AN: After some consideration, I decided to just wrap the story up with this chapter. Obligatory lengthy author's notes at the end, please read for details and final thoughts XD Hope you enjoy the conclusion. I don't own MKR. It belongs to CLAMP!
When they all opened their eyes again, they were not in the mashin, as they had expected to be. That was who they had called for, and when they had vanished in those flashes of light, they had fully anticipated riding their mashin back to the safety of Cephiro to rejoin with their friends there.
Instead, they found themselves back outside the dorm, where they had vanished from in the first place, when Sorilbran's magic had stolen them away in a blatant attempt to show off his powers and take them to their deaths.
It was different from their previous journeys: prior, they had always been taken from Tokyo Tower and deposited there, finding that no time had passed at all by the power of the Creator. This time, they had been been both taken and returned to their campus in the middle of the night, sent back wearing the pajamas they had been wearing the night they had left (except for Kagura, wearing jeans and a jacket)…but the sun was just beginning to rise behind them. A difference in magic or capabilities? They didn't know.
Precious little about this trip to Cephiro had made sense or found closure for them. So many unanswered questions, and so many things left unresolved. And now they had been taken away from that, from the world that they were certain needed them.
Kagura closed her eyes and tilted her chin up for a moment, as though she was trying to hear music being played far away, just out of comfortable listening range. "There's nothing," she said quietly, finally. "We're back. We're shut out."
"But it's not fair!" Hikaru protested in an unconscious echo of the very words she had spoken upon their first return from Cephiro, after Emeraude's death and the truth of Zagato's treason had been shown to them.
"They're at war," Fuu said softly. "Cephiro and Aldarba are at war with the Dark." She looked out towards the sky, painted red and orange with the rising sun. "Do they have much that can counter their magic? Clef's powers, Presea's and Lantis' weapons, Ascot's monsters…would it be enough? Or do they need the mashin to win?"
"It took a Magic Knight's sacrifice to stop it the first time," Hikaru added softly. "After her teammates were killed in the battle." A gentle reminder of what Amaya, Michiko, and Sachi had sacrificed to stop the Dark when Xander had taken to it and brought it to power in Cephiro all that time ago.
Kagura looked down at the ground. She didn't say anything, but her face and posture made it clear what was going through her head: IThis is all my fault./I
"It's not over," Umi said suddenly. When they all looked at her curiously, she elaborated. "Sorilbran brought us there to destroy us by adding fuel to Kagura's fire and setting her on us. We stopped that from happening, all four of us," she glanced at Kagura, who failed to return Umi's smile. "But really, I don't think we're done in Cephiro. Not yet. We won't be done until the war is over and both kingdoms are safe."
"Umi's right," Hikaru said. Her smile echoed Umi's, and she turned her face up towards the light of dawn, closing her eyes. "We'll go back, and we'll be able to help Cephiro again."
Umi was no little surprised to realize that Takeshi's ID card was still in her pocket from when she had borrowed it to go outside and investigate the disturbance in the wake of Kagura's disappearance. It felt like that had all happened months ago, instead of the several days they had spent in the other world.
They hurried back to Takeshi's room, taking great care not to be seen. It was still quiet hours, and since they were girls in a men's dorm area, they were technically supposed to be escorted through the area. It was easily the campus' most broken policy. But they made it back without being seen; it was still early enough that most of the dorm's residents, being college kids, were still asleep.
Takeshi's ID card was attached to his keyring, and so they had quick and easy access to his dorm room. Umi made a mental note to apologize to him for running off with his stuff. She was sure that he would forgive her. After he teased her into a fury, of course.
None of them had spoken since they snuck into the building and were walking through the hallways, not wanting to get in trouble. It wasn't until they walked into the room and shut the door that anyone said anything. The room was dark when they entered.
"Takeshi, you are not going to believe what happened," Umi said in a rush. She reached out to turn on the light as she kept talking. "We went back to Cephiro and--" The words died in her throat as the lights flickered on and she got a good look at the room.
It was empty.
She had thought that he was perhaps asleep in the bed. But though the bedding was disheveled like someone had been in bed, there was no sign of him in the room.
"Where is he?" Hikaru asked from behind Umi.
"I don't know…"
"Oh no…" Kagura moaned, causing all three of them to turn around and stare at her.
Or more specifically, what had prompted her despairing outburst.
Earlier, when Umi had found Kagura missing, she had come into the room to see Cephirean runes scrawled on the wall, proclaiming a wish for death to Cephiro's Magic Knights.
Now Cephirean runes were marking the back of the door to Takeshi's dorm room, delivering a different but equally chilling message: ONE FOR THE OTHER.
"One for the other…" Fuu murmured with a glance at Kagura. "They mean Kagura and Takeshi. It's magic, it has to be…"
"So because we took Kagura back…they took Takeshi?" Umi said, not even bothering to try and hide her horror at the idea. "Oh my god, oh my god…"
Kagura was clinging to Umi's arm and crying openly, without shame. "My fault…it's all my fault!"
"Sorilbran's last laugh in our faces. A fail-safe," Fuu said, her brilliant mind quickly tying the pieces together in the most logical manner. "He was confident that he wouldn't fail, but on the chance that he did, he couldn't let us win completely. So he set the spell. If Kagura was brought back from Cephiro, the spell would activate and take Takeshi instead."
"He's in Cephiro with no way to defend himself…oh my god," Umi put her head in free hand, her other hand holding onto Kagura. "We're Magic Knights, we could defend ourselves, but he has nothing, he's a normal guy…"
None of them wanted to say the possibility out loud, but they were all thinking the same thing: unless Takeshi got extremely lucky and was found by one of their Cephirean allies, there was little chance of him surviving the encounter.
If that happened, then the last laugh was Sorilbran's after all.
Fuu could count the number of times she had been running seriously late in her life on two hands without using all ten fingers. Right now, however, she was unfortunately inching one finger closer to running out. She was LATE, and the other girls would be waiting for her.
After everything that had happened, all four of the girls desperately wanted a rest, but there was no time to take a break. There was too much to do between keeping up with school and trying to find a way back into Cephiro. They had told friends that Takeshi had been forced to leave due to a family emergency; it was a suitable excuse, both explaining his absence and not requiring any time limit for his return. He could be gone for a length of time without raising eyebrows.
Right now, she was hurrying to meet Umi, Hikaru, and Kagura at a little café near the campus. It was a favorite place of theirs, and the spot they had chosen to meet and discuss what they could possibly do to fix things. And of course, she picked now to run late.
She raced around a corner, the café finally coming into sight just half a block away…and she nearly faceplanted into the sidewalk as she almost tripped over a little girl. Fuu quickly righted herself and spun around. "I'm so sorry! Are you all…right…" The words died in her throat as she got a good look at the little girl.
Dark hair and bright violet eyes looked quizzically up at her. "I'm fine. Are you okay?"
Fuu nodded, one hand threading through her hair. "I really need to watch where I'm going."
"Why are you going so fast?" the girl asked.
"I'm going to meet some friends, and I'm running late."
"Oh. I'm going to meet my friends, too."
As if on cue, there was a voice from about half a block over. "Malia! Hurry up!" A look over revealed the speaker: another little girl with long brown hair had her hands cupped around her mouth. Beside her was a third girl, this one with hair so blonde as to be called white.
Now frozen in place, Fuu studied the little girl closely, remembering a wish she had made with all her heart in Cephiro as her enemies died in front of her. A wish for three girls so like herself and her own fellow Magic Knights, who had suffered and sacrificed and battled and lost, even though it was in a far different way.
Be free. Be yourselves. Be happy.
The little girl, whose friend had called her Malia, glanced back up at Fuu, smiled brightly…
And winked at her.
PS. Whew. Okay, full admission: I'm not quite as happy with this story as I was with Tears of the Sea, and a lot of that I blame on the computer glitch that ate my original outline. So it was a situation where I was trying to very quickly rebuild something that I had spent a great deal of time on previously. The rebuilt version never comes out as nicely as the original did. I hemmed and hawed over it for a long time, and for quite possibly the first time in my fanfic writing life...I gave up.
But the story is complete, and it has served its purpose in the sense that everything is neatly in place for the third and final part to the trilogy. This became a trilogy because I had so many ideas that I needed to write more for them all to have a home, and I cheerfully admit that I saved a lot of my favorites for the concluding story. The outline is about half done, and I doubt I'll write too much of the story itself until the outline is completed, which is where I wound up having trouble with this story. At the risk of bragging, the third part has the potential to be sort of epic. We'll see what I can manage. I also hereby promise that I will NOT take as long to write that one as I did this one. Once the outline is finished, anyway.
The prologue for the third and final part is posted and ready to go, though. So thank you for joining me on Song of the Wind, and I sincerely hope you'll stick around for the conclusion of the trilogy, entitled Cry of the Flame. Thank you for reading, all! Much love!