, the other two following suit only a fraction of a second behind her.
Ascot moved up and down as a sort of nod, and Caldar offered another grim smile.
"I know this is not good, the way things are looking," Caldar began, stopping to wait for another nod, but Ascot wouldn't suffer the indignity of humoring this traitor of all Cephiro. "But it isn't what it seems. I didn't exactly steal your body, just happened upon it. You see, my father is now on the loose, and no one would have stood a chance without me. The type of magic we use is so old that no one, not even the Master Mage could have predicted his movements. As you can see, I'm the only one who can see you; that's just one of a million things that were forgotten in the years since I reigned here. So you see, to protect Cephiro, I needed your body, but now that the prison is broken, and our plan is in place, you have only to wait long enough for me to see this out, and then you may have your body back, and I will go in peace. I don't intend to rob you of this thing that was never mine to steal, you understand?"
Ascot nodded grudgingly. As arrogant as this Caldar was, there was strength, sense and authority in his words, and he knew it would be futile to protest. If there had been words to say, he wouldn't have been able to speak them anyway, so he wasn't about to even try.
"Good, I am glad to see that you see reason even when you have been wronged so greatly. But I must warn you, without a body, you will not be able to last long, and I fear that you may not last as long as the battle that will take place in the man called Eagle. I would gladly give up residence in this body if I did not fear Taro's magic. You see, when two people reside in the same body for too long, both their power is weakened, and I will need to be at my full strength if Taro should manage to vanquish Eagle," Caldar explained coolly, despite Hikaru's slight shudder.
Ascot winced, but he agreed, he knew that if something went wrong there would have to be someone there to counter Taro's magic, and if Caldar did it once he could probably do it again. He looked at Hikaru and sent all his heart to her; she was struggling to remain calm, but her whole body shook in apprehension. He could only imagine what kind of torture she was going through as they spoke of the imminent death of her lover. So, he thought sadly to himself, Eagle meant for Taro to find him, that makes more sense, otherwise, he would have fought long and hard for control of his body. More than I can say for myself. He pushed the self-pity away and focused his attention back on Caldar who was again speaking, though in his own voice. That was something Ascot was unprepared for, Caldar speaking in his voice. He'd never seen or heard himself like this before, and now that he had, he started to criticize himself even more. Do I really sound like that? He groaned inwardly. My hair is ridiculous, but I do look better without that hat. What am I thinking? There's things to be done, and I'm worry about my own fashion sense! He would have laughed if he could. So Taro's madness was spreading, was it?
"It's a piece of old magic," Caldar went on, and Ascot forced himself to listen attentively, "Taro can't possibly be aware of it, because he's never inhabited another's body. He'll think the opposite is true, that if two people occupy the same body he can control both their magic; that's what made Eagle such a prime target."
"But what about physical strength?" Umi inquired weakly, raising her large sapphire eyes to look at Caldar, and Ascot saw her in a new light.
He was struck by the vitality of her beauty; it was as if he'd never seen her before. Did she look at him like that, or were those eyes saved for Caldar? He cursed his fickleness but couldn't turn away from her, the way she stared at him, with suchlonging and admiration, as if he was the only one in the world. Was he imagining it, or was she fidgeting? And why was Caldar taking so long to respond? How dare he look at her like that, through his eyes!
"I believe it wouldn't be affected," Caldar answered slowly, turning his head slightly to one side to see what she was getting at.
"And would he be safe, in someone else's body?" Umi continued. "They could share it, right?"
"Yes," Caldar drew the word out, "but for a limited time only. No one can occupy the same body forever; it's impossible, it defies death."
"But for awhile!" Umi protested, and he nodded, touching his hand to his chin curiously.
"Yes, it is possible."
"Then he can stay in mine, until you leave his," Umi stated blankly, sending everyone in the room for a loop.
"Umi-san, what are you saying?" Fuu demanded, "We all love Ascot, and no one wants to see him hurt, but who's to say he won't last?"
"Who's to say he will?" Umi countered, and Fuu withdrew, knowing what Umi must be going through.
"But Umi-chan," Hikaru's voice was a little shock of light in a dark world, despite the agony in it, "if something happens to-to Eagle," she choked over the word and had to gather herself before she could continue, "I can't. I won't be able to…you know. And they'll need you, all of you."
Umi knelt down in front of Hikaru and wrapped her hands over both of Hikaru's, "He won't fail Hikaru," she told the girl firmly, bringing a new confidence to her eyes and a smile to her face. "And if he does," she said this quieter, as if she didn't believe it herself, "and if he does, I'll have my full strength, and they'll have their magic. There are enough of us to do this without my magic."
Hikaru nodded, ever so slowly, and Umi turned to where Caldar seemed to be facing, assuming Ascot was there.
"What do I need to do?"
Caldar shook his head at her, "Close your eyes," he whispered, and Umi obeyed immediately.
From nearby, Ascot watched as she gave up part of her body to him, as he felt the magic flow through him once more, not dark or cold this time, but deep blue and refreshing, like the ocean on a hot day. Her magic beat through him as his body was drawn into her, and he was close to her, like he'd never been before. Everything smelled of her, tasted of her, he was full to the brim with her life, her beauty, her everything. He wrapped himself in her and wanted to stay right where he was forever, but that feeling frightened him, because for the first time, he realized the temptation that had to be overcome. He wanted Umi's body, wanted to be a part of her, probably like Caldar wanted his own. This was an evil spell they were working, and even in the name of good, it was still evil, and he knew he would have to be on his guard while he was here. So he set up his barriers, reminded himself of who he was and made himself as comfortable as he could while instructing himself not to become too comfortable.
"Wow," Umi whispered softly. "It's like I'm two people at once," she admitted to the others. "I can feel everything the same about myself, but there's this added presence, that's just…it feels like Ascot."
"That's because it is," Caldar told her sadly, trying to keep his head high even though his heart wept for the loss. He closed his eyes slowly and looked back at the beautiful Water Knight that was no longer his prize and wondered how deep her love for this Palu ran. Would she take her own life if she lost him too, was that why she feared losing him? "Come, Taro will be looking for you, let us cut him off while we still can."