CHAPTER TWELVE: The Unthinkable

Dinner that night on the NSX was an enjoyable event. As compared to ten years ago, the people manning the gigantic battleship now were more friendly and informal. People talked animatedly, told jokes and laughed shamelessly. Geo, the new captain of the NSX, mingled with those of lesser positions than he and treated them as he treated his equals.

"I wish Eagle could be here to see this," Hikaru whispered, almost to herself.

But Umi heard her and gave her a scolding, wagging a finger in front of Hikaru's surprised face. "You see, that's where all the trouble starts from, Hikaru! Stop thinking about awful things and enjoy! We only have one life to live, my friend. I don't know about you but I sure as hell ain't going to sulk around waiting for the dead to come back to life! Live, Hikaru! Live!"

One of the men on the ship pulled Umi to her feet and began dancing with her to crude flute music being played by Zazu and a couple other cadets.

"How many had she had to drink?" asked Hikaru. Fuu, who was watching Don and several other children playing with Mokona, answered, "Last I checked, six mugs. And alcohol here is no joke."

Hikaru winced when on a drunken turn, Umi bumped her head against a low-lying metal beam.

"Yeah, figures."

Hikaru took a sip of her drink and caught Zazu's eye while he struggled with his flute. She smiled at him. A few seconds later, the music ended and Zazu rushed beside Hikaru.

"Hey!"

"Hey!" Hikaru smiled at him again and Zazu suddenly felt all warm and fuzzy. Strange.

Zazu nodded at Umi's direction. "Umi is quite a handful, isn't she?"

Laughing, Hikaru replied, "Sometimes, she is. But she's a good friend so we're going to let her have a break this time. And you? You used to be quite a handful, too, if I remember correctly." Hikaru glanced up at a group of young women staring at Zazu and then giggling amongst themselves. "And from what I'm seeing, you still are a handful, especially among the female population."

Zazu felt blood rise to his face and he bent his head low in embarrassment, then scratched his head. Looking at Zazu with his same old mannerisms made Hikaru feel less strange and alone.

"Er, not really. Heck, this is embarrassing!"

Hikaru laughed out loud and patted Zazu on the head. "I kind of have the feeling you've made a lot of pretty little things cry, huh?"

Zazu laughed. "I really don't know, Hikaru. Hey, could you do me a favor?"

"Fix you up with those girls?"

Zazu looked at Hikaru with terror in his eyes. "Hell, no! Please! If you have an ounce of mercy in your heart and soul, please! Don't… feed me… to the… hounds!" Zazu shuddered.

Even Hikaru felt sorry for him but she still found the situation funny. "All right. I'll get you out of here. However, I no longer have one-hundred percent recall of the NSX."

"Well, I do. I just need someone to shield me away from them."

So, the two crept stealthily away from the crowd of people and down several corridors. Zazu seemed to be running for his life, dragging Hikaru away from where everyone was.

At last, they stopped and Hikaru found herself in a room surrounded by stars. Hikaru thought she was right out in space.

"Marvelous!" Hikaru breathed, glancing up at the stars. This view was better than the one in the mess hall.

Zazu smiled up at the sky. "I know. This is where I go when I get too harassed by Geo or everybody else on this ship."

"I can understand," Hikaru said. "It's quiet here and peaceful."

"Eagle used to come here, too. I feel a little guilty for knowing because this was supposed to be secret and I followed him here whenever he was down. I think he would have severely punished me had he found out."

Hikaru held Zazu's hand and said, "You don't give Eagle much credit, do you? Did you really think that he did not even notice you following him?"

Zazu looked startled. "W-Well, I d-don't really know---"

"Eagle is… was a good man. He would never had punished you even if he caught you then."

They stood there silently looking up at the stars.

Then, Hikaru felt Zazu's hand quiver. She looked up at his face and saw him struggling with his emotions. "Zazu…?"

He looked into her eyes and she saw his tears. "I failed him. For years we tried to find the cure for his disease. It was all I lived for, you know?"

"But you were just a little boy, Zazu. What could you have done---"

Her words stung Zazu and he let go of her hand abruptly. Angrily.

"A boy!" he shouted, glaring at her, as his tears spilled out of his eyes. "I was a boy! I couldn't do anything! I did nothing!"

Hikaru stepped forward, trying to comfort Zazu. Now she understood the full extent of his despair and how he bravely tried to rein in his anguish in the face of duty.

"Don't say that, Zazu! You did a lot, if not most, than anyone here on this ship! No one expected it of you, Zazu! But you did! You were Eagle's friend and that's what matters!"

"It's not enough!" Zazu cried out to the stars, as if blaming them for taking his friend away. "Eagle was too young to die! It's not fair that he was taken out of our lives as if he had done everything he had to do in a lifetime!"

"What if he already has done so, Zazu?" she asked and Hikaru realized that her words were not meant for Zazu's ears alone but for hers, too. "It was Fate that led Eagle to become a great leader. But it was destiny that brought him to do what he was born to do! No one dies for no purpose, Zazu! If I die in Cephiro, fighting for a land that I cannot call my own, then it is my fate. But I die because it is what must be done and could only be done by me. That is my destiny and no one, not even the gods could stop it from happening just as you could not have prevented Eagle's death! Do you understand me, Zazu?"

"Fate and destiny," Zazu whispered, as he fell to his knees on the floor. "They are two different things, Hikaru. One you hold in your hands and will, the other holds you in its will. It is unacceptable."

Hikaru did not want for Zazu to become jaded. Eagle's death must have extremely affected Zazu to the breaking point.

"Zazu, we cannot always have what we desire---"

Zazu raised his eyes up to hers. Sad eyes, full of pain and broken promises.

"I brought you here so I could tell you what I really feel, Hikaru," he said. Hikaru blinked.

"What do you feel, Zazu?"

Zazu gave a half-hearted laugh. "I look at you and I see you, Hikaru. You look at me and you see a little boy."

Hikaru was starting to get confused. What's going on with Zazu?

"You look at Lantis and you see your future."

"Zazu, what has Lantis got to do with this conversation?" she asked him.

Zazu averted his eyes. "Nothing. Forget about what I said. I m-must have drunk too much, like Umi. Maybe more."

He stood up and walked past her. She held out a hand to stop him. "Zazu---"

Zazu smiled at her sadly. "Maybe if I always remain a little boy, I'll never die. Not for you, Hikaru."

She let go of his arm and he walked away, leaving Hikaru in the dark silence of the room.

"Where have you been?" asked Fuu when Hikaru appeared in the corridor leading to their rooms.

"Somewhere," she answered vaguely. "Where's Umi?"

Fuu walked beside her. "She passed out and we had to carry her into her room. Hikaru, I saw you leave with Zazu. When he came back, he looked terrible. And so do you right now."

Hikaru finally could not contain herself. She spilled everything to Fuu and Fuu listened. When Hikaru was finished, Fuu said, "The person's besotted with you."

"Huh?"

"Hikaru, Zazu absolutely likes you. Or didn't you notice the stares, the smiles, the winking. It drove Umi and me mad!"

Then, Hikaru groaned and slapped her forehead. "Oh, damn! How could I have been so stupid!"

Fuu patted Hikaru's shoulder. "I totally understand. I mean, you knew him when he was on the cusp of puberty and now that he's a grown man, you couldn't imagine him actually making a pass at you."

"No, I could not!" Hikaru exclaimed in horror. "Oh dear! What have I done? Have I misled him? And then he mentioned Lantis…. Oh dear! He isn't going to duel with Lantis, is he?"

The crazy turn of events was starting to make Hikaru paranoid. It did not dawn on her that Zazu would ever feel that way towards her. But yes, she was guilty of everything he told her. To Hikaru, Zazu would always be a little boy. When she told her students stories about the people of Autozam, Zazu played the role of the mischievous boy, who would do anything to please his superior, who was then Eagle. Hikaru shook her head violently.

Fuu could not help but whack Hikaru lightly behind her head. "Wake up, silly! Hikaru, this isn't the medieval times. Besides, Zazu's not that much of an idiot. If he ever learned anything from Eagle, it would have to be patience and understanding. Now, before you go crazy, I think you'd better get to bed."

Hikaru sighed and obeyed. She said goodnight and went into her room. As she lay on her bed, Hikaru thought about what Zazu told her.

You look at me and you see a little boy. You look at Lantis and you see your future.

An image of Lantis appeared in her mind and Hikaru tried to brush it away but it won't go.

What future would Lantis and I have? I am a Magic Knight and I have been called here for one purpose: to save Cephiro. There was nothing in the mission that required me to love Lantis or marry him or have children with him and live happily ever after…

Happily ever after? Do I even deserve such an ending to my life?

"Damn," Hikaru muttered. "Stop it Hikaru. You're driving yourself nuts."

She closed her eyes and forced herself to sleep.

Hikaru was in the middle of a dream about giant cheesecakes and her feasting on them when she was jolted awake. Hikaru opened her eyes. Her bed shook. Frowning, Hikaru sat up and fell out of her bed when the whole room quaked.

She got out of bed and opened the door when the ship shook again. This time, the warning buzzers and alarms sounded. At that moment, Fuu stepped out of her room. Umi, still groggy, opened her door.

"What's going o---"

A huge blast sounded down the corridor, flinging the three girls back inside their rooms along with dust and debris.

Hikaru brushed the dust from her face and stood up. She went out of the room again, with Escudo hanging around her waist, and walked towards Fuu and Umi.

"Are you all right?"

Fuu and Umi rubbed their arms. "Fine. Just bumped ourselves a little. Let's get to the hall. Whoa!" The ship shook once more and the three held on to the walls for support as blast after blast followed. Finally, they arrived at the large hall where the people and passengers huddled for safety.

A couple of NSX soldiers passed by and Fuu stopped one of them. "What's going on?"

"We're being attacked!"

Fuu frowned. "By whom?"

"Cephiro!"

Another loud explosion racked the whole ship. NSX tilted sideways, flinging everybody in the hall sliding downwards to the right.

"Hold on to anything stable!" Fuu shouted as she grabbed hold of a metal bar attached to the wall. "Stay away from the walls!"

Hikaru and Umi dived to a low column of monitors attached to the floor and helped the other people hold on. When NSX tilted back to its normal position, Fuu ran towards Umi and Hikaru.

"We're being attacked by Cephiro," said Fuu as a small explosion echoed from the rear of the ship. Children were crying everywhere. Mokona appeared, bringing with him Don who had tear-stains on his cheeks and a bleeding finger.

"Puu puu puuuu!" Mokona wailed. Hikaru wrapped Don in her arms.

"His finger got caught trying to escape through a door," Hikaru said. "Mokona, where's his brother?"

"Puu puuu!" Mokona replied, pointing his bunny ears towards a group of women huddled together.

"Fuu, stay with Don and the women. A lot of them may have been injured. Umi and I are heading over to the cockpit," said Hikaru. Fuu nodded, took Don and went to the women with Mokona. Hikaru and Umi held on to each other and made a mad dash to the cockpit where men and women frantically typed on multiple keyboards and monitors to assess the damage to the ship.

"The stock exchange looks better than this place," Umi muttered.

"Captain, engines seven to eleven have been severely damaged," a cadet said. Umi and Hikaru heard Geo's voice.

"What about engine four and engine one?" he asked.

"Both good, sir," the same cadet answered. "But engines two, five, and twelve are all damaged beyond repair in outer space. We have to land immediately or we will crash, Captain."

Hikaru and Umi looked at each other worriedly. Crash?

"Geo!" Hikaru shouted. Geo turned his head but before he could utter a single word to Hikaru, a female cadet yelled, "Target missile coming towards us!"

"Shields up! Shields up!" Geo shouted but it was too late. The missile reached the NSX and exploded. Several monitors exploded, injuring many of those inside the cockpit, including Geo. Hikaru and Umi were able to duck under a desk, avoiding the blast.

"Geo!" Umi shouted. She and Hikaru ran towards Geo, who was brought down to the floor, his forehead bleeding.

"Oh dear," Umi whispered. "Geo, are you all right?" Geo winced as he stood up slowly, aided by Hikaru and Umi.

"I'm fine, thanks, girls. Are the shields up?"

"Yes, Captain." The cadet Geo had been talking to earlier was blasted off his seat, gravely wounded.

"Is Fuu up to the task of ship doctor?" asked Geo. "We only have one other doctor on this ship but we are loaded almost to the full and he could not keep up."

"Yes, Fuu's going to be all right," Umi said. "But not for long if the attack keeps on. Where are our attackers?"

"Quadrant two, arc four-point-one," Geo told her, pointing to a spot on the screen.

"Is that--- is that a-a r-r-robot?" asked Umi. Hikaru brought her face closer to the screen and saw that indeed, several giant robots were floating in outer space.

"This is not good," she said, turning to Geo. Then, she realized that someone was missing.

"Where's Zazu?"

Geo's downcast face told them everything. "Out there."

Hikaru and Umi watched the screen with terror as explosion after explosion played.

"I have to go out there!" Hikaru said but Umi held her back.

"Hikaru! Have you finally gone completely out of your mind?! You cannot summon the mashins in outer space! You've never done so before!"

"I have no choice! Zazu is going to die if I don't help him!" Hikaru argued.

Umi tugged hard on Hikaru's red hair causing her to yelp in pain. "Don't be stubborn, Hikaru! If you die, then we'll have no hope of finding the last pillar of Cephiro!"

The cockpit went silent as all eyes turned to the two of them. Geo frowned, trying to understand what the two women were talking about.

"You're here to find the last Pillar of Cephiro?" he asked incredulously. "But I thought you had that silly rule removed from the land!"

"Yes, I did but there was a backlash. To make a long story short, without the true Pillar, Cephiro is going down and I mean down," Umi explained. Hikaru stared at the screen. She could just imagine Zazu killing himself by fighting those robots…

"Missile!" Hikaru cried but no one in the cockpit reacted.

"Space pod coming towards us, Captain," a cadet said. Geo ordered for the image to be maginified and Zazu's wounded face appeared. Without a word, Hikaru ran out of the cockpit.

"Hikaru! Wait!" Umi called out but Hikaru was gone. She went down the ship to where the battle machines and ammunitions of the NSX were kept. Hikaru arrived just as the steel doors creaked open. The space pod carrying Zazu tottered and then crashed into the ship. Hikaru and five men rushed to the space pod.

"He's stuck! The door won't open!" one shouted. The men tried pulling the door up.

"If he stays there for another minute without air, he's going to suffocate!"

Hikaru helped the men pull the door up until it gave way, emitting a popping sound and steam. Zazu fell off the seat and Hikaru caught him in her arms and pulled him out. Both of his legs were broken.

"Zazu! How could you do this, you idiot?!" Hikaru shrieked at the half-unconscious Zazu, who only gave her a sleepy smile and said, "Testing my limits, what else?"

"Out of the way! Out of the way!" a gruff voice yelled. The men surrounding Hikaru and Zazu parted to let the only other doctor pass. He bent down and gently touched Zazu's bleeding knees.

"Could be irreparable but we cannot be sure unless he's brought to the surgery room," he said. At once, two men lifted Zazu up.

"Hikaru, don't even think about it!" he said angrily, trying to squirm out of the men's grasps but the intense pain in his legs caused him to stop almost immediately.

"I have a choice between my life and the life of the passengers on this ship," Hikaru said. Then, winking at Zazu, she said, "Wish me luck!"

"Damn it, no! Hikaru, no! Stop her! Close the doors!" Zazu screamed. The men operating the controls for the doors obeyed but the doors took a long time to close and Hikaru, with no air helmet on, was on her way to diving out of the NSX.

"Close the doors!" Umi shrieked inside the cockpit. Even Geo was screaming out commands to hasten the closing of the doors.

Whatever happens, get these people to safety, Umi heard Hikaru's voice in her head.

"What?" Umi asked.

"Umi, what?" Geo asked. Umi watched the screen as a few feet from the opening, Hikaru turned her face and their eyes met.

Get help from the castle if you have to. Or Cizeta and Fahren.

"Hikaru, I'm going to kill you if you do this!"

"Close the doors, Geo!" Hikaru shouted. She breathed in deeply and ran the last remaining feet, amidst Umi and Zazu's shouts. She unsheathed Escudo and jumped out of the four-feet wide opening.

"Open the doors! Open the doors!" Zazu was now screaming but to no avail. It would take another fifteen minutes for the doors to open fully and Hikaru had no intentions of coming back without resolving the conflict.

"Curse you, Hikaru!" Umi cried as she ran out of the cockpit. She went to the platform and saw Zazu being held against his will, both of his legs tied up, as well as his bleeding arms.

"Hikaru! She jumped! Stupid girl!" Zazu kept on repeating as Umi passed him by. "Let me go! I'm coming after her! Don't you know who I am?! I am vice-captain of the NSX! I order you to get me another ship!"

As Zazu's shouts faded from her, Umi went up to the control booth and demanded to speak with Geo. They connected her to the cockpit as Geo's face appeard on the screen.

"The connection is bad, sorry," the controller said. Umi brushed it off and said to Geo, "Have them open the doors, Geo."

Geo shook his head. "I can't. If I do so again, pressure balance inside the ship would be tipped off and if it does, the whole ship is endangered."

"Then how come you were able to send Zazu out and then back in?!"

"We manipulate the air pressure inside the ship but doing so requires a lot of energy and more than half of the NSX's engines have been damaged and shut down," explained Geo. "I'm sorry, Umi. I can't have the doors opened."

The connection went dead. Umi growled and went back to the hall where Fuu and the others were. She found Fuu tending to a man's wounded back.

"Fuu!"

Fuu looked up to see a very worried-looking Umi. "Umi, what's wrong?"

"It's Hikaru!" Umi shrieked. "She jumped! Out of the ship!"

Fuu's eyes widened with horror. "What?!"

"Oh dear heavens!" a woman cried out at the sky. "Look!"

The people gasped as they all looked up at the dark, starlit sky. Fuu and Umi looked as well.

"Is that a human being out there?" a man asked. "Wait! That's the redhead!"

"Hikaru!" Don began to cry. Mokona jumped up and down, clapping his big ears as well as his hands. Umi slapped him on the back of his head.

"Mokona, you jerk! What's there to rejoice about?!"

Mokona massaged his head, murmuring, "Puu puuuuuuuu…."

"Wait a minute. Mokona might be telling us something," Fuu said, walking closer to the glass windows. "Is that Escudo in Hikaru's hands?"

Umi nodded. "Yes. I think it is. What are you thinking, Fuu?"

Before Fuu could say a word, a deep voice echoed inside her head.

Pain destroys the body but fear destroys the soul, Magic Knight. Which end would you choose?

"Wingdam!" Fuu said out loud. "Tell me what to do!"

For whatever Cephiro has called you back, Magic Knight. Salvation!

The moment Fuu began to talk to herself, Umi realized that Wingdam has started to speak in her thoughts.

You called for me, Magic Knight.

Umi blinked. "Huh? Ceres? Did I call for you?"

In your heart, yes. And I have heeded your call. Do not speak but do. You always have a choice, Magic Knight but you also have a duty.

Umi rolled her eyes. "Yeah, yeah. Same old crap, same old drama. Now what do you want, Ceres?"

When Ceres made no reply, Umi sighed in frustration.

"That's just like you old rune gods!" To Fuu, Umi said, "Fuu, we've got to do something or Hikaru will die out there!"

Fuu made no contest. "I agree with you."

"Unfortunately, Geo won't let the platform doors be opened again, the jerk!"

"I understand his reluctance, Umi. We still have to find another way, though." A few seconds later, Fuu had an idea and she and Umi ran out to the back of the NSX, to an air vent.

"If we go out of this, it's going to be outer space," Fuu said, opening the vent. "How good are you at holding your breath?"

Umi snorted. "Better than your average Olympic swimmer, girl."

"Okay, then. Here goes."

Hikaru spent more than fifteen seconds floating in outer space. Too small to be noticed, target missiles missed Hikaru by inches but she could not hear a thing.

Must be the vacuum thing, she thought. Five seconds later, Hikaru was slowly starting to lose breath.

I have to find a way to summon Rayearth without losing a breath of air.

But Hikaru could not. The only way she knew how was to shout out for Rayearth but doing so would mean expelling the last breath she had. If it does not work, she will suffocate and die.

Hikaru, why do you fear now?

Hikaru frowned and tried to still her heartbeat. Rayearth?

Fear will lead you nowhere, Magic Knight. Let go of your fear and Cephiro will be saved.

But I don't know how! I will die!

He who fears death thinks only of death and begets death. Why should death matter more than life, Hikaru? You can be dead and Cephiro will still stand a thousand millennia. Sometimes, Magic Knight, to give life you have to surrender life.

But I thought we were supposed to find the Pillar! How would that happen if I'm dead?!

But Rayearth no longer gave an answer. Hikaru was fast losing lung power. Another minute and her lungs would collapse.

Have no other choice but to do this, She thought bravely. I mean, I managed to jump out of the NSX into outer space, right? What's a tiny little shout?

Fine, this is it.

"Rayearth!"

Before Hikaru completely lost air, she was pushed backwards into a closed space and flames burst out all around her.

Can I breathe now? Can I breath now…

Instinctively, Hikaru gasped for air. She waited for her bodily functions to cease but it did not happen. Instead, she was wearing a grand armor of light steel, furnished with gold and silver. Upon her head rested a ruby diadem.

"Rayearth!" Hikaru exclaimed, feeling her body with her hands. "I'm still alive!"

Instead of a reply from Rayearth, Hikaru was blasted backward as a missile hit her mashin. When Hikaru recovered, she saw several giant, flying monstrosities flying towards her.

"Uh-oh," Hikaru muttered, as she geared herself and the flaming sword in Rayearth's hand. When the enemies fired a fresh round of missiles, Rayearth swerved to the left, missing about ten of them. The others, though, were still locked on the mashin. So, Hikaru jumped up but one missile managed to explode at Rayearth's ankle.

"Aargh!" Hikaru shouted. Momentarily distracted, another missile hit right on Rayearth's chest. Hikaru's head hit the glass.

The urge to take up arms and take a mighty swipe at her attackers was strong but Hikaru stayed her hand. Inside those monstrosities could be people of Cephiro. Hikaru swore never to kill again, not when she has another choice.

But what choice does she have now? If she does not act sooner, not only would she die but also the whole of NSX would be destroyed.

Suddenly, she heard a muffled voice inside the pit.

"We are the true citizens of Cephiro! We wish none of you harm and we know that several of our people are inside the Autozam battleship, NSX! All we ask is for your immediate surrender of governance over Cephiro, as well as removal from our lands! This land is for Cephiro and we desire no one else to ever take precedence over it, especially foreigners!"

"But the people of Autozam are not here to conquer Cephiro!" Hikaru argued with the voice. "They are here to help you rebuild your lives after the destruction caused by Debonair!"

"Do you really think the people of Cephiro are that weak?" the voice asked. "We can do without the help of Autozam, or Fahren, or even Cizeta!"

"Oh, really? Then why the hell do you still need your precious Pillar if you're not weak?"

Hikaru turned around and to her amazement saw two other mashins. Ceres and Wingdam.

"You're here! Umi, that was you? How?"

Hikaru heard Umi laugh. "It's simple, really. Follow Hikaru's example. We jumped."

Back in the cockpit, Geo and the others stared in wonder at the mashins who appeared out of thin air.

"Hikaru!" Fuu yelled. "Look out behind you!"

But Hikaru moved too late and she got struck. Then, Rayearth stopped moving.

The muffled voice came again. "Who said we wanted a new Pillar after all?"

Umi was filled with wrath. "No fair, you S-O-Bs! Just because you lost an argument, you think you have the right to get pissed off! Well, now I am pissed off!"

Wingdam held Ceres back. "Wait! You don't want a new Pillar? Isn't that what you wanted?"

It strangely sounded like an evil laugh that answered Fuu. "The last two pillars we ever had were weaklings. They were never on our side, only on the side of the Masters of the Castle. They know nothing of our plight, our suffering. Now, it's time we give them an idea."

"But we are the Magic Knights!" reasoned Umi. "We have always been on your side! Everything we did was for you! For Cephiro!"

"It doesn't matter," the voice said, as the flying monsters began rushing forward to the mashins blocking their way towards the NSX. "We care nothing for the Magic Knights. You, like the rest of Cephiro, are just pawns in a game. Emeraude played it first with the priest Zagato."

"Then, who plays us?" asked Fuu.

The voice replied, "We do."