A/N: this occurs immediately after "Keeper of the Dark Heart" 14. It was originally supposed to be part of KoTDH, but I decided it would do as a Guardians adventure. Enjoy!

(Read 'Harry Potter and the Collided Worlds' by Sokai, story id 2502930)

W-I-T-C-H: Duelist Knights and the Crown of Light!

by Shadow Crystal Mage

Chapter 1: After the Aftermath

Disclaimer: I don't own W.I.T.C.H. or anything else I might get it in me to add. Please don't sue me. If you want to know what's going on, read the story that came before this, Harry Potter: Keeper of the Dark Heart, to find out.

(Read 'Harry Potter and the Collided Worlds' by Sokai, story id 2502930)

Somewhere, a boy huddled in a dark void, praying.

Help me…

He'd been betrayed by someone he thought he could trust with his life.

Please…

From being one of the most powerful, he was now helpless.

Please, help me…

In the darkness, Prince Emerous of Efhirozay prayed.

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Caleb wondered how things had come to this as he adjusted the bundle on his back for the nth time. He knew he could have put it in the wagon carrying all their food and supplies, but for some reason he didn't think that was such a good idea. While he carried his usual sword by his side, he liked the psychological boost (not that he knew what that word meant) the bandage-wrapped object gave him.

Where was he? Oh yeah, 'how had it come to this'.

It had all been simple enough. It all began when that guard had sent them the message asking them to meet with Salamangkero Clef. When they'd entered the room, they'd all been surprised to see what looked like an eight-year old boy instead of the amazing tall man from the day before…

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"Whoa, what happened to you?" Irma said bluntly almost as soon as she realized who it was.

Clef coughed into his hand delicately, obviously embarrassed by the situation. "I apologize for my appearance, Guardians, but it was unavoidable. As I'm sure your companions have already told you, when Lanphere betrayed us, she was able to seal much of my power from me. Although it is not fatal, it does severely limit my capabilities. As a side effect, it reduces my physical age."

Clef looked up, and everyone was still when they saw his eyes. Despite having the body of a child, his expression made it perfectly clear he wasn't a recent grade school case. His eyes were too knowing, too deep.

The effect was kind of lost since they were about three and a half feet above the ground, though.

"Guardians, I have a request to ask of you. I have spoken with the Oracle, and was told you might be remaining to search for Princess Elyon's stolen crown. I would like to ask you to accompany our… I believe the word you use is 'soldiers', but here we call them 'Duelists'– as they search for Prince Emerous," Clef said solemnly. "Given that Lanphere was the one who took both the Prince and the crown, they should logically be in the same place."

The Guardians all looked at each other. "Um, could we be allowed to discuss this?" Will said.

At Clef's nod, the Guardians, Caleb, Elyon and Cassidy all huddled together. "What do you guys think?" Will said.

"Go for it," Cassidy said. "I've just realized we have absolutely no idea where to start looking for the crown. Maybe Clef knows where to look?"

Cornelia nodded. "It's probably better than roaming the countryside, righting wrongs as we wait for the goons who have the Crown of Light to kill us for sticking our nose in something we don't know about."

"What do you think this is, Trigun?" Irma said scathingly, and the two glared at each other.

"Focus people," Will said, annoyed. "So, we're in?"

Everyone looked at each other and nodded…

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Caleb blinked as he realized someone was waving their hand in front of his face. "Hey, you okay?"

The ex-Whisperer focused back to the present and turned to face Jooni, who had his steed– something that Irma had said looked like a "hot pink chicken chocobo", whatever those were– striding next to Caleb's. "I'm fine. Just thinking, that's all."

Jooni blinked at him, then nodded. "You're not having trouble riding are you? Most off-worlders find riding Laking Manok's difficult at best."

Caleb chuckled. "No problems. You should be asking the Guardians that."

The two looked to the side, where Taranee was holding on to her Manok's saddle while looking slightly green, Irma was cursing hers as she tried to keep it going on a straight line, and Hay Lin was making her's do tricks as it panted for rest. Will seemed to be having the least trouble of all the girl's, although her ride had the habit of stopping dead for absolutely no reason. Cornelia had taken one look at the things and decided she'd ride on the wagon with Elyon, where she was currently driving.

Jooni snickered. "Well, at least Water Guardian isn't falling off anymore."

Caleb found himself smiling with the blond. He was one of the three that Clef had sent with them, something that had not made the mage popular with Irma…

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"Wait a minute!" Irma said, pointing at the three that had just come in. "They're all you're sending?"

They're reactions were kind of mixed. They recognized two of them, strangely enough. The tall one– he six and a half easy– with the brown hair and cold blue eyes who'd guided them to the Hall that had eventually become a killing zone and had prompted Irma to label him rude– Zethos, if Caleb remembered correctly– merely narrowed his eyes at the Water Guardian, before promptly turning away to focus completely on Clef like there was no one else in the room. The blond who had taken care of Keeper when he'd fallen unconscious looked like he was half-way between glaring and wincing at Irma, before settling for mildly defiant, if mildly defiant had included looking like one expected to be stepped on.

The third on was the most composed. He was the shortest of the three, with deep crimson hair that spiked upward into five distinct points. A single amethyst eye stared out of a youthful face, it's mate covered by a leather eye-patch. He had seemed to sigh slightly at Irma's words, then firmed up, looking both like he wanted to prove Irma wrong and simultaneously knew she was partly right.

Partly right because…

"They are the only one's we may send," Clef said, sounding like he deeply regretted and was thankful for that fact. "While it has spread that the Prince has been taken– impossible as that may be for our people to believe– no one knows that it was Lanphere who did it. If word were to get out, it would cause chaos."

"How?" Cassidy said bluntly.

"It is an article of faith for the people that no one– or at least, practically no one– would ever dare harm the Haligi. If they found out that not only was the Prince taken– which they have– but that he was taken by one of his closest, most trusted protectors, the people would lose faith and the world would descend into darkness and chaos," Clef explained.

"Um, then why are we talking about this in front of them?" Taranee said, pointing at the three Clef had summoned. They were all looking uneasy, even slightly sick.

"Because they already know," Clef said, and for the first time, a note of disapproval entered his voice. "The head of the Guard overheard Duelist Jooni," at this, the blond started twitching and shuffling while the tall one glared at him and the short one gave him a sympathetic look, "telling Duelist Eugee and Duelist Zethos that Lanphere had taken the Haligi. The head of the Guard had been informed of the situation and had the three confined in isolation. Besides the head of the Guard and a select few senior officials, all that who know that it was Lanphere who took the prince is in this room."

"Why don't we just tell more people?" Hay Lin suggested.

Clef shook his head. "I won't take the risk of word of this spreading. For now, we know it is contained. These three seem to be handling it well, so we can safely say we can send them to save the prince. In fact, they are the only one's we can send. The head of the Guard is too old."

"No."

Everyone turned their heads to look at the one who had spoken. Zethos had stepped forward, eyes narrowed and promising pain. "Salamangkero, I refuse. My brother was grievously injured during the attack on the city. I have to remain to take care of him!"

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Zethos had stormed out then, and Caleb had no idea what Clef had told Zethos to get him to come along, but he'd been there when they'd set out, looking as surly and cold as before. He'd made no move to talk to any of them, acting aloof and generally pretending he was the only one who existed. Jooni raging at him and Irma making pointed comments at his back hadn't so much as made a dent in his attitude, so the two had taken to acting like he wasn't there. Everyone else just stayed out of his way, although Eugee, the third soldier– Duelist, Caleb corrected himself– would occasionally try and talk to the taller Duelist.

"How long before we reach the cathedral?" Caleb asked, moving the bundle on his back again to keep it from poking his Manok.

"Um," Jooni reached into his saddle pouch and pulled out a map. Opening the parchment, he glared at it. "Stupid map's not making any sense!"

Wordlessly, Caleb plucked the map from his hands, turned it right side up and handed it back to the blond as Irma passed by, yelling at her Manok to slow down.

"Oh. Heh he," Jooni smiled weakly as Caleb tried not to laugh or roll his eyes. Perusing the map, the blond said, "According to this, if we keep going and making good time, we should reach the Cathedral of Critias in about three, maybe four days."

"Remind me again why we're going there?" Cassidy asked from where she was being carried in Eugee's saddlebag. "I couldn't hear very well because Irma and Hay Lin were talking too loud again."

"We're going to enlist the aid of the Legendary Dragon Critias," Eugee said helpfully as he brought his Manok next to Caleb and Jooni. "According to historical records, the three Legendary Dragons were the Haligi's original protectors in the ancient past. However, because of the fear they sometimes inspired, one of the ancient Haligi's asked them to be more secretive, and created three special lairs for them to dwell in. That's were they sleep, to awaken only in the event of a danger that threatens the Haligi and all Efhirozay. Supposedly, the three dragons have the power to find the Haligi wherever he may be. We're hoping to ask the dragon Critias to find the prince for us."

"But that's not all," Jooni said, lowering his voice conspirationally and making Caleb and Cassidy lean forward to listen. "Supposedly, back when the dragons were still more active, they'd pick a champion to give their power to and act as the Haligi's guard for them. The ones that get picked become really powerful, almost as powerful as Salamangkero Clef! Maybe I'll get lucky and Critias will pick me to be his champion!"

Caleb and Cassidy exchanged glances. This wasn't something Clef had told them about. Eugee just sighed, shaking his head, an amused smile on his face.

"Jooni, that story is centuries old," he said, adjusting his eye-patch slightly, clearly still not used to it. "If that were true, they'd still be sending Duelists out on holy pilgrimages to earn the dragons' powers."

"Hey, you know it's not just a story, Eug," Jooni said. "There're records about legendary Duelist who became champions, like Luci, the shining one, or Pherio, the bandit who was a Haligi's long lost brother."

"HELP!" Irma cried as her Manok made a break for the tree line.

"Irma!" Will cried, trying to turn her Laking Manok to intercept the Water Guardian, but her 'hot pink chicken chocobo' picked that moment to stop dead. "Argh! MOVE, YOU STUPID CHICKEN!"

Before Caleb and the other two Duelists could react, there was a blur as Zethos blew past in his own Manok, his cape streaming behind him in the wind. He easily caught up to Irma's runaway steed, his metal-gauntleted hand reaching to grab the reigns from Irma, even as his other hand pulled on his own reigns to halt his own bird.

Irma nearly flew over her Manok's head as it abruptly stopped just short of entering the trees. "Owww," she groaned, clutching her stomach ad obviously trying not to sick up. Blearily, she smiled at Zethos. "Tha–"

She was interrupted as, with a tug of the reins, her Manok started walking again, following behind Zethos' as he dragged her over to the other two Duelists. With an indifferent flick of his hand, he threw the reins at Caleb. "Next time, do you own babysitting," he said coldly, before abruptly turning his steed around and returning to his position in front.

Irma and Jooni both leveled glares at the back of the taller Duelist's head. "I hate that guy," they both chorused. The two blinked, looked at each other, and exchanged smiles.

Irma held out her hand, the other still firmly holding on to her saddle. "Sorry we weren't formally introduced. Irma Lair, Guardian of Water."

Jooni grinned back, taking her hand. "Jooni Weaslehr, Duelist and soon-to-be champion of the dragon Critias!"

Eugee leaned towards Caleb. "Are you getting the feeling we should be feeling sorry for Zethos?" the one-eyed Duelist whispered.

"Yes," Caleb and Cassidy chorused back.

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Cornelia kept looking at Elyon out of the corner of her eye, trying to look unobtrusive as she guided the wagon. Fortunately for her, the Laking Manok pulling the wagon appeared to be the best trained of the bunch, doing exactly as it was supposed to, so she didn't have to pay it too much attention, allowing her perform her sneak-watching with a minimum of hassle.

The princess seemed completely oblivious to her gaze, intent on watching the countryside and watching Hay Lin wear her Manok to the ground. A small smile graced the shorter girl's lips, so small, so soft, yet so tasty…

Shaking her head ever so slightly to try and pull it out of the gutter, Cornelia turned her face forward, yet her mind kept drifting back, back to that moment in the room. It had seemed to last forever, and at the same time so short…

Wincing, Cornelia cursed Keeper, cursed long and hard using everything she'd ever heard listening to her parents, watching TV, or listening to rebels talking about Phobos. And when that ran out, she made stuff up on the spot.

It was all his fault Will kissed her. It was his fault her mind kept descending to the gutter. It was his fault she kept thinking about how Elyon tasted like berries…

Wincing again, Cornelia wished she could just throw back her head and scream!

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Elyon schooled her features as her eyes flickered to the side to look at Cornelia for the briefest of moments, before turning back to pretend to watch the view as it passed by. Even though she seemed completely calm– serene, even– on the surface, inside she was a mass of confusion. It was only the– as she now thought of it– 'bitch training' that Phobos and Cedric had put her through that allowed her to put a completely different face to the outside world.

Cornelia had kissed her.

If she hadn't heard about the 'incidents' with Will, she would have thought it was an accident, but… still that didn't mean it was intentional, right? After all, it could very well have been just an accident…

And yet, what Elyon could remember of that time, of the conversation leading up to it, made her wonder…

I like the poetry of the thought that most important girl in my life introduced me to the most important boy in my life.

Am I really the most important girl in your life? Or is that just a line for you to get me into bed and have your way with me?

We're already in bed… and it's not a line…

If a boy had told her those things– like, say, Caleb– Elyon was fairly sure she'd be putty in his hands. As it was, she could barely think about them now without a weird tingly feeling somewhere in her mid-regions…

Attempting to banish those thoughts from her head, Elyon closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again, so fast she might as well have just blinked. Once more, she seriously tried to give thought to the question plaguing her mind.

Could Cornelia… like her…?

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Somewhere, a boy prayed in the dark, while a woman watched impassively, evil pink magic glowing from her…

Somewhere, in the Heart of Infinity, the Oracle and the Congregation watched, watching as the Guardians journeyed towards the end of a journey that had barely begun…

Somewhere, darkness stirred as they waited for their leader to command them…

Somewhere, light rippled, warped, flickered, and was gone. Blue eyes saw through another as one journeyed, protected by a shimmer of white wings…

The stage is set, the players at their cues. Let the story begin!

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"Here you go," Watanuki said as he handed the red-bound book to Keeper. "Hey, where's Cassidy?"

"Off," Keeper said vaguely as he waved towards nowhere in particular. "Arigatou, Watanuki-san. How much do I owe you, Yuko?"

The witch tapped her lips, a mischievous smile on her face. "Well… you know about potions, don't you?"

"I'm fairly familiar with them," Keeper said.

"Do you have anything for hangovers?"

"YOU'RE ASKING FOR A HANGOER REMEDY?" Watanuki exclaimed. " I HAD TO GET PAST SOME WEIRD THING CALLED A HEARTLESS TO GET THAT, AND THEN THERE WERE THOSE CREPY 'DUSK' THINGS, THEN THAT CRAZY BLONDE WTH THE KNIVES AND LIGHTNING–"

"Here's a tip for your trouble," Keeper said, handing Watanuki a solid gold statue. As the high school student stared dumbfounded, Keeper turned to Yuko. "You wouldn't happen to have a cauldron, would you?"

(Read 'Harry Potter and the Collided Worlds' by Sokai, story id 2502930)

- To be continued...

(Read 'Harry Potter and the Collided Worlds' by Sokai, story id 2502930)

A/N: Short and intro-ish, just like all my usual pilot fics…

Well, I can't reveal where Keeper is hiding just yet, but trust me, he's around…

Please review, C&C welcome. Oh, and visit Sokai-sama's story and leave lots of nice reviews, 'kay?

Until next time, this is Shadow, signing off.