Bearit's Notes: I got this idea by a few fics here on and around the Internet where several people of pondered in the form of a fanfic the Magic Knights before the girls we all know and love, and I started to wonder myself. This is the result of said wondering, a little short story about the Magic Knights just before Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu and their reunion ten years after they returned from Cephiro.
Disclaimer: Not mine. I wish.
The Magic Knights before Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu were not all the same age.
The youngest, the Wind Knight, began her journey in Cephiro when she was a young age of twelve. A bright girl who took a great interest in drama, this young one thought Cephiro was a figment of her subconscious and took almost nothing seriously. She pretended, no doubt about it, but until the Final Battle she thought everything was just a game, a prolonged dream. When she returned to Tokyo she could not tell the difference between reality and fantasy for a long time and tended to believe that everything that was good false and everything that was bad true.
The Water Knight was the oldest; she was married and had an eight-year-old daughter when she was brought to Cephiro. She was a young mother and heads-over-heels in love with her husband; naturally, she just wanted to get back home to her family when she first landed on Fyula's back without care about the other world. Eventually she set aside her feelings for her beloved to put forth all her heart and energy into obtaining Selece, a key to get back to Tokyo. Because of the strength of her love for her husband and daughter, she gave no indication to anyone the heartbreak-a once alien concept to her pure soul-she felt after the Final Battle.
The Magic Knights before Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu were not all girls.
It was not uncommon for the Legendary Magic Knights to be male, but the general trend had been leaning towards young women since they often had purer hearts than boys-after all, at a very young age young men typically had perverted their minds in sexual jokes and toilet humor. But the Fire Knight, the last male Knight Cephiro would ever witness, although he was a year short of coming-of-age, held on to his pure, strong heart ever since his father walked out on his mother and his siblings, working hard to provide for his family. He acted as the father his siblings would never have; he acted as the perfect son for his mother. Returning to Tokyo after the Final Battle only fueled his ambitions more to help his family lead any sort of semblance to a "normal" life.
The Magic Knights before Hikaru, Umi, and Fuu were...
"In ten years, after we rescue the Pillar, let's meet up again. Like a ten year reunion, at Tokyo Tower!"
Ren leaned against the metal bar of the observation windows as she primped her hair, hoping that it looked decent. She could not understand why, for the other two never cared; one was too young and the other cared about more important things. Besides, they had seen her at the worst of her days, when her indigo hair was caked in mud and blood from some of the particularly messier battles.
As she pulled on the last strand of hair, a pale, white little string dangled in front of her. Ren scowled-this wasn't the first-and tugged, slapping her hands to rid herself of the tenth this year. The stress from the Battle must be wearing on her, even after ten years. Her mother never showed signs of aging until her mid-forties.
Ten years. Ren could hardly believe it herself. Ever since then the time seemed to have moved ever more quickly-it seemed like yesterday she was first called to Cephiro, when her daughter was a young child in elementary school, and now her daughter was staring graduation down with absolutely no fear and with a future at an American college. While her daughter proved excitement, Ren could not help but notice how sad she was-well, she would be leaving all her friends, Ren could certainly understand that. But there was something deeper, more fundamental...
The elevator doors opened then, and Ren noticed an adult version of the girl she had known as a child many years before; her dark green skirt turned black and her beige suit bled at the touch of the red sun setting to the west. She had pulled her brown, usually untamed hair into a pony tail, and a black purse dangled from her shoulder as she clutched it with the respective hand. As she stepped away from the pouring crowd, she glanced around the place and sighed before she slowly cast her gaze towards Ren. A smile curled on her pretty face, and she skipped towards the older woman.
Ren softly smiled and nodded. "Kuu-chan." The younger girl stopped by Ren's side. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
"Yes, it has," said Kuu. "Is Satoru-san not here yet?"
Ren shook her head. "I haven't seen him. How have you been?"
"All right. I have an internship at NHK, which has really been fun."
Ren brightened her smile. She knew this girl could make it places, though her stray from drama certainly surprised her. "Are you getting into producing, directing..."
"No, no, I've decided that I want to be an anchorwoman," Kuu said.
"I'd imagine Satoru-san would be more fitted for that position than anyone else," said Ren. "News? I always thought you would be getting into more creative ventures."
Kuu's cheerful aura weakened and fell. "Well... things happen. The stories I may have to tell, the stories I may have to perform... just don't seem real to me anymore. It's always so..." She sighed and looked out the window towards the orange sky. "Black and white. There's nothing deeper behind it, nothing more than here's the story, get it right. The stories I may have to tell would never get anywhere. I learned all of this in high school when I tried my hand at the drama club, so I decided to get into a more objective career field."
"No," said Ren, shaking her head gently, "there's nothing objective about this world."
A weeping silence fell between the two. Ren studied her shoes and wondered if her dearly beloved husband could have told that something had changed since the outing with her toddler nieces to Tokyo Tower, that if her devotion and adoration towards him was brought on ten times fuller than ever before; if one thing her trip to Cephiro taught her, it was never to take for granted the love fate allowed to her. Not everyone could be as happy as she and her husband; not everyone could lead a wonderful life like the one she shared with her family. She was one of the very few lucky ones, and the Pillar had taught her that.
Next to her, Kuu sighed again and leaned her head against the cool surface of the window. Always such a nice temperature, the observation deck of Tokyo Tower, always perfect no matter what the condition outside.
"Did I make a mistake?" asked Kuu quietly.
Ren looked up at Kuu quizzically.
"I could have tried to push the envelope... I mean, there are a lot of movies and books coming out where the main character doesn't necessarily live until the end, where the stories twist in original ways... what if I tried something like that? Where the bad guy isn't really the bad guy, and the good guys are really the bad guys?"
Kuu met Ren's eyes firmly and sternly. "I'm serious. Did I make a mistake? Should I have tried?"
"Kuu-chan, we were not the 'bad guys.' We were... just... human."
Kuu looked back outside and found interest in the streets below, curiously examining the bustling black dots and rainbow of vehicles. "It's just so hard pretending that nothing's wrong when everything's wrong. I tried to be strong for my little sister, and I hope I've succeeded... but there just came a time when" She hesitated. "She was depressed once. My little sister, whose only worries were group dynamics and earning the best grade she could. I didn't know what it was; I feared the worst. I tried to help, but... I don't know if I did any good. I was just so afraid that..." She shook her head. "Never mind."
Ren gripped Kuu's shoulder gently.
"I'm sorry I'm late," said a low, smooth voice. In front of the two women stood a man in his late twenties, clean cut and handsome with his brownish-red hair parted down the center of his scalp. Through his loose maroon sweatshirt and khaki pants Ren could tell that his kendo studies have excelled, for the outline of his defined body showed through well. If Ren knew no better, and she didn't ten years ago, she would have thought that Satoru was born with a poker face; now she knew his family situation, now she knew Cephiro.
Ren smiled and nodded in greeting to the man who silently led the trio through the Forest of Silence. Kuu spun around brightly; she had always admired the boy who consistently rescued her from sticky situations.
"Satoru-san!" she exclaimed as she wrapped her arms around his torso. "It's been far too long!"
"Kuu-san," he said quietly as he embraced her. "Ryuuzaki-san." He nodded to Ren. "I'm afraid I can't stay long. I promised my brother I would make it to his game tonight."
Kuu moaned, pulled away from Satoru, and pouted. "But I haven't seen you in forever! Before you leave you have to give me your phone number, got it?"
Satoru smiled one of those rare Satoru smiles. "I'll make sure to do that."
Ren glanced behind her shoulder to the moon that faintly appeared in the royal purple skies. She knew she was ancient; when the Master Mage first spoke about pure souls and strong hearts and how it was the criteria, she once wondered how she was qualified-she was the only one who had a child, who was married, and most likely was the only non-virgin among the three. She had more to lose, she vainly thought once upon a time, than her companions. Everything changed in the Water Shrine and for the better.
"Ryuuzaki-san, how have you been?"
Startled, Ren stared at the two younger ones, Kuu furiously inputting numbers into her sparkly pine green cell phone, Satoru curiously staring at Ren.
"I've been all right," she said. "My daughter's graduating high school soon and might be going to college in America."
Kuu glanced up from the cell. "Really? America? Wow!"
"Any particular reason?" asked Satoru.
"She wants to study English further, maybe become an English teacher or something," said Ren. "She's near fluent, which is why she has no problems going out of country... for the most part."
Satoru's eyes kindly smiled. "Most people would have apprehensions."
"It's not that, it's just... I don't know. She's not as excited as I thought she would have been," said Ren. "There are times when I wonder if I even know her anymore. Too much has changed since... since a while. I'm not sure what happened, but for a while she was in the slumps, and the very next day after we ask her about it, she was better."
Kuu laughed softly and slid her phone into her purse. "It sounds like me and my younger sister. As soon as I asked about her depression as we were walking to school, as soon as I saw her again the next morning, she was fine. Genuinely... fine. I knew she wasn't faking it."
"No, neither was my Umi-chan. My husband came up with a suggestion, that maybe she was heartsick..."
"My parents thought she was stressed..."
Ren and Kuu fell silent, leaving Satoru there to pick up the pieces. He shifted his eyes between the two, his hand fidgeting with the hem of his sweatshirt, and his voice quietly said, "But you think that's not it."
Both women shook their heads. Kuu brought it up earlier; because they refused to let anyone in their family see them in an emotional slump after their respective trips to Tokyo Tower, perhaps they found themselves helpless whenever they saw their loved ones in the same crater. Kuu feared the worst, but to her, was Cephiro the worst in her book?
Because it certainly was to Ren.
And when it happened immediately after her daughter's eighth grade field trip to Tokyo Tower and Ren received a phone call from the headmistress of Umi's school, she worried and feared the worst.
But it was impossible. Six years had passed by then. A new Pillar could not have possibly been found, and failed because of human reasons, within those six years. No. There must be a new Pillar now, working to fix the mistakes of the previous Pillar. Not fall in love, and with a foreigner of the same gender no less, and...
Oh, but how could someone dictate love like that?
It just wasn't fair.
"About when did their depressions start?" asked Satoru quietly, his back yearning for the elevators.
"After a field trip-" Both Ren and Kuu started, and they looked at each other, confused, and without thinking courteously, for Satoru was always good at making problems less bad, they continued. "-at Tokyo Tower."
All three pairs of eyes met then, all of their worst fears confirmed.
Where everything began. Where everything ended.
Where the Legendary Magic Knights from the Other World are chosen to rid Cephiro of their Pillar.
"It's not possible," Ren whispered. Six years was not enough time. It was not sufficient time. It didn't matter if time moved differently between the two worlds, there was no way. No possible way.
"My sister was not a Magic Knight," said Kuu, though hesitantly.
"If that's so, then what was my sister?" asked Satoru. Ren and Kuu gaped at their friend, whose eyes quivered with a fear alien to his strong irises, but with a determination so familiar to the women. "Was Cephiro a figment of her imagination? Is it just a dream for her?" Kuu pursed her lips and turned away. Satoru took note. "It's nothing against you, Kuu-san. It was completely reasonable." He faced Ren. "But my sister dreams of Cephiro. I never, ever brought it up to anyone, not even her. But what if Cephiro was just in our subconscious? What if we never actually met until now, and in our dreams we just promised that ten years from then we would reunite where everything began?"
"In dreams," said Ren slowly, "there is no pain. Not even in nightmares. We know the wounds, but we do not feel them. Most of the time, we do not even feel them until we wake. Cephiro was not a dream. I felt the wounds from the battles; I felt the heartbreak from the Spring of Eterna and the Final Battle. I know we were in Cephiro."
"It was something else for my sister, it just had to have been," said Kuu. "She does not deserve to know that pain. It had to have been something else..."
"When was the Tokyo Tower field trip for your sister, Kuu-san?" asked Satoru. "How old was she then, how old is she now?"
"Four- fourteen then, eighteen now. Looking at graduation, like Ren-san's daughter."
"My sister is the same. Graduating in a couple of months, and four years ago she came home from Tokyo Tower depressed, like your sister, Kuu-san, and like your daughter, Ryuuzaki-san. There's no use arguing the logistics, and it can't be a coincidence."
Yes, Ren admitted, it could not be a coincidence, now that she heard the other two's stories. Her beloved daughter Umi must have been a Magic Knight. After her field trip from Tokyo Tower, she acted as a ghost as she floated downstairs in the morning for breakfast that she hardly touched, floated to school where the fencing club expressed their concerns for their no longer aggressive captain, and floated back home where she stayed in her room until dinner, yet again scarcely touching a morsel. She rarely spoke and she never baked, and when finally Ren and her husband approached her about it, she laughed it off like nothing had changed.
How difficult the Battle must have been for the girls, if all three of them were incapable of hiding their distress to the point where Ren, Satoru, and Kuu had to bring it up four years after the matter.
And yet, the same day that Ren and her husband asked Umi about her sadness, she called home from school and said that she was going to meet a few friends at Tokyo Tower and she would not be back home for dinner. When she returned home shortly after the evening news broadcast her and her father retired to the bedroom and Ren washed the dishes, something was different about her. Something changed.
She was happy.
"It doesn't make sense," said Ren softly, "how after another trip to Tokyo Tower she could have been so happy, as if her sins had been reconciled and all the guilt lifted from her shoulders."
Kuu nodded. Satoru shook his head.
"I know, and my sister's nightmares ended after the second trip and in its place a longing for Cephiro emerged," said Satoru. "She continues to go back to Tokyo Tower every so often now, no longer dreading this place. I don't know what happened."
"Maybe... maybe..." Kuu hesitated.
"Maybe what?" asked Ren.
"Maybe... they went back to Cephiro somehow. You can't be Magic Knights twice, I understand, because who would want to go through with all of that again? So somehow, for some reason, and by some means, they went back. Maybe a new Pillar was found in that week's span between the first trip and the second trip, and maybe he or she let them return so that they could do something to contribute to Cephiro instead of taking away from it. I don't know, but that's the only explanation I can think of."
"I doubt another Pillar let them back; they would have to kill the new Pillar again in order to get back home," said Satoru.
"Then how else would they have gone? Through the Mashin? Mokona?"
Ren nodded. "Cephiro is a strange place. But I thought only the Pillar could summon people from another world. If not the Pillar, then some other divine force."
"I really don't understand," said Kuu, "why they would have even wanted to go back. Even if it is a way to pay for our sins, I don't want to go back. There's just too many bad memories, and I can't stand to see a world supported by one person and one person. Alone. Not even a monarchy was successful without advisers and a loved one by their side. I don't see how the Pillar would have fared any better. We would probably be criminals anyway if we went back. I doubt the king and queen would have welcomed us again."
"Unless they knew about it as well," said Satoru. "Don't you think it's rather strange how they practically showed us the way to the Pillar's hideout and sent their children far away before we... began the Battle?"
Ren stared at her feet and the black and white tiles zigzagged across the floor of the observation deck. Ten years ago, these tiles melted beneath her, and she fell, fell, fell...
"I want to go back," she said quietly.
... fell, fell, fell, and landed on the rubbery back of Fyula the Flying Fish, one of the Master Mage's pets.
"I want to know what happened with my daughter. I want to see how she went the second time, I want to see what she did the second time. I want to know how her Battle went, I want to know if she donned Selece as well. And-" Ren sighed. "-I want to know if becoming a Magic Knight runs in the family, and if I ever have to worry about my grandchildren suffering the same fate."
Satoru grinned. "No. I want to confirm my hopes that the Magic Knights are no more."
Kuu gaped at the two older ex-Knights, and then frowned and spun to face the windows once more. The night lights of downtown Tokyo flickered on as the sun said farewell for the day as it blanketed itself in Japan's countryside, and the florescent lights of the observation deck turned the room from a darkening red to a blinding white. Quietly, and sob-choked, she said, "I want to wash the blood off my hands, like my sister did, like Satoru-san's sister did, like Ren-san's daughter did."
She brought her hands to her chest, palms up. "I don't want to live with the guilt anymore. I don't care if the Pillar wanted it. We killed him. We murdered him. He was so beautiful, so pure, and we... we..."
Kuu buried her face in her hands and sobbed. Satoru draped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his embrace, and she tightly, desperately grasped his shirt and cried into his chest. He petted her hair gently, like he always did whenever she was homesick. She would only ever cry in front of him, and Ren would only notice from a distance, returning after locating a stream of water or waking up in the middle of the night to her sobs. Kuu was so young, so very young; Ren was thankful that at least Umi had been a little bit older.
For a while nobody said anything. A few tourists glanced at the trio quizzically, wondering what could possibly be going on; Ren could only imagine the types of stories they conjured. She didn't care; Kuu deserved to cry. Ren knew all along, ever since she bought the young child a box of hiyoko manjyuu from Tokyo Tower the day after they returned from Cephiro, that she had held back her tears for so long, so very long, just to prove to the world that nothing was the matter.
Once Kuu uncontrollable sobbing calmed and her body movements only swayed with Satoru's comforting arms, Ren stepped forward and wrapped one arm around the boy's mid-back and the girl's shoulders.
"I think that the Magic Knights after us somehow absolved those sins for us, for all the Magic Knights before us, as well as for themselves," said Ren. Kuu's red eyes stared up at her, refusing to let go of Satoru.
"You really think so?"
Ren nodded. Satoru smiled in gratitude. "Yes. I think they have as well. We owe everything to them."
Kuu laughed. "And they won't even know why. Will they ever know why?"
"Who knows? That's for them to decide."
"Hey! Satoru-niisan! What took you so long?" called out a boy with brown hair from the bleachers, waving his hand frantically. "Kakeru's game's about to start!"
Satoru hurriedly made his way to where his family awaited. He squeezed past a few people who were standing, eagerly waiting for the university game to begin, with their foam pads and noisemakers in hand as they cheered ridiculously.
"Sorry I'm late," he said as he took a seat next to his brother.
"Where were you?" demanded Masaru as he handed him a small and skinny cylindrical can of green tea.
Satoru accepted the thoughtfulness and returned it with a huge five hundred yen coin. "That's for the service charge." Masaru laughed as he pocketed his three hundred yen profit. "I visited some friends at Tokyo Tower."
"Tokyo Tower?" A head matted with fiery red hair and a flying braid stuck her head out quizzically at Satoru, her eyes filled with curiosity.
Satoru smiled and nodded. "Just a little reunion I had, nothing special, really."
"Uh-huh. You're never late. You're lucky the game was delayed slightly for one reason or another," said Masaru with a pout. "Was it a girl? I bet it was a girl."
Masaru pouted and turned his attention to the green field below him. "You're no fun."
Hikaru laughed and Satoru victoriously settled more into his seat. He did not fail to catch Hikaru's sudden interest when Tokyo Tower was mentioned, and from the corner of his eye Satoru studied his sister carefully. No, nothing about her seemed fake. When she tried to fake her emotions she typically failed and made it even more obvious than when she was being genuine; and now, Satoru knew she was really, truly happy. Ren was right; ever since the second trip to Tokyo Tower four years ago Hikaru seemed so much happier, and Satoru failed to see where Kuu might possibly be wrong. Hikaru had the eyes of one who reconciled her sins against a land, her sins against a human being-one who worked to be forgiven, one who found the means to forgive herself.
Through her, Satoru knew that one day, he may even begin to forgive himself, even if all of Cephiro already has. It was because of her that he would finally find redemption.
"Hikaru," he said softly, but softly enough that it passed through Masaru's ears and into Hikaru's. She looked at him, a smile still from her amusement of yet another easy Satoru triumph against the immaturity of the other brothers, but interest in her eyes, for she always paid attention whenever he had something to say, which was much more than what he could say about either Masaru or Kakeru. "Thank you."
She blinked. "What for?"
"You'll understand when you want to," he said. Hikaru frowned, but she was smart enough to know not to press any further; again, more than what he could say about Masaru or Kakeru. She nodded and smiled just as the booming voice of the announcer resounded across the stadium and the rioting cheers of fans erupted.
Everything was all right in Cephiro. Through Hikaru, Satoru could see that.
"Finally," he whispered as everyone around him stood in jubilation as the players raced onto the field. He smiled brightly for the first time since before his father left the family, and stood with his brother and sister and clapped.