Disclaimer: I do not own Magic Knight Rayearth OR the song Whiskey Lullabye.
This is a revised and updated edition of the story "Whiskey Lullabye". It has more detail and explanation. If you have the time and inclination, I'd appreciate a review with some helpful critcism. Thanks!
Clef drummed his fingers on his desk, his other hand idly flipping through the pages of an old book, its pages yellowed and musty but still readable. The drumming stopped as he found what he sought, and a smile crept onto his lips at the words before him. In elaborate calligraphy, the words "Magic Knights", sprawled across the top of the page. He ran a finger down the lines of ancient text, and stopped at the words "The Magic Knight of Selece." Now propping his head in his free hand, he scanned the words, a laugh escaping him.
"This Magic Knight will be the most unwilling, but will become one of the greatest supporters of the world of Cephiro. For she will sacrifice the most, and be tried the hardest. A clever and cunning woman, who's moods change like the waves that she controls, she will support Cephiro with all her strength, and eventually give the world her life." He did not laugh at the sacrifice, or the sentence that prophesized her death, but the "most unwilling." How true.
His mind wandered, and he thought back to their first meeting. He had already read this book, and was prepared to battle the Water Knight. He knew she would be difficult. But he truly had no idea. She was more resilient than steel and harder to reach then the Temple of Rayearth. She also got under his skin, in more ways than he had cared to admit at the time. She was annoying, she was bratty, but she was so beautiful, and she tried so hard. Even when she had been offered the chance to return to her world, she had chosen to come back to Cephiro and complete the task that had been set before her.
Then she had kept coming back. She had been the most active in helping to form the Council that now ruled Cephiro and kept the peace. She had aided Fuu in planning her wedding to Ferio, running everywhere at any time. Even Hikaru was hard-pressed to keep up with her, not that Hikaru minded. She had been involved with Lantis, and was more eager to aid him in ridding Cephiro of the monsters that still remained than planning a wedding.
Umi had done so much for her friends, had expressed so much happiness at their joy in finding the loves of their lives. They had repaid her. They made both Umi and Clef admit how they felt, and so they had found happiness together. Five years ago, how the time flew. They had danced together for the first time at Fuu's and Ferio's wedding, had kissed each other. Now, he hoped for more.
He glanced over at the small table by his window, and nodded in satisfaction at the bottle of white wine and the two crystal wine glasses that had been placed there. He fingered the small box in the pocket of his mage robes. Perhaps, perhaps Fuu and Hikaru would help Umi plan her wedding, since she had helped plan theirs. He hoped they would support her as much as she had supported them.
The door creaking open broke into his thoughts. A flash of blue hair, a pale face. He smiled and stood. "Umi," he whispered.
She put him out
Like the burning end of a midnight cigarette
"Clef," she answered. He strode towards her quickly, concerned at the tears in her voice.
"Umi? What's wrong?" He lifted her face, gently wiping away the tears, and was taken aback at the pain in her blue, blue eyes. He also noticed her strange dress then, not a nice dress to wear for an evening with her beloved, but riding leathers, a deep blue cloak, and tall boots. "Are we going somewhere?" he asked, trying to make her smile.
"No," she whispered, pulling away. Now he was truly concerned. "I...I have to tell you something." She twisted her hands, her fingers playing with the sapphire bracelet he had given her. "I..." She broke down. Tears streamed down her face and a sob flew from her throat.
He quickly folded her into his arms, and rocked her back and forth. Stroking her hair, his brow creased. What in Cephiro could have upset her so much? Especially this night, their 5th anniversary of being together. She suddenly broke away, but her hands remained on his arms, fingers plucking at his sleeves. He gently placed one hand on her waist; the other lifted her chin again.
"Umi? Please? What's upset you so?"
"We.... we can't be together anymore Clef."
The words hit him like stones, like lava, like a tidal wave. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening. She loved him, he loved her, this.... His thoughts were lost, muddled, confused. His head whirled, and she took the moment to break away completely. "But...why? Umi? What's happening?"
"I....I just made the decision. We're too powerful together. A Magic Knight and the Master Mage? The people would fear it. They would make you revoke your position, and I won't let that happen."
The words weren't her's, except for the last part. Anger grew in his eyes, and fury clenched his fists. "This is the Council's doing, isn't it? Umi, don't listen to them my love. We can be happy together. So what if I can't be Master Mage anymore, we can be together." Thinking all would be made right by his words, he reached for her again.
"NO!" she screamed, throwing her body away from him and slamming into the still open door. "That can't happen!!"
"Umi!? Why? Why can't we be together?"
Now it was Umi's fists that were clenched, and her teeth that were grinding. "Clef, I gave up everything for this world. I gave up my innocence, and killed two innocent people. Then I gave up my loyalty to my own world, by coming back here. I gave up my family and my life on earth to come back here, when they said that Cephiro wouldn't survive without the Magic Knights' power. I've given everything for this world Clef, except you. And even now that will have to happen."
"But why!?" he yelled, growing more and more furious.
She looked up now, the fury drained from her, her eyes empty. "Because I will not see a world I helped to save, to rebuild, and to govern be ruined by my selfishness. Cephiro wouldn't survive without you as a Master Mage, Clef. That is simple truth, until your apprentice is trained and ready to take your place. And that will take many more years, maybe hundreds. If I'm still around, then yes, I will happily be with you my love. But I will not let Cephiro fall apart because of me. And I will not ask you to choose between me and the world you love. So, I'm making it easier." She folded her hands in front of her and bowed. "May we see each other again."
"Umi..." he croaked, reaching out a hand. She shook her head, and he let it fall. "I can't live without you Umi."
"Yes, Clef, you can. You did so for many years before we ever met. Good-bye." She turned and began to leave then, but hesitated. He looked up, hope in his eyes. She turned away as though unable to bear it, but gathered her courage long enough to slide the bracelet from her wrist. Placing on a small table near the door, she walked out.
"Umi," he whispered. He glanced at the book in front of him. Suddenly, those words he had skipped over, the ones he had ignored, glared at him. "She will sacrifice the most." Now he broke down, falling into his chair, tears rolling down his cheeks, and he laid his head on his desk, sobs tearing themselves from his throat.
Fuu and Ferio, walking through the palace, suddenly paused as a figure flew out of the door ahead of them. She paused, and they saw her with crystal clarity. It was Umi, in traveling clothes, tears streaming down her face and her eyes so full of pain even Ferio winced.
"Umi?" Fuu asked, stepped forward awkwardly due to her large belly, big with the infant inside. Umi let out one more heart-broken sob, then suddenly streaked past them, hair flying out behind her. Fuu turned to watch her go, but Ferio stepped forward, hearing another sound.
He looked through the doorway, and saw Clef. His headdress had fallen off and landed on the desk, and sobs could be heard. Fuu joined him at the doorway and her hand flew to her mouth. Huge green eyes turned to Ferio, questioning, and he shook his head. He didn't know what had happened.
He stiffened as Clef suddenly sat up. He could see the tears on his face, reflecting in the firelight. Clef drew something out of his pocket, and stared at if for a moment. Then, he leapt out of his chair and ran to the window, slamming it open. Ferio could hear a horse's hoof beats. With a violent motion, Clef threw the small box out the window, and then slammed it shut again, the glass cracking and a few shards falling to the floor.
He saw Ferio and Fuu then, and the look in his eyes was dangerous. "GET OUT!" he screamed, tearing across the room and slamming the door shut. They stepped back, Ferio gulping.
"What happened?" Fuu whispered, a tear trailing down her face.
She broke his heart
He spent his whole life trying to forget
Ferio's head rested on his interlocked fingers. Gold eyes slid to the side, taking note of his wife, the Queen of Cephiro and one of the three founders of the Council. Another of the three founders, the Fire Knight, sat to his right, her husband, the magic swordsman Lantis, beside her.
His gaze returned to the Council. Made up of newly appointed rulers of different parts of Cephiro, they were supposedly his advisors. In truth, they ran their own little parts of Cephiro and only brought him the major problems, an arrangement he was quite happy with. Until now. When the Council acted with such carelessness, ruining some of the most powerful and respected people in this world....
Fury darkened his eyes and then he felt a hand upon his arm. He leaned back, taking the silent advice from his wife. Resting his hands in his lap, he spoke.
"So, let me make sure I heard this correctly. You informed the Magic Knight of Selece, Umi Ryuuzuki, that she could no longer be with the Master Mage of Cephiro, Clef. And your reasoning for this was that their combined power could frighten the people of Cephiro and make them believe that Clef and Umi would take over the world. Am I correct?" His voice was as hard as granite, and fury seeped through like a slowly erupting volcano.
The speaker for the Council stood, clearing his throat nervously. No one liked to face the King when he was angry, especially since it did not happen that often. "That is correct your Majesty."
"But why?" the words were torn from Hikaru's throat, and tears were rolling down her face. She slammed her fist on the table; her strength and confusion making it shake.
"For the reasons given," the speaker said, his voice shaking and halting.
Now Fuu stood, and even the brave ones quailed. "Despite the fact that both Umi and Clef have saved this world numerous times and made it possible for you to govern it?"
He shook, but nodded his head, barely. Suddenly Ferio stood and shook his head, crossing his arms. "You are all fools. Why I trusted you I will never know. But it is done. And your Master Mage is ruined. He will never aid this world again, for it made the woman he love turn away from him. And I can't blame him. Good work gentlemen, for I believe we have also lost the Water Knight, since she is gone from this place, and has sworn to never return." He turned and left the council room, his cape sweeping after him.
Fuu followed, then Hikaru and Lantis, Hikaru's face buried in Lantis's shoulder, and she was weeping. Ferio paused, looked back. The councilmen's faces were pale, and some looked as though they would protest. But he shut the door, silencing them. It would do no good for them to revoke their decision. Umi had gotten it in her head that she and Clef together were dangerous, and so would never return to Clef until he was no longer Master Mage.
Fuu touched his arm. "I'm going to the nursery. Hikaru?" The red-haired girl nodded, attempting to dry her tears. It had taken a few months to gather the Council again, for they had scattered throughout Cephiro right after delivering their edict. Fools, Ferio thought bitterly. In that time, Fuu had delivered, a beautiful baby boy with her golden hair and his golden eyes.
Ferio looked at Lantis as the two women left. "Come with me?" he asked. Lantis nodded, not even needing to ask where. Clef had been in a bad state ever since that night. They checked on him frequently, cleaning his chambers for him since he no longer bothered to do it himself. A lot of empty bottles that smelled strongly of liquor had been coming out of there as late.
They walked quietly down the hall, mourning for their friends' ruin. Lantis, as usual was silent, his dark armor glinting in the sunlight streaming through the windows. Ferio, normally an active talker, was brooding. What should he do? Allow his friends to ruin themselves like this? Not that either of them would listen to him. One thing about Clef and Umi, they both had a ridiculous amount of pride. Once they had made a decision, they would set themselves to it with a will. Even if they looked back and saw they were wrong, they would just turn their faces to the future and try to forget that mistake. Umi, on the rare occasion, could be coerced into admitting she could have made a better decision, but Clef had lived for far too long and had been in authority for too many years for him to even consider that.
They paused before his door, exchanging a look. They stood that way for many moments, then Lantis took a breath and knocked gently on the door. No answer came from within, so he knocked again.
"Clef?" Ferio called softly. "It's us, Ferio and Lantis." The door creaked open then, just a crack, and with a reluctant groan. Ferio pushed the heavy stone further until he was able to step into the room. A fire was lit in the fireplace, though it was nearly midsummer. One chair stood before it, and soft snoring could be heard.
"Clef?" Lantis said quietly, stepping forward. The figure lounging in the chair started, then struggled to sit up. Lantis quickly stepped forward to help, but at a lightening glance from the blue eyes, he stepped back. Clef was finally able to stand up, though unsteady, using the chair for balance.
"What..." he stumbled, then regained his balance. "What do you want?" he questioned. His voice was deeper, harsher. Lines of sorrow marred his face, wrinkles that he had escaped for hundreds of years. Now though, he was rapidly growing older, and he was doing nothing to stop it.
Ferio swallowed, realizing that the mage was still staring at him. "We were just making sure you were ok. That's all Clef." He started to step forward, but when his toe hit a glass bottle on the floor, he stopped.
Clef waved a hand, exaggerating the gesture and almost hitting Lantis in the face with another bottle. "And why wouldn't I be ok?"
Ferio hesitated at that one. "Well, what with Umi leaving and all...." He stopped as fury darkened the mage's eyes to black, and suddenly the bottle was flying towards Ferio's face. He ducked, just in time, and looked up to see Clef staring at him.
"Don't...ever...mention her again." Then, it seemed the strain was too much, because he suddenly collapsed. Lantis barely caught him and they heard a gasp from the doorway. Ferio whirled to see Fuu standing there, her baby in her arms. Hikaru squeezed past her to help Lantis.
"What are you doing Fuu?" Ferio hissed.
"I...I thought maybe, seeing the baby, might help him. That's all." Tears were running down Fuu's cheeks, and landed on the infant's face. He woke up, and began to whimper. "Oh Clef," she whispered, before fleeing down the hall.
We watched him drink his pain away
A little at a time
Ferio found Fuu rocking his son in the nursery. "Is he asleep?" he whispered, holding out his hands. She nodded, handing him his son, gently so as not to wake him up. Ferio took her place in the rocking chair, and Fuu knelt beside him.
"How's Clef?" she asked softly. Ferio just shook his head, smoothing the boy's golden hair away from his face.
"Asleep, as far as we can tell. We cleaned the room again. Twenty-five bottles Fuu, in a week. I don't know how much longer he'll be able to hold up."
Fuu shook her head. "But where is he getting it?"
Ferio snorted. "Anywhere he wants Fuu. He is the Master Mage after all. I don't know how he can do this to himself Fuu. I really don't."
Fuu looked uncertain. "I know...I know that we wouldn't do that Ferio, but once Umi and Clef give their love to someone, I don't think they'd ever be able to revoke it. I think that, once they're in love, they love that person for life. I can't even imagine what Umi's going through, but I know I would be close to wanting to die if I ever lost you." She looked up at him then, green eyes wide behind the glasses.
"Oh Fuu," he whispered, then leaned forward and kissed her.
A few more years passed, and Fuu's little boy grew up. He was joined by Hikaru's little girl, a black-haired, red-eyed ball of energy. They became playmates, and would often pester their parents for stories of the blue-haired knight they knew of, but had never met.
"But Mama!" the little boy whined. "Please??" The little girl stood behind him, staring at Fuu with huge eyes that mimicked her mother's.
"Oh all right," Fuu said, smiling. "Umi was a beautiful girl, and was an even more beautiful woman. She had eyes like the sea, and hair like the ocean. One day.." Fuu stopped, staring at the figure behind the children, and slowly rose. Clef advanced on her slowly. The children realized who was behind them and dashed behind the Wind Knight. The Mage was now known for his bad temper, not his benevolence.
His eyes raged with fury, dark to black. The circles under his eyes, the lines marking his face, made him look almost skeletal. His voice was a hiss, and his eyes bored into her's.
"Do...not...ever...mention her...again. She does not...exist. Do you understand?" The fury, the rage in his voice made her shake. But the pain...the deepest pain that can ever be experienced was behind that rage, and that made her remember.
"Oh Clef," she whispered, tears filling her eyes. "How can you say that?"
He started to say something, but then stepped back. He swallowed, then whirled, retreating to his room, the black robes he now wore billowing behind him.
But he never could get drunk enough
To get her off his mind
Ferio rubbed his temples, seated at his desk. He looked up as Hikaru came in. "Yes?"
She bit her lip, obviously nervous. "Well, I was wondering if you could talk to Clef."
He sat up at that one, his interest perked. "Why? So far as I've heard, he's just been wandering the castle, brooding."
She sat down, running her hands through her long hair, picking at the plait in it. "Well, he's frightening the children. Not on purpose of course. But he'll just sit there and stare at them. I'm..."
Ferio had turned towards her now, elbows on his knees. "You're what?"
"I think he's thinking of what could have been. You know, between him and Umi."
Ferio swallowed. Hard. "I...don't know if I would say anything that might be of help Hikaru. Perhaps Presea...?"
Hikaru shook her head. "Presea won't go near him. I know she loved him, and she does still love him, but she won't go near him for fear of breaking down in front of him. That certainly wouldn't help him any."
Ferio ran his hand through his hair now. "Alright. I'll speak with him. But I don't know if it'll do any good."
Hikaru immediately brightened and hugged him. "Thanks Ferio!" She skipped out of the library, her good mood restored. Ferio buried his face in his hands.
"What have I gotten myself into?"
Until the night
Ferio took a deep breath, cracking his knuckles one by one. An unfortunate habit, but one he had acquired to help him think. Now, though, even this didn't help. What did one say to a man who was killing himself because he couldn't be with the one he loved, and had been for years? He'd been digging this hole for a long time, and Ferio knew that soon he wouldn't be able to climb out of it.
With a sigh he finally knocked on the door. He jumped back in surprise as it opened soundlessly at his touch, swinging wide. Cautiously he entered. "Clef?" he called. Stepping further into the room, he swallowed. The strong smell of alcohol was present, enough to make him want to cough.
He turned towards the chair that Clef usually occupied, brooding and contemplating his cruel fate. Surprisingly, the fire wasn't lit. Ferio's brow furrowed. This couldn't be good. He finished his surveillance of the entrance room, and noticed now that bedroom door was open.
Silent as a cat, he crept across the room. Peering into the bedroom, he saw a still figure on the bed. He smiled. Clef was finally getting some sleep. He started to back away to leave him in peace, but something nagged at him. Poking his head in again, he studied the man lying on the bed. Something was wrong. Coming further into the room, he realized what it was.
Clef wasn't breathing.
For a few minutes, neither did Ferio. Then he dashed forward, rolling him over, checking his pulse in his neck. There wasn't one. Sitting back on his heels, he swallowed, hard.
He put that bottle to his head
And pulled the trigger
And finally drank away her memory
"Lantis! Ascot!" Ferio ran through the halls, yelling for the men. "Lafarga!" Hikaru and Lantis emerged from their room, rubbing sleep from their eyes.
"What is it Ferio?" Hikaru asked sleepily, leaning against the doorframe. Ferio's golden eyes were wide, and he panted, catching his breath.
"It's...it's Clef. He's gone."
"Gone? What do you mean?" Fuu asked from behind him, Presea at her shoulder.
Ferio hesitated, looking at Presea. For all that Clef had rejected her years ago, she had still loved him. Presea saw the hesitation.
"Yes, what do you mean by gone?" By now, Caldina, Lafarga and Ascot had emerged and were gathered around him. Ferio sighed.
"He's gone. He's passed away. He's...he's dead."
The reactions were predictable. Fuu and Presea began to sob. Ferio wrapped his arm around his wife, and Ascot just stared, blinking. He had been rejected by Umi, long ago, because of Clef, but he still had respect and love for the mage. Caldina and Hikaru sat in numb shock, and Lantis and Lafarga closed their eyes, bowing their heads in silent mourning. When their wives finally realized what happened, and tears ran from their eyes, they held them close. Ascot and Presea drew close to each other for comfort, tears tracking their way down his face.
When the initial storm had passed, Ferio beckoned to Lantis and Lafarga. Silently, they followed him, and the three girls drew into a circle, still crying. The men made their way down the hall, and to the room that they had so dreaded entering. Ferio led them to the bedroom, where the still silent figure of Clef slept in eternal slumber. Quietly, Lantis folded his arms across his chest, and Lafarga commented on the fact that Clef now looked at peace, for the first time in many years.
Life is short
But this time it was bigger
Than the strength he had to get up off his knees
Ferio drew the covers up over the body, and noticed a bit of parchment in Clef's hand. Lantis caught his eyes, having seen it too. Nodding, Ferio pulled it gently from his fingers. Ferio choked upon reading it. Lantis started to reach for it, and Ferio looked at him.
"This must be sent to Umi." Lantis's eyes narrowed, and he read the parchment. A blank look fell across his face, a mask for the deep emotion he felt.
"I agree." They left the room then, meeting Lafarga at the door where he waited, and went back to where the girls were.
They had gone into Hikaru's room, since it was the closest, and sat on the bed. They looked up as one when Lantis entered, followed by Ferio and Lafarga. Silently, Ferio handed the note to Hikaru. Fuu, who was sitting closest, scooted over so she could read it. New sobs tore past their throat, and Presea snatched it away, with Caldina reading over her shoulder.
We found him with his face down in the pillow
With a note that said "I'll love her till I die"
"I will love her until death. –Clef." Caldina paused. Presea's eyes filled with new tears, and she threw the note to the bed. Leaping to her feet, she ran past them, dashing down the hall to her room.
"We should send this to Umi," Hikaru whispered.
Fuu nodded. "His final declaration of love to her."
"But we haven't seen her in so long," Caldina spoke up.
"I think she'll want to see it anyway," Lantis said, his voice quiet.
Ferio wrapped his arm around Fuu. "But not until after the funeral," he said. "You all have to be here for that. I'll start the arrangements tomorrow." The group nodded. One by one, they slowly dispersed, until only Hikaru, Fuu and their husbands were left.
"I'm going to miss him," Fuu whispered.
And when we buried him beneath the willow
The angels sang a whiskey lullabye
Hikaru stepped forward, kneeling before his grave. She looked up, let the draping branches of the weeping willow brush the top of her head. A tear slipped down her cheek. She listened as Ferio finished his eulogy, then looked up as he fell silent. His head was bowed, his arm around Fuu. Crimson eyes met green ones, and they nodded. Fuu squeezed Ferio's hand gently, then broke away and knelt beside Hikaru.
They joined hands. Briefly, the thought passed between them that a third hand should be joined with theirs. The thought was brief, but stricken with grief. Despite that, the two elements flew slowly from their hands, then slowly twined together to form a tornado of fire. Gently, it lifted from their hands and then dropped slowly, to land in his grave. The two Knights stood, then stepped back together.
As they stepped back, the column of people slowly stepped forward, each depositing their own gift into the grave of the Master Mage. Fuu rejoined Ferio and Hikaru went to stand by Lantis. The nurse tapped gently on Fuu's arm. Fuu, a bit startled, turned, then softened as she took her son from the nurse.
The small procession went on as the inhabitants of the palace left their own remembrance of Clef in his grave. Finally, only one was left, facing the four warriors. It was the head of the Council. He dropped something quickly in the grave, then turned towards them. His hat, usually so well placed on his nearly bald head, was being twisted about and about by his hands. Already, one seam was nearly pulled out.
Ferio stared at him, his eyes hard as stone. The Councilman opened his mouth, but before any sound could emerge, Hikaru stopped him.
"Do not speak. Nothing you could say will comfort anyone in this nation. And do not resign. For then Umi herself will rain her rage upon you."
The Councilman looked up in surprise, but was soon downcast by Fuu's cold words.
"Do not think we say this for your sake. We only wish that our friend not become such a person. Now leave. Do not attempt to speak against us again, or be assured..." She was stopped by Ferio's hand on her shoulder. She calmed, realizing she was shaking with silent rage. She looked silently at Ferio, gratitude in her eyes. He squeezed her shoulder gently.
"Leave us Councilman," Lantis' words, near unheard, was enough to send the man running. Hikaru looked at him. "We have many things to do." He looked at her, sadness in his eyes. "Including informing the Magic Knight of Water of this death." Hikaru choked back a sob, the memory emerging from the dying fire of her rage. She nodded.
"Fuu and I will go soon to tell her."
Ferio looked at her in surprise. "We should go too."
Fuu shook her head, gently rocking her baby, who had begun to fuss with the words being thrown. "We need to tell Umi this by ourselves. She would not allow her true emotions to show if anyone but ourselves were there. Please take care of him?" She looked at Ferio now, and the man slowly nodded. Together, the party walked slowly back to the castle, while the workers slowly filled in the grave of the Master Mage.
The rumors flew
But nobody knew how much she blamed herself
The hooves of the two horses sloshed through the mud, a sucking sound following them as they made their way up the trail. Fuu halted her palomino for a moment, letting Hikaru's blood-bay catch up. The emerald eyes were worried, easily seen without her spectacles, for they were no use in the rain.
Hikaru was silently cursing the rain, but realized that Fuu had stopped. "What's the matter?"
Fuu bit her lip, looking up the trail towards Umi's home, then back at Hikaru. "Are we doing the right thing? Maybe we should just let her think that..." She trailed off as Hikaru shook her head adamantly.
"She'd find out eventually. Through Selece or someone who was dropping off her supplies. It's best she finds out from us." Fuu bowed her head, her golden curls hiding her face. With a sigh, she nodded and the horses moved forward again.
They continued through the mud, hoods pulled low over their faces, until they reached the clearing. Hikaru pulled her hood back, astonished at the sight before them. Fuu just watched, tears creeping down her face. Now they knew why it was raining.
Umi stood there, her small gray house almost invisible in the silver sheets coming down. A simple gray dress clothed her slight frame, made even more slender by her self-exile. Her blue hair was hacked off, coming barely to her shoulders. The locks were still pooled about her feet and were slowly sinking into the mud. Visible tears ran down her face, mixing with the rain that was crying with her. She turned, hearing the horses.
Seeing Hikaru and Fuu, she merely nodded. "Come in." They barely heard her, but got off their horses and left them in the small shed that was built for them. Following Umi into the small house, they flapped their cloaks slightly to get the worse of the dampness of off them. The house was sparsely adorned, nothing like Umi's former chambers in the palace.
Selece's Knight lit the fire, bending over it like an old woman. Fuu gasped as she realized that that was exactly what Umi was becoming. Hikaru and Fuu, as well as many people in the palace, had held off the years. They still looked only 20 or so. Clef had been the only one to truly age, and it seemed Umi had matched him. Pale white streaks, barely visible in the light blue hair, caught the firelight. Wrinkles creased her face, and her joints creaked with the arthritis that was made worse by her gift.
"Sit down," she said quietly. "I'll make some tea."
"I'll help," Hikaru instantly volunteered, but Umi turned and smiled at her. Hikaru froze. The smile was chilly, even to the heat-giving knight.
"That's alright. Please, sit." The redhead obeyed, and Umi disappeared into the small kitchen. Fuu's hands were wrapped tightly around herself. She knew this wasn't a good idea. But they had to. It was their duty, both to Umi and to Clef. Hikaru's hands twisted nervously, wishing for something to hold onto. They did not speak, for fear of Umi overhearing them.
Soon, she came out of the kitchen, bearing a tray that held a steaming mug of tea and three small cups. She placed it on a small end table, pouring the tea. The silence was almost visible as she passed the cups around. Finally settling into her chair, she took a sip. "So, what is the cause for this visit sisters?"
Hikaru's breath caught in her throat. She remembered. Years ago, when they had first come to Cephiro for the final time, they had sworn to be as sisters to each other. That was the duty and the memory that had truly brought them here. But Umi's tone twisted it, being satirical and bitter. Sisters indeed. Hikaru and Fuu had certainly not proven themselves sisters to Umi.
Fuu plunged into it, as though if she didn't do it now she would not have the courage. "We bring you news. Clef....Clef passed away. A fortnight ago." The breath was held.
"I know." They looked up, pain in their eyes. She almost looked amused. "Rumours fly much faster than you may think. But it was Selece who told me. He mourned for Clef, as I did. Since then, I fear I've had a steady stream of visitors, coming to ask what I did to him."
"No!" Fuu breathed. "That's....that's not right. You did nothing! You loved him, and that is no crime!"
"It was!" The words were a screech, high and grating. "I DID love him! And look where it got us! He'd DEAD! And I'm left alone, forever wondering if I did the right thing. Forever wondering if it could have been different. If perhaps I had gone to see him. Maybe, just maybe...." The rant trailed off, as Umi collapsed to her knees, sobbing.
Their old camadrie seemed to come back then, as Hikaru knelt beside her, holding her gently. Fuu stroked the short hair, murmuring. She sniffed, then seemed to control herself. She stiffened, and Hikaru reluctantly moved away.
"I am sorry." Those were her only words, and they were meant for far more than just Hikaru and Fuu.
"Umi." She looked up, as the Wind Knight pulled a bit of parchment from her pack. "He....he left this for you." Cautiously, she plucked the bit of paper from trembling fingers. Opening it as though it were sacred, she read it.
"Please..." she whispered. "Please leave me." The two Knights bowed their heads. They stood, and left, closing the door carefully behind them. The blue-haired woman, with a soft sob, curled into a ball, clutching the note to her. The fire went out and she heard the soft sound of hoof beats leaving.
For years and years
She tried to hide the whiskey on her breath
It seemed like years ago, Fuu thought to herself, her horse swaying under her. Seven years ago she and Hikaru had brought Umi the note. It had been raining then, she remembered. Now, the earth beneath the hooves was dry and cracked. She glanced behind her. Her son was silent, but caught her looking at him and smiled. Ferio, bringing up the rear, was muttering quietly to himself.
She smiled at him fondly. It was a habit of his, ever since the Council had dispersed itself and the problems of Cephiro had been dumped into his lap. She was sure he was muttering about the latest problem. She took little interest anymore, more concerned with her four children. Hikaru was the same, looking after her twins and seeming to always have a sad look in her eyes, for it had been a hard childbirth and she would have no more daughters or sons.
It helped Ferio to speak aloud to think of the solution, and so she had grown accustomed to it. She turned back to the road, wondering again why she had let her son talk her into this. He was old enough now, or so he insisted, to meet his aunt Umi. Fuu pondered on Umi's reaction to this. The blonde man had no resemblance whatsoever to the former Master Mage, but there was a look in his eyes. He would become the next Master Mage. Most of Cephiro knew it. Windam had already commented on the boy's wonderful natural ability with magic. Ironic, since Hikaru's children had had two magical parents and they showed no interest whatsoever in the arcane art. Except for the first daughter, but Fuu guessed it was because her son and Hikaru's daughter had grown up together, and he was always dragging her into his studies.
She shook off the thought, seeing they were coming into the clearing. Odd, for the small hill was shadowed, when the sun was shining brightly. She gasped slightly when she saw the cause.
Selece crouched there, next to the crumbling gray house. He was in his true form, and one wing was outstretched over the roof, shielding it. Great golden eyes fixed upon her, and his golden crest quivered as he stretched his sinuous neck. Welcome, Windam's Knight.
Fuu bowed politely, then quickly dismounted. She gestured for her family to do the same, suppressing a small smile at the son's stunned look. Ferio merely sighed, wondering what was going to happen now. He knew not to anger the rune-gods or offend them, but he also knew that when they appeared, it typically meant trouble.
"Selece, what brings you to our dimension?"
My Knight is in distress. She no longer knows who she truly is, and her memory fades with the drink she consumes.
She slowly drank her pain away
A little at a time
"Fuu?" she heard someone say. She spun sharply, to see her son flash by and support the Water Knight. Her knees were weak, and her eyes watery. Her hair was no longer the pale blue of her youth, but the blinding white of age. The great dragon lowered his head to her level.
"Hello Selece," she breathed, resting a hand on the dragon's nose. "But who is this?" As she turned her head, Fuu caught the mist covering the once bright blue eyes. Umi was blind. Shell-shocked, she could say nothing. "Well?" she said impatiently. "His aura is familiar."
Fuu's son cleared his throat uneasily, looking at his mother, who's eyes were wide. "I'm the son of Fuu and Ferio." Before he could say more, Umi looked sharply at him. He was struck by the lost beauty in her face, and realized that she could still somewhat see.
"Yes," she murmured. "Yet....you remind me of someone else."
Suddenly Ferio stepped in, much to his son's relief. "Come Umi, let's get you comfortable." Supporting her on her other side, they helped the woman into the house. Fuu still stood there, but now slightly turned to Selece.
"How bad is she Selece?"
The dragon sighed, the breeze rustling the dried up trees. She acknowledges me still, but she no longer uses her gift. You can see this. Indeed, Fuu noted, the earth was cracking under her feet, and nothing green grew. A far cry from the damp valley seven years ago. I came to her shortly after she broke, finding out that Clef had died loving her. I have been here since. Sometimes, he trailed off, obviously thinking. She wishes that she had died with him. She occasionally contemplates taking her own life. Fuu gasped, stumbling back.
"But, she can't do that!"
That is why I'm here, to provide what support I can.
"Selece, what will happen if she....if she dies of her own will?"
The part of Cephiro that depends upon her will crumble. If she dies naturally, the title of Water Knight will be passed on, and Cephiro will continue as always.
"Please Selece, what can we do to help her?"
The golden eyes were pitying. The only one who could help her died many years ago, her name upon his lips. His presence withdrew from her mind, and she knew he would say no more. Swallowing, she walked into the house, almost recoiling in disgust.
Ferio's eyes were troubled she now saw. He was remembering, she realized. He had been the one to find Clef, and the room had smelled exactly like this. The blonde man had detached himself, uneasy. This was not the woman from his mother's stories, not at all. He wondered if they should have come.
Ferio and Fuu though, knew that this was for the best. Who knows what would have happened if they had come too late. Ferio was trying to soothe her, for she seemed in distress. She had indeed recognized the aura that Fuu's child carried, and was back in her memories. She was muttering to herself, almost silent.
Fuu knelt before her, gently taking her hands. Umi looked at her, her eyes almost recognizing her. "Fuu?" she whispered.
Fuu nodded, then realized she couldn't see her. "Yes. Umi, we want you to come back with us." She felt the silent shock emanating from her child, but the understanding and relief that came from Ferio was comforting. "We want you to come back to the palace."
Umi remained silent. "But what if he's there?" she said, a sob creaking her voice.
"Then he'll only be too happy to see you," Fuu answered, her own voice breaking. She let out the breath she didn't even realize she'd been holding when Umi nodded, very slightly. "Come on," she said, gently pulling her to her feet. They walked out the door, and Ferio helped Umi onto his horse.
"Selece?" Umi said, turning her head towards him. He gently placed his head beside her's, his breath stirring her hair. "Come with me?" He nodded, and spread his great wings, ready to take off. She smiled, and allowed Ferio to lead the horse down the trail, almost peaceful.
"Mother what are you doing?" her son hissed. Fuu simply shook her head.
"It's for the best. We can't leave Umi alone, not like this. I had no idea she was this bad, or I would have done it years ago."
"But what will the people think?"
Fuu brought her horse up short, her eyes hard. Her son almost cowered, for not even he could stand up to the Wind Knight. "The people?" she spat. "The people are what made her this way. I could care less what they think." Her voice rose, almost for the first time with the Wind Knight, the ancient rage unearthed. "She is my SISTER! And I will take care of her! We let her do this to herself! We did nothing to stop her! You have NO IDEA what that is like! How could you!? You've never seen your two best friends waste away before your eyes and know! Know! That you can do NOTHING for them! That they will die, and you could do nothing! What will the people think!? I could care LESS what the people think, and they should see what they've done to her! They should pay for their sin!" The blonde man had backed well away, cringing, almost whimpering. Fuu, simply put, did not lose her temper. Ever. Even now, she did not try to comfort him.
She simply swung up on her horse, kicked it, and took off down the trail after her husband. Selece was still there, he noted in a daze. He felt as though she had slapped him, repeatedly. But she hadn't even come near him. The great dragon was looking at him, and suddenly another appeared. This was a green phoenix, with four great wings and a golden crest.
Forgive her. The voice was wise, and very, very old. She is in distress, more than even she knows. But what she says is true. Come, you should catch up. The boy mutely nodded, mounting his horse shakily and following them down the trail.
But she never could get drunk enough
To get him off her mind
Umi sat quietly in the chair. Her legs curled up beneath her, and her head rested on her crossed arms. She wondered why she insisted on these quarters. They used to be Clef's chambers. Since the Mage had died, they had been left empty, as no one could bear to live there.
She rubbed the cloth of the chair lovingly with her fingers. They had sat in this room many a nights, he in the chair and she at his feet. She could still feel the warmth of his hands as he played with her hair, the softness of his robes as she laid her cheek upon his knees.
Stop, she ordered herself. There was no use going through those memories. They always led back to the most painful one. When she had left him. Upon first coming into the room, she had more felt than saw, the sapphire bracelet still laying upon the desk. Her hand hovered over it, wondering. She did not pick it up. It was far too full of memories.
Like when he had first given it to her, at Fuu's wedding. They were standing upon the balcony, smiling as Fuu led Ferio away, much to the green-haired man's amusement. She was laughing, and when a warm arm circled her waist, she had leant back happily, with a smile still on her face. His breath was warm against her neck, and he gently slipped something over her hand and onto her wrist.
She had held her arm up, admiring the way the sapphires caught the moonlight. "It's beautiful," she had whispered.
"Not as beautiful as you, Umi," her name rolled off her tongue in a delightful way. "Umi....Umi."
Someone was shaking her shoulder, and she started awake. "Umi," the dark-haired girl said. Hikaru's eldest daughter knelt beside the chair, and dimly Umi could see the crimson eyes were concerned. Seeing that the elder woman was awake, the girl stood. She awkwardly placed the tray at the base of the chair. "I've brought you some dinner. You should eat Aunt Umi. It's some of your favorites." The tremulous smile made Umi sigh.
"Thank you," she whispered. "You may go." The girl bowed her head and stood. "Wait." She turned back to see Umi sitting straight up and staring at her. "You love him, the future Master Mage, don't you." The girl blushed, twisting her hand in the fabric of her tunic. She nodded. "I can only give you one word of advice. Either hold on to him, with all your might, and never let go. Or give up your love now, and move on."
The girl stepped back, but raised her chin, so like her mother. "I will never let him go." She slipped out the door, almost terrified. She took a deep breath then ran down the hall, looking for her lover.
Umi's sightless eyes watched the door, then her hand explored the tray. Finding the bottle of wine, she sighed and picked it up. Not bothering with a glass, she drank straight from the bottle.
Until the night
Hikaru tapped quietly on the open door, then stepped in soundlessly. Her daughter had brought Umi dinner earlier, but she wanted to make sure the Water Knight was eating. Seeing Umi asleep in the chair, she sighed. The tray was still full, except for the wine bottle. That was empty, and dangled from her limp hand. Hikaru gently removed it, then paused. Something was wrong. Terribly, horribly wrong.
She looked up, and realized it. Umi's sightless eyes were wide-open, and no breath came from her lips. Hikaru let out a sob, losing her balance and falling to the floor. The bottle fell from her hands, the empty glass thunking on the carpet. "Umi," she whispered, over and over.
Fuu, coming to see Umi, saw Hikaru there. "Hikaru, what's wrong?" She gasped as Hikaru whispered something. She knelt, leaning closer. "What?"
"She's gone." The blow struck Fuu like a hammer, sending her rocking back.
"Umi!" she screamed, the word tearing through the palace, and the wind dashing open doors and breaking windows.
She put that bottle to her head
And pulled the trigger
And finally drank away his memory
Ferio held Fuu quietly, trying to calm her. Both of the remaining Knights had been hurt, almost devastated by Umi's death. This struck closer than even the death of Clef, he realized. Lantis held Hikaru, though the Fire Knight had not struck out with her power like Fuu had. Lafarga had laid Umi out on the bed, her eyes closed and her arms crossed upon her chest. Caldina had gone with him, to say a final good-bye to Umi. Presea had left the palace years ago, shortly after Clef's death, so she was not there. Ascot had moved to Chizeta, to marry the younger princess.
They would be informed of course, but it just showed Ferio how much had changed over the years. Truly, as he thought about it, it was Umi who had kept them all together. Her friendship with Ascot, her training with Presea, and of course the close bond with the other Knights and their husbands. When she had left, it seemed all of them had fallen apart, drifting from each other until they barely saw each other.
Life is short
But this time it was bigger
Than the strength she had to get up off her knees
And now, she was truly gone. Tears of his own joined Fuu's, and when he looked up, their children stood there. His eldest son had his arm around Lantis' daughter. The younger ones were gathered behind them. Caldina and Lafarga's children also stood with them, and there was curiosity in their eyes. He knew what they were thinking.
Why was everyone mourning so? Over an old woman whose time it was to die. They had never known Umi's joy, or her sadness. Both emotions tended to affect everyone in the palace, for she had been everywhere, she knew everyone. She tended the young children and she helped the cooks. She helped to oversee the servants, and always knew when someone had troubles. She was the one who brought them their favorite treat, who comforted them. She had been with Eagle when Lantis had proposed to Hikaru, she had shared Fuu's joy when Fuu had found out she was pregnant. She had organized and held the baby shower for a child she had never met and who now looked at her death with scorn.
They would never know. Lafarga's hand fell on his shoulder, and the guard knelt beside him and Fuu. "I think....I think this should be framed, in memory," he said quietly. He handed a wrinkled photo to them, taken by Umi's camera. She had treasured every picture she took, for she knew that one day she would no longer have film for it. It was the two of them, Umi and Clef.
They were dressed in their finest, Clef in his white mage robes, Umi in her official Magic Knight robes. They were laughing, and smiling at the camera. Clef's arm was around her shoulders. They were in love.
We found her with her face down in the pillow
Clinging to his picture for dear life
"And so we mourn the passing of the Water Knight. May she be joyful once more, and bless us with her gift." It was Lantis who spoke, the man whose few words were always heard. It seemed like Clef's funeral all over again, Hikaru thought. She looked at Fuu, and saw the tears running down her face. She glanced past her to Ferio, who was trying to comfort her.
Fuu had always been closer to Umi. Hikaru had always been too innocent, and both of her friends had worried for her. She knew that Umi's death had hit Fuu hard, but it had hurt her too. She knew what kind of love Umi had felt, and she wondered what would she have done if she couldn't be with Lantis. She leaned back into him when he placed an arm around her shoulders.
Would she had gone the same way? No, she would have left in a blaze of anger, demanding that the Council reverse their decision. She would most certainly have not thought of Cephiro first. Her love was far too important to her. What she knew though, was that Umi had thrown herself into this country. Fuu had come back for Ferio, Hikaru had come back for Lantis, but originally Umi had come back for Cephiro. She had truly loved Clef, but her first loyalty was to the people, as was his.
Hikaru thought perhaps that neither of them realized just how much they loved each other. That neither of them realized that Cephiro mourned with them. She took a deep breath, leaning harder into Lantis. He curled his arm around her tighter, and she let her tears fall.
We laid her next to him beneath the willow
While the angels sang a whiskey lullabye
It was later that night that Fuu went into the cemetery, heading for the graves beneath the willow tree. She sat down in front of them, eyes thoughtful. Were they together, she wondered. Would they be happy?
She felt Hikaru sit beside her, silently, and knew the same thoughts were running through her mind. They sat like that all night, wondering, keeping their silent vigil. Soon the sky in the east grew light, and a dim gray began to spread across the land. They sat there still, almost as if waiting for something.
In the light, two figures began to form. One was clothed in white, a pair of wings falling gently down his back. Pale lavender hair and light blue eyes confirmed that it was Clef. The woman opposite him had sky blue, waist-length hair. She was also clothed in white with a pale blue sash. Her cerulean blue eyes were smiling, and wings also sprouted gracefully from her back.
They seemed to stare at each a long moment, each asking something. Then Clef bowed. Umi curtsied. He took her hand, and she laid her's upon his shoulder. They danced as the sun rose, and before they were wiped away by the dawn's light, Umi blew a kiss towards the two Knights. Then she was in Clef's arms, and they faded away.
Author's Notes: Just to clarify, I interperted it as them dying by alcohol poisioning. Binge drinking and such. Umi, really, was more of extremely fast aging, but the alcohol certainly didn't help. Thanks for reading!