Chapter Nine – Unspoken

Clef stared absently out the blue paned glass as rivers of water fell from the sky, hitting the ground in large drops that seemed to tear the earth from its foundations. She was gone. His angel, his love, his world. Gone. Forever.

"Guru, won't you come down?" Presea inquired timidly from the door, only to gasp when she saw Umi's empty bed. "Umi! Where…" but when Clef turned to her with hollow eyes no other words had to be spoken. "What shall we do? I'll get the Magic Knights, and…" he raised a hand, and she clamped her jaw shut.

"Let her go, she can't be saved."

"What are you saying, of course she can!" Presea moved into the room, desperately wanting to shake the stupidity out of the much larger man, but those eyes held her back. She'd never seen anything so tortured; it was as if he would never again find joy in the world.

"It's over Presea, there's nothing I can do to save her now. It's begun, this collision course to murder; it's over," he fell from his chair, his head in his hands, raking at his face, trying to eliminate the pain while he howled to the world, unable to feel anything except his own agony.

And it doesn't matter

How you feel now, anything at all

Hours later, when the empty comfort of resignation had found him, Clef assembled the Palace inhabitants and stood before them, a man at the end of his chain, determined to complete one last mission before he let insanity take him.

"Clef, what's wrong?" Hikaru demanded, recognizing the hunger in Clef's eyes. She'd seen it in her own – it was the need to end the pain.

"Umi was taken back by Gage, but this time it was by her own volition," he paused for the murmurs and enraged whispers before he continued. "So I've asked you here because there is one task I must put before you as your Master Mage before I hand over my staff."

"Hand over your staff?" Ferio roared, springing from his seat.

"What task?" Fuu inquired with narrowed eyes, keying into what her Prince had missed.

"My staff will be put in capable hands," he glanced at Ascot, who jumped to refuse but stopped when the seriousness of Staff-Giving overcame him. This was not a position one could simply retire from.

"Clef, you can't take your life," Ascot whispered, and the others' snapped from their discussions to listen in, drawn by Ascot's quiet statement. They'd never lived through a Staff-Giving, so they didn't know what it entailed.

"There's no other way," Clef sighed, exasperated.  "I've broken too many codes, the Will cannot leave me in my position, and this way at least I know it goes to a suited person."

"I will not take it!" Ascot slammed his fist on the table as he rose, fighting his docile personality to save his master, the first master who had ever been kind to him. He owed him at least this.

"Ascot, thank you," Clef smiled at his student, only more convinced that he was ready. He was strong yet modest, gentle yet decisive and above all, he loved his country. "Do you think I want to go on like this? My bitterness toward Cephiro grows with every passing day, my loyalty wanes. I don't want to hurt this beautiful world, see it suffer more than it already has at my hands. It is my time, and whether or not you take the staff, I will take my life. So please, for the love of your country, do me this great service."

Seems to be your only way, so vicious

Ascot silenced and nodded, "So what must we do?"

Clef closed his eyes, took a deep breath to distance himself, and turned to the Magic Knights, "We're going to kill the Magic Knight of Water."

Heavenly Apart

Umi fingered the note Clef had written her before Beltane for the hundredth time. It was folded and unfolded so many times it was almost breaking at the creases. The ink had run from tears and coated the elegant paper in a light dusting of blue. The words were barely legible, but it didn't matter much; they were imprinted in her heart.

When your envy's on a piece of paper

"I know you're here for all the wrong reasons," Gage's voice was just an echo of her own thoughts. He was watching from the doorway, she'd felt him there for a log time, but she had no fears. She'd committed the worst of her sins already, so when she turned to him with a blank smile and received a sharp smack in return, she didn't even flinch.

Let me sweetly smile

"Why won't you respond?" he shouted, but she only blinked at him. "What will you do when he comes to kill you?"

"Fight," she answered simply, and he smiled and nodded.

Just like a puppy; he'll eat anything I feed him, she thought maliciously, grinning slightly. When he comes, I'll wait, and he'll kill me and torture Gage. That was her one comfort, twisted as it was – that he would suffer at the hands of her love.

You're devouring all the crumbs

"We're not," Fuu whispered, emotion finally latching onto her and holding fast.

"We won't," Hikaru chorused.

"If you won't, then I will," Clef informed them, much calmer than he felt. "Look at your country, this world you were destined to protect. Look at the hollowed faces; they need you now, more than ever. Another harvest lost will kill hundreds. Look at Umi," he closed his eyes and brought up those images that would follow him forever, her broken and abused frame, lying vulnerable next to Gage, the man who'd sold, beaten and bound her, bathing in a tub full of her blood, her maddening rocking, the dark dream Gage had created for her. "She's not happy; she can hardly survive the way she is and from this point there's no going back. It's what Cephiro needs, and it's what she wants," he didn't think about what he wanted; it was an impossibility. To survive this, he would have to have his best defenses, would have to be cool, calculated, precise. Otherwise, he couldn't make it through and leaving Gage to continue his plague on Cephiro was simply not an option. "You have to understand, Fuu?" he found the eyes of the Wind Knight, expecting to find help, but there was nothing. She was all pain and betrayal.

"It's not what she wants," Fuu whispered, standing, her eyes quivering with tears, her quiet voice oddly deafening, "And I won't stand here and listen to this, stop lying to yourself Clef; it's not healthy," and with that, she whirled around and fled the room, not even stopping when she knocked her chair to the ground.

I'm leaving, caught up in your lies

When Fuu had stormed out and Hikaru went chasing after her, he was left with stunned faces.

"Has it come to this?" Caldina inquired in a squeak, seeking shelter in Lafarga's arms.

"I fear it has," Lantis' voice was a low rumble that raked at Clef's heart. He nodded slightly; it was understood, and as the Master Mage circled the table with his eyes, he found Ferio, Lafarga, Presea and Lantis were with him, though Ascot would not meet his eyes. I hope he never has to learn, Clef thought to himself, solidifying the idea that this was his path, not Ascot's. He wanted to be with her at the end, and this was no way to start off a new age, with the young Master Mage slaying a Magic Knight. By now, he threw the stray questions away; he was beyond asking why or how. Now was the time for facts. He and Umi were enemies, and he would have to treat her like he would an enemy – without mercy.

You're on any other side

Umi lay next to Gage, eyes wide open, staring out the window into the Forest of Silence. She thought of days long past, when she could be in Clef's arms on their hammock next to the ocean, tucked away from humanity, lost in themselves. Gage had been gentle with her, as gentle as he could be. Tonight, there were only bruises, no cuts. Tonight, she should have slept like a newborn, free of the inflammation and pain that normally ravaged her sleep. Yet, there she lay, wide awake, thinking of times that would never be again. It was like a beautiful dream, one of the ones that make you bitter when you awake and find they weren't real.

Gage shifted so his hands fell away from her, and she took it as a sign and slipped of the bed, pulling on a silk robe and walking barefoot into the crisp night. The grass of the Forest was moist under her feet, but she didn't mind; it was a last physical pleasure.

She wandered to the ocean and curled up in their hammock, trying not to remember the old days but hanging onto them with everything she had. She didn't want to let go, but she knew she had to, because death would come swiftly now, and she could finally be at peace with this world she treasured so dearly.

Clawing up my eyes

"Umi, I want you to promise me something," Clef looked so solemn in this memory, and they were both younger, more carefree. There were no lines on his face, no bags under her eyes, no tears, just wrinkles of concern and gentle touches.

Umi turned to her secret lover and touched his face ever so gently, a butterfly's embrace with her fingertips, "What? Why do you look so forlorn?"

"I was only thinking, that if ever there comes a time when I hurt you, know that it will hurt me just as greatly," it was his way of saying he loved her, only, she hadn't seen it until that instant. That had been near the end, and his prophecy rang purely through the cavities of her mind. In the memory, she wanted to stop herself, but all she could do was watch while she laughed it off and showered him with teasing kissing until the frown faded away. That's how it'd always been with them, hide the issues, don't talk about them, and they disappear. Only, they never do. 

"God," she murmured softly and slipped her willowy arms around an emaciated frame. If she closed her eyes tightly she could pretend it was Clef, could feel his smile beating down on her, taste the sweet smell of his hair, feel the soft fabric of his robes as she buried her head in the folds of his clothing. With that picture firmly ensconced in her head, she found a sort of inner freedom, and she was finally ready.

I'm feeling your arms around me

"Come on Umi," the voice she heard next was Gage's, and for once, it wasn't angry, simply tired. "You've been out here all night, and if you die, you're useless to me."

She nodded submissively and rose, her head down, as if a prisoner taking the long march. It was nearing the end again, and they all knew it. The only thing that remained to be seen was whether or not there could be redemption.

On the other side

Clef stood resolutely, "Now is the time; I will not ask the Knights to join me. I realize that this cannot be their task. It was set to me the day I forsook her."

"You didn't forsake her," Ferio clasped his shoulder. "You just weren't meant to be," his words were intended to be encouraging, but they were simply disheartening.

"Not in this life my friend," Clef smiled weakly. "Tell Ascot to be prepared to take my staff when I return."

It's time to go

Clef moved slowly to the house where he felt her presence, thinking of all the times they'd spent together.

She was laughing, her tinkling bell-like voice could only be reflected in the language of love. It sounded like something French called les petits grelots – the sound of stars. She'd been running from him, teasing him by kicking up sand, alluding him, testing his patience, but anticipation had always been alluring for him.

"Come on, love, I feel like I miss you already," he only half jested, because as much as he wanted her in his arms every second of every day, he knew it was an impossibility. Yet, every time she moved from him he yearned for her, and she taunted him for it, and he loved her all the more.

"Oh, you ruin my fun," she whispered huskily from behind him, and he realized he'd been letting his thoughts wander again.

A wicked smile curved onto his face as he spun and grabbed her arms, "Careful, that's a sensitive spot," he murmured, and she laughed and kissed his ear.

"Oh, I know," her voice had a smoldering thickness to it that made his stomach churn and caused a muted growl to spring from his throat.

"So you do," and it was all they said before he lost himself in her embrace.

I'm hearing your voice

Without words

He snapped back to life when he found he was standing in the very spot he'd never dreamt about. Every inch of his writhing flesh wanted to curl up and die, to dissipate into nothingness, from here on out there was only betrayal.

His mind and heart raged in a vicious tug-of-war until he pushed that away too and opened the door, half unfeeling, half terrified.

On the other side

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when Umi pulled herself out of the wreckage of sheets and feathers that cascaded beneath her. Nimbly, she brought a silk blue robe around her tiny body and was busying herself with the knot when she entered the living room and found Clef standing in her doorway.

She felt him even before she saw him, and her hands stopped while her eyes flicked upward – all motion ceased. They were two predators who had stumbled upon the same meal, silently examining and sizing up the other. He saw her extraordinary beauty in everyday, graceful movements while she admired his profound and silent melancholy. They were only two in a world of utter chaos.

For a solid minute they were frozen in time, neither daring to move, to breathe, Clef's hand still dangerously poised on the doorknob, Umi's robe tassels dangling uselessly to her side. They were both revolted, but neither of them would break out into a triumphant, glorious violence. No passion flared, no tempers soared, no violence ensued, nothing but a shattering, desolate silence ensnared the whole of the room.

            "Get out," Clef whispered softly, frantically.

"What?" Umi's eyes narrowed suspiciously, but he just shook his head, seemingly surprised himself.

"I'm here for Gage, not you," he answered, settling into realization.

She gave a weak smile and shook her head, "You know that if he dies, so do I."

Clef's eyes twisted in anger, fear and guilt, "You can't be sure! I might still save you, break his hold on you, then…"

"Then what?" she snapped, "Then we can be together again? This broken soul that I am, this nothing, this betrayer of all that is good in the world?" her voice grew calmer as she spoke, her aura darkening with every word. "There is no exit for me Clef, there is nothing left except for memories, and those are merely shadows of something that never was meant to be."

But it doesn't matter

How I feel now, anything at all

"You told me you weren't lost to me!" Clef shouted in vain, not caring that Gage heard the argument and stepped out of the bedroom, dressed in only a sheet.

"I lied!" Umi screamed back, aware of Gage's presence, not wanting to blow her cover that would kill Clef in the end. "Don't you see what I am? I am the enemy!"

Since I've left you with the wrong

Impression, while I'm still the same

Clef stepped back in horror, and Gage laughed and shook sleep away from his face; he was going to enjoy this.

"Oh Umi, my sweet, it seems that Cleffy here is surprised at your admonition, after all, he's supposed to be the liar. Guess he never really imagined it could go both ways," Gage taunted, but Clef blocked him out. He didn't care about the shape shifter; he just wanted to get to Umi.

"Please," Clef whispered softly. "I'll fix what you've become; Fuu, Hikaru, they'll fix it, accept Selece again, and I'll give you back your sword. You can right the wrongs that you've done. The people still love you; they trust you. You're not only destroying yourself, you're destroying Cephiro! Think of the innocents! God Umi, stop being this selfish creature! I thought that about you once and was wrong, prove me wrong again!"

Umi lowered her head so her ratty, tangled hair cloaked her eyes, "I can't," she whispered in a shattered sob that produced no tears. "I can't, I am what I am, and I can't go back on that."

When I turn around and look

At my life, shadows in disguise

But I'm working on

An interruption of hypocrisy

"You're not like this!" Clef protested, still unable to raise his staff against the Magic Knight. "You're not like this at all. I know you! I know the woman I loved!"

"She's dead!" Umi threw her eyes up, and Clef's heart shattered into a million pieces when he looked into deep, inky black orbs. "It's over."

Gage released a high pitched, ear-shattering laugh that resembled a howl more than any human noise. And Clef just stood there, frozen, watching the enemy.

You're on any other side

You can't, a voice inside him whispered, and he nodded to the voice. Not yet, he couldn't, he wasn't yet strong enough, "Goodbye, my love," he murmured and turned to disappear.

"Leave without a fight Clef?" Gage snarled, clearly upset by the lack of response in the Master Mage. "Where are you going? Are you afraid?"

Clef turned and smiled weakly at Umi, "Terrified," he answered softly, and she shook her head at him, still a piece of the angel he'd loved, but only a piece now, and in Cephiro, majority ruled.

Without another word or another thought, he slipped out of the house, plagued by eyes that he didn't remember and a soul that wasn't hers. It used to be different, he thought to himself. She used to care.

Clawing up my eyes

I'm feeling your arms around me

On the other side

"Now is the time for offensive," Gage whipped around to Umi. "He's broken, thanks to you my dear, now is the time for us to attack."

Umi nodded submissively, knowing she had no intention to attack, but supposing an open attack would make it easier for Clef to justify what he would have to do. He could kill her in self-defense, not in cold blood. For the loving Master Mage of Cephiro, it would be easier that way; he probably even felt guilty in taking Gage's life, the life of a former student. Yes, she contemplated. It will be easier that way, as long as Fuu and Hikaru stay out of it. "Not them," she told Gage firmly, and he smiled a vicious smile and agreed.

"I only want Clef."

Umi nodded her agreement, and it was set, so she followed him quietly into the small kitchen while he began to devise the plan, only half listening. She didn't care, what he told her to do she wouldn't, but she gave the façade of attentiveness. Nothing mattered. Things used to be different, she thought, I used to care.

It's time to go

I'm hearing your voice without words

On the other side

"Why?" Clef shouted to the heavens, and he felt Umi's question rendered in his own heart. "What did I do wrong? What did I do to deserve this?"

Any other side…